Archive for December, 2017

Remains of large Wari temple discovered in Peru

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Archaeologists have discovered an ancient pre-Hispanic, pre-Inca Wari temple at the archaeological site of Espíritu Pampa in the jungles of Peru’s La Convención province. The team first found the walls shaped like a capital D, a characteristic design for Wari culture temples. A second, smaller D-shaped structure was found in the middle of the big D. Archaeologists believe this was likely an astronomical observatory, a key element of Wari worship and important section of the full temple. It may also have been used to perform religious rituals.

Also inside the larger temple walls, the archaeological team discovered two burial pits built with small slabs of stone. The first of these was found to contain tooth fragments from an animal. The second burial contained to large Wari ceramic vessels, a silver pectoral band and one silver crown or headdress. One of the pots was particularly striking (and very much typical of Wari craftsmanship), a stylized representation of a crowned individual with large and prominent eyes, nose and mouth. The crown is painted on and is first archaeological evidence that Espíritu Pampa was home to a ruling elite during the heyday of Wari power.

When that day no longer made hey, the last hurrah of Inca independence filled the void, and there’s evidence of that too in the physical structure of the temple. On the long edge of the D-shaped enclosure, there are architectural remains of square and rectangular design. This is Inca work. The interior confirmed this identification when archaeologists unearthed tupus, silver needles and ceramic bottles and assorted vessels used for ceremonial purposes.

This second, later habitation by the Inca had a brief but significant heyday in the 16th century. As the Spanish conquest proceeded at a precipitous rate, Manco Inca Yupanqui defied the Spanish rulers who had installed him to be their puppet king. When Francisco Pizarro left his two bratty younger brothers behind in Cusco as regents (ie, the real rulers), they were so vicious and disrespectful that Manco Inca rebelled. He fought them in open combat, besieging Cusco for 10 months. He was successful at first, but eventually left the highlands to the Spanish and moved to the remote jungle were he founded the independent Neo-Inca State in his new capital of Vilcabamba in 1539.

Not quite so new, as it happens. Vilcabamba and Espíritu Pampa are the same city. Manco wisely selected a spot that already had surviving ancient architecture (the Wari Empire lasted from around 600 A.D. to 1100 A.D.) to piggyback off on — a major advantage in the jungle — and then proceeded to do just that. The distant location did not keep the fledgling independent state safe. There was near-constant fighting in the hills, not just between Inca and Spanish, but between Spanish factions, the first civil war to break out between the conquistadores in Peru. It was that subconflict that ultimately led to Manco’s death. He was killed by members of the anti-Pizarro faction who were hiding out in Vilcabamba under Manco’s generous protection. In exchange for his support, they murdered him in 1544. Manco’s men returned the favor.

The artifacts have been recovered from the dig and are slated to get a thorough cleaning, conservation and examination by experts at the Physical Chemistry Unit of the Decentralized Directorate of Culture of Cusco.

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Old bones identified as remains of one of England’s 1st turkey dinners

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Archaeologists have identified turkey bones so old that may well be the remains of one of the earliest turkey dinners in Britain. We’re talking Tudor turkey here, almost a century before the first Thanksgiving (which according to contemporary sources didn’t actually feature turkeys anyway; the Wampanoag brought deer and the British settlers migratory waterfowl). The three turkey bones in question, two femurs and an ulna, are not a new discovery. They were unearthed in 1983 on Paul Street in central Exeter during an archaeological excavation of the site of a planned shopping center and were squirreled away in storage boxes at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. At that time they were neither identified as turkey bones nor were they dated.

University of Exeter archaeologists dusted them off recently to investigate whether they could find out more about their age and background using technology and information that was not available in 1983. After a thorough examination and testing of the bones themselves as well as the pottery found next to them, researchers were able to identify them as turkey bones dating to between 1520 and 1550. That places them very early in the timeline of the bird’s introduction to Britain by gentleman navigator and future MP William Strickland who bought a half dozen wild turkeys from Native Americans in 1524-1526 and sold them upon his return to Bristol.

They were exotic creatures and the first ones were likely kept as very showy pets or estate adornment rather than immediately devoured. Turkey didn’t become popular as a poultry dish until after 1550, which, incidentally, is the year Strickland was granted a coat of arms that starred a “turkey-cock in his pride proper,” tail feathers at full spread.

Professor Alan Outram, zooarchaeologist and Head of Archaeology at Exeter, said: “As the date of these bones overlaps with the historical evidence of Strickland’s introduction of the birds, the remains of this feast may well represent the earliest physical evidence for a turkey dinner in Britain. This is an important discovery and could allow more research to be carried out about early domestic breeds and how the turkey has changed genetically since the 16th century.”

Analysis by Malene Lauritsen, a post-graduate researcher in the University of Exeter’s archaeology department, has proved from the bones that the turkeys were butchered and were probably eaten as part of a feast by wealthy people. The pottery lying alongside was also of high quality.

They were found together with the remains of a veal calf, several chickens, at least one goose and a sheep. This selection of food – some of which were very expensive at the time – suggests this was the rubbish created by a feast attended by people of high status.
“What is exciting about these turkey bones found in Exeter is that they date from almost exactly the same time as the first birds came to England. Their age certainly means it is possible that these are the remains of one of the first turkeys to come to England, or a turkey bred from this group,” Ms Lauritsen said.

“It is extremely rare to find turkey bones from this period. Remains from the first half of the 16th century have only been found in two other sites in Britain, the oldest from at St Alban’s Abbey in Hertfordshire. I have found cut marks on the bones, showing the birds were butchered. We can only guess at who ate them, and for what reason, but turkey would have been very expensive and the same household certainly ate other pricy meat too, so this must have been a special occasion.”

The bone trio has gone on temporary display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum to give them due recognition after so many years of obscurity. In early 2020, they will become part of Exeter: A Place in Time, a much larger exhibition about the city’s archaeological record in the RAMM’s Making History gallery.

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Frantically seeking a last-minute gift for the budding archaeologist?

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Look no further. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) have solved all your Bad Santa problems by creating a short but extremely sweet coloring book about archaeology for all the kids out there with visions of skeletal remains and radiocarbon analysis dancing in their head. (Don’t even pretend you weren’t one. In fact, don’t even pretend you aren’t still one.) The best part is you can get it online for free, which means you don’t even have to order it to get it. You just click on this link (pdf) and print that bad boy up.

It’s called Adventures in Archaeological Science Coloring Book and it’s just as adorably serious as it sounds. It manages to touch on some of the most important scientific techniques in use in archaeology today: the study of dental calculus to map an individual’s diet and health, DNA analysis, radiocarbon dating, analyzing microscopic food residue on the inside of pottery, stable isotope analysis and more. The issues are addressed succinctly in a few lines accompanying eminently colorable line drawings of ancient figures, animals and scientists in full gear. Actually now that I think about it that poses a significant challenge, color-wise. You’d either wear out the white pencils or throw caution to the winds and go psychedelic.

The project started out as an adjunct to a workshop on scientific illustration run by Christina Warinner and Jessica Hendy at the MPI-SHH. It has been a popular course for several years running, so when the Institute was pondering events for Germany’s public outreach evening, the Long Night of Science, Warinner had the idea to enlist her students to make a coloring book that illustrated the science of archaeology. Then, as Warriner and Hendy were adding the text and editing the final version, they realized they wanted it to have as wide a reach as possible. Enter crowdsourcing.

As we were making the final touches to the coloring book, we realized that it would be a shame to have it only accessible to English and German-speaking children. Human history belongs to all of us, and the research and discoveries we feature in the book have taken place all over the world. We thought – wouldn’t it be great if we could share this information with children everywhere – in their own native language – so that they too could experience the joy and excitement of science and archaeology? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could bring this book with us to our field projects so that we could explain to local children what we are doing and what the world learns by studying people from the past? And most importantly, what if we could show these children that they too could be part of this process and inspire a future generation of archaeological scientists around the globe?

One of the best things about being at an institute like the MPI-SHH is that our researchers come from all over the world. I’ve lost count of how many nationalities are represented among our students and staff, but it is more than twenty, and together we work in dozens of countries on every continent. As the coloring book was nearing completion, we asked for volunteer translators and we were absolutely overwhelmed by the response – with immediate offers for Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Croatian, Finnish, and Swedish, among others. After posting the coloring book to Facebook, we had many more offers from archaeologist colleagues and collaborators, and we now have translations underway for Hindi, Turkish, Italian, Greek, Ukranian, and Hebrew. And we’ve also reached out to the communities where we conduct fieldwork, and we will soon have translations in Nahuatl, Yucatec Mayan, Nepali, Mongolian, and Tibetan.

One of the things I have loved about the translation process is that nearly every translation is being performed by an archaeologist or anthropologist who is a native speaker of that language. This means that in addition to learning about archaeological science, the children will be introduced to someone from their own language group who is participating in this research. We hope that this will help give the children tangible role models from their own countries and communities, and to help make this connection even more clear, we are adding “cartoonified” portraits of each translator to the back cover so that children can see them, look them up, and learn more about their work.

The coloring book is available in several of those languages already — English, Chinese, Spanish, German — with many more in the planning stages. Arabic, Dutch, Italian and Nahuatl are on the cusp of being released. Many more have been assigned translators. You can keep track of their progress here.

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Largest group of artifacts from 18th c. coffee house found in Cambridge University cellar

Monday, December 18th, 2017

In the mid-18th century, an establishment named Clapham’s Coffeehouse served beverages and comestibles to customers in Cambridge, England. Coffee and chocolate had been sold in England since the 17th century, and were popular with people on various rungs of the social ladder from working stiffs to literary luminaries to reigning monarchs. When William and Jane Clapham opened their place in the 1740s, coffee and chocolate houses were still doing brisk business. Clapham’s quickly became a social hub, popular with students and townies alike who were always keen to enjoy the hot gossip and news served daily alongside the hot food and drink. The good times rolled at Clapham’s until the mid-1770s when Jane, widowed and ready to retire, sold the coffeehouse. It was a well-timed retirement as hot coffee and chocolate’s fortunes were by then on the decline as tea rose inexorably to become the national drink.

The building changed hands and was in-filled. Soon Clapham’s was forgotten and the one-time hotspot was left in the cold until the 21st century when Cambridge University’s St John’s College called in archaeologists to survey the area of its Old Divinity School and a cellar was found off All Saints’ Passage that had hundreds of 18th century coffeehouse artifacts. The excavations were completed in 2012. In the final accounting, archaeologists recovered more than 500 objects, several of which provided clear evidence of their former owners.

Some of the items found were still clearly marked with William and Jane’s initials. They included tea bowls (the standard vessel for drinking tea at the time), saucers, coffee cans and cups, and chocolate cups – which the researchers were able to distinguish because they were taller, since “chocolate was served with a frothy, foamy head”. They also found sugar bowls, milk and cream jugs, mixing bowls, storage jars, plates, bowls, serving dishes, sauceboats, and many other objects.

Even though Clapham’s was a coffeehouse, the finds suggest that tea was fast winning greater affection among drinkers; tea bowls were almost three times as common as coffee cans or cups.

Perhaps more striking, however, was the substantial collection of tankards, wine bottles and glasses, indicating that alcohol consumption was normal. Some drinkers appear to have had favourite tankards reserved for their personal use, while the team also found two-handled cups, possibly for drinking “possets” – milk curdled with wine or ale, and often spiced.

Compared with the sandwiches and muffins on offer in coffee shops today, dining was a much bigger part of life at Clapham’s. Utensils and crockery were found for making patties, pastries, tarts, jellies, syllabubs and other desserts. Animal bones revealed that patrons enjoyed shoulders and legs of mutton, beef, pork, hare, rabbit, chicken and goose. The researchers also found oyster shells, and bones from fish such as eel, herring and mackerel.

This sensational find gave researchers the chance to do the first comprehensive study of artifacts from a single, identifiable 18th century coffeehouse. Being able to develop a thorough understanding of the history one specific coffeehouse by examining its material culture is important because you don’t have to rely solely on period sources written sources which could be any combination of incorrect, incomplete, incompetent, ignorant, one-sided, lying, etc.

Although coffeehouses have traditionally been associated with the increasing popularity of smoking in Britain, there was little evidence of much at Clapham’s. Just five clay pipes were found, including one particularly impressive specimen which carries the slogan “PARKER for ever, Huzzah” – possibly referring to the naval Captain Peter Parker, who was celebrated for his actions during the American War of Independence. The lack of pipes may be because, at the time, tobacco was considered less fashionable than snuff.

Together, the assemblage adds up to a picture in which, rather than making short visits to catch up on the news and engage in polite conversation, customers often settled in for the evening at an establishment that offered them not just hot beverages, but beer, wine, punch and liqueurs, as well as extensive meals. Some even seem to have “ordered out” from nearby inns if their favourite food was not on the menu.

There was little evidence, too, that they read newspapers and pamphlets, the rise of which historians also link to coffeehouses. Newspapers were perishable and therefore unlikely to survive in the archaeological record, but the researchers also point out that other evidence of reading – such as book clasps – has been found on the site of inns nearby, while it is absent here.

“We need to remember this was just one of thousands of coffeehouses and Clapham’s may have been atypical in some ways,” Cessford added. “Despite this it does give us a clearer sense than we’ve ever had before of what these places were like, and a tentative blueprint for spotting the traces of other coffeehouse sites in archaeological assemblages in the future.”

Their first research paper on the find. the excellently named “To Clapham’s I go,” has just been published in the journal Post-Medieval Archaeology

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Four intact child burials found at stone quarry near Aswan

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Archaeologists have discovered four intact child burials in the 18th Dynasty necropolis at Gebel el-Silsila in the Aswan region of Egypt. Excavated by Lund University archaeologists with the Swedish-Egyptian archaeological mission in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities, first found the large necropolis last year and returned this year to explore it further.

The necropolis dates to the Thutmosid period, from the reign of Thutmose II in 1493 B.C. through that of his grandson Amenhotep II around 1401 B.C., a time when Gebel el-Silsila was in active use as stone quarry. Fewer than half of the 69 crypts and burial chambers discovered there so far have been excavated, and most of them were looted and damaged in antiquity. The four child burials, on the other hand, were not plundered which gave the team the rare opportunity to examine grave goods and human remains that are usually scattered and/or destroyed.

Burial ST59 was a crypt cut into the rock of the quarry walls in which the remains of a very young child, around 2-3 years old at time of death, were buried. The child was wrapped in linen and placed in what archaeologists believe was a wooden coffin. All that it’s left of it now is some organic crumbles so they can’t be sure what it was. The team thinks it was a wooden sarcophagus that was devoured by termites. It was covered by a sandstone lid that survived but in very poor condition. There were no grave goods and early osteological examination has not been able to determine cause of death.

Child burial ST63 was an inhumation in a wooden sarcophagus of a child between six and nine years old. The coffin was sealed with mud and positioned with the head to the east facing due north. While it was untouched by human interference, the annual flooding of the Nile, the high salt content in the air and a proliferation of beetles saw to it that the mud-sealed coffin suffered heavy damage. The beetles did extensive redecoration, in fact. They moved nefer-amulet from one location to the child’s chest where the archaeologists found it. Other grave goods buried with the little one included bronze bracelets and four scarabs amulets on the left wrist, a bronze razor wedged under the back of the head and an impressive collection of 10 ceramic vessels (beer jars, colorful bowls, plates).

ST64 was the inhumation of a child around 5-8 years old. There was no coffin, present or suggested. The body was wrapped in linen and laid to rest at the bottom of the tomb on a reed mats. The child was buried with three scarabs and one ceramic piece that at some point had moved and was no longer in its original spot.

The last child burial, ST69, was of a child between five and eight years old. It was a neglected burial, done with little care in an area that was still being quarried at the time. The body was put in the grave without goods, coffin or even a shroud and the grave filled in with rock spoil from the quarry work. Osteological examination found signs of illness.

“The team is excited about continuing the osteological analysis of the remains, which will hopefully provide us with more specific details regarding nutrition and the general health and well-being of the children,” lead archaeologists Maria Nilsson and John Ward of Lund University in Sweden wrote in an email to Live Science.

Gebel el Silsila was once thought to be a place where workers toiled and not much else happened — a site of “slaves and simple workers,” Nilsson and Ward said. But the excavations on the east bank of the Nile River have revealed a much richer picture of life at the quarry. In 2016, the same researchers reported the discovery of 42 tombs, mostly empty, and a shrine. They’ve also discovered the carved statues of a man named Neferkhewe and his family. In total, Nilsson and Ward said, the team has excavated almost 30 of the 69 tombs discovered, including two belonging to infants. […]

The research team plans to further analyze the bones found in the graves, Ward and Nilsson said.

“The importance of these child burials is first and foremost that they provide the team with a possibility to study completely preserved inhumations, giving insights into the burial customs and pathological information, but they are also a strong indication of the existence and activity of complete families on site,” they wrote to Live Science.

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Cist grave points to Bronze Age burial ground near Loch Ness

Saturday, December 16th, 2017

Archaeologists surveying a site in Drumnadrochit by Loch Ness in Scotland have discovered a 4,000-year-old cist grave. There were no human remains in the stone-lined pit because it had become filled with soil and any organic materials decayed into nothingness, but there was a single carinated beaker found intact on the cobbled floor. The geometric decoration of the pot identified it as dating to and 2200-1900 B.C.

The find is all the more significant because it’s not the only one. Another cist burial was unearthed on land adjacent to the current site in January 2015 after archaeologists were called in on an urgent salvage mission. Workers building a new health center in Drumnadrochit raised a large stone slab and found a stone-lined burial cist containing human skeletal remains in a crouched position. Preliminary study assessed the bones to date to the Bronze Age and a full archaeological excavation ensued. It revealed a partial skeleton of an adult. The remains weren’t in great condition, but three feet away from the inhumation, archaeologists found an oval pit with sherds from a beaker.

Beaker pot recovered from cist. Photo by AOC Archaeology.These were the first Bronze Age artifacts and human remains found in the location between the Coilte and Enrick rivers. At the time, archaeologists thought that might be significant, that the proximity to an ancient river channel made the site appealing to Bronze Age people as a site for funerary ritual. The area has long since been drained to make way for farming and it’s likely that centuries of agricultural activity damaged any other burials. The discovery of the intact beaker pot in a cist, even without a body, supports the contention that the spot had special meaning 4,000 or so years ago.

Mary Peteranna, Operations Manager for AOC Archaeology’s Inverness office, said: “The discovery of a second Bronze Age cist on the site provides increasing evidence for the special selection of this site in the prehistoric landscape as a location for ceremonial funerary activity.

“This cist, along with the medical centre cist and a second burial pit, is generating much more information about the prehistory of Glen Urquhart.”

Mrs Peteranna added: “Historically, there was a large cairn shown on maps of the area but you can imagine that centuries of ploughing in these fields have removed any upstanding reminders of prehistoric occupation.

“During the work, we actually found a displaced capstone from another grave that either has not survived or has not yet been discovered. So it’s quite likely that these graves were covered by stone cairns or mounds, long-since ploughed out.”

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Rock art may be 1st depiction of leashed dogs

Friday, December 15th, 2017

Intricately etched rock panels in the Saudi desert include some of the earliest known depictions of dogs and humans hunting together and of canines being handled by people with leashes. A recent study of some 1,400 rock art panels at the sites of Shuwaymis and Jubbah in northwestern Saudi Arabia found 147 scenes of packs of dogs helping people take down prey like equids (likely African asses), lions, ibex, gazelles and leopards. The canines did front lines duty, assault the prey with overwhelming forces to weaken them before the humans came in with bows and arrows to deliver the killing blows. In one scene in which 21 dogs surround an equid mother and her young, two of the dogs have a thick line carved from their necks to their humans’ hip, the earliest known evidence of this familiar link in prehistory.

The dogs are morphologically similar to modern-day Canaan dogs with pointed ears and curly tails, but there’s no way of knowing if they are an ancestor of the breed, or even if they were imported to the area of descendants of native tamed wolves. The fact that some of the dogs were leashed suggests there were already being utilized and trained for different jobs on the hunt. The exact date of the rock art is also unclear. Archaeologists believe they date to the Holocene, about 8,000-9,000 years ago, but there was no material at the rock art sites that could yield precision dating.

“This is the first imagery of a dog with a leash,” said Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, in Germany, and an author of the study, which appeared in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology and was first reported by Science. He said that because of where the lines were on the dog and human’s anatomy, they most likely represented actual leashes and were not mere symbolic lines.

Dr. Petraglia added that the rock art most likely dated to the early Holocene period, which began around when the Paleolithic ice age closed. But he acknowledged that the team was unable to date it directly because the etchings left little indication for when they were carved. Instead the team correlated the rock art with nearby archaeological sites that they had dated.

The team also found that the dog images were carved beneath images of cattle, which they said indicated that the dog images came earlier. They said earlier evidence had suggested these particular ancient humans had domesticated dogs before they began keeping cattle. They added that the transition from being hunter-gatherers to herding most likely occurred between 6,800 B.C. and 6,200 B.C., which they used to hypothesize that the rock art featuring dogs appeared before humans began herding.

“We can now say about 9,000 years ago people already controlled their dogs and had them on leashes and used them for really complex hunting strategies,” said Maria Guagnin, an archaeologist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and lead author.

The dating is tenuous, however. Until they find direct evidence of the age of the rock art, they can’t confirm with certainty that this is the earliest leashed dog depiction or what it says about the development of human-canine cooperation before the Neolithic. The study has been published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology and can be read free of charge online.

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More preserved organic material found at ruins of Lechaion

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Lechaion, the main harbour town of the rich and powerful city of Corinth at the north end of the strategic isthmus connecting the Peloponnese peninsula to mainland Greece, was a bustling hub of Mediterranean trade from more than 1,000 years (with a brief interruption courtesy of the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 B.C. Julius Caesar had it rebuilt in 44 B.C., and the shinier, bigger Lechaion, aka Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis, got right back to business until it was destroyed in an earthquake in the late 6th century A.D.

The harbour structures, including massive ones from the Roman era, have been fully submerged, most of them deep under layers of sand and sediment, ever since and were barely explored despite their historical significance until 2014 when the Lechaion Harbour Project (LHP) took on the long-delayed task of surveying the site. The Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, the University of Copenhagen and the Danish Institute at Athens have been collaborating on this ambitious project, sending teams of marine archaeologists to explore the physical ruins and geologists with the latest scanning technology to detect the buried remains that can’t be seen.

In 2015, LHP researchers discovered extremely rare surviving remains: large sections of six wooden barges, a total of 187 feet of wood, used as caissons to protect the harbour from heavy wind, surf and sedimentation. The warm brine of the Mediterranean is a welcoming environment for woodworm which can reduce timbers to nothingness in weeks. The odds of finding organic remains of any kind from thousands of years ago, never mind on so grand a scale, are vanishingly small. It gave rise to the hope that the team might someday find actual ship remains, maybe even a trireme, much sought but never found.

No trireme has turned up yet, but this season’s archaeological survey has found more organic material, including a worked wood post in jaw-dropping condition, seeds, nuts, twigs, fruit pits and bones. The caissons were part of two Roman-era monumental piers, dubbed Mole L-M1 and Mole L-M2, whose massive stone block are the only remains of the Outer Harbour still visible just above the water line.

“During the 2017 excavations, the first Roman-period harbour structures at Lechaion have come to light. The mysterious island monument in the middle of Harbour Basin 3 – an area of the Inner Harbour measuring 24,500 m2 – was dated to the early 1st century AD. It was likely built as part of a Roman building program designed to help restore Corinth, just as the enormous 45 metres long, 18 metres wide and 4 metres high mole was constructed on exactly the same orientation as the mysterious island monument. Also, we identified a new roughly 40.000 m2 large harbour basin in the Outer Harbour (probably 6th century AD), another 40.000 m2 basin in the Inner Harbour dated to the mid-1st century AD, and the possible foundation for a lighthouse,” reports University of Copenhagen archaeologist Bjørn Lovén who co-directs the Lechaion Harbour Project.

“We have excavated archaeological layers where almost everything is preserved. Consider the pristine preservation of the roughly 2000-year-old wooden post (see video) and imagine how well-preserved wood and other organic materials that still lie at the bottom of this harbour,” says Bjørn Lovén.

The wooden post probably served as either a part of the foundations for the structure itself or perhaps as a bollard for mooring ships. The team also unearthed a variety of seeds, bones with cut marks, a roller from a wooden block, and fragments of worked wood.

“As a part of our research the Centre for GeoGenetics will extract and analyse the ancient environmental DNA from the important archaeological deposits and attempt to reconstruct the past environment genetically. Recently, they have shown that ancient DNA in deposits can identify a wide variety of organisms, everything from bacteria to plants and animals. Hence, they will characterise what lived in the area of Lechaion during the various phases of Antiquity, including the Roman period. We are discovering everything from DNA evidence to monumental moles constructed of five-ton blocks,” concludes Lovén.

This video has some phenomenal footage of the moles from above and under the water, including shots of mud lines and trident marks carved into the massive five-ton blocks, plus the island monument in the Inner Harbour and its glossy golden wooden post.

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How to kill with a Neolithic club

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

University of Edinburgh researchers have gone full CSI to discover how a Neolithic artifact could have been used to inflict fatal damage on a human skull. We don’t know much about what kind of weapons Neolithic people deployed to kill each other. Skulls have been found bearing the tell-tale signs of blunt force trauma, but objects that are clearly identifiable as weapons are thin on the ground. There are all kinds of weapons in the archaeological record from the Bronze and Iron Age periods — daggers, swords, pointy things made for the express purpose of person-to-person combat — but Stone Age objects like bows and arrows, clubs and axes are more ambiguous. They could be hunting tools, intended to injure or kill animals, or work tools.

There hasn’t been a great deal of research into what implements might have inflicted the cranial blunt force trauma wounds seen in the Neolithic osteological record, so the UoE’s Meaghan Dyer and Linda Fibiger turned to experimental forensic testing not unlike the methods dramatized in more or less ludicrous ways on TV shows like CSI. They chose not to opt for animal carcasses (of questionable accuracy) and human cadavers (of questionable medical ethics). They took a more cutting edge approach, employing a synthetic polyurethane “skin-skull-brain” model which unlike the animal carcasses accurately replicates human cranial morphology and unlike the cadavers does not require the violent treatment of human remains. This is the first use of the synthetic model in an experimental investigation of Neolithic blunt force trauma.

The weapon of choice for this test was a replica of the Thames Beater, an alder club recovered from the River Thames near London’s Chelsea neighborhood that was radiocarbon dated to 4660 ± 50 before the present, towards the end of the Neolithic period (about 7000 to 2000 B.C.). It was a very rare find, one of only a small number of Neolithic clubs to survive in Britain until the present, and is now in the Museum of London. Cracked and chipped from its advanced age, the Thames Beater is reminiscent of a busted cricket bat with an angled wooden blade tapering down to a thinner barrel and capped with a round pommel. It was more than two feet long when it was made.

The research team commissioned master carpenter David Lewis of Pelynt, Cornwall, to recreate the piece as it was 4600 years ago. He used alder wood and reproduced the weight, shape, dimensions and every other known aspect of the object to make the experiment as accurate as possible. Two skin-skull-brain models of different thicknesses to account for human variance (one 5mm thick, one 7mm) were created in Switzerland from polyurethane spheres coated in rubber skin. They left a hole open in the bottom for the researchers to introduce brain-simulating ballistics gelatin.

Then it was show time. One of the research assistants was the lucky wielder of the replica Thames Beater.

Once constructed the skin-skull-brain spheres were placed on an elevated platform 108.0cm high, supported on a cork ring 3.1cm tall and 13.8cm in diameter. The hole in the sphere was placed facing down. A right-handed adult male, 30 years old, 193.0cm tall and 88.5kg carried out the strikes.

Two types of blows were used to investigate any variable fracture patterns produced by different areas of the club. Figure four shows the hand positions for the pommel blow and the double-handed blade strike. For the doubled handed strikes with the blade, the club was swung into the air and down onto the skin-skull-brain model, contacting at the end of the blade. The blows with the pommel end of the club, had the club drawn up and the pommel aimed at the skin-skull-brain model. The strikes with the pommel had a notable decrease in force.

The skin-skull-brain models amply proved their worth, producing depression fractures deep enough to displace bone and radiating fractures that spread around the spheres. These are the wounds you’d expect to see in blunt force trauma. The pommel blows were particularly effective, creating large linear fractures extending outwards from the impact point. When the results were compared with the trauma evident on Neolithic skulls, they matched, in one case all but perfectly.

The depression fractures formed by the double-handed blade strikes to the skin-skull-brain models have significant resemblance to examples of diagnosed intentional blunt force trauma in the Neolithic osteological record. The fracture morphology, shape of displaced fragments and the beveled fracture edges produced in both spheres match very closely with trauma hypothetically linked to wooden club weapons (Teschler-Nicola et al. 1996; Schulting and Wysocki 2005: 125; Teschler-Nicola 2012: 108). This experimental study successfully demonstrates the accuracy of this summation, most notably with the remarkable match found in the 7mm thick sphere.

The fractures present on the 7mm sphere bear remarkable similarity to injuries in Individual 3, a 35-40 year old male from the Neolithic Austrian site of Asparn/Schletz (Teschler-Nicola et al. 1996; Teschler-Nicola 2012: 107). As seen in Figure 8, both skulls have a long thin depression site near the top of the skull, with several radiating fractures. The impact sites on both also have one straight and one slightly curved border. This is a remarkable match between the archaeological record and the experimental results.

The study breaks as much ground as it did polyurethane spheres. It confirms the viability of the models in doing this kind of experimental testing and can be applied to osteological remains from many time periods and contexts.

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First the dinobird, now its ticks found in amber

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

The rich deposits of amber mined in Myanmar (formerly Burma) have produced another stellar example of Cretaceous creatures frozen in a dramatic and scientifically significant posture. Earlier this year researchers found the remains of a baby avian dinosaur of the enantiornithes species which was uniquely well-preserved having spent 99 million years encased in amber. The discovery shed new light on the animal’s growth and development, and now the same can be said for a long-extinct tick. A nymph tick of the Cornupalpatum burmanicum species has been found in resin caught in the act of grabbing onto the feather of an avian dinosaur.

Modern ticks feast mightily on the blood of mammals, but their ancestors didn’t have the smorgasbord of mammal species to enjoy that exist on the planet today. Mammals only got so numerous, large and varied after the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction event 65 million years ago. What animals were their primary source of food in the Cretaceous? Most scientists thought reptiles, amphibians and the little mammals that were scurrying about at the time were likely sources. For one thing, there were enough of them to support an extensive parasitic population, unlike avian dinosaurs.

Researcher Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History thought the avialans worth exploring as prospective tick drive-thrus, and spent years studying ticks trapped in amber for evidence of their environment.

The tick-and-feather pair support a theory that Pérez-de la Fuente had already spent years developing, based on other ticks trapped in amber from the same period. Those ticks didn’t have dinosaur feathers encased with them, but there were little hairs. The hairs resemble those left behind by a type of beetle larva that, today, lives in bird nests.

“We had this indirect evidence about the relationship between ticks and feathered dinosaurs,” Pérez-de la Fuente says, but the researchers didn’t have any direct evidence for the relationship until they saw the tick and feather trapped together in amber. […]

Now, just because there’s a feather and a tick holding on to it during the resin flood that would kill it doesn’t make it incontrovertible proof that they fed off the avian dinosaurs. Other animals lived in nests (viz the above-mentioned beetle larva) and the feather could be an accidental floater that seems more suggestive than it is.

Pérez-de la Fuente acknowledges there is more work to be done to clarify the ancient origins of ticks and their blood-sucking behaviors. For example, one amber specimen contains a tick engorged with blood, but Pérez-de la Fuente and his co-authors couldn’t figure out how to analyze that blood because the tick wasn’t entirely encased in amber, so the iron in the blood was contaminated with minerals.

USE FROG DNA!11 What could possibly go wrong? Seriously, being able to purify and analyze prehistoric blood, even blood that has been contaminated environmentally, would open up intriguing new avenues of exploration. Give the leaps in analytic and DNA technology over the past few decades, it’s not inconceivable that someone will figure out how to study the blood of these kinds of specimens.

Interesting side note: we don’t know exactly where in Myanmar the amber ticks used in the study were found. The specimens were sold online to private collectors, but in something of a watershed event, one collector donated his amber to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the other actually participated in the study. He has an author credit on the newly published study in the journal Nature Communication.

“We actually broke the wall between private collectors and scientists which is very uncommon, especially in paleontology,” Pérez-de la Fuente says. “That by itself is a success.”

May it be the first of many.

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