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Baby Boom & Population Collapse in the Ancient Southwest

July 1, 2014

 

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—Tim Kohler and Kelsey Reese of Washington State University analyzed thousands of skeletal remains from hundreds of archaeological sites across Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. By determining how many of the remains, which date from 900 B.C. to the early 1500s, belonged to children between the ages of 5 and 19, they were able to estimate that the birthrate slowly increased until about 400 A.D., and then rose more quickly and then leveled off around 1100. On average, each woman gave birth to more than six children during this period of “baby boom.” The population explosion coincided with the shift from nomadic hunting and gathering to maize farming, and may have provided women with the calories needed to produce and care for larger families. “We begin to see much more substantial dwellings, indicating that people are spending a much longer period of time in specific places,” Kohler told Live Science. A steep decline in the birthrate after 1300 may reflect a severe drought in the 1100s; the effects of harmful protozoa, bacteria, and viruses carried by irrigation; and violence.  

 

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Meteorite Fragment Found in Mesolithic Dwelling

June 30, 2014

 

SZCZECIN, POLAND—A meteorite fragment has been discovered in the remains of a 9,000-year-old dwelling in the peat near Lake Świdwie in northwestern Poland. The pyrite meteorite fragment is cylindrical in shape, porous, and surprisingly heavy for its size. “The meteorite was brought to the shelter as a special object, which must have been obvious to the contemporary men, knowledgeable of stone raw materials,” Tadeusz Galiński of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Tools made of flint, wood, bone, and antler, and objects associated with spiritual culture, such as an amulet, an engraved bone spear tip, and a stick made of antler and decorated with geometric motifs, were also discovered. A second dwelling contained traces of hearths.

 

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Meteorite Fragment Found in Neolithic Dwelling

June 30, 2014

SZCZECIN, POLAND—A meteorite fragment has been discovered in the remains of a 9,000-year-old dwelling in the peat near Lake Świdwie in northwestern Poland. The pyrite meteorite fragment is cylindrical in shape, porous, and surprisingly heavy for its size. “The meteorite was brought to the shelter as a special object, which must have been obvious to the contemporary men, knowledgeable of stone raw materials,” Tadeusz Galiński of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Tools made of flint, wood, bone, and antler, and objects associated with spiritual culture, such as an amulet, an engraved bone spear tip, and a stick made of antler and decorated with geometric motifs, were also discovered. A second dwelling contained traces of hearths.

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Evidence Suggests Torture at Sacred Ridge Massacre Site

June 30, 2014

 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA—New research indicates that the 33 men and women, whose processed and mutilated bones were discovered in two pit houses near Durango, Colorado, were tortured before their deaths some 1,200 years ago. Anna Osterholtz of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, found evidence of that the victims’ ankles had been broken by blunt-force trauma, well as signs that the soles of the feet had been beaten. “Tool marks and fractures to the rest of the body’s elements had other explanations, including processing or perimortem trauma, but the tool marks and peeling on the foot elements would serve no such purpose, and would only have been useful in causing pain,” she explained to Western Digs. Earlier analysis of elements in the victims’ teeth by James Potter and Jason Chuipka suggests that they had grown up in the area of Sacred Ridge. Osterholtz speculates that the torture may have been used by an invading population to control the residents of Sacred Ridge before and during the massacre. The site was abandoned soon after it occurred.  

 

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Scientists Will Investigate Ancient Inuit Hunting Camp

June 30, 2014

WINNIPEG, CANADA—A hunting camp, estimated to be 1,000 years old, will be mapped and examined next week by a research team led by archaeologist Virginia Petch of Northern Lights Heritage Services. The site’s 22 large tent rings, food caches, kayak rests, and burials are located just south of the Manitoba-Nunavut border, on the western coast of Hudson Bay. “It was very safe. You could see the beluga coming in. You could see the seals. If you looked inland, you could see caribou and you could watch out for bears. There would be fish in the river. It was a very productive area for people to be,” she told The Hamilton Spectator. The site is thought to have been used by the Thule, the ancestors of today’s Inuit. The team will leave the burials intact.

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Gang Members Arrested for Looting in Egypt

June 30, 2014

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the leader of a gang specializing in looting archaeological sites was arrested in his home in Giza’s Abu Sir village, where Islamic coins, a dozen ushabti figurines, and a replica statue were recovered by police. The artifacts are thought to have been plundered from the area of Abu Sir and will be authenticated by members of the Ministry of Antiquities.

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NPS Seeks Improved Experience at Mesa Verde

June 26, 2014

DURANGO, COLORADO—Rangers at Mesa Verde National Park are asking the public for ideas to relieve congestion and overcrowding at its most popular sights. “It is no secret Chapin Mesa gets overrun. The plan has always been to redirect visitors and traffic to Wetherill Mesa, but that has not worked out as well as we had hoped,” deputy superintendent Bill Nelligan told The Cortez Journal. For example, visitors may now prefer to walk, bicycle, or take a bus through the park, rather than drive pollution-producing private vehicles through its winding, narrow roadways. Heavy crowds also damage the kivas. “Improving opportunities like trails separate from the road, and more self-guided areas, so visitors have a sense of exploration and discovery is the goal of the plan,” he said.

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Hatra Claimed by Iraqi Militants

June 26, 2014

BAGHDAD, IRAQ—The Islamic militants who have taken over northern Iraq have gained control of the third-century B.C. Temple of Mrn at Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple, dedicated to the god Shamash, had been protected by a squad of 20 Iraqi policemen, but they reportedly fled when the area fell to tribal militants and Isis fighters. “Currently there is no one protecting the temple at all, and it is in control of the rebels. I am concerned about its safety, although I am also worried about government forces doing bombing,” councilor Mohammed Abdallah Khozal told The Telegraph. The site gained notoriety as a location in the opening scene of the 1973 film The Exorcist

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Archaeologists Search for Chapel at Scotland’s Bridgend Farm

June 26, 2014

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A medieval floor tile and a circular, stone-lined well have been unearthed at Scotland’s Bridgend Farm. Archaeologists from Rubicon Heritage Services and a team of volunteers are looking for the remains of a sixteenth-century chapel built by Sir Simon Preston. “The excavations unearthed clues which prove there was activity in the area at the time the chapel was constructed and in use,” a spokesperson told Culture 24. The floor tile is from a high-status building. The well and pottery from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are thought to predate the chapel. 

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Evidence Suggests That the Neanderthal Diet Included Vegetables

June 26, 2014

 

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Neanderthals in Europe cooked and ate plants some 50,000 years ago, according to an analysis of fossilized fecal material recovered at the Neanderthal occupation site El Salt in southern Spain. Science reports that Ainara Sistiaga of the University of La Laguna in Tenerife and geobiologist Roger Summons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used technology that detects fecal matter in drinking water to test five locations at El Salt. They found the chemical byproducts created by the digestion of meats, and levels of plant sterols that “unambiguously record the ingestion of plants.” Butchered bones and hunting tools, and analysis of the levels of carbon, nitrogen, and other chemicals in Neanderthal bones, have given scientists clues to the meat in the Neanderthal diet. And recent studies of plaque from Neanderthal teeth found in Iraq and Belgium shows that they ate starchy foods in porridge form. Sistiaga says that this is the first direct evidence that Neanderthals ate and digested plants. Critics would like conclusive evidence that the feces came from Neanderthals, however.

 

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Egyptologist Locates King Cambyses’s “Missing” Army

June 25, 2014

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Egyptologist Olaf Kaper of Leiden University has deciphered the full list of the titles of Pharaoh Petubastis III carved on ancient temple blocks at Amheida in Egypt’s Dachla Oasis. He realized that they held the answer to the mysterious disappearance of King Cambyses and 50,000 Persian troops in the Egyptian desert ca. 534 B.C.—the Greek historian Herodotus suggested that the army had been swallowed by a sand storm. “Since the nineteenth century, people have been looking for this army: amateurs, but also professional archaeologists. Some expect to find somewhere under the ground an entire army, fully equipped,” he told Science Daily. Kaper thinks that the Persian army was defeated by the Egyptian rebel leader Petubastis III at the Dachla Oasis, and that the Persian King Darius I covered up the defeat when he ended the Egyptian revolt two years later. “The temple blocks indicate that this must have been a stronghold at the start of the Persian period. Once we combined this with the limited information we had about Petubastis III, the excavation site and the story of Herodotus, we were able to reconstruct what happened.” 

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Chariots Discovered in Early Bronze Age Burial

June 25, 2014

 

BASEL, SWITZERLAND—Zurab Makharadze, head of the Center of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, announced the discovery of a timber burial chamber containing two four-wheeled, oxen-pulled chariots at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East at the University of Basel. The burial, which contained the remains of seven individuals, was found in a kurgan in the south Caucasus. “One of them was a chief and others should be the members of his family, sacrificed slaves or servants,” Makharadze told Live Science. Ornamented clay and wooden vessels, flint and obsidian arrowheads, leather and textiles, a wooden armchair, carnelian and amber beads, and 23 gold items were also recovered from the 4,000-year-old burial. “The purpose of the wooden armchair was the indication to power, and it was put in the kurgan as a symbol of power,” Makharadze explained.

 

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Well-Preserved Quipus Found in Inca Warehouses

June 25, 2014

LIMA, PERU—Twenty-five well-preserved quipus, made of multiple knotted wool and cotton strings of different colors, were discovered at the archaeological complex of Incahuasi in Peru’s Lunahuana Valley. Quipus, which are thought to have been used for record keeping, are usually found in a funerary context, but this collection was unearthed in warehouses, or kallancas. This is “what makes us believe they were used for administrative purposes,” archaeologist Alejandro Chu, who is in charge of the site, told Peru This Week.

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Spain Returns Seized Artifacts to Colombia

June 25, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN—Reuters reports that Spain has returned 691 artifacts to Colombia, including 3,000-year-old ceramics, busts, sculptures, and jewelry, which were seized in 2003 in a drug-trafficking, money-laundering case. The items had been held at Madrid’s Museum of America until Colombia petitioned Spain’s High Court for their repatriation. “In addition to economic value, the pieces’ greatest value comes from their roots, which is an expression of history itself, of culture and of every nation’s soul,” Police General Director Ignacio Cosido said at a ceremony at the museum, where the artifacts were handed over to Colombian officials. The remaining three hundred seized artifacts will remain at the museum while Spanish officials determine where they belong.  

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Poverty Point Added to UNESCO World Heritage List

June 24, 2014

PIONEER, LOUISIANA—The monumental earthworks at Poverty Point are one of seven sites from around the world that have been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, according to a report from Reuters. The 3,400-year-old Poverty Point complex was a major political, trade, and ceremonial center built by hunter gatherers. It consists of six mounds and six C-shaped ridges surrounding a central plaza. One of the mounds is about 2,000 years older than the others. “The impressive site survives as a testament to Native American culture and heritage,” the U.S. State Department responded to the announcement in a statement. 

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Soil Stains May Be Traces of Hopewell Woodhenge

June 24, 2014

CHILLICOTHE, OHIO—National Park Service archaeologists excavating in an area known as the Great Circle at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park have found stains of darker soil that they think could be evidence of a woodhenge, or circular enclosure of wooden posts, built between 1,600 and 2,000 years ago. “I am very confident that those represent wooden posts,” team leader Bret Ruby told The Columbus Dispatch. The Great Circle measures 375 feet in diameter and was identified by magnetic testing several years ago. The excavation has also uncovered a six-inch-long stone tool that may have been used for cutting wood or digging.

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Astronomical References Are Embedded in Prehistoric Landscapes

June 24, 2014

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—Science Daily reports that England’s National Astronomy Meeting, which is being held this week, will highlight developments in archaeo-astronomy, which some researchers propose to rename “skyscape archaeology.” According to Fabio Silva of University College London, and co-editor of the new Journal for Skyscape Archaeology, “We have much to gain if the fields of astronomy and archaeology come together to a fuller and more balanced understanding of European megaliths and the societies that built them….To understand what alignments meant to prehistoric people and why they decided to incorporate them into their structures, we need to identify patters and interactions between structures, landscape and skyscape.” 

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Montana Camper Spots Ancient Remains

June 24, 2014

WARM SPRINGS, MONTANA—A jawbone, ribs, and other bone fragments thought to be 2,000 years old were discovered by a camper on the side of a road near Warm Springs, Montana. The bones and part of a bow that had been covered by a pile of rocks and were eventually recovered by police. Once it was determined that the bones were not modern, they were handed over to Stan Wilmoth, state archaeologist with the Montana Historical Society. The authorities are examining the burial site to determine if the remains were found on state or federal land. If they were on state land, the bones will be handled by the Montana Burial Preservation Board. If the site was on federal land, the bones will go to the Deer Lodge National Forest’s archaeologist. “We’re just kind of in a holding pattern right now,” Wilmoth told The Montana Standard.

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Roman-Era Theater Uncovered in Western Turkey

June 23, 2014

IZMIR, TURKEY—The demolition of 175 buildings in Izmir’s Kadifekale neighborhood has revealed the stage walls and entrance of a Roman-era amphitheater. The theater, which was studied in the early twentieth century by Austrian architects and archaeologists Otto Berg and Otto Walter, is thought to have accommodated 16,000 people. According to Hurriyet Daily News, the municipality of Izmir plans to restore the structure and use it for shows and concerts. 

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Archaeologists Look for Plymouth’s Palisade

June 23, 2014

PLYMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS—A team made up of archaeologists and volunteers is looking for traces of the seventeenth-century palisade built by the Pilgrims to protect Plymouth. This original settlement is thought to have sat atop a hill that became a cemetery by the end of the seventeenth century. Ground-penetrating radar has guided the team to an area without graves, where they have found foundations of nineteenth-century structures and artifacts. The researchers think that the nineteenth-century homes may have been built on top of early seventeenth-century homes. “If we could find the remains of the original settlement it would be a huge find…We’re digging here in part because we think we might be close to where one of these [palisade] walls came down from Burial Hill,” archaeologist David B. Landon of the University of Massachusetts Boston told The Boston Globe

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