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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Archaeology News: March 27, 2013

Artifacts Shed Light on Social Networks of the Past

An article published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds light on the transformation of social networks in the late pre-Hispanic American Southwest and shows that people of that period were able to maintain surprisingly long-distance relationships with nothing more than their feet to connect them. Led by University of Arizona anthropologist Barbara Mills, the study is based on analysis of more than 800,000 painted ceramic and more than 4,800 obsidian artifacts dating from A.D. 1200-1450, uncovered from more than 700 sites in the western Southwest, in what is now Arizona and western New Mexico.

A catastrophic mass extinction of birds in the Pacific Islands followed the arrival of the first people

Research carried out by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and collaborators reveals that the last region on earth to be colonised by humans was home to more than 1,000 species of birds that went extinct soon after people reached their island homes.

The paper was published today (25th) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Almost 4,000 years ago, tropical Pacific Islands were an untouched paradise, but the arrival of the first people in places like Hawaii and Fiji caused irreversible damage to these natural havens, due to overhunting and deforestation. As a result, birds disappeared. But understanding the scale and extent of these extinctions has been hampered by uncertainties in the fossil record.

Richard III's distant relatives threaten legal challenge over burial

Last year, a human skeleton identified as that of Richard III was discovered at a medieval monastery site by a team from Leicester University. The Plantagenet Alliance, a group of 15 people who claim to be descendants of relatives of Richard III, wants the king’s bones to be buried in York, where he spent his childhood. The members assert that their right to a private and family life was violated by the Ministry of Justice, which granted an archaeological investigation license to Leicester University. “Re-interment on the nearest consecrated ground is in keeping with good archaeological practice. Richard has lain in the shadow of St Martin’s Cathedral, Leicester, for over 500 years….There is no obligation to consult living relatives where remains are older than 100 years,” said a spokesperson from the university. Richard III’s final resting place will probably bring in significant tourist revenue.

Egyptian tomb raiders persist under poor economy

Well-organized and well-armed gangs of thieves reportedly continue to plunder Egypt’s archaeological sites, while illegal construction encroaches upon them and sometimes even covers them. “Under Mubarak, (the pyramids) were seen as a revenue stream for tourism, and a point of pride. This government just doesn’t care,” said archaeologist Monica Hanna. Kamal Wahid of Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry says that the reports of damage are exaggerated, and counters that the new government simply lacks the resources to protect archaeological sites because of the steep drop in foreign tourism.

Sutherland shipwreck intrigues archaeologists

Archaeologists are trying to piece together clues to the identity of a shipwreck in the north-west Highlands. Three cannons and part of a wooden hull lie on the seabed near Drumbeg in Sutherland.

Archaeologists believe it could be the remains of a Dutch vessel that got into difficulty between 1650 and 1750. The site was given emergency protected status on 18 March this year, but the Scottish government has proposed giving it a more permanent designation.

Fish-based diets can cause headaches for archaeologists

Fish-based diets may be good for your health, but they can cause headaches for archaeologists.

While archaeologists are aware fish-based diets could cause inaccuracies in Carbon-14 dating, they were not aware the anomalies could go up to 500 to 2,100 years.

"I had not anticipated an error of up to 2000 years ... The implications of this discovery are fairly frightening, because it is crucial for archaeology to have a reliable dating procedure," Felix Riede, an archaeologist at Aarhus University who uses Carbon-14 dating in his work, said in an article posted on PastHorizonsPR.com.


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