CIRENCESTER, ENGLAND—It had been thought that a finely carved tombstone unearthed in western England was the first in Roman Britain to have remained with its intended grave, but researchers have found that even though the dedication on the tombstone named Boudicca, a woman, the skeleton in the grave was male. In addition, the gravestone dates to the second century A.D., while the skeleton dates to the fourth century A.D. The five-foot-long stone, which has a roughly carved back, may have originally hung on a mausoleum wall. “We believe the tombstone to have been reused as a grave cover perhaps as long as two centuries after it was first erected,” Ed McSloy of Cotswold Archaeology told Discovery News. Even so, the gravestone is notable because it is the first time that the name Boudicca has been found. And the limestone pediment is decorated with a unique image that depicts the Roman god Oceanus, which according to McSloy “is also hitherto unknown in funerary sculpture.” To read about the search for the great leader Boudicca's tomb, see "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."
BEIJING, CHINA—China’s Ministry of Public Security announced that 175 people were arrested for looting tombs in Niuheliang, a Neolithic site in northeastern Liaoning province. According to the South China Morning Post, the pillagers had been divided into ten gangs that specialized in tasks such as digging, retrieval, and keeping watch. Four archaeologists are suspected of assisting the well-organized, well-equipped gang and trafficking the stolen antiquities. More than 1,000 police officers participated in the operation, and they reportedly recovered 1,168 artifacts, including a coiled jade dragon thought to be one of the earliest of its kind. For more on looting in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."
FUKUOKA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—A fragment of a mold used to cast bronze mirrors in 200 B.C. has been unearthed at the Sugu Takauta ruins in northern Kyushu. It had been thought that such tachukyo, or mirrors with knobs, had been imported from the Korean Peninsula at this time. The mold shows indentations to create knobs on the back of the mirror, which was circular in shape, and markings known as “rough patterns.” This mold may have been an early attempt to make mirrors with markings known as “detailed patterns” in Japan. Twelve mirrors with detailed patterns dating between the fourth and second centuries B.C. have been found in the tombs of powerful people in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Kyushu, and the Kinki region of the island of Honshu. “This has added a new chapter in uncovering the situation of early bronze tool production in Japan,” Junichi Takesue of Fukuoka University told The Asahi Shimbun. To read about Roman glass discovered in Japan, go to "Imported Glass in Japanese Tomb Identified."
CLEVELAND, OHIO—Fossils of the upper and lower jaw of a new early human ancestor were discovered in the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region of Ethiopia by an international team of scientists led by Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The Australopithecus deyiremeda fossils are 3.3 to 3.5 million years old, overlapping with Australopithecus afarensis, who lived from 2.9 to 3.8 million years ago. Australopithecus deyiremeda differs from the famous “Lucy” fossils in the size and shape of its thick-enameled teeth and its robust lower jaws, suggesting that the two closely related species had different diets. “Current fossil evidence from the Woranso-Mille study area clearly shows that there were at least two, if not three, early human species living at the same time and in close geographic proximity,” Haile-Salassie said in a press release. The name of the new species, deyiremeda, (day-ihreme-dah) means “close relative” in the language spoken by the Afar people. To read about more recent evolutionary history, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."
MADRID, SPAIN—Discovery News reports that a new analysis of Cranium 17 from Spain’s Sima de los Huesos suggests that the individual had been killed some 430,000 years ago by two blows to the head with the same object. The Sima de los Huesos, or Pit of Bones, is located at the bottom of a deep shaft in an underground cave system in northern Spain. It contains the remains of at least 28 individuals who are thought to be proto-Neanderthals and Neanderthals, but how the remains arrived in the pit has been a mystery until now. “Given that either of the two traumatic events was likely lethal, the presence of multiple blows implies an intention to kill,” wrote Nohemi Sala, a researcher at Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos and lead author of the study published in PLOS One. Sala suggests that the blows to the skull indicate that the bodies of the dead must have been placed there. The Pit of Bones could thus “represent the earliest funerary behavior in the human fossil record.”
ROME, ITALY—The United States has returned 25 historic artifacts, including Etruscan vases, first-century frescoes, a third-century B.C. terracotta head, the cover of a second-century Roman sarcophagus, and a second-century bronze figurine to Rome. Some of the looted objects had been handed over to U.S. authorities by American museums, universities, and private collections when it became clear that the items had been stolen. Other artifacts were seized by police and customs officers. “Italy is blessed with a rich cultural legacy and therefore cursed to suffer the pillaging of important cultural artifacts,” U.S. Ambassador John Phillips said at a press conference reported by the Associated Press. He also said that the United States has returned more than 7,500 cultural artifacts to more than 30 countries since 2007. Interpol estimates that each year, antiquities trafficking produces $9 billion in profits. To read about earlier repatriations, see "A Tangled Journey Home."
NUNAVUT, CANADA—Last month, underwater archaeologists from Parks Canada with the support of Royal Canadian Navy divers descended to the wreck site of HMS Erebus, lost nearly 170 years ago during Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The ship, discovered late last summer in remote Arctic waters, was covered with kelp. Over the course of the five-day project, the team removed the kelp from the well-preserved ship’s port side. “It’s tedious, but all of a sudden you have a shipwreck that looks like a wreck site,” senior underwater archaeologist Ryan Harris told CBC News. “We haven’t identified what caused it to sink. Maybe on the starboard side we’ll see some evidence of trauma,” he added. The divers found Franklin’s cabin, and they recovered a cannon, ceramic plates, and two brass buttons from the uniform of a non-commissioned officer of the Royal Marines. “Those are the artifacts that are probably the most personal,” Harris said. To read more, see "Saga of the Northwest Passage."
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—Fragments of artifacts from the Staffordshire Hoard have been cleaned and are being fitted together in work funded by Historic England and public donations. The seventh-century Anglo-Saxon artifacts include a rare high-status helmet and a unique form of sword pommel that was in 26 pieces when it was uncovered. The pommel “combines multiple different styles of ornament, much in the same way as the earliest seventh-century illuminated manuscripts do, like the Book of Durrow. It suggests the coming together of Anglo-Saxon and British or Irish high cultures,” project archaeologist Chris Fern said in a Birmingham Museums press release. The helmet was discovered in 1,500 thin, fragile sheets and strips of silver that had been stamped with designs depicting warriors, birds, animals, and mythical beasts. And it had a gilded helmet band, a decoration thought to have encircled the helmet. “The Staffordshire Hoard links us with an age of warrior splendor. The gold and silver war-gear was probably made in workshops controlled by some of England’s earliest kings, to reward warriors that served those rulers, when multiple kingdoms fought for supremacy,” Fern explained. The original find of the hoard was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2009, to read more, go to "Anglo-Saxon Hoard."
YORK, PENNSYLVANIA—Archaeologist Steve Warfel is leading the search for the stockade at the site of Camp Security, where British prisoners from the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Yorktown were held during the final years of the Revolutionary War, from 1781 to 1783. “There should be a very specific footprint for this stockade. I’m looking for a soil stain,” Warfel told The York Dispatch. When the prisoners from the Battle of Yorktown arrived at the camp, those from the Battle of Saratoga were moved into huts outside the stockade to make room for them. This area, which came to be known as Camp Indulgence, is thought to have been found nearby in 1979, when archaeologists recovered thousands of artifacts, but no sign of the stockade. Warfel is using its location to help in the search for the Camp Security stockade. “It’s not quite a needle in a haystack, but it’s going to be a challenge,” he said. To read about a Civil-War era prison camp, go to "Life on the Inside."
CAIRO, EGYPT—The Catholic Leuven University archaeology mission announced on their Facebook page (KU Leuven - Egyptologie) that a section of a wall relief had been removed from the wall of the 3,850-year-old tomb of Djehutyhotep, located in the necropolis of Deir el-Bersha, where they had been excavating. “A small scene to the east of the entrance has been hacked out. It was damaged already in Newberry’s day (1891-1892), but it still showed the well preserved top part of a man carrying a chest towards Djehutyhotep. It was also one of the few reliefs where the head of a figure was still in good condition,” Monica Hanna, co-founder of Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, told The Cairo Post. Djehutyhotep is thought to have been a provincial governor during the 12th Dynasty. To read about a recently excavated temple in Sudan, see "The Cult of Amun."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Scholars have taken a fresh look at a 5,000-year-old seal impression unearthed in western Galilee in the 1970s, and think that it may be the oldest depiction of music being played ever found in Israel. The image shows two standing women and one sitting woman, who is playing a musical instrument, thought to be a lyre. The performance could be a scene from the sacred marriage ritual between a Mesopotamian king and a goddess. “We identified it as a lyre by searching through artworks and observing the remains of actual lyres found in Mesopotamia,” Yitzhak Paz of the Israel Antiquities Authority told Haaretz. Other known seal impressions from the third millennium B.C. depict dancing and feasting as part of this sacred marriage rite. To read more about Bronze Age seal impressions, go to "Lasting Impressions."
YORK, ENGLAND—The foundations of St. Leonard’s Hospital have been found under the stage and auditorium at the site of the York Theatre Royal. It had been thought that the medieval foundations had been destroyed in the Victorian era, but they have been found intact. “It is amazing that, considering all the alterations to the theater since 1764, so much of the medieval hospital has survived under the stalls and elsewhere within the building,” chief archaeologist Ben Reeves told The Northern Echo. To read about another recent medieval discovery in England, go to "Medieval Leather, Vellum, and Fur."
LIMA, PERU—A small temple thought to predate the great temples of the Moche culture has been discovered on a mountain in the Lambayeque region of northern Peru. The two small mounds on the mountain are surrounded by looted cemeteries. “The temple, which is 30 meters wide and 40 meters long, dates back to the earliest stage of the Mochica culture,” archaeologist Walter Alva, Director of the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, told The Andina News Agency. The oldest Mochica structure at the site is a white and yellow low platform. There are signs of erosion of the adobe structures from heavy rain and subsequent repairs. “This might imply that heavy rains affected the place in early Mochica’s times and that its origin must have been characterized by small religious and administrative centers that later evolved into huge pyramidal constructions such as Sipan and Pampagrande,” he added.
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—DNA from an ancient Taimyr wolf bone from Siberia has been compared to DNA from modern dogs by Pontus Skoglund of Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute, and Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History. They say that the specimen, dated to 35,000 years ago, represents the most recent common ancestor of modern wolves and dogs, and shares a large number of genes with today’s Siberian Huskies and Greenland sled dogs. “Dogs may have been domesticated much earlier than is generally believed,” Dalén said in a press release. It is also possible that there was a divergence between two wolf populations at that time, and one of those populations gave rise to modern wolves, but if that were so, then the second wolf population would have had to have gone extinct in the wild. “It is possible that a population of wolves remained relatively untamed but tracked human groups to a large degree, for a long time,” added Skoglund. Earlier genetic studies have suggested that the ancestors of domesticated dogs split from wolves no more than 16,000 years ago. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have excavated a section of Jerusalem’s ancient Lower Aqueduct, which was uncovered during the construction of a new sewer line in the Umm Tuba quarter of the city. “The Lower Aqueduct to Jerusalem, which the Hasmonean kings constructed more than 2,000 years ago in order to provide water to Jerusalem, operated intermittently until about 100 years ago,” excavation director Ya’akov Billig said in a press release. The aqueduct began at a spring near Solomon’s Pools and sloped gently downward for more than ten miles along an open channel until the Ottoman period, when a terracotta pipe was installed inside the channel to protect the water as it traveled through the growing city. This section of the aqueduct has been preserved for future generations. To read more about ancient aqueducts, go to "Rome's Lost Aqueduct."
EDMONTON, CANADA—A cave on the shore of Utah’s Great Salt Lake has yielded butchered bison and elk bones and hundreds of child-sized moccasins made by the members of the Promontory culture in the late thirteenth century. Now archaeologist John Ives of the University of Alberta is studying dice, hoops, and carved pieces of cane from the cave that are thought to have been used for gambling. “The numbers and diversity of gaming artifacts that we see in the Promontory record are unparalleled in western North America,” Ives told Western Digs. Many of the gaming pieces were discovered around a central hearth near the entrance to the cave, in what was probably a social, domestic space. “The propensity of the Promontory people for gaming signifies a genuine interest in engaging in peaceful interactions with neighbors extending over the far-flung area in which they ranged,” added University of Alberta’s Gabriel Yanicki, who has studied historical accounts of games played with similar objects.
STAFFORD, ENGLAND—Carbon dating has revealed that the lid to a butter churn unearthed during construction work in Staffordshire dates to the early medieval period, between A.D. 715 and 890. “During this period this part of Staffordshire was part of the Mercian heartland and was populated by a pagan tribe called the Pencersaete. Existing knowledge of this period for the north and east of the Midlands and the UK in general is very scarce, so this find is fantastic and of regional significance,” senior archaeologist Emma Tetlow of Headland Archaeology told The Staffordshire Newsletter.
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—A recent study of the bones of hundreds of people who lived in Europe over the past 33,000 years suggests that the rise of agriculture and the corresponding reduced mobility led to a change in human bones. Christopher Ruff of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a team of researchers from Europe and the United States took molds of arm and leg bones in museum collections and scanned them with portable x-ray machines. “By comparing the lower limbs with the upper limbs, which are little affected by how much walking or running a person does, we could determine whether the changes we saw were due to mobility or to something else, like nutrition,” Ruff said in a press release. The team found that leg-bone strength began to decline in the Mesolithic era, some 10,000 years ago, while arm bone strength remained fairly steady. “The decline continued for thousands of years, suggesting that people had a very long transition from the start of agriculture to a completely settled lifestyle. But by the medieval period, bones were about the same strength as they are today.”
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Isotopic analysis of the preserved hair, teeth, and nails of the Egtved Girl show that she had not been born in Egtved, Denmark, where her partial remains were discovered in a Bronze Age barrow in 1921. Analysis of the strontium isotopes in one of her first molars shows that she had been born outside of Denmark, and when combined with the strontium isotopic signatures obtained from her clothing, scientists were able to pinpoint her place of origin to the Black Forest of southern Germany. Karin Margarita Frei of the National Museum of Denmark and the Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen was also able to track the girl’s last journeys through an analysis of the strontium isotopic signatures in her long hair. “Neither her hair nor her thumb nail contains a strontium isotopic signatures which indicates that she returned to Scandinavia until very shortly before she died. As an area’s strontium isotopic signature is only detectable in human hair and nails after a month, she must have come to Denmark, and Egtved, about a month before she passed away,” Frei explained in a press release.
STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—Stone tools from northern Kenya have been dated to 3.3 million years ago, making them 700,000 years older than Oldowan artifacts. Louise Leakey and her team at the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) created 3-D laser scans of the Lomekwi 3 tools to reveal very fine details on their surfaces. “The tools are much larger than later Oldowan tools, and we can see from the scars left on them when they were being made that the techniques used were more rudimentary, requiring holding the stone in two hands or resting the stone on an anvil when hitting it with a hammerstone,” Sonia Harmand of TBI, Stony Brook University, and the West Turkana Archaeological Project (WTAP) said in Stony Brook University Happenings. Harmand and her colleague Jason Lewis discovered the site while looking for early stone tools in a dry riverbed along the western shore of Lake Turkana. Yet no hominin fossils or cut-marked bones have been found at the site, so the team isn’t sure who made the tools or how they were used. “Many have expected the threshold of stone tool-making to be pushed back in time, but the Lomekwi excavations really do represent a major advance in our understanding,” commented Richard Leakey, chair of TBI. For another recent discovery, see "Neanderthal Tool Time."