SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Flint tools discovered in Kent, along with the remains of a prehistoric elephant dating to around 420,000 years ago, were probably used to butcher the animal, according to Francis Wenban-Smith of the University of Southampton. It may even have been possible for early humans to have killed the very large creature with wooden spears. “Although there is no direct evidence of how this particular animal met its end, the discovery of flint tools close to the carcass confirm butchery for its meat, probably for at least four individuals,” he explained.
OSLO, NORWAY—A new analysis of seven Viking-era skeletons by Elise Naumann of the University of Oslo suggests that elite individuals may have been buried with their sacrificed slaves. The skeletons, which were recovered by a farmer in the 1980s, came from three separate graves, and at least three of the bodies had been buried without their heads. The individuals who had been buried with their heads ate a diet rich in land-based proteins such as milk and beef. Those who had been decapitated, however, ate seafood-based diets, as did a dog who had been buried at the site. And DNA analysis indicates that the people who had been buried together were not closely related. “There were probably a very few people who were the most privileged, and many people who suffered,” Nafumann said.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—The Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts will soon launch its “Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts” campaign. For six weeks, the public will be able to go to PATop10Artifacts.org and contribute to the conservation of ten important historic objects from every region of the state. If the institutions that care for the artifacts meet their fundraising goals, conservators will be able to get to work, and the artifact that wins the most votes will be given The People’s Choice Award. “We’ve created this program to give institutions a new platform through which to share their stories and to give people a chance to show their support by voting as many times as they’d like, sharing their favorite artifacts with friends through social media, and supporting the conservation of these artifacts with online donations,” said Ingrid Bogel, executive director of the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts.
KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE—While excavating a Roman fort with their students at Jordan’s ‘Ayn Gharandal, Robert Darby and Erin Darby of the University of Tennessee discovered a collapsed arch at its gate. A monumental inscription at the gate dedicates the fort to the Roman emperors known as the Tetrarchs--Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius I. Decorated with laurel branches and a wreath, the inscription also reveals that the Second Cohort of Galatians had been stationed at the fort. It had been known that this particular unit was stationed at a place called Arieldela, but scholars had not been able to locate it until now. “Roman military documents from this region suggest that the Cohors II Galatarum was originally brought to Israel to help suppress the Jewish uprising of the second century known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt. The inscription indicates that this garrison remained in the area and was subsequently transferred to the outer frontier of the empire, located in what is now modern Jordan,” explained Robert Darby.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL—A subway expansion project in anticipation of the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro has uncovered a landfill containing debris thought to have come from the imperial palace between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Among the 200,000 objects recovered from the fill are an ivory toothbrush inscribed “His Majesty the Emperor of Brazil,” and a round white porcelain pot reading “to the Queen of Portugal Maria of Saboia.” The pot is thought to have held minty toothpaste concocted for the queen by a chemist with offices in London and Paris. Coins, pipes, a golden ring, and a tie tack have been found, in addition to many intact glass and ceramic bottles. Six of the bottles still contain liquids that will be analyzed and perhaps identified. Other bottles contained water imported from Europe.
FOREST, VIRGINIA—The landscape in front of Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s personal retreat, will be restored to its Jefferson-era appearance. Dozens of English boxwoods and rose shrubs that had been planted by the family that owned the house in the mid-nineteenth century have been removed so that archaeologists can carefully excavate their root systems and look for traces of Jefferson’s designs in the soil. (Archaeologists confirmed that the shrubs were not part of Jefferson’s design when they found a piece of ceramic under the roots of one of the boxwoods. It had been manufactured after 1833, and Jefferson died in 1826.) “It’s not every day that a national historic site, a presidential site, goes through such a transformation in one day,” said Jeffrey Nichols, president of Poplar Forest.
COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—A warrior’s grave containing five spears was discovered at a site soon to be home to a new golf clubhouse. According to Philip Crummy of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, the warrior was a member of the Catuvellauni tribe. The grave dates to the time of the Roman conquest of Britain.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has discovered a building that may have been the home of an elite Jewish family living on Mount Zion 2,000 years ago. The building contains a vaulted bath chamber with a mikveh, or ritual cleansing pool, that resembles a room in a mansion in the nearby Jewish Quarter. The shells of Murex sea snails were also found in the home. Such shells were used to make blue dye for ritual garments. This collection of shells may have been used to identify different grades of color. Mount Zion was abandoned for many years after the Romans pillaged Jerusalem. “The area got submerged. The early Byzantine reconstruction of these two-story Early Roman houses then got buried under rubble and soil fills. Then they established buildings above it. That’s why we found an unusually well-preserved set of stratigraphic levels,” said Gibson.
NORTH PEMBROKESHIRE, WALES—This summer, excavations at Nevern Castle uncovered evidence that the original earth and timber castle, which was built by Robert FitzMartin after the Anglo-Norman conquest of Pembrokeshire, was smaller in area than previously thought. It did, however, enclose enough space to protect the 18 houses mentioned in early twelfth-century documents. The castle was probably captured by the Welsh and held for several decades until later in the twelfth century, when it was recaptured by the Anglo-Normans and rebuilt in stone. Archaeologists found traces of a clay-floored cottage, pottery, and glass bottles dating to the eighteenth century, along with a fine bone nit comb.
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—It has been thought that the varied diet of modern humans may have contributed to an evolutionary advantage over Neanderthals, who were thought to have survived on eating large, herbivorous mammals. But an international team of scientists has been working together at a cave in the Caucasus Mountains, where they have found evidence that suggests Neanderthals ate fish. To rule out the possibility that the large salmon in the cave had been eaten by the cave bears and cave lions that were also found there, the bones of the large predators were analyzed. The results show that the cave bears were vegetarian, and that the cave lions ate land-dwelling herbivores. “This study provides indirect support to the idea that Middle Palaeolithic Hominins, probably Neanderthals, were able to consume fish when it was available, and that therefore, the prey choice of Neanderthals and modern humans was not fundamentally different,” explained Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tübingen.
OPPLAND, NORWAY—Melting glacier ice in Norway’s high mountains has revealed the remains of a horse dating to the Iron Age. “It shows that they were using horses for transport in the high alpine zone, in areas where we were quite surprised to find them” said Lars Pilø, head of snow archaeology at Oppland Council. He thinks the horse may have been used by hunters to carry reindeer carcasses off the mountains. “When it gets hot in the summer, the reindeer will get pestered by horseflies, and when they get horseflies they move up to the ice, which made the ice excellent hunting grounds,” he added. Archaeologists have also found horse shoes and manure in the ice.
LONDONDERRY, NORTHERN IRELAND--Three sets of human remains dating to the seventeenth century have been uncovered within the walls of historic Londonderry. Archaeologists want to know who these people were and how they died. Could they have been victims of the siege of the Jacobite army in 1689? “The Siege of Derry certainly comes to mind but we don’t know if these remains are related as of yet,” said archaeologist Emily Murray. “Sieges are usually associated with mass burials,” added Eamon Ó Chiardha of the University of Ulster.
KYAUKSE TOWNSHIP, MYANMAR—Two pagodas built by King Anawrahta during the Bagan period are in dire need of repair, according to architect Tampawaddy U Win Maung. The Sawyel Shwegugyi Pagoda, which sits in a forest, maintains its original walls, but one fifth of the concrete floral designs on its roof have collapsed. The Magyitaw Shwegugyi Pagoda sits on the Panlaung River. Its banks have eroded and half of the temple could fall into the water. “When repairing pagodas, people mostly consider it from a religious perspective. When the concrete is damaged, they never try to repair it—they just peel it off and put new concrete on. This perspective focuses on renewal, while the cultural perspective is focused on preserving old things as they are,” explained U Win Maung.
YORK, ENGLAND—A church dating to the Victorian era and possibly back to the medieval period has been uncovered in King’s Square, York, which is being refurbished. “Over the next couple of weeks the archaeologists will clean and record the remains of the church and remove any burials that might be affected by the resurfacing works,” said archaeologist John Oxley for the City of York Council.
JAKARTA, INDONESIA—Indonesian officials are investigating the security systems in the country’s museums after a recent break-in at the National Museum in Jakarta. Four golden artifacts dating to the eighth and ninth centuries, including three plaques and a small box, were stolen. The police questioned museum employees, security officers, archaeologists, alarm and CCTV technicians, and learned that the closed circuit television cameras had not been working for nearly a year, and that the alarm system had been down for two months. “Before the burglary occurred, the government had already planned to improve the security system as part of the National Museum program. However, the burglary took place before the project had a chance to be implemented,” said Wiendu Nuryanti, Deputy Minister for Culture.
CHENNAI, INDIA—Underwater archaeologists and students from Tamil University are conducting a survey of the coast of the southern state of Tamil Nadu. They want to know if Claudius Ptolemy’s second-century descriptions of 15 of southern India’s ancient ports are accurate, and if they correspond to the ports mentioned in ancient Tamil literature such as the Akananuru, which was written between 600 B.C. and A.D. 300. “We are presently surveying coastal towns, near where we believe ports might have existed. If they have existed, there would have been a heavy traffic of boats and ships. Also in towns, we are looking for pottery and other remains, which can indicate a lot,” said N. Athiyaman, head of the project.
MIGDAL, ISRAEL—A town occupied from the second or first century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. was discovered during a field survey of the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee. Ken Dark of the University of Reading says that the well-known “the Sea of Galilee boat,” a 2,000-year-old boat discovered in 1986 and housed in the Yigal Alon Museum, had come from the shores of this town. Other artifacts, such as weights and stone anchors, suggest an involvement with fishing. Limestone vessels often associated with Jewish purity practices during the Roman period were unearthed, in addition to an altar made of light-gray limestone that may have been used by polytheists. “This settlement may have contained masonry buildings, some with mosaic floors and architectural stonework,” Dark wrote in the journal Palestine Exploration Quarterly.
LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—A group of non-direct descendants of Richard III called The Plantagenet Alliance wants the king’s bones to be reinterred in York, rather in Leicester, where his remains were discovered last year. Archaeologists from the University of Leicester hold a Ministry of Justice license that permits them to choose a suitable reburial spot, and they have chosen Leicester Cathedral. The Plantagenet Alliance has secured a judicial review of that decision. “I can understand why Leicester want him, but I think they are doing it for the wrong reasons. They want the tourism. Obviously York has got this, that and the other, but for us it is not about that, it never was. It is about putting Richard in his rightful place,” said group spokesperson Vanessa Roe.
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Forensic anthropologist Ann Ross of North Carolina State University and her team have examined pre-Columbian skulls from different regions in Mexico, including Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, and the remains of people from the Tarascan culture from the central state of Michoacán. They then compared their statistical analysis of the facial landmarks on the ancient skulls with those of people of Spanish origin, African Americans, and contemporary Mayans. “There has long been a school of thought that there was little physical variation prior to European contact. But we’ve found that there were clear differences between indigenous peoples before Europeans or Africans arrived in what is now Mexico,” Ross said. She hopes that the information can help identify the origins of those who die crossing the Mexican-American border, or are killed in acts of violence near the border.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Radiocarbon dates have been obtained from marine shell beads unearthed at the Ksar Akil rock shelter in Lebanon. The beads, which were closely associated with the remains of a modern human young girl, are between 42,400 and 41,700 years old. Modern human fossils of a similar age have been found in Europe, but there have been few comparable discoveries in the Near East. It had been thought that early modern humans traveled out of Africa and through the Near East before arriving in Europe, but scholars think that these new dates indicate that people arrived in Europe and the Near East at roughly the same time, perhaps traveling along different routes. “It is possible that instead of the Near East being the single point of origin for modern humans heading for Europe, they may also have used other routes too. A maritime route across the Mediterranean has been proposed although evidence is scarce. A wealth of archaeological data now pinpoints the plains of Central Asia as a particularly important but relatively unknown region which requires further investigation,” said Katerina Douka of Oxford University.