SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—An international team of scientists led by George Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington looked at genetic markers in 32 modern populations from the Near East, North Africa, Anatolia, the Aegean Islands, Crete, mainland Greece, and Southern and Northern Europe. They compared the frequency of single nucleotide polymorphisms, also known as SNPs or “snips,” in these populations to track the flow of genes between ancient migrating peoples and native populations to test the hypothesis that Neolithic farmers spread into Europe from the Levant primarily by sea, following coastal routes. “There were multiple migrations of Neolithic people and some, no doubt, went by the land route, but the predominant route was through Anatolia and then by sea, with Crete serving as a major hub,” Stamatoyannopoulos told Science Daily. In addition, the scientists found that Neolithic people from the Near East also moved southeast into Arabia and across the North African coast.
KRASNOYARSK, SIBERIA—A human jawbone with teeth thought to be 14,000 years old was uncovered during emergency excavations ahead of bridge construction at the archaeological site of Afontova Mountain. During the Paleolithic period, the site was close to glaciers and was occupied by people who hunted animals such as mammoths. Analysis of the well-preserved jaw could produce information about the early colonization of Siberia. “This site, an ancient camp, has been researched since the late nineteenth century and has given us a lot of material, not just debris, but thousands of complete stone and bone tools. During our current excavations we hope to find probably not the same amount, but very close to this. Apart from stone and bone tools, we found a set of stone beads and some pieces of art including a triangular plate made of mammoth tusk with plotted points. It was probably a pendant,” archaeologist Leonid Galuhin of Krasnoyarsk Geoarheologiya told The Siberian Times.
MUSCAT, OMAN—Muscat Daily reports that an ancient cemetery is being excavated ahead of a road construction project in Mudhaibi. One area of the cemetery dates to the third millennium B.C., and the other dates to the first millennium B.C. Among the oldest graves is one thought to be the 2,300-year-old tomb of a chieftain who had been buried with a male and a female camel, a sword with a hilt shaped as an eagle’s head, a robe, a conical woolen hat, and leather shoes. He also wore two daggers, one on each side of his waist. The sword and the daggers had been made of iron lined with steel—a style that may connect the burial to the Indus Valley, where it is thought that iron swords were first forged.
LUXOR, EGYPT—NBC News reports that a 4,000-year-old tomb has been discovered by a Spanish team of archaeologists in Luxor. “The dimensions are considerable, leaving no doubt that the tomb belonged to a member of the royal family or a senior courtier,” Jose Galan, leader of the Djehuty Project, said in a press release. The tomb dates to the 11th Dynasty, when Upper and Lower Egypt were united under pharaonic rule from Thebes, now modern-day Luxor. But according to Ali al-Asfar, of Egypt’s antiquities ministry, the tomb was reused 400 years later as a mass grave.
AUSTIN, TEXAS—Timothy Pugh of Queens College in New York announced at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology that his team had unearthed a 700-year-old council house, constructed with two colonnaded halls that stood side by side, at the Chaken Itza Maya site of Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Guatemala. The building was outfitted with altars and incense burners, and was decorated with sculptures of reptiles, parrots, and turtles. “Basically almost every political and religious ritual would have been held there,” he told Live Science. The council house was eventually destroyed and covered with dirt sometime after 1500. “The Maya paid close attention to time and calendars. After a certain cycle of time they would move the ruling seat to a new location,” Pugh explained.
MARIN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA—State archaeologist E. Breck Parkman has been investigating a country estate known as Rancho Olompali, the home of the band The Grateful Dead and The Chosen Family counterculture commune from the fall of 1967 until late summer 1969, when an electrical fire destroyed the mansion at the site. “I’ve used the contemporary archaeology of Olompali to address the concept of stereotype, in this case, what we generally consider to be the ‘hippie,’” he told Western Digs. The site, which was contaminated with asbestos, lead, and other toxic materials, was cleared by hazmat crews that put debris into 55-gallon drums. Parkman recovered 93 damaged vinyl records from the debris, and has been able to identify 55 of them. Only two of the records had been released during the days of the commune—the rest were an eclectic mix of music featuring “rather establishment tastes,” Parkman said. “I don’t believe most of these records were listened to during the years of the commune, but rather reflect where these people came from before arriving at Olompali. The records arrived at Olompali as literal cultural baggage,” he explained.
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—Biologist David Carrier and physician Michael H. Morgan of the University of Utah argue that the legs, hands, posture, and faces of early humans, especially creatures in the genus Australopithecus, evolved around the need to fight. “Importantly these facial features appear in the fossil record at approximately the same time that our ancestors evolved hand proportions that allow the formation of a fist. Together these observations suggest that many of the facial features that characterize early hominins may have evolved to protect the face from injury during fighting with fists,” Carrier told Science Daily. The robust faces of our early ancestors are usually attributed to the need to chew hard-to-crush foods. “These bones are also the parts of the skull that show the greatest difference between males and females in both australopiths and humans. In other words, male and female faces are different because the parts of the skull that break in fights are bigger in males,” Carrier explained.
CEREDIGION, WALES—Traces of the Llanllyr nunnery have been discovered near the village of Pontrhydfendigaid in Mid Wales, along with its cemetery and a Tudor mansion. The rare medieval convent had been founded in 1180 by Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd, a Welsh prince, as a daughter house of Strata Florida, a former Cistercian monastery that was a center of Welsh culture. “We know the nuns farmed sheep and cattle successfully and they would have tended mills, orchards and fishponds,” Jemma Bezant of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David told BBC News. Her team is still looking for the medieval chapel and wants to learn more about the cemetery, but the researchers do not expect to find any skeletal remains in the acidic soil. “We have already recovered fragments of sumptuous glazed floor tiles indicating that the nunnery was lavishly built and decorated,” Bezant added.
MADRID, SPAIN—Five possible sites for the final resting place of Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish author of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, have been found by forensic scientists who used infrared cameras, 3-D scanners, and ground penetrating radar to search the Convent of Trinitarians, where the writer’s burial was recorded in 1616. “We still have hope that if Cervantes’ remains were not moved they have to be somewhere under this site,” forensic anthropologist Francisco Exteberria told BBC News. Cervantes survived being shot three times during the Battle of Lepanto in 1571—those injuries could help scientists identify his remains.
ARGYLL, SCOTLAND—The Tigh Caol Inn, a small pub or Drovers’ Inn that sat near a bridge in rural Scotland 200 years ago, is being excavated by a team made up of members of the local history society, students, and volunteers. “A nearby bridge called the Witches Bridge carries (Thomas) Telford’s road over the burn. To the north of this bridge, along the main road edge about a mile from the site of the inn, lies a foreboding large quartzite glacial erratic known as Cailleach Glas, which translates as the ‘grey old woman’ or ‘grey haired witch,’” Donald Adamson, GUARD Archaeology Chairman, told Culture 24. The team has uncovered low walls and the remains of a bench or raised platform, and a stone-paved central hearth. The artifacts include shards of eighteenth-century bottle glass, delft pottery, Staffordshire Slipware, hand-painted white glazed fine-wares, and pieces of a high quality, clear-glass goblet. A nineteenth-century coin was also recovered, along with a piece of copper ally harness adorned with a double thistle design that may have been worn by a drover’s horse.
CLEVELAND, OHIO—An analysis of fossils embedded in nineteenth-century millstones in Ohio shows that many of them were made of imported materials. The popular stone, known as French buhr, originated near Paris, France, even though it resembles Ohio chert, also known as flint. The French stone is made from rock derived from freshwater deposits, and can be identified by fossils of a type of algae that occurs in the rocks of the Paris Basin and freshwater snails. Ohio chert contains saltwater marine fossils that are older than the ones in French buhr. “Based on the stones we have examined, it is clear that the French stone was more popular. Examples of millstones made of this stone are widespread in North America and throughout the world,” Joseph Hannibal of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History told Science Daily. The French stone was considered to be superior for producing white flour.
BARCELONA, SPAIN—The mitochondrial DNA of the first farmers in the Near East has been mapped by a team of scientists led by Eva Fernández-Domínguez of the University of Barcelona. They found that the 10,000-year-old genetic material, obtained from three sites in the Middle Euphrates basin and the oasis of Damascus, resembles the mitochondrial DNA of the first Catalan and German farmers. “The most significant conclusion is that the degree of genetic similarity between the populations of the Fertile Crescent and the ones of Cyprus and Crete supports the hypothesis that Neolithic spread in Europe took place through pioneer seafaring colonization, not through a land-mediated expansion through Anatolia, as it was thought until now,” she told Phys.org. Archaeological evidence, such as similarities in architecture and burials, also suggest that early farmers from the Middle Euphrates basin colonized Cyprus.
LIMA, PERU—Sweden will return the first four of 89 embroidered Paracas textiles to Peru later this month, according to a report in The New York Times. The 2,500-year-old textiles, which were smuggled out of Peru in the 1930s by the Swedish consul, have been displayed in the National Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg. Among the items the mayor of Gothenburg will hand over to Peru’s vice minister of cultural patrimony is a woven mummy’s cloak decorated with tiles of animals that may represent time periods or the seasons. The process of repatriation will be completed in 2021.
WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS—A suit designed to be worn in New York City’s water treatment plants will be used to explore the Antikythera shipwreck in the deep waters of the Aegean Sea later this year. “It’s basically a wearable submarine. The pressure inside is no different from being in a submarine or in fresh air. We can go straight to the bottom, spend five hours there, and come straight back to the surface with no decompression,” diving specialist Phil Short told New Scientist. Known as the Exosuit, it has voice, video, and data links; articulated joints for free movement; an umbilical cable to supply it with power for its thrusters; and a rebreather that can provide 50 hours of life support. The Antikythera device, dubbed the world’s oldest computer, was pulled from the Roman wreck by Greek sponge divers in 1900. “All we can do is get down there, get close to the sediment, and map out the debris field with our metal detectors. Over a period of meticulous seasons, we’ll slowly close in on what we hope is another mechanism,” said Brendan Foley, co-director of field operations at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Deep Submergence Laboratory.
YORK, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—Sean Winter of the University of Western Australia has investigated the Toodyay and York convict hiring depots in Western Australia, and found differences between them and the convict system in New South Wales. “It was set up 60 years after New South Wales and under a completely different penal theory,” he told Phys.org. Winter and his team used old maps, ground-penetrating radar, and a magnetometer to look for the remains of buildings erected by the convicts at the depots and to target areas for excavation. “There is no evidence of walls or any kind of restrictive structures around the outside of the depots. They weren’t locked up at night, they could come and go as they pleased, and they were even able to do things like access guns so they could go hunting. We found that there was a lot of alcohol consumption,” he added.
GHAT, LIBYA—Rock art in Libya’s Tadrart Acacus, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been vandalized by spray-painted graffiti and carved initials at an accelerated rate since the country’s civil war began in 2011. Hunters have taken over the landscape, killing off gazelles and wolves, while archaeologists and tourists stay away for safety concerns. The oldest paintings date back 14,000 years, and depict animals and plants that no longer live in the region. “The destruction is not just affecting the paintings but also the natural reserve. Hunters are to blame,” Ahmed Sarhan, a tourist ministry official in Ghat, told Reuters.
DEVON, ENGLAND—In the medieval period, fresh drinking water was carried into the city of Exeter through a network of tunnels, according to Mark Stoyle of the University of Southampton. He examined historic documents that record the plumbers’ activities and list the supplies that they needed, including lead, candles, and lanterns. “People from all social backgrounds relied on the system to provide their drinking water, so it was vital to keep it running smoothly. The city retained a plumber to carry out regular maintenance and he, in turn, hired in a team of workers to help with specific jobs,” Stoyle told Science Daily. The brick-lined tunnels were constructed to protect the lead pipes that carried the water, and to provide the plumbers with easy access to them. “Imagine if today there was no more digging up the roads to mend a water main!” he said.
AARHUS, DENMARK—A new study concludes that the extinctions of large mammals such as woolly mammoths, giant sloths, mastodons, and cave lions around the world over the past 130,000 years correlates more closely with the arrival of humans than with changes in climate. “The evidence really strongly suggests that people were the defining factor,” Chris Sandom, who was a researcher at Aarhus University at the time of the study, told Live Science. In sub-Saharan Africa, where large animals evolved alongside humans as they learned to make and use tools, there was the least extinction. When humans moved to Asia and Europe, they encountered animals unaccustomed to human hunters, and extinction rates rose. Climate may have interacted with human arrival in Eurasia, with temperatures determining where people migrated. Sandom found that extinctions were most extreme in Australia and the Americas, where humans arrived comparatively late. The new predators may have disrupted the animals’ ability to adapt to new habitats. “You’ve got this very advanced hunter arriving in the system,” he explained.
COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—A baby’s intact skeleton has been discovered at Tlachtga, on the Hill of Ward in Athboy. The child is thought to have been between seven and ten months old at the time of death. “We may never know what caused the death of the child. The skeleton probably dates back 3,000 years and was found on the bedrock at the base of a 1.5 meter ditch,” Stephen Davis of University College Dublin told The Meath Chronicle. The site is thought to have been a key ritual site where Samhain was first celebrated with the lighting of the winter fires. Davis doesn’t think the baby’s death was sacrificial, however.
ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—A site that was in use from the early Bronze Age (2300 B.C.) through the 1800s is being excavated ahead of the construction of a new park and ride facility. Archaeologists have found 4,000-year-old pottery, small pits and post-holes from roundhouses, and partial quern stones, used for grinding grains. Residues from working metal have also been uncovered. “The site appears to have been significant over a 2,000 year period with Iron Age occupation and evidence of smithing and domestic life,” archaeologist Steve Thomson told Culture 24.