QUESADA, SPAIN—A UNESCO-listed rock-art panel estimated to be 5,000 years old was destroyed by thieves who tried to remove it from the wall of Los Escolares Cave, according to a report in The Local. Visitors to the cave, located along the Mediterranean coast, noticed the chip marks and rock fragments on the floor. “A lot of these places are abandoned and need greater supervision. Although there is legislation protecting these sites in theory, there is a lack of political will,” said José Antonio Berrocal, president of the Speleology Federation of Andalusia.
AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS—Egypt’s pyramid-builders may have used water to move massive stone blocks across the desert sands. Physicists at the University of Amsterdam tested the method shown in a wall painting in the tomb of Djehutihotep, which dates to 1900 B.C. In the painting, 172 men haul a statue with ropes attached to a sledge. A person standing on the front of the sledge pours water over the sand—an action that Egyptologists had reportedly labeled a ceremonial act. Tests have shown, however, that the right amount of water helps the sledges to glide across the surface of the sand. “If you use dry sand, it won’t work as well, but if the sand is too wet, it won’t work either. There’s an optimum stiffness,” Daniel Bonn told Live Science.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The H.L. Hunley, a Civil War-era submarine, will be immersed in a caustic bath that will remove the concretion of sand and shell that accumulated on its 40-foot-long iron hull. The procedure will also extract salt from the hull so that the Hunley can eventually be displayed without immersing it in water. Once the sediment has loosened the scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center will begin to scrape it off. “Under that concretion is the possibility of new information about the attack,” archaeologist Michael Scafuri told The Post and Courier. The submarine sank and disappeared in 1864 after it rammed a torpedo into the USS Housatonic.
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The parish of Amesbury has been continuously inhabited in every millennia since 8820 B.C., making it the oldest settlement in Britain, according to carbon dates obtained from the bones of aurochs unearthed at the Mesolithic Blick Mead site. Located just one and a half miles from Stonehenge, “the site blows the lid off the Neolithic revolution in a number of ways. It provides evidence for people staying put, clearing land, building and presumably worshipping monuments,” David Jacques of the University of Buckingham told The Express. The first monuments at Stonehenge consisted of enormous pine posts that were put in place between 8820 and 6590 B.C. Residents of Blick Mead would have traveled the River Avon to the ritual area for feasting, and perhaps for the bright pink flint that wasn’t available anywhere else in the country. Stonehenge was eventually erected after the long-term use of the area in 3000 B.C.
ELCHE, SPAIN—A team of researchers from the University Miguel Hernández concludes that interactions with scavengers, such as vultures, hyenas, and lions, have been crucial to the evolution and welfare of humanity. “At first, the interaction was primarily competitive, but when humans went from eating carrion to generating it, scavengers highly benefited from the relationship,” Marcos Moleón and José Antonio Sánchez Zapata explained in Science Daily. Language, cooperative partnership, and cultural diversity were all probably the result of selective pressures brought on by this competition with scavengers, they argue.
LONDON, ENGLAND—Four rare deposits of artifacts have been unearthed in the western valley area of the Valley of the Kings. “Previously discovered foundation deposits in the Valley of the Kings have always been associated with a nearby tomb,” wrote Afifi Ghonim, of the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities, in a report cited by Live Science. According to Ghonim, who presented the discovery at the Current Research in Egyptology conference, foundation deposits are placed in front of a tomb or temple when construction begins, and usually include miniature versions of the tools used in the project, miniature offering vessels, and food offerings. These four offerings had been placed in a box shape, but there is usually a fifth placed on the axis of the tomb. “We found the four deposits that make up the box, but not the fifth. Perhaps it too is there, awaiting discovery in front of the tomb,” Ghonim explained. Precise dates for the deposits could help explain what happened.
AUSTIN, TEXAS—John Speth of the University of Michigan thinks that Neanderthals probably boiled their food. Speth, who recently presented his ideas at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, speculates that Neanderthals boiled their food in skin bags or in trays crafted from twisted birch bark, citing as evidence animal bones at Neanderthal sites that are free of gnawing marks, suggesting that the fat had been removed by cooking, and grains found in the teeth of a Neanderthal from Iraq that show signs of having been cooked. “You can boil in just about anything as long as you take it off the flame pretty quickly,” he told National Geographic Daily News. It is known that Neanderthals made birch tar for hafting spear points by heating birch bark in oxygen-free holes. Evidence of boiling by modern humans dates to some 26,000 years ago, after the demise of the Neanderthals, and consists of stones that had been heated in fire pits and dropped into water.
LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Will Roebroeks of Leiden University and Paola Villa of Boulder’s University of Colorado Museum surveyed the archaeological record for evidence to support the idea that the Neanderthals died out because modern humans were better hunters with better weapons and a broader diet. “The explanations make good stories, but the only problem is that there is no archaeology to back them up,” Roebroeks told The Guardian. Villa adds that it is important to compare Neanderthals to their modern human contemporaries, not their successors. “The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there. What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true,” she said.
SELKIRK, SCOTLAND—Work on water pipes in the Scottish Borders has uncovered pivot stones used as hinges for doors, coins, imported pottery, and stone game pieces from a medieval village thought to have been known as Philiphaugh. Clay pipes for tobacco and glass bottles from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were also found. “The radiocarbon dates confirm activity in the period from 1472 to 1645. Although the artifacts were recovered from the lower plow soil rather than sealed archaeological contexts, they too support a late fifteenth to seventeenth century date,” archaeologist Susan Ramsay told Culture 24.
SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIFORNIA—A “complex pattern of episodic violence” spanning 5,000 years has been identified in California from a survey of more than 16,000 burials, from 13 different ethnic groups, unearthed between the Sierra Nevada and the San Francisco Bay. The most common type of violence recorded in the survey was caused by projectiles such as arrows or atlatl darts, found in 7.2 percent of the burials. Blunt force trauma head to the head was seen in 4.3 percent of the hunter-gatherer burials. Just under one percent of the burials showed evidence of dismemberment. “Many people still seem to think that prehistoric California was a violence-free paradise, but the archaeological record shows clearly that that was not the case. People are people, and most of us believe that an inclination to resort to violence in certain situations is part of the human condition,” Terry Jones of California Polytechnic State University told Western Digs. The first spike in the violence may have been linked advances in technology, in the form of the atlatl, and the migration of many hunter-gatherer groups to new regions. The second spike took place between 1720 and 1899, when Europeans arrived on the scene. “The introduction of a new weapon system—the bow and arrow—definitely changed the social and political landscape, increasing inter-group conflict,” Jones added.
TUSCSON, ARIZONA—Science Now reports that the site of Aşıklı Höyük, located along the Melendiz River in central Turkey, is offering archaeologists new insight into the transition from hunting and gathering to farming and herding between 9,500 and 10,500 years ago. Earlier layers of the settlement contain botanical remains related to the cultivation of cereals, lentils, and nuts, and the bones of a wide variety of wild animals. But, according to zooarchaeologist Mary Stiner of the University of Arizona, by 10,200 years ago, fewer wild animal bones and more sheep bones are found. By 9,500 years ago, nearly 90 percent of the bones unearthed at the site were coming from sheep. And, the ages and sex patterns of the bones, even though they still resembled the bones of wild sheep, suggest that they came from a managed herd. Dung deposits from the stabled sheep were discovered between the houses of the settlement. Stiner and her team suggest that the wild sheep were probably less aggressive than other animals and so early farmers kept them in the village as a matter of convenience.
ROME, ITALY—Biological anthropologist Gabriele Scorrano of the University of Rome Tor Vergata led a study of the 2,000-year-old skeletal remains of a young woman unearthed at the Cosa archaeological site on Italy’s Tuscan coast. The results of the tests indicate that she may have suffered from celiac disease. DNA analysis revealed that she carried two copies of an immune system gene variant associated with the severe allergic reaction to gluten in the intestinal lining, and her bones show signs of malnutrition and osteoporosis, which can be complications of the untreated disease. Gold and bronze jewelry included in the burial suggest that her malnutrition was not caused by a lack of access to food. “If she had excluded cereals from her diet she wouldn’t have experienced these problems. Probably she didn’t understand she had this disease,” Scorrano told Nature News.
UPPSALA, SWEDEN—Scientists from Stockholm University and Uppsala University led an international team in the analysis of DNA samples taken from 11 individuals unearthed in Scandinavia. Their results indicate that Neolithic farmers assimilated local hunter-gatherers. “Stone-Age hunter-gatherers had much lower genetic diversity than farmers. This suggests that Stone-Age foraging groups were in low numbers compared to farmers,” Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University told Science Daily. The study also shows that the two groups had been genetically distinct. “We see clear evidence that people from hunter-gatherer groups were incorporated into farming groups as they expanded across Europe. This might be clues towards something that happened also when agriculture spread in other parts of the world,” added Pontus Skoglund.
MESA VERDE, COLORADO—In 1917, Jesse Walter Fewkes suggested that a sandstone-lined circular pit in Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park was an Ancestral Puebloan water reservoir. But a new analysis of the hydrologic, topographic, climatic, and sedimentary features of “Mummy Lake” and its surroundings indicates that the pit would not have been effective for collecting or distributing water. Larry Benson, an emeritus research scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct curator of anthropology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, led the study. “I think it’s appealing to think of Mummy Lake as a reservoir. [Scientists] naturally want to find structures that hold or convey water, to explain how the people got their water,” Benson told Live Science. Benson and his team think that the pit was an unroofed ceremonial structure. The ditches may have been built as ceremonial roads connecting Mummy Lake to newer structures.
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—Stone walls now on the bottom of Lake Huron were built by paleo-Indians to hunt the massive herds of caribou that migrated along the Alpena-Amberley Ridge 9,000 years ago, according to John O’Shea of the University of Michigan. At the time, the glaciers had retreated and exposed a subarctic environment of tamarack, spruce, and wetlands. “I’m imagining seas of animals going through here,” O’Shea told the Vancouver Sun. He has found more than 60 stone hunting blinds under water that could have been used by family groups, and two stone lines that form a lane that ends in a corral. Using this structure would have required large, seasonal gatherings of hunters. “It was a much more complex, much more organized, multi-part hunting structure. It was just unmistakable,” O’Shea explained.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—The Central Park Conservancy has announced that the so-called Cleopatra’s Needle, an ancient Egyptian obelisk given to the United States by the Egyptian government in the late nineteenth century, will be cleaned with lasers as part of a conservation project that will “promote its long term preservation and enhance the public’s understanding of the ancient artifact,” according to a statement in Gothamist. The 3,500-year-old, red-granite obelisk left Egypt in 1880, and was carried from the Hudson River to Central Park by a special railroad over a period of 40 days. The monument was re-erected in 1881.