WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Causten family vault, built in 1835 at the historic Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill, had been damaged by seeping water and was in danger of collapse when forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution began his investigation of its rotting coffins and human bones. Over the past five years, Owsley and his team identified the scattered skeletal remains and researched the lives of the 16 individuals who had been buried there, including a Civil War surgeon and a merchant who fought in the War of 1812. Owsley also found a connection between the Causten family and the politically connected Shriver family. “The vault had to be repaired. But this is really the story of a family,” Owsley told The Washington Post.
ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—An excavation in the courtyard of Drum Castle has uncovered a large, stone-lined cesspit that collected waste from two toilets within the castle’s tower and from an outdoor toilet. Animal bones and medieval pottery have been found in upper levels of the pit. Archaeologists from the National Trust hope that grains, seeds, fish bones, and other food remains may be preserved in its lower levels. “This project is giving us a great opportunity to fit some of Drum’s historical jigsaw pieces together again, giving us a better understanding of the different ways in which people lived in the castle over the centuries,” Shannon Fraser, the Trust’s archaeologist for Eastern Scotland, told The Deeside Piper.
WEST YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND—Thousands of people participate in and observe re-enactments of the Battle of Hastings in East Sussex every year. Battlefield archaeologist Glenn Foard of the University of Huddersfield plans to remove the top layers of soil over a “substantial area” of the battlefield next year, in order to eliminate the items left behind by today’s crowds. Then his team can search for artifacts from 1066. “Now the challenge is on to find out what archaeology is there, before it suffers contamination from all the activities that are going on. Whether there is archaeology under the ground to be confused by the re-enactment activities, we don’t know yet,” he told Science Daily.
EAST AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND—Excavation of Camp 22 by a team from GUARD Archaeology has uncovered evidence of its use a training facilities for the Tank Corps, a prisoner of war camp that held German and Italian soldiers during World War II, and a repatriation center for Polish soldiers. Six brick and concrete buildings, nine drain junction boxes, five concrete paths, and a road were found. “A series of 24 concrete-surrounded postholes on the north side of the road almost certainly relate to what would have been a fairly substantial fence dating to the POW camp phase of use,” archaeologist Christine Rennie told Culture 24. The team also found condiment bottles, a teapot lid, polish bottles, and cutlery. Some of the items clearly did not belong to the prisoners, such as a radio label and beer and whisky bottles. “The recovery of a plastic cosmetic compact and a baby’s feeding bottle from secure contexts is quite intriguing. It could be an indication that at least one Ayrshire lass left the county when her Polish husband was repatriated,” Rennie said.
SINGAPORE—Later this month, U.S. Navy divers and personnel from the Indonesian navy will survey the wreck of the USS Houston, which sank off the coast of Indonesia in 1942 during the World War II Battle of Sunda Strait. The ship serves as a war grave for more than 700 sailors. The divers will assess and record the vessel’s current condition with sonar sensing systems and a remotely operated vehicle as part of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) training exercise series. “Working with our Indonesian navy partners, CARAT 2014 offers an excellent opportunity to conduct this diving exchange as part of our shared training goals, while also allowing us to determine the condition of a ship that is an important part of the U.S. Navy’s heritage in this region,” Rear Adm. Cindy Thebaud, commander, Task Force 73 and commander, Naval Forces CARAT, told Military.com News.
CUSCO, PERU—A new section of road leading to Machu Picchu has been discovered beneath heavy vegetation, according to a report in Peru This Week. Built by the Incas some 500 years ago, the road is almost a mile long and begins at Wayraqtambo, which is located on the other side of the mountain from Machu Picchu, and leads to a platform overlooking the citadel. A 16-foot-long, intact tunnel is part of the route. The new road “offers an impressive view of the village area at Machu Picchu, from a different angle than everyone usually sees it, and could help to decongest the tourist flow at Machu Picchu,” Fernando Astete, director of the site, told the Andina News Agency.
LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in Ahram Online, 12 artifacts that were stolen and smuggled out of Egypt after the January 2011 revolution have been handed over to the Egyptian embassy in London by court order. The objects were spotted by members of Egypt’s antiquities ministry who are tasked with repatriating stolen artifacts in lists of items up for auction. The recovered artifacts include a granite relief from the base of a statue of King Amenhotep III; a limestone head of a cobra beneath a sun disk and a lotus flower from the New Kingdom period; a bust of an unidentified man wearing a long wig from the Middle Kingdom period; a limestone head of a woman wearing a short wig; a New Kingdom relief depicting a person standing with his hands on his chest; and another relief painted with red and yellow pigments.
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.