EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND—A bone from a Great Auk has been unearthed at the Scottish Seabird Centre, along with bones of butchered seals, fish, and other seabirds. The bone from the flightless Great Auk has been dated to the fifth to seventh centuries, when it was a favored food source because it was easy to catch. “The discovery of the Great Auk bone at Kirk Ness is an illuminating find, as we seek to understand and document the importance of the area in the history of wildlife and human habitation in the Middle Ages,” archaeologist Tom Addyman told BBC News. The Great Auk, whose range once extended from the northeastern United States across the Atlantic to Britain, France, and northern Spain, was extinct by the middle of the nineteenth century.
LYON, FRANCE—Researchers from the University of Lyon measured the carbon isotopes in the bones, hair, and teeth of 45 Egyptian mummies that had been brought to France in the nineteenth century, and compared what they found with similar measurements taken from pigs that had been fed a controlled diet. They also compared the carbon isotope levels in the mummies’ hair samples with those of modern European vegetarians, and found that the results were similar, suggesting that the ancient Egyptians ate that a wheat- and barley-based vegetarian diet. “We found that the diet was constant over time; we had expected changes,” Alexandra Touzeau told Live Science. Kate Spence of the University of Cambridge explained that the farmers would have moved their crops closer to the Nile River when water levels fell in order to keep growing the same crops. Egyptian wall paintings would suggest that the people regularly ate fish, and archaeological evidence of fish consumption has been found. “All this makes it a bit surprising that the isotopes should suggest that fish was not widely consumed,” Spence added.
TAMPA, FLORIDA—Salty ocean air is damaging the concrete and steel launch complexes from the earliest days of America’s space program at Cape Canaveral. Lori Collins and Travis Doering of the University of South Florida’s Alliance for Integrated Spacial Technologies (AIST) and their team are using laser scanners and digital photography to create 3-D images of the structures before they disintegrate. The information could be used to craft miniaturized models of the facilities for museums. “The buildings have a very important place in American history,” research assistant Bart McLeod told Fox News 13.
MOSCOW, IDAHO—In northern Idaho along the Clearwater River, a stone tool and debris from tool-making has been found in a layer of soil with charcoal radiocarbon dated to 13,740 to 13,490 years ago. Points dating to 11,000 years ago were also found at the site, which was probably used as a short-term place to rest, fashion tools, process game, and fish. These points are from the Western Stemmed Tradition, and have been found throughout the Great Basin and the Northwest. Tests show that the tools were made from materials from as far away as Montana and Oregon, and may have been obtained through travel or trade. “I think the region was an active place where people were constantly coming and going on their way to collect the next available resource, or on their way home for the winter,” Laura Longstaff of the University of Idaho told Western Digs.
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—Foundations of a rare, nineteenth-century circular prison block divided into wedges have been unearthed at the site of Pentridge Prison in southern Australia. This type of prison was designed in the late eighteenth century to keep the prisoners in tiny, solitary cells under the surveillance of a guard stationed at the circle’s center. Archaeologist Adam Ford told The Age that it is “the most intact foundation of this panopticon-style building anywhere in the world.” Five areas of the site will be preserved when the land is developed.
ATHENS, GREECE—In 1979, the five remaining Caryatids were moved from the Porch of the Caryatids at the Erechtheion on the Acropolis and moved indoors to protect the them from air pollution and acid rain. Now housed in the new Acropolis Museum, work to clean the 2,500-year-old figures with lasers is expected to be finished next month. “The laser beam hits the black crust formed on the surface of the statues over the years, and that absorbs energy and disintegrates. The crust has a much lower resistance threshold than the marble, which is not affected,” conservator Costas Vassiliadis told Product Design & Development.
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—Sharon DeWitte of the University of South Carolina has conducted a careful examination of the skeletal remains of more than 1,000 men, women, and children who lived before, during, and after the Black Death that struck London in 1347. “I look for the parts of the skeleton that are going to tell me about age at death and sex, and then I look for a suite of skeletal stress markers that give me a general idea of how healthy people were,” DeWitte said. She found that frail people were more likely to die when infected with the plague, and survivors went on to live long lives, perhaps because they benefited from a better diet and improved housing. “Because so many people died from the Black Death, wages increased for the people who survived. People of all social classes were eating better food, which would have had strong effects on health,” she explained.
CAIRO, EGYPT—Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced that a team led by Ola el-Egezi of Cairo University has uncovered a rare temple-shaped tomb dating to 1100 B.C. at Saqqara. The unfinished tomb belonged to Paser, a royal ambassador to foreign countries and a keeper of the army archives, who died suddenly at a young age. The wall paintings in the tomb depict the funeral procession of the deceased, the dragging of his statue, his grieving wife, and his welcome to the underworld by Osiris. “Discovering New Kingdom tombs in such an Old Kingdom necropolis is very important,” El-Egezi told Ahram Online. Top officials continued to be buried in Saqqara, the capital of the Old Kingdom, even though Luxor was the New Kingdom capital.
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—Tooth enamel is found in the fossil record and it can yield genetic material, making it possible to study changes in genes and physical characteristics in the process of human evolution. Scientists at Duke University have identified two segments of DNA where natural selection may have acted to give modern humans their thick tooth enamel. They examined four genes that code for a protein involved in tooth formation of gorillas and chimpanzees, which have the thinnest enamel and eat fruit and leaves; omnivorous orangutans, gibbons, and rhesus macaques, whose teeth have an intermediate thickness of enamel; and modern humans, which can eat tough foods with their thick enamel. The team of geneticists and evolutionary anthropologists used computer software to compare how the sequences for the genes changed across the six primate species, and where those changes accumulated at an accelerated rate. “That’s when we know a gene is under positive selection,” project leader Julie Horvath of the Nature Research Center in Raleigh and North Carolina Central University told Science Daily. One gene, known as enamelysin, was confirmed to act on tooth enamel thickness in humans.
NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA—After a four-month-long closure due to a lack of federal funding, The Mariners’ Museum has reopened its wet lab, where the turret of the USS Monitor and other artifacts from the iron-hulled steamship are being conserved. Smaller artifacts had been moved to another lab, and a digital corrosion monitoring system was in place to maintain the stability of the larger objects that were left in place. According to The Virginian-Pilot, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has partnered with the museum in the project, has committed $200,000 for the year, with the possibility of additional money.
CAIRO, EGYPT—A 5,600-year-old tomb, built before the rule of Narmer, the founder of the First Dynasty, has been uncovered in the ancient city of Hierakonpolis, the capital of the Kingdom of Upper Egypt. The mummified remains of a young man had been buried with ten ivory combs, tools, blades, arrow heads, and an ivory statue of a bearded man. Egyptologist Renee Friedman, director of the Hierakonpolis Expedition, explained to the AFP that the well-preserved tomb will provide scientists with new information on Predynastic rituals.
SWANSEA, WALES—A mummified baby at the museum at Swansea University had been thought to be a nineteenth century forgery of a 26th Dynasty Egyptian artifact because of its meaningless inscriptions and inconclusive results from an x-ray of its cartonnage case in 1998. But a CT scan at the Clinical Imaging College of Medicine by Swansea University’s Paola Griffiths showed a dark area that could be the remains of a fetus and what could be a femur. An amulet and strings of beads or tassels were also spotted. “We can imagine that the probable fetus represents someone’s terrible loss; an occasion of great grief and public morning,” Egypt Center curator Carolyn Graves-Brown told the South Wales Evening Post.
SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Forty-five tombs thought to hold the remains of workers who built the mausoleum for Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor, have reportedly been uncovered in central China. “The terracotta warriors and horses, as well as the other rare relics unearthed from the funerary pits next to the emperor’s mausoleum, might have been made by the people interred in the 45 tombs,” excavation leader Sun Weigang told China Daily. The bodies had been placed in coffins with the legs twisted, a burial custom typical of the Qin Dynasty, Sun added. Pottery in the burials could help identify the occupants of the tombs.
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA—Officials from the Norton Simon Museum have agreed to return a tenth-century statue known as the Bhima, or Temple Wrestler, after talks with government officials from Cambodia. The Bhima is one of several statues thought to have been looted from the Koh Ker site during the 1970s. One of them is the Bhima’s twin, the Duryodhana, which had recently been put up for auction, but will also be returned to Cambodia. “These statues were all plundered from Cambodia. They are war loot. They are stolen property,” Tess Davis, a cultural heritage attorney and an affiliate researcher at the University of Glasgow, told the Los Angeles Times. The museum had purchased the statue from an art dealer in New York in 1976.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY—A wooden object dating to the ninth century has been discovered within one of the 37 ships uncovered in the Yenikapı area of Istanbul, which was known as Theodosius Port during the Byzantine period. “We found something like today’s notebook. It is made of wood and can be opened like a notebook. It has a few pages and you can take notes using was. Also, when you draw its sliding part, there are small weights used as an assay balance,” Ufuk Kocabaş of Istanbul University told Hurriyet Daily News. Sixty percent of the sunken ship was preserved, and a replica of it is being built. The amphoras it had been carrying suggest that its crew had traded from Crimea to Kersonesos.
SILIFKE, TURKEY—Treasure hunters have reportedly blown up an ancient tomb carved from rock at the archaeological site of Olba, which is located on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey. Emel Erten of Gazi University blames the closure of a local police station for the destruction. “The ancient city has had a watch guard for the last eight months. But this last event proves that it is not enough. Our fears came true and one of the most precious pieces in the ancient city of Olba was damaged greatly,” she told Hurriyet Daily News. The closest police station is a half-hour away.
BURSA, TURKEY—A Roman-era basilica has been discovered in the ancient city walls of Bursa, which is located in northwestern Turkey. The rectangular-shaped structure had marble columns and painted walls. “This basilica served both as a court and a religious structure in the early Roman era. It is possibly the oldest structure in the city after the walls,” architect Ibrahim Yilmaz, who is in charge of the restoration of the walls and two of its towers, told Hurriyet Daily News. The basilica was discovered in the lower levels of one of the towers and will be restored.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—Geoglyphs created by the Paracas people some 2,000 years ago in Peru’s Chincha Valley probably pointed the way across the desert to gathering places for the winter solstice, according to Charles Stanish of the University of California, Los Angeles. Stanish and his team plotted the geoglyphs and the remains of settlements and ceremonial mounds and found that certain groups of geoglyphs led to particular mounds or settlements. He says that different political or ethnic groups created these signposts, which were visible from great distances, by clearing darker soil away from the white limestone. “They would be unmistakable,” Stanish told Science Now. A second type of geoglyph made of rocks was visible when the travelers approached them. “They’re converting this landscape into a big theater, and the ultimate goal is to bring people together to market, exchange goods, manufacture goods, exchange marriage partners, gossip, do all the things people like doing. And then they’re competing with each other to bring in the most supporters,” he explained.