ARMIDALE, AUSTRALIA—The near-complete skeleton of a 60,000 year-old adult male Neanderthal found in a cave in Israel contains a bone in the area of the throat whose shape and relation to other bones suggest it provided modern human's extinct relatives with the capability for complex speech. The Neanderthal's horseshoe-shaped hyoid bone has a similar appearance to that of modern humans. It is wider than in non-human primates, like chimpanzees, that cannot make human-like vocalizations. An international team of scientists created a computer model of the Neanderthal hyoid and showed that its positioning would have likely allowed the hominins to speak. Further, hyoid bones of the 500,000 year-old Homo heidelbergensis have also been found but not yet studied. If they turn out to have a similar configuration to the Neanderthal, then human-like speech may have begun as many as 400,000 years earlier than previously thought.
QUMRAN, ISRAEL—Analysis of three 2,000-year-old pieces of fabric found in the Wadi Murabba'at caves, not far from where the Dead Sea Scrolls were recovered, showed that the textiles had been dyed using a pigment extracted from the murex sea snail, known to be the source of the Roman era's most prestigious colorings. One of the fabrics, a woolen piece, had an blue hue that might have been described in the Bible. Researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority believe the color was achieved by exposing the cloth to heat or sunlight after dyeing. Prior to this discovery, only two textiles had been found with murex dyes on them.
TEXAS CITY, TEXAS—On New Year's Day 1863, a Staten Island Ferry boat-turned-Civil War ship called the USS Westfield was run aground by Confederate forces during the Battle of Galveston, during which Confederate forces would retake the Texan coastal city. Rather than be captured, the captain of the Westfield attempted to scuttle his ship, a manuever that cost him and 12 of his men their lives. The Westfield was excavated from the Houston Ship Channel in 2009 and conservators at Texas A&M University have been working diligently to restore artifacts from the wreckage. The conserved remains are set to go on display at the Texas City Museum this year in three phases, beginning with the unveiling of a Dahlgren Cannon capable of firing a projectile as far as 1.5 miles. Later in the year, conservators hope to display the 16-foot-tall engine cylinder and eventually one of the ship's boilers will join the exhibit.
HAIFA, ISRAEL—Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of a site that might have been occupied by Paleolithic hominins nearly 200,000 years ago not far from the town of Nesher Ramla in northern Israel. Found in a depression, where water flow has caused the bedrock sags into the voids below, the team recovered lithic tools that resemble the Mousterian tradition, hearths, animal bones, and residue of the pigment ochre. The age of the site was dated using optically stimulated luminescence and could be as young as 74,000 years or as old as 190,000 years.
BOONE, NORTH CAROLINA—Archaeologists are in agreement that the Indus Civilization, which flourished in present-day Pakistan and northwest India from the 4th to the 2nd millennium B.C., met its demise due to a change in climate. Now Appalachian State University anthropologist Gwen Robbins Schug adds to that narrative, showing that a weakened monsoon season led to both disease and social instability in the region. An inspection of 160 burials found at the site of Harappa, which collapsed beginning in 1900 B.C., turned up evidence of trauma-related bone growth, sinus infections, and telltale signs of tuberculosis and leprosy, as well as indications of systematic violence between the city's citizens. Women and children, in particular, who were struck by scarring diseases were most likely to have been the victims of assaults. The destabilization caused by the environmental changes appears to have led to violent displays of power directed at the lower classes.
BEIJING, CHINA—In eastern China's Shandong Province, Field Museum of Chicago archaeologist Gary Feinman has discovered remains of an extensive earthen wall dating to 500 B.C. Predating the Great Wall of China by 300 years, the fortification stands 15 feet high in some places and may run for several hundred miles. Unlike its more famous counterpart, the wall was not built to defend the Chinese against marauding nomads, but marked the border between warring dynastic states. Constructed by the leaders of the Qi Dynasty, one of whom, Qin Shi Huang, would eventually unite the states as one nation, the wall is so sturdy that even today people use stretches of it as the base of a dirt road that connects rural communities.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM—A green faience bust that was taken from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir, Egypt, amidst the chaos of the 2011 Arab Spring has surfaced at an auction hall in Belgium. A French archaeologist alerted Egyptian authorities to the artifact's appearance, and the object is now slated to be returned to Tahrir. Standing just over 10 inches tall, the bust represents a prince of the 26th Dynasty (ca. 685-525 B.C.), a period that saw Egyptians unite their country under native rule after occupation by a string of foreign powers.