SANNOX, SCOTLAND—A Bronze Age cist burial was rescued from an eroding cliff face on the Isle of Arran. “All the bone was uniformly white and in a similar condition, which is evidence for a hot cremation pyre,” excavation leader Iraia Arabaolaza explained to Culture 24. Some of the bones may have been lost to erosion, or not included in the burial. A green stain indicates that a copper artifact may have originally been part of the burial. A sharp knife made of Yorkshire flint was recovered, along with a cracked food pot that may have been fired when the body was cremated.
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—A prehistoric site consisting of fire pits and ceramics has been uncovered at a construction site in Nashville. State archaeologist Mike Moore thinks the site had been a workshop where mineral water was boiled to collect salt as early as 1150 A.D. “This is one of those few chances we’ve had to actually get real, hard scientific evidence of who was here and what they were doing,” archaeologist Kevin E. Smith of Middle Tennessee State University told WBIR. A ball park will be built on the site, but the remaining artifacts will be protected.
ODENSE, DENMARK—In the center of the medieval town of Odense, well-preserved brick houses, half-timbered houses, and stables have been unearthed, along with barrels that had been repurposed as latrines. “We are talking about 700-year-old latrines. And yes, they still smell bad,” archaeologist Maria Elisabeth Lauridsen told Discovery News. “Preliminary results of analysis shows that raspberries were popular in Odense in the 1300s. The contents also contain small pieces of moss, leather and fabric which were used as toilet paper,” she added.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—A new translation of the 3,500-year-old Tempest Stela, a six-foot-tall calcite block inscribed with a description of stormy weather, may push back the reign of Ahmose, the first New Kingdom pharaoh, closer to the time of the eruption of the Thera volcano. “This was clearly a major storm, and different from the kinds of heavy rains that Egypt periodically receives,” Robert Ritner of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute told Phys.org. The timing suggested by the new translation corresponds with radiocarbon dates of an olive tree that had been found buried under volcanic residue, and would help to explain the rise and fall of empires in the ancient Middle East. “This is important to scholars of the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean, generally because the chronology that archaeologists use is based on the lists of Egyptian pharaohs, and this new information could adjust those dates,” added co-author Nadine Moeller, who is also from the University of Chicago.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Crops from western and eastern Asia have been discovered in ancient campsites in central Asia, suggesting that nomadic shepherds may have acted as a link between the two regions some 5,000 years ago. “Ancient wheat and broomcorn millet, recovered in nomadic campsites in Kazakhstan, show that prehistoric herders in Central Eurasia had incorporated both regional crops into their economy and rituals nearly 5,000 years ago,” Michael Franchetti of Washington University told Discovery News. The domesticated grains also indicate that these seasonally mobile herders were farming 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.
WALDRON, INDIANA—The FBI art crime team has seized a collection of thousands of artifacts from a 91-year-old man living in rural Indiana. The collection, which was housed in the man’s home and in several outbuildings, includes items from China, Russia, Peru, Haiti, Australia, and New Guinea, in addition to Native American artifacts. “I have never seen a collection like this in my life except in some of the largest museums,” Larry Zimmerman of Indiana University-Perdue University Indianapolis told USA Today. The FBI and other researchers will try to determine if the artifacts were obtained legally.
GRANADA, SPAIN—Researchers from the University of Granada have shown that the shrinking of the teeth of primates from the genus Homo is linked to their increase in brain size, even though a growing brain would require more food. “We have established that they are two opposing evolutionary trends that have been linked for 2.5 million years, when our first ancestors within the Homo genus first appeared on the evolutionary stage,” Juan Manuel Jiménez Arenas told Science Daily. Arenas credits higher amounts of animal food in the diet for the increase in brain size, which in turn fostered social and cultural development.
SHANGHAI, CHINA—Neanderthals and modern humans are thought to have interbred at least once—probably in the Middle East—after modern humans left Africa. As a result, today’s Europeans and Asians carry a small amount of Neanderthal DNA. A new analysis of some of those Neanderthal gene variants, and an examination of brain tissues, suggests that today’s Europeans have three times as many Neanderthal genes involved in the breakdown of fats than Asians have. “This is the first time we have seen differences in lipid concentrations between populations. How our brains are built differently of lipids might be due to Neanderthal DNA,” evolutionary biologist Philipp Khaitovich of the CAS-MPG Partner Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology told Science Now. Khaitovich thinks the fatty acid genes may have helped Neanderthals and Europeans adapt to living in the Northern Europe’s colder climates.
KHARTOUM, SUDAN—Three statues dating to 450 B.C. have been stolen from a remote museum near the World Heritage site of Jebel Barkal in northern Sudan. “They are small statues, about 10 to 15 centimeters high but it’s very significant because the Napatan kingdom is one of the important periods in Sudanese history,” Abdurrahman Ali, head of Sudan’s museums, told News 24.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Archaeologists from the Missouri Department of Transportation have recovered the first physical evidence of a French colonial home in St. Louis beneath layers of concrete and bricks. It had been thought that all traces of the city’s early, fur-trading days had been wiped out by nineteenth-century construction. The home had been built with vertical wood posts, rather than the horizontal logs used by Anglo-Americans, according to principal investigator Michael Meyer. And, French documents confirm that the house was built in 1769 by Joseph Bouchard, then later owned by Philip Riviére, a member of a prominent local family. Another house nearby contained a piece of tin-enameled Spanish majolica. “They’ve actually found remnants of this exciting period of time that lasted for 40 years in the early history of St. Louis before the Louisiana Purchase,” National Park Service historian Bob Moore commented to St. Louis Public Radio.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—BBC News reports that two artifacts thought to have been smuggled out of Italy have been withdrawn from auctions in London. A Greek glass jug dating to the second or first century B.C., and a third century B.C. pottery vessel, were identified by Christos Tsirogiannis of the University of Cambridge as items that had been traded by art dealers convicted of trafficking in antiquities. And, according to India West, the National Gallery of Australia has agreed to return a 900-year-old bronze Shiva Nataraja, or Dancing Shiva, believed to have been stolen from a temple in India’s state of Tamil Nadu. The museum had purchased the statue in 2008 from a New York art dealer currently on trial in Chennai for allegedly organizing the theft of 28 objects from two temples in India.
HURA, ISRAEL—A Byzantine monastery with intact mosaics on the floors of the prayer hall and dining room was discovered during salvage excavations in the Negev Desert. The mosaics, made up of blue, red, yellow, and green tiles, depict leaves, flowers, baskets, jars, birds, and geometric patterns. The names of four of the monastery’s abbots, and the sixth-century dates that the floors were laid, are recorded in tiles. “It seems that this monastery, located near the Byzantine settlement of Horbat Hur, is one monastery in a series of monasteries situated alongside a road that linked Transjordan with the Be’er Sheva Valley,” Daniel Varga of the Israel Antiquities Authority told Live Science. Four other rooms had been paved with white mosaic tiles, and ceramic jars, cooking pots, kraters, bowls, glass vessels, and coins were found. The monastery and mosaics will be moved away from the road construction and preserved.
POZNAŃ, POLAND—Little is known about the education of royal children in ancient Egypt, so Filip Taterka of Adam Mickiewicz University examined Egyptian texts for clues to the literacy of the pharaohs. He found references to medical documents, letters, and wisdom literature written by the kings, and adds that the writing implements found in the tomb of Tutankhamun suggests that the boy king had been educated. “For administrative documents and literary texts, ancient Egyptians used mainly hieratic, which was a simplified form of writing used since the Old Kingdom, the time of the builders of the pyramids in the third millennium B.C. In the middle of the first millennium B.C., even more simplified demotic appeared,” Taterka explained to Science & Scholarship in Poland. Taterka thinks that Egyptian royal children were probably taught hieratic, and that classical hieroglyphs were probably reserved for children who would enter the priesthood. Pharaohs would also need to know how to read hieroglyphs so that they could recite sacred texts.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—While examining the changes in building materials over time at the monastery Enkleistra of St. Neophytos in Cyprus, investigators discovered white asbestos beneath some areas of the twelfth-century wall paintings. The fibrous material, added to the finish coating of plaster, produced a smooth finish. The monks “probably wanted to give more shine and different properties to this layer. It definitely wasn’t a casual decision—they must have understood the properties of the material,” archaeological scientist Ioanna Kakoulli of UCLA told Live Science. The main deposits of asbestos in Cyprus are located some 38 miles away from the monastery, suggesting that the monks may have traded for it.
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—Rescue excavations continue at the site of “Camp Asylum,” a Civil War prisoner of war camp for 1,250 Union officers located in what was an exercise yard for patients at the state’s mental health asylum. Archaeologist Chester DePratter of the University of South Carolina has brought in machinery to look for shebangs—the holes that the officers dug in the ground for shelter during the winter of 1864. “We didn’t want to leave important features in the ground if we could get them using machinery judiciously,” he told WFAE. Combs, buttons, and lead seals from bales of cotton have also been found. The site will be handed over to developers at the end of April.
ROME, ITALY—Restoration of the mausoleum of Augustus, built in 28 B.C., is scheduled to begin. The cylindrical monument once stood 120 feet high, and was topped with a bronze statue of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. The structure held his ashes, as well as the ashes of his successors, Tiberius and Claudius. “It’s incredible the mausoleum is still standing despite what it has been through,” archaeologist Elisabetta Carnabuci told The Guardian. The tomb was pillaged by the Visigoths, converted to a castle in the twelfth century, fired on with cannons, turned into a garden, and used for bullfights, fireworks, and concerts. The mausoleum is expected to reopen to the public in 2016.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—A 3,300-year-old tomb that had a 23-foot-tall pyramid at its entrance has been excavated at an ancient cemetery in Abydos. The underground burial chambers of the elaborate tomb, which was looted as least twice in antiquity, still held a red-painted sandstone sarcophagus for a scribe named Horemheb in one chamber, and Shabti figurines for a man named Ramesu in another. The disarticulated skeletal remains of three to four men, 10 to 12 women, and at least two children were also recovered. Radiocarbon dates of the bones should help Kevin Cahail of the University of Pennsylvania determine if the women had been wives of the men, or if the tomb had been used over multiple generations by the same family. It is even possible that the tomb was reused without permission at a later date. Cahail and his team also discovered a broken heart amulet carved from red and green jasper. “It’s a beautiful object and possibly one of the best carved examples of these very rare type of amulets. It was probably on the chest of one of the deceased individuals and there probably would have been some sort of necklaces and gold and things like that,” he told Live Science.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Eleven ossuaries containing bone fragments and pottery were recovered last week in a joint operation between officials from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Shefet police, who interrupted a clandestine transaction and arrested several suspects. Some of the 2,000-year-old bone boxes are elaborately carved with Jewish symbols and text in Hebrew and Greek, and two were inscribed with names. The ossuaries are thought to have been recently looted from a burial cave in Jerusalem that may have been uncovered during a construction project. “We can learn from each ossuary about a different aspect of language, art and burial practice,” Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA, told Haaretz.
LONDON, ENGLAND—The Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century was not spread by fleas on rats, according to a new study of plague DNA extracted from 25 skeletons unearthed in London last year. Tim Brooks of Public Health England thinks that the Yersinia pestis bacterium must have been transmitted through coughs and sneezes in order for it to have spread through the population so quickly. Archaeologist Don Walker and Jelena Bekvalacs of the Museum of London add that the skeletons show that the people were in poor health when the plague struck—they suffered from rickets, anemia, malnutrition, and bad teeth. A study of the wills registered at the Court of Hustings by archaeologist Barney Sloane estimates that as many as 60 percent of Londoners succumbed to the Black Death. “As an explanation [rat fleas] for the Black Death in its own right, it simply isn’t good enough. It cannot spread fast enough from one household to the next to cause the huge number of cases that we saw during the Black Death epidemics,” Brooks told The Guardian.
ROCKHAMPTON, AUSTRALIA—Head injuries on Maya skulls are consistent with the use of spiked clubs, as depicted in Maya artwork, according to a study led by bioarchaeologist Stan Serafin of Central Queensland University. He examined 116 skulls from different periods of Maya history in 13 different sites from Mexico’s Northwest Yucatan. The team concluded that warfare could have decreased during the Classic period, but increased slightly in the Postclassic period, “which is to be expected since hard times tend to breed violence,” Serafin told CQUniNews. He thinks the wounds are more consistent with open combat between military units. “While some of these injuries may have been from arrows, a wooden club with protruding points would better account for their concentration in the left frontal and horizontal orientation in four out of five examples,” he added.