Genetic Study Suggests Maya Domesticated Papaya Plants

Archaeology News - March 18, 2015

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—A genetic study of the sex chromosomes of the papaya plant suggests that the hermaphrodite version of the plant, which produces the fruit desired by growers, was first cultivated some 4,000 years ago by the Maya. Today, growing hermaphrodite papaya plants in costly and inefficient because farmers cannot tell which seeds are hermaphrodites until the plant has flowered. Ray Ming of the University of Illinois, interested in understanding the plant’s reproduction in order to produce a “true-breeding” hermaphrodite papaya, tracked down the mutation that caused male plants to alter to the hermaphrodite form. He and his team found less than half of one percent difference between the male and hermaphrodite sequences, indicating that the change happened relatively recently. “Our analyses date the divergence (of male and hermaphrodite papaya) to around 4,000 years (ago), well after the domestication of crop plants in Mesoamerica more than 6,200 years ago, and coinciding with the rise of Maya civilization about 4,000 years ago,” the team wrote in the journal Genome Research. And since wild hermaphrodite papayas have not been found in Central America, “This strongly suggests that the (hermaphrodite papaya) resulted from papaya domestication by the Maya or other indigenous groups.” To read about the Mesoamerican calendar, see "The Maya Sense of Time." 

Categories: Blog

Genetic Study Suggests Maya Domesticated Papaya Plants

Archaeology News - March 18, 2015

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—A genetic study of the sex chromosomes of the papaya plant suggests that the hermaphrodite version of the plant, which produces the fruit desired by growers, was first cultivated some 4,000 years ago by the Maya. Today, growing hermaphrodite papaya plants in costly and inefficient because farmers cannot tell which seeds are hermaphrodites until the plant has flowered. Ray Ming of the University of Illinois, interested in understanding the plant’s reproduction in order to produce a “true-breeding” hermaphrodite papaya, tracked down the mutation that caused male plants to alter to the hermaphrodite form. He and his team found less than half of one percent difference between the male and hermaphrodite sequences, indicating that the change happened relatively recently. “Our analyses date the divergence (of male and hermaphrodite papaya) to around 4,000 years (ago), well after the domestication of crop plants in Mesoamerica more than 6,200 years ago, and coinciding with the rise of Maya civilization about 4,000 years ago,” the team wrote in the journal Genome Research. And since wild hermaphrodite papayas have not been found in Central America, “This strongly suggests that the (hermaphrodite papaya) resulted from papaya domestication by the Maya or other indigenous groups.” To read about the Mesoamerican calendar, see "The Maya Sense of Time." 

Categories: Blog

Major Early Roman Fort Discovered in Italy

Archaeology News - March 17, 2015

TRIESTE, ITALY—Phys.org reports that images created using information collected by Lidar technology revealed a Roman fort near Trieste, Italy, that has been dated to 178 B.C. The fort, called San Rocco, is said to be several decades older than any other Roman fort ever found. Two smaller forts have been discovered on either side of it. The fort may have been constructed during the second Istrian War, and could provide clues to the early days of the Roman army. The excavation of artifacts such as hobnails for military boots indicate the site was occupied until the mid-first century B.C. To read about a similar discovery in Germany, see "Caesar's Gallic Outpost." 

Categories: Blog

Major Early Roman Fort Discovered in Italy

Archaeology News - March 17, 2015

TRIESTE, ITALY—Phys.org reports that images created using information collected by Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) technology revealed a Roman fort near Trieste, Italy, that has been dated to 178 B.C. The fort, called San Rocco, is said to be several decades older than any other Roman fort ever found. Two smaller forts have been discovered on either side of it. The fort may have been constructed during the second Istrian War, and could provide clues to the early days of the Roman army. 

Categories: Blog

Engraved Ring Suggests Viking, Islamic Contact

Archaeology News - March 17, 2015

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—The recent examination of a ring excavated from a ninth-century grave in the Viking trading center of Birka, Sweden, more than 100 years ago suggests that Vikings had contact with Islamic civilization. The silver ring is adorned with a violet-colored piece of glass (long thought to have been an amethyst) engraved with an inscription that reads “To Allah” or “For Allah” in Arabic. A scanning electron microscope revealed little sign of wear on the ring, indicating that it had few owners before it was buried in the grave of a Viking woman. Ancient texts mention contact between Scandinavians and members of Islamic civilization, but such archaeological evidence is rare. “Being the only ring with an Arabic inscription found at a Scandinavian archaeological site, it is a unique object among Swedish Viking Age material,” the scientists, led by biophysicist Sebastian Wärmländer of Stockholm University, wrote in the journal Scanning, reported by Science News. To read more in-depth about the archaeology of Vikings, see "The Vikings in Ireland."

Categories: Blog

Engraved Ring Suggests Viking, Islamic Contact

Archaeology News - March 17, 2015

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—The recent examination of a ring excavated from a ninth-century grave in the Viking trading center of Birka, Sweden, more than 100 years ago suggests that Vikings had contact with Islamic civilization. The silver ring is adorned with a violet-colored piece of glass (long thought to have been an amethyst) engraved with an inscription that reads “To Allah” or “For Allah” in Arabic. A scanning electron microscope revealed little sign of wear on the ring, indicating that it had few owners before it was buried in the grave of a Viking woman. Ancient texts mention contact between Scandinavians and members of Islamic civilization, but such archaeological evidence is rare. “Being the only ring with an Arabic inscription found at a Scandinavian archaeological site, it is a unique object among Swedish Viking Age material,” the scientists, led by biophysicist Sebastian Wärmländer of Stockholm University, wrote in the journal Scanning, reported by Science News. To read more in-depth about the archaeology of Vikings, see "The Vikings in Ireland."

Categories: Blog

Malaria Test Developed for Ancient Human Remains

Archaeology News - March 17, 2015

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—Scientists from Yale University have established a diagnostic, human skeletal profile for malaria, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Graduate student Jamie Inwood and her colleagues developed a technique to identify the polymer hemozoin, which is produced by the parasite that causes malaria, using archaeological bone samples from a site dating to A.D. 550 in Teverina, Italy. “Researchers from the University of Arizona had found burial practices that were throwbacks to pagan rituals. It was suspected there must have been an epidemic in the community that caused fever or fits,” Inwood said in a press release. The black, crystalline hemozoin clumps can be seen in bone marrow with x-ray defraction. Inwood is now collecting data on malaria from archaeological sites in West Africa. “The data set we build with this will be revolutionary for establishing the epidemiological curve for malaria in ancient societies. By understanding how this parasite reacted to societal shifts in the past, we can aid in predicting its future behavior. We can understand the way it has evolved,” she said. To read about a recent study of ancient heart disease, see "Heart Attack of the Mummies."

Categories: Blog

Malaria Test Developed for Ancient Human Remains

Archaeology News - March 17, 2015

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—Scientists from Yale University have established a diagnostic, human skeletal profile for malaria, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Graduate student Jamie Inwood and her colleagues developed a technique to identify the polymer hemozoin, which is produced by the parasite that causes malaria, using archaeological bone samples from a site dating to A.D. 550 in Teverina, Italy. “Researchers from the University of Arizona had found burial practices that were throwbacks to pagan rituals. It was suspected there must have been an epidemic in the community that caused fever or fits,” Inwood said in a press release. The black, crystalline hemozoin clumps can be seen in bone marrow with x-ray defraction. Inwood is now collecting data on malaria from archaeological sites in West Africa. “The data set we build with this will be revolutionary for establishing the epidemiological curve for malaria in ancient societies. By understanding how this parasite reacted to societal shifts in the past, we can aid in predicting its future behavior. We can understand the way it has evolved,” she said. To read about a recent study of ancient heart disease, see "Heart Attack of the Mummies."

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Stonehenge

Archaeology News - March 16, 2015

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—Controversial art critic Julian Spalding suggests that “We’ve been looking at Stonehenge the wrong way—from the earth.” He thinks that what we now see as the monument may have been the base for a giant, circular wooden platform on which ceremonies were performed. As a “great altar,” Stonehenge would have supported hundreds of worshipers looking toward the sky. “All the great raised altars of the past suggest that the people who built Stonehenge would never have performed celestial ceremonies on the lowly earth. That would have been unimaginable insulting to the immortal beings, for it would have brought them down from heaven to bit the dust and tread in the dung,” Spalding told The Guardian. Archaeologists have reacted to this idea with some skepticism. “He could be right, but I know of no evidence to support it,” responded Sir Barry Cunliffe, an emeritus professor of European archaeology at Oxford University.

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Stonehenge

Archaeology News - March 16, 2015

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—Controversial art critic Julian Spalding suggests that “We’ve been looking at Stonehenge the wrong way—from the earth.” He thinks that what we now see as the monument may have been the base for a giant, circular wooden platform on which ceremonies were performed. As a “great altar,” Stonehenge would have supported hundreds of worshipers looking toward the sky. “All the great raised altars of the past suggest that the people who built Stonehenge would never have performed celestial ceremonies on the lowly earth. That would have been unimaginable insulting to the immortal beings, for it would have brought them down from heaven to bit the dust and tread in the dung,” Spalding told The Guardian. Archaeologists have reacted to this idea with some skepticism. “He could be right, but I know of no evidence to support it,” responded Sir Barry Cunliffe, an emeritus professor of European archaeology at Oxford University.

Categories: Blog

Ancient Text Records Payment of Taxes

Archaeology News - March 16, 2015

MONTREAL, CANADA—A recently translated Greek-language receipt from ancient Egypt reveals that a person, whose name is unreadable, and his friends paid a land-transfer tax of 75 talents and an additional 15-talent charge at a public bank in the city of Diospolis Magna, also known as Luxor or Thebes. “It’s an incredibly large sum of money,” Brice Jones of Concordia University told Live Science. “These Egyptians were most likely very wealthy.” The tax was paid on a date that corresponds to July 22, 98 B.C., all in coins that in total probably weighed more than 220 pounds. The 15-talent penalty may have been charged for not paying part of the bill in silver, as required by law. Jones has translated this ostracon and other texts housed at the McGill University Library and Archives in Montreal.

Categories: Blog

Ancient Text Records Payment of Taxes

Archaeology News - March 16, 2015

MONTREAL, CANADA—A recently translated Greek-language receipt from ancient Egypt reveals that a person, whose name is unreadable, and his friends paid a land-transfer tax of 75 talents and an additional 15-talent charge at a public bank in the city of Diospolis Magna, also known as Luxor or Thebes. “It’s an incredibly large sum of money,” Brice Jones of Concordia University told Live Science. “These Egyptians were most likely very wealthy.” The tax was paid on a date that corresponds to July 22, 98 B.C., all in coins that in total probably weighed more than 220 pounds. The 15-talent penalty may have been charged for not paying part of the bill in silver, as required by law. Jones has translated this ostracon and other texts housed at the McGill University Library and Archives in Montreal.

Categories: Blog

Rare Upright Bison Bones Found at Alberta Kill Site

Archaeology News - March 16, 2015

LETHBRIDGE, CANADA—Shawn Bubel of the University of Lethbridge started excavating the 2,500-year-old bison kill site in the Fincastle Grazing Reserve because it was being looted. She and her students have uncovered the fragmented remains of at least 65 bison, and eight arrangements of bison bones standing on end in precise patterns. “In all of the features, the bones were positioned in an upright way, and were pushed all the way into the ground so that they would not have been visible from the surface,” Bubel told Western Digs. Evidence at the kill site suggests that hunters ambushed the bison while they were drinking in the marshy land among the sand dunes. The team also unearthed 118 projectile points that may have been crafted by two different cultural groups. Some of the points are broad-faced and side notched, resembling Besant Phase points that are usually found to the east. Others are more elongated and resemble Sonota points from the Dakotas. “I have my thoughts on this—that the Fincastle hunters have strong ties to the Dakotas, likely even travelled from there. But this remains a hypothesis, for now,” she said. 

Categories: Blog

Rare Upright Bison Bones Found at Alberta Kill Site

Archaeology News - March 16, 2015

LETHBRIDGE, CANADA—Shawn Bubel of the University of Lethbridge started excavating the 2,500-year-old bison kill site in the Fincastle Grazing Reserve because it was being looted. She and her students have uncovered the fragmented remains of at least 65 bison, and eight arrangements of bison bones standing on end in precise patterns. “In all of the features, the bones were positioned in an upright way, and were pushed all the way into the ground so that they would not have been visible from the surface,” Bubel told Western Digs. Evidence at the kill site suggests that hunters ambushed the bison while they were drinking in the marshy land among the sand dunes. The team also unearthed 118 projectile points that may have been crafted by two different cultural groups. Some of the points are broad-faced and side notched, resembling Besant Phase points that are usually found to the east. Others are more elongated and resemble Sonota points from the Dakotas. “I have my thoughts on this—that the Fincastle hunters have strong ties to the Dakotas, likely even travelled from there. But this remains a hypothesis, for now,” she said. 

Categories: Blog

“Amazing” Bronze Mask of Pan Unearthed in Israel

Archaeology News - March 16, 2015

HAIFA, ISRAEL—A large, heavy bronze mask depicting the god Pan—the half-man, half-goat god of shepherds, music, and pleasure—has been unearthed at Hippos-Sussita National Park. “Most of the known bronze masks from the Hellenistic and Roman periods are miniature,” archaeologist Michael Eisenberg of the University of Haifa said in a press release. The mask was uncovered near the remains of a basalt structure with thick walls that dates to the Roman period. Further excavation could determine if the building was a defensive structure that was converted into a place of worship. Eisenberg expects that the team will find a Pan altar on the main road leading to the city because Pan was often worshiped in caves and in nature, in addition to urban temples. “Because they included drinking, sacrificing and ecstatic worship that sometimes included nudity and sex, rituals for rustic gods were often held outside of the city,” he explained.   

Categories: Blog

“Amazing” Bronze Mask of Pan Unearthed in Israel

Archaeology News - March 16, 2015

HAIFA, ISRAEL—A large, heavy bronze mask depicting the god Pan—the half-man, half-goat god of shepherds, music, and pleasure—has been unearthed at Hippos-Sussita National Park. “Most of the known bronze masks from the Hellenistic and Roman periods are miniature,” archaeologist Michael Eisenberg of the University of Haifa said in a press release. The mask was uncovered near the remains of a basalt structure with thick walls that dates to the Roman period. Further excavation could determine if the building was a defensive structure that was converted into a place of worship. Eisenberg expects that the team will find a Pan altar on the main road leading to the city because Pan was often worshiped in caves and in nature, in addition to urban temples. “Because they included drinking, sacrificing and ecstatic worship that sometimes included nudity and sex, rituals for rustic gods were often held outside of the city,” he explained.   

Categories: Blog

Study of Foot Bones May Offer Evolutionary Insights

Archaeology News - March 13, 2015

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—An international team of scientists has combined skills in visualization techniques, engineering principles, and statistical analysis to study the structure of long bones and human bipedalism. The project begins with documenting the differences between the feet of living humans and other apes, in particular the shaft of the foot bone that is connected to the big toe, known as the hallucal metatarsal in modern humans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. In humans, the big toe propels walking and running. In other apes, the big toe is more thumb-like and used for grasping and climbing. “In our first study, we have documented exciting structural differences between humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas, some of which were predictable based on their gait differences. The unexpected structural differences we observed are equally intriguing. We are eager now to begin examining how far back in evolutionary time these differences can be traced,” said Kristian Carlson of the University of Witwatersrand. To read about the evolution of a very different motion, throwing, see "No Changeups on the Savannah." 

Categories: Blog

Study of Foot Bones May Offer Evolutionary Insights

Archaeology News - March 13, 2015

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—An international team of scientists has combined skills in visualization techniques, engineering principles, and statistical analysis to study the structure of long bones and human bipedalism. The project begins with documenting the differences between the feet of living humans and other apes, in particular the shaft of the foot bone that is connected to the big toe, known as the hallucal metatarsal in modern humans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. In humans, the big toe propels walking and running. In other apes, the big toe is more thumb-like and used for grasping and climbing. “In our first study, we have documented exciting structural differences between humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas, some of which were predictable based on their gait differences. The unexpected structural differences we observed are equally intriguing. We are eager now to begin examining how far back in evolutionary time these differences can be traced,” said Kristian Carlson of the University of Witwatersrand. To read about the evolution of a very different motion, throwing, see "No Changeups on the Savannah." 

Categories: Blog

Paintings Discovered in Spain’s Aurea Cave

Archaeology News - March 13, 2015

CANTABRIA, SPAIN—Cavers in northern Cantabria discovered Paleolithic paintings in Aurea Cave, near the River Deva, according to a statement made by culture minister Miguel Angel Serna and reported in The Local. The reoccurring images, found in different parts of the cave, are made up of red, vertical lines and dots. Some of the paintings appear to have been made with a fingertip, while others may have been produced by blowing paint onto the wall. “A finding of these characteristics is not found every day, and represents a significant contribution to our heritage, making Cantabria the European capital of rock art,” Serna said. To read an interview with the director Werner Herzog about Paleolithic art, see "The Birth of Art."

Categories: Blog

Paintings Discovered in Spain’s Aurea Cave

Archaeology News - March 13, 2015

CANTABRIA, SPAIN—Cavers in northern Cantabria discovered Paleolithic paintings in Aurea Cave, near the River Deva, according to a statement made by culture minister Miguel Angel Serna and reported in The Local. The reoccurring images, found in different parts of the cave, are made up of red, vertical lines and dots. Some of the paintings appear to have been made with a fingertip, while others may have been produced by blowing paint onto the wall. “A finding of these characteristics is not found every day, and represents a significant contribution to our heritage, making Cantabria the European capital of rock art,” Serna said. To read an interview with the director Werner Herzog about Paleolithic art, see "The Birth of Art."

Categories: Blog

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