OXFORD, ENGLAND—A new study of the rate of gene mutations in three generations of western chimpanzees agrees with recent findings that the human mutation rate is half as fast as had been previously thought. This new understanding pushes back the most recent common ancestor of humans and chimps to at least 12 million years ago. “Our results add substance to the idea that the human-chimpanzee split was considerably older than has been recently thought,” geneticist Gil McVean of the Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics told Live Science.
JAMES CITY, VIRGINIA—This summer’s excavations at Jamestown will focus on the search for stains that may have been left by outlying palisades, the bases of temporary soldiers’ tents, structures, wells, and cultivated fields. “We’re getting a pretty good idea that this triangular fort—which is only about an acre—was the heart of a much bigger place. It was the stronghold—the keep of the castle,” Jamestown Rediscovery director William M. Kelso told The Daily Press. Captain John Smith wrote that acres of land had been planted after the settlers’ arrival in 1607, and tall grasses were cleared to improve visibility and security, but much of the seventeenth-century site was probably destroyed during the construction of Civil War earthworks. And yet, last summer, Kelso’s team found traces of a furrowed field outside the original triangle of the fort. “An encampment doesn’t necessarily leave you with a lot of evidence that can be found—but we’ve really just started looking,” added archaeologist Danny Schmidt.
PILBARA, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—Stone artifacts, animal bones and charcoal at the Ganga Maya Cave suggest that the site was used by humans more than 45,000 years ago, and may have been visited repeatedly up until 1,700 years ago. Is this Australia’s earliest habitation site? “We have some old the dates and I would prefer to get other dates before I make those kind of claims. It is certainly a very old site,” archaeologist Kate Morse from Big Island Research told The Sydney Morning Herald. “I think it is an area that people have traveled into to start exploring Australia. They have come from Southeast Asia across the water and arrived in northern Australia and opportunistically made their way around the coast and inland following river systems inland,” she added.
OSAWATOMIE, KANSAS—The foundation of Adair Cabin, home to abolitionists Samuel and Florella Adair, half-sister of John Brown, is being excavated in eastern Kansas. The cabin was built in 1854, the year that Kansas was opened as a territory. John Brown and his sons occasionally stayed with the Adairs and helped them to build additions to the log structure. So far the team has learned that what had been thought to be the cabin’s front door was actually its back door. They also found a trap door in what would have been the kitchen. The recovered artifacts include a silver fork, a double-edged ax, hand-forged nails, animal bones, bullets, rifle cartridges, and pieces of dishes. “John Brown got all the attention. He was out there and dramatic. But the Adair family does not get enough credit for having the tenacity to stay out here when neighbors on either side of a divisive issue are killing one another,” crew chief Melanie Maden told The Wichita Eagle.
LUXOR, EGYPT—Live Science reports that the remains of third-century plague victims have been unearthed in Thebes at the Funerary Complex of Harwa and Akhimenru, which was built in the seventh century B.C., by members of the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor (MAIL). Many of the bodies had been burned in a giant bonfire and covered with a thick layer of lime. Three kilns were found nearby where the lime was produced. Known as the “Plague of Cyprian,” the series of epidemics, thought to be some form of smallpox or measles, is credited with weakening the Roman Empire and hastening its fall, according to Francesco Tiradritti, director of MAIL. “We found evidence of corpses either burned or buried inside the lime. They had to dispose of them without losing any time,” he said.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Alyssa Loorya and her team at Chrysalis Archaeology have recreated two nineteenth-century tonics whose bottles were unearthed at a site that was once a German beer garden on the Lower East Side. One small, green bottle carried the bright orange “Elixir of Long Life,” and two others contained “Dr. Hostetters Stomach Bitters.” “We wanted to know what this stuff actually tasted like,” Loorya told DNA Info New York. The recipe for the Elixir of Long Life was found in Germany in a nineteenth-century medical guide, and it contains aloe, gentian root, and alcohol. The stomach bitters brew recipe includes Peruvian cinchona, cinnamon, and cardamom seeds. “These types of cure-alls were pretty ubiquitous in the nineteenth century, and always available at bars. Similar bitters and ingredients are still used today, in cocktails, and in health stores, but I guess we don’t know if it was the copious amounts of alcohol or the herbs that perhaps made people feel better,” she said.
BOGNOR REGIS, ENGLAND—The grave of a warrior who was more than 30 years old at the time of his death around 50 B.C., at the time of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, has been discovered at the site of a new housing development in southeastern England. His large casket was bound by iron hoops and its top was framed with iron. Inside, archaeologists led by Andy Taylor of Thames Valley Archaeological Services found three large, intact pottery jars thought to have been crafted in Normandy for the purpose of the funeral. The man was also accompanied by an iron knife, a bronze cavalry helmet, and a bronze shield boss. Two bronze latticework sheets may have covered the shield.
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—Divers returned to the protected site of the Tudor wreck of the Mary Rose, where there are still some timbers and artifacts covered with silt. “Everything is now deeply buried and this will preserve what remains on the seabed into the future,” maritime archaeologist Christopher Dobbs of the Mary Rose Trust told Culture 24. The team placed a datalogger on the seabed and a high-tech buoy on the surface that will transfer information on the ship’s condition to scientists via satellite. The warship was constructed between 1509 and 1511, and sank in the Solent during a battle with the French in 1545. The ship was raised in 1982 and is now housed in its own museum in Portsmouth.
BULMER, ENGLAND—Volunteers assisted archaeologists from Access Cambridge Archaeology with an excavation at Goldingham Hall, where features had been located last year during geophysical surveys. The group uncovered a large complex dating to the late Anglo-Saxon or Norman period that contained a food preparation area with six bread ovens, and a series of ditches filled with burnt pottery and bones. “Many finds were discovered, including an in situ medieval arrowhead, and most incredibly, a ‘flint face’ found at the bottom of the post hole of the structure. We are wondering if this could have been a good-luck charm placed in the foundations of the building,” Nick Moore, a committee member of Stour Valley Community Archaeology, told EADT 24.
NORTH YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND—A Mesolithic camp site, consisting of a small structure and flint tools dating to between 6000 and 8000 B.C., has been discovered alongside the A1, which stretches 410 miles from London to Edinburgh. “This was a place that people knew of—a place they could return to on many occasions to stay overnight during their travels. There is evidence of people using the route and moving through the area over periods of time,” archaeologist Steve Sherlock told The Express. The site was found while excavating a Roman road that also runs along the A1, and the Roman shops and baths of the town of Cataractonium.
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.