PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—An international team of scientists led by Alessia Ranciaro and Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania has investigated the genetic origins of lactose tolerance in geographically diverse populations of Africans in Kenya, Tanzania, and Sudan. The scientists collected blood samples from pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, agriculturalists, and hunter-gatherers, who also took a lactose test by fasting overnight, having their blood sugar measured, drinking a sweet beverage containing a high level of lactose, and then having their blood sugar tested at set intervals. The research team found that the geographic patterns in which a genetic variant for milk digestion were present often correlated with historic human migrations and the spread of domestic cattle, camels, and sheep. “Our results are showing different mutations arising in different places that are under selection and rising to high frequencies and then reintroduced by migration to new areas and new populations,” Tishkoff told Science Daily. She suspects that there are other genetic variants for the digestion of milk that have not yet been discovered, and that commensal bacteria in the gut could also help adult humans digest milk.
VANTAGE, WASHINGTON—River guards and Native Americans are struggling to protect the archaeological sites, petroglyphs, and graves that were exposed by the drawdown of the reservoir at the cracked Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River. And, a second set of human remains has been discovered 500 yards downstream from the first skeleton, which has been identified as male and Native American. “We are not going to take pieces of the remains and carbon 14 date them at this point, or anything else,” Allyson Brooks, director of the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, told Northwest Public Radio.
FALLON, NEVADA—Vandals have struck Hidden Cave, an archaeological site that has yielded thousands of artifacts ranging in age from 5,000 to 800 years old. In addition to evidence of illegal digging, the interior and exterior walls of the cave were painted with graffiti, bullet holes were found in the informational kiosk, and the trail leading to the cave was defaced. Damage was inflicted on the interpretation signs, educational displays, and lighting fixtures in the cave. “This is the first instance of modern vandalism to the sensitive archaeological resources within Hidden Cave,” Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Jason Write told the Nevada Appeal. The site has been closed to visitors.
PARIS, FRANCE—Archaeologists have announced the discovery of a roughly 10,000-year-old staff carved with two human faces with closed eyes at Tell Qarassa in southern Syria. The wand, made of the rib of an auroch and broken at both ends, was found near a cemetery where 30 people had been buried without their heads. (The heads were found elsewhere in the settlement.) Frank Braemer of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique told Live Science that he thinks the wand may have been used in a funeral ritual by these early farmers, who grew emmer, barley, chickpeas, lentils. “The find is very unusual. It’s unique,” he added.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Linguists Mark A. Sicoli of Georgetown University and Gary Holton of the University of Alaska have examined the shared grammatical features of Yeniseian and Na-Dene, thought to have descended from a common language some 12,000 years ago. Yeniseian is a group of mostly extinct languages spoken along the Yenisei River in central Siberia, and Na-Dene, which is spoken in Alaska, western Canada, and is also related to Navajo and Apache. Sicoli and Holton think that this lost mother tongue was spoken in Beringia before the speakers split up: one group would have moved east into North America to become the Na-Dene speakers, while the other group would have migrated back into central Asia and became Yeniseian speakers. “There may have been multiple streams of people moving out of that single source at different times,” Dennis H. O’Rourke of the University of Utah commented to The New York Times.
CAIRO, EGYPT—Reuters reports that after a meeting with Mohammed Ibrahim, Egypt’s Antiquities Minister, the U.S. has agreed to return eight artifacts smuggled out of Egypt in 2011 and seized by Homeland Security officials in New York City. The objects, including 4,000-year-old models of wooden boats, the painted lid of a sarcophagus, and a mummy encased in decorated plaster, “represent ancient Egyptian civilization,” according to Ibrahim.
VIGO, SPAIN—With the help of mathematical models, ground-penetrating radar, and a laser scanner, researchers from the Applied Geotechnology Group at the University of Vigo evaluated more than 80 Roman and medieval bridges. The technology helped them to identify unknown structural and geometric details that may be covered with stones or buried underground, cracks, engravings, and past restorations. “All this information is of historic interest, but it is also useful to civil engineers so that they can plan conservation, improvement and restoration measures in these types of infrastructures,” Mercedes Solla of the Defense Academy told Science Daily.
BEIJING, CHINA--A new analysis of ash from Zhoukoudian Locality 1, located in northern China, concludes that Homo erectus pekinensis, or Peking Man, could control and use fire some 770,000 years ago. “At present, the key point of the debate over the intentional use of fire by Homo erectus pekinensis at Zhoukoudian is whether or not siliceous aggregate (an insoluble phase of burned ash) is present in ash remains recovered from the site,” Gao Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences told Phys Org. The four samples of ash that Gao’s team collected from the site detected aluminum, potassium, iron, and silicon, all associated with siliceous aggregates, and elemental carbon. All are identified as indicators of in situ fire. “Therefore, the location and quantities of the samples analyzed before might have been insufficient to draw overall conclusions about the site as a whole,” Gao added.
MONKNASH, WALES—Erosion caused by heavy coastal storms left two human thigh bones poking out of a cliff face in South Wales. During the medieval period, the site was used as a cemetery for Cistercian monks, until the monastery was dissolved in 1535. “I would say they belong to a monk from the 1200s—due to previous archaeological digs in the past, the depth of the bones in the cliff, and the history of the area,” archaeologist Karl-James Langford told The Telegraph. The recent storms took a foot of coastline, he added.
XI’AN, CHINA—The 8,000 terracotta warriors buried near the mausoleum of the first emperor of China were armed with weapons made of wood or bamboo and bronze. Archaeologists Marcos Martinón-Torres of University College London and Xiuzhen Janice Li, formerly of the University College London and now of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, examined more than 200 five-part bronze crossbow triggers and the tips of the bows—all that remain of the ancient weapons—and where the pieces were unearthed in the tomb. The scientists concluded that the pieces show no signs of wear, and so were probably made for burial in the tomb in small batches, since they are mostly uniform and were likely to have been made in nearly identical molds. “The cellular workshop model we postulate for the weapons manufacture in the mausoleum would have also offered useful flexibility for armies on the move,” Martinón-Torres commented to Live Science.
LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—The University of Leiden announced that artifacts its researchers unearthed during the past 25 years at the Syrian site of Tell Sabi Abyad may have been stolen from storage depots in the provincial capital of Raqqa by armed men. The artifacts include 6,000-year-old pottery and art objects, and animal and human remains—much of it unstudied. “I cannot check the extent of the damage because due to all the violence the area is too dangerous to enter. Since December of last year, I have not been able to contact the Syrian guard of our depots,” Peter Akkermans told the NL Times. Akkermans has no word about the condition of Tell Sabi Abyad, either.
GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN—Sandra Karlsson, a graduate student at the University of Gothenburg, has studied Hellenistic grave reliefs from the Greek city-states of Smyrna and Kyzikos, located in present-day Turkey, for information about the expression of emotions, grief, and conceptions of death. She found the dead were often shown with family members and servants, and the strongest expressions of grief were offered for deceased children and adolescents. It had been thought that high child mortality rates brought about conventions that suppressed expressions of grief at the death of a child. “This [little utilized] source material provides important information about funerary rituals, demographics, family structures, and ideas about life after death,” Karlsson told Science Daily.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—A three-year study of Teotihuacán’s Pyramid of the Sun led by Arturo Menchaca of the National Autonomous University of Mexico suggests that dry conditions on the south side of the structure could lead to its collapse. His team placed detectors under the center of the pyramid to track how muons, which originate in space, passed through the building. What they found is that the density of the earth in the pyramid is at least 20 percent lower on one side than on the other. “I can use slightly moist sand to make a sandcastle. If I leave it exposed to the sun and touch it when it is dry, then it crumbles,” Menchaca told New Scientist.
SUFFOLK, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have announced the discovery of a seventh-century royal village in Rendlesham, four miles northeast of the Anglo-Saxon burial site of Sutton Hoo. Fragments of jewelry and coins have been found at the village site, which covers more than 100 acres of farmland. The Saxon historian the Venerable Bede wrote of “the king’s country-seat of Rendlesham,” but its exact location was unknown until the landowner became concerned about treasure hunters on his property and called the archaeology until of the Suffolk county council. The scientists used aerial photography, soil analysis, ground-penetrating radar, and metal detectors to investigate the area. “It shows there were high-status people at the site and there was trading with places that were very far away. It is fascinating and very exciting,” Mike Argent, chairman of the Sutton Hoo Society, told EADT24.
DEVON, ENGLAND—Three years ago, archaeologists excavated a 4,000-year-old stone box from a mound of peat in order to protect it from erosion on the remote White Horse Hill on Dartmoor. Since then an international team of scientists has been working to conserve the contents of the box, which included cremated human remains, a tin bead and 34 tin studs, a belt made of nettles with a leather fringe, jewelry made of Baltic amber and shale from Whitby, wooden ear studs, and a woven bag. All of the items had been wrapped in a fur that may have come from a now-extinct bear, and placed in a basket. The tin items are the earliest evidence of metal-working in the southwest of England, and the ear studs are the earliest examples of wood turning every found in Britain. “The last Dartmoor burial with grave goods was back in the days of the Victorian gentleman antiquarians. This is the first scientifically excavated burial on the moor, and the most significant ever,” Jane Marchand, chief archaeologist at the Dartmoor National Park Authority, told The Guardian.
LIMA, PERU—The Andina News Agency reports that the 3,000-year-old remains of three adults, one child, and one adolescent from the Marcavalle culture were unearthed in Cusco at a center for juvenile rehabilitation. The individuals had been buried in two double graves and one single grave. Necklaces, tools made from obsidian and camelid bones, and fragments of ceramics were also found. Further excavations in the area are planned.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL—In preparation for this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, many construction projects are underway in Rio De Janeiro, and they are uncovering evidence of the city’s historic involvement in the Atlantic slave trade—more than 1.8 million enslaved Africans landed in Rio. The sites include Valongo wharf, where early nineteenth-century ships docked and unloaded their human cargo, the ruins of the slave market, and the Cemitério dos Pretos Novos, or the Cemetery of New Blacks, a mass grave for the thousands of people who did not survive. “We’re finding archaeological sites of global importance, and probably far more extensive than what’s been excavated so far, but instead of prioritizing these discoveries our leaders are proceeding with their grotesque remaking of Rio,” Sonia Rabello, a legal scholar and former city councilwoman, told The New York Times.
INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA—Archaeologist Thomas Garrison and professor of religion Lynn Swartz Dodd from the University of Southern California and their students exhumed the remains of the legendary racehorse Native Diver, who died in 1967 from colic at the age of eight. He was buried at the Hollywood Park racetrack and given a stone memorial. The track, however, has now closed and will be torn down. Richard Shapiro, grandson of Native Diver’s owners, wanted to move the horse’s remains. “He brought pictures and some of Native Diver’s prizes. He did a little presentation of the horse to the students. It really showed that we’re actually digging up the human past and things people have a connection with,” Garrison explained to The Daily Trojan. Native Diver’s remains will be stored at the Del Mar racetrack until a new burial site is found.
QUINCY, WASHINGTON—When the water level of the reservoir behind the Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River had been drawn down 26 feet earlier this week, human bones were exposed along the shoreline. Grant County Coroner Craig Morrison told The Spokesman Review that he thought the bones were “hundreds, if not thousands,” of years old because of the wear pattern on the teeth. The skeletal are being guarded at the site until someone from the Washington’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation can pick them up.
BRECON BEACONS, WALES—While walking in the Brecon Beacons, geologist Alan Bowring spotted prehistoric rock art on a 4-foot, 9-inch long stone lying on the ground. The stone, decorated with 12 cup marks joined by connecting lines, may have stood upright during the Bronze Age as a way marker for farming communities. “We might have been able to predict a discovery of this kind considering the large amount of prehistoric ritual sites in the Brecon Beacons but this is the first evidence of prehistoric rock art to be ever recorded [in the Beacons],” commented George Nash of Bristol University to BBC News.