NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—Melinda Nelson-Hurst has been investigating Egyptian artifacts that have been housed at Tulane University since 1852, when they were donated by an associate of collector George Gliddon. It was not known if the two ancient coffins and two items identified as funerary masks belonged to the two mummies in the school’s collection. Nelson-Hurst has been able to determine that one of the coffins does belong to the male mummy, a man named Djed-Thoth-iu-ef-ankh, who was a priest and overseer of craftsmen at the temple of Amun in Thebes. “I’m amazed at the amount of detail I’ve been able to find out about this man,” she announced. The second mummy, of a teenaged girl, has yielded less information. But Nelson-Hurst’s research identified the second coffin as belonging to a woman named Djed-Mut-iu-es-ankh. Her mummy was unwrapped and dissected by Gliddon in Philadelphia, and her skull is now part of the collection at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum. It turns out that the two supposed funerary masks are in fact part of the innermost mummy cases belonging to Djed-Thoth-iu-ef-ankh, and Djed-Mut-iu-es-ankh.
ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—A large, pink granite boulder carved with symbols on adjacent faces was discovered last year by a farmer after it broke his plow. The stone was carved by the Picts, who lived in the region between the third and ninth centuries, with a large eagle, crescent and V-rod, notch rectangle and Z-rod. The Picts are thought to have created such stones between the sixth and eighth centuries as markers or commemorations. “The presence of two sets of symbols on a single stone is itself a very unusual feature relative to the corpus of symbol-bearing stones,” David V. Clarke, former Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Scotland, told Culture 24. Archaeologists will investigate the field where the stone was found to try and determine if that was its original setting, or if it had been deposited there during a large-scale flood.
GIBRALTAR—The examination of more than 1,700 pigeon bones from Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar suggests that Neanderthals butchered and even possibly cooked the birds, which nest in cliff ledges and cave entrances, as a regular part of their diet. “Neanderthals exploited Rock Doves for food for a period of over 40 thousand years, the earliest evidence dating to at least 67 thousand years ago,” according to a paper by Ruth Blasco of The Gibraltar Museum and colleagues, published in Scientific Reports and reported in Phys.org. It had been thought that modern humans were the first to hunt and eat birds on a regular basis. Scorch marks on the bones may have been made by cooking, or perhaps by waste disposal or accidental burning.
ATHENS, GREECE—The world’s largest solar-powered boat, the PlanetSolar, will take part in a joint Swiss-Greek underwater survey of Kiladha Bay to look for signs of one of Europe’s first farming communities. Kiladha Bay was chosen as a target because it is located near the Neolithic site at Franchthi Cave. “There are all these amazing finds from Franchthi—pottery, ornaments—but nothing resembling a village. So there has to be another place where they were producing these finds,” Julien Beck of the University of Geneva told the Associated Press. He thinks that early farmers may have traveled to Greece from the East by sea. “We have neglected the importance of prehistoric seafaring,” he said.
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—A five-foot-long cannon that was recovered from an eighteenth-century shipwreck near the St. Augustine Inlet will be removed from its electrolysis bath today. “Based on the artifacts we’ve recovered so far, we know this ship was part of a huge fleet that evacuated British Loyalists from the colonies near the end of the American Revolution. Our ship sailed from Charleston and was probably carrying both civilians and soldiers who were seeking refuge in St. Augustine. At that time in history, Florida was the closest British-held colony where evacuees could take shelter and try to start their lives again,” Chuck Meide, director of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, explained to Historic City News. Meide and his team hope that the cannon will carry some information that will help them identify the ship and lead them to records of its passengers and cargo.
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND—Evolutionary anthropologist Simon Powers and his colleague Laurent Lehmann of the University of Lausanne developed a computer model to study how small groups of egalitarian hunter-gatherers might have transformed into hierarchical cultures over the course of several generations. Archaeological evidence for this transition has been lacking. “We have good descriptions of ‘before’ and ‘after,’ but not anything during the actual transition,” Christopher Boehm of the University of Southern California commented in Science. The researchers found that groups made up of leaders and followers grew to about twice the size of the egalitarian groups, and that even when leaders took a large portion of the group’s surplus supplies, the followers received more than if they’d remained in a leaderless band, perhaps because leaders can organize large projects in an efficient manner. “What [Powers and Lehmann] have done here is take these ideas and make them work within a very elegant mathematical framework,” said Paul Hooper of Emory University.
FRESNO, CALIFORNIA—Firefighters in central California are using a wrap resembling tin foil to protect historic buildings from most of the radiant heat and burning embers caused by wild fires. Similar wrap is used by fire crews for personal safety in an emergency. Five cabins at the Placer Guard Station in the Sierra National Forest that are threatened by the French Fire were covered with the wrap. “It’s pretty simple, you just wrap the house in a shingle-type fashion so it’s overlapping going down so the stuff that goes down doesn’t get into the cracks,” U.S. Forest Service archaeologist Ward Stanley told ABC News. Drought conditions are causing the fire to burn hotter than a typical wildfire. The French Fire covers more than 13,700 acres and is about 60 percent contained.
CHAMPAGNE-ARDENNE, FRANCE—The skeletal remains of a young man killed in World War I has been unearthed by volunteers in northeastern France, according to a report in The Telegraph. The uniform and equipment in the grave identify the man as a German soldier. Archaeological work in the area has also uncovered a network of tunnels and trenches that were part of the far right front line during the fighting. The tunnels were filled in by farmers after the war.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—While digitizing records from Sir Leonard Woolley’s excavation of Ur in the early twentieth century, project manager William Hafford from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology found lists of artifacts that were sent to the Penn Museum and the British Museum. Among the items sent to Philadelphia was a rare, 6,500-year-old intact skeleton that was listed as “Not Accounted For” in the museum’s collections as recently as 1990. Hafford and Janet Monge, curator-in-charge of the museum’s Physical Anthropology Section, soon matched Woolley’s detailed notes and photographs with an unlabeled skeleton that had been stored in a coffin-like box in the basement for the past 85 years. The skeleton, once a well-muscled male, stood about 5’ 8” tall, and lived to about age 50. Woolley’s records show that the man had been buried in a deep layer of silt from a great flood that may have inspired epic tales of floods. The museum researchers have nicknamed the skeleton “Noah” with this in mind, but “Utnapishtin might be more appropriate, for he was named in the Gilgamesh epic as the man who survived the great flood,” Hafford told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A cache of bronze coins hidden in a ceramic box was discovered in the corner of a room in a Jewish settlement that was constructed in the first century B.C. and destroyed during the Great Revolt. “The hoard, which appears to have been buried several months prior to the fall of Jerusalem, provides us with a glimpse into the lives of Jews living on the outskirts of Jerusalem at the end of the rebellion,” Pablo Betzer and Eyal Marco of the Israel Antiquities Authority told Live Science. On one side, the 114 coins are stamped with a chalice and a Hebrew inscription that reads “To the Redemption of Zion.” The obverse bears the images of a lulav, or palm branch, and two etrogs, or yellow citron, and the Hebrew inscription “Year Four,” referring to the fourth year of the Great Revolt, around A.D. 69 or 70. The residents of the village were probably active in the rebellion against the Romans at the time, and in the later Bar Kokhba rebellion, between A.D. 132 and 135.
UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—An international team of researchers, including developmental geneticist Robert B. Eckhardt of Penn State, anatomist Maciej Henneberg of the University of Adelaide, and Chinese geologist and paleoclimatologist Kenneth Hsü, has reexamined the evidence for classifying the fossils from Indonesia’s Liang Bua Cave as a new human species known as Homo floresiensis. The scientists point out that the bone fragments represent several individuals, but the skull and thighbones of only one individual have been recovered to date. The skull was reported to have an usually small cranial volume, and thighbones that would make the creature only 3.5 feet tall. Those unusual anatomical characteristics led to the assignment of a new species in 2004. This team’s new analysis, however, indicates that the original figures for the cranial volume and stature of Homo floresiensis were underestimated. “The difference is significant, and the revised figure falls in the range predicted for a modern human with Down syndrome from the same geographic region,” Eckhardt told Science Daily. The skull also exhibits craniofacial asymmetry, which is characteristic of the disorder, as are short thighbones and a reduction in height.
NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—A gold ornament, thought to be one of the earliest pieces of metalwork in the United Kingdom, was unearthed by four school-aged children during a community excavation at Kirkhaugh. The burial mound at the site was first excavated in 1935 by Herbert Maryon, who unearthed a matching ornament. The tresses, which date to 2,300 B.C., were probably worn in the hair, perhaps by someone who traveled to Britain in search of gold and copper. “It can be regarded as marking the very start of mineral exploitation in the North Pennines, leading in due course to Roman exploitation of lead and silver, and eventually to the vast post-medieval lead industry for which the region is internationally famous,” Paul Frodsham of Altogether Archaeology told The Express.
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—After measuring more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls, Robert Cieri of the University of Utah argues that human skulls changed in ways that indicate testosterone levels dropped some 50,000 years ago, at the same time that human culture blossomed. “The modern human behaviors of technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament,” he told Science Daily. Heads became rounder without heavy brows, which can be traced to lower levels of testosterone, according to Steven Churchill, an anthropologist at Duke University who supervised Cieri’s undergraduate work. “If prehistoric people began living closer together and passing down new technologies, they’d have to be tolerant of each other. The key to our success is the ability to cooperate and get along and learn from one another,” Cieri explained.
NANJING, CHINA—Live Science reports that archaeologists Li Zebin, Chen Gang, and Sheng Zhihan of Nanjing Museum recovered an intact jade coffin and more than 10,000 artifacts from a mausoleum consisting of three main tombs, 11 attendant tombs, two pits containing five life-sized chariots, and two weaponry pits holding iron swords, spearheads, crossbow triggers, halberds, knives, and more than 20 models of chariots. Burial chambers belonging to Liu Fei, a king of Jiangdu who died in 128 B.C., held artifacts made of gold, silver, bronze, jade, and lacquer. He had been buried with musical instruments such as chime bells, zither bridges, and jade tuning pegs. More than 100,000 banliang coins, lamps, and a kitchen stocked with food and cooking utensils had been left behind by looters, who took the king’s remains. “Near the coffins many jade pieces and fragments, originally parts of the jade burial suit, were discovered. These pieces also indicate that the inner coffin, originally lacquered and inlaid with jade plaques, was exquisitely manufactured,” the research team wrote in an article that appears in translation in the journal Chinese Archaeology. The intact jade coffin was recovered from an adjacent tomb. “Although the central chamber was looted, the structure of the jade coffin is still intact, which is the only undamaged jade coffin discovered in the history of Chinese archaeology,” they added.
YORK, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that Mike Heyworth, the president of the Council for British Archaeology, made a startling discovery on his own street as he walked home from work. In a trench dug by a utilities company, he spied fragments of Roman bone, including a jaw with teeth, as well as pottery. The workers were digging not far from a Roman cemetery where the remains of 80 gladiators were found in 2010, but evidently they were not obligated to have an archaeologist to monitor their project. The work has been halted and an archaeologist will examine the trenches for more evidence of Roman remains and artifacts.
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—The University of Florida reports that geologist George Kamenov has demonstrated that trace amounts of lead in human teeth can be used to figure out where people came from. The four isotopes that make up lead change according to the rocks, soil, and ores in each part of the world, and can be identified in teeth because tooth enamel, which develops during childhood, preserves the lead. “When you grow up, you record the signal of the local environment,” Kamenov explains. “If you move somewhere else, your isotope will be distinct from the local population.” Archaeologists can use the information from teeth to identify, for example, the presence of Europeans in the New World to trace human migrations.
SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Since their discovery in 1974, China’s first emperor’s almost 2,000-year-old terracotta army has been the subject of almost continual study—but until now scientists have not been able to figure out how the colorful pigments which decorate the figures adhered to their surface. According to a report in the Science China Press, researchers at the College of Chemistry and Materials Science, Northwest University in Xi'an, have used sophisticated technology, including lasers and mass spectrometry, to isolate the substance, a challenge made all the harder, explain the researchers, because "following almost 22 centuries of storage under these conditions, the remaining pieces of original polychromy that have survived on the sculptures contain extremely small amounts of the binding media.” Now the substance has been identified as East Asian lacquer obtained from lacquer tree applied directly to the surfaces of the warriors in one or two layers as a base coat.
DUBLIN, IRELAND—After 15 years of study, archaeologists are ready to release a massive report that collects and presents evidence for the astounding number of Viking warrior burials beneath the streets of Dublin, reports the Irish Central. The burials, which date to between A.D. 841 and 902, represent the “largest burial complex of its type in western Europe, Scandinavia excluded,” says Stephen Harrison, who co-authored the 800-page report. It has long been thought that ancient annals that reported that there were vast numbers of Viking warriors in Dublin were greatly exaggerated, but now the great number of burials, along with the impressive grave goods the Vikings have been found with, are evidence not only that the annals may not have exaggerated as much as previously thought, but also that during the ninth century, Dublin was a wealthy and important city.
LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA—After studying ancient Egyptian, Peruvian, Native American, and Mongolian mummies, medical researchers with a group known as the HORUS study team have found evidence for narrowing of ancient peoples' arteries due to high build up of fatty deposits, a condition known as atherosclerosis, which can contribute to a number of heart problems. In modern times, atherosclerosis can be caused by smoking, obesity, lack of activity, and other factors that were presumably not present in ancient cultures. Now the Horus study team is proposing that "non-traditional" causes of atherosclerosis could explain the prevalence of the condition among the mummies they have examined. In a World Heart Federation press release, the team points out that chronic infections caused by unhygienic conditions can produce prolonged inflammatory responses that lead to a build up in atherosclerotic plaque. Inhalation of smoke from fires might also cause atherosclerosis. The researchers found that the condition seems to be more common in female mummies, which could be explained by the fact that traditionally women spent more of their time near fires.
SAINT-AUBIN-DES-CHAMPS, FRANCE—Researchers from France's public archaeology agency INRAP are excavating an early medieval necropolis in Normandy. Dating from the fifth to the seventh centuries A.D., the village cemetery held more than 300 burials and was not included in any surviving records from the time, an era when the Frankish Merovingian dynasty ruled the region. According to an INRAP press release, the team is particularly interested in how the site shows how ordinary people experienced the transition from the pagan beliefs of the Roman Empire to the rise of Christianity. Earlier burials in the cemetery feature skeletons buried with lavish grave goods, such as a woman found wearing pins in the shape of bronze trumpets, and a man buried with twenty objects, including an ax, spear, dagger, and a silver coin placed in his mouth. Later burials do not seem to include as many artifacts, reflecting the growing influence of Christianity, which did not encourage the villagers to take objects with them into the afterlife.