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Interactions With Scavengers “Crucial” to Human Evolution

May 1, 2014

ELCHE, SPAIN—A team of researchers from the University Miguel Hernández concludes that interactions with scavengers, such as vultures, hyenas, and lions, have been crucial to the evolution and welfare of humanity. “At first, the interaction was primarily competitive, but when humans went from eating carrion to generating it, scavengers highly benefited from the relationship,” Marcos Moleón and José Antonio Sánchez Zapata explained in Science Daily. Language, cooperative partnership, and cultural diversity were all probably the result of selective pressures brought on by this competition with scavengers, they argue. 

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Foundation Deposits Found in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings

May 1, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND—Four rare deposits of artifacts have been unearthed in the western valley area of the Valley of the Kings. “Previously discovered foundation deposits in the Valley of the Kings have always been associated with a nearby tomb,” wrote Afifi Ghonim, of the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities, in a report cited by Live Science. According to Ghonim, who presented the discovery at the Current Research in Egyptology conference, foundation deposits are placed in front of a tomb or temple when construction begins, and usually include miniature versions of the tools used in the project, miniature offering vessels, and food offerings. These four offerings had been placed in a box shape, but there is usually a fifth placed on the axis of the tomb. “We found the four deposits that make up the box, but not the fifth. Perhaps it too is there, awaiting discovery in front of the tomb,” Ghonim explained. Precise dates for the deposits could help explain what happened.  

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Did Neanderthals Boil Their Food?

May 1, 2014

AUSTIN, TEXAS—John Speth of the University of Michigan thinks that Neanderthals probably boiled their food. Speth, who recently presented his ideas at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, speculates that Neanderthals boiled their food in skin bags or in trays crafted from twisted birch bark, citing as evidence animal bones at Neanderthal sites that are free of gnawing marks, suggesting that the fat had been removed by cooking, and grains found in the teeth of a Neanderthal from Iraq that show signs of having been cooked. “You can boil in just about anything as long as you take it off the flame pretty quickly,” he told National Geographic Daily News. It is known that Neanderthals made birch tar for hafting spear points by heating birch bark in oxygen-free holes. Evidence of boiling by modern humans dates to some 26,000 years ago, after the demise of the Neanderthals, and consists of stones that had been heated in fire pits and dropped into water.

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Intelligence Not Responsible for Neanderthal Demise

May 1, 2014

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Will Roebroeks of Leiden University and Paola Villa of Boulder’s University of Colorado Museum surveyed the archaeological record for evidence to support the idea that the Neanderthals died out because modern humans were better hunters with better weapons and a broader diet. “The explanations make good stories, but the only problem is that there is no archaeology to back them up,” Roebroeks told The Guardian. Villa adds that it is important to compare Neanderthals to their modern human contemporaries, not their successors. “The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there. What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true,” she said.

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Medieval Village Unearthed in Scotland

April 30, 2014

SELKIRK, SCOTLAND—Work on water pipes in the Scottish Borders has uncovered pivot stones used as hinges for doors, coins, imported pottery, and stone game pieces from a medieval village thought to have been known as Philiphaugh. Clay pipes for tobacco and glass bottles from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were also found. “The radiocarbon dates confirm activity in the period from 1472 to 1645. Although the artifacts were recovered from the lower plow soil rather than sealed archaeological contexts, they too support a late fifteenth to seventeenth century date,” archaeologist Susan Ramsay told Culture 24

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A History of Violence in California

April 30, 2014

SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIFORNIA—A “complex pattern of episodic violence” spanning 5,000 years has been identified in California from a survey of more than 16,000 burials, from 13 different ethnic groups, unearthed between the Sierra Nevada and the San Francisco Bay. The most common type of violence recorded in the survey was caused by projectiles such as arrows or atlatl darts, found in 7.2 percent of the burials. Blunt force trauma head to the head was seen in 4.3 percent of the hunter-gatherer burials. Just under one percent of the burials showed evidence of dismemberment. “Many people still seem to think that prehistoric California was a violence-free paradise, but the archaeological record shows clearly that that was not the case. People are people, and most of us believe that an inclination to resort to violence in certain situations is part of the human condition,” Terry Jones of California Polytechnic State University told Western Digs. The first spike in the violence may have been linked advances in technology, in the form of the atlatl, and the migration of many hunter-gatherer groups to new regions. The second spike took place between 1720 and 1899, when Europeans arrived on the scene. “The introduction of a new weapon system—the bow and arrow—definitely changed the social and political landscape, increasing inter-group conflict,” Jones added. 

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From Hunting to Herding in Turkey

April 30, 2014

TUSCSON, ARIZONA—Science Now reports that the site of Aşıklı Höyük, located along the Melendiz River in central Turkey, is offering archaeologists new insight into the transition from hunting and gathering to farming and herding between 9,500 and 10,500 years ago. Earlier layers of the settlement contain botanical remains related to the cultivation of cereals, lentils, and nuts, and the bones of a wide variety of wild animals. But, according to zooarchaeologist Mary Stiner of the University of Arizona, by 10,200 years ago, fewer wild animal bones and more sheep bones are found. By 9,500 years ago, nearly 90 percent of the bones unearthed at the site were coming from sheep. And, the ages and sex patterns of the bones, even though they still resembled the bones of wild sheep, suggest that they came from a managed herd. Dung deposits from the stabled sheep were discovered between the houses of the settlement. Stiner and her team suggest that the wild sheep were probably less aggressive than other animals and so early farmers kept them in the village as a matter of convenience. 

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Skeletal Remains Show Signs of Celiac Disease

April 30, 2014

ROME, ITALY—Biological anthropologist Gabriele Scorrano of the University of Rome Tor Vergata led a study of the 2,000-year-old skeletal remains of a young woman unearthed at the Cosa archaeological site on Italy’s Tuscan coast. The results of the tests indicate that she may have suffered from celiac disease. DNA analysis revealed that she carried two copies of an immune system gene variant associated with the severe allergic reaction to gluten in the intestinal lining, and her bones show signs of malnutrition and osteoporosis, which can be complications of the untreated disease. Gold and bronze jewelry included in the burial suggest that her malnutrition was not caused by a lack of access to food. “If she had excluded cereals from her diet she wouldn’t have experienced these problems. Probably she didn’t understand she had this disease,” Scorrano told Nature News.

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Neolithic Farmers Assimilated Scandinavian Hunter-Gatherers

April 29, 2014

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—Scientists from Stockholm University and Uppsala University led an international team in the analysis of DNA samples taken from 11 individuals unearthed in Scandinavia. Their results indicate that Neolithic farmers assimilated local hunter-gatherers. “Stone-Age hunter-gatherers had much lower genetic diversity than farmers. This suggests that Stone-Age foraging groups were in low numbers compared to farmers,” Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University told Science Daily. The study also shows that the two groups had been genetically distinct. “We see clear evidence that people from hunter-gatherer groups were incorporated into farming groups as they expanded across Europe. This might be clues towards something that happened also when agriculture spread in other parts of the world,” added Pontus Skoglund. 

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Colorado’s “Mummy Lake” Couldn’t Have Held Water

April 29, 2014

MESA VERDE, COLORADO—In 1917, Jesse Walter Fewkes suggested that a sandstone-lined circular pit in Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park was an Ancestral Puebloan water reservoir. But a new analysis of the hydrologic, topographic, climatic, and sedimentary features of “Mummy Lake” and its surroundings indicates that the pit would not have been effective for collecting or distributing water. Larry Benson, an emeritus research scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct curator of anthropology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, led the study. “I think it’s appealing to think of Mummy Lake as a reservoir. [Scientists] naturally want to find structures that hold or convey water, to explain how the people got their water,” Benson told Live Science. Benson and his team think that the pit was an unroofed ceremonial structure. The ditches may have been built as ceremonial roads connecting Mummy Lake to newer structures.

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Prehistoric Hunting Blinds Preserved in Lake Huron

April 29, 2014

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—Stone walls now on the bottom of Lake Huron were built by paleo-Indians to hunt the massive herds of caribou that migrated along the Alpena-Amberley Ridge 9,000 years ago, according to John O’Shea of the University of Michigan. At the time, the glaciers had retreated and exposed a subarctic environment of tamarack, spruce, and wetlands. “I’m imagining seas of animals going through here,” O’Shea told the Vancouver Sun. He has found more than 60 stone hunting blinds under water that could have been used by family groups, and two stone lines that form a lane that ends in a corral. Using this structure would have required large, seasonal gatherings of hunters. “It was a much more complex, much more organized, multi-part hunting structure. It was just unmistakable,” O’Shea explained. 

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New York’s Ancient Egyptian Obelisk Will Be Cleaned

April 29, 2014

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—The Central Park Conservancy has announced that the so-called Cleopatra’s Needle, an ancient Egyptian obelisk given to the United States by the Egyptian government in the late nineteenth century, will be cleaned with lasers as part of a conservation project that will “promote its long term preservation and enhance the public’s understanding of the ancient artifact,” according to a statement in Gothamist. The 3,500-year-old, red-granite obelisk left Egypt in 1880, and was carried from the Hudson River to Central Park by a special railroad over a period of 40 days. The monument was re-erected in 1881. 

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Well-Preserved Mummies Discovered in the Valley of the Kings

April 28, 2014

 

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a rock-hewn tomb in the Valley of the Kings has been found to contain a cache of royal mummies dating to the 18th Dynasty. Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced that the tomb was discovered by a joint team of Egyptian archaeologists and scholars from Switzerland’s Basel University. They also found remains of wooden sarcophagi and cartonnage mummy masks in the tomb. The names of 30 of the deceased had been engraved on pottery in hieratic texts, including two previously unknown princesses—Ta-Im-Wag-Is and Neferonebo. Swiss Egyptologist Helena Ballin explained that the tomb had been reused by priests as a cemetery, and had been looted several times in antiquity.

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Cold War Images Reveal Archaeological Sites

April 28, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS—The Corona Atlas of the Middle East team at the University of Arkansas has spotted 10,000 new archaeological sites using declassified spy-satellite imagery of the Fertile Crescent. “Some of these sites are gigantic, and they were completely unknown. We can see all kinds of things—ancient roads and canals. The images provide a very comprehensive picture,” archaeologist Jesse Casana, a member of the University of Arkansas team, told National Geographic. The Corona spy-satellite images are not as detailed as modern images, but they were taken from 1967 to 1972, which is the key. “Even with much better resolution, we can’t see a site that someone has covered up with a building,” Casana explained. 

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Bust of Alexander the Great Unearthed in Cyprus

April 28, 2014

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—ANSAmed reports that a marble bust of Alexander the Great has been unearthed in a second basilica at the site of Katalymmata ton Plakoton. According to Eleni Procopiou of the Cyprus Antiquities Department, the two basilicas date to the seventh century and are thought to be part of a Christian ecclesiastical complex related to St. John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria. 

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Cleaning the Roman Colosseum

April 28, 2014

ROME, ITALY—For the past six months, workers wearing waterproof gear have been cleaning the first five of the Colosseum’s 80 arcades. The travertine is soaked with water for one to four hours, and then scrubbed with soft-bristled brushes to remove 2,000 years’ worth of grime and pollution. “We had the chance to examine past restorations closely and see how the philosophy of shoring up the structure has evolved through the centuries,” Rossella Rea, director of the Colosseum, told The Wall Street Journal. Scholars expect that as the scaffolding is moved to other parts of the monument, they will discover frescoes, stucco work, inscriptions, and graffiti.

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Catastrophic Flood May Have Contributed to Cahokia’s Decline

April 25, 2014

MADISON, WISCONSIN—Flooding of the Mississippi River may be to blame for the eventual abandonment of Cahokia, the largest pre-Columbian city in North America north of Mexico. Sediment cores taken from a lake near the remains of the city contain a thick layer of silt dating to A.D. 1200, plus or minus 80 years. Samuel Munoz of the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimates that such a massive flood could have wiped out crops and destroyed the houses of more than 15,000 people. Munoz’s study of pollen in the area shows that the people deforested the land and grew corn, squash, sunflower, and barley. “I think the relationships between flooding and the decision to abandon the settlement are pretty complicated, but it’s surprising and exciting to discover this flood happened right in the middle of a key turning point in Cahokia’s history,” he told Live Science

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Relic Is Not of Guillotined French King

April 25, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN—DNA taken from residues in a gourd said to have held a handkerchief stained with the blood of the French King Louis XVI does not match what is known about the monarch who lost his head to the guillotine in 1793. “When the Y chromosome of three living Bourbons was decoded and we saw that it did not match with the DNA recovered from the pumpkin in 2010, we decided to sequence the complete genome and to make a functional interpretation in order to see if the blood could actually belong to Louis XVI,” Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Spanish National Research Council explained to Science Daily. The DNA taken from the gourd belonged to a brown-eyed individual who was average in height for the time period. Historic records indicate that the king was the tallest man in the royal court, and that he had blue eyes. For an in-depth account on an earlier study that made the same conclusion, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "French Revolution Forgeries?

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President Obama Returns Ancient Seals to South Korea

April 25, 2014

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA—President Barak Obama has handed over nine ancient royal seals to South Korea President Park Geun-hye. The seals were carried to the United States by an American Marine who served in the Korean War. “I wanted to just let the Korean people know that they’re back where they belong,” President Obama told USA Today. “After his passing, his widow discovered how important they were, and she graciously recognized that they appropriately belonged here in Korea,” he added.

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What Gave Modern Humans the Advantage?

April 24, 2014

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL--Scientists think that epigenetic differences between modern humans and our archaic cousins may have made the difference in our survival. Epigenetics deals with how genes are turned on and off without modfying the DNA sequence. Liran Carmel, Eran Meshorer, and David Gokhman of Hebrew University, working with scientists from Germany and Spain, reconstructed the Neanderthal and Denisovan epigenomes, and compared them with the epigenome of modern humans. Science Daily reports that they found that gene activity had changed only in modern humans during our most recent evolution. Many of those changes occurred in the area of brain development, and are linked to diseases. Other changes were observed in the immune and cardiovascular systems, but the digestive system remained relatively unchanged. 

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