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?"
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.
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.
ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA—The Art Newspaper reports that Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, has brought the crisis of illegal excavations of Greek, Scythian, and Sarmatian archaeological sites in Crimea to the attention of the Russian parliament. “Crimea and Ukraine have long been on Interpol lists next to Iraq and Iran due to the pillage of treasures on their territories,” he has written. Looting, known as “black archaeology,” and smuggling artifacts to the West are big business, fueled by the economic chaos in the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Archaeologist Valentina Mordvintseva of the Institute of Archaeology of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences says that the situation has improved since then, but “as long as the public does not value cultural heritage, this problem won’t be eradicated….As for the changes that might come from Crimea [joining] Russia, it’s hard to say. Problems aren’t always solved by legislation.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—The SS City of Chester sank on a foggy August 22, 1888, in San Francisco Bay when it was struck by Oceania, a ship carrying immigrants from Asia. Now its location has been rediscovered by a team conducting a multibeam sonar survey from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. A side-scan sonar survey confirmed that City of Chester was “sitting upright, shrouded in mud, 216 feet deep at the edge of a small undersea shoal.” Many of the passengers aboard The City of Chester were rescued after the accident by the Chinese crew of Oceanic. “Discoveries like this remind us that the waters off our shores are museums that speak to powerful events, in this case not only that tragic wreck, but to a time when racism and anger were set aside by the heroism of a crew who acted in the best traditions of the sea,” James Delgado, director of the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, told the Los Angeles Times.
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—The first wave of modern human migration out of Africa took place some 130,000 years ago, according to a new study conducted by an international team of scientists led by Katerina Harvati of the University of Tübingen and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment. They examined the geography of potential migration routes, genetic data, and cranial comparisons from modern humans from different parts of the world. The first wave of people probably traveled along the rim of the Indian Ocean to Australia and the west Pacific region. According to the model, a second dispersal to northern Eurasia occurred some 50,000 years ago. “Both lines of evidence—anatomical cranial comparisons as well as genetic data—support a multiple dispersal model,” Harvati told Science Daily.
LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Analysis of mutations in three Neanderthal genomes by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology suggests that these human relatives lived in smaller, more isolated groups, and were less genetically diverse, than modern humans. Pääbo and his team also note that skeleton genes within the Neanderthal lineage changed more than they would have expected. “For example, genes that affect the curvature of the spine have changed in Neanderthals. This fits with how their skeletons have changed quite drastically during their evolution,” he explained to Live Science. The modern human lineage has more changes in the genes involved with pigmentation and behavior, although it is not fully understood how the mutations affect behavior.
CRAWLEY, AUSTRALIA—Rock art in Australia’s Western Desert has been dated for the first time with a new technique known as plasma oxidation, which prepares the samples for carbon dating. Jo McDonald and her team documented rock art sites in the eastern Pilbara at the request of traditional owners. When possible, they collected tiny samples of paint for testing. “We have discovered that this technique is a useful way of dating black paintings with charcoal in them,” McDonald told Phys.org. The paintings are between 2,000 and 3,000 years old.
HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—Workers digging a foundation for an addition on a home uncovered human bones that may be the remains of at least two French soldiers captured during the Napoleonic War. BBC News reports that the home is near Portchester Castle, where thousands of French prisoners of war were held in the early nineteenth century. Men were also held on prison ships in Portsmouth harbor, and there was a hospital in the town.
DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—Chili peppers were first domesticated in central-east Mexico, according to plant scientist Paul Gepts of the University of California, Davis, who led a study of genetic, archaeological, linguistic, and archaeological evidence. Traces of the easily-transported chili pepper, or Capiscum annum, has been found in Romero Cave in eastern Mexico, and from Coxcatlán Cave, located further south. These two samples are between 7,000 and 9,000 years old. “By tracing back the ancestry of any domesticated plant, we can better understand the genetic evolution of that species and the origin of agriculture—a major step in human evolution in different regions of the world,” Gepts told Live Science.
LYON, FRANCE—Sediment cores taken from ancient Rome’s harbor basin at Portus and a canal that connected the port to the Tiber River suggest that lead levels in the city’s water supply varied over time from 14 to 105 times higher than the levels found in natural spring water. The different isotopes of lead in the sediments showed that some of it had occurred naturally in the river water, and some of it had come from lead that was imported and used in the city’s system of piping. Yet Francis Albarède of Claude Bernard University thinks that the amount of contamination was insufficient to cause problems in Roman society. “It’s marginal. You would start being worried about drinking that water all your life. Even though they probably did not get degenerate, as some people say, or even get more violent, lead pollution might have been something to be concerned about,” he told The Guardian.
GALVESTON, TEXAS—A robotic vehicle is transmitting images of three early nineteenth-century shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico to scientists at Texas A&M University. The largest of the three ships was armed with cannon and may have been a privateer that had taken control of the other two vessels. The presence of a chronometer on one of the wrecks suggests that no one escaped the sinking vessel alive, since sailors leaving the ship would have taken the valuable piece of equipment with them. The researchers have also spotted a telescope. “Right here, with the glass lenses broken out of it, probably because of pressure when the ship sank,” Steve Gittings of National Marine Sanctuaries explained to KHOU. “It’s hard to say what happened. All three ships are certainly within visual sight of one another. It’s entirely likely that they all could’ve gone down in the same storm,” added marine archaeologist Kim Faulk. To read more about the project, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature article "All Hands on Deck."
MINYA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that two tombs dating to the 26th Dynasty have been unearthed in the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus by a Spanish-Egyptian team of archaeologists. The first tomb, which contained a bronze inkwell and two small bamboo pens, belonged to a scribe whose mummy is well preserved. Coins and mummified fish were also recovered. Oxyrhynchus, Greek for “sharp-nosed fish,” is known for the papyrus texts dating from about 250 B.C. to A.D. 700 that were first discovered there in the late nineteenth century.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Herders dating back to the Neolithic period did not isolate their domesticated charges from wild animals, according to Fiona Marshall of Washington University in St. Louis, Keith Dobney of the University of Aberdeen, Tim Denham of the Australian National University, and José Capriles of the Universidad de Tarapacá. They reviewed recent research on the domestication of large herbivores in different places and at different times. “Our findings show little control of breeding, particularly of domestic females, and indicate long-term gene flow, or interbreeding, between managed and wild animal populations,” Marshall told Science Daily. Such contact with wild animals may have been accidental or intentional, in order to produce stronger, faster animals better suited to the environment. “The boundaries between wild and domesticated animals were much more blurred for much longer than we had realized,” she added.
WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—When the capital of colonial Virginia was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg in 1699, Duke of Gloucester Street, the main thoroughfare through the town, was designed to reflect the power and order of the British crown. The plan required, however, the long, straight street be constructed over ravines and gullies that had to be filled in and drained. “The most heroic work was probably done early in the century. But this was a very long campaign that started off with public projects and ended with private efforts,” Edward Chappell, director of Colonial Williamsburg’s department of architectural and archaeological research, told The Daily Press.
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—The Baltimore Sun reports that an excavation in Patterson Park by the nonprofit group Baltimore Heritage has uncovered a wall that may have been part of Jacob Laudenslager’s butcher shop during the War of 1812. The butcher shop was located close to the site of the Patterson Park Pagoda, built on a strategic hill with a view of the city. Thousands of Maryland militiamen camped on the property, and built earthworks that helped repel the British in the Battle of Baltimore. Volunteers have helped the recovery of bricks, mortar, glass, nails, pottery, and a gunflint.
NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Excavations have shown that Wark Castle, captured by the Scottish King James IV in 1513, one month before the Battle of Flodden, was twice as large as had been thought. “This helps us to understand why the castle was considered to be so important,” Chris Burgess, Flodden 1513 archaeology manager, told The Journal. After his victory at Flodden, the English King Henry VIII turned the castle, which is located on England’s side of the boundary between the two countries, into an artillery fortification and used it to prevent the Scots from crossing the River Tweed.
BEIJING, CHINA—The Global Post reports that three sections of the Great Wall thought to have been constructed during the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. to 206 B.C.) have been discovered in northwest China. The stone wall had been placed in a valley of the Yellow River in order to prevent foreign invaders from crossing the river when it was frozen.
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Environmental stressors brought on by the Trail of Tears and the Civil War led to significant changes in the shape of skulls of members of the eastern and western bands of the Cherokee people, according to researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. They analyzed data collected in the late nineteenth century by anthropologist Franz Boas, who measured the length and breadth of skulls from many Native American tribes. “When times are tough, people have less access to adequate nutrition and are at greater risk of disease. This study demonstrates the impact that those difficult times had on the physical growth of the Cherokee people,” Ann Ross of North Carolina State told Phys.org.
GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA—The remains of the Planter, a ship commandeered in Charleston Harbor by a 23-year-old enslaved man named Robert Smalls, may have been found buried in ten feet of silt with scanning sonar and a magnetometer. Smalls and other African-American crewmembers took control of the transport steamer, picked up Smalls’ wife and children, and headed to the Union blockade in 1862. He surrendered the vessel, which was transformed into a Union gunboat with Smalls as its captain. The Planter eventually sank off Cape Romain in 1876. “We have probed down. We know there’s wood there and we know there’s metal there, but we don’t know absolutely whether it is or is not the Planter,” Gordon Watts of Tidewater Atlantic Research Inc. told Greenville Online. Smalls went on to serve five terms in Congress. The site will be monitored and protected.