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1,600-Year-Old Shaft Tomb Excavated in Mexico

May 14, 2014

VALPARAISO, MEXICO—An undisturbed shaft tomb in southern Zacatecas has been excavated by a team led by Laura Solar of the National Institute of Anthropology and History. They found the remains of 28 individuals, including two adolescents and eight infants; three snail shells, two of which had been modified to act as trumpets; a shell bracelet; and millions of beads. Some of the dead had been armed for battle. “We don’t know if the other individuals were placed simultaneously. There is a discussion to whether or not the shaft tombs contain the remains of sacrificed people; those who died in a simultaneous event; if they are consecutive burials of people related to each other or people with a similar sociopolitical statues,” Solar told Art Daily. Some of the artifacts suggest that the inhabitants of southern Zacatecas participated in trade along the Pacific coast. 

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Guide Reports Vandalism to Rock Art in Australia

May 14, 2014

PILBARA, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—Rock art in Murujuga National Park on the Burrup Peninsula has been defaced by vandals who etched the words ‘go and work for a living’ above the ancient images. “What we have here is the largest gallery of rock art anywhere in the world, the oldest gallery of rock art anywhere in the world and the only gallery of rock art anywhere in the world that actually shows the continuing inhabitation of an area and the changes to society over the last 30,000 years,” member of Parliament Robin Chapple told 7 News. “There’s people spray painting their names on rocks around the Burrup,” he added. 

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Prehistoric Europeans Regulated Mind-Altering Substances

May 14, 2014

VALLADOLID, SPAIN—Elisa Guerra-Doce of the Universidad de Valladolid examined the remains of leaves, fruits, and seeds of psychoactive plants; residues suggestive of alcoholic beverages; psychoactive alkaloids found in artifacts and prehistoric skeletal remains; and artistic depictions of mood-altering plant species and drinking scenes at archaeological sites in Europe. Most of these substances—such as bits of opium poppy in the teeth of an adult male unearthed at a Neolithic site in Spain; charred Cannabis seeds in bowls found in Romania; traces of barley beer in vessels from Iberia; and illustrations of the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the Italian Alps—were found in tombs and ceremonial places. Guerra-Doce contends that these substances aided in communication with the spiritual world and were highly regulated as part of a belief system. “Far from being consumed for hedonistic purposes, drug plants and alcoholic drinks had a sacred role among prehistoric societies,” she told Science Daily

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Spoons Stolen from James Garfield Monument

May 13, 2014

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OHIO—The James Garfield Monument at Lake View Cemetery was broken into last week, and roughly two dozen demitasse spoons and teaspoons were stolen from a glass case, according to a report by CBS News. Police recovered cigarette butts, a t-shirt, and a whisky bottle from the scene, but no suspects have yet been identified. President Garfield was shot by an assassin and died just 200 days into his term. His casket is on display in the monument. 

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What Caused the Deep Freeze of the Younger Dryas?

May 13, 2014

DALLAS, TEXAS—A team led by David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University has checked the accuracy of the dates obtained for 29 archaeological sites said to provide evidence of a cosmic collision thought to have triggered the Younger Dryas, a 1,300-year-long period of freezing temperatures that began at the end of the last Ice Age, some 12,800 years ago. Meltzer found that the dates for only three of the 29 sites, which include Clovis sites in North America, plant-cultivating hunter-gatherers in Syria, and sites in Greenland, Germany, and Belgium, fall within the onset of the Younger Dryas. “The supposed Younger Dryas impact fails on both theoretical and empirical grounds,” Melzer told Science Now

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Campaign Kitchen Excavated at the Harding Home

May 13, 2014

MARION, OHIO—What is now the back porch area of President Warren G. Harding’s Ohio home is being excavated as part of a project to restore it to the way it looked in 1920, when Harding conducted his “front-porch campaign” for the White House. “When we did our research, we found evidence [the larger kitchen] was added just prior to the campaign,” Sherry Hall, site manager for the Harding Home and Museum, told the Mansfield News Journal. The larger kitchen was necessary to prepare meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings with Harding’s campaign personnel and visiting dignitaries. The kitchen was returned to its original configuration in 1978, when the whole house was opened to the public. “The Ohio Historical Society has known for a long time that the house should really reflect its most famous year, which was 1920,” Hall added.

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“Mound F” Discovered at Poverty Point

May 12, 2014

EPPS, LOUISIANA—Sediment tests have shown that archaeologist Diana Greenlee has discovered another mound in a remote, wooded area at Poverty Point. “I wasn’t sure it was a mound because archaeologists have been working here for a hundred years, so what were the chances there was really a mound they haven’t found?” she told The News Star. The small mound, called Mound F, was likely to have been built after 1280 B.C. “It was probably one of the last earthwork projects here at the site by the Poverty Point people,” she added.

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Bone of Extinct Great Auk Unearthed at Medieval Site

May 12, 2014

EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND—A bone from a Great Auk has been unearthed at the Scottish Seabird Centre, along with bones of butchered seals, fish, and other seabirds. The bone from the flightless Great Auk has been dated to the fifth to seventh centuries, when it was a favored food source because it was easy to catch. “The discovery of the Great Auk bone at Kirk Ness is an illuminating find, as we seek to understand and document the importance of the area in the history of wildlife and human habitation in the Middle Ages,” archaeologist Tom Addyman told BBC News. The Great Auk, whose range once extended from the northeastern United States across the Atlantic to Britain, France, and northern Spain, was extinct by the middle of the nineteenth century. 

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Carbon Isotope Analysis Suggests Ancient Egyptian Diet

May 12, 2014

LYON, FRANCE—Researchers from the University of Lyon measured the carbon isotopes in the bones, hair, and teeth of 45 Egyptian mummies that had been brought to France in the nineteenth century, and compared what they found with similar measurements taken from pigs that had been fed a controlled diet. They also compared the carbon isotope levels in the mummies’ hair samples with those of modern European vegetarians, and found that the results were similar, suggesting that the ancient Egyptians ate that a wheat- and barley-based vegetarian diet. “We found that the diet was constant over time; we had expected changes,” Alexandra Touzeau told Live Science. Kate Spence of the University of Cambridge explained that the farmers would have moved their crops closer to the Nile River when water levels fell in order to keep growing the same crops. Egyptian wall paintings would suggest that the people regularly ate fish, and archaeological evidence of fish consumption has been found. “All this makes it a bit surprising that the isotopes should suggest that fish was not widely consumed,” Spence added.  

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Archaeologists Document Space Age Structures

May 12, 2014

TAMPA, FLORIDA—Salty ocean air is damaging the concrete and steel launch complexes from the earliest days of America’s space program at Cape Canaveral. Lori Collins and Travis Doering of the University of South Florida’s Alliance for Integrated Spacial Technologies (AIST) and their team are using laser scanners and digital photography to create 3-D images of the structures before they disintegrate. The information could be used to craft miniaturized models of the facilities for museums. “The buildings have a very important place in American history,” research assistant Bart McLeod told Fox News 13

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13,500-Year-Old Tool-Making Site Found in Idaho

May 9, 2014

MOSCOW, IDAHO—In northern Idaho along the Clearwater River, a stone tool and debris from tool-making has been found in a layer of soil with charcoal radiocarbon dated to 13,740 to 13,490 years ago. Points dating to 11,000 years ago were also found at the site, which was probably used as a short-term place to rest, fashion tools, process game, and fish. These points are from the Western Stemmed Tradition, and have been found throughout the Great Basin and the Northwest. Tests show that the tools were made from materials from as far away as Montana and Oregon, and may have been obtained through travel or trade. “I think the region was an active place where people were constantly coming and going on their way to collect the next available resource, or on their way home for the winter,” Laura Longstaff of the University of Idaho told Western Digs

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19th-Century Prison Block Uncovered in Australia

May 9, 2014

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—Foundations of a rare, nineteenth-century circular prison block divided into wedges have been unearthed at the site of Pentridge Prison in southern Australia. This type of prison was designed in the late eighteenth century to keep the prisoners in tiny, solitary cells under the surveillance of a guard stationed at the circle’s center. Archaeologist Adam Ford told The Age that it is “the most intact foundation of this panopticon-style building anywhere in the world.” Five areas of the site will be preserved when the land is developed. 

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Caryatid Cleaning Nearly Completed

May 9, 2014

ATHENS, GREECE—In 1979, the five remaining Caryatids were moved from the Porch of the Caryatids at the Erechtheion on the Acropolis and moved indoors to protect the them from air pollution and acid rain. Now housed in the new Acropolis Museum, work to clean the 2,500-year-old figures with lasers is expected to be finished next month. “The laser beam hits the black crust formed on the surface of the statues over the years, and that absorbs energy and disintegrates. The crust has a much lower resistance threshold than the marble, which is not affected,” conservator Costas Vassiliadis told Product Design & Development

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The Secrets of the Black Death

May 9, 2014

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—Sharon DeWitte of the University of South Carolina has conducted a careful examination of the skeletal remains of more than 1,000 men, women, and children who lived before, during, and after the Black Death that struck London in 1347. “I look for the parts of the skeleton that are going to tell me about age at death and sex, and then I look for a suite of skeletal stress markers that give me a general idea of how healthy people were,” DeWitte said. She found that frail people were more likely to die when infected with the plague, and survivors went on to live long lives, perhaps because they benefited from a better diet and improved housing. “Because so many people died from the Black Death, wages increased for the people who survived. People of all social classes were eating better food, which would have had strong effects on health,” she explained.

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New Kingdom Tomb Unearthed at Saqqara

May 8, 2014

CAIRO, EGYPT—Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced that a team led by Ola el-Egezi of Cairo University has uncovered a rare temple-shaped tomb dating to 1100 B.C. at Saqqara. The unfinished tomb belonged to Paser, a royal ambassador to foreign countries and a keeper of the army archives, who died suddenly at a young age. The wall paintings in the tomb depict the funeral procession of the deceased, the dragging of his statue, his grieving wife, and his welcome to the underworld by Osiris. “Discovering New Kingdom tombs in such an Old Kingdom necropolis is very important,” El-Egezi told Ahram Online. Top officials continued to be buried in Saqqara, the capital of the Old Kingdom, even though Luxor was the New Kingdom capital. 

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Scientists See Natural Selection at Work in Genes and Teeth

May 8, 2014

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—Tooth enamel is found in the fossil record and it can yield genetic material, making it possible to study changes in genes and physical characteristics in the process of human evolution. Scientists at Duke University have identified two segments of DNA where natural selection may have acted to give modern humans their thick tooth enamel. They examined four genes that code for a protein involved in tooth formation of gorillas and chimpanzees, which have the thinnest enamel and eat fruit and leaves; omnivorous orangutans, gibbons, and rhesus macaques, whose teeth have an intermediate thickness of enamel; and modern humans, which can eat tough foods with their thick enamel. The team of geneticists and evolutionary anthropologists used computer software to compare how the sequences for the genes changed across the six primate species, and where those changes accumulated at an accelerated rate. “That’s when we know a gene is under positive selection,” project leader Julie Horvath of the Nature Research Center in Raleigh and North Carolina Central University told Science Daily. One gene, known as enamelysin, was confirmed to act on tooth enamel thickness in humans. 

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Museum Reopens USS Monitor Conservation Lab

May 8, 2014

NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA—After a four-month-long closure due to a lack of federal funding, The Mariners’ Museum has reopened its wet lab, where the turret of the USS Monitor and other artifacts from the iron-hulled steamship are being conserved. Smaller artifacts had been moved to another lab, and a digital corrosion monitoring system was in place to maintain the stability of the larger objects that were left in place. According to The Virginian-Pilot, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has partnered with the museum in the project, has committed $200,000 for the year, with the possibility of additional money.

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5,600-Year-Old Tomb Unearthed in Egypt

May 8, 2014

CAIRO, EGYPT—A 5,600-year-old tomb, built before the rule of Narmer, the founder of the First Dynasty, has been uncovered in the ancient city of Hierakonpolis, the capital of the Kingdom of Upper Egypt. The mummified remains of a young man had been buried with ten ivory combs, tools, blades, arrow heads, and an ivory statue of a bearded man. Egyptologist Renee Friedman, director of the Hierakonpolis Expedition, explained to the AFP that the well-preserved tomb will provide scientists with new information on Predynastic rituals.

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CT Scan Confirms Mummified Remains

May 7, 2014

SWANSEA, WALES—A mummified baby at the museum at Swansea University had been thought to be a nineteenth century forgery of a 26th Dynasty Egyptian artifact because of its meaningless inscriptions and inconclusive results from an x-ray of its cartonnage case in 1998. But a CT scan at the Clinical Imaging College of Medicine by Swansea University’s Paola Griffiths showed a dark area that could be the remains of a fetus and what could be a femur. An amulet and strings of beads or tassels were also spotted. “We can imagine that the probable fetus represents someone’s terrible loss; an occasion of great grief and public morning,” Egypt Center curator Carolyn Graves-Brown told the South Wales Evening Post.

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Burials of China’s Qin Dynasty Tomb Builders Found

May 7, 2014

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Forty-five tombs thought to hold the remains of workers who built the mausoleum for Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor, have reportedly been uncovered in central China. “The terracotta warriors and horses, as well as the other rare relics unearthed from the funerary pits next to the emperor’s mausoleum, might have been made by the people interred in the 45 tombs,” excavation leader Sun Weigang told China Daily. The bodies had been placed in coffins with the legs twisted, a burial custom typical of the Qin Dynasty, Sun added. Pottery in the burials could help identify the occupants of the tombs. 

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