BENIDORM, SPAIN—At the rock shelter site of Cova de la Barriada, archaeologists have discovered that even 30,000 years ago, vitamin-rich snails were part of the Iberian dinner table. Researcher Javier Fernández-López de Pablo told Livescience that the findings—hundreds of burnt snail shells found near fireplaces and alongside cooking tools—suggest the ancient inhabitants of the region ate the snails as a regular part of the diet more than 10,000 years before the mollusks were consumed in other parts of the Mediterranean. By harvesting only adults—the snails were about one year old when they were roasted— the region’s Paleolithic inhabitants had developed a sustainable farming practice that persevered the availability of this food resource for thousands of years. In fact, the species of land snail represented at the site, Iberus alonensis, are still eaten in Spain as part of many favorite dishes. To read more about the Paleolithic diet, go to ARCHAEOLOGY”s “Stocking the Paleolithic Pantry.”
PEARL HARBOR, HAWAII—The U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command announced that a vessel in the Java Sea is the cruiser USS Houston, which sank during the Battle of the Sunda Strait on February 28, 1942. Over the course of 19 dives earlier this year, U.S. Navy underwater archaeologists and Indonesian Navy divers surveyed the site and collected enough data to confirm the ship's identity. Nicknamed "The Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast," the vessel is the final resting place of some 700 sailors and marines. To read more about the historical legacy of WWII, go to ARCHAEOLOGY's "Archaeology of World War II."
YINCHUAN, CHINA—Xinhua reports archaeologists excavating a 1,400-year-old tomb in northwest China have unearthed a skull that appears to have belonged to a European man of about 40 years of age. "The man had a protruding nasal bone and a sunk nasion, which are typical features of Europeans," said Jilin University anthropologist Zhang Quanchao. When the tomb was constructed early in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), one of the routes of the fabled Silk Road connecting Europe and China ran through the region, which might explain the presence of a European in the area. To read about a Tang Dynasty-influenced site in Siberia, read ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude."
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Scientists using new, more precise radiocarbon dating techniques to study 40 Paleolithic sites from across Europe have determined that our close genetic cousins disappeared from Europe between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago. "I think that for the first time, we have a reliable extinction date for Neanderthals," University of Oxford scientist Tom Higham told Livescience. The new findings suggest that the two species may have coexisted for up to 5,400 years and that modern humans did not quickly wipe out the Neanderthals, as some scholars believe. Rather, they could have dramatically influenced each other both culturally and genetically. Higham notes that the Neanderthal extinction event "might have been more complex and drawn out than previously thought." To read about the debate over cloning our closest extinct relatives, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"
HAIFA, ISRAEL—Archaeologists excavating at an ancient village in the Jordan Valley dating between 5200 and 4600 B.C. have discovered a copper awl that is believed to be the oldest metal object yet unearthed in the Middle East. According to a University of Haifa press release, the awl was discovered in the grave of a 40-year-old woman who was also buried with a belt made of 1,688 ostrich-egg shell beads. “The appearance of the item in a woman’s grave, which represents one of the most elaborate burials we’ve seen in our region from that era, testifies to both the importance of the awl and the importance of the woman, and it’s possible that we are seeing here the first indications of social hierarchy and complexity,” says dig leader and University of Haifa archaeologist Danny Rosenberg. The discovery pushes back the appearance of metal in the area by several hundred years, and chemical testing of the awl has revealed it was made of copper from the Caucasus Mountains, more than 600 miles away, suggesting long-range trade may have been more prevalent during the period than previously thought. To read about the elaborate burial of a Copper Age woman unearthed in England, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "High Status Burial Unearthed in Windsor."
PHOENIX, ARIZONA—Professor Anne Stone of Arizona State University may have provided an answer to one of science’s great debates—the origins of tuberculosis in the New World. Stone’s new research shows that tuberculosis likely spread from humans in Africa to seals and sea lions that brought the infection to South America, where it was eventually transmitted to the native population. For their work, researchers collected ancient DNA samples and tested them for the presence of TB. Three of the samples taken from sites in Peru dating to between A.D. 750 and 1350 showed evidence of TB infection and the genome could be mapped and studied. The researchers discovered that the ancient strains of TB were most closely related to strains present in pinnipeds. “What we found was really surprising. The ancient strains are distinct from any known human-adapted tuberculosis strain,” Stone the ASU News. To read more about tuberculosis in the ancient Andes, see ARCHAEOLOGY’S “Diagnosis of Ancient Illness.”
CORINTH, GREECE—Archaeologists from the American School of Classical Studies in Athens have revealed the results of their excavation of a tomb in the important ancient Greek city of Corinth. The tomb, which dates to between 800 and 750 B.C. contained a burial pit filled with a limestone sarcophagus with a single person buried inside, reports Livescience. Next to the sarcophagus the team found several pottery vessels, as well as a sealed niche containing 13 almost complete pots. Many of the pots are decorated with zig-zagging patterns of lines and spirals that give this era of Greek history, often called the Geometric Period, its name.
GALWAY, IRELAND—On Ireland's western coastline, archaeologists have unearthed an oaken structure that they suspect is a complete Bronze Age fulaacht fiadh, or wooden cooking trough. The structure was was exposed by storms last winter and spotted by a local resident. "It is very significant, as it is unusual to find a fulacht fiadh at such a level of preservation, but the sea obviously conserved it when levels began to rise,” Ireland's Underwater Archaeology Unit's Finnbar Moore told the Irish Times. Radiocarbon dating of the structure puts its construction around 1700 B.C., when the area would have been covered in forests and lagoons. Archaeologists took the opportunity to survey around the fulaacht fiadh before excavation. "It highlights the fact that there was several thousand years of human activity in this area before sea level rise, and this part of the coastline, and further, is akin to a time capsule—with enormous potential,” says Moore. To read more about fulachtaí fia, read ARCHAEOLOGY's "Letter From Ireland: Mystery of the Fulacht Fiadh."
AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—Archaeologists excavating the enormous tomb at Amphipolis have decided not to remove the two sphinxes guarding the entrance, reports Ekathemerini. The winged lions, which weigh nearly 1.5 tons each, will remain in situ as the archaeologists work to gain access to the tomb’s interior. A black and white geometric mosaic will also be left in place while excavation and stabilization work continues in the hopes that the tomb can soon be entered safely as there is significant risk of collapse once the tomb is opened.
BURGUNDY, FRANCE—Polish archaeologists are unearthing metal workshops at the site of a 2,000-year-old Celtic oppidum, or fortified settlement, in central France. Led by University of Rzeszów archaeologist Tomasz Bochnak, the team is working near the settlement's main gate, and has so far identified bronze-smith and enamelers' workshops, according to Science & Scholarship in Poland. "This year, we discover[ed] mainly traces of metallurgical operations, primarily slags, but also coins and fibulas, or pins," says Bochnak. "After two weeks of work we have also dug up close to 100 kg [220 lbs] of fragments of ancient amphorae. This number is likely to increase significantly before the study ends." The oppidum was a stronghold of a powerful Celtic tribe known as the Aedui, and was founded in the late third or early second century B.C. The settlement was abandoned not long after the Romans defeated a coalition of Celtic tribes in 52 B.C. To read about the excavation of a Celtic oppidum in Turkey, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Celtic Sacrifice."
SALISBURY PLAIN, ENGLAND—More than a dozen new Anglo-Saxon graves have been found at the site of Barrow Clump. The site, which has now been backfilled, was originally a Neolithic settlement that was later used as a burial mound in the Bronze Age and even later as a Saxon cemetery. According to Culture24, a team from WessexArchaeology has now discovered a total of 75 graves dating to the Anglo-Saxon period at Barrow Clump, one of which contained a skeleton in a crouched fetal position along with numerous weapons. In addition to the warrior’s grave, three female burials were found, each containing glass beads in a wide range of shapes, colors, and sizes. The team was also able to locate the original 19th-century excavation trench, something they had been unable to do in earlier seasons, explains Wessex Archaeology’s Steve Winterton. To read about the excavation of a royal Anglo-Saxon feasting hall, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Kings of Kent."
OXFORD, ENGLAND—A new study of Paleolithic stone tools from 17 sites in North Africa shows that between 130,000 and 75,000 years ago, there were at least four separate populations in the region, each with its own distinctive cultural traits, reports phys.org. Researchers led by University of Oxford visiting scholar Eleanor Scerii made 300,000 measurements on stone tools and combined the data with enviromental reconstuctions of prehistoric North Africa to analyze how modern human populations dispersed across the Sahara using ancient rivers and streams that no longer exist. "This is the first time that scientists have identified that early modern humans at the cusp of dispersal out of Africa were grouped in separate, isolated and local populations," says Scerii. "Our picture of modern human demography around 100,000 years ago is that there were a number of populations, varying in size and degree of genetic contact, distributed over a wide geographical area." According to Scerii, the team's work supports the theory that modern humans left Africa before 60,000-50,000 years ago.
BARCELONA, SPAIN—According to a report in El Pais, excavations under the Basilica of Sant Just i Pastor in the heart of Barcelona have uncovered 120 bodies in a massgrave under the sacristy that researchers believe are evidence of the Black Death. The mass burial dates to the height of the epidemic, between 1348 and 1375, and is the first such site discovered in Spain. Thus the discovery may be very important to further understanding the spread of a disease that killed as many as 30 million people in Europe, as well as the way cities handled the massive influx of bodies. In cities like London, new cemeteries were built to bury the tremendous numbers of dead, but this find is evidence that in Spain space may have been found in existing church graveyards.
ÖLAND, SWEDEN—For three years archaeologists have been digging at a site on the island of Öland looking for evidence of the Migration Period of Scandinavian history, between A.D. 400 to 550. According to a report in the Local, the team recently found the first Roman gold coin to be uncovered in an archaeological context on the site. The coin, a denomination called a solidus, was discovered in a house where several people had been killed. Researchers believe that it may have been dropped and left behind by thieves who had come to rob the house, and then murdered its residents. “I think that the money was a good excuse to end a feud. So there was probably a feud, this was a very strong statement, not just a normal robbery—an excruciatingly evil statement to kill these people and just leave them," project manager Helena Victor told the paper.
BOISE, IDAHO—Significant advances in nanotechnology are helping researchers analyze the type of pigments used to paint mummy portraits in ancient Egypt. Scientists at Boise State University, lead by Materials Science and Engineering professor Darryl Butt, have taken a sliver of wood smaller than a human hair and extracted five extraordinarily tiny fragments—about 20 nanometers wide—and two thin foils of purple paint from a Romano-Egyptian mummy portrait dating to between A.D. 170 and 180. "So far we've learned that the paint is a synthetic pigment," says Butt. “These are very vibrant pigments, possibly heated in a lead crucible. People thought that process had been developed in the 1800s or so. This could prove it happened a lot earlier." It’s also possible that by understanding more about the pigment, scholars may also be able to learn more about the identity of the deceased, who is currently known only as “Bearded Man.”
CAMPECHE, MEXICO—Archaeologists have rediscovered two massive ancient Maya cities in the Yucatan that were hidden by dense vegetation. Dubbed Lagunita and Tamchen, the sites were found by a team led by Ivan Sprajc, of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts Aerial, and are just a few miles from Chactun, an ancient city discovered by the same team in 2013 (See ARCHAEOLOGY"s "City of Red Stone" for more on the discovery of Chactun.) The researchers found the sites after examining aerial photography of the area. "In the jungle you can be as little as 600 feet from a large site and not even suspect it might be there; small mounds are all over the place, but they give you no idea about where an urban center might be," Sprajc told Discovery News. Both sites feature plazas surrounded by palace-like buildings, as well as pyramids, one of which reaches 65 feet high, and ball courts. At Lagunita, the team recovered a badly eroded stele enscribed with the date November 29, A.D. 711 and a facade depicting an earth monster opening its jaws.
LEICESTER, ENGLAND—According to a new analysis of Richard III's teeth, femur, and ribs, the monarch made infamous by Shakespeare drank plenty of wine and dined on expensive wildfowl and fresh fish. The latest study on the king's remains, which were buried in 1485 after he was killed in the Battle of Bosworth and discovered two years ago beneath a parking lot in Leicester, was carried out by British Geological Survey scientist Jane Evans. She analyzed the nitrogen and oxygen isotope levels in the bones, which contain a record of what a person ate and drank. Livescience reports that Evans found a quarter of the oxygen deposited in Richard III's bones was from wine, and that the nitrogen isotope levels suggest that he ate wildfowl such as swan and egret, as well as freshwater fish such as pike. To read ARCHAEOLOGY's previous coverage of the royal discovery, go to "The Twenty-First Century Autopsy of Richard III."
ARDNAMURCHAN PENINSULA, SCOTLAND—In a remote area of the western Scottish Highlands, a team of archaeologists excavating under a pile of rocks known as Ricky’s Cairn has uncovered a Bronze Age burial cist containing at least two bodies, reports The Press and Journal. Originally thought to contain the remains of only one individual, team leader Ollie Harris of the University of Leicester was surprised that, in fact, it appeared as if at least two people had been buried together. Says Harris, “this offers a different perspective on Bronze Age burials” which usually contain the remains of only one individual in a crouching position. Although the cist was heavily robbed and contained only a few “scraps” of bone, team leader Ollie Harris hopes that the remains will be able to be radiocarbon dated.
PAPHOS REGION, CYPRUS—According to a report in the Cyprus Mail, archaeologists working at the site of Kretou Marottou-Ais Yiorkis have uncovered an early Neolithic grave that may be the one of the earliest human burials on the island. The adult male was found along with a large assemblage of chipped stones and animal bones including deer and pig. The team also discovered cattle bones, the earliest such examples to be recorded on Cyprus. The researchers say that the grave is “especially significant” not only for its human skeletal contents, which are extremely rare for this period, but also for its location in the foothills of the Troodos Mountains. Most Neolithic sites in Cyprus are found near the coast. “Kretou Marottou-Ais Yiorkis continues to be an important site for better understanding the early colonization of Cyprus,” reads a statement from the Cypriot Department of Antiquities.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, geologists investigating the Western Wall have revealed that they think they know why some parts of the structure are eroding faster than others, a major concern for the wall’s long-term stability. By using lasers to scan the wall to create a 3-D model, they discovered that the wall is made of different kinds of limestone with different erosion patterns. They then collected stones from quarries thought to have supplied at least some of the ancient building material, and subjected it to tests intended to simulate the effect of erosion over the past 2,000 years since the wall was built. The team learned that while limestone with large crystals were more resistant to erosion, that made up of smaller crystals eroded much more quickly. The scientists’ results could have important lessons for the conservation of Western Wall, as well as ancient structures around the globe, says lead researcher Simon Emanuel.