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Teeth Reflect Changes in the Late Woodland Period

April 8, 2014

TORONTO, ONTARIO—Archaeologist Bradly T. Lepper has written about the research of Susan Pfeiffer of the University of Toronto in his column for the Columbus Dispatch. Pfeiffer and her team worked with First Nations descendant communities to study DNA and isotopes from the teeth of 53 “archaeologically discovered ancestors,” who lived between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. The results indicate that the people ate mostly maize and fish, but the consumption of fish declined as their villages grew larger. The researchers also found genetic mutations that may connect some of the ancient villagers to modern tribes. “The Middle and Late Woodland periods were times of population movement, mixing, and diversification in the lower Great Lakes,” Pfeiffers’ team concluded. 

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Farming and Technology Eased Stress on Human Bones

April 8, 2014

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—An analysis of the lower leg bones of Central European farmers who lived between 7,300 and 1,150 years ago by Alison Macintosh of Cambridge University suggests that men carried out less physically demanding tasks over time. Their work load was probably lightened by the specialization of labor, the production of metal goods, and the development of trade networks. Macintosh found that the changes in women’s bones were not as consistent, however, indicating that they may have been performing a wide variety of tasks that did not require traveling long distances or carrying heavy loads. In fact, women’s skeletons from two of the earliest cemeteries in the study showed signs of tooth wear from processing activities. “As more and more people began doing a wider variety of crafts and behaviors, fewer people needed to be highly mobile, and with technological innovation, physically strenuous tasks were likely made easier. The overall result is a reduction in mobility of the population as a whole, accompanied by a reduction in the strength of the lower limb bones,” Macintosh told the University of Cambridge news service.

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Infrared Sensors Detect Desert Ruins in New Mexico

April 7, 2014


JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA—A small, remote-controlled drone carrying a heat-sensing camera has helped archaeologists to get a sense of the Blue J community—an eleventh-century, ancient Puebloan settlement of nearly 60 households situated around open plazas in New Mexico’s desert. The settlement is just south of Chaco Canyon, but archaeologists had not found a monumental great house, nor a great kiva, that are typical of Chaco architecture. The heat-sensing camera, however, detected the sun-warmed masonry of a large, circular structure that may be a ceremonial kiva hidden beneath the earth. “The drone work was able to show us that at least some of the sites are much larger below the surface than can be seen on the surface,” archaeologist John Kantner of the University of North Florida told Western Digs. He had thought that the people who lived at Blue J may have resisted the influence of Chaco Canyon. “If it is indeed a great kiva, I’ll have to change my interpretation of how villages like Blue J interacted with Chaco Canyon,” he added.

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Pompeii Will Receive High-Tech Tools

April 7, 2014

ROME, ITALY—The Italian aerospace and defense company Finmeccanica will donate ground sensors and satellites to the project “Pompeii: Give it a Future.” The technology will be used for three years to assess the instability of the site and set up an early warning system for possible collapses. The company will also supply security guards with radio equipment and smartphone apps to improve their communication and pinpoint their position on the site. “We are offering our technology for the service of the country and its heritage,” Finmeccanica’s chief executive Alessandro Pansa told Phys.org

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CT Scans Show Plaques Beneath Mummy’s Wrappings

April 7, 2014

HAMILTON, ONTARIO—Live Science reports that a team of researchers led by Andrew Wade of McMaster University has examined the CT scans of a 1,700-year-old Egyptian mummy. The images revealed that the woman’s intestines, stomach, liver, and heart had been removed through her perineum by embalmers, who then packed the hole with linen and resin. “We don’t really know what’s happening to the hearts that are removed,” Wade said. The embalmers also put two thin plaques on the woman’s skin above her sternum and abdomen. Spices and lichen were probably placed on her abdomen as well, since they had been placed on her head, which was unwrapped in the nineteenth century. The woman’s brain had been left intact.

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Heart Disease is an Ancient Ailment

April 7, 2014

DURHAM, ENGLAND—Three men and two women who were buried 3,000 years ago at Amara West, located in present-day Sudan, had atherosclerosis, or a thickening of the artery walls. The tiny calcified plaques were found among their skeletons by bioarchaeologist Michaela Binder and palaeopathologist Charlotte Roberts of Durham University, who think that smoke from fires for cooking, firing pottery, and metalwork may have been a factor in the development of this condition. The individuals were all between ages 35 and 50 at death, had poor dental health, and were of high and low social status. “The main relevance of these findings is that it shows us that the factors leading to these diseases are not products of modern life but that there are other factors in the environment which may have been around for many thousands of years,” Binder told The Journal. 

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Erosion Reveals Cist Burial in Scottish Cliff

April 4, 2014

SANNOX, SCOTLAND—A Bronze Age cist burial was rescued from an eroding cliff face on the Isle of Arran. “All the bone was uniformly white and in a similar condition, which is evidence for a hot cremation pyre,” excavation leader Iraia Arabaolaza explained to Culture 24. Some of the bones may have been lost to erosion, or not included in the burial. A green stain indicates that a copper artifact may have originally been part of the burial. A sharp knife made of Yorkshire flint was recovered, along with a cracked food pot that may have been fired when the body was cremated.

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Prehistoric Artifacts Found at Nashville Ball Park Site

April 4, 2014

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—A prehistoric site consisting of fire pits and ceramics has been uncovered at a construction site in Nashville. State archaeologist Mike Moore thinks the site had been a workshop where mineral water was boiled to collect salt as early as 1150 A.D. “This is one of those few chances we’ve had to actually get real, hard scientific evidence of who was here and what they were doing,” archaeologist Kevin E. Smith of Middle Tennessee State University told WBIR. A ball park will be built on the site, but the remaining artifacts will be protected.

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Medieval Latrine Unearthed in Denmark

April 4, 2014

ODENSE, DENMARK—In the center of the medieval town of Odense, well-preserved brick houses, half-timbered houses, and stables have been unearthed, along with barrels that had been repurposed as latrines. “We are talking about 700-year-old latrines. And yes, they still smell bad,” archaeologist Maria Elisabeth Lauridsen told Discovery News. “Preliminary results of analysis shows that raspberries were popular in Odense in the 1300s. The contents also contain small pieces of moss, leather and fabric which were used as toilet paper,” she added. 

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New Translation Revises Bronze Age Chronology

April 4, 2014

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—A new translation of the 3,500-year-old Tempest Stela, a six-foot-tall calcite block inscribed with a description of stormy weather, may push back the reign of Ahmose, the first New Kingdom pharaoh, closer to the time of the eruption of the Thera volcano. “This was clearly a major storm, and different from the kinds of heavy rains that Egypt periodically receives,” Robert Ritner of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute told Phys.org. The timing suggested by the new translation corresponds with radiocarbon dates of an olive tree that had been found buried under volcanic residue, and would help to explain the rise and fall of empires in the ancient Middle East. “This is important to scholars of the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean, generally because the chronology that archaeologists use is based on the lists of Egyptian pharaohs, and this new information could adjust those dates,” added co-author Nadine Moeller, who is also from the University of Chicago.

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Domesticated Grains Mark Early Trade Route

April 3, 2014

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Crops from western and eastern Asia have been discovered in ancient campsites in central Asia, suggesting that nomadic shepherds may have acted as a link between the two regions some 5,000 years ago. “Ancient wheat and broomcorn millet, recovered in nomadic campsites in Kazakhstan, show that prehistoric herders in Central Eurasia had incorporated both regional crops into their economy and rituals nearly 5,000 years ago,” Michael Franchetti of Washington University told Discovery News. The domesticated grains also indicate that these seasonally mobile herders were farming 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

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Artifacts Collection Seized From Indiana Home

April 3, 2014

WALDRON, INDIANA—The FBI art crime team has seized a collection of thousands of artifacts from a 91-year-old man living in rural Indiana. The collection, which was housed in the man’s home and in several outbuildings, includes items from China, Russia, Peru, Haiti, Australia, and New Guinea, in addition to Native American artifacts. “I have never seen a collection like this in my life except in some of the largest museums,” Larry Zimmerman of Indiana University-Perdue University Indianapolis told USA Today. The FBI and other researchers will try to determine if the artifacts were obtained legally.

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Homo Brains and Teeth Are an “Evolutionary Paradox”

April 3, 2014

GRANADA, SPAIN—Researchers from the University of Granada have shown that the shrinking of the teeth of primates from the genus Homo is linked to their increase in brain size, even though a growing brain would require more food. “We have established that they are two opposing evolutionary trends that have been linked for 2.5 million years, when our first ancestors within the Homo genus first appeared on the evolutionary stage,” Juan Manuel Jiménez Arenas told Science Daily. Arenas credits higher amounts of animal food in the diet for the increase in brain size, which in turn fostered social and cultural development.

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More on Neanderthals’ Genetic Legacy

April 3, 2014

SHANGHAI, CHINA—Neanderthals and modern humans are thought to have interbred at least once—probably in the Middle East—after modern humans left Africa. As a result, today’s Europeans and Asians carry a small amount of Neanderthal DNA. A new analysis of some of those Neanderthal gene variants, and an examination of brain tissues, suggests that today’s Europeans have three times as many Neanderthal genes involved in the breakdown of fats than Asians have. “This is the first time we have seen differences in lipid concentrations between populations. How our brains are built differently of lipids might be due to Neanderthal DNA,” evolutionary biologist Philipp Khaitovich of the CAS-MPG Partner Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology told Science Now. Khaitovich thinks the fatty acid genes may have helped Neanderthals and Europeans adapt to living in the Northern Europe’s colder climates.

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Statues Stolen From Museum in Sudan

April 2, 2014

KHARTOUM, SUDAN—Three statues dating to 450 B.C. have been stolen from a remote museum near the World Heritage site of Jebel Barkal in northern Sudan. “They are small statues, about 10 to 15 centimeters high but it’s very significant because the Napatan kingdom is one of the important periods in Sudanese history,” Abdurrahman Ali, head of Sudan’s museums, told News 24.  

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First Traces of Colonial St. Louis Unearthed

April 2, 2014

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Archaeologists from the Missouri Department of Transportation have recovered the first physical evidence of a French colonial home in St. Louis beneath layers of concrete and bricks. It had been thought that all traces of the city’s early, fur-trading days had been wiped out by nineteenth-century construction. The home had been built with vertical wood posts, rather than the horizontal logs used by Anglo-Americans, according to principal investigator Michael Meyer. And, French documents confirm that the house was built in 1769 by Joseph Bouchard, then later owned by Philip Riviére, a member of a prominent local family. Another house nearby contained a piece of tin-enameled Spanish majolica. “They’ve actually found remnants of this exciting period of time that lasted for 40 years in the early history of St. Louis before the Louisiana Purchase,” National Park Service historian Bob Moore commented to St. Louis Public Radio.

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Contested Artifacts Will Be Returned

April 2, 2014

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—BBC News reports that two artifacts thought to have been smuggled out of Italy have been withdrawn from auctions in London. A Greek glass jug dating to the second or first century B.C., and a third century B.C. pottery vessel, were identified by Christos Tsirogiannis of the University of Cambridge as items that had been traded by art dealers convicted of trafficking in antiquities. And, according to India West, the National Gallery of Australia has agreed to return a 900-year-old bronze Shiva Nataraja, or Dancing Shiva, believed to have been stolen from a temple in India’s state of Tamil Nadu. The museum had purchased the statue in 2008 from a New York art dealer currently on trial in Chennai for allegedly organizing the theft of 28 objects from two temples in India. 

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Byzantine Mosaics Uncovered in Israel

April 2, 2014

 

HURA, ISRAEL—A Byzantine monastery with intact mosaics on the floors of the prayer hall and dining room was discovered during salvage excavations in the Negev Desert. The mosaics, made up of blue, red, yellow, and green tiles, depict leaves, flowers, baskets, jars, birds, and geometric patterns. The names of four of the monastery’s abbots, and the sixth-century dates that the floors were laid, are recorded in tiles. “It seems that this monastery, located near the Byzantine settlement of Horbat Hur, is one monastery in a series of monasteries situated alongside a road that linked Transjordan with the Be’er Sheva Valley,” Daniel Varga of the Israel Antiquities Authority told Live Science. Four other rooms had been paved with white mosaic tiles, and ceramic jars, cooking pots, kraters, bowls, glass vessels, and coins were found. The monastery and mosaics will be moved away from the road construction and preserved.

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Could the Pharaohs Read and Write?

April 1, 2014

POZNAŃ, POLAND—Little is known about the education of royal children in ancient Egypt, so Filip Taterka of Adam Mickiewicz University examined Egyptian texts for clues to the literacy of the pharaohs. He found references to medical documents, letters, and wisdom literature written by the kings, and adds that the writing implements found in the tomb of Tutankhamun suggests that the boy king had been educated. “For administrative documents and literary texts, ancient Egyptians used mainly hieratic, which was a simplified form of writing used since the Old Kingdom, the time of the builders of the pyramids in the third millennium B.C. In the middle of the first millennium B.C., even more simplified demotic appeared,” Taterka explained to Science & Scholarship in Poland. Taterka thinks that Egyptian royal children were probably taught hieratic, and that classical hieroglyphs were probably reserved for children who would enter the priesthood. Pharaohs would also need to know how to read hieroglyphs so that they could recite sacred texts. 

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Byzantine Monks Used Asbestos in Wall Paintings

April 1, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—While examining the changes in building materials over time at the monastery Enkleistra of St. Neophytos in Cyprus, investigators discovered white asbestos beneath some areas of the twelfth-century wall paintings. The fibrous material, added to the finish coating of plaster, produced a smooth finish. The monks “probably wanted to give more shine and different properties to this layer. It definitely wasn’t a casual decision—they must have understood the properties of the material,” archaeological scientist Ioanna Kakoulli of UCLA told Live Science. The main deposits of asbestos in Cyprus are located some 38 miles away from the monastery, suggesting that the monks may have traded for it. 

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