BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—A recent study of the bones of hundreds of people who lived in Europe over the past 33,000 years suggests that the rise of agriculture and the corresponding reduced mobility led to a change in human bones. Christopher Ruff of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a team of researchers from Europe and the United States took molds of arm and leg bones in museum collections and scanned them with portable x-ray machines. “By comparing the lower limbs with the upper limbs, which are little affected by how much walking or running a person does, we could determine whether the changes we saw were due to mobility or to something else, like nutrition,” Ruff said in a press release. The team found that leg-bone strength began to decline in the Mesolithic era, some 10,000 years ago, while arm bone strength remained fairly steady. “The decline continued for thousands of years, suggesting that people had a very long transition from the start of agriculture to a completely settled lifestyle. But by the medieval period, bones were about the same strength as they are today.”
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Isotopic analysis of the preserved hair, teeth, and nails of the Egtved Girl show that she had not been born in Egtved, Denmark, where her partial remains were discovered in a Bronze Age barrow in 1921. Analysis of the strontium isotopes in one of her first molars shows that she had been born outside of Denmark, and when combined with the strontium isotopic signatures obtained from her clothing, scientists were able to pinpoint her place of origin to the Black Forest of southern Germany. Karin Margarita Frei of the National Museum of Denmark and the Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen was also able to track the girl’s last journeys through an analysis of the strontium isotopic signatures in her long hair. “Neither her hair nor her thumb nail contains a strontium isotopic signatures which indicates that she returned to Scandinavia until very shortly before she died. As an area’s strontium isotopic signature is only detectable in human hair and nails after a month, she must have come to Denmark, and Egtved, about a month before she passed away,” Frei explained in a press release.
STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—Stone tools from northern Kenya have been dated to 3.3 million years ago, making them 700,000 years older than Oldowan artifacts. Louise Leakey and her team at the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) created 3-D laser scans of the Lomekwi 3 tools to reveal very fine details on their surfaces. “The tools are much larger than later Oldowan tools, and we can see from the scars left on them when they were being made that the techniques used were more rudimentary, requiring holding the stone in two hands or resting the stone on an anvil when hitting it with a hammerstone,” Sonia Harmand of TBI, Stony Brook University, and the West Turkana Archaeological Project (WTAP) said in Stony Brook University Happenings. Harmand and her colleague Jason Lewis discovered the site while looking for early stone tools in a dry riverbed along the western shore of Lake Turkana. Yet no hominin fossils or cut-marked bones have been found at the site, so the team isn’t sure who made the tools or how they were used. “Many have expected the threshold of stone tool-making to be pushed back in time, but the Lomekwi excavations really do represent a major advance in our understanding,” commented Richard Leakey, chair of TBI. For another recent discovery, see "Neanderthal Tool Time."
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Peter Savolainen of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology looked for traces of Indonesian ancestry in modern dogs from Madagascar, but found no connection to the pets of ancient Austronesian migrants. “Dogs, together with pigs and chickens, were important domestic animals in the Austronesian culture. So it would be expected that dogs were brought in the colonization of major new areas, and a seemingly total absence in Madagascar of dogs with Austronesian heritage is surprising,” he said in a press release. Madagascar’s human population has a high diversity of maternal and paternal lineages of Indonesian origin, however. Those migrants are thought to have traveled with domesticated pigs, chickens, and their dogs, whose genes have been detected in dogs in Hawaii, Southeast Asia, the Cook Islands, and New Zealand. “It is possible that if the dogs were brought along on these long journeys, they died from the hardship, or were used as a food source,” Savolainen speculated. For more on the archaeology of dogs, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."
SAVANNAH, GEORGIA—The wreckage of the CSS Georgia is being recovered by Navy divers to make way for the expansion of a shipping channel as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The ironclad gunboat was launched in 1863, but it was too heavy to travel under its own steam and leaked badly. The vessel was moored some five miles from Savannah and was scuttled by Confederate forces as Union troops seized the city in 1864. Sections of the wreckage will be recovered in segments from the muddy river bottom because they are too large to handle, and special precautions are being taken to handle the ship’s projectiles and ordnance. “You’re dealing with something that’s been down there for 150 years; I can’t imagine that any part will be easy,” Navy Diver 2nd Class Jonny Pounders told 13 News Now. The project is expected to take two months to complete. To read more about nautical archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
SOFIA, BULGARIA—Sixty houses have been unearthed at a Neolithic settlement by archaeologists working ahead of road construction in southwestern Bulgaria. The 8,000-year-old planned settlement had three parallel, wide streets set between two-story houses made of wooden frames and clay. The walls of the houses are thought to have been preserved by fires set within the structures. Pieces of the houses have also been found in small burial pits. “We can assume that there was a string of problems connected with the corresponding cycle of life and perhaps they wanted to break this cycle, to complete it and start a new cycle of life elsewhere, and therefore burnt the village,” lead archaeologist Vassil Nikolov told The Sofia Globe. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, see "Thracian Treasure Chest."
LEICESTER, ENGLAND—In a study funded by the Wellcome Trust, geneticists from the University of Leicester sequenced DNA from the Y chromosomes of 334 men from 17 populations in Europe and the Middle East. Using new methods for analyzing DNA variation and the timing of population events, the team, led by Mark Jobling and Chiara Batini, found that two out of three modern European men have descended from just three paternal lineages that branch out from the genealogical tree of European Y chromosomes. The study also suggests that this explosion in the size of the male population occurred between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago. “The population expansion falls within the Bronze Age, which involved changes in burial practices, the spread of horse-riding, and developments in weaponry. Dominant males linked with these cultures could be responsible for the Y-chromosome patterns we see today,” Jobling said in a press release. It had been thought from previous genetic studies that the population expansion occurred at an earlier time. “Given the cultural complexity of the Bronze Age, it’s difficult to link a particular event to the population growth that we infer. But Y-chromosome DNA sequences from skeletal remains are becoming available, and this will help us to understand what happened, and when,” added Batini. To read in-depth about Europe's first great Bronze Age civilization, see "The Minoans of Crete."
VIZCAYA, SPAIN—The remains of more than 2,500 domestic cows, sheep, and pigs from 41 archaeological sites across the Iberian Peninsula were measured and analyzed by Idoia Grau-Sologestoa of the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country. She found that the size of domestic animals is linked to livestock management practices over time. “The increase in animal size is normally linked to improvements of an environmental type (for example to new ways of feeding) or of a genetic type (for example, by importing larger animals). Larger domestic animal size entails a number of economic advantages with an increase in meat production or traction strength. What is more, improved domestic animals tend to grow faster which helps to increase their productivity,” she explained in a press release. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the size of domestic animals did not undergo significant changes, and between the eighth and ninth centuries, domestic animals were actually smaller, perhaps because of the semi-free foraging practices of the Early Middle Ages, as confirmed by the analysis of stable isotopes in cattle bones. But the size of domestic animals, especially sheep, has been increasing since the Late Middle Ages. “This increase is linked to the importance of sheep husbandry in this period not only for meat production but also to take advantage of the wool and milk of these animals,” she said. Grau-Sologestoa will soon examine the changes in livestock management during the transition to the modern era. To read more, see "The Origins of Domestic Cattle."
NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Recent excavations at Vindolanda, a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall, have uncovered a free-standing water tank, animal bones, pens, hairpins, barrels, and a stone engraved with a hare and a hound, perhaps for Diana, the goddess of hunting. “The excavators concentrated on the water tank feature and the roads surrounding it. They managed to complete the task of excavating the tank down to its flagged floor, removing the rubbish, fill, and facing stones which had been pitched into the tank after its abandonment. These would have carried the large flag stones which were to eventually cover the feature entirely,” director of excavations Andrew Birley told Culture 24. Coins, animal bone, and pottery in the fill will help the researchers determine when the backfilling took place. The tank was encased with an outer wall within a temple or shrine. “The building would have been accessed from the road to the east, although one can imagine that most may have not been permitted to enter. Instead, they could have obtained their water from the small header tank in front of the building and been restricted to looking into the temple to see a raised platform at the back, perhaps with the effigy of the god or goddess reflected in the water below,” Birley said.
RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA—According to a report in Forbes, osteological analysis of three skulls from the site of Wata Wata in Bolivia suggests that the one man and two women experienced extreme violence at or near the time of death. The victims were incapacitated, but may have still been alive at the time of the torture. Sara Becker, now of the University of California at Riverside, and Sonia Alconini of the University of Texas at San Antonio wrote in the journal Latin American Antiquity that the marks on the skull of the first woman show that she had been scalped and beheaded. Cut marks on her upper cheekbones, around her eyes indicate that her eyes may have been gouged out. The man had suffered a broken nose that had healed before his death, but he also had a large, unhealed skull fracture and there are cut marks around his eye orbit. The second woman had also experienced a blow to the head. Cut marks indicate that her head was defleshed, and her lower jaw and eyes were removed. “The physical extraction of the eyes of the Wata Wata heads may be a symbol of blindness and blinding the power of these individuals,” they said. Becker and Alconini think the three may have been decapitated, dismembered, and buried by a new regime during a political transition. For more on ancient political machinations in the Andes, see "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."
ASWAN, EGYPT—A team of archaeologists led by Maria Nilsson and John Ward of Sweden’s Lund University has unearthed rock inscriptions and cartouches for Amenhotep III and Ramses II at a 3,300-year-old temple site in the Gebel El Silsila quarry. “The significance of the find is that it changes the history of the site, and it firmly established Gebel el Silsila as not only a quarry, but also a sacred location. The archaeologists are currently studying the material, and working on producing a comprehensive plan and eventually a 3-D (digital) reconstruction,” Ward told The Cairo Post. Beads dating to the 18th Dynasty, colored plaster, faience, pottery, and a blue-colored scarab were recovered from the temple area. The temple had four visible layers, column bases, and inner and outer walls. The oldest phase of the temple had been built from limestone and “may signify the official changeover from limestone construction to sandstone,” Nilsson said. For more on Egyptian temples, see "The Cult of Amun."
TARRAGONA, SPAIN—Edgard Camaró, Carlos Lorenzo, and Florent Rivals of the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana I Evolució Social (IPHES) examined the bones of people who were recently killed by large carnivores such as lions, tigers, bears, and leopards, and compared the injuries they found with the injuries found on Neanderthal fossils. The “same pattern is observed and therefore we infer that Neanderthals were also attacked by large carnivores,” Camaró said in a press release. “This remarks the importance that predation has on human evolution, and the strong pressure that existed between Neanderthals and large carnivores during prehistory,” he added. The research has also identified the particular marks made by various carnivores, which will benefit forensic medicine. “The use of forensic medicine to explain the past provides useful information and provides new approaches between sciences and transfer of knowledge,” he said. To read more about our extinct cousins, see "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"
LONDON, ENGLAND—Researchers from the Hunter-Gatherer Resilience Project at University College London lived among populations of hunter-gatherers in Congo and the Philippines to investigate why these small communities are made up of large numbers of individuals with no kinship ties to each other. Computer simulations show that camp relatedness is low when men and women share the influence over where the family lives, and alternate between moving to camps where husbands have close kin and camps where wives have close kin. “While previous researchers have noted the low relatedness of hunter-gatherer bands, our work offers an explanation as to why this pattern emerges. It is not that individuals are not interested in living with kin. Rather, if all individuals seek to live with as many kin as possible, no one ends up living with many kin at all,” lead researcher Mark Dyble said in a press release. Such living arrangements may have helped high cognition, cumulative culture, and hyper-cooperation to evolve in human ancestors. To read about hunter-gatherers in Chile's Atacama Desert, see "The Desert and the Dead."
EDMONTON, CANADA—Artifacts dating to 1810 have been discovered on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River, across from the location of Fort Edmonton. This is the first time that artifacts from this time period, including a ring, glass beads, and other European decorative items, have been found outside the original fort. “Once you start to have things associated with the fort outside its walls, then you start to see a community establishing itself in an area,” archaeologist Ryan Eldridge of Turtle Island Cultural Resource Management told CBC Canada. These residents on the other side of the river may have been Métis people, who were often born of First Nations women and European men. “People would have been employed as hunters to supply the fort, carpenters, cooks, tailors. All of that support structure that you needed to keep the facility operating,” Eldridge explained. To read about historical archaeology in Canada, see "Saga of the Northwest Passage."
NARA, JAPAN—A tiny amount of pollen from basil plants has been detected at the Makimuku ruins, thought to be the palace of Himiko, the shaman queen of the Yamataikoku kingdom. The pale-colored pollen is more than 1,500 years old and originated in the tropics of Southeast Asia, according to archaeologist Masaaki Kanehara and environmental archaeologist Masako Kanehara of the Nara University of Education. “Basil of Southeast Asian origin could have been brought here as dried medicinal herbs through exchanges with the Chinese,” Masako Kanehara told The Asahi Shimbun. The pollen was recovered from a ditch near a huge burial mound during excavations in 1991. The husband and wife team identified the species of basil by growing about ten different kinds and comparing pollen from the samples to the ancient specimen. Since only a small amount of the pollen was found, basil was probably not cultivated in the area. To read about another pollen study, see "America's Chinatowns: Food."
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA—Nova News Now reports that a section of the nineteenth-century Shubenacadie Canal has been uncovered at the corner of Prince Albert Road and Pleasant Street in Dartmouth. This section of the canal, which linked Halifax to northern Nova Scotia by connecting a series of lakes, carried boats via a pulley powered by a turbine installed in 1862. “It’s very rare,” Terry Gallagher, manager of facility design and construction for the city, said of the surviving piece of machinery. The canal was widely used during the gold rushes of the 1860s but eventually closed in 1871 after a fixed railroad bridge that blocked steamships was built over the canal. The site will be reconstructed and interpreted as part of the Dartmouth Canal Greenway Project. To read more about canals in the Archive, see "The Canal Age."
SISTAN-BALUCHESTAN PROVINCE, IRAN—Archaeologists working in southeastern Iran at the Bronze-Age site known as the Burnt City have uncovered a brick wall standing more than five feet tall. The wall, located at Taleb Khan Mound, dates to the fourth phase of the city, between 2300 and 2100 B.C. Archaeologists also recently recovered intact dishes, bricks bearing fingerprints, and the leg of a small cow figurine made of clay. “This is the most naturalistic artwork from 4,500 years ago. The hoof cleft and the back of the leg have been realistically created and present a unique simulation,” team leader Hossein-Ali Kavosh told Press TV. The 5,200-year-old city was burned three times, but not rebuilt after the last fire. To read in-depth about the Burnt City, see "The World in Between."
REYKJAVÍK, ICELAND—Because of the low population density in Iceland during the Middle Ages, it had been assumed that monks shared parish churches with the people. Last week, British and Icelandic scientists looking for the remains of Þykkvabæjarklaustur in South Iceland found them away from the parish church. Now they are looking for the cloisters at Möðruvellir and MunkaÞverá in North Iceland, and have ruled out possible sites near those parish churches. “I think it is highly unlikely that, when cloisters were established, that churches nearby were used. Because there is so much difference between monastic chapels and parish churches, or home churches. They were the churches of the people, the flock, and not of the cloisters,” archaeologist Steinunn J. Kristjánsdóttir told Iceland Review. It appears that the monks preferred to build their own chapels. To read in-depth about archaeology in Iceland, see "Surviving the Little Ice Age."
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—A new study of a 1,500-year-old skeleton from eastern England confirms that the man, who was probably in his early 20s at the time of death, suffered from leprosy. Changes consistent with the disease can been seen in the narrowing of his toe bones and in damage to his joints. “Not all cases of leprosy can be identified by changes to the skeleton. Some may leave no trace on the bones; other will affect bones in a similar way to other diseases. In these cases the only way to be sure is to use DNA fingerprinting, or other chemical markers characteristic of the leprosy bacillus,” Sonia Zakrzewski of the University of Southampton said in a press release. In this case, the bacterial DNA was in good condition, and the team of scientists, which also included researchers from the University of Leiden and the universities of Birmingham, Surrey, and Swansea, was able to identify the strain of leprosy. It has previously been found in burials from medieval Scandinavia and southern Britain, and is thought to date to the fifth or sixth century A.D. Analysis of isotopes from the man’s teeth show that he probably grew up in northern Europe, so he may have brought the Scandinavian strain of leprosy with him when he came to Britain. “We plan to carry out similar studies on skeletons from different locations to build up a more complete picture of the origins and early spread of this disease,” said team leader Sarah Inskip of the University of Leiden. To read more about the study of diseases in ancient remains, see "Heart Attack of the Mummies."
NANJING, CHINA—Live Science reports that two stone epitaphs recovered from a Ming Dynasty tomb in Nanjing have been translated. The 500-year-old epitaphs tell the story of Lady Mei, whose remains were found in a water-damaged casket, along with gem-encrusted gold bracelets, a fragrance box, and hairpins. Born in 1430, Lady Mei was one of three wives of the Duke of Qian. “Lady Mei was probably a concubine whom he married after he went to guard and rule Yunnan,” researchers led by excavation crew chief Haining Qi wrote in the Chinese journal Wenwu, which has been published in English in Chinese Cultural Relics. She gave birth to a son, who was ten months old when the duke died. The epitaphs say she “was only 21 years of age. She was unwashed and unkempt, and called herself the survivor.” The text praises her for raising the third-generation duke and keeping the household in order. After her son came to power, the well-loved Lady Mei was known as the “Dowager Duchess” until her death in 1474. “On the day of her death, the people of Yunnan, military servicemen or civilians, old and young, all mourned and grieved for her as if their own parents had passed away,” read the epitaphs. To read more about sites in China, see "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."