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Early Pacific Islanders Enjoyed Wild Foods

March 6, 2014

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND—A study of the isotope ratios in the skeletons of Lapita people who lived on Vanuatu’s Efate Island some 3,000 years ago suggests that they relied on reef fish, marine turtles, fruit bats, and “free-range pigs and chickens,” for their food rather than on cultivated crops. Rebecca Kinaston of the University of Otago told Z News that as they moved eastward across the Pacific, the Lapita foraged for wild food to supplement whatever horticultural food they produced.

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12th-Century Cahokia Was a “Melting Pot”

March 6, 2014

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—Thomas Emerson, State archaeologist and director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey at the University of Illinois, told the University of Illinois News Bureau that the population of 20,000 people living at Cahokia around A.D. 1100 probably included a number of immigrants. “Such early centers around the world grow by immigration, not by birthrate,” he explained. Items thought to have traveled to the urban center through trade may have been carried by new residents. And, an analysis of strontium isotope ratios in the teeth of people buried at Cahokia by bioarchaeologist Kristin Hedman and graduate student Philip Slater indicates that as many as one-third of the residents spent their childhoods somewhere else. “Cahokia, because it was multiethnic and perhaps even multilingual, must have been a virtual ‘melting pot’ that fostered new ways of living, new political and social patterns and perhaps even new religious beliefs,” Emerson added.

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Medieval Mint Uncovered in India

March 5, 2014

HARYANA, INDIA—Salvage excavations in the village of Bohar Majra in northern India have uncovered a rectangular structure identified as a mint dating to King Mihira Bhoja, who ruled between 836 and 885 A.D. According to B.R. Mani of the Archaeological Survey of India, the mint was in use until the eleventh century. “The site has yielded hundreds of terracotta coin molds and crucibles from the last phase of the site,” he told The Hindu.

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18th Dynasty Tomb Found in Luxor

March 5, 2014

LUXOR, EGYPT—The tomb of Maayi, a government official from Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, has been accidently discovered by a joint Spanish-Egyptian team digging on Luxor’s west bank. A hole in the wall of tomb number TT109 led them to Maayi’s tomb. “The tomb is very well decorated, which reflects the luxurious life of its owner,” Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram Online. The excavation will continue once the debris blocking the entrance to the tomb is removed.

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EU and UN Call For Action at Pompeii

March 5, 2014

ROME, ITALY—At an emergency meeting yesterday, Italian officials agreed to release two million euros in funding from the European Union for maintenance at the World Heritage site of Pompeii, where heavy rainfall triggered the collapse of several ancient walls. Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told BBC News that he was “unblocking many measures which will get the machine working.” Johannes Hahn, Regional Policy Commissioner for the EU, called every collapse “a huge defeat.”

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War Trophy or Honored Ancestor?

March 4, 2014

CHILLICOTHE, OHIO—Anthropologists from the University of Sao Paulo and the University of Cambridge analyzed 112 human skulls from Borneo that were known to have been collected by headhunters and published their findings in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. They found that 60 percent of the skulls showed signs of violence. But some of the bones only showed signs of cut marks, which would have made it difficult to know if the cut marks had been made during an act of violence or as part of a mortuary custom such as dismemberment and cleaning of the bones. Bradley Lepper, curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society, applied this information to skulls uncovered in Ohio in his column for The Columbus Dispatch. He thinks that the separate human skulls sometimes found in Hopewell mounds burials are the remains of honored ancestors. 

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Long-Term Drought May Have Led to Fall of Harappan Civilization

March 4, 2014

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Palaeoclimatologist Yama Dixit of the University of Cambridge and her team tested sediment samples taken from an ancient, closed-basin lake on the edge of the Indus Valley. The age of the layers was determined with radiocarbon dating of organic matter, while the preserved shells of lake snails provided information about oxygen isotopes and water levels. According to a report in Nature News, what they found indicates that the monsoon cycle stopped for some 200 years around 2000 B.C. This long-term drought may have contributed to the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. “What drove this climate change 4,100 years ago? We don’t see major changes in the North Atlantic or in the solar activity at that time,” asked Anil Gupta, director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in Dehradun, India.

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Germany’s Second Oldest Church Uncovered

March 4, 2014

MAINZ, GERMANY—Traces of a 1,200-year-old church have been discovered incorporated into the 1,000-year-old “Old Cathedral” in Mainz. The older walls, which date to the time of Charlemagne, stretch from the basement to the roof. “This is the only surviving Carolingian cathedral in Germany,” Rhineland-Palatinate state curator Joachim Glatz told The Local. Two burials dating to the time of the earlier church have also been found. The building was severely damaged during World War II. 

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Ireland’s Seventeenth-Century Pirates

March 3, 2014


DUBLIN, IRELAND—Underwater archaeologist Connie Kelleher, now of the Ireland National Monuments Service, has been collecting information about the seventeenth-century pirates that were based in Munster, Ireland. She has examined two sets of stairs carved out of cliff rock, one near “Dutchman’s Cove” that also had niches for candles or lanterns, and one near “Gokane Point” that led to a subterranean cavern with a waterway. Pirates and smugglers would have been able to reach the sea in the dark with these staircases. Kelleher also wants to look for the pirate fleet destroyed by the Dutch in Crookhaven Harbor in 1614. “Certainly part of the lower hulls and its cargoes could be there—things that were in the hold of the [salvaged] ships. Similarly, if a ship exploded, then the material could be scattered, and we could be dealing with a wider archaeological site,” she told Live Science

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New Kingdom Tombs Discovered in Aswan

March 3, 2014

ASWAN, EGYPT—Four rock-cut tombs dating to the New Kingdom period have been discovered on Elephantine Island in the Nile River. One of the tombs belonged to an official named User, who is depicted in wall paintings with his family and deities, and with five priests while wearing a leopard fur before an offering table. Nasr Salama, head of Aswan monuments, told Ahram Online that the other tombs belonged to Ba-Nefer, a supervisor of the gods’ priests of Elephantine; Amenhotep, who held the stamps of Upper Egypt and ruled Elephantine; and Elephantine ruler User Wadjat. The tombs are being restored.

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Rain in Pompeii Causes Additional Collapses

March 3, 2014

ROME, ITALY—Heavy rains in Pompeii have triggered the collapse of a tomb wall in the necropolis of Porta Nocera and part of an arch supporting the Temple of Venus. According to a Reuters report in The Guardian, Italy’s Culture Minister, Dario Franceschini, called an emergency meeting of officials for a report on the reasons for the collapses and to verify that routine maintenance had occurred at the ancient site. 

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Neolithic Bones Discovered in Irish Cave

March 3, 2014

KNOCKNAREA, IRELAND—Human skeletal remains dating to the Neolithic period have been recovered from a tiny cave on Knocknarea. Of the 13 bone fragments, three belonged to a child, and ten to an adult. “Significantly, too, it seems the adult had been placed there about 300 years before the child, who died about 5,200 years ago,” Marion Dowd of the Institute of Technology Sligo told the Irish Mirror. She suggests that the bodies had been placed in the cave, and their bones collected and moved to another location after decomposition had taken place. These few small bones had been missed.

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Ancient Roman Statue Found in Queens Warehouse

February 28, 2014

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—The New York Times reports that federal investigators plan to seize on behalf of Italian officials a 1,700-pound lid to an ancient Roman sarcophagus. Discovered in a Queens warehouse, the marble lid, which depicts a reclining woman, was probably looted in the 1970s or early 1980s. Photographs of the statue were found among pictures of looted antiquities in a Swiss gallery belonging to Gianfranco Becchina, who was convicted in 2011 of trafficking in illegal Roman artifacts. “We’re still investigating, and can’t confirm who currently owns or has an interest in the property,” explained assistant United States attorney Karin Orenstein.

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Nine Manuscripts Discovered in Qumran Artifacts

February 28, 2014

LUGANO, SWITZERLAND—At an international conference on Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was announced that archaeologist Yonatan Adler had discovered nine small manuscript scrolls within three phylacteries excavated from caves 4 and 5 at the site in the 1950s. Specialists from the Israel Antiquities Authority used multispectral imaging to examine the 2,000-year-old scrolls. “It’s not every day that you get the chance to discovery new manuscripts. It’s very exciting,” Adler told ANSAmed.

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The Beringia Standstill Hypothesis

February 28, 2014

BOULDER, COLORADO—A review of genetic evidence suggests that the Native American founding population lived in Beringia for thousands of years before migrating south into North America. And sediments taken from the Bering Sea show that at the time, the region also had woody plants for building fires, and grassland steppes where woolly mammoths and other game animals could have grazed. “The central part of Beringia was probably the mildest, most comfortable place to live at high latitudes during the last glacial maximum. It’s the most logical place for a group of people to hunker down,” John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado, Boulder, told Live Science. Archaeological evidence of their presence has yet to be found, however.

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How Many Homo Species Lived at Dmanisi?

February 28, 2014

BURGOS, SPAIN—A controversial new study reported in Science News claims that two species of human ancestors are present at the nation of Georgia’s site of Dmanisi. The partial skeletons, which display disparities in several skeletal features, including jaw sizes, had all been categorized as Homo erectus individuals living some 1.8 million years ago by the excavators. But a team led by José María Bermúdez de Castro of the National Research Center on Human Evolution claims that small-jawed individuals were related to early African Homo populations, while the larger-jawed individuals belonged to Homo georgicus that lived at the site several hundred thousand years later.

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Medieval Knight, Roman House Unearthed in Italy

February 27, 2014

AREZZO, ITALY—Andrea Pessina, regional superintendent of archaeological heritage, announced that a first-century Roman structure has been discovered at the Medici Fortress of Arezzo in central Italy. According to a report in ANSAmed, the building, which sits on a steep slope overlooking a valley, was probably used as a residence. Painted walls and floors have been found in two of the three uncovered rooms. Archaeologists also excavated the medieval burial of a man with a long iron sword. 

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Unknown Mummy Examined in Germany

February 27, 2014

MUNICH, GERMANY—A CT scan of a mummy of a woman in the collection at the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection shows that she had been killed by blunt-force trauma to the head. “She must have received a couple of really severe hits by a sharp object to her skull just before her death. The skull bones that had been destroyed fell into her brain cavity, and they are still there today,” Andreas Nerlich of Munich University told Live Science. Isotopes in her hair, which had been held with bands made of alpaca or llama hair, indicate that she lived near the coastline of Peru or Chile, and ate a diet high in seafood and maize. She was dying from Chagas disease, caused by parasites, when she was killed. She was probably then buried in the dry sands of the Atacama Desert, which preserved her body. 

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The Origins of Human Skin Colors

February 27, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND—Mel Greaves of The Institute of Cancer Research in the United Kingdom thinks that human ancestors had pale skin when they lost their body hair some two to three million years ago. The lack of hair was “almost certainly to facilitate heat loss by sweating in physically very active hunters, especially in the more open, dry and hot Savannah” of East Africa, Greaves told Discovery News. It had been theorized that melanin, the pigment that gives skin color, evolved as an adaptation to limit damage to the skin from sun exposure. Greaves studied albinos living in Africa, who lack any pigment in their skin, hair, and eyes, and found that they are indeed highly susceptible to skin cancer. “We assume that all hominin migrants from Africa over the past 100,000 years would have been dark skinned. What happened to those migrant populations’ skin color later depended upon geography and UVR (ultraviolet radiation) exposures,” he added.

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Tracking Disease in Ancient Mesopotamia

February 27, 2014

WARSAW, POLAND—How healthy were the people of ancient Mesopotamia? Arkadiusz Soltysiak of the University of Warsaw collected information from all 44 previously published reports on human remains from Mesopotamia, where winters are moist and summers are hot, making ancient bones fragile and poorly preserved. “Despite the few published data, it can be concluded that the communities of Mesopotamia were quite healthy. We can also identify some trends—for example, least diseases visible on the bones were recorded in the early and mid-Bronze Age. Interestingly, this correlates well with written sources of that time—it was a heyday of farming communities,” Soltysiak told Science & Scholarship in Poland. He noted that the dental health of the people suffered as date palms spread and eating habits changed up to the medieval period.

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