MONTI LESSINI, ITALY—Silvana Condemi of the University of Ai-Marseille and her colleagues claim that a jaw from the Riparo di Mezzena rock shelter in northern Italy is from the first-known Neanderthal/modern human hybrid. “From the morphology of the lower jaw, the face of the Mezzena individual would have looked somehow intermediate between classic Neanderthals, who had a rather receding lower jaw (no chin), and the modern humans, who present a projecting lower jaw with a strongly developed chin,” she said. Genetic analysis of the bone shows that the individual’s mitochondrial DNA was Neanderthal, indicating a Neanderthal mother. The team speculates that the individual’s father may have been an invading modern-human male that lived between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago.
LOS OSOS, CALIFORNIA—Human remains were discovered last week during the construction of a new sewer line. The project had been designed to avoid as many archaeological sites as possible, but this particular Chumash burial area was in the middle of a roadway, so workers had been using shovels rather than heavy equipment to prevent as much damage as possible. “The site is covered and we are making sure it is protected. There may be additional remains than those found in the trench alignment,” said Mark Hutchinson of the Public Works Department. The Northern Chumash Tribal Council, and the Odom-Tucker family of the Northern Chumash, had been monitoring the project. The two groups have requested that the remains be reinterred as soon as possible, as close to the original cemetery as possible.
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN—New carbon dates taken from charcoal at the only Buddhist monastery in the Taxila Valley suggest that it was built in the third century B.C., or at least 300 years earlier than previously thought. At its height in the third century A.D., 55 monk cells were not enough to house all of the monks that came to study, and so an annex, or “mini monastery,” was added. “When we cleared bushes from the area south of the main monastery, there were visible signs that a structure could be buried underneath,” said Muhammad Ashraf Kahn of the Institute of Asian Civilizations. A stucco figurine of Buddha, iron door knockers, pottery, coins, and a grinding stone were found in the small monastery. Animal bones at the site indicate that the monks kept domesticated animals.
CAIRO, EGYPT—This video footage from Egyptian police shows several illegal tunnels dug by people looking for archaeological treasures near the Great Pyramids of Giza, in Luxor, and in Dahshur. The tunnels have even been found within people’s homes. Reporter Aleem Maqbool from BBC News was able to find a tunnel on his own, in addition to artifacts for sale on the black market. Hosni Hussain, Head of the Tourism and Antiquities Police in Luxor, says that illegal digging has always happened, and although it increased after the revolution, the police are aware of the problem and have recovered all stolen items.
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Low water levels along Stockholm’s waterfront have revealed the hulls of two historic wrecks, thought to be seventeenth-century Danish warships. “If it had only been one or two beams sticking up, I may not have noticed it. But I saw immediately that it was a shipwreck. You could clearly see the bow and the stern,” said marine archaeologist Jim Hansson of Stockholm’s Maritime Museum. He spotted the wrecks while out for a walk with his girlfriend. Samples of the vessels have been taken for testing.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The renovation of an auditorium uncovered 37 sets of human remains thought to represent slaves or indentured servants buried between 1690 and the 1750s. Only one of the bodies had been buried in a coffin; the rest are thought to have been buried in shrouds. Buttons, coins, ceramics, gun flint, and iron objects were also found in the graves. When the investigation is completed, the Charleston City Council will decide where to reinter the remains.
ABERYSTWYTH, WALES—Low levels of sun and snow cover helped archaeologists to spot some 40 new Bronze Age structures from the air, including a burial mound and a site with a moat. “Snow evens out the colors of the landscape allowing complex earthwork monuments to be seen more clearly and precisely,” said archaeologist Toby Driver of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. His team also mapped and photographed previously recorded sites. “So far well over 5,000 new archaeological sites have been discovered across Wales in 25 years of flying. We can now appreciate that Wales was intensively farmed and settled from the Neolithic era 6,000 years ago,” he added.
BAGHDAD, IRAQ—A satellite image has led British archaeologists to a large palace or temple on the banks of the Euphrates River, about ten miles from the ancient city of Ur. They have uncovered a corner of the structure, which is thought to be 4,000 years old and to consist of rooms with nine-foot-thick walls arranged around a central courtyard. “The size is breathtaking,” said Jane Moon of the University of Manchester. The area has been closed to foreign scholars since the 1950s, when a military air base was constructed nearby.
OSLO, NORWAY—A German submarine has been found off the coast of Norway by Statoil, a Norwegian oil company. The “U-486” broke in two when it was torpedoed in April 1945 by a British submarine. It sank in 820 feet of water with 48 people on board. There were no survivors. “The submarine had a special coating on the hull. It was a synthetic rubber coating designed to significantly reduce its radar signal,” said Arild Maroey Hansen of the Bergen Maritime Museum.
AHIHUD JUNCTION, ISRAEL—Construction of a new railway line in northern Israel has uncovered two settlements, the first from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. These buildings were carved from the bedrock, and some of them had plaster floors. “We found a large number of flint and obsidian arrowheads, polished miniature stone axes, blades and other flint and stone tools. The large amount of tools made of obsidian, a material that is not indigenous to Israel, is indicative of the trade relations that already existed with Turkey, Georgia, and other regions during this period,” said Yizhak Paz and Ya’akov Vardi of the Israel Antiquities Authority. They also found thousands of charred broad bean seeds in a pit, indicating that these early farmers were growing legumes. Later buildings, from the Early Chalcolithic period, were constructed with thick walls of stone and clay and were sometimes covered with plaster. Archaeologists also found pig bones, pottery and flint tools, in addition to a stone phallus figurine and a palette on which an image of female genitals had been etched. The scientists say these symbolic items represented the fertility of the earth.
WINCHESTER, ENGLAND—Human remains thought to be those of Alfred the Great, who died in A.D. 899, have been exhumed from an unmarked grave at St. Bartholomew’s Church. Alfred, the first “king of the English,” had been buried near Winchester Cathedral, but his body was moved to Hyde Abbey in 1110, which was later destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII. Some think his bones were transferred to St. Bartholomew’s in the eighteenth century. Church officials decided to empty the grave in order to protect the bones from curiosity seekers. Nick Edmonds, a church spokesperson, said that no applications have been made to study the bones at this time. “Of course, that would only be granted if the court were satisfied with everything proposed, both legally and ethically. Whatever happens, the remains will stay in the care and protection of the church and the consistory court until they are reinterred,” he added.
DRUMBEG, SCOTLAND—A shipwreck off the coast of Scotland’s northwest Highlands is one of the first to be nominated for the country’s new Historic Marine Protected Area status. Although the ship has not yet been identified in historical records, the three cannons recovered from the site were made in Sweden for use by the Dutch. A white Delft tile decorated with a blue image of a three-masted ship flying the Dutch flag was also found. Personal weapons recovered from the wreckage may have been carried by the crew as protection from privateers. Based upon this evidence, archaeologists think that the vessel may have been owned by the Dutch East India Company, and that it sank sometime between 1650 and 1750. “We have conducted a lot of research on new methods of underwater digital survey and the survey at Drumbeg gave us the perfect opportunity to apply this new technology to an entire wreck site for the first time, and with fantastic results,” said John McCarthy of WA Coastal and Marine, an educational charity.
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Scientists estimate that some 1,000 species of birds were eradicated when humans migrated into the Pacific region. The plump, flightless birds had evolved on the islands without major predators, and probably became an easy food source for humans. Those that weren’t eaten may have lost their habitats to land clearing practices. Conservation ecologist Richard Duncan of the University of Canberra and his team developed a statistical model to estimate the number of undiscovered, extinct, non-perching land birds that may have been lost by comparing the fossil record to species that are still alive today. “The proportion of living birds that we know are missing from the fossil record gives you an idea of how many extinct species are [also] missing,” he said. The team concludes that roughly ten percent of the world’s bird species were lost.
DAHSHUR, EGYPT—Well-organized and well-armed gangs of thieves reportedly continue to plunder Egypt’s archaeological sites, while illegal construction encroaches upon them and sometimes even covers them. “Under Mubarak, (the pyramids) were seen as a revenue stream for tourism, and a point of pride. This government just doesn’t care,” said archaeologist Monica Hanna. Kamal Wahid of Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry says that the reports of damage are exaggerated, and counters that the new government simply lacks the resources to protect archaeological sites because of the steep drop in foreign tourism.
TUSCON, ARIZONA—Researchers led by Barbara Mills of the University of Arizona compiled a database of more than four million ceramic artifacts and 4,800 obsidian artifacts from more than 700 sites in the Southwest. The artifacts all date between A.D. 1200 and 1450. By applying formal social network analysis to the collection, or finding out who was making, using, and discarding similar objects over the course of daily life, they found that a large social network in the southern part of the Southwest grew very large before it collapsed. On the other hand, social networks in the northern part of the Southwest were more fragmented, but they persisted over time. “That really shocked us, this idea that you can have such long distance connections. In the pre-Hispanic Southwest they had no real vehicles, they had no beasts of burden, so they had to share information by walking,” Mills explained.
LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Last year, a human skeleton identified as that of Richard III was discovered at a medieval monastery site by a team from Leicester University. The Plantagenet Alliance, a group of 15 people who claim to be descendants of relatives of Richard III, wants the king’s bones to be buried in York, where he spent his childhood. The members assert that their right to a private and family life was violated by the Ministry of Justice, which granted an archaeological investigation license to Leicester University. “Re-interment on the nearest consecrated ground is in keeping with good archaeological practice. Richard has lain in the shadow of St Martin’s Cathedral, Leicester, for over 500 years….There is no obligation to consult living relatives where remains are older than 100 years,” said a spokesperson from the university. Richard III’s final resting place will probably bring in significant tourist revenue.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Using LiDar technology, scientists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have found three more ball fields, two raised platforms, and a building that may have housed a large family at the UNESCO World Heritage site of El Tajin. Optical remote sensing technology allows researchers to make precise 3-D maps of areas that are difficult to reach on foot in much less time. Thermal cameras were also employed to examine the site’s monuments. “We took 60 thousand thermographic images and it was beneficial to learn that no important damage had been done to the principal structures of the archaeological zone,” said archaeologist Guadalupe Zetina Gutierrez.
LONDON, ONTARIO—Andrew Wade and Andrew Nelson of the University of Western Ontario reviewed reports on the embalming techniques used on 150 Egyptian mummies, and they analyzed seven mummies with CT scans and 3-D reconstructions, in order to compare what they found with descriptions of mummification written by Herodotus in the fifth century B.C. They concluded that embalming techniques and practices varied widely over time and place. “A lot of his accounts sound more like tourist stories, so we’re reticent to take everything he said at face value,” Wade said. He added that embalming was a competitive business with closely guarded trade secrets.
ROME, ITALY—Mussolini’s last wartime bunker could be opened to the public later this fall. The unfinished bunker was discovered in 2010 during routine maintenance work in the Palazzo Venezia, his headquarters. The unfinished bunker’s nine rooms made of reinforced concrete were entered through a small wooden trap door. “The structure is still solid, it probably would have withstood a bombardment, although it would have depended on the force of the explosion. It was certainly well hidden,” said architect Carlo Serafini. Winston Churchill and his Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden were reluctant to bomb Mussolini’s headquarters, however, in part because the Palazzo Venezia is located near the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, and the Palatine Hill.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—The city of Thonis-Heracleion, which is now submerged in Egypt’s Aboukir Bay, served as the gateway to Egypt during the first millennium B.C. Scholars from the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology and the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology, working in cooperation with Egypt’s Ministry of State for Antiquities, think that incoming cargoes were unloaded at Thonis-Heracleion, assessed, and reloaded onto Egyptian ships for transport up the Nile River. Their recent survey located 64 Egyptian ships that may have been deliberately sunk, in addition to Athenian trading weights, coins, and statues of Egyptian deities such as Osiris, Isis, and Horus. “Thonis-Heracleion played an important role in the network of long-distance trade in the eastern Mediterranean, since the city would have been the first stop for foreign merchants at the Egyptian border,” said Elsbeth van der Wilt of the University of Oxford.