GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN—Joakim Wehlin of the University of Gothenburg and Gotland University has examined Bronze Age stone monuments that sit along Sweden’s Baltic Sea coasts. It had been thought that the monuments, which resemble stone ships, were used primarily as grave sites. Wehlin, however, thinks that they were used by maritime groups trading in metal objects. “It seems like the whole body was typically not buried in the ship, and some stone ships don’t even have graves in them. Instead, they sometimes show remains of other types of activities. So with the absence of the dead, the traces of the survivors tend to appear,” he explained. The monuments may have been used to mark ports, waterways leading inland, and potential meeting places.
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA—Archaeologists have found the brick-lined foundations of a nineteenth-century slaughterhouse at a construction site for a new school building. Located on the outskirts of Alexandria’s Old Town, the land was also used as a cattle run. An industrial archaeologist will be consulted about some machinery that was also unearthed. “It’s really the only site where we’re going to find anything out about a nineteenth-century butchery. It’s just really something that came as a surprise,” said acting city archaeologist Fran Bromberg.
WHAKATANE, NEW ZEALAND—A human skull has been uncovered during renovation work at Whakatane Hospital. The area was once a traditional cultivation site for the Ngati Awa people, so the land had been blessed before construction work began. The skull, which is thought to be of Maori origin, will be reburied.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to an announcement made by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, Sotheby’s plans to auction 130 pre-Columbian objects, most of which the government of Mexico says are fakes. “Of the 130 objects advertised as being from Mexico, 51 are archaeological artifacts that are (Mexican) national property, and the rest are handicrafts,” read the statement. Mexico has asked Sotheby’s to stop the sale and has asked the French government for assistance, but a Sotheby’s spokeswoman has said that the sale will go forward as planned. The sale, which is scheduled to take place in Paris, is of a collection started in Paris in 1920. The article states that Mexico has prohibited the export of archaeological artifacts since at least 1827.
OSLO, NORWAY—More than 1,600 ancient objects have been found in southern Norway as its glaciers retreat. Some of the artifacts are made of rarely preserved organic materials. One such item is a tunic made of greenish-brown lamb’s wool in a diamond pattern. It has been dated to A.D. 300, and may have been lost along a Roman trade route. “The tunic was well used—it was repaired several times,” said Marianne Vedeler of Norway’s Museum of Cultural History. Researchers wonder why someone would have taken off the tunic while traveling so close to a glacier.
LEIPZIG, GERMANY—A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has published a new, highly accurate sequencing of a Neanderthal genome. The sample was taken from a toe bone discovered in a Siberian cave. “The genome of a Neanderthal is now there in a form as accurate as that of any person walking the streets today,” said lead geneticist Svante Paabo. The information will allow researchers to compare the Neanderthal genome with those of Denisovans and modern humans.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA—Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, assembled a team that has recovered pieces of the powerful Saturn V moon rocket engines from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, more than 13,000 feet underwater. None of the engines are complete—the impact of hitting the water at a high rate of speed mangled them, and salt water has corroded many of the serial numbers from the components. Bezos’s goal had been to recover the engines from the Apollo 11 flight, but without serial numbers, it will be impossible to identify the specific rocket propelled by the engine parts. The team will try to reassemble one or two complete engines from what is available for museum display. The engines remain the property of NASA. For video of a Remotely Operated Vehicle at work recovering an Apollo F-1 engine, visit the Bezos Expeditions website.
SERRA DA CAPIVARA NATIONAL PARK, BRAZIL—Sharp-edged stones, found at Brazil’s Toca da Tira Peia rock shelter, have been dated to 22,000 years ago using luminescence techniques. Geochronologist Christelle Lahaye of the University of Bordeaux and archaeologist Eric Boёda of the University of Paris think that the stones are tools made by humans. “We have new, strong evidence that the Clovis-first model is out of date,” said Lahaye. Similar tools have been found at Chile’s Monte Verde site. Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University estimates that Monte Verde was settled by 14,000 years ago, and perhaps as early as 33,000 years ago. The Toca da Tira Peia rock shelter is located in the same national park as the Pedra Furada rock shelter, where sharp-edged stone tools and bits of burned wood have been dated to 50,000 years ago. If people were living in South America at this time, “this is the type of archaeological record we might expect: ephemeral and lightly scattered material in local shelters,” commented Dillehay.
AVDAT, ISRAEL—Inhabitants of Israel’s Negev Desert may have started farming 5,000 years earlier than previously thought, claims Hendrik Bruins of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Radiocarbon dates taken from bones, animal manure, and burnt food scraps show three periods of agricultural activity, the earliest beginning in 5000 B.C. Bruins adds that ancient farmers managed their water carefully and probably grew grapes, olives, wheat, and barley.
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—Traces of millet and other grains, yams, beans, and roots have been found on three grinding stones from China’s Yellow River region. The residues suggest that people may have been using the plants for food and medicine long before they started cultivating them, since the earliest archaeological evidence of crop cultivation in China is just 11,000 years old. “We can never know for certain why a plant was ingested, but I think these early people probably had a detailed knowledge of the plants they selected and used,” commented Karen Hardy of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies.
WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS—Last fall, a team of researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Greece’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities investigated the deep, treacherous waters surrounding the Greek island of Antikythera, where the bronze clockwork device known as the Antikythera Mechanism was discovered by sponge divers at the turn of the twentieth century. They found that artifacts, including a lead anchor stock, a pipe that may have been used to drain water from the ship’s deck, and an intact amphora, still litter the shipwreck site. There are also objects that look like they could contain bronze fragments. “I’m intensely curious about what’s in the sediments,” said Brendan Foley of Woods Hole. Be sure to view these pictures from the recent dives and images of other Antikythera artifacts that are housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
NEW DELHI, INDIA—Archaeologists suspect they have found a city spread over five acres in the central state of Chhattisharh. Pottery, coins, seals, and terracotta figurines have been recovered from four mounds, along with evidence of reservoirs and roads. The styles of the pottery and the coins suggest that the city dates from the fifth to third centuries B.C. “We’ve just given them permission for this dig, and I think it will be some time before we understand how important this is, said Arun Raj of the Archaeological Survey of India.
NORWICH, ENGLAND—In 2004, the skeletons of 17 people were recovered from a well during an archaeological survey. Historical records suggest that the skeletons, including 11 children, represent the victims of a late-twelfth-century massacre of Jewish residents. The bones were stored by the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service. Further testing of DNA samples may tell scientists more about them. “Nothing is 100% certain, but the historical evidence leads us to believe the remains are of Jewish descent,” said Clive Roffe of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The bones were buried today in a Jewish ceremony.
JBEIL, LEBANON—Thirty artifacts were stolen from the archaeology museum in the town of Jbeil. The thieves broke into the museum during the night and carried off the small objects. Culture Minister Gaby Layoun has been joined by local officials to inspect the scene. Police officers are investigating the crime.
ST LOUIS, MISSOURI—A new study of early human fossils concludes that they exhibit a high frequency of congenital abnormalities, perhaps indicating that Pleistocene populations were small and isolated. As an example, fragments of a 100,000-year-old skull unearthed in northern China show evidence of a disorder known as “enlarged parietal foramen,” caused by a genetic mutation that is rare in current populations. “It remains unclear, and probably un-testable, to what extent these populations were inbred,” noted the study, which was led by Erik Trinkhaus of Washington University in St. Louis.
MES AYNAK, AFGHANISTAN—Filmmaker Brent Huffman wants to document the historic significance of the Buddhist monastery site at Mes Aynak, which sits on top of massive copper reserves, in an attempt to save it—or at least record what happens to it. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines sold the rights to the copper to the China Metallurgical Group four years ago, but time is running out and archaeologists could be forced to leave the site as early as June. Their salvage excavations have recovered many Buddha statues, engravings, manuscripts, icons, coins, tools, and pots from the ten percent of the site that has been investigated. Experts estimate it would take at least 30 years to excavate 5,000-year-old Mes Aynak properly if an agreement can be reached. “Mes Aynak can become a model case with a win-win outcome, pioneering methods for the extraction of resources in a way that is ecologically, culturally and historically responsible while meeting the needs of social development and the global economy,” according to last year’s report by the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage, a non-profit group.
FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE—The Tennessee Division of Archaeology is working with students from Middle Tennessee State University and the Native History Association to preserve two 1,800-year-old burial mounds. The small-scale excavations could show that the two man-made hills, known as the Glass Mounds, are intact and therefore eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Scientists are concerned that farming, mining, and nineteenth-century excavations may have caused too much damage, but so far, archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf thinks that the mound still holds undisturbed burials. “For the Native American community, whether (the site) gets on the National Register or not, it’s still a sacred place. Our feelings about it won’t change,” commented Toye Heape, vice president of the Native History Association.
NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—Warmer, wetter weather could accelerate the deterioration of the cups, rings, and grooves that were carved into slabs of sandstone in northern England between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago. A team of researchers from Newcastle University is developing a toolkit that landowners could use to protect their Neolithic and Bronze Age rock art by improving the drainage around decorated panels. “If we want to keep them, we need to start looking at how we can preserve them now,” said David Graham of the university’s School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND—The government has given a new extension to the archaeologists excavating a dense medieval island settlement, or crannog, that sits in the way of road construction. The team will now have until April 15 to continue excavations, which have revealed that the crannog was occupied for far longer than archaeologists had initially supposed. "There is the possibility that hundreds of years of history could still be uncovered," says project archaeologist Jean O'Dowd. For ARCHAEOLOGY's previous coverage of the public effort to support the extraordinary crannog excavation, click here.
WINCHCOMBE, ENGLAND—An archivist cleaning out a basement cupboard at Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds of southwestern England has rediscovered one of only seven known depictions of Apollo Cunomaglos, a local Roman deity. Dating from A.D 150 to 300, the sculpture shows Apollo Cunomaglos wearing a conical cap and holding a bow and arrow. First discovered in the nineteenth century by one of the owners of Sudeley Castle, the figure's whereabouts had been unknown for decades. "The authentication of the subject as Apollo Cunomaglos with his bow and arrows is of major significance in furthering our understanding of Roman religion in western Britain," says archaeologist Martin Henig, who had previously recorded the artifact as "lost" in a book on Roman sculpture.