ROSTOV OBLAST, RUSSIA—A carved slab discovered in a Bronze Age burial mound in the Ukraine is said to be the oldest sundial of its kind ever found. Larisa Vodolazhskaya of Russia’s Southern Federal University analyzed markings on both sides of the stone and found that the elliptical pattern on one side is consistent with an analemmatic sundial that could keep time in half-hour increments. “The [markings] are made for the geographic latitude at which the sundials were found,” she said. The 3,000-year-old sundial would have been adjusted to the changing position of the sun every day, requiring a sophisticated understanding of geometry by the people of the Srubnaya culture. The other side of the stone is carved with two sundials, one of which would not have kept time.
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—Tooth wear and the age of the individual at the time of death can modify the shape of a hominid’s mandible, according to Ann Margvelashvili of the University of Zurich. She and her team examined four 1.77 million-year-old jaws discovered at the site of Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia, and found that that the high degree of variation among the individuals’ teeth could be attributed to gum disease and the use of toothpicks. “Progressive tooth wear triggers bone remodeling processes that substantially modify the shape of the jaw during an individual’s lifetime. These effects are typically underestimated when attributing fossil hominid jaws to different species,” she explained.
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA—Bolivian and Belgian underwater archaeologists from the Huinaimarca Project recovered more than 2,000 objects from Lake Titicaca. Among the artifacts were 31 gold fragments that were found near the Isla del Sol, where tradition holds that the founders of the Inca Empire emerged from the water. They also found 1,500-year-old stone vessels, incense containers, and figurines, and pots estimated to be between 500 and 800 years old.
HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND—A new analysis of the entire mitochondrial genomes of people from Europe and the Near East suggests that European women were the principal female founders of the Ashkenazim of Central and Eastern Europe. It had been thought that the four major lineages of mitochondrial DNA among the Ashkenazi originated in the Near East, and that communities of Jewish men and women migrated to Europe together. But now it appears that Jewish men traveled from the Near East to Europe and took local wives who then converted to Judaism. “Thus the great majority of Ashkenazi maternal lineages were not brought from the Levant, as commonly supposed,” concluded the team led by Martin B. Richards of the University of Huddersfield.
TOKYO, JAPAN—It had been thought that fine manual dexterity evolved in human ancestors after they freed their hands with bipedal locomotion, but new research suggests that hominids were able to use tools before they developed the ability to walk upright. Neurobiologist Atsushi Iriki and anthropologist Gen Suwa of the University of Tokyo Museum, and scientists from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, examined monkey and human behavior, and fossil evidence from 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus. They also created somatotopic maps of the areas of monkey and human brains responsible for touch awareness in individual fingers and toes. The researchers found that primate and human fingers are all represented independently on a touch map. And, while all of a monkey’s toes are combined in a single map, human big toes have their own map. “In early quadruped hominids, finger control and tool use were feasible, while an independent adaptation involving the use of the big toe for functions like balance and walking occurred with bipediality,” they said.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Well-preserved brain tissue has been discovered in four Bronze Age skeletons at the site of Seyitömer Höyük in western Turkey. Meriç Altinoz of Haliç University thinks that an earthquake followed by a fire could account for the burnt layer of sediment in which the skeletons were found. The brains would have cooked in their own fluids, and the chemical composition of the soil also contributed to their preservation.
PARIS, FRANCE—Analysis of a 12,000-year-old butchering site in Denmark is helping archaeologists to understand the process hunters used to break down their kills. They found well-preserved bone fragments from wild boar, red deer, aurochs, and especially elk at the site, which is known as Lundy Mose. Charlotte Leduc of the University of Paris was able to determine that when processing elk, the hunters first cut around their heads and other body parts in order to remove the hides. The hides could then be used to bundle discarded parts. The next step was to remove and probably eat the raw meat from the limbs and extract the marrow from the bones. The rest of the meat was then cut from the body and the fat trimmed for transport. Bones from long limbs, antlers, and shoulder blades were also taken for tool making. The elks’ missing front teeth were probably taken for jewelry making.
THESSALONIKI, GREECE—Some 200 archaeologists and concerned citizens protested money-saving plans to remove a fourth-century Roman road and a row of shops from the path of a proposed subway station and reconstruct them in another location in Thessaloniki. The protesters and the 12,000 people who signed a petition want the marketplace preserved in situ. “It is important for the city that relics of its history be incorporated in its living fabric, the metro network. They will draw visitors and city dwellers, but at the same time the city must not be completely alienated from its past,” explained Aristotelis Mentzos of the University of Thessaloniki.
YORK, ENGLAND—Archaeologists from the University of York have found worked stone and lead and glass from windows that could be parts of a memorial chapel that Richard III began to build in 1483 to honor the estimated 28,000 soldiers who died in Battle of Towton in 1461. But Richard III was killed two years later during the Battle of Bosworth field and the chapel was never completed. It fell into decline and had disappeared by the late 1500s.
EASTPORT, NEWFOUNDLAND--Coastal erosion threatens 130 archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador, including the largest known coastal Beothuk settlement. “I’ve made annual trips here since then and we’ve patched up some of the structures, but basically it’s been myself and one person, one volunteer pretty much, and we can’t keep pace with it,” said archaeologist Laurie McLean of the Burnside Heritage Foundation. Popular tourist sites are more likely to win grant money for preservation efforts.
WALAKPA, ALASKA—A sod house dating to 500 A.D. and a midden were discovered last summer by some ATV riders driving along Alaska’s Arctic Ocean coastline. The site, which was exposed during storms, is in danger of washing into the sea, so archaeologist Anne Jensen and her team have been working quickly to excavate it and protect it from the coming winter season. “Arctic archaeology is pretty labor intensive and expensive,” she explained. Jensen will spend this winter analyzing the finds. Iñupiat people are known to have lived in this area for 3,500 years.
ÖLAND, SWEDEN—The remains of five individuals have been unearthed in a small house within a fifth-century ring fort on the island of Öland. They had died violently, and are thought to have been left where they fell since the dead were usually cremated at this period in Scandinavian history. “It’s a day in the life of the Migration Period, and that’s completely unique. We have nothing to compare it to,” said Helena Victor of the Kalmar County Museum. The excavation team estimates that the remains of hundreds of people killed during a well-organized raid could be spread throughout the fort. Archaeologist Nicolo Dell’Unto of Lund University is constructing 3-D models of the site that may help researchers discern what happened.
BOULDER, COLORADO—Sites known as platform cave caches offer evidence that the Apache arrived in the southern mountains of Arizona and New Mexico more than 200 years earlier than previously thought, according to Jeni Seymour of the University of Colorado Museum. Platform cave caches are small platforms constructed to store goods, such as pottery, baskets, ceremonial items, and food, for later use within a remote rock shelter. Sometimes the cache was hidden with rocks, grasses, or other cave features. Later on, the caches were used to hide weapons and ammunition. Nineteenth-century accounts mention the practice of keeping goods in caves, but this is the first time that evidence of the custom has been found.
EDIRNE, TURKEY—Remains of the Yemişkapani Inn were uncovered in northwestern Turkey, near the Selimiye Mosque. Officials from the Edirne Municipality had planned to build office space, parks, pools, and entertainment areas at the site. Built in 1588, the inn later served as a fruit and vegetable market until it eventually collapsed in 1937.
NELSON, BRITISH COLUMBIA—Rock art depicting two First Nations hunters near Kootenay Lake has been damaged by what appear to be paintball pellets. Provincial archaeologist Al Mackie will wait to see if the rain will remove the paint, but if it is not water soluble, the problem of cleaning up the vandalism becomes much more difficult. “If it’s the kind of material that really adheres to rock, then to remove it becomes a pretty complicated process. You need a trained museum person who knows what kind of chemicals to apply,” he said. Defacing protected rock art in Canada is punishable by a fine and even jail time.
PHILIPPI, GREECE--The analysis of residues collected from ceramics at the site of Dikili Tash suggests that wine was made in Europe as early as 4200 B.C. In addition to the tartaric acid found in the vessels, the joint Greek-French excavation team found carbonized grape pips and their skins in a Neolithic house dating to 4500 B.C. The grape pips and skins indicate that the grapes had been pressed. “The historical meaning of our discovery is important for the Aegean and the European prehistory, as it gives evidence of early developments of the agricultural and diet practices, affecting social processes,” said Dimitra Malamidou, co-director of the project.
SHARKIYA, EGYPT—A life-sized statue of Ramses II has been found by a joint Egyptian-German team of archaeologists in the temple of the cat goddess Bastet at Tel-Basta. Carved from red granite, Ramses II is depicted standing between the goddess Hathor and the god Petah. The king’s cartouche and hieroglyphic text are engraved on the back of the statue. Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, head of the Ministry of State of Antiquities, thinks that there may have been a New Kingdom temple dedicated to Ramses II at Tel-Basta.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY—While restoring the eighteenth-century Nuruosmaniye Mosque, located near Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, workers from Foundations Istanbul Provincial discovered an Ottoman-era cistern. “We removed 420 trucks’ worth of slime from the cistern. Then the magnificent gallery, cistern, and water gauge became visible. …There is also a well under this cistern. After cleaning the mud, we saw that the system was still working,” said Director İbrahim Özekinci. When the cleaning and conservation are finished in another year, he plans to turn the cistern into a museum and open it to visitors.
CHICHESTER, ENGLAND—Miles Russell and Harry Manley of Bournemouth University have used 3-D laser scanning technology to examine the Bosham Head, which was discovered 200 years ago in a flower bed in the vicarage garden in Bosham. The monumental sculpture had remained unidentified because it is badly weathered. The new scans, however, revealed facial features and a distinctive hairstyle linked to Emperor Trajan. Russell thinks the statue may have been erected by Trajan’s successor, Hadrian, at Chichester Harbor, since it is known that he installed a similar statue in Ostia. “There would have been this immense statue of the Emperor facing you as you came in to the harbor, so it’s a real Welcome to Britain statue but reminding you that Britain is part of the Roman Empire,” he said.
BOULDER, COLORADO—Shards of volcanic glass and large amounts of sulfur in polar ice cores from the Arctic and Antarctic suggest that the cause of the Little Ice Age could be attributed to the powerful eruption of a volcano. (The sulfur in the atmosphere would have reflected solar energy back into space, cooling the planet.) Scientists now think that Indonesia’s Samalas Volcano, located on Lombok Island, could be the culprit for the cold summers, rains, floods, and poor harvests of the medieval period, beginning between 1275 and 1300 A.D. Historic records indicate that Samalas erupted before the end of the thirteenth century, and an examination of the volcano’s caldera confirmed that a large explosion had occurred. “An equatorial eruption is more consistent with the apparent climate impacts,” added Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado, Boulder. And, the chemical composition of the glass from the ice cores is a much closer match to Samalas glass than obsidian from other contenders.