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Changes in Human Skin Studied

July 2, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—It had been thought that Northern Europeans developed light skin in order to absorb more UV light to process more vitamin D, necessary for healthy bones and immune function. But a new study conducted by a team led by professor of dermatology Peter Elias from the University of California, San Francisco, shows that the changes in skin’s function as a barrier to water loss is more likely. The skin-barrier protein filaggrin is broken down into a molecule called urocanic acid, which Elias says is the most potent absorber of UVB light in the skin. “It’s certainly more important than melanin in lightly-pigmented skin,” he explained. Elias and his team found that up to ten percent of normal Northern Europeans carry mutations in the filaggrin gene, compared to much lower mutation rates in southern European, Asian, and African populations. “Higher filaggrin mutation rates result in a loss of urocanic acid, correlated with higher vitamin D levels in the blood. Latitude-dependent variations in melanin genes are not similarly associated with vitamin D levels. This evidence suggests that changes in the skin barrier played a role in Northern Europeans’ evolutionary adaptation to Northern latitudes,” the study concluded. Pigmented skin would have offered ancestral humans living in sub-Saharan Africa protection against dehydration and infections. “Once human populations migrated northward, away from the tropical onslaught of UVB, pigment was gradually lost in service of metabolic conservation. The body will not waste precious energy and proteins to make proteins that in no longer needs.”

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Building Big Brains With Bugs

July 2, 2014

 

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—A five-year study of capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica led by Amanda D. Melin of Washington University in St. Louis suggests that figuring out how to find food during seasonal changes in the food supply may have spurred the development of bigger brains, higher-level cognitive functions, and increased manual dexterity in human ancestors and other primates. “We find that capuchin monkeys eat embedded insects year-round but intensify their feeding seasonally, during the time that their preferred food—ripe fruit—is less abundant. These results suggest embedded insects are an important fallback food,” she told Science Daily. Such fallback foods are thought to help shape the evolution of body forms that aid in digestion, and the evolution of the brain in primates that live in areas with wide seasonal variations and changes in the food supply. This is evident in capuchin lineages—gracile capuchins live in tropical rainforests and can bang snails and fruits against branches to obtain their food. But robust capuchins, which spread from the Atlantic rainforest into drier, more seasonal habitats millions of years ago, are known for their innovative use and modification of sophisticated tools.

 

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11th-Dynasty Chapel Discovered in Egypt

July 2, 2014

 

ABYDOS, EGYPT—An 11th Dynasty chapel belonging to King Mentuhotep II was discovered on the west bank of the Nile in the city of Sohag, according to Ahram Online. Located near the large temple of King Seti I, Mentuhotep II built the chapel of limestone to honor the god Osiris after his unification with the local god of Sohag, Khenti-Amenty. Some of the engravings on the chapel’s walls have been damaged by subterranean water. “It is a very important discovery that will reveal more of the history of King Mentuhotep II,” said Minister of Antiquities and Heritage Mamdouh El-Damaty.  

 

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Summer Palace Unearthed at India’s Taj Mahal

July 2, 2014

 

AGRA, INDIA—Remains of a summer palace have been uncovered in the area opposite the Taj Mahal. The building is thought to have been a baradari, a pavilion designed to allow the free flow of air, set in the Mughal-era garden Mehtab Bagh, reportedly Shah Jahan’s favorite spot for its view of the Taj at night. “The present work is going in the south direction of the garden in the straight alignment of the Taj Mahal which makes the discovery an interesting one,” an official from the Archaeological Survey of India told The Times of India. The summer palace may have been inundated by flooding of the Yamuna River.

 

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Blood Residue From Ancient Tools Tested

July 1, 2014

 

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—Ancient tools collected by Christopher Moore and his colleagues at the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program at the University of South Carolina are being tested for traces of animal blood at the University of Calgary. “It appears that when hunter-gatherers made a tool by flaking, it produced numerous microfractures in the rock. Those microfractures apparently absorb blood protein or blood residue during any kind of butchery or cutting or scraping activity. The cracks in the rocks are like tiny caves that protect the residue from the elements, and it is preserved,” Moore told The Aiken Standard. The samples can then be analyzed using antisera, but the exact species of animal can’t be identified. Tools from the Paleo-Indian period revealed traces of deer, rabbit, cat, and bison, but not mammoths or mastodons. “It would have been really cool to have seen that, so I was a little disappointed. But it’s also interesting that it wasn’t there,” Moore said. Tools from the Early Archaic period yielded similar results, with the addition of doglike mammals. DNA analysis and the study of more tools could produce additional information. 

 

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Chariot Tomb Discovered in Northern France

July 1, 2014

PARIS, FRANCE—Art Daily reports that a Gallic tomb containing a chariot is being excavated ahead of road construction in northern France by a team of archaeologists from the Ardennes departmental archaeology unit and Inrap. Iron wheel bands whose interiors are covered with gold leaf, and bronze hub decorations set with glass have been uncovered in the wood-lined tomb. Bronze decorations from the chariot, its wooden shaft, and the remains of two small horses have also been found. Burials of this type emerged in the seventh century B.C., but further research is needed to determine the age of this tomb. 

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The Colosseum in the Middle Ages

July 1, 2014

 

ROME, ITALY—Excavations beneath the arched entrances to the Colosseum by archaeologists and students from Roma Tre University and the American University of Rome revealed late medieval dwellings, including terracotta sewage pipes, pottery, and foundations of a twelfth-century wall. A tiny monkey figurine carved from ivy was also found—it may have served as a chess piece. “This excavation has allowed us to identify an entire housing lot from the late medieval period,” Rossella Rea, director of the Colosseum, told Discovery News. At that time, the monument was controlled by friars who rented space for housing, stables, and workshops, turning the arena into a huge courtyard. The residents moved out when the Colosseum was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1349.

 

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Baby Boom & Population Collapse in the Ancient Southwest

July 1, 2014

 

PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—Tim Kohler and Kelsey Reese of Washington State University analyzed thousands of skeletal remains from hundreds of archaeological sites across Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. By determining how many of the remains, which date from 900 B.C. to the early 1500s, belonged to children between the ages of 5 and 19, they were able to estimate that the birthrate slowly increased until about 400 A.D., and then rose more quickly and then leveled off around 1100. On average, each woman gave birth to more than six children during this period of “baby boom.” The population explosion coincided with the shift from nomadic hunting and gathering to maize farming, and may have provided women with the calories needed to produce and care for larger families. “We begin to see much more substantial dwellings, indicating that people are spending a much longer period of time in specific places,” Kohler told Live Science. A steep decline in the birthrate after 1300 may reflect a severe drought in the 1100s; the effects of harmful protozoa, bacteria, and viruses carried by irrigation; and violence.  

 

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Meteorite Fragment Found in Mesolithic Dwelling

June 30, 2014

 

SZCZECIN, POLAND—A meteorite fragment has been discovered in the remains of a 9,000-year-old dwelling in the peat near Lake Świdwie in northwestern Poland. The pyrite meteorite fragment is cylindrical in shape, porous, and surprisingly heavy for its size. “The meteorite was brought to the shelter as a special object, which must have been obvious to the contemporary men, knowledgeable of stone raw materials,” Tadeusz Galiński of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Tools made of flint, wood, bone, and antler, and objects associated with spiritual culture, such as an amulet, an engraved bone spear tip, and a stick made of antler and decorated with geometric motifs, were also discovered. A second dwelling contained traces of hearths.

 

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Meteorite Fragment Found in Neolithic Dwelling

June 30, 2014

SZCZECIN, POLAND—A meteorite fragment has been discovered in the remains of a 9,000-year-old dwelling in the peat near Lake Świdwie in northwestern Poland. The pyrite meteorite fragment is cylindrical in shape, porous, and surprisingly heavy for its size. “The meteorite was brought to the shelter as a special object, which must have been obvious to the contemporary men, knowledgeable of stone raw materials,” Tadeusz Galiński of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Tools made of flint, wood, bone, and antler, and objects associated with spiritual culture, such as an amulet, an engraved bone spear tip, and a stick made of antler and decorated with geometric motifs, were also discovered. A second dwelling contained traces of hearths.

Categories: Blog

Evidence Suggests Torture at Sacred Ridge Massacre Site

June 30, 2014

 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA—New research indicates that the 33 men and women, whose processed and mutilated bones were discovered in two pit houses near Durango, Colorado, were tortured before their deaths some 1,200 years ago. Anna Osterholtz of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, found evidence of that the victims’ ankles had been broken by blunt-force trauma, well as signs that the soles of the feet had been beaten. “Tool marks and fractures to the rest of the body’s elements had other explanations, including processing or perimortem trauma, but the tool marks and peeling on the foot elements would serve no such purpose, and would only have been useful in causing pain,” she explained to Western Digs. Earlier analysis of elements in the victims’ teeth by James Potter and Jason Chuipka suggests that they had grown up in the area of Sacred Ridge. Osterholtz speculates that the torture may have been used by an invading population to control the residents of Sacred Ridge before and during the massacre. The site was abandoned soon after it occurred.  

 

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Scientists Will Investigate Ancient Inuit Hunting Camp

June 30, 2014

WINNIPEG, CANADA—A hunting camp, estimated to be 1,000 years old, will be mapped and examined next week by a research team led by archaeologist Virginia Petch of Northern Lights Heritage Services. The site’s 22 large tent rings, food caches, kayak rests, and burials are located just south of the Manitoba-Nunavut border, on the western coast of Hudson Bay. “It was very safe. You could see the beluga coming in. You could see the seals. If you looked inland, you could see caribou and you could watch out for bears. There would be fish in the river. It was a very productive area for people to be,” she told The Hamilton Spectator. The site is thought to have been used by the Thule, the ancestors of today’s Inuit. The team will leave the burials intact.

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Gang Members Arrested for Looting in Egypt

June 30, 2014

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the leader of a gang specializing in looting archaeological sites was arrested in his home in Giza’s Abu Sir village, where Islamic coins, a dozen ushabti figurines, and a replica statue were recovered by police. The artifacts are thought to have been plundered from the area of Abu Sir and will be authenticated by members of the Ministry of Antiquities.

Categories: Blog

NPS Seeks Improved Experience at Mesa Verde

June 26, 2014

DURANGO, COLORADO—Rangers at Mesa Verde National Park are asking the public for ideas to relieve congestion and overcrowding at its most popular sights. “It is no secret Chapin Mesa gets overrun. The plan has always been to redirect visitors and traffic to Wetherill Mesa, but that has not worked out as well as we had hoped,” deputy superintendent Bill Nelligan told The Cortez Journal. For example, visitors may now prefer to walk, bicycle, or take a bus through the park, rather than drive pollution-producing private vehicles through its winding, narrow roadways. Heavy crowds also damage the kivas. “Improving opportunities like trails separate from the road, and more self-guided areas, so visitors have a sense of exploration and discovery is the goal of the plan,” he said.

Categories: Blog

Hatra Claimed by Iraqi Militants

June 26, 2014

BAGHDAD, IRAQ—The Islamic militants who have taken over northern Iraq have gained control of the third-century B.C. Temple of Mrn at Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple, dedicated to the god Shamash, had been protected by a squad of 20 Iraqi policemen, but they reportedly fled when the area fell to tribal militants and Isis fighters. “Currently there is no one protecting the temple at all, and it is in control of the rebels. I am concerned about its safety, although I am also worried about government forces doing bombing,” councilor Mohammed Abdallah Khozal told The Telegraph. The site gained notoriety as a location in the opening scene of the 1973 film The Exorcist

Categories: Blog

Archaeologists Search for Chapel at Scotland’s Bridgend Farm

June 26, 2014

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A medieval floor tile and a circular, stone-lined well have been unearthed at Scotland’s Bridgend Farm. Archaeologists from Rubicon Heritage Services and a team of volunteers are looking for the remains of a sixteenth-century chapel built by Sir Simon Preston. “The excavations unearthed clues which prove there was activity in the area at the time the chapel was constructed and in use,” a spokesperson told Culture 24. The floor tile is from a high-status building. The well and pottery from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are thought to predate the chapel. 

Categories: Blog

Evidence Suggests That the Neanderthal Diet Included Vegetables

June 26, 2014

 

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Neanderthals in Europe cooked and ate plants some 50,000 years ago, according to an analysis of fossilized fecal material recovered at the Neanderthal occupation site El Salt in southern Spain. Science reports that Ainara Sistiaga of the University of La Laguna in Tenerife and geobiologist Roger Summons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used technology that detects fecal matter in drinking water to test five locations at El Salt. They found the chemical byproducts created by the digestion of meats, and levels of plant sterols that “unambiguously record the ingestion of plants.” Butchered bones and hunting tools, and analysis of the levels of carbon, nitrogen, and other chemicals in Neanderthal bones, have given scientists clues to the meat in the Neanderthal diet. And recent studies of plaque from Neanderthal teeth found in Iraq and Belgium shows that they ate starchy foods in porridge form. Sistiaga says that this is the first direct evidence that Neanderthals ate and digested plants. Critics would like conclusive evidence that the feces came from Neanderthals, however.

 

Categories: Blog

Egyptologist Locates King Cambyses’s “Missing” Army

June 25, 2014

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Egyptologist Olaf Kaper of Leiden University has deciphered the full list of the titles of Pharaoh Petubastis III carved on ancient temple blocks at Amheida in Egypt’s Dachla Oasis. He realized that they held the answer to the mysterious disappearance of King Cambyses and 50,000 Persian troops in the Egyptian desert ca. 534 B.C.—the Greek historian Herodotus suggested that the army had been swallowed by a sand storm. “Since the nineteenth century, people have been looking for this army: amateurs, but also professional archaeologists. Some expect to find somewhere under the ground an entire army, fully equipped,” he told Science Daily. Kaper thinks that the Persian army was defeated by the Egyptian rebel leader Petubastis III at the Dachla Oasis, and that the Persian King Darius I covered up the defeat when he ended the Egyptian revolt two years later. “The temple blocks indicate that this must have been a stronghold at the start of the Persian period. Once we combined this with the limited information we had about Petubastis III, the excavation site and the story of Herodotus, we were able to reconstruct what happened.” 

Categories: Blog

Chariots Discovered in Early Bronze Age Burial

June 25, 2014

 

BASEL, SWITZERLAND—Zurab Makharadze, head of the Center of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, announced the discovery of a timber burial chamber containing two four-wheeled, oxen-pulled chariots at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East at the University of Basel. The burial, which contained the remains of seven individuals, was found in a kurgan in the south Caucasus. “One of them was a chief and others should be the members of his family, sacrificed slaves or servants,” Makharadze told Live Science. Ornamented clay and wooden vessels, flint and obsidian arrowheads, leather and textiles, a wooden armchair, carnelian and amber beads, and 23 gold items were also recovered from the 4,000-year-old burial. “The purpose of the wooden armchair was the indication to power, and it was put in the kurgan as a symbol of power,” Makharadze explained.

 

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Well-Preserved Quipus Found in Inca Warehouses

June 25, 2014

LIMA, PERU—Twenty-five well-preserved quipus, made of multiple knotted wool and cotton strings of different colors, were discovered at the archaeological complex of Incahuasi in Peru’s Lunahuana Valley. Quipus, which are thought to have been used for record keeping, are usually found in a funerary context, but this collection was unearthed in warehouses, or kallancas. This is “what makes us believe they were used for administrative purposes,” archaeologist Alejandro Chu, who is in charge of the site, told Peru This Week.

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