ARUSHA, TANZANIA—Two sets of hominin footprints could be lost if the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano erupts, according to a report in New Scientist. Scientists studying tremors in East Africa’s Rift Valley say the volcano, which has a widening crack on its west side, could erupt at any time. A set of 400 hominin prints dating back 19,000 years is located just ten miles away from the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano at Engare Sero. The 3.7-million-year-old Laetoli hominin footprints are located a safer 70 miles away. Both sets of prints have been recorded with 3-D scans, but the prints are “not like fossilized bones that we can dig up and walk away with,” explained Kevin Hatala of Chatham Univeristy.
For more on ancient footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”
HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a 500-foot-long timber fishing trap found in a tidal estuary on the southern coast of England has been radiocarbon dated to the eighth or ninth centuries. At low tide in the salt marsh, fish trapped in the weir would have been easy to catch by hand or with a net. The discovery will help scientists map changes to the shoreline over the past 1,000 years. “It has highlighted the level of erosion in Southampton Water over the last few decades,” said marine archaeologist John Cooper of the University of Exeter. “There are factors like sea level rise and dredging carried out but it shows how dynamic coastal change is.” To read about the Anglo-Saxon period in southern England, go to "The Kings of Kent."
ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—Incised “butterfly motifs” appeared in a wall at the Neolithic site of the Ness of Brogdar as sunlight hit the stone blocks at a certain angle, according to a report in BBC News. The markings are so faint they have not yet been caught in a photograph. Antonia Thomas of the University of the Highlands and Islands said the images may have appeared to move as the sunlight traveled over them during the day. The site, located near the standing stones known as the Ring of Brodgar, consists of Neolithic ritual and domestic buildings. Other stones will be examined to see if incised marks were overlooked. To read in-depth about the site, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, humans first traveled to Australia at least 65,000 years ago, or about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought. An international team of scientists, including Ben Marwick of the University of Washington and Chris Clarkson of the University of Queensland, excavated Madjedbebe, an ancient campsite located beneath a sandstone rock shelter in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. They found perfectly preserved stone axes with polished and sharpened edges up against the back wall of the shelter. “There was one on the surface, another further down that we dated at 10,000 years,” Clarkson said. “Then there were quite a few further down still which [we] were able to date at 35,000 to 40,000 years, and finally one at 65,000 years, surrounded by a whole bunch of stone flakes.” The layers were dated with single-grain optically-stimulated luminescence dating techniques. The team also recovered seed-grinding tools, a midden of sea shells and animal bones, and a large amount of ground ochre. The new dates also suggest that humans and megafauna such as the Diprotodon shared the environment for some 20,000 years. It had been thought that the arrival of humans in Australia triggered the extinction of the continent’s megafauna. To watch a video about Australian rock art, go to "The Rock Art of Djulirri."
LONDON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a 1,600-year-old Roman sarcophagus with an opened lid was unearthed at a construction site on Swan Street in central London. An infant’s bones and a broken bracelet were found in the soil near the sarcophagus. Archaeologists think the coffin was opened in the eighteenth century, but they are not sure if the infant’s remains were removed at that time. “We always knew this site had the potential for a Roman cemetery, but we never knew there would be a sarcophagus,” said Gillian King of Southwark Council. The sarcophagus will be taken to the Museum of London and the bones will be analyzed. To read more about the archaeology the city's Roman past, go to "London's Earliest Writing."
STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—A new study of the dog genome suggests the animals were domesticated from wolves just once, according to a report in Science News. Last year, another study indicated that dogs had been domesticated separately in Europe and in East Asia. An international team of scientists led by evolutionary geneticist Krishna R. Veeramah of Stony Brook University analyzed DNA obtained from the remains of two ancient dogs. The first dog lived some 7,000 years ago. Its remains were recovered in Herxheim, Germany. The second dog, whose remains were recovered from Germany’s Cherry Tree Cave, lived about 4,700 years ago. The team also used the DNA data of a 4,800-year-old dog from Newgrange, Ireland. The researchers suggests that dogs were domesticated between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, perhaps in Asia, and then split into genetically distinct eastern and western groups between 17,000 and 24,000 years ago. The study also reveals that the two ancient dogs unearthed in Germany had the same genes for digesting starches as wolves do. It had been suggested that early dogs may have been better able to digest starch, and therefore eat the food grown by early farmers, in contrast to their wild counterparts. To read in-depth about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."
MONTRÉAL, CANADA—A cannonball fired in 1759 by the British during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was unearthed by construction workers in Old Québec. CBC News reports that archaeologist Serge Rouleau alerted the authorities after he realized the 200-pound ball still contained a charge of gunpowder. “With time, humidity got into its interior and reduced its potential for exploding, but there’s still a danger,” said Master Warrant Officer Sylvain Trudel. Such large cannonballs were used to set fire to buildings. This ball is thought to have been fired at Quebec City from Lévis, which is located on the opposite side of the St. Lawrence River. If Trudel’s team can neutralize the weapon without destroying it, it will be preserved and sent to a museum. To read about a fort built in New York during the French and Indian War, go to "Off the Grid: Roger's Island, New York."
ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A Roman coin dating to the fourth century A.D. has been found in a small roundhouse at the Knowe of Swandro on the island of Rousay, according to a report in BBC News. “The bust on the coin is clearly visible although much of the lettering isn’t at present clear,” said Steve Dockerill, co-director of the project. “The reverse contains a standing figure, possibly representing the emperor with what might be an image of Victory at the side.” The coin is one of just seven Roman coins to have been found on the Orkney Islands. To read in-depth about Roman archaeology in Britain, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire."
ORANGE, CALIFORNIA—Space.com reports that archaeologists Justin Walsh of Chapman University and Alice Gorman of Flinders University will study astronaut culture aboard the International Space Station (ISS), which has been continuously occupied by rotating crews of scientists since 2000. Walsh and Gorman will use databases storing information on all of the objects sent to the ISS, and photographs taken on board, to create a 4-D digital model of the vessel. They will then use the virtual ISS to try to recreate patterns of life in space. The researchers think this archaeological approach could help space agency managers improve the design of the vessel’s furnishings and how the international team of astronauts shares them. The ISS is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024. To read an interview with Alice Gorman, go to "Saving Space Junk."
MACKINAW CITY, MICHIGAN—Michigan Live reports that a 250-year-old piece of trade silver was discovered at the site of a fur-trader’s home in Colonial Michilimackinac, which is located on an island in the straits connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The triangle-shaped piece of silver has a small hole in one corner, so it may have been worn as a pendant or an earring. Lynn Evans, curator of archaeology at Mackinac State Historic Parks, said that only one other piece of British trade silver has been recovered at Fort Michilimackinac to date. To read about the nautical archaeology of Lake Huron, go to "Shipwreck Alley."
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Daily Record, the face of a Pictish man, whose remains were discovered in a cist burial in Highland Perthshire in the 1980s, has been recreated by forensic artist Hayley Fisher and Bob Will of GUARD Archaeology. The man is thought to have lived between A.D. 340 and 615, and to have died in his 40s. Additional study of the skeletal remains could reveal information on his diet and where he lived. The scientists will also try to recover a DNA sample. To read about another facial reconstruction, go to "Neolithic Facetime."
WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—The Daily Press reports that Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary are conducting a joint excavation in the unusual, terraced backyard of the Robert Carter House, which is located off the outdoor living history museum's Palace Green. Built in the early eighteenth century for his daughter by Robert “King” Carter, the colonial governor and the wealthiest man in Virginia, the property’s outbuildings are located to the sides of the main two-story building, rather than directly behind it. Additionally, the house's dining room is located in the rear— when in most houses in Williamsburg, the dining room was located in the front— prompting speculation about the importance of the house's back yard. “We think there was an ornamental garden here, but we want to know for sure,” explained teaching assistant Alexis Ohman. The team, led by Colonial Williamsburg archaeologist Mark Kostro, is looking for ephemeral garden features under the landfill dumped on the site in the early twentieth century. So far, the excavators have found a long, dark stain in the soil that could be evidence of a planting bed, and a six-foot stretch of crumbled white shell that may have been a path. To read about archaeology at nearby Jamestown, go to "Colonial Cannibalism."
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—According to report in Live Science, a Neolithic burial mound was spotted in a farmer’s field located halfway between the Neolithic stone monuments of Avebury and Stonehenge with aerial photographs. The top soil has been removed from what is now known as the Cat’s Brain site to reveal what looks like a central building that may have been covered by a mound, and long barrow ditches. At other long barrow sites, archaeologists have found that some of the dead would have been buried in the ditches. A few would have been left on platforms until their bones had been picked clean by birds. The skeletons were then placed in structures that looked like houses, sometimes with cow skulls. “These are the very first people to have domestic cows, and they seem quite an important species to them,” said Jim Leary of the University of Reading. The discovery offers scientists a rare opportunity to investigate a long barrow site with modern archaeological techniques. To read in-depth about Neolithic Britain, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."
LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS—Live Science reports that hundreds of looted tombs marked by cairns and taller stone towers, located on the high plateaus and the summits of basalt hills in Jordan’s Jebel Qurma desert, are being surveyed by a team led by Peter Akkermans and Merel Brüning of Leiden University. Some of the stones used to construct the tower tombs, which can stand five feet tall and measure 16 feet in diameter, weigh an estimated 660 pounds. The oldest structures date back 8,000 years. The people buried in the tombs are thought to have lived nearby in valleys and on lower ground. Evidence of human occupation disappears for the period beginning about 4,000 years ago, an absence that lasted for about 1,000 years. Akkermans said it may be that the members of the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project just haven’t found the remains of the people and their settlements for that time frame, or the people may have left the area and returned 1,000 years later, due to conditions in the region. “Research into local environmental and climatic conditions is certainly one of my aims for further research in the desert of Jebel Qurma,” Akkermans said. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Neolithic Face Time."
CORNWALL, ENGLAND—In the fifth and sixth centuries, the Cornish kings who lived at Tintagel Castle feasted on oysters, cod, beef, pork, and lamb served on red slipware bowls imported from Turkey, and drank fine wine imported from southern Turkey or Cyprus in glass goblets imported from Spain, according to a report in The Guardian. Recent excavations, conducted by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit, also uncovered structures with stone walls and slate floors and steps. “All indications to date could suggest that they are residential buildings perhaps lived in by important members of the community that lived and traded at Tintagel over 800 years ago,” said project director Jacky Nowakowski. To read about the discovery of a royal Anglo-Saxon feasting hall dating to this period, go to "The Kings of Kent."
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, a tiled floor similar to ones found in Roman baths and fortresses has been uncovered in the Moharam Bek district of Alexandria, where glass and pottery workshops have been found. Aymen Ashmawi of the Ministry of Antiquities said the floor, which features an opus spicatum, or herringbone design, is the first of its kind to be found in Egypt. To read about Roman-era mosaics, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."
CORNWALL, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Telegraph, Andy Jones of the Cornwall Archaeological Unit says he has found more than 100 additional marks on Hendraburnick Quoit, an ax-shaped engraved stone panel dating to about 2500 B.C. “When we went out to do some imaging at night, when the camera flashed we suddenly saw more and more art, which suggested that it was meant to be seen at night and in the moonlight,” Jones explained. His team also found pieces of quartz in the ground around the monument. Jones thinks it may have been placed there for its luminescent properties. To read more about archaeology in Cornwall, go to "Witches of Cornwall."
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—A study of modern hunter-gatherers suggests that sleeping habits may have evolved to help humans avoid nighttime threats such as predators, natural disasters, and enemy attack, according to a report in Seeker. Healthy men and women of the Hadza of Tanzania agreed to wear small devices that recorded their nighttime movements. Out of the 220 hours of the study, everyone was asleep at the same time for a total of only 18 minutes. Sleep expert Dave Samson of Duke University explained someone was always awake during the night, whether it was a mother with a newborn, or an elder who got up to relieve himself or herself. He added that younger people like to stay up late, while older people tend to get up early. Occasional social rituals also disrupted sleep. “The idea behind the ‘poorly sleeping grandparent hypothesis’ is that, for much of human history, living and sleeping in mixed-age groups of people with different sleep habits helped our ancestors keep a watchful eye and make it through the night,” he said. Samson also notes the Hadza take frequent daytime naps. To read about the earliest evidence for warfare between hunter-gatherer groups, go to "10,000 Turf War."
BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—A new study of the diet eaten by the Rapa Nui suggests that the people of Easter Island may have made better use of their natural resources than had been previously thought. According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers led by Carl Lipo of Binghamton University conducted carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of human, animal, and botanical remains recovered from the Anakena and Ahu Tepeu archaeological sites. The oldest samples dated from A.D. 1400. The scientists found high levels of nitrogen in the human bones, which suggests that Rapa Nui farmers enriched the soil with bedrock when they realized its nutrient level had dropped. The results also suggest the people obtained more than half of their protein from marine foods. It has long been thought that the Rapa Nui depleted the soil by relying on crop production after they wiped out the island’s forests by building canoes for fishing. Rather than drawing a picture of catastrophic failure, Lipo suggests that the people of Easter Island adapted to environmental challenges. To read in-depth about how Native Americans managed marine resources, go to "The Edible Landscape."
KUMAMOTO, JAPAN—According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers led by Ryuichi Yoshitake of Kumamoto University believe that the heavy, 100-foot-long stage structures in some ancient Greek theaters may have moved independently. In these theaters, it had been previously suggested that the proskenion, a one-story building used as background scenery, and the two-story skene, which provided an additional background and dressing rooms, were linked together and set on three wheels along a single axle. The wheels are thought to have traveled along three shallow stone tracks, each measuring between three and five inches wide, like those found in the theaters at Sparta and Megalopolis. Yoshitake’s team uncovered a large storage area, in addition to three stone tracks, at the theater at Messene. After studying all three theaters, Yoshitake thinks the proskenion and skene would have been too unwieldy to have been moved as one piece. He suggests that the proskenion and skene were set on their own sets of two wheels per axle. In this scenario, four stone tracks would have been needed, however. To read about the archaeology of Elizabethan theaters, go to "Behind the Curtain."