“Ancient Genomics Revolution” Now Includes Africa

Archaeology News - September 22, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—An international team of scientists has extracted fragments of DNA from the remains of 16 ancient sub-Saharan Africans and compared them to the genomes of living Africans and populations on other continents, according to a report in The New York Times. The oldest sample in the study, which also included the genome extracted from 4,500-year-old bones found in a cave in Ethiopia in 2015, came from 8,100-year-old bones recovered in caves in the highlands of Malawi. Geneticist David Reich of Harvard Medical School and his colleagues think the branches on Africa’s family tree may be older than previously thought. The study also suggests that genes did not flow between Africans and non-Africans for tens of thousands of years. But the 3,100-year-old genes of a girl whose remains were found in Tanzania have been linked to early farmers in the Near East. “This puts a time stamp on this connection,” explained team member Pontus Skoglund. Eventually the Near Eastern farmers reached Africa’s southern edge, where their DNA was found in a 1,200-year-old skeleton. Archaeologists had previously tracked the migration of the Bantu through their iron tools. The new genetic study suggests they may have pushed hunter-gatherers off prime farming land as they traveled. To read about another application of genetics to study of the past, see “The Heights We Go To.”

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Neanderthal Children May Have Matured Slowly

Archaeology News - September 22, 2017

MADRID, SPAIN—Live Science reports that the paleoanthropology group at Spain’s National Museum of Natural Sciences studied the rate of Neanderthal development by analyzing the nearly complete skeleton of a young male Neanderthal discovered at the site of El Sidrón. The scientists estimated the boy’s age at 7.7 years old at the time of death, some 49,000 years ago, based upon the growth layers in his teeth. They also noted that the boy’s skull was still growing when he died. “We think this Neanderthal boy’s brain was still growing in volume,” said Antonio Rosas. The team estimated that the boy’s brain was about 87.5 percent of the size of the brain of a fully grown Neanderthal adult. In contrast, Rosas said modern humans of the same age have brains about 95 percent of the size of an adult’s brain. The team of researchers also noted that some veterbrae in modern human children have fused between the ages of four and six, but those same bones had not yet fused in the Neanderthal boy’s remains. The study suggests that, overall, Neanderthals shared a common pattern of growth with modern humans, which may have been inherited from a common ancestor. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

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Neolithic House Unearthed in Southern Scotland

Archaeology News - September 22, 2017

EAST AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a 6,000-year-old dwelling has been found in a field in southwestern Scotland. Kenneth Green of GUARD Archaeology said the building’s post holes indicate it measured about 45 feet long by 25 feet wide. Neolithic pottery, hazelnut shells, and charcoal were also recovered at the site. Green noted that just the deepest sections of some post holes remain after thousands of years of plowing, but that the width and depth of the holes suggest they once held very large upright posts. Early farmers are thought to have lived in the structure with extended family or groups of families. They probably grew wheat and barley, and kept cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. The excavation also uncovered evidence of a stream that ran by the house. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Viking Treasure Trove.”

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15th-Century Epitaph Tablet Returned to South Korea

Archaeology News - September 21, 2017

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA—The widow of a Japanese collector has returned a rare Joseon-era epitaph tablet, or myoji, to South Korea, according to a report in the Korea JoongAng Daily. “This myoji will act as a crucial material for studies on the history of ceramics,” said Lee Su-kyung of the National Museum of Korea. The blue-gray tablet, made of buncheong celadon, stands 11 inches tall, and is inscribed on all four sides with the biographical information of a scholar named Yi Seon-je, who lived from A.D. 1390 to 1453. It would have been placed in his grave, as was customary during the Joseon Dynasty. To read about another recent discovery in South Korea, go to “Doll Story.”

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Temple of Artemis Found on Greek Isle of Euboea

Archaeology News - September 21, 2017

AMARYNTHOS, GREECE—Swissinfo reports that a team of Swiss researchers led by Karl Reber of the University of Lausanne has discovered the lost temple of Artemis at the foot of the Paleoekklisies hill, on the Greek island of Euboea. The site, identified with artifacts inscribed with the name “Arthemidos,” is located about six miles from the place where the temple was previously thought to have stood. Archaeologist Denis Knöpfler of the University of Neuchâtel found a key clue to the temple’s location in a nearby Byzantine church that had pieces of the temple’s Doric columns and blocks in its façade. So far, the foundations of the building’s portico and inner courtyard have been uncovered. The temple was the end point of an annual procession from the city of Eretrea and home to a festival in honor of the goddess of hunting. To read about another recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Surprise City in Thessaly.”

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Possible Viking Boat Burial Uncovered in Norway

Archaeology News - September 21, 2017

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—According to a report in Live Science, a possible boat burial dating to between the seventh and tenth centuries A.D. has been discovered in a market square in Trondheim. The burial, which may have at one time been covered with a mound, was damaged by later construction. Ian Reed of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage said nails and lumps of rust are all that remain of what could have been a flat-bottomed, wooden boat built to travel the shallow waters of the Nidelven River. Two long bones were found in the boat, but they were not well preserved. DNA tests may be able to determine whether the bones came from a human. A piece of bronze, part of a spoon, and the remains of a key that would have opened a chest were also found in the grave. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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Cold-Resistant Yeast Discovered in South American Pottery

Archaeology News - September 20, 2017

TEMUCO, CHILE—According to a report from NBC News, traces of yeast have been detected on 1,000-year-old pottery discovered near the Chile-Argentina border. The yeast, called Saccharomyces eubayanus, is thought to have been an ancestor of the yeast currently used to brew lager. Researchers have been looking for the origin of this unusual fungus, which thrives in cold temperatures and has been found growing wild in Patagonia and Tibet. Saccharomyces eubayanus has not been found growing wild in Europe, however. “Our findings confirm the historical presence of the yeast in this region and now we have confirmation of its use,” explained archaeologist Alberto Perez of Universidad Catolica de Temuco in Chile. Scholars now want to know whether Saccharomyces eubayanus traveled from South America to Bavaria, where lager was first brewed in the 1400s. To read more on archaeology in the area, go to “Atacama’s Decaying Mummies.”

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Porpoise Bones Unearthed at Medieval Monks’ Retreat

Archaeology News - September 20, 2017

GUERNSEY, CHANNEL ISLANDS—The remains of a porpoise have been unearthed at the site of a medieval religious retreat on the island of Chapelle Dom Hue, according to a report in The Guardian. Archaeologists expected the carefully dug grave to contain human bones, and were surprised to find a porpoise skull and other body parts. “If they had eaten it or killed it for the blubber, why take the trouble to bury it?” asked States of Guernsey archaeologist Philip de Jersey. He suggests that the body could have been salted and kept in the hole as a way to preserve it. The bones will be studied by a marine scientist. To read about a massive Celtic coin hoard discovered on the Channel Islands, go to “Ka-Ching!

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Excavators Return to the Minoan Palace of Zominthos

Archaeology News - September 20, 2017

PSILORITIS, CRETE—Recent excavations at the Minoan palace of Zominthos uncovered two entrances, an internal stairway, and a second-century A.D. Roman coin, according to The Greek Reporter. The first entrance, on the northeast corner of the palace, led to a sanctuary with an altar and featured an anteroom with two desks. The second entrance, on the southeastern corner, is said to be in poor condition. It had been modified by the Mycenaeans and the Romans, and was damaged by looters in the 1960s. An internal stairway and the remains of ten-foot-tall walls indicate that the building was multistoried. The upper floors were supported by central pillars. The excavation also revealed floors made of glittering limestone and pebbles. Traces of frescoed mortar has also been found on the walls. In another area of the palace, above a metallurgical workshop, a claw-shaped pendulum and a vase decorated with the image of a pig were uncovered. Next door, the excavators found a small bronze scarab that had been made locally, and sea shells. For more, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”

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World War I–Era German Submarine Found

Archaeology News - September 20, 2017

WEST FLANDERS, BELGIUM—BBC News reports that the wreckage of a World War I–era submarine has been found in the North Sea. The type UB-II vessel, thought to have been snagged in a cable and sunk by a mine, is expected to hold the remains of 23 people—a crew of 22 and one commander—according to West Flanders Governor Carl Decaluwé. The upper part of the submarine was damaged, but its hatches are still shut, and the conning tower is said to be intact. Periscopes and torpedo tubes have also been spotted on the sea floor. To read in-depth about the archaeology of a legendery World War I battlefield, go to “Letter From Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter.”

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World War II Dog Tags Unearthed in England

Archaeology News - September 19, 2017

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that dog tags, a piece of window from a B-17 Flying Fortress, and the grate from a wood-burning stove were uncovered at a former Royal Air Force base in Norfolk. Members of the United States’ 100th Bomb Group were stationed at the site during the Second World War. The excavation was conducted by the University of East Anglia, with assistance from the American Veterans Archaeology Recovery Program, the 100th Bomber Memorial Group, and the Waveney Valley Archaeology Group. The archaeologists hope to reunite the tags with their owners or their descendants. For more, go to “Archaeology of World War II.”

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Graves of Yuan Dynasty Chieftains Found

Archaeology News - September 19, 2017

GUIZHOU PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua reports that five tombs belonging to tribal leaders have been unearthed in southwest China. Three of the tombs date to between 1271 and 1368 A.D. and belonged to the Yang family, who were appointed as Tusi chieftains by the imperial government to rule over the city of Bozhou for 721 years. The last Yang family chieftain died during a rebellion in 1601. Officials from the Guizhou Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology say the discovery will help scholars understand the Tusi chieftain system and culture. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

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Sugar Molecule May Help Identify Human Ancestors

Archaeology News - September 19, 2017

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—According to a report in The San Diego Tribune, scientists led by Anne K. Bergfeld and Ajit Varki of the University of California, San Diego, have identified a molecule made by many animals, and all apes, but not modern humans. It could help distinguish between fossils of hominins related to modern humans, and those of species that belong to side branches of the human family tree. The loss of the substance, called Neu5Gc, may have even created a fertility barrier between the ancestors of modern humans and other hominins. The scientists first tested a 50,000-year-old cave bear fossil, and found an unusual form of chondroitin sulfate, a surviving remnant of Neu5Gc, and then a four-million-year-old bovine fossil, which also contained the molecule. Since human ancestors are thought to have lost the ability to make Neu5Gc between two and three million years ago, it appears that the technique could help researchers more accurately identify the period of when the loss occurred. Varki and his colleagues are now refining the testing process so that a smaller amount of fossil would have to be destroyed in the analysis. When that work has been completed, hominin fossils may be considered for testing. For more, go to “Proteins Solve a Hominin Puzzle.”

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Long-Term Site Excavated on Dalmatian Island

Archaeology News - September 16, 2017

ZADAR, CROATIA—An ancient building with a hypocaust, or central heating system, has been found underneath a site dating to late antiquity and a medieval necropolis in Croatia’s Nature Park Telašćica, which is located on the Dalmatian island of Dugi otok. Total Croatia News reports the building was heated with hot air circulated through clay pipes under the floor and through the walls. Archaeologists from the University of Zadar also uncovered pottery, metal tools, and glass objects during the excavation. To read about another discovery in Croatia, go to “Neanderthal Necklace.”

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Cave Paintings Identified in Spain

Archaeology News - September 16, 2017

CANTABRIA, SPAIN—The International Business Times reports that four new sets of cave paintings in northern Spain have been identified with 3-D laser scanning and photometric techniques by a team led by Roberto Ontañón of the Museum of Prehistory of Cantabria. The sites had been identified by speleologists, but the images were degraded and difficult to see with the naked eye. “These technologies allow you to detect colors beyond the range of the visible spectrum (infrared to ultraviolet) and, in this way, ‘reveal’ paintings that at first sight are imperceptible or difficult to distinguish,” Ontañón explained. He estimates the paintings are between 20,000 and 30,000 years old. For more on cave paintings, go to “The First Artists.”

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Painted Jade Mask Discovered in Classic-Era Maya Tomb

Archaeology News - September 16, 2017

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—According to a report in Newsweek, a burial chamber at the Maya site of Waka’, which is located in northern Guatemala’s Laguna del Tigre National Park, has yielded a 700-year-old jade mask. The mask helped the researchers from the U.S.-Guatemalan El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project to identify the tomb’s occupant as a member of the royal Wak dynasty. It had been painted red with cinnabar, along with the ruler’s remains, and was found under the ruler’s head. The mask depicts the ruler with the same forehead hair decoration worn by the Maya maize god. Ceramic vessels, spondylus shells, jade ornaments, and a crocodile-shaped pendant carved from shell were also recovered from the tomb. David Freidel of Washington University in St. Louis explained that the Maya of the Classic period revered their rulers as divine, so the king’s tomb turned the royal palace acropolis into holy ground. For more, go to “Letter From Guatemala: Maya Metropolis.”

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Bones’ Cut Marks Hint at Funeral Rites in Neolithic Ireland

Archaeology News - September 15, 2017

COUNTY SLIGO, IRELAND—The Leitrim Observer reports that evidence for the dismemberment of the dead has been found on bones unearthed at the 5,300-year-old passage tomb complex at Carrowkeel by an international team of scientists led by Thomas Kador of University College London. “We found indications of cut marks caused by stone tools at the site of tendon and ligament attachments around the major joints, such as the shoulder, elbow, hip, and ankle,” said Jonny Geber of the University of Otago in New Zealand. The bones were unearthed at the Neolithic site in 1911, presumed lost, and then rediscovered recently in boxes at the University of Cambridge. For more, go to “Bronze Age Ireland’s Taste in Gold.”

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New Dates Push Back Use of Zero

Archaeology News - September 15, 2017

OXFORD, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that new radiocarbon dates have been obtained for the Bakhshali manuscript, which was written in an ancient form of Sanskrit on 70 pieces of birch bark, by members of the Heritage Science team at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries. The text, discovered in 1881 in a village located in what is now Pakistan, is thought to have been a training manual complete with practice arithmetic problems for merchants trading on the Silk Road, and is known for its use of a dot to represent the concept of zero. The new dates indicate the oldest pieces of the Bakhshali manuscript date to the third or fourth century A.D., or about 500 years earlier than had been previously thought, based upon the style of writing and the content. The new dates make the Bakhshali manuscript the oldest-known record of the use of the zero symbol. For more on ancient writing, go to “London’s Earliest Writing.”

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Hurricane Irma Uncovered Dugout Canoe

Archaeology News - September 14, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Hurricane Irma revealed a dugout canoe that had been resting on the bottom of the Indian River, according to a report by Orlando News 6. Concerned citizen Randy Shots spotted the canoe among the storm debris and alerted officials at Florida’s Bureau of Archaeological Research, who will conserve the vessel. The cypress canoe weighs between 600 and 700 pounds. For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”

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Fighter Plane Test Model Found in Lake Ontario

Archaeology News - September 14, 2017

TORONTO, CANADA—The Province reports that an Avro Arrow test model has been found at the bottom of Lake Ontario by a recovery group. As many as nine of the free-flight, one-eighth scale model planes are thought to rest in the lake. Now covered in zebra mussels, the plane was reportedly part of a secret program to develop a supersonic combat jet, which was abandoned by the Canadian government in 1959. The actual planes in the classified program are said to have been destroyed. Once the model has been brought to the surface, it will be stabilized and displayed at either the Canada Aviation Space Museum in Ottawa or the National Air Force Museum in Trenton. The recovery group will continue to search for the other test models. To read in-depth about underwater discoveries in the Great Lakes, go to “Shipwreck Alley.”

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