LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Analysis of 1.5-million-year-old footprints found in 2009 near the eastern shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya suggests that Homo erectus, a human ancestor, walked like modern humans, according to a report in Live Science. Previous findings have indicated that Homo erectus may have been the first human ancestor with body proportions similar to those of modern humans, including long legs suitable for walking or running on two feet. However, analysis of Homo erectus’ walking style has been hindered by a lack of fossil evidence. A team of researchers led by Kevin Hatala of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the George Washington University, compared eight of the best-preserved footprints with those left by modern people in the area who typically walk barefoot and found that they were “statistically indistinguishable,” suggesting that they had similar foot anatomy and mechanics. Based on body mass estimates, the researchers also determined the footprints were left by multiple adult males, suggesting some degree of cooperation. For more on analysis of ancient footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”
PETERBOROUGH, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that excavations at the Bronze Age settlement in Cambridgeshire dubbed Must Farm are now complete. A 3,000-year-old village built on a wooden platform over a river channel, the entire settlement collapsed into the water when the piles it stood on were destroyed by fire. The river silt preserved the site and its contents to a remarkable degree. Archaeologists discovered whole meals left in cooking pots, extremely well-preserved textiles, an oak wheel, and a complete wooden spear, among many other artifacts. "On other Bronze Age sites you’d have a row of post holes and you’d be delighted to find one pot shard," says Mark Knight, who led the excavation on behalf of Cambridge University’s Archaeological Unit. "Here we have looked through the window and then walked into the middle of their lives." Analysis and conservation of all the artifacts is expected to take several more years to complete. To read about another Bronze Age site, go to "The Wolf Rites of Winter."
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The Ny Carlsbeg Glyptotek will return a collection of some 500 ancient artifacts to Italy. Some of the objects, such as an Etruscan eighth-century B.C. bronze chariot, a shield, weapons, incense burners, and tableware, are believed to have been illegally excavated from the Sabine necropolis at Colle del Forno. The museum acquired most of these artifacts in the 1970s from a now discredited art dealer. In exchange for the return of the looted items, the Italian ministry of culture will lend “significant artifacts” to the Danish museum on a rotating basis. “What at first looked as if it would turn into a legal, political deadlock, has now, through an intense academic dialogue been transformed into a powerful and visionary agreement,” Glyptotek director Flemming Friborg told The Art Newspaper. For more on the Etruscans, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Last month, a team of American and Greek divers located 23 shipwrecks in the waters around Fourni, a collection of 13 small islands in the eastern Aegean Sea. While the waters around the islands are considered to be safe, they were heavily traveled along routes stretching from east to west and north to south. Peter Campbell of the RPM Nautical Foundation told Live Science that ships anchored at Fourni were occasionally caught in storms that crashed them into the island’s tall cliffs. “It looks like the scene of a giant car crash, with these ceramics cascading down,” he said. Combined with discoveries made last fall, the team has spotted a total of 45 ancient wrecks, ranging in date from the sixth century B.C. to the 1800s. Amphoras, lamps, cooking pots, and anchors have been found at the wreck sites. The team has explored less than half of the coastline in the archipelago, however, and only in waters shallower than 213 feet. The next phase of the project could employ remotely operated underwater vehicles. For more on underwater archaeology, go to "Franklin’s Last Voyage."
WELLHILL, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists from the University of Glasgow’s Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot project (SERF) have discovered faint marks in the soil at a site in Scotland that might have been made by a hand-held plow known as an ard. Kenneth Brophy of the University of Glasgow told The Courier that these marks are evidence of the earliest-known farming activity in Scotland. Pieces of 6,000-year-old pottery were found close to the plow marks. “Evidence for plowing and fields in Neolithic Britain is incredibly rare and so the excavation of the ard marks at Wellhill is a very significant discovery that suggests a farming economy had taken hold in this location only a few generations after farming began in Britain around 4000 B.C.,” he explained. For more, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."
IRKUTSK, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that the skeletons of a man and a woman who had been buried holding hands some 4,500 years ago have been unearthed near Lake Baikal. Dmitry Kichigin of Irkutsk National Research Technical University said that a ring of white jade had been placed over of the man’s eye sockets, and three more such rings had been placed on his chest. Red deer and musk deer teeth were found on his skull and around his feet, suggesting that he had been wearing a decorated hat and footwear. A small bag at his knees held metal implements. The woman, who may have been his wife or concubine, was buried with a large jade knife. Her upper body has been damaged by rodents. For more, go to "4,000-Year-Old Rock Art Discovered in Siberia."
NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—A team led by archaeologist Richard Carlton of The Archaeological Practice has found traces of two structures on Lindisfarne, an island off the northeast coast of England known for its seventh-century priory and Christian saints. One trench revealed the foundation of a massive wall that may have been the foundation for a tower built without mortar, probably during the early medieval period. A second trench revealed traces of a similar structure that may have been a church. Historical sources dating to the eighth century refer to two churches, a guesthouse, a dormitory, and a watchtower on Lindisfarne. “Holy Island is one of the most significant sites in Britain in terms of early medieval heritage, there is a real possibility that we have uncovered two very significant buildings associated with the early Christian foundation of the priory which could provide a tangible link to the time of St. Cuthbert,” Sara Rushton of Northumberland County Council told the Berwick Advertiser. For more, go to "The First Vikings."
NICOSIA, CYPRUS—More than 20 round buildings dating to as early as the ninth century B.C. have been unearthed at a village site near the southern coast of Cyprus. The Associated Press reports that the walls of the buildings were made of earth and wooden poles, and many of the buildings had plastered floors. Most also had fireplaces. The structures had been placed around a larger, circular building thought to have served as a communal space. The excavation team, led by Francois Briois of France’s School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences and Jean-Denis Vigne of France’s National Center for Scientific Research-National Museum of Natural History, also unearthed stone tools and vessels, shell beads and pendants, a millstone, the remains of domesticated dogs and cats, and bones of hunted boar and birds. The scientists also found evidence that the village inhabitants cultivated emmer wheat. For more, go to "Palindrome Amulet Unearthed in Cyprus."
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Capuchin monkeys living in Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park have been using stone tools to open cashew nuts for at least 700 years, or about 100 generations, according to an investigation conducted by a team from Oxford University and the University of São Paulo. Michael Haslam, head of Oxford’s Primate Archaeology project, said in a Los Angeles Times report that the tools changed little over time, suggesting that the capuchins “are very good at transmitting the behavior over and over again.” The tools include small, hard stone hammers and sandstone anvils, which are left in caches at cashew processing sites. Haslam and his colleagues say the tools are the oldest non-human tools found outside of Africa, and the oldest-known tools not made by humans or chimpanzees. “It may be that part of the reason that capuchins were able to colonize this area is that they found a technological solution—stone tool use—to overcome these plant defenses,” Haslam said. Capuchins are thought to have arrived in the region a half-million years ago. Further excavation could reveal a long history of capuchin tool use. For more, go to "Earliest Stone Tools."
LINDISFARNE, ENGLAND—A volunteer working on an excavation on Lindisfarne Island off England’s northwest coast has discovered an Anglo-Saxon grave marker dating to the mid-seventh or eighth century A.D. According to the BBC, the team is searching for evidence of the earliest monastery on the island, and the marker may prove to be an important clue to its location. "It's unimpeachable evidence for Anglo-Saxon activity and confirms we're hot on the trail of the very earliest monastery here in Lindisfarne," says Durham University archaeologist David Petts, who is the project’s co-director. The name on the stone appears to end in “frith,” which is common in Anglo-Saxon names. Scholars are still deciphering the rest of the letters on the grave marker. To read more about Anglo-Saxon archaeology in this part of England, go to “Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”
VORDINGBORG, DENMARK—Excavations at a twelfth-century castle on the south coast of the Danish island of Zealand have shown much of its fortifications were built during the reign of a king who was previously not believed to have had a role in its the construction. The Local reports that Vordingborg Castle was originally built by King Valdemar the Great, and that scholars believed subsequent building at the site was conducted by the Danish kings Valdemar II and Valdemar the Younger. But now archaeologists have radiocarbon dated extensive wood construction at the site to the late twelfth century, when Denmark was ruled by King Canute VI. "He didn't just build over the castle, he expanded it continuously," says Aarhus University archaeologist Lars Sass Jensen. "He was, in other words, a king that invested heavily in the site as well as in its political function as a base for Baltic Sea expansion." For more on medieval archaeology in Denmark, go to “Bluetooth’s Fortress.”
ROME, ITALY—Construction of a new Orthodox church in a Roman suburb has led to the discovery of an ancient Roman bathhouse and a number of tombs dating to between the first and fourth centuries A.D. The Local reports that archaeologists found the bathhouse's heating and plumbing systems intact, as well as its tile floor mosaics. The bathhouse may have once been part of a villa, but it was built near to a heavily trafficked road that led to Rome’s port, so it might have been frequented by travelers. “The baths could have been a stop-off point along the road," says archaeologist Renato Sebastiani. "We know of the existence of others.” The tombs belonged to lower-middle class Romans, and while the earliest individuals were cremated, later ones were interred according to early Christian practices. To read in-depth about archaeology in the area, go to “Rome’s Imperial Port.”
ASHKELON, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that archaeologists have excavated a 3,000-year-old Philistine cemetery at the site of Ashekelon in southern Israel. The first such necropolis to be discovered, it consists of more than 150 burials, some of which follow Aegean funerary practices, rather than Near Eastern ones. That supports the idea that the Philistines originated in the Aegean and were not indigenous to the Levant. “This forms a baseline for what 'Philistine' is," says Wheaton College archaeologist Daniel M. Master, who is the dig's co-director. "We can already say that the cultural practices we see here are substantially different from the Canaanites and the highlanders in the east." Small ceramic perfume vials were found near the skulls of many of the skeletons, and a pottery sherd inscribed with Crypto-Minoan writing dating to the eleventh century B.C. was also discovered. To read more about the Philistines, go to “Temple of the Storm God.”
FLORENCE, ITALY—The Local, Italy, reports that a skull from Calabria’s Paleolithic site of Grotta del Romito has been used to recreate the brain of a 12-year-old boy who lived around 17,000 years ago. “The boy was still growing and therefore the bones of his skull were quite soft,” said Fabio Martini of the University of Florence. Martini explained that the pressure of the growing brain left an imprint on the inside of the skull, which can be read with 3-D scanners. Scientists hope to compare the young hunter-gatherer’s brain structures to those of children living today, especially the areas of the brain responsible for language, social interaction, and spatial coordination. For more, go to "Neanderthal Brain Strain."
SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIFORNIA—Analysis of DNA collected from the guts of several mummies shows that they contained bacteria that are resistant to most of today’s antibiotics, according to a report in New Scientist. Tasha Santiago-Rodriguez of California Polytechnic State University and her team collected samples from three Inca mummies dated to the tenth to fourteenth centuries, and six mummies from Italy, dated to between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. The findings suggest that the genes for resistance existed in bacteria in the human gut before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, and therefore before antibiotic use became common. “When you think about it, almost all these antibiotics are naturally produced, so it makes sense to find antibiotic genes as well,” Santiago-Rodriguez said. For more, go to "Ötzi the Iceman Carried Ulcer-Causing Bacteria."
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Archaeologist Robin Torrence of the Australian Museum and her colleagues analyzed 15 obsidian artifacts from the Nanggu site in the Solomon Islands. It had been thought that these 3,000-year-old tools were applied to hides to make cloth, but according to a report by Live Science, early Polynesians employed few animal skins, and those that were used required little preparation. The team of researchers recreated the obsidian tools by shaping a short, sharp point on naturally occurring flakes of volcanic glass. Then they experimented with creating tattoos on pigskin with black charcoal pigment and red ochre. Both the ancient tools and the new ones showed similar signs of wear, including microscopic chipping, rounding, and blunting of the edges. In addition, residues of blood, charcoal, and ochre were found on the ancient tools. Torrence thinks that archaeologists could look for comparable obsidian tools at sites where tattooing might have been practiced, since human skin is rarely preserved in the archaeological record. To read in-depth about evidence of tattooing in the archaeological record, go to "Ancient Tattoos."
MOSCOW, RUSSIA—Scientists led by a team from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) used ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry to analyze oxygen molecules in bitumen samples taken from a fifth-century B.C. amphora found near the Black Sea. According to Greek Reporter, the ancient Greeks used bitumen in construction, medicine, and warfare. The researchers think this amphora may have been used to collect bitumen on the Taman Peninsula, where there are petroleum seeps. The amount of oxygen in the sample from the amphora suggests that it had been exposed to ozone and had been degrading for about 2,500 years. Evgeny Nikolaev, head of MIPT’s Laboratory of Ion and Molecular Physics, explained that this analysis of ancient bitumen has helped scientists understand how petroleum changes over long periods of time. He added that the use of ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometry could help archaeologists learn more about goods and trade routes in the ancient world. For more on the study of amphoras, go to "Trash Talk."
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Evidence of cannibalistic behavior among Neanderthals living in northern Europe between 40,500 and 45,500 years ago has been discovered in well-preserved bone fragments from the third cavern of the Goyet caves in Belgium, which was excavated nearly 150 years ago. A team of researchers from the University of Tübingen and the University of the Basque Country identified 99 Neanderthal bone fragments, thought to represent the remains of four adolescents or adults and one child, from the collection. A third of those remains bear cut marks, pits, and notches, interpreted by the researchers as evidence that the individuals had been skinned and cut up and had marrow extracted from their bones. “The many remains of horses and reindeer found in Goyet were processed the same way,” Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tübingen said in a report by The Sydney Morning Herald. Marks on a few of the Neanderthal bones from the site indicate that they had been used as tools. Mitochondrial DNA analysis revealed that the Goyet Neanderthals resembled Neanderthals from Germany, Croatia, and Spain. This suggests that Europe’s Neanderthal population was small. For more, go to "Colonial Cannibalism."
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Did climate instability in southern Africa inspire the technological advances of the Middle Stone Age? A team led by Patrick Roberts of the University of Oxford analyzed the stable carbon and oxygen isotopes in ostrich eggshells, animal remains, and shellfish to learn about environmental conditions at Blombos Cave, occupied between 98,000 and 73,000 years ago, and Klipdrift Shelter, occupied between 72,000 and 59,000 years ago. The scientists found that changes in the environment, including changes in vegetation, aridity, rainfall seasonality, and sea temperature, may not have been directly linked with cultural advances, such as the use of bone tools, ochre production, and personal ornamentation, at these two sites. “This suggests that we have to consider that other factors drove human innovation at this stage in our species’ evolution,” Roberts said in a report by the International Business Times. For more on archaeology in South Africa, go to "The First Spears."
CAMPO BELO DO SUL, BRAZIL—A new analysis of pit houses in Brazil’s southern highlands suggests that the structures were occupied continuously for centuries. It had been thought that proto-Jê pit houses were lived in intermittently, but new radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modeling indicate that a dwelling in Campo Belo do Sul was occupied from 1395 to 1650. Researchers from the Universidade de São Paulo, the University of Reading, Unisul, and Central Universitário Univates, and the University of Exeter found 12 preserved floors in this house, five of which were covered by burned and collapsed roofs. Homes were also expanded outward as needed with different building techniques to complete the renovations as time passed. The team also found evidence that the proto-Jê cultivated plants, and had burial rites that suggest social hierarchies were in place. “We now know more about the way these groups lived, and are able to challenge the view, dominant until relatively recently, that these were marginal cultures in the context of lowland South America,” lead researcher Jonas Gregorio de Souza said in a UPI report. For more, go to "Off the Grid: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil."