NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Tree ring chronologies have been used to create a drought atlas of the Old World that reaches back more than 2,000 years. When combined with drought atlases of North America and Asia, also created by the Tree Ring Lab at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, scientists will be better able to pinpoint causes of drought and extreme rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere. “Climate variability tends to occur within patterns that span the globe, creating wet conditions somewhere and dry conditions somewhere else. By having tree ring-based hydroclimate reconstructions for three northern hemisphere continents, we can identify the responsible modes of variability,” climate modeler Richard Seager said in a press release. This information can help scientists understand climate conditions during historic famines, such as in 1741, when rainfall was well below normal during the spring and summer in Ireland, England, and Wales. It had been thought that an unusually cold winter and spring were to blame. Excessive rains beginning in 1314 also led to famine. To read about how climate change may have impacted Iron Age cultures in Wales, go to "Hillforts of the Iron Age."
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—Scholars at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus mapped the date palm genome and found more than seven million mutations separating modern Middle Eastern and North African varieties. As for ancient date palms, seeds found on Dalma Island, Abu Dhabi, have been dated to more than 7,000 years ago, while the oldest cultivated date seeds found in North Africa are about 4,000 years old. The new study supports this archaeological evidence, and indicates that today’s date palms could have descended from plants first domesticated in the Middle East, and then domesticated a second time in North Africa. It is also possible that that the fruit tree was first cultivated in the Middle East and then spread to North Africa, where it was crossed with wild plants. But researchers have yet to find the wild ancestor of the date palm. “It is important to know the identity and geographic origin of the wild progenitor of a domesticated species because it will help us understand the evolutionary process underlying domestication and the nature of the genetic changes underlying domestication,” senior research scientist Khaled Hazzouri said in a press release. To read more about archaeology in the Persian Gulf, go to "Archaeology Island."
CAIRO, EGYPT—King Tutankhamun’s tomb was scanned last week with infrared thermography by scientists from the Ministry of Antiquities, Cairo University, and the Heritage, Innovation, and Preservation (HIP) Institute, Paris. Preliminary results of the experiment indicate that an area of the tomb’s northern wall is different in temperature than other parts of the wall. According to a report in the Ahram Online, Mamdouh El-Damaty, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, said that further tests are needed to mark the area, which could indicate that an open space, or additional chambers, are located behind the wall. British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves suggested that could be the case after he examined high-resolution images of the tomb’s walls produced by the Spanish artistic and preservation specialists Factum Arte. He spotted what looked like two doorways that had been plastered over and thinks they might lead to Nefertiti’s missing burial.
NANCHANG, CHINA—Chinese archaeologists excavating a royal cemetery in southeastern Jiangxi province have unearthed eight tombs and a chariot burial area set among a network of roads and a drainage system. These tombs have yielded thousands of artifacts, including items made from gold, jade, iron, wood, and bamboo; terracotta figures; musical instruments; and tons of bronze coins. The researchers say that the coffin they will open next, which is in the main mausoleum, may belong to Liu He of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – A.D. 25). Liu is thought to have ruled only briefly before he was deposed, regained power, and then ousted a second time. The other tombs may have been built for his wife and other family members. “There may be a royal seal and jade clothes that will suggest the status and identity of the tomb’s occupant,” lead archaeologist Xin Lixiang of the National Museum told the South China Morning Post. It the tomb does belong to Liu He, it could provide scholars with more information about his tumultuous reign. To read more about archaeology in China, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—A team of scientists led by Theodore Schurr of the University of Pennsylvania has conducted a genetic study of people living in the Lesser Antilles in an effort to look for traces of the original inhabitants of the islands. They examined mitochondrial DNA, inherited through the maternal line; Y-chromosomes, passed from father to son; and autosomal markers, which give an overall picture of genetic contributions from ancestors through both sides of the family, from 88 individuals from the First Peoples Community in Trinidad and the Garifuna people in St. Vincent. “In the case of the mitochondrial DNA and the Y-chromosome, we know the markers that define those lineages commonly seen in indigenous populations of the Americas,” Schurr said in a press release. The team found 42 percent indigenous ancestry from the maternal side, and 28 percent from the paternal side. “These communities are not passive in this whole process; they’re actively exploring their own ancestry. They’re also trying to establish the fact that they have indigenous ancestry, that they are the descendants of the original inhabitants. They’re reclaiming that history,” Schurr added. To read about historical archaeology in the Caribbean, go to "Pirates of the Original Panama Canal."
FRANKFURT, GERMANY—New radiocarbon dates suggest that people were mining in Austria’s Central Alps in the middle Bronze Age, and again in the early Middle Ages. This is “a small sensation, since the academic world had so far not considered that Bronze Age mining in the Montafon mining area could be possible,” Rüdiger Krause of Goethe University said in a press release. Evidence for Bronze-Age mining had been found in the Eastern Alps, in the Mitterberg mining area, however. “What significance our new site in Montafon had in the context of Bronze Age copper supply in the Alps will be seen when we examine it further,” Krause explained. To read about a Bronze Age discovery in Russia, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."
NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—A 5,000-year-old site consisting of pits in the ground that were used for processing and smoking fish has been unearthed in Siberia. “This year we came across an unusual facility, a Neolithic smokehouse,” Vyacheslav Molodin of the Russian Academy of Sciences told The Siberian Times. “This method is known and is still used by some Siberian and Extreme North ethnic groups. The fish starts smelling, but it didn’t bother our ancestors,” he said. The bones of other animals were also found in the pits, including a wolverine, ermine remains, a dog, and a fox. Wolverines are native to the taiga, and not the local steppe, raising the question of how a wolverine ended up in a smokehouse pit. “For some time the pits were used for ritual purposes but it’s a huge mystery which we have yet to understand,” Molodin added. To read about medieval archaeology in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude."
MAINZ, GERMANY—Recent excavations led by archaeologist Behzad Mofidi-Nasrabadi of Mainz University at the site of Haft Tappeh have uncovered a workshop with an attached clay tablet archive. The archive dates to the city’s time as a prominent center in the Elamite Empire and records the expansion of commerce, arts, and crafts. Physical evidence of this prosperity include lavish grave goods found in the tomb of a female official, and an artful female figurine unearthed by the team. But at the end of the fourteenth century B.C., the city began to decline for reasons that have yet to be determined. Some of its temples and palaces were abandoned, and their materials were reused to build simple dwellings. The 3,400-year-old remains of several hundred massacre victims were found piled on top of one another behind one of these walls. The research team will continue to investigate what might have happened. To read more about Bronze Age archaeology in Iran, go to "The World in Between."
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Fossils of seven giant rat species found in East Timor are helping archaeologists track the migration of people through Southeast Asia and determine what kind of impact they had on the environment. “We’re trying to find the earliest human records as well as what was there before humans arrived,” Julien Louys of Australian National University said in a press release. It has been shown that people were living in East Timor some 46,000 years ago and eating the giant rats. “The funny thing is that they are co-existing up until about a thousand years ago. The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor, people could start to clear forests at a much larger scale,” he said in a press release. To read about archaeology in Borneo, go to "Landscape of Memory."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—In the late fifteenth century, the Portuguese constructed a church on Santiago Island, one of the ten barren Cabo Verde islands located off the West African coast. Eventually, Cabo Verde became a hub for the transatlantic slave trade. Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge have excavated the structure, thought to be the oldest European colonial building discovered in sub-Saharan Africa. “We’ve managed to recover the entire footprint-plan of the church, including its vestry, side-chapel, and porch, and it now presents a really striking monument,” Christopher Evans, director of the Cambridge Archaeology Unit, said in a press release. More than 1,000 people are thought to have been buried in the floor of the church by the mid-sixteenth century. Preliminary analysis shows that about half of them were African, while the rest came from various places in Europe. “From historical texts we have learned about the development of a ‘Creole’ society at an early date with land inherited by people of mixed race who could also hold official positions. The human remains give us the opportunity to test this representation of the first people in Cabo Verde,” Evans said. To read about extraordinary African structures dating to the same period, go to "Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast."
CINCINNATI, OHIO—Snail shells collected from an archaeological site in northeast Morocco have been analyzed to determine the climate conditions in the region between 10,800 and 6,700 years ago by Yurena Yanes of the University of Cincinnati, Rainer Hutterer of the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum, and Jorg Linstadter from the University of Cologne. “Because the isotopes of snail shells are only influenced by temperature and water conditions and not by humans, we have natural archives at the time of prehistoric occupation,” Yanes said in a press release. The researchers found that the climate grew warmer and could have supported the switch from hunting and gathering to agriculture. “Even though previous research has not observed major climate change at that temporal transition at the study site, with the oxygen isotope analysis of these shells, we have evidence for a significant natural climate change,” she explained. For more about prehistoric snails, go to "What Paleolithic People Were Really Eating."
ROME, ITALY—Radioactive deposits in sediments taken from the inside of two Neanderthal skulls discovered in a gravel pit in central Italy in the early twentieth century have been re-dated by a team made up of researchers from Sapienza University, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Italian Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV). “The results of our studies show that the Saccopastore remains are 100,000 years older than previously thought—and push back the arrival of Neanderthal man in Italy to 250,000 years ago,” Fabrizio Marra of INGV told The Local, Italy. This is about the same time that Neanderthals are believed to have arrived in central Europe. The new dates are also in line with the age of 11 stone artifacts that had been discovered with the fossils. To read more in-depth about Paleolithic Europe, go to "Structural Integrity."
SHANGHAI, CHINA—A team of scientists led by Yu Li of Fudan University has conducted proton-induced X-ray emission analyses of pieces of proto-porcelain and fragments of impressed stoneware collected at the site of the Piaoshan kiln. The site is thought to date to China’s first dynasty, between 2070 and 1600 B.C. Samples from five other early kiln sites in the vicinity were also tested. They found that the samples from the six kiln sites each had distinct chemical profiles, which may indicate that the raw materials used to produce the pots had been procured locally. “The research clearly show the relationship of inheritance of early Chinese proto-porcelain, and fill the large gaps in knowledge regarding the origin of Chinese proto-porcelain,” Yu Li said in a press release. For more on archaeology in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK—A burial vault thought to date to the nineteenth century has been found near Washington Square Park by a Department of Design and Construction (DDC) crew installing new water mains, catch basins, sewer manholes, traffic lights, and other park upgrades. The park, located in Greenwich Village, had been built on a cemetery for the poor. “Working together with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, DDC will evaluate the extent and significance of the vault and its contents,” Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora said in a statement reported in DNA Info. The vault measures some eight feet deep, 15 feet wide, and 20 feet long, and contains the remains of at least a dozen people. For more on excavations in the city, go to "New York's Original Seaport."
JAFFNA, SRI LANKA—War and neglect have taken a toll on Jaffna Fort, a star-shaped structure built in the seventeenth century by Dutch colonists on the Jaffa peninsula. Archaeologist Prashantha Mandawala of the University of Sri Jayewadenepura is leading the effort to remove unexploded mines and shells from the site. “There was also vandalism. Some people whose houses were damaged during the war had vandalized the fort to remove limestones to rebuild their homes,” Mandawala told The Sun Daily. Some 150 workers are looking for the limestone bricks in people’s homes, in the fort’s moat, and making replacements. “The biggest challenge we face in carrying out the restoration is finding coral stone. Environmental laws prevent us from quarrying limestone so we have to improvise,” he explained. The project will also restore a Dutch church and the governor’s residence built by the British in the eighteenth century.
SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA—Russian researchers are examining the blood-stained clothing worn by Tsar Alexander II when he was assassinated in 1881, and making plans to exhume the remains of Tsar Alexander III, located in the Peter and Paul Cathedral. Alexander III, who died in 1894, was the father of the last Romanov Tsar Nicholas II, who was killed, along with his wife and five children, during the Russian Revolution in 1918. The bodies of Nicholas II, his wife, and three of the children are thought to have been discovered in Yekaterinburg in 1991, and were reburied in Peter and Paul Cathedral in 1998. In 2007, the remains identified as Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria were found in another grave, and are now stored in a state archive. According to the Associated Foreign Press, the Russian Orthodox Church is insisting on further DNA testing to confirm the identity of the remains of the slain family, canonized as martyrs, before they can be buried together. To read about how forensic archaeology has been applied in Iraq, go to "Witness to Genocide."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Archaeologist Gilly Carr of the University of Cambridge has been researching the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, which began in 1940 and lasted until 1945. There was one German soldier for every three inhabitants on the heavily fortified islands. Last summer, she requested information from residents, and received a briefcase full of papers that were compiled in the 1960s. “The file is incredible. Resistance in the Channel Islands was different: it was not organized, and was unarmed—individuals and small groups doing small acts of silent and symbolic resistance. I realized as soon as I saw it that this is the most important resistance archive to come out of the Channel Islands in the last 50 years,” she told The Guardian. The stories had been compiled by Frank Falla, who was deported to Germany and imprisoned for organizing a newspaper after radios were confiscated in 1942. The testimonies were sent to the Foreign Office, which was distributing compensation received from Germany. “It is an immensely important archive, demonstrating their bravery and courage,” commented Sir Geoffrey Rowland, the current bailiff of Guernsey. To read more, go to "Archaeology of WWII."
GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND—A seventeenth-century family burial vault was discovered under the floor of Gloucester Cathedral’s north transept when archaeologists lifted a nearby ledger stone in preparation for the installation of an elevator. The vault contains the remains of the wealthy Hyett family, including an infant, who had been buried in well-preserved coffins. “What you normally find when you dig up a ledger slab is earth and bones, there’s nothing specific in there,” cathedral archaeologist Richard Morriss explained in a press release. But a small hole was created when the ledger stone was lifted, and archaeologists could see the contents of the vault. “And the name plates [on the coffins] actually match up with the names on the ledgers above, which is remarkable,” Morriss added. To read about archaeological evidence for Christian worship in medieval England, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Researchers led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology have developed a way to test the authenticity of ancient DNA based upon biochemical changes that accumulate with age. The changes cause cytosine (C), a building block of DNA, to be misread as thymine (T), another building block. Therefore, DNA samples will show either ancient or modern patterns of cytosine-to-thymine changes. “Modern DNA can easily contaminate precious samples so it is crucial to build in assurances that historic DNA is authentic,” Clemens Weiß told Phys.org. His team used this new test to examine a sample of wheat found submerged off the Isle of Wight. It had been thought that the wheat was 8,000 years old and evidence of trade between hunter-gatherers living in England and Neolithic farmers in Europe. The new test suggests that the wheat is younger than a few hundred years old. To read more about ancient DNA, go to "Neanderthal Genome Decoded."
BOULDER, COLORADO—Excavations under the direction of Payson Sheets of the University of Colorado, Boulder, continue at Cerén, a Maya village in El Salvador that was buried under 17 feet of volcanic ash in A.D. 660. Recent research suggests that the estimated 200 people who resided in the farming village lived with little influence from elites over their architecture, crop choices, religious activities, and economics. Among the 12 buildings that have been uncovered are living quarters, storehouses, workshops, kitchens, religious buildings, and a community sauna. Specialty items, including jade axes, have been found in most of the households. Sheets and his team think that the Cerén commoners may have traded with Maya elites in nearby towns for these objects. The team is also investigating a sacbe, or roadway made from packed ash, where they have found more than a dozen footprints to the south of the village. “More than half of the footprints were headed south away from the village, away from the danger. I think at least some of them were left by people fleeing the eruption,” Sheets said in a press release from the National Science Foundation. To read more about Cerén, go to "Off the Grid."