JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, has been identified in the toe bone of a human ancestor who lived some 1.7 million years ago. A team of British and South African researchers noticed that the bone, unearthed in Swartkrans Cave in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, was not hollow, as it should have been. “So we compared it with modern biopsies of cancer patients and realized it was a malignant tumor,” biological and forensic anthropologist Patrick Randolph-Quinney of the University of Central Lancashire told The Telegraph. He explained that the painful tumor would have affected the individual’s mobility, and thus the ability to survive. A collaborating team of scientists also identified a benign tumor in the vertebrae of Karabo, the two-million-year-old remains of an Australopithecus sediba child discovered at the site of Malapa. “Modern medicine tends to assume that cancers and tumors in humans are diseases caused by modern lifestyles and environments, but our studies show the origins of these diseases occurred in our ancient relatives millions of years before modern industrial societies existed,” explained Edward Odes of the University of the Witswatersrand. To read more about Australopithecus sediba go to "The Human Mosaic."
KALMAR, SWEDEN—Divers led by Lars Einarsson of the Kalmar County Museum have recovered a diamond ring, gold coins, and a black tin pot containing a thick, gooey substance that may be cheese from the Kronan, the seventeenth-century flagship of the Swedish navy. “It looks a bit like some kind of granular Roquefort cheese. It’s been in the mud, so it’s reasonably well preserved, but at the same time it has been at the bottom of the sea for 340 years,” Einarsson told The Local, Sweden. Scientists will analyze the contents of the pot to try to determine exactly what they are. The Kronan capsized and sank in bad weather during the Battle of Öland in 1676, and was discovered in the Baltic Sea in 1980. Remains of some of the 800 crew members who died in the vessel have been recovered to date, along with more than 20,000 artifacts. To read about the sinking of another great seventeenth-century Swedish ship, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
GALILEE, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that a Roman-era workshop has been discovered the town of Shlomi, located in northern Israel. Ceramic vessels for wine and oil are thought to have been made at the factory, which featured a kiln with two chambers cut out of the chalky bedrock. One chamber would have held the pots being fired, while the other served as a firebox. Excavation director Joppe Gosker said that fragments of vessels made for transport over land and sea were found around the kiln. Live Science reports that most kilns at the time were constructed of stone, earth, and mud, rather than hewn from bedrock. To read in-depth about Roman-era ceramics, go to "Trash Talk."
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Mark Tanaka of the University of New South Wales thinks that the use of fire by early humans may have triggered the development of tuberculosis as a deadly disease. Tanaka and a team of researchers used a mathematical model to investigate ways that Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is benign when it lives in soil and water, might have developed into a pathogen transmissible between people. Tanaka’s team found that adding fire to the equation increases the risk of just such a mutation. Campfires enjoyed by early humans could have caused smoke damage to lungs, making them more vulnerable to infection. Campfires may have also brought people together for longer periods of time, increasing the chance of disease transmission. “You get multiple sporadic cases, and most of them fail in the sense that they fail to evolve and so there are multiple failed chains of transmission, but eventually the right mutations come along and the whole thing is triggered,” Tanaka explained in an ABC News Australia report. To read about another study exploring ancient health, go to "Heart Attack of the Mummies."
DURHAM, ENGLAND—A study led by Adriano Lameira, now of Durham University, suggests that ancestral great apes may have had control of their voices. It had been thought that great apes could only make sounds driven by arousal, but an adolescent orangutan named Rocky, who is housed at the Indianapolis Zoo, has produced more than 500 vowel-like calls in imitation of researchers. While working at the University of Amsterdam, Lameira and his team compared Rocky’s new calls with a database of recorded orangutan calls to make sure that they were learned sounds. “This opens up the potential for us to learn more about the vocal capacities of early hominids that lived before the split between the orangutan and the human lineages to see how the vocal system evolved towards full-blown speech in humans,” Lameira said in a UPI report. To read in-depth about a possible human ancestor, go to "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—The Texas General Land Office announced that Spanish colonial adobe bricks have been unearthed in Alamo Plaza just 23 inches below the modern surface. The poorly preserved bricks may have been part of the original, eighteenth-century western wall at the mission, or they may have been part of a structure that stood near the original mission. “Because we’ve got something from the Spanish colonial period, we know we are digging in the right place,” archaeologist Nesta Anderson said in a press conference reported in The Texas Tribune. “All we know right now is that we’ve got a wall,” she added. To read more about the Spainish colonial period in the Southwest, go to "Searching for the Comanche Empire."
HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA—Temples built by the rulers of the Chamba Kingdom between the seventh and eleventh centuries A.D. were analyzed by Mayank Joshi and V.C. Thakur of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in an effort to assess the risk of future earthquakes in the region. Recent catastrophic earthquakes in nearby areas have killed tens of thousands of people, but the town of Chamba was unharmed. Chamba’s ancient buildings, however, do exhibit signs of earthquake damage, including tilted pillars on the Lakshmi Narayan temples and shifted rooftops on the Bharmour temple. “In case of the ground settling, there would not be a preferred orientation. It will be randomly oriented,” Joshi told Live Science. Joshi and Thakur suggest that the damage to the Chamba temples occurred in the 1555 Kashmir earthquake, whose epicenter is thought to be in the Srinagar Valley, some 125 miles away from Chamba. In fact, a temple built in 1762 showed no signs of earthquake damage. “This shows that the area has enough potential to produce great earthquakes similar to [the] 2005 Kashmir earthquake,” Joshi said. To read more about archaeology in India, go to "Oceans of Dharma."
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Underground anomalies detected in front of the steps at the Temple of Inscriptions at the Maya site of Palenque have led to the discovery of a water tunnel with a fitted stone cover. Archaeologist Arnoldo Gonzalez told the Associated Press that the same type of stone covering has been found inside the temple, in the floor of the tomb of K’inich Janaab Pakal, ruler of Palenque between A.D. 615 and 683. Researchers used a robot fitted with a camera to examine the small shaft, but no link to the tomb has been found so far. Researchers think the tomb and pyramid may have been built over a spring whose water, channeled through the tunnels, may have been intended to offer a path to the underworld for Pakal’s spirit. This idea is based upon an inscription found on a pair of stone ear plugs from in the grave. A similar water tunnel has been found at Teotihuacán. “In both cases there was a water current present. There is this allegorical meaning for water…where the cycle of life begins and ends,” said Pedro Sanchez Nava, director of archaeology for the National Institute of Anthropology and History. To read in-depth about a Maya king, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—Chester DePratter of the University of South Carolina and Victor Thompson of the University of Georgia used ground-penetrating radar and magnetometers to look for the outlines of Fort San Marcos, constructed in 1577 by Pedro Menedez Marquez, the governor of La Florida. He built the fort on Parris Island at the site of the town of Santa Elena, which had been abandoned a year earlier due to an attack by Native Americans, with wood posts and planking carried to the island with warships. This first fort at the site was eventually replaced when the wood rotted, but the Spanish abandoned the site for Fort Augustine in 1587 due to threats from the English. “This work will allow us to tell the story of the land that would eventually become the United States. Santa Elena is an important part of this history that lends insight into how colonial powers in Europe vied for control over this corner of the New World,” Thompson told The Post and Courier. To read more about the Spanish colonial period in the Southeast, go to "Off the Grid: Mission San Luis."
LEUVEN, BELGIUM—Live Science reports that leaves collected at the death site of Belgium’s King Albert I more than 80 years ago are stained with his blood. The 58-year-old king reportedly died on February 17, 1934, while mountain climbing alone near the village of Marche-les-Dames. His body was found at the foot of a cliff that was soon visited by thousands of mourners, some of whom collected souvenirs. Conspiracy theorists claimed that the king had been murdered, and his body placed at the foot of the cliff after he was killed by a blow to the head. Scientists from the University of Leuven analyzed the blood on leaves supposedly collected at the site at the time, and compared the DNA with two of the king’s living relatives. “We found that the blood is indeed that of Albert I,” said forensic geneticist Maarten Larmuseau. The scientists say the results support the account that Albert I died in a fall. “The story that the dead body of the king has never been in March-les-Dames or was only placed there at night has now become very improbable,” he said. To read about a similar study, go to "French Revolution Forgeries."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A fragment of an Egyptian funerary statue dating to the third millennium B.C. has been unearthed in northern Israel by a team of archaeologists led by Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. According to a report in i24 News, the limestone fragment includes some of the base of the statue, which had been carved with hieroglyphics. A preliminary translation of the text suggests that it praises an official connected to the ancient city of Memphis, but his name and position are unknown. The fragment also depicts the feet of a crouching figure that may have represented the official. Scholars think the statue may have been originally placed inside his tomb, or in a temple dedicated to the Egyptian god Ptah, who was associated with the city of Memphis. This statue, and another third-millennium statue discovered in the same building at Hazor, are the only two monumental Egyptian statues from this period to have been unearthed in the Levant. The sculptures may have been sent to the ruler of Hazor from Egypt as gifts during the later New Kingdom period. The statues were probably destroyed around 1200 B.C., when the city was conquered. To read more about Egyptian artifacts discovered in Israel, go to "Egyptian Style in Ancient Canaan."
BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Research conducted by a team led by Andrew Moeller of the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that modern humans and the bacteria in their digestive tracts evolved together. The Guardian reports that Moeller and his team collected fecal samples from Tanzanian chimpanzees, Cameroonian gorillas, Congolese bonobos, and humans from Connecticut. They found that when two new species split from a common ancestor, at least two groups of gut bacteria did the same. “When there were no humans or gorillas, just ancestral African apes, they harbored gut bacteria. Then the apes split into different branches, and there was also a parallel divergence of different gut bacteria,” Moeller explained. He added that different strains of human gut bacteria could be used to reconstruct patterns of human migration. To read more, go to "Life (According to Gut Microbes)."
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Impressions of string have been found on fired clay, and string has been depicted in Ice Age artwork, but scholars have thus far known little about how European hunter-gatherers produced rope. Now according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Tübingen and the University of Liège, Paleolithic hunter-gatherers may have used mammoth ivory tools to weave rope out of plant fibers. UPI reports that a team led by Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen found a 40,000-year-old tool in Hohle Fels Cave that had been carved with holes lined with spiral incisions. Veerle Rots of the University of Liège used replicas of the device to produce rope from plant fibers available near Hohle Fels. Similar tools have been found at Paleolithic sites in the past, but they were thought to be shaft-straighteners, artwork, or even musical instruments. To read about a Paleolithic masterpiece from the same region in Germany, go to "New Life for Lion Man."
ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A human arm bone has been found during excavation of Neolithic buildings at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney, an archipelago off the north coast of Scotland, according to a report in The National. Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute who have been excavating the site since 2002 believe the bone may have been placed intentionally and could have belonged to the founder of the complex. The Ness of Brodgar is located between the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. It dates to the Neolithic period and features a number of buildings enclosed within a massive stone wall. Excavations have unearthed a sizeable amount of Neolithic artwork, pottery, animal bones, and stone tools. To read in-depth about this site, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Achaeologists are excavating at the site of the Alamo in an effort to locate the 18th-century mission’s original south and western adobe walls, according to Texas Public Radio. The dig is part of a planned eight-year effort the redevelop the World Heritage site. “To re-imagine the Alamo we first have to rediscover it,” says city archaeologist Kay Hindes. “So the work that we’re doing here is to try to determine the exact compound walls and to confirm those in the ground.” The team is using archival maps and leads provided by a 1970s-era excavation at the site to guide their work. In addition to the mission's original walls, they expect to find artifacts left behind by both the Catholic priests and Native Americans who lived at the site. To read about the archaeology of this period in the Southwest, go to "Searching for the Comanche Empire."
GEBEL RAMLAH, EGYPT—Polish archaeologists excavating in Egypt's Western Desert around a now-dried lake have unearthed a number of Neolithic sites dating from 11,000 to 7,000 years ago, allowing them to track cultural changes during the period, reports Science & Scholarship in Poland. In addition to evidence for small settlements and a number of cemeteries, the researchers discovered a large ochre-making workshop where people processed hematite into the red dye, which was used for clothing and also sprinkled into the graves in nearby cemeteries. "The most important conclusion after a few seasons of the research is this: the people had very diverse burial rites," says archaeologist Jacek Kabacinski, the expedition leader. "This suggests that perhaps we are dealing with different, independent groups of people who had used a very limited area for funeral purposes." Kabacinski speculates that when the climate grew drier toward the end of the Neolithic period and the lake became seasonal, people were forced into greater mobility, taking their flocks from watering hole to watering hole, which indirectly led to contact with more far-flung communities. To read in-depth about this period in Europe, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Analysis of ancient feces shows that infectious parasites were transported on China’s Silk Road along with valuable goods. Researchers excavated the 2,000-year-old excrement from a latrine at Xuanquanzhi, a major stopping point along the legendary trading route in northwestern China. The feces were found on “personal hygiene sticks,” rods wrapped with cloth at one end that travelers used to clean themselves after defecating. Microscopic examination revealed the eggs of four parasitic intestinal worms in the feces, including those of Chinese river fluke, which thrives in wet areas and could not have come from the area where the excavation took place—the arid Tamrin Basin. The worm is most common in Guangdong Province, around 1,240 miles from the site, suggesting that the traveler infected with it most likely journeyed a great distance. “This is the earliest evidence for the spread of infectious diseases along the Silk Road,” Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge told Live Science, “and the first to find evidence at an archaeological site along the Silk Road itself.” For more, go to “Vikings, Worms, and Emphysema.”
BARCELONA, SPAIN—Two hundred silver denarii dating to the first century B.C. were discovered at the site of Empúries, a town founded by Greek colonists and later occupied by the Romans. The coins had been placed in a ceramic vase and hidden in a house that burned down. “This was a huge amount of money by that time and would have allowed the owner to live comfortably for quite a long time,” archaeologist Pere Castanyer told the Catalan News Agency. The cellar also contained 24 wine amphoras, a bronze ladle, and two bracelets. The excavators were surprised to find such treasures at Empúries, which is located near the coast of northeastern Spain, and has been under excavation for more than 100 years. For more, go to “Roman Coin Cache Discovered in Spain.”
VANCOUVER, CANADA—Archaeologist Bob Muir and his students at Simon Fraser University investigated a midden discovered by members of the K’ómoks First Nation when they dug a roasting pit for a barbecue held last year in the Comox Valley. The students uncovered shells; the well-preserved bones of deer, elk, and dogs; bone needles used for fishing; harpoon points; herring rakes; and some 80 flat pieces of stone engraved on one side. According to a report in the Comox Valley Record, the images are sometimes described as representing trees, feathers, or symbols of fertility. Similar engraved stones, known as tablets, have been found at only two other sites in the Comox Valley. Muir estimates that the tablets are about 2,000 years old. He will document and study the artifacts before they are returned to the K’ómoks First Nation. For more on archaeology in British Columbia, go to "The Edible Seascape."
LEICESTER, ENGLAND—A team led by Gavin Speed of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) excavated the site of a Bronze Age barrow in central England ahead of the construction of a housing development. A stone ax dating to the Neolithic period was found in the backfill of the barrow ditch, suggesting that use of the site could date back 6,000 years. “By the Iron Age the barrow had partly eroded and its ditches had silted up but much of the mound was likely still upstanding, making it a visible landmark in the local landscape even if its original purpose and meaning had changed,” Speed told the Loughborough Echo. The site was used for at least 12 burials during the Anglo-Saxon period. These skeletons were poorly preserved, but a pottery vessel, spears, knives, a spike, a brooch, and the boss and studs of a shield were recovered. Some scholars think that the Anglo-Saxons may have reused Bronze Age barrows for burials as a display of power through connection to the past. For more on the Anglo-Saxon period, go to "Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North."