UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—It had been thought that there was a large difference in size between male and female Australopithecus afarensis individuals, but a new study conducted by researchers from Penn State University and Kent State University suggests that the sexual dimorphism among the early hominids was similar to that of modern humans. The difference in body size is usually seen in body size, weight, and the size of the canine teeth, which are about the same in male and female Australopithecines. “Lucy,” who stood about 3.5 feet tall, and other smaller A. Afarensis individuals have been thought of as females. Their brains were not yet large enough to require the alteration of the pelvic structure to allow for the birth of large-headed babies, however. “There is no reason why Lucy, if female, would have the wide notched pelvic bone of a human female. We can’t really sex Australopithecines,” Philip Reno of Penn State said in a press release. Reno and C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State compared the bones of Lucy, and another larger, reasonably intact specimen known as Kadanuumuu, who stood between five and 5.5 feet tall, to the partial remains of other individuals. By determining the ratio of these fossils to Lucy, the team members could calculate the relative size of individuals from incomplete skeletons. “The range shows intermediate moderate levels of sexual dimorphism, A. afarensis is within the human dimorphic range,” Reno explained. For an annotated image of Lucy's remains, see "Lucy Up Close."
MANOA, HAWAII—A recent survey of I-400, a World War II-era Imperial Japanese Navy mega-submarine, has located and mapped the submarine’s hangar and conning tower, and found the submarine’s bell. The vessel was sunk outside of Pearl Harbor after the war to keep its technology from the Soviet Union, and in 2013, was rediscovered by a team from the University of Hawaii and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “We made a lucky guess where to start when we approached the main hull of the I-400 from the northwest,” Terry Kerby, operations director and chief submarine pilot of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL,) said of the recent expedition in a press release. “Our guess started to pay off when the giant hangar door came into view, followed by the conning tower and hangar. Many items were amazingly intact for something that had ripped out of the hull of a sinking 400-foot-long submarine,” he said. The aircraft hangar had been large enough to launch three float-plane bombers. The bell was found close to the conning tower on the seafloor.
LONDON, ENGLAND—Cremated human bones have been found packed in an old cooking pot, near the site where Roman-era skulls had been found along the former banks of the Walbrook River. It had been thought that the skulls had eroded out of burials and tumbled downstream, but the cremation burial suggests that skulls could have been placed there. “Certainly no river ever carried off the cooking pot with its cremated bones which was unquestionably deliberately placed here. And the horse skull we found with one of the skulls didn’t come out of some equine graveyard, that was clearly also placed there,” Jay Carver, lead archaeologist of the Crossrail project, told The Guardian. The skulls may have been ritual deposits, or the remains of executed criminals. Some think the skulls could be from the first-century rebellion led by Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe, against the Romans. “I think we now have to look back at earlier finds in this area—we have found 40 human and two horse skulls, but if you add them up over the last two centuries you’re talking hundreds of skulls in a very small area—and try and work out what is actually going on,” Carver said. To read about the search for the final resting spot of the great Iceni leader, see "Boudicca: Queen of the Iceni."
NAGOYA, JAPAN—Researchers from Nagoya University and The University of Tokyo studied 40,000-year-old stone tools, including small stone points used as tips for hunting weapons, which were used by people of the Early Ahmarian culture and the Protoaurignacian culture. It is thought that these innovative tools and weapons helped modern humans migrate from west Asia to Europe, where they had a significant advantage over Neanderthals. “We’re not so special, I don’t think we survived Neanderthals simply because of technological competence,” Seiji Kadowaki of Nagoya University said in a press release. The team found that the points appeared in Europe 3,000 years earlier than in the Levant. “We looked at the basic timeline revealed by similar stone points, and it shows that humans were using them in Europe before they appeared in the Levant—the opposite of what we’d expect if the innovation had led to the humans’ migration from Africa to Europe,” Kadowaki explained. For a study of later tools in Europe, see "The Neolithic Toolkit."
SHARJAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—An archaeological site in central Sharjah has yielded axes, scrapers, and awls thought to be hundreds of thousands of years old. “The discovery of these tools will add valuable information to our records about the Stone Age in the emirate, and the early history of human groups and their predecessors in this region,” Sabah Jassim, head of the Department of Antiquities, told The National. Several of the tools will be analyzed and dated at Tübingen University in Germany. For more on early human discoveries in the Emirates, see "New Evidence for Mankind's Earliest Migrations."
ASWAN, EGYPT—The Luxor Times reports that the lower part of a rare statue carved with the name of King Sahure, the second king of the Old Kingdom’s Fifth Dynasty, has been discovered at El-Kab. The excavation, conducted by the Belgian mission, is directed by Dirk Huyge of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels. The statue base was carved from fine-grained sandstone. The complete statue would have depicted King Sahure seated on a throne. There are only two known statues of King Sahure—one of them is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the other is at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir. For another recent Egyptological discovery, see "18th-Dynasty Tomb Discovered in Luxor."
BURNABY, CANADA—Biological anthropologist Kimberly Plomp of Simon Fraser University has investigated the relationship between vertebral shape, upright locomotion, and human spinal health using two-dimensional shape analyses of chimpanzee, orangutan, and archaeological human vertebrae. “We found that some characteristics of human vertebrae differ in shape between those individuals who have a lesion called a Schmorl’s node—a small hernia that can occur in the cartilaginous disc between the vertebrae,” she said in a press release. It turns out that the vertebrae of people with Schmorl’s nodes resemble the vertebrae of chimpanzees. Humans and chimpanzees split from a common ancestor between eight and nine million years ago, and still have 98 percent of DNA in common. Humans evolved to be bipedal, while chips evolved to be knuckle-walkers. “However evolution is not perfect and some vertebral characteristics, such as the ones we identified as being similar to chimpanzees, may have remained within the human ‘blueprint’ and result in some people having vertebrae that are less able to withstand the pressures of bipedal walking,” she explained. She and her colleague Mark Collard will continue to investigate this “ancestral shape hypothesis” with three-dimensional shape studies.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—Sean Hixon, a student at the University of Oregon, presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology on possible ways that the pukao, or headgear worn by Easter Island’s moai, might have been put in place by the Rapa Nui. Hixon and his team modeled the force and torque needed to move the sculpted volcanic rock, which could weigh 12 tons, into place with different techniques, including rolling the stones up a ramp to the top of the statues, building a tower and using a pulley system, or erecting the pukao and moai simultaneously. “It seems like a relatively small number of people could have done it, either by levering or rolling,” Hixon told Live Science. The oblong shape of the carving would have prevented it from rolling down the ramp by accident, and a small lip at the base of the pukao could have kept it from tipping over during placement. “The base indentation isn’t really necessary for the hat once it’s on the statue. The hats are pretty massive. It’s not like they’re going to fall off without the base indentation,” he said. Other indentations and marks on the red volcanic rock may have provided traction for rolling the pukao up a ramp, but erosion and damage make it difficult to determine if the marks were place deliberately. To read more about experimental archaeology, see "The Neolithic Toolkit."
AMBON, INDONESIA—Prehistoric rock art has been discovered near the village of Ohoidertaun in Indonesia’s Maluku Province. There are at least 400 images, according to Muhammad Husni, head of the archaeology office in Ambon, the capital of the province. “We do not know the age yet. It needs in-depth research. However, according to the number of motive images, we can conclude that the culture at the time was well developed,” he told Antara News. Archaeologist Wuri Handoko added that the paintings are probably related to two other rock art sites in the region. “If we see the landscape, the rock paintings have been found in the coastal areas. It indicates there was a long distance traversed through these areas by the ancient humans,” she said. The sites could help scientists understand the migration pattern in Maluku. To read more about archaeology in the region, see "The Landscape of Memory."
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—“Large quantities” of liquid mercury have been discovered in a chamber at the end of a tunnel located beneath the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan. “It’s something that completely surprised us,” archaeologist Sergio Gómez of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History told Reuters. Last year he annouced that three chambers had been found at the end of the tunnel, which had been sealed for 1,800 years. Jade statues, jaguar remains, a box filled with carved shells and rubber balls, metallic spheres dubbed “disco balls,” and pyrite mirrors have also been uncovered. The mercury could indicate that Gómez and his team are closing in on the first royal tomb to be found in Teotihuacan. He thinks that the mercury could have symbolized an underworld river or lake. If there is a tomb, it could help scholars determine how the city was ruled. To read more about Teotihuacan and other ancient cities in the Valley of Mexico, see "Big Data, Big Cities."
LONDON, ENGLAND—Culture 24 reports that Jelena Bekvalac of the Museum of London’s Centre for Human Bioarchaeology will examine skeletons in the museum’s collection to study the impact of industrialization on the human body. “The most tangible evidence we have for the long-term consequences of the industrialization process upon us is, quite simply, written in our bones. Using the very latest digital technology, we will examine the skeletal remains of over 1,000 adult men and women from industrial-era London in addition to a further 500 skeletons from the medieval metropolis,” Bekvalac said. The research, funded by a City of London Archaeological Trust grant from a bequest made by the late Rosemary Green, could provide clues to the conditions of obesity and cancer, often thought of as “man-made,” modern conditions. The project will also produce an extensive interactive digital resource that will be published online. For more on the study of remains from this period, see "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."
AARHUS, DENMARK—Antlers from Norwegian reindeer have been unearthed in Ribe, the oldest commercial center in Denmark. The antlers have been dated to A.D. 725, some 70 years before the Viking raid on the Lindisfarne monastery in northern England. “The Viking Age becomes a phenomenon in Western Europe because the Vikings learned to use maritime mobility to their advantage. They learned to master sailing to such an extent that they get to the coast of England where the locals don’t expect anything. They come quickly, plunder the unprepared victims, and leave again—a sort of hit and run,” Søren Sindbæk of Aarhus University told Science Nordic. The Norwegian reindeer antlers suggest that Norway’s earliest so-called Vikings developed their maritime skills through trade. “Now we can prove that shipping between Norway and the market town of Ribe was established prior to the Viking era, and trade networks helped to create the incentives and the knowledge of the sea, which made the Viking raids possible. It is the first time that we can clearly link two very important phenomena, the lock and key if you like, of the Viking Age,” he said. For more, see "The First Vikings."
ONTARIO, CANADA—The nearly complete genome of two Siberian woolly mammoths has been sequenced by an international team of researchers. One of the mammoths lived in northeastern Siberia some 45,000 years ago. The other is thought to have been from one of the last mammoth populations, which lived on Russia’s Wrangel Island, and is only 4,300 years old. “With a complete genome and this kind of data, we can now begin to understand what made a mammoth a mammoth—when compared to an elephant—and some of the underlying causes of their extinction which is an exceptionally difficult and complex puzzle to solve,” Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University said in a press release. It has long been thought that human hunters contributed to the demise of the woolly mammoth, but the study suggests that multiple factors were at play over their long evolutionary history. The analysis showed that the animal populations suffered and recovered from a severe decline some 250,000 to 300,000 years ago. The final severe decline occurred in the last days of the Ice Age. “We found that the genome from one of the world’s last mammoths displayed low genetic variation and a signature consistent with inbreeding, likely due to the small number of mammoths that managed to survive on Wrangel Island during the last 5,000 years of the species’ existence,” said Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History. To read about the discovery of a largely intact mammoth, see "Lyuba the Baby Mammoth."
CHHATTISGARH, INDIA—A figurine resembling an African elephant has been unearthed at the Tarighat site in central India. “The elephant has large ears and spine bones visible on its back, identical to elephants found in Africa. Elephants of that physique can’t be found in Asia,” JR Bhagat, director of the excavation for the state archaeology department, told The Times of India. The 2,500-year-old site is known as an international trading center where Scythian and Greek coins have been found. Earlier excavations have also uncovered figurines of a giraffe-like animal. Ashok Tiwari, a former curator at the Museum of Man, Bhopal, thinks that the figurine could have been sculpted by a trader who had traveled to Africa. Archaeologist CL Raikwar added that similar pieces of “country art” are the result of artists’ imaginations. “Chhattisgarh might have had an affluent and glorious past but I am yet to find clearer links of Tarighat to the international market,” Bhagat concluded. For more about the archaeology of the region, see "Letter From Bangladesh."
LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Analysis of two baby teeth from northern Italy—one found at the Riparo Bombrini rock shelter, and other at the Grotta di Fumane—has shown that the innovative stone tools and ornaments of the Protoaurignacian culture were made by modern humans, and not Neanderthals. Stefano Benazzi of the University of Bologna measured the thickness of the enamel on the tooth from Riparo Bombrini and found it to be thick, as in modern humans. Neanderthals had relatively thin enamel. Radiocarbon dates of bone and charcoal from the site suggest that the child lived some 40,000 years ago. Mitochondrial DNA was extracted from the other tooth, which is also some 40,000 years old. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology found that the mitochondrial DNA belonged to a known modern human lineage. These sophisticated tools may have given modern humans a competitive edge over the Neanderthals. “The association of modern remains with the earliest Aurignacian-related archaeological context now provides physical evidence that the arrival of our species on the continent triggered the demise of Neanderthals, who disappeared a couple of millennia later,” paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute said in a press release.
NUNAVUT, CANADA—Bad weather has cut the latest expedition to HMS Erebus, the flagship of the lost Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage, from ten days to five. Divers from Parks Canada and the Royal Canadian Navy descended through triangular-shaped holes in the ice to the wreck, which was abandoned by Franklin’s crew in 1848. So far the team has seen at least one sailor’s boot and a cannon lying next to the vessel. Flora Davidson, a Parks Canada conservator, watched the video feed from cameras on the divers’ masks and made plans for the cannon in case it can be lifted. “I was trying to see how it was sitting, identify all the features at the breech end. We’re still not quite sure if it’s a knob or if it’s got a handle where the rope would go into the threshold. And I’m checking the silt, if it were to be lifted, how it would be done. I’m concerned about the surface in that area, but the cannon seems to be upside down. If there are any markings, they’re going to be on the top side, which is inverted and it’ll be in the silt. So I expect it to be better conserved. I’m happy about that,” she told The Star. The Parks Canada team is also making plans with British officials for the event that they come across human remains at the wreck site. “If we see human remains, we take some photo documentation to help us down the line, but we stay away from that area until further notice after discussions with them,” explained Marc-Andre Bernier, chief of underwater archaeology at Parks Canada.
MADISON, CONNECTICUT—From 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided housing, food, and employment building roads, foot trails, and planting trees for 3.5 million young people during the Great Depression. The Madison Land Conservation Trust has spent the last year excavating Camp Hadley, one of 23 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps in Connecticut. The team of trust members, volunteers, and students from Daniel Hand High School (DHHS) has unearthed pottery, rusty cans, bottles, hardware, and foundations of a recreation hall/classroom, mess hall, cistern, infirmary, commissary, three probably barracks, the Chief Forester’s Cabin, an incinerator, and the latrine/washroom. “The student involvement has been inspiring and it is exciting to see young people out appreciating and improving a site that was originally built for young people not much older than they are,” Jason Englehardt, trust member and DHHS teacher told The Shoreline Times.
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—Adrian Bell of the University of Utah and his colleagues developed a model of the colonization of remote islands in the Pacific Ocean by adapting an epidemiological model of how diseases spread among people and animals. “We model ocean migrants as ‘infecting’ uninhabited islands,” Bell explained in a press release. The team used the model to analyze some of the different theories of how the Lapita reached the 24 major island groups in the Pacific using dates obtained through archaeological research. Some of the variables include island size, distances from other islands, prevalent wind directions, and the inferred level of social hierarchy among the people living on the island. “So as the model moves forward in time, it will suggest some islands to be colonized first rather than others. How well it matches up with the data will distinguish which model comes out on top,” Bell said. The team found that the migrants “weren’t just drifting around,” but had a strategy for the best way to discover new places, traveling into the wind and moving to big islands that were more easily visible. “Here we have demonstrated how we can go beyond the construction of plausible narratives and ad hoc interpretations of archaeological information in order to develop explicit models of different colonization strategies and rigorously test them against the data,” reads the study, published in American Antiquity. To read about human colonization of Hawaii, see "Inside Kauai's Past."
NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—An international team of of scientists led by robotics engineers Thomas Feix and Aaron Dollar of Yale University has created a kinematic model of the thumbs and index fingers of living primates and human ancestors based upon measurements of their digits’ segments. This method analyzes the interaction between the thumb and index finger, and suggests that human ancestors may have had precision-grip capabilities comparable to those of modern humans. According to the study, Australopithecus afarensis, which lived between 3.8 and three million years ago, may have had greater dexterity than what was required for cutting with a stone, and may have been able to use other tools not preserved in the archaeological record. “The model reveals that a long thumb or great joint mobility alone does not necessarily yield good precision manipulation,” Feix said in a press release. To read about the evolution of the throwing motion, see "No Changeups on the Savannah."
BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Last year, Dana Lepofsky of Simon Fraser University and her team announced that ancient clam gardens in the Pacific Northwest, which range from Alaska to Washington State, produced quadruple the number of butter clams and twice the number of littleneck clams as unmodified clam beaches. Their new study has found that many clam gardens are more than 1,000 years old, and that they were managed in a variety of ways, including replanting of small clams and building rock terrace walls at the low tide line to create conditions that are ideal for clam growth. Beaches were also cleared of rubble that would limit clam habitat. The abundant and sustainable harvests of clams from the gardens would have supported the dense ancient First Nations settlements along the coastline. “We think that many Indigenous peoples worldwide had some kind of sophisticated marine management, but the Pacific Northwest is likely one of the few places in the world where this can be documented. This is because our foreshores are more intact than elsewhere and we can work closely with Indigenous knowledge holders,” Lepofsky said in a press release. To read about Lepofsky's research in-depth, see "The Edible Seascape."