TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Hominins living 300,000 years ago at the site of Schöningen were more like modern humans than had been previously thought, according to Nicholas Conard, Jordi Serangeli, and Christopher Miller of the University of Tübingen and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment. They say that Homo heidelbergensis lived in social groups, conducted coordinated group hunting, and communicated about the past, present, and future. Excavations at Schöningen have recovered well-preserved Paleolithic wooden, bone, and stone tools, including a unique hammering tool made from the humerus of a saber-toothed cat. The site has also yielded evidence of the hunting and butchering of large animals. The team has not, however, found convincing evidence at the site for the mastery of fire by Homo heidelbergensis. “The findings from Schöningen suggest that archaic humans may have been able to survive in the Ice Age landscape of northern Europe without being able to make and control fire,” Miller explained in a press release. A special issue of the Journal of Human Evolution is devoted to the Schöningen excavations. To read more about Homo heidelbergensis, go to "A Place to Hide the Bodies."
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Shell and bone remains found at Qesem Cave suggest that tortoises were cooked and eaten there some 400,000 years ago. Marks on the bones indicate that the tortoises were sometimes roasted whole and sometimes they were butchered. “Somehow they cut them with stone knives, and most probably into small pieces,” archaeologist Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University told The New York Times. Gathering tortoises would have been a low-risk, low-energy activity that supplemented deer, birds, wild asses, horses, and aurochs that made up most of the diet.
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—A 60-foot-long boat dating to about 2550 B.C. has been discovered to the south of a large mud-brick tomb in the Old Kingdom necropolis at Abusir. Its wooden planks, joined with wooden pegs, are intact, as are the plant fibers that covered the planking seams. Ropes that bound the boat together are also well preserved. Most of the ancient Egyptian boats uncovered by archaeologists have been poorly preserved or were dismantled in antiquity, so this vessel offers a unique opportunity to examine how ships were built 4,500 years ago. The name of King Huni from the Third Dynasty has been found on a stone bowl in the tomb, but the name of the tomb’s high-status occupant is unknown. “In fact, this is a highly unusual discovery since boats of such a size and construction were, during this period, reserved solely for top members of the society, who usually belonged to the royal family. This suggests the potential for additional discoveries during the next spring season,” Miroslav Bárta, director of the mission for the Czech Institute of Archaeology at Charles University, said in a press release. To read more, go to "Oldest Egyptian Funerary Boat."
FUJI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that ceramics have helped researchers date Suzukawa no Fujizuka to the eighteenth century. During the Edo Period, (1603-1867), fujizuka, or mountain-shaped mounds, were constructed to honor Mount Fuji by religious groups known as fujiko. The ceramics, when combined with a date inscribed on a stone lantern at the monument, suggest that Suzukawa no Fujizuka was built before the practice became popular. Mountain ascetics, when preparing to climb Mount Fuji, brought stones from the ocean shoreline and placed them on top of Suzukawa no Fujizuka to pray for safety. The researchers also found smooth stones at Suzukawa no Fujizuka. To read more about archaeology in Japan, go to "Dogu Figurine."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Population geneticist Andrea Manica of the University of Cambridge announced that he and his team made a mistake in the conclusions drawn from the comparison of the genome they obtained from the 4,500-year-old human remains found in Ethiopia’s Mota Cave, and the reference human genome. The paper claimed that traces of Eurasian ancestry, brought to Africa by farmers from the Middle East some 3,000 years ago, can be found in Ethiopian highlanders, West Africans, and the Mbuti of Central Africa. “The movement 3,000 years ago, or thereabouts, was limited to eastern Africa,” Manica told Nature News. Incompatibility between two software packages caused the error, first detected by Pontus Skoglund and David Reich of Harvard Medical School, who tried to duplicate the results. “Almost all of us agree there was some back-to-Africa gene flow, and it was a pretty big migration into East Africa. But it did not reach West and Central Africa, at least not in a detectable way,” Skoglund said. To read about early human forays out of Africa, go to "New Evidence for Mankind's Earliest Migrations."
HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND—It had been thought that Austronesian languages spread “Out of Taiwan” and throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Madagascar, and the islands of the Pacific with a migrating population some 4,000 years ago. But Martin Richards of the University of Huddersfield and his colleagues conducted a large-scale genetic study, and they have found that Pacific Islanders’ mitochondrial DNA was present in Island Southeast Asia much earlier. They also found that the expansion from Taiwan accounts for only about 20 percent of the population in the region. Richards and his team suggest that rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age some 11,500 years ago transformed the landscape of the region and made migration possible. They also think that populations expanded from Indonesia to Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands some 8,000 years ago. Austronesian languages, which can be traced to Taiwan, may have been associated with a new religion or philosophy, or perhaps the Taiwanese migrants constituted an elite group that others emulated. For more, go to "Settling Southeast Asia."
BOULDER, COLORADO—Australia’s first human inhabitants cooked and ate the cantaloupe-sized eggs of Genyornis newtoni, a flightless bird that stood nearly seven feet tall and weighed 500 pounds, according to a new study led by Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado at Boulder. “We consider this the first and only secure evidence that humans were directly preying on now-extinct Australian megafauna. We have documented these characteristically burned Genyornis eggshells at more than 200 sites across the continent,” he said in a press release. The bones of Australia’s extinct megafauna rarely survive in the harsh soil, leaving little chance to find evidence of early hunting activity. The burned eggshell fragments, however, were dated to between 54,000 and 44,000 years ago with optically stimulated luminescence dating, and radiocarbon dated to no younger than 47,000 years old. Analysis of amino acids in the eggshells indicate that the eggs had been cooked at one end with a localized heat source. Many of the burned eggshell fragments were also found in clusters. Miller and his team argue that “the conditions are consistent with early humans harvesting Genyornis eggs, cooking them over fires, and then randomly discarding the eggshell fragments around their cooking fires.” To read more about the relationship between humans and megafauna, go to "Butchering Big Game."
BERLIN, GERMANY—Historian of science Mathieu Ossendrijver of Humboldt University, using the texts from three published and two unpublished cuneiform tablets from the British Museum, realized that the Babylonians calculated the position of the planet Jupiter with geometrical methods between 350 and 50 B.C. It had been thought that Babylonian astronomers used only arithmetical methods, and that such geometrical computations were not carried out until the fourteenth century. Ossendrijver had been studying four tablets with texts that describe trapezoids when Hermann Hunger of the University of Vienna brought him a photograph of a fifth, uncatalogued tablet that does not describe a trapezoid, but does describe an astronomical computation that is mathematically equivalent to the others, and can be assigned to Jupiter. “The crucial new insight provided by the new tablet without the geometrical figure is that Jupiter’s velocity decreases linearly within the 60 days. Because of the linear decrease a trapezoidal figure emerges if one draws the velocity against time,” Ossendrijver explained in a press release. “It is this trapezoidal figure of which the area is computed on the other four tablets.”
SAKAI, JAPAN—Five new boreholes for piers thought to have supported a massive bridge have been found at the Nisanzai Kofun burial mound in Japan’s Osaka Prefecture. The bridge is estimated to have been nearly 40 feet wide, 150 feet long, and aligned with the center of the keyhole-shaped mound. “It seems likely that people stood by on both sides of the bridge while a temporary casket for the body was taken into the tomb. It gives us clues as to how ancient burial rites were performed at giant burial mounds,” Taichiro Shiraishi of the Chikatsu Asuka Museum told The Asahi Shimbun. The bridge, thought to have been used in the late fifth century, would have been torn down after the ceremony. “It is unlikely that a structure of this kind was unique to this burial mound. If they get the chance, we hope researchers will investigate other large tombs as well,” Shiraishi said. To read more about archaeology and Japanese history, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."
FORT LAWRENCE, NOVA SCOTIA—Parks Canada archaeologist Charles Burke has found an intact, eighteenth-century surface at the site of Fort Lawrence, a British defensive structure overlooking the Isthmus of Chignecto, which connects Nova Scotia to New Brunswick. “Just inside the walls of the fort we encountered what we call essentially a 1750 walking surface,” Burke told CBC News. Fort Lawrence was abandoned in 1755 after the British took the French Fort Beauséjour, located across the border, and renamed it Fort Cumberland. Burke’s team also uncovered the brick-lined cellar of a large home built by Col. Joseph Morris at the site in 1762. “It would be the first house built in the area after the British military abandoned the property,” he said. The home was burned in 1776 after American sympathizer Jonathan Eddy’s failed attack on Fort Cumberland. Eddy was father-in-law to Morris’s daughter. “It seems likely and you can’t help but imagine that discussions about planning for the attack on Fort Cumberland in 1776 very likely occurred in or near that house,” Burke said.
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—A routine archaeological investigation before the construction of a new water line revealed at least four graves dating from the sixteenth through the early eighteenth century at the site of the church of Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios on Charlotte Street. The heavily used grave site was covered with roads in the early nineteenth century. “So far, we have uncovered four partial human remains, and probably a fifth one in very bad condition. We haven’t recovered any good material with the graves yet, but we have found a lot of loose teeth with extreme wear; some of them with cavities,” city archaeologist Carl Halbirt told Historic City News. A water main break in the area has made the excavation more difficult. The crushed and fragmented remains may be reburied at a church cemetery. To read more about archaeology in Florida, go to "Off the Grid."
TAMPA, FLORIDA—A team led by Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at the University of South Florida, has released its final report on archaeological work at the site of a reform school in the Florida panhandle that has been closed since 2011. Almost 100 boys aged six to 18 died at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys between 1900 and 1973, according to NPR. Since 2012, the researchers have exhumed 51 sets of remains, many of which were unidentified and located in unmarked graves. Just 13 of the burials were in the school’s cemetery, while the others were found elsewhere on the school’s grounds. In all, the researchers have made seven positive DNA matches and 14 presumptive identifications. The remains of four individuals who have been positively identified have been returned to their families for burial. Those who attended the school say many were sent there simply because they were orphans or for minor infractions and that, once there, they were subjected to beatings and other mistreatment. The report includes evidence of a possible bullet wound as well as unequal treatment of African-American boys, who were three times as likely to be unnamed in records and to be buried in unmarked locations after they died. To read more about forensic archaeology, go to “The Journey to El Norte.”
VANCOUVER, CANADA—A team of microbiologists has found that clay from Kismet Bay, British Columbia, which has been used for centuries by indigenous people for medicinal purposes, seems to show promise in fighting drug-resistant pathogens. According to a press release from the University of British Columbia, the greenish gray clay is found in a five-acre granite basin in the territory of the Heiltsuk people, some 250 miles north of Vancouver. Traditionally the Heiltsuk used the clay to treat such ailments as arthritis, skin irritations, and burns. Kismet Glacial Clay, a business formed to explore uses for the clay, approached University of British Columbia microbiologist Julian Davies to test the clay's properties. He found that when suspended in water the clay killed 16 strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria that are prevalent in modern hospitals. The discovery could lead to the development of new antimicrobial agents. To read in-depth about archaeology in British Columbia, go to "The Edible Landscape."
BLACKBURN, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have uncovered around 800 bodies belonging to children younger than six years old at a future road construction site in Lancashire. They are among 1,967 bodies unearthed at St. Peter’s Burial Ground in Blackburn, which was first used in 1821. Bodies have been removed from around a third of the graveyard, which saw a great deal of use up to the 1860s. The high proportion of children in the graveyard is attributed to poor sanitation and medical care at the time. Analysis of the skeletons has only just begun, but according to Dave Henderson of Headland Archaeology, many of the children are likely to have died due to infection. “They would have died quite quickly so the signs may not turn up in their skeletons,” he told the BBC. Coins dating to the nineteenth century have also been found, as well as inexpensive brass wedding rings still on people’s hands and glass jewelry buried with children. Some burials continued at the graveyard until 1945, but St. Peter’s Church grew run-down in the twentieth century and was razed in 1976. For more on nineteenth-century English graveyards, go to “Haunt of the Resurrection Men.”
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists have uncovered three 1,700-year-old funerary inscriptions that seem to name rabbis at the Roman-era cemetery of the city of Tzippori, near the Sea of Galilee. The Jewish Press reports that two of the inscriptions were written in Aramaic, the language that was in widespread use in the region, and one in Greek. “The importance of the epitaphs lies in the fact that these reflect the everyday life of the Jews of Tzippori and their cultural world,” said archaeologist Moti Aviam of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology. Tzippori was the capital of Galilee during the Hasmonean Period, which lasted from 140 to 37 B.C., after which the capital was moved to the city of Tiberias. Interestingly, an inscription mentions that one of the dead is called "The Tiberian," which the researchers say could mean he was a resident of Tiberias who was brought to Tzippori to be buried by an important rabbi. To read in-depth about another excavation in Galilee, go to “Excavating Tel Kedesh.”
CRETE, GREECE—Kathimerini reports that a pair of statues and their pedestals have been unearthed at the site of a villa in Aptera. The statues are thought to date to the second half of the first century or early second century A.D. The first statue, made of bronze, is an intact depiction of the hunting goddess Artemis. She is posed on a bronze base as if she had been shooting an arrow. The second statue, carved from marble, represents Artemis’s twin brother, Apollo. There are traces of red paint on this statue’s pedestal. To read more about Greek archaeology, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A team of researchers from Harvard University, the University of Arizona, and Southern Methodist University used airborne remote sensing LiDAR technology to estimate the number of people who once lived in Ancestral Jemez village ruins. They think that the population of Native Americans living in what is now northern New Mexico dropped from 6,500 in the 1620s, to less than 900 after Spanish priests established missions in their communities. “Think of what that means for their social structure, if they’re losing the people who know the traditional medicine, their social and religious leaders, think of the huge impact it would have on their culture and history,” Matt Liebmann of Harvard University said in a press release. The team members also collected tree-ring data to assess the impact of the population collapse on forest fires in the region. “When people are living in these villages, they need timber for their roofs, and for heating and cooking. In addition, they’re clearing the land for farming, so trees weren’t growing there when these archaeological sites were inhabited. But as people died off, the forests started re-growing and we start to see more forest fires,” he explained.
PARIS, FRANCE—A study of cat remains dating to the fourth millennium B.C. suggests that the animals were domesticated in China, in addition to the Near East and Egypt. According to a press release, a team of scientists from France’s National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS), the French Natural History Museum (MNHN), the University of Aberdeen, the Chinese Academy of Social Science, and the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology analyzed the mandibles of five cats unearthed at archaeological sites in Shaanxi and Henan provinces. The bones, which all dated to between 3500 and 2900 B.C., belonged to the leopard cat, Prionailurus bengalensis—a wild cat that still lives in Eastern Asia at the edge of human settlements. Prionailurus bengalensis was a distant relative of Felis silvestris lybica, the ancestor of all of today’s domestic cats. Felis silvestris lybica is thought to have replaced the domesticated descendants of the leopard cat in China at the end of the Neolithic period with the opening of the Silk Road and trade with the West.
GODALMING, ENGLAND—A total of 300 human skeletons have been excavated from a former parking lot in the English town of Godalming, according to Get Surrey. It is not yet clear what century the remains date to, and archaeologists have requested more time to analyze them along with a range of other findings, including animal bones, flint objects, and pottery fragments. The first skeletons were discovered at the site in March 2013 during a routine pre-construction survey. At that point, experts conjectured that the site was used as a burial ground between the ninth and thirteenth centuries in association with the nearby Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. Once analysis of the finds is completed, the skeletons will be reburied at another nearby church. To read about a particularly notable discovery under an English parking lot, go to “Richard III’s Last Act.”
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Scholars have long assumed that the people the Aztecs sacrificed at the Great Temple of Tenochtitlán were prisoners of war who were killed soon after being captured. But EFE reports that a new strontium isotope analysis of remains belonging to several sacrificed individuals who lived between 1469 and 1521 is challenging that view. The study, led by National Institute of Anthropology and History archaeologist Allan Barrera, shows that some of the victims were foreigners who lived in the Valley of Mexico among the Aztecs for at least six years. It's possible the remains belong not to captured warriors, but prisoners of high rank who served the Aztec elite for some time before eventually being sacrificed. To read more about Aztec archaeology, go to “Under Mexico City.”