Can Fossil Fractures Be Linked to Hominin Behavior?

Archaeology News - May 2, 2017

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI—According to a report in Science News, Libby Cowgill and James Bain of the University of Missouri evaluated injuries found in Neanderthal fossils, and the possibility that comparing them to injuries experienced by modern humans could offer insights what Neanderthal lives were like. About 30 percent of known Neanderthal fractures affect the face and head, a far greater ratio than almost all modern causes of injury. In an earlier study, a team of researchers, including Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis, compared Neanderthal injuries, perhaps inflicted by large prey, to those suffered by rodeo riders. Trinkaus later suggested that these upper-body injuries could reflect clashes with other Neanderthals, or even Homo sapiens. Alternatively, many Neanderthals with lower-body injuries may have died before reaching rock-shelters, where fossils are usually found. In their follow-up, Cowgill and Bain compared the record of Neanderthal injuries to fracture data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, and found similar patterns in Neanderthal injuries and those caused by accidents involving golf, water tubing, and games involving Frisbee and boomerangs, rather than rodeo riding. Cowgill and Bain concluded that it may not be meaningful to compare injury patterns experienced by modern humans and extinct hominins. This is especially the case since Neanderthals' fractures may have occurred during the fossilization process, as Trinkaus explained. To read more about Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

Categories: Blog

Renovations Uncover Empty Jars at Thailand’s Wat Daeng Temple

Archaeology News - May 2, 2017

AYUTTHAYA, THAILAND—Archaeologists renovating the chapel of Wat Daeng temple in the Tha Rua district of Ayutthaya found 32 jars buried beneath the chapel’s main Buddha statue, according to a report in The Bangkok Post. The empty jars, buried bottom up in rows, were spotted when a brick was removed from a wall in the statue’s base. Archaeologist Chaiyos Charoensantipong of the Third Fine Arts Office explained that the jars were probably added as a structural support for the 300-year-old statue, and will help researchers understand how the chapel was constructed. The heads of four of the six Buddha statues in the chapel were stolen in 2009. For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

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Vikings May Have Grown Their Own Grapes

Archaeology News - May 1, 2017

COPEHAGEN, DENMARK—It had been thought that grapes were not grown in Denmark before the medieval period, but The Local, Denmark, reports that strontium isotope analysis of two grape seeds recovered at the site of the Viking settlement at Tissø suggests they may have been grown on the main Danish island of Zealand. One of the pips has been dated to the Iron Age, the other to the late Viking period. “We do not know how [the grapes] were used—it may have been just to have a pretty bunch of grapes decorating a table, for example—but it is reasonable to believe that they made wine,” said archaeological botanist Peter Steen Henriksen of Denmark’s National Museum. The Vikings probably first encountered grapes and wine in their travels. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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Genomes of Scythian Horses Mapped

Archaeology News - April 29, 2017

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The New York Times reports that Ludovic Orlando of the University of Copenhagen and an international team of scientists analyzed DNA extracted from the bones of 11 male horses buried in a mound some 2,300 years ago by the Scythians in what is now Kazakhstan; two male horses buried in a royal Scythian tomb some 2,700 years ago in southern Siberia; and the 4,100-year-old remains of a Sintashta mare found in Russia, near the border of Europe and Asia. The researchers were able to identify several characteristics selected by the Scythian breeders, including robust forelimbs, increased milk production, and bay, black, chestnut, cream, and spotted coat colors. Some of the Scythian horses carried a gene variant associated with short-distance sprinting. And only two of the horses were related, which supports Herodotus’ description of sacrificed horses in funerary rituals as gifts from tribes across the steppes. The study also noted that none of the horses were inbred. Orlando suggests this indicates that the Scythians maintained natural herd structures, rather than limit the number of stallions, as is often the case in modern breeding programs. For more, go to “Rites of the Scythians.”

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Hominin DNA Recovered From Cave Sediments

Archaeology News - April 28, 2017

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—According to a report in Seeker, an international team of scientists has recovered hominin genetic material from cave sediments ranging in age from 14,000 to 550,000 years ago. Nine samples, taken from four archaeological sites, produced enough mitochondrial DNA for analysis. Neanderthal DNA was found in eight of the samples, most of which came from archaeological layers where no Neanderthal remains had been recovered. The ninth sample, from a site in Russia, yielded Denisovan DNA. “We were surprised by how well this worked,” said geneticist Viviane Slon of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. The team also looked for DNA of other mammals, and found it in layers dating to times when the animals were alive, but not in later layers dating to periods after the animals had gone extinct. The researchers note, however, that they need more data to learn how DNA moves through the environment. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Castle Found in Poland

Archaeology News - April 28, 2017

WROCLAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that remnants of a fourteenth-century castle belonging to Bolko II the Small have been discovered on an island in the Czerna Wielka River. The castle is located in the Lower Silesian Wilderness of southwestern Poland and was mentioned in medieval documents, but archaeologists had not been able to look for it because the area was used a a military training ground until the 1990s. Pawel Konczewski of Wroclaw University said the castle’s foundation was made of bog iron, while its single, rectangular tower was constructed of bricks marked with craftsmen’s fingerprints. The Piast dynasty prince built the fortress as part of a plan to expand his territory. “Bolko II set a new route—to save time and take the lead in trade,” Konczewski said. “On his route was a castle around which a settlement was built. Its inhabitants’ trade was the ironworks, due to rich deposits of iron in the area.” The research team has also found traces of the ironworking village, including mining areas and slag heaps, but they have not yet found any furnaces. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

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Scans Provide a Glimpse of the Homo naledi Brain

Archaeology News - April 28, 2017

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA—According to a report in Science News, Shawn Hurst of Indiana University and Ralph Holloway of Columbia University laser scanned the inside surfaces of severaln partial Homo naledi skulls, and created virtual casts to look for any surviving details of the brain surfaces. They found two grooves and imprints of folds of tissue on a partial Homo naledi skull in an area corresponding to Broca’s area in modern humans, which is linked to language as well as social emotions such as empathy, pride, and shame. Hurst claimed that Homo naledi’s small brain may have had similar capabilities. “We can’t say for sure whether that included language,” Hurst said. Surface features from the back of the Homo naledi brain were preserved on other partial skulls. Holloway said that some of those features are more pronounced on the left side, which in modern humans, is associated with right-handedness. The fossils, recently reoprted to have been dated to between 200,000 and 300,000 years old, were discovered from a deep chamber in South Africa’s Rising Star Cave. For more on Homo naledi, go to “A New Human Relative.”

Categories: Blog

Maya Sculpture Uncovered in Southern Mexico

Archaeology News - April 27, 2017

SUCHIAPA, MEXICO—The International Business Times reports that a piece of a Maya sculpture was discovered under a house on private land in the southern state of Chiapas. The carving is thought to represent the god of maize and abundance, and to date to the late Classic period, between A.D. 600 and 900. The carving has been housed at the Regional Museum of Chiapas. For more, go to “Rituals of Maya Kingship.”

Categories: Blog

Genetic Study Reveals Deep History of Dogs

Archaeology News - April 27, 2017

BETHESDA, MARYLAND—According to a report in Nature, biologists Heidi Parker and Elaine Ostrander of the National Institutes of Health, and their colleagues, examined the genomes of more than 1,300 dogs to develop a family tree for more than 160 breeds. The study suggests that dogs bred to perform similar functions, such as working or herding breeds, emerged at different times and places. “In retrospect, that makes sense,” Ostrander said. “What qualities you’d want in a dog that herds bison are different from mountain goats, which are different from sheep, and so on,” she explained. Hunter-gatherers are thought to have domesticated canines thousands of years ago and bred them for their skills, while more recent breeders are believed to have selected for physical traits. The study also revealed that most of the breeds in the study originated in Europe and Asia. These types of dogs are thought to have replaced the New World domesticated dogs that crossed the Bering land bridge with the first Americans. The Peruvian hairless dog, and the xoloitzcuintli, however, are clustered together on the family tree. Parker thinks these canines may retain genes from New World ancestors. For more, go to “Denmark’s Bog Dogs.”

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