New Thoughts on Neanderthal Nasal Passages

Archaeology News - April 5, 2018

LONDON, ENGLAND—Neanderthal facial structure may have been an adaptation to an energetic lifestyle in cold climates, according to a report in The Guardian. A new study led by Stephen Wroe of Australia’s University of New England and Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum suggests Neanderthal nasal passages, which were about 29 percent larger than those of modern humans, could warm and moisten large volumes of air. Using virtual reconstructions from CT scans, the researchers compared the skulls of Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and Homo heidelbergensis. And while modern human nasal passages were found to be the most efficient at warming and humidifying air breathed in through the nose, Neanderthals would probably have been able to move air at a greater rate. “The calorific demands of Neanderthals were huge compared with ours,” Stringer said. “They were moving around a lot, they probably had less efficient clothing and therefore they are having to burn a lot more of their body fat to keep warm.” The study also suggests that Neanderthals did not appear to have a more powerful bite than modern humans, which had been suggested as a possible explanation for their facial structure. For more on Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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Graeco-Roman Temple Unearthed in Egypt’s Western Desert

Archaeology News - April 4, 2018

SIWA OASIS, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a temple dating to the Greco-Roman period (332 B.C.–A.D. 395) has been uncovered at the Al-Salam archaeological site by a team from the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The front of the temple, parts of its foundations, and its main entrance have been revealed, according to Aymen Ashmawi, head of the Ministry’s Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department. The structure’s outer walls measure more than three feet thick. Chambers in the temple open to a courtyard. Upper lintels and corner pillars decorated with egg-and-dart designs and other motifs have been recovered along with pottery, coins, a sculpture of a man’s head, and two limestone lion statues, one of which is missing its head. Ashmawi said the excavation of the temple is expected to be completed this year. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “Tut’s Mesopotamian Side.”

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Maori Wooden Comb Teeth Discovered in New Zealand

Archaeology News - April 4, 2018

HUNTLY, NEW ZEALAND—Stuff.co.nz reports that teeth from a Maori ceremonial wooden comb were uncovered on the North Island during road construction. The comb, or heru, was discovered in a midden disturbed by previous construction projects, and is thought to date to the pre-European era. “The heru teeth are a rare find as virtually all wooden artifacts decay over a relatively short time,” said archaeologist Warren Gumbley. “In this case we were fortunate because the high resin content in the Rimu wood meant the heru had not decayed.” A sample of the wood will be radiocarbon dated to establish a more accurate date for the artifact. To read about the discovery of another Maori site, go to “World Roundup: New Zealand.”

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Ardipithecus ramidus May Have Walked and Climbed

Archaeology News - April 4, 2018

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK—Science News reports that a new study suggests Ardipithecus ramidus, which lived some 4.4 million years ago and has been nicknamed “Ardi,” was able to both walk upright like a human and climb trees like an ape. Biological anthropologists Elaine Kozma and Herman Pontzer of the City University of New York, and an international team of researchers, collected data from the measurements of an 18-million-year-old pelvis from Ekembo nyanzae, an African ape; an Ardipithecus ramidus pelvis; and the pelvises of Lucy, a 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis individual; and a 2.5 million-year-old Australopithecus africanus. The scientists then compared the measurements to data collected from the pelvises of modern humans, chimpanzees, and monkeys. In this way, the scientists were able to evaluate the relationship between the shape and orientation of the creatures’ lower pelvises and their ability to walk and climb. “Ardi evolved a solution to an upright stance, with powerful hips for climbing that could fully extend while walking, that we don’t see in apes or humans today,” Pontzer explained. The study also suggests that Australopithecus afarensis and Australopithecus africanus would have been able to walk upright, but had lost the ape-like climbing power possessed by Ardi. An earlier study of Ardi’s lower back also suggests it was flexible enough to support upright, straight-legged walking. For more, go to “Cosmic Rays and Australopithecines.”

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Swiss Scientists Experiment With Possible Roman Refrigerator

Archaeology News - April 4, 2018

BASEL, SWITZERLAND—According to a report in The Local, a team of researchers led by Peter-Andrew Schwarz of the University of Basel is experimenting with a stone-lined shaft discovered dug into the ground at the Roman site of Augusta Raurica, which is located on the Rhine River in northern Switzerland. Schwarz and his team are trying to determine whether the shaft may have been used by the Romans for cold storage during the summer months, since they are known to have used similar structures at other sites to chill cheese, wine, oysters, and other foods. For their first attempt, the scientists filled the shaft with snow all at once, but found that temperatures within the shaft rose above the freezing point even during the winter months. When Schwarz and his team instead gradually filled the shaft with snow and ice blocks, the snow lasted until June. For their current attempt at keeping the shaft cool, the researchers have borrowed the method employed by ice-makers on the island of Majorca—they will pack layers of snow about one foot deep into the shaft and separate them with layers of straw. The scientists will monitor temperatures in the shaft over the coming summer. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Geneva, Switzerland.”

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Coin Hoard Unearthed Near Corinth’s Harbor

Archaeology News - April 3, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, MASSACHUSETTS—Live Science reports that more than 100 coins and an iron lock were found in a collapsed building near Corinth’s ancient harbor. Paul Scotton of California State University Long Beach and the Lechaion Harbor and Settlement Land Project said the coins were found just about one foot below modern ground level, under the building’s tile roof. Many of the coins were made of bronze, and the earliest dates to the mid-fourth century A.D., according to Michael Ierardi of Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. The most recent coins date to the late fifth century, during the reign of Anastasius I, who later reformed the coinage system of the Byzantine Empire. The building was found near a yard containing iron slag, unworked iron, cooked animal bones, and a concrete basin. To read about the disassembly of a giant coin hoard found in the Channel Islands, go to “Ka-Ching!

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DNA Extracted From Ancient Egyptian Mummy

Archaeology News - April 3, 2018

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—The New York Times reports that a mummified head discovered on top of a coffin in an Egyptian tomb in 1915 has been identified through DNA analysis. The tomb, located in the necropolis of Deir el-Bersha, belonged to Djehutynakht, a Middle Kingdom governor, but it was ransacked, robbed, and set on fire in antiquity. Scholars have been unsure whether the head, now housed in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, belonged to the governor or his wife. A CT scan of the head in 2005 revealed it was missing its cheek bones and part of its jaw hinge, which may have been able to help scientists determine whether the skull had belonged to a man or a woman. But a new genetic study of material from one of its molars has solved the mystery. “I honestly didn’t expect it to work because at the time there was this belief that it was not possible to get DNA from ancient Egyptian remains,” said Odile Loreille, an F.B.I. forensic scientist. Heavy damage to the DNA she extracted from the tooth confirmed it was ancient. Analysis of the material suggests the owner of the tooth was male, and, therefore, that it was Djehutynakht himself. For more, go to “Tut’s Mesopotamian Side.”

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Flint Tools Found in Australia Were Made With English Flint

Archaeology News - April 2, 2018

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to a BBC News report, indigenous Australians made traditional tools from flint cobbles carried to Australia as ballast on British ships in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The flint tools were among 100 to 200 culturally significant items that were found among tens of thousands of pieces of stone during construction work in what is now suburban Sydney. “This site doesn’t just contain the flint material, it contains a variety of other artifacts that show Aboriginal people working there,” said archaeologist Tim Owen of GML Heritage. Owen traced the flint to the Thames River, where convict ships were loaded with ballast for the journey to Australia. Chemical analysis revealed the samples Owen collected in London were identical to the worked flint uncovered in Sydney. For more on flint in the archaeological record, go to “Evolve and Catch Fire.”

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Water Levels Likely Affected Canoe Routes Through Canada

Archaeology News - April 2, 2018

 

NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA—CBC News reports that Chris Shaw of the University of New Brunswick has created a computer model to investigate possible birch-bark canoe routes through the territory inhabited by the members of the Wabanaki Confederacy. That territory stretches from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, across Maine and into parts of Quebec. The model analyzes data on water levels during the different seasons, and known archaeological sites of the Wabanaki nations. “Those environmental changes may have affected the ways prehistoric ancestral Wabanaki people would have moved through the landscape, the routes they would have selected, and how long it would take to move to significant places such as archaeological sites in the interior to coastlines,” Shaw said. Mallory Moran of the University of William and Mary is also studying possible First Nations canoe routes through language and place names given to portages. “Many of these routes were part of a seasonal cycle,” she explained. Sometimes the names of the routes indicate they were used for the hunting of specific animals or fish. The routes would also have been traveled to maintain relationships with neighboring nations, added Shane Perley-Dutcher of the Tobique First Nation. To read about another discovery in Canada, go to “Standing Still in Beringia?”

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Shipwreck Washes Ashore in Florida

Archaeology News - March 31, 2018

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—The St. Augustine Record reports that a 50-foot-long section of a ship’s hull washed ashore from the Atlantic Ocean in north Florida. Maritime archaeologist Brendan Burke of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program said the ship was probably built in the mid-nineteenth century and has likely been buried in sand offshore for more than 100 years. Recent storms and wave action are thought to have released the ship from the sandy ocean bottom. Burke noted that trunnels, the wooden pegs securing the hull and wooden ribs, are visible on the wreckage, along with Roman numerals carved on its ribs, and copper tack heads that would have been used to attach copper sheathing to the hull. Burke and other experts are photographing the wreckage for a 3-D model, and collecting measurements and other information. “This is a community effort,” Burke explained. Florida’s state property and resource managers will have the final say over what happens to the shipwreck. To read about other discoveries in Florida, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”

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Linguists Estimate “Proto-Australian” is 10,000 Years Old

Archaeology News - March 31, 2018

CALLAGHAN, AUSTRALIA—According to a BBC News report, a new study has traced all of Australia’s indigenous languages back to a single, common language known as Proto-Australian, spoken some 10,000 years ago. Mark Harvey of the University of Newcastle and Robert Mailhammer of Western Sydney University say the languages spread from a small area in northern Australia, where the greatest diversity in language is found. Harvey, Mailhammer, and their colleagues searched for recurrent and systematic traits in the sounds of words among the 120 surviving indigenous languages, and found them in the basic vocabularies spoken by people who lived as much as 60 miles apart. It “makes it very unlikely that they are the results of chance or [subsequent] language contact,” Mailhammer said. But the study results are not a good fit with the current understanding of how the first Australians spread across the continent. “So there are still lots of questions about how we understand the prehistory of Australia,” said Harvey. To read about another discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

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Rubble-Filled Roman Building in Bulgaria Dates to Goth Invasion

Archaeology News - March 30, 2018

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a Roman-era public building has been found under a medieval cemetery in the ancient city of Philipopolis, which is located in what is now southern Bulgaria. The building was filled with rubble. Archaeologist Maya Martinova of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology and her team recovered a fragment of an Ionic capital, pottery, bronze lamps, and a bronze door key from the site. She suggested the Roman building could have been destroyed during the invasion of 70,000 Goths sometime between A.D. 250 and 251. “Back then the entire city was burned down and damaged,” she said. In July of A.D. 251, the Goths eventually defeated the Romans at the Battle of Abritus, killing Emperor Trajan Decius, and his son and co-emperor, Herennius Etruscus. To read about another recent find in Bulgaria, go to “Iconic Discovery.”

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Bronze Mirror Discovered in Japan

Archaeology News - March 30, 2018

OKYAMA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a bronze mirror was discovered earlier this month in one of two stone chambers in a burial mound dating to the late third to early fourth century A.D. The mirror, which was found in situ, measures about five and one-half inches in diameter, and is broken in half. Jun Mitsumoto of Okayama University said the mirror is probably of the “daryukyo” type. Daryukyo mirrors were sculpted in Japan with reliefs of imaginary beasts holding sticks in their mouths. “I think we can narrow down a highly accurate date of burial together with the shape of the tomb and other artifacts excavated from here,” Mitsumoto said. To read about another artifact from Japan, go to “Dogu Figurine.”

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Conservators Tackle Tutankhamun’s Tomb

Archaeology News - March 30, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—Live Science reports that restoration and conservation of the tomb of Tutankhamun is nearly complete. When discovered by Howard Carter in 1922, the tomb in the Valley of the Kings had been sealed for more than 3,000 years by mud and rocks due to flooding that occurred soon after Tutankhamun’s death. Members of the Getty Conservation Institute and Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry analyzed brown spots that appeared on the walls soon after Carter opened the tomb. The spots were found to have been caused by microbes that are now dead and therefore no longer a threat to the ancient artworks. The wall paintings have been stabilized, and a new ventilation system was added to the tomb to deal with the humidity and carbon dioxide produced by visitors. Tourists can also bring dirt and dust into the tomb, which can lead to paint loss. New barriers have been installed to try to prevent additional scratches from being made on the walls in the tight space. Project specialist Lori Wong explained that the project has also allowed the conservators to collect information about the condition and causes of deterioration of the tomb that will help conservators to protect it in the future. For more, go to “Tut’s Mesopotamian Side.”

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“Scapegoat Doll” May Have Blended Shinto, Buddhist Rites

Archaeology News - March 30, 2018

TOTTORI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a seven-inch strip of wood found at the Aoya-Yokogi archaeological site on the island of Honshu may have been used in rituals that blended elements of Shinto and Buddhism. Infrared photographs revealed a human image on the piece of wood, which dates to sometime between the late seventh and the late tenth centuries. The picture suggests the object was used as a “hitogata,” or scapegoat doll. Such dolls were used in purification ceremonies, known as o-harae, and other Shinto rituals. “It is possible to hypothesize that extraordinary o-harae sessions were held to contain epidemics, such as smallpox, which could have been introduced by foreigners who were visiting Japan in large numbers by way of the Sea of Japan at the time,” said Shigeru Ohira of the Historical Institute of Hyogo Prefecture. Ohira also said that many hitogata dolls have been found along the coast of the Sea of Japan. But this doll’s face has the earlobes and chin wrinkles characteristic of the Buddhist deity Nyorai. Ohira thinks a religious center near the excavation site may have been responsible for the blending of elements of Buddhism and Shinto. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglersapan’s Early Anglers.”

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Byzantine Farmers Relied on Pigeons for Fertilizer

Archaeology News - March 30, 2018

HAIFA, ISRAEL—According to a report in Haaretz, Byzantine farmers in the Negev Desert kept pigeons primarily as a source of fertilizer, and not as a source of meat. Nimrod Marom of the University of Haifa and Tel Hai College, Guy Bar-Oz and Yotam Tepper of the University of Haifa, and Baruch Rosen of the Volcani Center compared the skull and skeleton measurements of pigeons from multiple 1,500-year-old dovecotes at the sites of Shivta and Saadon, and compared them with other collections of pigeon bones. They found the Negev birds were much smaller than those known to have been bred for their meat. And, the farmers placed their dovecotes in the middle of agricultural fields, usually about one-half mile away from their own homes, which also suggests the birds were not consumed. The scientists estimate the 1,200 to 1,600 birds living in one of the dovecotes could have produced as much as 12 to 15 tons of guano per year that could be used to nourish grapes, olives, and other crops. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

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Oldest Human Footprints in Americas Discovered

Archaeology News - March 29, 2018

CALVERT ISLAND, BRITISH COLUMBIA—Live Science reports that archaeologists have discovered the oldest human footprints in the New World below the surface of a beach on Calvert Island, about 60 miles off the coast of British Columbia. The prints total 29 in all, and belong to two adults and a child who were walking barefoot together near the water's edge. Two pieces of wood found in association with the footprints allowed the researchers to date the trackway to between 13,300 and 13,000 years ago, or the end of the last Ice Age. The researchers note that while bears are known to make tracks similar to humans, careful analysis of the prints shows bear paws would not have been able to make them. To read about early human exploration of the New World, go to “The First Americans.”

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Medieval Italian Grave Reveals Coffin Birth

Archaeology News - March 29, 2018

IMOLA, ITALY—According to a report in Live Science, archaeologists have analyzed the 1,300-year-old remains—initially discovered in 2010—of a woman who posthumously gave birth to a stillborn fetus in the grave. Rarely discovered archaeologically, coffin births refer to the expulsion of a fetus after death and are caused by the build-up of gas pressure from the decomposition of a pregnant woman’s body. Skeletal evidence shows signs that before her death, the interred underwent a primitive medieval brain surgery called trepanation, which involves drilling into the patient's skull to relieve pressure. Archaeologists speculate that, in this case, the procedure was intended to treat preeclampsia or eclampsia. To read more about medieval Italy, go to “Fifteen Centuries of Life in Chianti.”

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Prehistoric Britons Weathered Severe Cooling

Archaeology News - March 28, 2018

 

SCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND—People living at the early Mesolithic site of Star Carr in northern England survived two periods of dramatic climate change around 9000 B.C. The Northern Echo reports that researchers used macrofossils and pollen unearthed at the site, together with isotopes from sediment in a nearby lake, to create a history of the region’s microclimate. They found that during the site’s occupation the average temperature dropped dramatically during two episodes that each lasted around 100 years. “It has been argued that abrupt climatic events may have caused a crash in Mesolithic populations in Northern Britain,” says Simon Blockley, a paleoclimatologist at Royal Holloway, University of London. “But our study reveals, that at least in the case of the pioneering colonizers at Star Carr, early communities were able to cope with extreme and persistent climate events." To read about an engimatic artifact discovered at Star Carr, go to "Mesolithic Markings."

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Orkney’s Neolithic Burials Revisited

Archaeology News - March 28, 2018

 

ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND—Bones discovered in Neolithic tombs on the Orkney Islands tend to be mixed together in a way that make them seem unconnected. But, according to a report from BBC News, a new study suggests there is more order to the collections than meets the eye. Based on her analysis of the bones, archaeologist Rebecca Crozier of the University of Aberdeen has concluded that complete bodies were likely deposited in the chambered structures and then taken apart later. “When we look at these assemblages we're finding that all the elements of the human body—so, every single bone—is present at some level within the tomb," Crozier said. She believes that people may have gone into the tombs after the burial and dismembered the bodies, possibly to help ensure that all the remains in a given tomb decayed at the same rate. To read in-depth about archaeology on the Orkney Islands, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

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