TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Archaeobotanist Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University has traced the spread of citrus fruit from Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean, according to a report in Live Science. She used ancient texts, murals, coins, and other artifacts to study the ancient citrus trade, and she tracked the spread of citrus fruits from Southeast Asia into the Mediterranean through fossil pollen, charcoals, seeds, and other fruit remains. Langgut found that by the third and second centuries B.C., the citron had spread to the western Mediterranean from the Levant, where a 2,500-year-old fruit was found in a Persian-style garden in Jerusalem. The oldest lemon found in Rome dates to sometime between the late first century B.C. and the early first century A.D. She explained that, at first, lemons and citrons were reserved for the Roman elite, who prized them for their healing qualities, pleasant odor, taste, and symbolic use. She thinks sour oranges, limes, and pomelos may have been grown as cash crops more than a millennium later, which made them available to more people. “The Muslims played a crucial role in the dispersal of cultivated citrus in Northern Africa and Southern Europe, as evident also from the common names of many of the citrus types which were derived from Arabic,” Langgut said. For more on the archaeology of food, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”
POZNAŃ, POLAND—The remains of three people who may have died during an early eighteenth-century epidemic have been unearthed at the site of a medieval cemetery in west-central Poland, according to a report in Science & Scholarship in Poland. A silver coin helped archaeologists date the burials. “The medieval graves are dug deep beneath the surface of the earth, so it was a surprise to discover three skeletons above them,” said archaeologist Pawel Pawlak. As many as eight or nine thousand people, or 65 percent of the population of Poznań, are thought to have died of the plague in 1709. “The residents of Poznań had to deal with the burials of their loved ones themselves,” Pawlak explained. The bodies are thought to have been buried in a garden near a house. One of the bodies, which appears to have belonged to an elderly woman, had been placed in a pine coffin, and the other two were probably just wrapped in shrouds. Among the medieval burials in the cemetery, Pawlak’s team also found the remains of a man who may have been executed and quartered before he was hastily buried in a pit. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow.”
ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a rare small pot with a “waisted” profile has been discovered at the Ness of Brodgar, a 5,000-year-old complex of monumental stone buildings enclosed by thick stone walls. Victorian archaeologists suggested such pots could have held incense, perhaps in ceremonies, according to site director Nick Card. He added that such pots seem to be associated with the burials, but analysis of residues in the pots has been inconclusive. The pots could also have been used to carry embers for cremations, he said. To read in-depth about the Ness of Brodgar, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”
BUFFALO, NEW YORK—According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers led by Omer Gokcumen of the University at Buffalo say they detected a “ghost” species of ancient hominin while they were studying a protein that occurs in saliva and its influence on the bacteria in the human mouth. To study the protein, known as MUC7, the researchers examined the MUC7 gene in more than 2,500 modern human genomes. The researchers say a version of the gene found in people living in sub-Saharan Africa was “wildly different” from those found in other modern humans. Gokcumen explained that even the MUC7 genes from Neanderthal and Denisovan samples were closer to those of other modern human populations than the sub-Saharan variant. He thinks the variation may have been introduced to the population by an as-yet-undiscovered hominin that lived as recently as 150,000 years ago, based upon gene mutation rates. For more, go to “Proteins Solve a Hominin Puzzle.”
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY—Live Science reports that it may have taken just a few genetic changes to transform wolves into creatures who can communicate and interact with humans. An interdisciplinary team of researchers tested the friendliness of domesticated dogs and human-socialized wolves by measuring how much time the dogs and wolves spent around humans, and if they turned to human companions for help in solving a puzzle box. The researchers then analyzed DNA samples taken from the dogs and wolves, and found the differences in social behavior correlated with variations in three genes. “Some of these structural variants could explain a huge shift in a behavioral profile—that you go from being a wolf-like, aloof creature, to something that’s obsessed with a human,” vonHoldt said. The researchers also looked at those three genes in samples from 201 dogs from 13 different breeds, some known for their friendliness, and found similar patterns in genetic variation and friendly behavior. In humans, missing DNA in the corresponding part of the genome can produce Willilams-Beuren syndrome, which is associated with exceptional gregariousness. To read more about the history of humans and dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in The Herald Sun, a team of Australian researchers is exploring an obscure road built by the Japanese army during World War II in Papua New Guinea. Archaeologist Matthew Kelly of Extent Heritage and his colleagues were investigating the battlefield of Etoa, which is located along the Kokoda Track—a 30-mile-long footpath across rugged mountain terrain from Owers Corner in Central Province to the village of Kokoda—when they found the hidden supply road. It ran parallel to the Kokoda Track, but was wider and could have been used by the Japanese army to move supplies on horseback while the Australians and Japanese fought along the Kokoda Track from July to November, 1942. “It would have changed things,” Kelly said of the secret road. “This one would have been unknown to Australian intelligence. They could strafe the Kokoda Track but they couldn’t see the Japanese moving back and forth along this one.” To read more, go to "The Archaeology of WWII."
CÂRLOMĂNEŞTI, ROMANIA—Romania Insider reports that nine Bronze Age tombs have been found in eastern Romania by researchers from the Buzău County Museums. Some of the tombs have been damaged by farming, but the tombs located deeper underground were found intact. “Each tomb usually has a minimum of three jugs,” said Mihai Constantinescu of the Anthropology Institute of the Bucharest Academy. One of the vessels, shaped like a dove, contained fragments of bone from the feet of pigs. Constantinescu thinks they may have been used as toys. Hair ornaments, bracelets, bronze collars, and spindles were also recovered. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that excavations have recently been conducted at two early nineteenth-century steel-making sites in Yorkshire. The region was well suited to industry because iron, coal, and water power were readily available. The excavation at Hollis Croft uncovered an early cementation furnace, which was used to convert iron into blister steel. At the Titanic Works, crucible furnaces, which were developed in Sheffield, have been well preserved in three cellars. “You can see the driving force for Britain’s industrial revolution,” said archaeologist Milica Rajic of Wessex Archaeology. To read more about the archaeology of this period in English history, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Man."
CAIRO, EGYPT—Graffiti dating to the medieval period was discovered engraved on the walls of a cave in southeastern Egypt, according to a report in Ahram Online. Mohamed Abdellatif of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities said the cave was used as a rest stop by travelers passing through what is known as the Gold Triangle area, marked by the cities of Safaga and Quesseir at the base, and the city of Qena at the top. Some of the carvings have been damaged by erosion, but Mohamed Tuni of the Red Sea Governorate’s Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Department said two of the texts have been read. The first says “There is no God except Allah,” and the second reads, “God has returned the poor slave Youssef Bin Hatem Al-Shati to his family in 755 of Hegira. May God have mercy on him and his parents and all the Muslims. Amen.” The ministry may restore the graffiti and put the cave on the official list of protected heritage sites. To read about religious medieval graffiti in England, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."
ROSH HA-AYIN, ISRAEL—According to a report in the Times of Israel, a 2,700-year-old reservoir has been unearthed in central Israel. The reservoir measures more than 60 feet long and 12 feet deep, and was found cut into the rock under a large building. Its walls had been decorated with engraved images of human figures, crosses, and vegetation. Archaeologist Gilad Itach of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the reservoir would have been filled with rain water during the winter rainy season. Itach thinks the large structure and its water system may have been an administrative center for the surrounding farmsteads. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Expanding the Story."
ARUSHA, TANZANIA—Two sets of hominin footprints could be lost if the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano erupts, according to a report in New Scientist. Scientists studying tremors in East Africa’s Rift Valley say the volcano, which has a widening crack on its west side, could erupt at any time. A set of 400 hominin prints dating back 19,000 years is located just ten miles away from the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano at Engare Sero. The 3.7-million-year-old Laetoli hominin footprints are located a safer 70 miles away. Both sets of prints have been recorded with 3-D scans, but the prints are “not like fossilized bones that we can dig up and walk away with,” explained Kevin Hatala of Chatham Univeristy.
For more on ancient footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”
HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a 500-foot-long timber fishing trap found in a tidal estuary on the southern coast of England has been radiocarbon dated to the eighth or ninth centuries. At low tide in the salt marsh, fish trapped in the weir would have been easy to catch by hand or with a net. The discovery will help scientists map changes to the shoreline over the past 1,000 years. “It has highlighted the level of erosion in Southampton Water over the last few decades,” said marine archaeologist John Cooper of the University of Exeter. “There are factors like sea level rise and dredging carried out but it shows how dynamic coastal change is.” To read about the Anglo-Saxon period in southern England, go to "The Kings of Kent."
ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—Incised “butterfly motifs” appeared in a wall at the Neolithic site of the Ness of Brogdar as sunlight hit the stone blocks at a certain angle, according to a report in BBC News. The markings are so faint they have not yet been caught in a photograph. Antonia Thomas of the University of the Highlands and Islands said the images may have appeared to move as the sunlight traveled over them during the day. The site, located near the standing stones known as the Ring of Brodgar, consists of Neolithic ritual and domestic buildings. Other stones will be examined to see if incised marks were overlooked. To read in-depth about the site, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, humans first traveled to Australia at least 65,000 years ago, or about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought. An international team of scientists, including Ben Marwick of the University of Washington and Chris Clarkson of the University of Queensland, excavated Madjedbebe, an ancient campsite located beneath a sandstone rock shelter in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. They found perfectly preserved stone axes with polished and sharpened edges up against the back wall of the shelter. “There was one on the surface, another further down that we dated at 10,000 years,” Clarkson said. “Then there were quite a few further down still which [we] were able to date at 35,000 to 40,000 years, and finally one at 65,000 years, surrounded by a whole bunch of stone flakes.” The layers were dated with single-grain optically-stimulated luminescence dating techniques. The team also recovered seed-grinding tools, a midden of sea shells and animal bones, and a large amount of ground ochre. The new dates also suggest that humans and megafauna such as the Diprotodon shared the environment for some 20,000 years. It had been thought that the arrival of humans in Australia triggered the extinction of the continent’s megafauna. To watch a video about Australian rock art, go to "The Rock Art of Djulirri."
LONDON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a 1,600-year-old Roman sarcophagus with an opened lid was unearthed at a construction site on Swan Street in central London. An infant’s bones and a broken bracelet were found in the soil near the sarcophagus. Archaeologists think the coffin was opened in the eighteenth century, but they are not sure if the infant’s remains were removed at that time. “We always knew this site had the potential for a Roman cemetery, but we never knew there would be a sarcophagus,” said Gillian King of Southwark Council. The sarcophagus will be taken to the Museum of London and the bones will be analyzed. To read more about the archaeology the city's Roman past, go to "London's Earliest Writing."
STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—A new study of the dog genome suggests the animals were domesticated from wolves just once, according to a report in Science News. Last year, another study indicated that dogs had been domesticated separately in Europe and in East Asia. An international team of scientists led by evolutionary geneticist Krishna R. Veeramah of Stony Brook University analyzed DNA obtained from the remains of two ancient dogs. The first dog lived some 7,000 years ago. Its remains were recovered in Herxheim, Germany. The second dog, whose remains were recovered from Germany’s Cherry Tree Cave, lived about 4,700 years ago. The team also used the DNA data of a 4,800-year-old dog from Newgrange, Ireland. The researchers suggests that dogs were domesticated between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, perhaps in Asia, and then split into genetically distinct eastern and western groups between 17,000 and 24,000 years ago. The study also reveals that the two ancient dogs unearthed in Germany had the same genes for digesting starches as wolves do. It had been suggested that early dogs may have been better able to digest starch, and therefore eat the food grown by early farmers, in contrast to their wild counterparts. To read in-depth about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."
MONTRÉAL, CANADA—A cannonball fired in 1759 by the British during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was unearthed by construction workers in Old Québec. CBC News reports that archaeologist Serge Rouleau alerted the authorities after he realized the 200-pound ball still contained a charge of gunpowder. “With time, humidity got into its interior and reduced its potential for exploding, but there’s still a danger,” said Master Warrant Officer Sylvain Trudel. Such large cannonballs were used to set fire to buildings. This ball is thought to have been fired at Quebec City from Lévis, which is located on the opposite side of the St. Lawrence River. If Trudel’s team can neutralize the weapon without destroying it, it will be preserved and sent to a museum. To read about a fort built in New York during the French and Indian War, go to "Off the Grid: Roger's Island, New York."
ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A Roman coin dating to the fourth century A.D. has been found in a small roundhouse at the Knowe of Swandro on the island of Rousay, according to a report in BBC News. “The bust on the coin is clearly visible although much of the lettering isn’t at present clear,” said Steve Dockerill, co-director of the project. “The reverse contains a standing figure, possibly representing the emperor with what might be an image of Victory at the side.” The coin is one of just seven Roman coins to have been found on the Orkney Islands. To read in-depth about Roman archaeology in Britain, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire."
ORANGE, CALIFORNIA—Space.com reports that archaeologists Justin Walsh of Chapman University and Alice Gorman of Flinders University will study astronaut culture aboard the International Space Station (ISS), which has been continuously occupied by rotating crews of scientists since 2000. Walsh and Gorman will use databases storing information on all of the objects sent to the ISS, and photographs taken on board, to create a 4-D digital model of the vessel. They will then use the virtual ISS to try to recreate patterns of life in space. The researchers think this archaeological approach could help space agency managers improve the design of the vessel’s furnishings and how the international team of astronauts shares them. The ISS is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024. To read an interview with Alice Gorman, go to "Saving Space Junk."
MACKINAW CITY, MICHIGAN—Michigan Live reports that a 250-year-old piece of trade silver was discovered at the site of a fur-trader’s home in Colonial Michilimackinac, which is located on an island in the straits connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. The triangle-shaped piece of silver has a small hole in one corner, so it may have been worn as a pendant or an earring. Lynn Evans, curator of archaeology at Mackinac State Historic Parks, said that only one other piece of British trade silver has been recovered at Fort Michilimackinac to date. To read about the nautical archaeology of Lake Huron, go to "Shipwreck Alley."