Five Additional Neanderthal Genomes Mapped

Archaeology News - March 23, 2018

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Seeker reports that scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have sequenced the genomes of five Neanderthals who lived between 39,000 and 47,000 years ago. The samples were obtained from the remains of male and female individuals, which were unearthed in Belgium, France, Croatia, and the Russian Caucasus. “The addition of the genome sequences of these five Neanderthals presented in this study doubles the number of genomes available,” explained Mateja Hajdinjak of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The samples were taken from bones and teeth, ground into a fine powder, and treated with a mild hypochlorite solution to remove any contaminants. Analysis of the genomes revealed that these five Neanderthals shared a common ancestor some 150,000 years ago with another Neanderthal individual whose genome was sequenced from remains found in Siberia. Researcher Svante Paabo added that the new research supports previous findings suggesting that Neanderthals and Denisovans shared an unidentified common ancestor some 400,000 years ago. To read about a new method for recovering genetic material left behind by early humans, go to “Caveman Genetics.”

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Germany Repatriates Olmec Artifacts to Mexico

Archaeology News - March 21, 2018

MUNICH, GERMANY—According to a Deutsche Welle report, German officials handed over two 3,000-year-old Olmec busts to Mexico in a ceremony held earlier this week. German authorities seized the two wooden sculptures, and about 1,000 other artifacts, from an antiquities dealer in 2008. The sculptures were then stored in the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection. The repatriated sculptures are thought to have been looted in the 1980s from El Manati, an archaeological site in eastern Mexico, where they are believed to have been buried along with 13 other artifacts that were excavated from the site by archaeologists. These items included axes and stone knives. “The recovery is very significant, since Olmec culture represents one of the first civilizations in ancient Mexico and only 13 pieces exist with the same characteristics,” said Maria Villarreal of Mexico’s National Institute of History and Anthropology. The Olmec busts will eventually be exhibited in Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology. To read in-depth about the Olmec, go to “Kings of Cooperation.”

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Seventeenth-Century Decorations Uncovered in English Castle

Archaeology News - March 21, 2018

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Wall paintings dating to the seventeenth century have been uncovered at Lindisfarne Castle, which was originally constructed as a fort in 1550 on Holy Island, off the coast of northeastern England. The Guardian reports that the images were found under layers of paint and plaster in the castle’s old kitchen and in one of the bedrooms by conservators. “They used charcoal to draw it, very simple carbon, and there are areas of red pigment so they might have been painted and colored,” said house steward Nick Lewis. “We know it was done professionally, so you didn’t just sit and do it yourself, and in those days there was a guild of wall painters who they would have used.” Lewis said the find surprised him, since the building was originally constructed for military use. And, because the decorations were found in two different parts of the structure, the entire building may have received similar treatment. The paintings will be stabilized and restored. To read in-depth about nearby Bamburgh Castle, go to “Letter From England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

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Two Historic Ships Discovered in Virginia

Archaeology News - March 21, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a WTOP report, two shipwrecks have been unearthed at a construction site in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. An eighteenth-century ship was found nearby in 2015. The three vessels are thought to have been used as landfill when the port was filled in. City archaeologist Eleanor Breen said additional evidence of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century wharves, piers, maritime vessels, and commercial industries may still be uncovered at the site. To read in-depth about shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, go to “Shipwreck Alley.”

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Isotope Analysis Offers Clues to Maya Diet

Archaeology News - March 21, 2018

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA—Science Magazine reports that chemical analysis of the isotopes in animal bones unearthed in the ancient Maya city of Seibal determined which of the animals ate a diet rich in forest plant material, and were therefore wild, and which animals ate maize, and were therefore kept by humans. Archaeologist Ashley Sharpe of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute said dozens of turkeys, dogs, and one large cat that may have been a jaguar had all been fed maize-based diets. The bones of those dogs have been radiocarbon dated to between 450 and 300 B.C., making them the earliest known animals to have been domesticated by the Maya. These small, Chihuahua-like dog bones bore no signs of butchery, although Sharpe notes that doesn’t mean they weren't consumed. One pair of dogs from this period had isotope levels that suggested they had lived in Guatemala’s volcanic highlands before they were buried near a pyramid in Seibal’s central plaza. The cats, whose remains date to between 450 and 350 B.C., may have served a similar ceremonial use. The maize-fed turkeys lived between A.D. 175 and 950, at a time when dog remains became extremely scarce, indicating they could have replaced dogs as the Maya’s primary food source. For more on domestication of animals as food sources, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

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Iceland Ice Cores Date Medieval Volcano

Archaeology News - March 21, 2018

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a Live Science report, researchers led by volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer of the University of Cambridge examined ice cores and tree ring data from Iceland, in order to calculate precise dates for the medieval eruption of the Eldgjá volcano, and determine whether the massive lava flood and sulphurous gases emitted by the eruption could have been witnessed by the Viking and Celtic migrants who settled Iceland in A.D. 874. The study indicates the lava flowed from the spring of A.D. 939 through the autumn of 940. These dates also correspond with records of haze, cold summers, and food shortages in Europe. Oppenheimer says the dates indicate that some of Iceland’s first settlers, and perhaps two generations of their descendants, may have witnessed and survived the cataclysm, and eventually translated their experiences, including the ensuing devastation and famine, into the Voluspá, a poem written around A.D. 961. It describes a volcanic eruption and meteorological events signifying the end of the island’s pagan gods and is credited with paving the way for the Christianization of Iceland. To read more about archaeology in Iceland, go to “The Blackener’s Cave.”

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2,000-Year-Old Liquid Reportedly Recovered in China

Archaeology News - March 20, 2018

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—According to a Xinhua report, a Qin Dynasty (221–207 B.C.) cemetery in western China has yielded some 260 artifacts, including a bronze kettle sealed with natural fibers that still contained about ten ounces of milky white liquid. Xu Weihong of the Shaanxi Province Archaeological Institute said analysis of the liquid suggests it had been fermented. The kettle is thought to have been a sacrificial vessel used for worship rituals, like many of the objects in the tomb. Other artifacts include a bronze sword measuring about two feet long. Nicks on its blade indicate it had been used in battle. A five-inch-long turtle shell bearing punch marks on its inside and burn marks on its edge was also recovered. It may have been used by a fortune teller for divination purposes. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to "Underground Party."

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1,000-Year-Old Cathedral Foundations Uncovered in England

Archaeology News - March 20, 2018

HERTFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that the foundations of the original A.D. 1077 apse were uncovered at St. Albans Cathedral under just three feet of soil. “One of our major aims was to confirm its presence and confirm the abbey was one of the early Norman cathedrals,” said Ross Lane, director of the excavation for the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. The excavation also uncovered approximately 20 graves dating to the eleventh and twelfth centuries. “They are clustered close to the walls in tile-lined tombs,” Lane said. The people in the graves are thought to have either lived in the abbey or been its benefactors in order to have received such honored burial spots. A new visitor center will be built on the site. For more, go to “Letter From England: Writing on the Church Wall.”

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Nineteenth-Century Gold Mine Found in New Zealand

Archaeology News - March 20, 2018

WAIKAIA, NEW ZEALAND—The Southland Times reports that traces of a late nineteenth-century gold mine were found on New Zealand’s South Island by archaeology consultants engaged by the forestry company IFS Growth. The consultants first spotted the site, which is now covered over with heavy scrub, in historic aerial photographs. “To everyone’s surprise, we could see an extensive and largely intact gold mining complex consisting of water races, reservoirs, sluice workings, and sludge channels,” said Matthew Sole of Kopuwai Consulting. Miners’ huts were also part of the complex. Known as the Muddy Terraces site, the mine yielded as much as 42 ounces of gold during one five-week period, according to one newspaper account. Once the site’s boundaries have been determined, the forestry team will continue their harvest around it. To read about a discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

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Horned-Eye Bead Found in Tomb in China

Archaeology News - March 17, 2018

CHANGSHA, CHINA—Xinhua reports that an unusual, horned eye-shaped bead was recovered from a tomb in southern China dating to the Warring States Period (475–221 B.C.). “It is in blue and white and incomplete, with only seven horns remaining around a base bead,” said Xi Peishen of the Hunan Institute of Archaeology. “It looks like the compound eye of a dragonfly.” The bead measures about an inch in diameter, weighs about an ounce, and may have been used as a decoration on clothes or furniture. Similar beads have been found in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, and India, and are thought to have been introduced to China through contact with West Asian civilizations during the Spring and Autumn period (779–476 B.C.). The tomb in which the bead was found is one of about 200 dating to the Warring States Period at the site. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Underground Party.”

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Tool Discovery Pushes Back Onset of Middle Stone Age

Archaeology News - March 17, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a Science News report, Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution and his colleagues suggest that early humans may have entered the Middle Stone Age tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought. The researchers analyzed soil samples taken from the Olorgesailie Basin of Kenya’s Rift Valley, and noted that frequent changes in the climate and earthquakes transformed the resources available to human ancestors. Erosion has destroyed about 180,000 years of the geological record at the site, but Potts said that during that time, there must have been a rapid period of evolution because lumps of pigment and new types of tools appear when the geological record resumed some 320,000 years ago. The toolmakers had shifted from sharpening large hand axes to making smaller tools, such as sharp flakes mounted on spears to be used as projectiles, and blades and points made from obsidian. Obsidian is not available locally, which suggests the toolmakers had to travel and perhaps interact with other human groups to obtain it. No hominid fossils have been found at the site, however, so researchers cannot be sure that Homo sapiens made the artifacts. For more, go to “The First Toolkit.”

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15,000-Year-Old African Genomes Analyzed

Archaeology News - March 16, 2018

JENA, GERMANY—Science Magazine reports that an international team of scientists has extracted DNA from the ear bones of human remains unearthed at Grotte des Pigeons, an undisturbed, 15,000-year-old cemetery in a cave in Morocco. Known as Iberomaurusians because they were thought to have come from the Iberian Peninsula, these hunter-gatherers made microliths similar to those of Europe’s Gravettian culture. But the genomic analysis suggests the people buried in the cave were related to Natufians, from the Middle East, with whom they probably shared a common group of ancestors who lived in North Africa or the Middle East more than 15,000 years ago. The team also detected DNA linked to sub-Saharan Africans in the bones from Grotte des Pigeons. This genetic material may have come from contemporaneous or ancestral migrants from the south. To read about another discovery of ancient human remains in Morocco, go to “Homo sapiens, Earlier Still.”

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Waste From 1,700-Year-Old Feast Found in Scotland

Archaeology News - March 16, 2018

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that the site of an Iron Age feast has been found at The Cairns, on the island of South Ronaldsay. Martin Carruthers of the University of the Highlands and Islands said the bones of some 10,000 animals, including horses, cattle, red deer, and otters, have been found in a dump at the site, suggesting they had been cooked and eaten on the cliff overlooking Windwick Bay during a single event. Traces of metalworking have also been found at the site. Carruthers thinks the feast may have been held to celebrate the conclusion of making a big batch of brooches and pins, which may have been handed out to the members of the community during the party. A large building at the site may have been home to the people who organized the making of jewelry and the event. “These items are probably of such high value that people could never have the capacity to pay back the debt,” Carruthers surmised. “It holds you in your place. This whole event is about maintaining society.” To read in-depth about archaeology in the area, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

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Modern Humans and Denisovans May Have Interbred Twice

Archaeology News - March 16, 2018

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—According to a report in New Scientist, a team led by Sharon Browning of the University of Washington has found evidence that modern humans and Denisovans interbred on the Asian mainland some 50,000 years ago. The Denisovans, an extinct hominin group, were identified from a finger bone discovered in Siberia’s Denisova Cave in 2010. Denisovan DNA has since been detected in modern Australasians, especially people now living in Papua New Guinea. In the new study, Browning and her colleagues examined the genomes of 5,600 people living in Europe, Asia, America, and Oceania, and detected Denisovan DNA in Han Chinese, Chinese Dai, and Japanese populations. “Although the Papuans ended up with more Denisovan ancestry, it turns out to be less similar to the sequenced Denisovan,” Browning explained. The study also indicates that there were at least two distinct populations of Denisovans living in Asia. For more, go to “Caveman Genetics.”

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Ancient Port City Found Near Naples

Archaeology News - March 15, 2018

NAPLES, ITALY—ANSA reports that traces of the ancient port city of Palepolis have been discovered off the coast of Naples, near the Castel dell’Ovo. Underwater archaeologist Mario Negri said four tunnels, a ten-foot-wide street, and a trench have been found. “It’s a discovery that opens up a new scenario for reconstructing the ancient structure of Palepolis,” he said. The region was first settled some 3,000 years ago by merchants interested in minerals in the surrounding landscape, and eventually became a trade center fought over by the Greeks and the Etruscans, until the well-fortified city of Neapolis was built to the south. By the time of the Roman Empire, Palepolis had become home to patrician villas on the outskirts of Neapolis. For more, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”

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Utrecht Inhabited Far Longer Than Previously Thought

Archaeology News - March 15, 2018

UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS—Dutch News reports that people lived in Utrecht some 8,000 years earlier than previously thought. Archaeologist Linda Dielemans said postholes and artifacts dating back 11,000 years were found at a city construction site. The artifacts include flint and tools crafted during the Mesolithic, the Neolithic, and Bronze Age. A piece of wood carved with a face was also recovered from a waterlogged area. For more, go to “Letter From Rotterdam: The City and the Sea.”

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Roman Settlement Found in England

Archaeology News - March 15, 2018

NORTH PETHERTON, ENGLAND—A settlement dating to the late Iron Age and Roman eras was found on a proposed construction site in southwestern England, according to a report in Somerset Live. Pottery, a possible ring ditch, and a pit were uncovered, along with three pieces of prehistoric worked flint and cropmarks of two enclosures. The site apparently went unused during the medieval period, and was then used for farming through the nineteenth century. The site will be preserved. To read about another site in the area, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”

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Cache of Iron Age Coins Discovered in England

Archaeology News - March 15, 2018

CHIDDINGSTONE, ENGLAND—Kent Live reports that a hoard of gold coins was discovered by a metal detectorist in a farmer’s field in southeast England. The ten coins are thought to have been minted in northern France about 2,000 years ago. The Gauls may have used the coins to pay or bribe mercenaries to fight against Julius Caesar. Archaeologist Claire Donithorn of the Eden Valley Museum said the coins are being held at the British Museum, but may be returned to the local area. “They date from precisely the time when Britain emerged from prehistoric to historic times,” she said. “Our aim is to keep the hoard together and to ensure that it stays in the valley for us and for future generations.” To read about the disassembly of a gargantuan coin hoard, go to “Ka-Ching!

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Ancient Egyptian Red-Granite Column Relocated

Archaeology News - March 14, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the 17-ton Column of King Meneptah has been transported from the Salaheddin Citadel, where it had been conserved and stored, to the atrium of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Giza. King Meneptah, a son of Ramesses II, ruled from 1213 to 1203 B.C. His red-granite column, which stands more than 18 feet tall, was discovered in 1970 in the remains of the Meneptah Temple in a waterlogged residential neighborhood in Cairo. Engravings on the column include a list of the king’s titles, scenes depicting his victories over Libyan tribes, and his cartouche. Osama Abulkheir, director general of the GEM’s restoration department, said work on the column will be completed at the new museum, where it will share the atrium of the museum's main entrance with the colossus of Ramesses II. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

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Sites in South Africa Linked to Era of Super Volcano

Archaeology News - March 14, 2018

TEMPE, ARIZONA—According to a BBC News report, an international team of researchers has found evidence of human activity on the southern coast of South Africa, both before and after the cataclysmic eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Toba some 74,000 years ago. Both sites, one at a rock shelter and one in the open air on a beach, yielded shards of volcanic glass chemically fingerprinted to Mount Toba, which is located nearly 5,600 miles away. The scientists also found deposits of seashells from food preparation and stone flakes from toolmaking, and say the population of the groups that used these sites may have actually increased after the volcanic event, since they found an increase in the number of shells and stone flakes. It has been suggested that the eruption would have wiped out much of the global human population, but these coastal populations may have thrived after the ecological devastation, since they relied upon the sea for food. “We’re the first ones to really address the question of the Toba hypothesis in Africa,” said Curtis W. Marean of Arizona State University. “It’s in Africa that it really counts, because that’s the source location of modern humans.” To read about another discovery in South Africa, go to “The First Spears.”

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