Study Suggests Homo naledi Had a Small, Powerful Brain

Archaeology News - May 16, 2018

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—According to a report in The Independent, a new study suggests that Homo naledi, a hominin that lived between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago, may have been highly intelligent. Its fossils, discovered in a cave in South Africa in 2015, exhibit a mix of primitive and advanced characteristics, including a small brain about the size of an orange, hands that may have been able to make tools, and small feet. In addition, the fossils were recovered from a hard-to-reach cave chamber, which suggests Homo naledi may have engaged in complex behaviors such as deliberate disposal of the dead. Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand and Ralph Holloway of Columbia University pieced together Homo naledi skull fragments and created a digital reconstruction of skull interiors, in order to learn more about the creatures’ brains. The scans showed complexity in areas of the Homo naledi brains linked to emotions in modern humans, and a large frontal lobe, an area associated with language. “Here we have a violation of that sacred cow—the idea there was this link between ever-increasing brain size paralleled with ever-increasing complexity,” Berger said. To read about the discovery of Homo naledi fossils, go to “A New Human Relative.”

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Triumphal Arch Uncovered in Bulgaria

Archaeology News - May 16, 2018

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the foundations of a massive, first-century A.D. triumphal arch have been uncovered in the ancient city of Philipopolis. The bases of the structure were discovered on either side of a Roman road measuring about 23 feet wide, near an inscription glorifying Roman Emperor Diocletian that dates to A.D. 303. So far, the excavation team, led by Elena Bozhinova of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, and Kamen Stanev of the Cyril and Methodius Scientific Center, has uncovered one side of the structure to a depth of about six feet. “The building material is sandstone because at the time the Romans had not started to process the local syenite,” Bozhinova said. Large holes in the blocks held cramp irons covered in lead that held the stones together. Architectural fragments recovered earlier in the dig are now thought to be part of the arch’s upper elements. The arch is thought to have collapsed during an earthquake, and its large stone blocks reused in a building set in the middle of the Roman road. Bozhinova said the remains of this arch are in better condition than the arch built at the ancient city’s Eastern Gate. To read about another discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

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Roman Army Fittings Found in Poland

Archaeology News - May 16, 2018

KUJAWY, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that fragments of equestrian gear and Roman soldiers’ uniforms have been discovered in north-central Poland, outside the borders of the Roman Empire. Bartosz Kontny of the University of Warsaw said the fittings had been made in the shapes of male and female genitalia. “These amulets were believed to ensure happiness and protect against evil forces,” he said. One artifact, made of gold-plated copper, would have been worn on a hip belt. It depicts the spear of a beneficiarius, a high-ranking army officer, as a symbol of his power. Similar artifacts have been found in central Germany, where the Roman army is known to have been. Kontny thinks the soldiers may have been in Poland to protect the amber trade. “The Romans valued this material,” he said. The Romans may have also ventured into Poland from Germany while recruiting soldiers to assist the Vandals in their fight against the Suebi. “According to the records of the Roman historian Cassius Dion, the Emperor Domitian sent a hundred riders to help them,” Kontny said. “It is possible that some of the objects we discovered were parts of equipment of one of those riders.” To read about evidence of a Roman military camp found in Germany, go to “Caesar’s Gallic Outpost.”

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Ancient Greek Artifacts Uncovered in Slovakia

Archaeology News - May 15, 2018

NITRA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that bronze pieces of a Greek warrior’s breastplate have been unearthed near an ancient Celtic fortified settlement in southern Slovakia. Regine Thomas of Cologne University digitized and analyzed the pieces, and determined they were once part of a relief that depicted the mythical battle between the Greeks and the Amazons. The pieces are thought to have been made in southern Italy in the middle of the fourth century B.C. “It is the oldest original Greek art relic in the area of Slovakia,” said Karol Pieta of the Slovak Archaeological Institute. He thinks the bronze artifacts may have traveled with Celtic warriors, who could have plundered them from the Greeks early in the third century B.C. The spot where the breastplate pieces were found is said to have been used by the Celts for ritual sacrifices. Archaeologists uncovered a sacrificial hole containing burned human and animal bones, bracelets made of blue glass, a spur, and a lot of pottery fragments. The Celts are thought to have thrown their beverage containers into a bonfire after sacrificial feasts. To read about a Celtic burial in France, go to “Tomb of a Highborn Celt.”

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Peach Pits May Date to Reign of Japan’s Queen Himiko

Archaeology News - May 15, 2018

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—Peach pits unearthed at the Makimuku archaeological site in western Japan have been radiocarbon dated to between 135 and 230 A.D., according to a report in The Asahi Shimbun. Some researchers think the dates suggest the nearly 3,000 peach pits, baskets, pots, plants, and animal bones found in a pit may have been used in rituals by the people of the Yamataikoku kingdom, which was ruled by Queen Himiko, who died in A.D. 248. “The dates derived by scientific analysis fell into the range we expected,” said Kaoru Terasawa of the Research Center of the Makimukugaku. “Along with the archaeological analysis based on the age of potteries, the age of the large building was verified to be from the first half of the third century.” Other scholars think the kingdom, which was mentioned in an ancient history of China, was not located in Nara Prefecture, on the island of Honshu, but to the south, on the island of Kyushu. “It is still not definitely certain whether the carbon dating data actually indicates the age of the building itself,” countered archaeologist Chuhei Takashima of Saga Women’s Junior College. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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Iraq’s Ancient City of Mardaman Identified

Archaeology News - May 15, 2018

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Live Science reports that a site in northern Iraq has been identified as containing the ruins of the lost city of Mardaman. Philologist Betina Faist of the University of Heidelberg found the city’s name in the texts of 92 cuneiform tablets that were discovered in a pottery vessel by a team of archaeologists from the University of Tübingen, who started excavating the site in 2013. The tablets date to about 1250 B.C., when the city was part of the Assyrian Empire and strategically positioned on trade routes connecting Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Syria. Peter Pfälzner of the University of Tübingen suggests the tablets may have been buried at the palace site around the time the building was destroyed, since the jar was covered with a thick layer of clay that protected and preserved the tablets. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

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Greek Inscriptions Found at Roman-Era Temple in Egypt

Archaeology News - May 15, 2018

AL-HAG ALI, EGYPT—According to an Associated Press report, a temple built during the reign of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius in the second century A.D. has been discovered in Egypt’s western desert. The excavation team has uncovered the foundations of a large, limestone building, and a long piece of limestone that had been inscribed in Greek and decorated with an image of the sun disc surrounded by cobras. The painting is thought to have been part of the entrance to the temple. To read about a recent reanalysis of mummies found in Egypt, go to “We Are Family.”

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Leprosy May Have Originated in Europe

Archaeology News - May 12, 2018

JENA, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that leprosy may have originated in Europe, and not in Asia, as had been previously thought. An international team of researchers led by Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History sampled about 90 different skeletons bearing the telltale deformations of leprosy. The skeletons were unearthed in Europe, and have been dated to between A.D. 400 and 1400. From the bones, the scientists reconstructed ten new genomes of medieval Mycobacterium leprae, in addition to the one or two strains already known to have been circulating in medieval Europe. “This latest research shows all the strains of the leprosy bacterium were in fact present in medieval Europe, which strongly suggests leprosy originated much closer to home, possibly in the far southeast of Europe, or western Asia,” said Helen Donoghue of University College London. The oldest strain was detected in a skeleton found in Great Chesterford, Essex, in southeast England, which has been dated to between A.D. 415 and 545. This is the same strain found in modern-day red squirrels, and may have been introduced to Britain through the ancient squirrel fur trade. The scientists will continue to search for the disease in even older human remains. For more, go to “Diagnosis of Ancient Illness.”

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Genetic Study Estimates Number of First New World Migrants

Archaeology News - May 12, 2018

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—According to a Live Science report, a new genetic study conducted by an international team of researchers suggests there were about 250 people in the first group to enter the New World from Siberia some 15,000 years ago. Nelson Fagundes of Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, Michael Crawford of the University of Kansas, and their colleagues analyzed DNA samples obtained from ten Native American individuals living in Central and South America, ten people from different Siberian groups, and 15 people from China. Computer simulation models helped the scientists work backward from the genetic variation and divergence seen in the populations today to figure out the original size of the so-called founding group. “Large populations have very efficient selection,” Fagundes explained, “while in small populations, mildly deleterious alleles can spread, which may increase genetic susceptibility to some diseases.” The estimate for the founding population in this case is so small that there would have been little genetic variation associated with the first wave of migration. Fagundes added that new genetic mutations, and the addition of later waves of migrants, eventually increased genetic diversity among Native American populations. To read in-depth about the first people to arrive in the Americas, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

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Horse and Stable Discovered in Pompeii

Archaeology News - May 12, 2018

POMPEII, ITALY—The Local reports that a horse killed during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79 was found in an ancient stable outside of Pompeii’s city walls. A team of archaeologists injected liquid plaster into the cavity left behind by the horse’s body in the ancient ash. They are confident it was a horse based on a clear imprint of the animals’ ear, which had been pressed into the ground. The horse is thought to have stood about five feet tall at the withers. Traces of a harness with iron and bronze fittings were found near its head, suggesting it may have been a parade horse. The skeletons of donkeys and mules have been recovered from a stable at the House of the Chaste Lovers, but Pompeii officials said this is the first complete outline of a horse to be found in the ruined city. The recent rescue excavations, undertaken in an area of Civita Giuliana where unauthorized tunnels were found, also recovered jugs, tools, and kitchen utensils. To read more about Pompeii, go to “Food and Wine Gardens: Pompeii, Italy.”

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Alutiiq Fish Trip Spotted From the Air in Alaska

Archaeology News - May 11, 2018

KODIAK, ALASKA—KTOO Public Media reports that archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall of Alutiiq Museum spotted an Alutiiq fish trap during a recent helicopter survey of the Kodiak Archipelago. “I’d actually been there on survey and had found a village there and hadn’t seen the fish trap,” Saltonstall said. The trap is only the second to have been found in the area. Built some 500 years ago along the shoreline, the traps worked by allowing fish to enter their walls during high tide, but when the tide went out, the fish were stuck. Saltonstall also thinks rock spires, now inhabited by puffins, may have been used as defensive watchtowers. “They must’ve had a rope ladder they built to get up and down, and probably, they were hoisting baskets of food up,” he speculated. To read in-depth about archaeology in Alaska, go to “Cultural Revival.”

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Oslo Fjord’s Stone Age Settlements

Archaeology News - May 11, 2018

OSLO, NORWAY—Science Nordic reports that archaeologists Steinar Solheim and Per Perrson of the University of Oslo have studied more than 500 radiocarbon dates taken from charcoal found in more than 150 Stone Age settlements around Oslo Fjord to create a model of the region’s population between 8000 and 2000 B.C., as the climate changed after the last Ice Age. “It was probably a bit warmer than it is today,” Solheim said. “We see a lot of hazel, alder, elm, and later oak, all of which are tree species that prefer warmer environments.” The model suggests the population was stable over time, even through a period marked by an extreme drop in global temperatures that began around 6000 B.C. and lasted for several centuries. The study also suggests people may have been more mobile at the beginning of the period than they were at the end of the Stone Age. “Eventually, you get a network of settlements, where some places are more specialized for hunting or fishing or for other resource use,” Solheim explained. To read more about archaeology in Norway, go to “Letter From Norway: The Big Melt.”

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New Thoughts on the Spread of the Justinian Plague

Archaeology News - May 11, 2018

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a large-scale genetic study led by Eske Willerslev and Peter de Barros Damgaard of the University of Copenhagen suggests the Justinian Plague, which killed an estimated 25 million people in A.D. 541, may have originated in central and eastern Asia, and not in Egypt, as had been previously thought. The scientists analyzed the genomes of 137 people who lived between 2,500 B.C. and A.D. 1500 and were buried in the steppe stretching from Hungary to northeastern China. An older version of the Justinian plague strain was detected in an individual from the Tian Shan mountains who died around A.D. 200, and a version dated to between the sixth and ninth centuries A.D. was found in an individual buried in North Ossetia, Russia. The disease was thought to have been brought to Constantinople by rats traveling on grain ships from Egypt, but Willerslev and Damgaard think it might have been carried by the Huns—a name given to the diverse nomadic groups who attacked the Roman Empire in the fourth century. “An appearance has also been found in Egypt,” Damgaard explained. “As such, increased interaction under the Hunnic and later the Turk Khaganate would have aided in bringing this plague strain through the Silk Road.” For more, go to “A Parisian Plague.”

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Hepatitis B Detected in 4,500-Year-Old Remains

Archaeology News - May 11, 2018

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Science Magazine reports that a team of scientists led by Eske Willerslev of the University of Cambridge has detected the virus that causes hepatitis B (HBV) in the 4,500-year-old remains of a man who lived in what is now Osterhofen, Germany. In all, the team sequenced the genomes of 304 people who lived in Eurasia between 3500 and 500 B.C., and found the virus in 12 of them. In addition, geneticist Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and his colleagues found traces of HBV in the teeth of three skeletons, also unearthed in Germany, dating from 5000 to 3200 B.C. Krause said the liver-destroying disease “seems to have been pretty common in the past.” The oldest-known hepatitis B virus strain before these studies were conducted had been found in a sixteenth-century mummy in Italy. For more on ancient evidence of disease, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”

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Continuously Occupied Cave Excavated in East Africa

Archaeology News - May 9, 2018

JENA, GERMANY—Haaretz reports that evidence for 78,000 years of human occupation has been found in Kenya’s Panga ya Saidi network of caves, ranging from the Middle Stone Age to the present day. The cave’s main chamber measures more than 1,000 feet square, and could have housed hundreds of people, according to Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, although it has recently been used just for burials and rituals. Stone arrowheads, blades, and tools with a dull edge for attachment to a shaft first appeared in the cave’s layers dated to about 67,000 years ago, or some 10,000 years after the first inhabitants, who used larger stone tools, moved in. Kenya’s oldest-known bead, dated to about 65,000 years old, was also recovered. Carved bones, tusks, and worked pieces of ochre were found in layers dated between 48,000 and 25,000 years ago. Petraglia explained that the turning points in technologies were marked by mixes of tools and artifacts, rather than sudden changes. He thinks the cave’s inland location, in a transitional area between the forest and the savannah, may have provided generations of residents with a stable environment at a time when other areas of Africa experienced drought. To read about another discovery in Kenya, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

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19th-Dynasty Priest’s Statue Unearthed in Heliopolis

Archaeology News - May 9, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt Today reports that two artifacts have been discovered in northeastern Cairo, in the ancient city of Heliopolis. “The digging process uncovered a statue of a royal compartment’s priest,” said Mamdouh Eldamaty of Ain Shams University. He added that the compartment dates to the Ramesses dynasty, during the thirteenth and twelfth centuries B.C. “The area witnessed important incidents of the ancient Egyptian history, including King Ramesses II to King Ramesses IX,” Eldamaty explained. “The royal compartment was considered as the first of its kind during that Late Dynasty of Egypt.” Eldamaty’s team also found a second, small artifact that has not yet been identified. To read about a recent reanalysis of a pair of Egyptian mummies, go to “We Are Family.”

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New Kingdom Tomb Discovered in Saqqara

Archaeology News - May 9, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, a tomb dating to the reign of Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.) has been discovered in Saqqara. Ola El-Aguizy of Cairo University said that inscriptions on the tomb walls indicate it belonged to General Iwrkhy, his son Yuppa, and grandson Hatiay. Iwrkhy is thought to have moved to Egypt from another land when he began his career under Seti I, and to have attained his high rank in the court of Ramesses II. Images on the walls relate to Iwrkhy’s military career, including an infantry unit and charioteers crossing a waterway dotted with crocodiles, presumed to be Egypt’s eastern border, and relationships with other countries, such as pictures of Canaanite wine jars being unloaded from boats. Other images depict daily life in the military garrison. The tomb features a forecourt, a statue room, plastered vaulted storehouses, a peristyle court, and chapels. Excavation of the tomb will continue. To read in-depth about tomb paintings in Egypt, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

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Well-Preserved Ancestral Puebloan Pot Found in Arizona

Archaeology News - May 9, 2018

ST. GEORGE, UTAH—The Spectrum reports that hiker Randy Langstraat discovered a nearly intact pot estimated to be 1,000 years old in the Arizona Strip desert. After concealing the pot in situ, he contacted the Bureau of Land Management. Archaeologist Sarah Page returned to the site with Langstraat, where they found the pot undisturbed. “While the BLM is tasked to protect these resources,” she said, “we need everyone’s help to do so.” The vessel is thought to have been crafted by the Ancestral Puebloan people who lived in the region between A.D. 1050 and 1250. It has an effigy handle that may depict a deer or bighorn sheep. Pieces that may have represented the animal’s ears or horns have broken off. To read about another discovery associated with the Ancestral Puebloan people, go to “Angry Birds.”

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World War II–Era Deposit Unearthed in Poland

Archaeology News - May 9, 2018

MASURIA, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that a 14-year-old boy on vacation with his family discovered documents and family heirlooms once owned by an aristocratic Prussian family in two milk cans buried near Lake Jeziorak in northeastern Poland. Most of the objects, including glasses, toiletries, clothing, hunting accessories, military decorations, a Wehrmacht officer uniform, banknotes, jewelry, a pocket watch, and a silver spoon, had been owned by Count Hans Joachim von Finckenstein, who lived in an estate near the lake until 1945. The cans also contained his will, marked with the family seal and coat of arms, a diary dating to World War I, letters, postcards, notes, and family photo albums. The personal items were handed over to the count’s daughter, who is now 81 years old and lives in Germany. She and a sister had been sent away from the estate before the arrival of the Red Army in 1945. Although the count eventually died in a Soviet camp, his wife was reunited with the children in Germany. Researcher Michal Mlotek thinks she may have buried the items before she left. “You can guess that these were things that could be used again after being retrieved,” he said, “most of them had a sentimental value, so in a sense they were a family treasure.” For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

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China’s Oldest Bone Tools

Archaeology News - May 8, 2018

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that seven bone hammers estimated to be 115,000 years old have been found in central China, at a Paleolithic site in Xuchang City. Li Zhanyang of the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology said the tools had been made from the long leg bones of herbivores, and are thought to have been used to retouch stone tools. Before this discovery, China’s oldest known bone tools, unearthed in southwest China, dated to 35,000 years ago. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Tomb Couture.”

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