MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—In 1520, a Spanish-led supply convoy that may have consisted of as many as 550 people, including Cubans of African and Indian descent, women, and Indian allies of the Spaniards, was captured and taken to a town inhabited by the Aztec-allied Texcocanos, or Acolhuas. The town is now known as Zultepec-Tecoaque, an archaeological site east of Mexico City. Excavations have uncovered carved clay figurines of the invaders that the Texcocanos had symbolically decapitated. Human and animal bones with cut marks have also been found, indicating that the members of the convoy and their horses were actually sacrificed and eaten. The pigs, however, were killed and left whole. The townspeople hid the remains of the convoy in shallow wells and abandoned the town. “They heard that [Cortes] was coming for them, and what they did was hide everything. If they hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have found these things,” government archaeologist Enrique Martinez told the Associated Press. Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs the following year. To read more, go to "Under Mexico City."
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Archaeologists from the Danish Castle Center and Aarhus University are preparing to begin the excavation of a fifth ring fortress discovered last year with drone technology. “With the use of modern archaeological methods the scientists and archaeologists will investigate how the fortresses were used, how they were organized, how quickly they were built, their age and what environment, landscape, and geography there were a part of,” read a statement from the Danish Castle Center reported in The Copenhagen Post. The excavations could reveal if “Borgring” was built by the Danish king Harald Bluetooth. According to the report, “The five ring fortresses are practically identical and must have been built by the same powerful person. Despite their impressive size they lack descriptions in historic sources.” To read more, go to "The First Vikings."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Science reports that the first prehistoric genome from Africa has been sequenced. The DNA was obtained from the inner ear bones of a 4,500-year-old skeleton discovered in Mota Cave by John and Kathryn Arthur of the University of South Florida. Located in the highlands of Ethiopia, Mota Cave’s cool temperatures helped to preserve the hunter-gatherer’s rare genetic material. Andrea Manica and Marcos Gallego Llorente of the University of Cambridge found that the man, who has been dubbed “Mota,” had brown eyes, dark skin, and three gene variants associated with living at high altitudes. Mota’s genome was compared with samples from 40 populations in Africa and 81 populations in Europe and Asia. The team found that Mota was most closely related to the Ari, a group that still lives in the Ethiopian highlands. But the DNA that the Ari and many other ethnic groups carry and that Mota lacks suggests that the descendants of Middle Eastern farmers migrated deep into Africa between 3,000 and 3,500 years ago and mixed with the local populations. (Middle Eastern grains from this time period have been found in Africa.) “It must have been lots of people coming in or maybe they had new crops that were very successful,” Manica explained. To read about an excavation in Sudan, go to "The Cult of Amun."
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—Graeme Barker of the University of Cambridge and Marta Fiacconi and Chris Hunt of Liverpool John Moores University have studied the pollen in Iraq’s Shanidar Cave. In the 1950s, French scientist Josette Leroi-Gourhan detected pollen in a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal grave in the cave and concluded that the Neanderthals had buried the flowers, known to have medicinal qualities, with the dead. The new research suggests that pollen naturally accumulates in Shanidar Cave in clumps, similar to those found by Leroi-Gourhan, through a combination of wind and insect activity. “This might seem to be the end of a lovely story, but since Leroi-Gourhan’s work researchers have learned much more about the Neanderthals. It is known that some of our ancestors interbred with Neanderthals because their DNA is present in the modern human genome. Archaeologists have discovered that some Neanderthals seem to have used personal ornaments—a sort of prehistoric ‘bling.’ We have been excavating at Shanidar with our colleagues from the Kurdistan Antiquities Service this autumn and the project will be announcing new findings once the scientific work is completed. The story is not over!” Hunt announced in Phys.org.
NEZABYLICE, CZECH REPUBLIC—Archaeologists from Poland’s University of Rzeszów have uncovered the 2,000-year-old stone-lined grave of a young man in a cemetery discovered in 2010 by metal detectorists conducting an illegal search. The young man, thought to have been a member of the Marcomanni aristocracy, had been wearing a leather belt with a buckle, and buried in a wooden coffin that may have been a hollowed tree trunk. The Germanic Marcomanni eventually had political and trade relationships with Rome. “Evidence of these contacts and the formation of elites in barbarian societies are the rich tombs with objects from the areas of the Empire,” head of excavations Agnieszka Půlpánová-Reszczyńska told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Two vessels, one of clay and one of bronze, were found at the young man’s head. Similar tombs have also contained bronze vessels at the foot of the dead, but this one may have been robbed, since the foot of the tomb was empty and the stones around it were more loosely arranged. Geophysical surveys of the area suggest that the team will find additional Marcomanni tombs.
DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND—Karen Greig of the University of Otago has sequenced the entire mitochondrial genome of the kurī, a now-extinct small dog whose remains have been recovered from Wairau Bar, one of New Zealand’s earliest and most important Polynesian sites. The samples of mitochondrial DNA were obtained from the teeth of 14 dogs that were found in an oven feature at the site used sometime between A.D. 1320 and 1350. The tests revealed that the animals came from five distinct maternal lineages. “This represents quite limited genetic diversity, which either suggests that the founding kurī population may have only been a few dogs or that the arriving dogs were closely related,” Greig said in a press release. The new information could help scientists determine where the breed originated. These dogs are genetically most similar to modern dogs from Indonesia. For more on the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."
BEIJING, CHINA—Underwater archaeologists have returned to the Yellow Sea and the wreckage of the Zhiyuan, a Chinese warship of the Beiyang Fleet that was sunk in 1894 by the Japanese navy during the first Sino-Japanese War. The team recovered an armor-piercing shell and a porthole, in addition to the remains of seven of the more than 250 people, including the captain, Deng Shichang, thought to have died on board the ship. More than 100 other artifacts have been recovered, including a second china plate bearing the ship’s name. Other items on board the ship have helped to confirm the identification. “The machine gun’s data plate indicates its date of production, model and manufacturer. And all of this information coincides with the historical record of the Zhiyuan’s arms,” Chen Yue, a historian of the Navy History Study Society, told The People’s Daily Online. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—Johns Hopkins University has released Mysteries of the Kylix, a film that follows 13 undergraduate students who worked with a conservator and two potters to recreate the red-figure pottery drinking bowls crafted by Greek artisans between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C. The students practiced throwing pots, decorated them with images and slip, and fired the clay in a kiln that they constructed. They then examined their pottery under a portable x-ray fluorescence instrument. “The idea is to be thoughtful at every stage. To look at clay, make shapes, to choose images and paint, to go through the fire and kiln process, and to consider the final product. This leads to a deeper understanding of both the art and the object, because when you go through the process, you get a visceral sense of how things got there,” Sanchita Balachandran, curator/conservator of the Johns Hopkins University Archaeological Museum, said in a press release.
STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—Modern humans and chimpanzees use their upper bodies in similar ways while walking, according to a study led by researchers from Stony Brook University. It had been thought that while walking on two legs, the chimpanzee torso—the area of the ribcage, belly, and pelvis—remained rigid. Humans, on the other hand, have flexible torsos that can rotate in the opposite direction of the lower body while walking. Using high-speed cameras, the team recorded chimps and humans walking and studied those movements with 3-D kinematic analyses and computer-generated comparisons. “During walking, we actually observed as much rotation within the torsos of chimpanzees as in humans. This means that the widely accepted assumptions in the scientific community about how the chimpanzee torso works based on the skeleton alone are incorrect. Our results also point to the notion that a limitation to upright walking that we thought affected Lucy and other early human ancestors probably was not a limitation at all,” Nathan Thompson said in a press release. So Lucy, or Australopithecus afarensis, may have had a torso that functioned much like that of a modern human.
NEW ZEALAND: On private Great Mercury Island off the northeast coast, archaeologists are excavating an early Maori site—dating to the second half of the 14th century, perhaps just decades after Polynesian seafarers first arrived. It appears to be a small fishing settlement, marked by thousands of stone artifacts, as well as fishhooks made from sea mammal teeth and the bones of moa, the large native birds that were hunted to extinction 100 years after human arrival. A number of oceanside sites such as this one are at risk from coastal erosion. —SAMIR S. PATEL
CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—A team made up of researchers from Oxford Archaeology East, the Defense Archaeology Group, Operation Nightingale, and Historic England is recovering a World War II-era aircraft that crashed into what is now the Great Fen Nature Reserve. Pilot Officer Harold Edwin Penketh was killed in 1940 when the Spitfire X4593 crashed during a training flight. According to a report in Cambridge News, witnesses said the aircraft broke formation with two other planes and went into a dive. It seemed to make a partial recovery at about 2,000 feet before reentering the dive and hitting the ground. It is thought that the oxygen system may have failed, causing Penketh to lose consciousness, since he did not attempt to use his parachute. So far, the team has found oxygen tubes, ammunition, and fragments of aluminum. Major components of the plane, including the engine, are expected to be recovered as well. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of World War II."
OXFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—A Neolithic earthworks consisting of three roughly concentric ditches enclosing an area of high ground overlooking the valley of the River Thame has been discovered by archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology and Cotswold Archaeology. Called a causewayed enclosure, such structures were made with short ditches and banks of earth separated by areas of undug ground, and are the earliest-known kinds of enclosures of open spaces. A small henge monument and a smaller ring-ditch were added later in the Neolithic period. This causewayed enclosure is thought to have been a place where people gathered periodically for rituals and other activities.
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—A study of the Homo naledi foot and hand suggests that this early human relative, discovered by the Rising Star Expedition team in a cave in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, may have been able to climb trees, walk upright, and manipulate tools. Based upon the examination of more than 100 foot bones, including a well-preserved adult right foot, William Harcourt-Smith of the University of the Witwatersrand and colleagues say that the H. naledi foot shares many characteristics with the modern human foot, making H. naledi capable of standing and walking. But its toe bones are curved, indicating that H. naledi could also climb well. In addition, Tracey Kivell and colleagues studied some 150 H. naledi hand bones, including a nearly complete adult right hand. The structure of the wrist and thumb suggest that like Neanderthals and modern humans, H. naledi had a powerful grasp and could have manipulated stone tools. Its finger bones, however, are curved and may have also been good for climbing trees. “The tool-using features of the H. naledi hand in combination with its small brain size has interesting implications for what cognitive requirements might be needed to make and use tools, and, depending on the age of these fossils, who might have made the stone tools that we find in South Africa,” Kivell said in a press release. For more on recent discoveries related to human evolution, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."
TAIYUAN, CHINA—Xinhua News Service reports that a rare turtle-shaped tomb was discovered in north China’s Shanxi Province during the construction of a new house in Shangzhuang Village. The 800-year-old tomb has an octagonal burial chamber and five small rooms resembling a turtle’s legs and head. The inside of the chamber is decorated with brick carvings that could help researchers learn about funeral customs during the Great Jin Dynasty. Human remains within the tomb suggest it had been shared by several generations. For more on ancient burials in China, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."
DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—The remains of seven men, discovered in a mass grave at a construction site outside San Francisco in 2012, have been studied by a team led by Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis. All of the men, who were between the ages of 18 and 40 at the time of death some 1,150 years ago, had suffered physical trauma. The bones showed signs of head wounds and broken limbs, and weapons made of stone and obsidian were discovered among the skeletons. Eerkens’s study revealed that all of the men had died around the year A.D. 850, a time when hunter-gatherer groups in central California were on the move. “Such resettlement may have brought them into conflict with groups that were already living there,” Eerkens told Western Digs. Analysis of the men’s teeth showed that they had all grown up in an area where they ate freshwater fish, probably in the San Joaquin Valley. And mitochondrial DNA from the bones suggests that men were not brothers or maternal cousins. “This suggests to us that warfare or raiding was conducted by people who lived in the same or nearby villages, but who were drawn from different households and families,” he said.
CAIRO, EGYPT—A team of Egyptian and German archaeologists discovered the remains of a limestone colonnade and a well-preserved ceiling in Cairo’s modern district of Mataria. The 2,400-year-old building is thought to have been a shrine that was surrounded by a mud brick wall and located in the ancient capital city of Heliopolis, or Iunu. “The shrine belonged to the 30th Dynasty Pharaoh Nectanebo I (379 B.C. – 360 B.C.),” Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty announced in a press conference reported in The Cairo Post. Nectanebo I founded the 30th Dynasty, which was the last Egyptian royal family to rule Egypt before it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. The team also uncovered a bust of the New Kingdom Pharaoh Merenptah (1580 B.C. – 1080 B.C.). To read about the discovery of another ancient Egyptian temple, go to "The Cult of Amun."
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—About 20 percent of an adult male mammoth that lived between 11,700 and 15,000 years ago was excavated by a team from the University of Michigan from a farmer’s field in southern Michigan. The skull, tusks, numerous vertebrae and ribs, and parts of the pelvis and shoulder blades were recovered, along with a small stone flake that may have been used for cutting, and three basketball-sized boulders that may have been used to anchor the carcass pieces in a pond. “We think that humans were here and may have butchered and stashed the meat so that they could come back later for it,” paleontologist Daniel Fisher explained in a press release. In addition, the vertebrae were found arrayed in their correct anatomical sequence, and not scattered randomly as they would have been if the mammoth had died of natural causes. As Fisher said, it was as if someone had “chopped a big chunk out of the body and placed it in the pond for storage.” The team will look for cut marks on the bones and date them. To read more about who would have hunted mammoth 11,700 years ago, go to "America, in the Beginning."
HAINES, ALASKA—A delivery of dirt for constructing new aviaries at the American Bald Eagle Foundation contained part of a human skull, according to a report from Alaska Public Media. At first, the volunteers who discovered the bone did not recognize what they had found. “Everyone was pretty much just in shock—eyes wide, jaws dropped. This doesn’t happen to real people, this is something that you’d only see in a movie or something,” said raptor curator Chloe Goodson. Haines police responded to the call, and brought in anthropologist Anastasia Wiley, who determined that the remains are those of a Native American woman who was at least 40 years old at the time of death, most likely sometime before 1700. “If it’s truly an antiquity, and we believe it is based on our limited knowledge of it, then the medical examiner will simply turn it back over to us to release to the family and in this case the family would be the descendants, which in this case would be the local Native organizations,” explained Interim Police Chief Robert Griffiths. The site where the dirt originated will also be examined. To read more about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—The remains of nine people unearthed in 1975 in Cramond, Scotland, during the excavation of a Roman bath house and fort have been re-examined with modern scientific techniques. It had been thought that the dead were victims of a medieval bubonic plague, but the new test results show that the bones belong to more than one generation of a single family and date to the sixth century A.D. Two of the men had multiple healed wounds and may have been warriors, and one of the women died from violent blows to the head. Researchers now think that the family may have nobles living in a royal stronghold at Cramond Fort. “The study has provided important evidence of life during this time of political turmoil and has helped us answer questions about the Dark Ages, but it has also opened up a whole new world of questions. Why did these people migrate to Cramond? What was so special about this area during the Dark Ages? Why were some of them murdered but given a special burial?” John Lawson, the City of Edinburgh Council archaeologist, asked in a press release. To read more about the Dark Ages in Britain, go to "The Kings of Kent."
ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A rare, almost complete underground building dating to the Bronze Age has been discovered on the periphery of the prehistoric Links of Noltland, an archaeological site on the island of Westray. The building may have been used as a sweat house or sauna and for ritual activities. It may also have served as a place where women could give birth, and the sick and elderly could come to die. “We know this was a large building, with a complex network of cells attached to it and a sizeable tank of water in the central structure which would likely have been used to produce boiling water and steam—which could have been used to create a sauna effect,” Rod McCullagh of Historic Scotland said in a press release. Heated stones would have been placed in the tank to heat the water. “What this would have been used for we don’t know exactly but the large scale, elaborate architecture and sophistication of the structure all suggest that it was used for more than just cooking,” McCullagh explained. To read more about archaeology on Orkney, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."