RANDERS, DENMARK—A gilt bronze buckle dating to more than 1,000 years ago has been found buried with a woman in a Viking grave in west Denmark. Determining the origin of the 2.4-inch-wide buckle has been a major challenge, according to archaeologist Ernst Stidsing of the Museum of East Jutland. Stidsing sent photos of the buckle to a colleague who was stumped and who sent them on to other experts. They agreed that it was from the British Isles, but were divided on exactly which part—some said Ireland, others the south of Scotland. They agreed, however, that the disc was originally a decoration on a religious box and was only used as a buckle after it was stolen. "It’s from a monastery or a church, and not necessarily Christian. But it’s very likely stolen goods—such objects were not traded,” Stidsing told ScienceNordic. “The Vikings didn’t come to own this sort of thing by honest means." The grave was dated to the tenth century A.D., and experts believe the buckle is from around 800 A.D. It is unclear how the buckle got to Denmark, though it is possible the woman was originally from Norway and obtained it there. To read more about archaeology in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—A new genetic study of Melanesians shows that they retain traces of archaic DNA inherited from both Neanderthals and Denisovans, a recently discovered extinct human species. Known from sparse skeletal remains found in Siberia's Denisova Cave, the Denisovans probably interbred with modern humans over a relatively short time span. “Denisovans are the only species of archaic humans about whom we know less from fossil evidence and more from where their genes show up in modern humans,” University of Washington evolutionary geneticist Joshua Akey said in a press release. He and his colleagues have shown that Denisovan genes make up between two to four percent of a native Melanesian’s DNA. Thus far, Denisovan DNA has only been detected in the genomes of people from Oceania. To read more about our extinct relatives, go to "Denisovan DNA."
AUNSLEV, DENMARK—A rare Viking-era gold crucifix has been discovered in a field near the village of Aunslev. According to a press release issued by the Ladby Viking Museum, where the cross is set to go on display, the artifact was found by a metal dectorist who immediately alerted archaeologists to the discovery.Made in the shape of a man with outstretched arms, the crucifix is just under two inches high and has a small eye on its top that suggests it was once worn with a chain. In the nineteenth century, a similar cross was discovered in the grave of Viking-era woman in Sweden, and researchers believe the Aunslev crucifix also probably belonged to a woman. Dating to the first half of the tenth century, it is one of the oldest crucifixes to be found in Denmark. To read more about Vikings, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."
POCKLINGTON, ENGLAND—A cemetery in Yorkshire thought to date to between 800 B.C. and A.D. 43 has yielded 75 square barrows containing 150 skeletons; jewelry, such as amber and glass beads and brooches; and weapons, including spears, swords, and a shield. “We are hoping that these findings shed light on the ritual of Iron-Age burial—and, as we can assume from the shield and sword burials, these were significant members of society, so our understanding of culture and key figures of the time could really be enhanced,” site director Paula Ware of MAP Archaeological Practice told The Guardian. Archaeologists will attempt to determine if the population was indigenous to northern England, or if it was made up of migrants from Europe. The scientists will also study the health of the population, causes of death, and see if any of these individuals were related to one another. To read more about the Iron Age in the British Isles, go to "Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age."
BUFFALO, NEW YORK—Biologist Robert J. Warren of SUNY Buffalo State thinks that the honey locust tree, or Gleditsia triancanthos, may have been cultivated by the Cherokee in the southern Appalachian Mountain region. “Native Americans may have affected the concentration of plant species long before Europeans came to North America,” Warren explained in a press release. “I noticed that whenever I saw a honey locust, I could throw a rock and hit a Cherokee archaeological site. I knew that, in the late Pleistocene era, the main source of dispersal for honey locusts was megafauna such as mastodons. But mastodons disappeared more than 10,000 years ago. You’d expect plant species that relied strictly on extinct megafauna for seed dispersal would only exist in small, remnant populations,” he said. Warren identified Cherokee settlement sites with military maps, historical accounts, archaeological research, and historical markers, and verified them with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Office. He then searched for honey locust trees. He found that the trees are more strongly patterned by Native American settlements than by their water, sunlight, and soil requirements, or alternative, biological methods of seed dispersal. To read more, go to "Earliest Cherokee Script?"
CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty announced at a press conference that the recent ground-penetrating radar survey of Tutankhamun’s tomb, conducted by Hirokatsu Watanabe, suggests that there could be two chambers behind the north and west walls of the tomb’s burial chamber. The study also suggests that there are doorways and metal and organic materials within the spaces. Additional radar scans will be conducted in collaboration with scientists from Cairo University at the end of the month. “It is a very important step in an attempt to explore these two walls and find the correct and safe methods to uncover what lies behind them,” Eldamaty told Ahram Online. He thinks the chambers could hold the remains of Tutankhamun’s sister, Merit aatun, his mother Kia, or his grandmother Tiye. To read more about Tutankhamun, go to "Warrior Tut."
MANOA, HAWAII—A team from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL), the University of Hawaii, California State University-Chico, Naval History and Heritage Command, and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum has located four of the five imperial Japanese submarines sunk by the United States off the coast of Oahu in 1946. The U.S. Navy captured the submarines at the end of World War II, and brought them to Pearl Harbor for inspection. They then sank the vessels rather than give the Soviet Union access to them under the terms of the treaty that ended the war. The team also used both of HURL’s human-occupied submersibles, Pisces IV and Pisces V, to recover the bronze bell from I-400, one of the “Sen-Toku” class submarines. “These historic properties in the Hawaiian Islands recall the events and innovations of World War II, a period which greatly affected both Japan and the United States and re-shaped the Pacific region. Wreck sites like the I-400 are reminders of a different time, and markers of our progress from animosity to reconciliation,” Hans Van Tilburg of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a press release. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of World War II."
YAKUTSK, RUSSIA—The body of a second puppy discovered in permafrost on the banks of the Syallakh River has been autopsied by a team of scientists. The dogs are thought to have been siblings killed in a mudslide some 12,000 years ago. Butchered animal bones, traces of fire, and bone tools have been found nearby, leading researchers to believe that the dogs were pets. “The carcass is preserved really very well. And one of the most important things is that the brain is preserved,” Pavel Nikolsky of the Geological Institute in Moscow told The Siberian Times. “We can say that this is the first time we have obtained the brain of a Pleistocene canid,” he added. The team of scientists also collected soil samples from the site to look for ancient bacteria. “Later we will compare them with the bacteria from the puppy’s intestines. We hope to find ancient bacteria among them. Also we took samples to find the parasites—ticks, fleas. We hope to find the parasites which were characteristic for this exact species,” said Artemly Goncharov of North-Western State Medical University in St. Petersburg. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."
LUXOR, EGYPT—Statues of Sekhmet, the lioness goddess of war, and a partial statue of Amenhotep III, have been uncovered in Luxor at the site of Amenhotep III’s funerary temple. Three full statues of a seated Sekhmet depict her holding an ankh in her right hand. Pieces of other statues show Sekhmet holding a scepter in the shape of a papyrus plant. The figure of Amenhotep III shows him wearing his jubilee clothing. “The statues will be on display at the site of the temple after completing the cleaning, restoration and documentation of the statues. After finishing building the fence around the site of Amenhotep III to protect it, the temple will be open to the public,” Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh ElDamaty told The Luxor Times. To read in-depth about a recent Egyptological discovery, go to "The Cult of Amun."
UPPSALA, SWEDEN—According to a press release, a team of scientists led by researchers from Uppsala University has analyzed the remains of Saint Erik, thought to be held in a reliquary since 1257. According to legend, Erik Jedvardsson was killed and beheaded in 1160, in the tenth year of his reign as king of Sweden, outside the church in Uppsala by a Danish claimant to the throne. The new study of the 23 bones in the reliquary has found that all but one of them belonged to the same man, who was between 35 and 40 years of age at the time of death, around A.D. 1160. He was well-nourished by a diet rich in freshwater fish, and powerfully built. Dents in the cranium suggest that he had one or two healed wounds, perhaps inflicted by weapons in battle. At least nine wounds from the time of death have been found, seven of them on the legs. The researchers think that the king may have been wearing a hauberk that protected his upper body at the time of his death. The remains from the reliquary also include neck vertebra that had been cut. DNA analysis of samples taken from the remains is underway. To read about archaeological evidence for a massacre in Sweden, go to "Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480."
LONDON, ENGLAND—Hidden annotations have been revealed in a copy of England’s first printed Bible, published in 1535. The book, now housed in the Lambeth Palace Library, is one of seven surviving copies. “At first, the Lambeth copy appeared completely ‘clean.’ But upon closer inspection I noticed that heavy paper had been pasted over blank parts of the book,” historian Eyal Poleg of Queen Mary University said in a press release. Graham Davis of Queen Mary University’s School of Dentistry, a specialist in 3-D X-ray imaging, took two images of the Bible’s pages. The first, taken with a light sheet between the pages, showed the annotations scrambled with the Latin text. The second image, taken without the sheet, showed only the printed text. Davis then removed the printed text from the images of the annotations with computer software that he created. The notes had been copied from the “Great Bible” of Thomas Cromwell, sometime between 1539 and 1549, and then covered with thick paper in 1600. “This Bible is a unique witness to a time when the conservative Latin and the reformist English were used together, showing the Reformation was a slow, complex, and gradual process,” Poleg explained. To read about the archaeology of medieval English churches, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."
MUSCAT, OMAN—One of Vasco da Gama’s ships has been identified in the waters off the coast of Al Hallaniyah Island. The nau Esmeralda, a Portuguese East Indiaman, was commanded by Vicente Sodré, Vasco da Gama’s uncle, and part of the Armada to India. It sank in 1503. More than 2,800 artifacts have been recovered, including a copper-alloy disc marked with the Portuguese royal coat of arms and the personal emblem of King Dom Manuel I; a bronze bell with an inscription that suggests the ship was built in 1498; gold cruzado coins minted in Lisbon between 1494 and 1501; and an Indio, an extremely rare silver coin commissioned by Dom Manuel in 1499 specifically for trade with India. Most of the artifacts are lead, iron, and stone shot; bronze breech chambers, and firearms. “This project differs from the majority of maritime archaeology projects in that we set out to specifically find the wreck site of the Sodré ships, using a survivor’s and other historical accounts, because of their very early age and the potential they held for new discoveries,” project director David L. Mearns of Blue Water Recoveries said in a press release. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
PROVO, UTAH—Anne Katzenberg of the University of Calgary is examining the remains of people who lived at Casas Grandes, a trade center located in what is now the Mexican state of Chihuahua. As part of the study, graduate student Daniel King of Brigham Young University has analyzed dental calculus on the teeth of 110 people who were buried in the ancient city or in the Casas Grandes River Valley between A.D. 700 and 1450. Fermented starch granules were found on teeth dating from the site’s Medio Period, about 1200 to 1450. “The results of this study offer some of the first hard evidence for the production of corn beer, consumption of corn smut, and food processing methods” in the Greater Southwest, he told Western Digs. But the use of corn beer, or chicha, has been recorded in Central and South America as long as 5,000 years ago. “Turning maize into beer during the Medio period, however, could suggest an influx of new ideas—or perhaps even people—during that time, which might indicate outside influence—either foreigners coming to Casas Grandes, or locals traveling and coming back with new ideas,” King explained. To read in-depth about another ancient Southwestern culture, go to "On the Trail of the Mimbres."
LINCOLN, NEBRASKA—Workers installing fountains in the northwest courtyard of the Capitol building in Lincoln uncovered blocks of limestone that were probably part of the façade of the city’s previous capitol building. “Most people don’t even know what the previous building looked like, so to be able to put your hands on it is kind of fun,” Matt Hansen, Capitol Commission architect, told the Lincoln Journal Star. Lincoln’s first Capitol building was constructed in 1867, but its stone soon crumbled, and construction on the second building began in 1881. Upon its completion in 1888, a crack was found in the south wall of the east wing, and the building soon proved to be too small. In 1915, construction of the present building began around the second one, which was eventually torn down. Only one of its limestone blocks had been saved. The newly unearthed blocks will be kept in the Capitol Commission’s masonry shop. To read in-depth about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "Letter From Philadelphia: City Garden."
LEIPZIG, GERMANY—An international team of researchers has analyzed nuclear DNA obtained from 430,000-year-old bones from the Sima de los Huesos, or “Pit of Bones” in northern Spain. Recent analysis of mitochondrial DNA from the bones indicated that these Middle Pleistocene hominins were distantly related to the Denisovans, who lived in Asia, despite their Neanderthal-derived features. But the information gleaned from the short fragments of nuclear DNA suggests that the Sima de los Huesos hominins were more closely related to Neanderthals than Denisovans after all. “We have hoped for many years that advances in molecular analysis techniques would one day aid our investigation of this unique assembly of fossils,” Juan-Luis Arsuaga of the Complutense University in Madrid said in a press release. The findings also suggest that Denisovans and Neanderthals had already diverged by the Middle Pleistocene. Neanderthals living in the Late Pleistocene may have acquired their mitochondrial DNA through gene flow from Africa. “These results provide important anchor points in the timeline of human evolution. They are consistent with a rather early divergence of 550,000 to 750,000 years ago of the modern human lineage from archaic humans,” added Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. To read more about the bones found at Sima de los Huesos, go to "A Place to Hide the Bodies."
JERUSALEM—A hiker in eastern Galilee discovered an ancient gold coin in the grass at an archaeological site and alerted officials at the Israel Antiquities Authority. “This coin, minted in Rome in A.D. 107, is rare on a global level. On the reverse we have the symbols of the Roman legions next to the name of the ruler Trajan, and on the obverse—instead of an image of the emperor Trajan, as was usually the case, there is the portrait of the emperor ‘Augustus Deified.’ This coin is part of a series of coins minted by Trajan as a tribute to the emperors that preceded him,” Danny Syon, senior numismatist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a press release. The only other known coin like this one is housed in the British Museum. To read about Roman coins found in Britain, go to "Seaton Down Hoard," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Analysis of individual amino acids in collagen from an array of bones found at two sites in Belgium suggests that the Neanderthals' diet differed from that of other predators. “Previously, it was assumed that the Neanderthals utilized the same food sources as their animal neighbors. However, our results show that all predators occupy a very specific niche, preferring smaller prey as a rule, such as reindeer, wild horses, or steppe bison, while the Neanderthals primarily specialized on the large plant-eaters such as mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses,” Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen explained in a press release. The study also revealed that about 20 percent of the Neanderthal diet came from vegetarian sources. “We are accumulating more and more evidence that diet was not a decisive factor in why the Neanderthals had to make room for modern humans,” he added. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."
GREENBELT, MARYLAND—Matthias Baeye and Michael Fettweis of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Rory Quinn of Ulster University, and Samuel Deleu of Flemish Hydrography, Agency for Maritime and Coastal Services, have developed a low-cost way to detect shipwrecks close to shore, according to a press release from NASA. They used freely available Landsat satellite data and tidal models to follow sediment plumes extending from four known wreck locations near the Belgium port of Zeebrugge. Those wrecks had been recorded in a detailed multibeam echosounder survey conducted by the Flemish government. They found that exposed parts of two of the shipwrecks collected sediments during slack tides. The sediments were then re-suspended during ebb and flood tides, creating sediment plumes that could be traced when they reached the surface. The researchers suggest that uncharted shipwrecks could be found by mapping sediment plumes and following them upstream to their point of origin.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Operation Hidden Idol, a partnership between the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations New York, has seized two statues from Christie’s auction house. Special agents determined that the two statues were stolen from India and transported to the U.S. by organized crime syndicates. The first is described as a tenth-century sandstone stele of Rishabhanata. It depicts the first Jain Tirthankara in a seated pose, flanked by a pair of standing attendants. The second carving has been dated to the eighth century and depicts the equestrian deity Revanta and his entourage. A piece of this statue is said to have been broken off and sold separately by the smugglers. “With high demand from all corners of the globe, collectors must be certain of provenance before purchasing. I urge dealers and auction houses to take every necessary precaution to avoid facilitating the sale of cultural heritage stolen from other civilizations. If a provenance is in doubt, report it to law enforcement authorities,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said in a press release. To read about preservation efforts in India, go to "Living Heritage at Risk."
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—A large bronze workshop discovered next to the ancient royal palace of Angkor Thom may establish where large sculptures found in the area were produced. The significance of the site was recognized in 2012, and the first comprehensive report on it has now been published. The workshop was discovered by chance when archaeologists were excavating what they thought was a stone workshop. They found partially finished bronze sculptures, large furnaces, metal fragments, and crucibles that could hold a half-gallon of molten bronze. Radiocarbon dating has found that the workshop was in use from the eleventh to twelfth century, the height of Angkor civilization under King Jayavarman VII. “We’ve demonstrated that there is a centralized workshop with very large-scale production,” Martin Polkinghorne of Flinders University told The Phnom Penh Post. The discovery of the large-scale workshop overturns the assumption that bronze sculptures were created in the same locations where they were displayed. In addition, the fact that the workshop is so close to Angkor Thom suggests it was overseen by elites. For more, go to “Remapping the Khmer Empire,” one of ARCHAEOLOGY’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2013.