COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Analysis of the genomes of 101 individuals who lived in Europe and Central Asia during the Bronze Age—between 5,000 and 3,000 years ago—suggests that the economic and social changes that occurred during this period were due to massive migrations. “Cultural change is happening because people are moving around and not just through the spread of ideas,” Eske Willerslev of the Natural History Museum of Denmark said in video clip press release. It also shows that at the end of the Bronze Age, the ability to drink raw milk was still very rare, even though it is common among northern Europeans today. “Previously the common belief was that lactose tolerance developed in the Balkans or in the Middle East in connection with the introduction of farming during the Stone Age….We think that it may have been introduced into Europe with the Yamnaya herders from Caucasus but that the selection that has made most Europeans lactose tolerant has happened at a much later time,” added Martin Sikora of the museum’s Centre for GeoGenetics.
NORMAN, OKLAHOMA—Leland Bement of the University of Oklahoma was surveying bison kill sites along the Beaver River in northwestern Oklahoma when he found butchered bison bones on a narrow bench of land between two arroyos. Such “arroyo traps,” where the ditches were used as natural drive lines, are the oldest-known method of large-scale bison hunting. The pieces of leg, foot, and back bones were accompanied by a quartzite hammerstone and a small flake made from Texas chert. This site is 11,500 years old, and is “the most recent Paleoindian site along this stretch of the river,” Bement told Western Digs. “All of these sites [in the Beaver River complex] are large-scale bison kills in arroyo traps. Each kill was of between 30 and 60 animals.” Taken together, the sites, which are part of a study being conducted by Kristen Carlson of the University of Oklahoma, reveal a transformation from the tools of the Clovis culture to the Folsom tradition. “To have a kill complex in use for over 800 years speaks to the ability of hunters to plan and coordinate and revisit a successful hunting ground through generations,” Carlson said. To read about the remarkable way prehistoric Native Americans hunted buffalo, go to "Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A large Byzantine-era church and additional rooms that may have served as living quarters and storage space have been uncovered near the town of Abu Ghosh, during work to expand the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. The church, placed near a spring, had a side chapel with a floor of white stone and a baptismal font in the shape of a four-leaf clover. Red-colored plaster among the rubble at the site indicates that the church’s walls were decorated with frescoes. Oil lamps, coins, glass vessels, marble fragments, and mother-of-pearl shells were also recovered. “The road station and its church were built in the Byzantine period beside the ancient road leading between Jerusalem and the coastal plain. This road station ceased to be used at the end of the Byzantine period, although the road beside which it was built was renewed and continued to be in use until modern times,” Annette Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority told The Times of Israel. To read about a Byzantine church that made our last Top 10 Discoveries of the Year list, go to "Sunken Byzantine Basilica."
LIMA, PERU—Peru’s Ministry of Culture announced the discovery of three statuettes crafted by the Caral civilization. According to Phys.org, the 3,800-year-old statuettes had been placed in a reed basket in a building in the ancient city of Vichama. Two of the mud statuettes are of a man and a woman painted in white, black, and red, and are thought to represent political authorities. The third statuette depicts a woman with 28 fingers and red dots on her white face, who may be a priestess. Two sculptures of women’s faces that had been wrapped in cloth and covered with yellow, blue, and orange feathers were also found by a team led by archaeologist Ruth Shady. She thinks the objects may have been used in religious rituals performed before the construction of a new building. To read about the discovery of a 4,000-year-old painting in Peru, go to "New World's Earliest Mural."
PAVLIKENI, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that four kilns and a well from the Roman period were discovered in northern Bulgaria during a project to upgrade the town’s water and sewer systems. The furnaces resemble the more than 50 furnaces that were uncovered at a Roman military veteran’s villa near the modern town of Pavlikeni in the 1970s. At the time, it had been thought that the modern town had been built on top of a Roman town and necropolis dating to mid-second century A.D. The ceramic factory was destroyed by the Goths at the end of the second century. To read about life and death on the Roman empire's eastern frontier, go to "Burial Customs."
DORSET, ENGLAND—An analysis of 30,000-year-old rabbit bones found in caves in the Iberian Peninsula suggests that rabbits were a crucial part of the modern human diet, but not in the diet of Neanderthals. “Rabbits originated in Iberia and they are a very special kind of resource, in that they can be found in large numbers, they are relatively easy to catch, and they are predictable. This means that they are quite a good food source to target. The fact that the Neanderthals did not appear to do so suggests that this was a resource they did not have access to in the same way as modern humans,” paleoecologist John Steward of Bournemouth University said in a press release. Neanderthals are usually thought of as hunters of large prey over short distances, but as the climate and environment changed and large game died out, Neanderthals may have been driven to extinction as well. Technological innovations could have helped modern humans adapt to catching faster, smaller prey. “If modern humans thrived when Neanderthals did not, it must mean that modern humans were better at exploiting resources than Neanderthals,” he explained. To read about the debate over whether to clone Neanderthals, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—While excavating ahead of a construction project in St. Augustine’s historical district, city archaeologist Carl Halbirt uncovered a late eighteenth-century horse burial. “This is the only horse burial we have ever uncovered here in the colonial downtown district,” he told First Coast News. The small horse had been buried on land that had been the site of the Spanish Dragoon Barracks, so the horse was likely to have been a part of the colonial Spanish cavalry in St. Augustine. Its size suggests that it was a now rare breed called a Marsh Tacky. “There’s this subgroup of swamp ponies that are descendants of the original horses brought over from Spain,” explained Amanda LaPorta, a colonial cavalry expert. Marsh Tackies are known for being strong, fast, and able to maneuver the Florida terrain. Halbirt thinks this horse had been a dragoon’s companion. “I think there’s reverence here. They actually laid it out on its side with the legs folded in the chest area. That’s a sign of reverence,” he said. To read about the role of horses in history, go to our newest feature, "The Story of the Horse."
YORK, ENGLAND—Nuclear physicist David Jenkins and archaeologist John Schofield of the University of York traveled to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the site of the Large Hadron Collider, and investigated it as if it was an archaeological site. “It is hard to think of anywhere more significant for all of humanity,” they said in a press release. The complex was established in 1954 on the Franco-Swiss border to promote peaceful cooperation between nations, and it became the place where the existence of the Higgs Boson was established in 2012, and the World Wide Web was created in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. “This is a landscape where events ranging from the ordinary to the iconic have become heritage over a short space of time. But this is not to imply the site has in any way reached the end of its useful life—far from it. Here scientists just get on with it, as they have done to spectacular effect for the last 60 years,” said Jenkins, who is himself a CERN researcher.
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Tobias Richter of the University of Copenhagen and his team have found the 14,000-year-old bones of a child and an adult and evidence of early farming in Jordan’s Black Desert. “It’s really startling new evidence that we didn’t expect to find in this particular part of southwest Asia. And it changes the way in which we think about these hunter-gatherer communities at the end of the last Ice Age, who were on the brink of developing these new technologies of agriculture, these new ways of life that are influencing us still today,” he told Euro News. At that time, the region received enough rain to sustain the growth of an early human settlement. “We can then identify different species of plants, which in turn will tell us what sorts of things were growing out here. It’s hard to imagine right now because it’s all desert, but back many, many years ago, it was actually really nice and very, very green, and we can tell that from these plant remains,” explained finds co-ordinator Erin Estrup.
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA—Eleven graves in the ancient city of Aksum have yielded what British archaeologist Louise Schofield called “extraordinary” 2,000-year-old artifacts in The Ethiopia Observer and The Guardian. Some of the graves contained the remains of male warriors who had been buried wearing large iron bangles, and one of them contained the remains of a woman Schofield dubbed “Sleeping Beauty.” The high-status woman had been wearing a necklace of thousands of beads and a beaded belt, and had been buried with two Roman glass drinking beakers and a glass flask for catching tears. “She was curled up on her side, with her chin resting on her hand, wearing a beautiful bronze ring. She was buried gazing into an extraordinary Roman bronze mirror. She had next to her a beautiful and incredibly ornate bronze cosmetics spoon with a lump of kohl eyeliner,” Schofield said. Analysis of pottery from the grave could reveal what food and drink had been provided for the woman in the afterlife. The Roman artifacts in the graves indicate that the Aksumite kingdom had been trading with Rome hundreds of years earlier than had previously been thought. In return, the Romans obtained ivory tusks, frankincense, and metals from Ethiopia.
CAIRO, EGYPT—The Cairo Post reports that six tombs dating to Egypt’s Late Period (664–332 B.C.) have been discovered in the ancient cemetery west of Aswan. Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el-Damaty announced in a press conference that mummies had been found within stone and wooden coffins, along with statues of the god Horus, his four sons, and amulets. “This discovery is extremely unique because it is the first Late Period discovery at the ancient cemetery in Aswan. The previously discovered tombs at this area date back to the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms,” Damaty said. The new tombs were accessed through a flight of steps that lead to a main entrance. “Each tomb is divided into three to four rooms with no inscriptions as the technique used in digging the newly discovered tombs is completely different from the tombs of the same area,” added Nasr Salama, director of the Aswan and Nubia archaeological areas.
TATAREVO, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that looters have struck an ancient Thracian burial mound in southern Bulgaria. There are three Thracian tumuli, known as the Tatarevo Mounds, at the site. Archaeologists led by Kostadin Kisyov from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology had been making plans for emergency excavations of the Great Tatarevo Mound, which is the largest tumulus in the region. Two lines of smaller mounds appear to radiate from it. To read about the discovery of a rich Thracian burial, go to "Royal Thracian Tomb."
PARRAMATTA, AUSTRALIA—Excavations ahead of the construction of a new playground at a park in suburban Sydney uncovered Aboriginal spear barbs, back blades, and flakes left over from tool making. The site, once home to the Burramatta clan, is also thought to have been a spot where clans came together for trading. “It was important in that it was a great food area. They kept this land open with fire stick farming, because kangaroos liked open land,” archaeologist Jillian Comber told The Daily Telegraph. In all, more than 400 artifacts were recovered. To watch a video about the remarkable art of the Aborigines, go to "Aboriginal Rock Art."
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Scientists from the University of Southampton and the University of Bristol measured the chemical composition of some of Ireland’s earliest gold artifacts with laser ablation mass spectrometry and compared the results with the composition of gold deposits in Ireland and in a variety of other locations. They found that the objects, including basket ornaments, discs, and necklaces, had been made with imported gold—most likely gold that originated in southern England. “Perhaps what is most interesting is that during this time, compared to Ireland, there appears to be much less gold circulating in Cornwall and southern Britain. This implied gold was leaving the region because those who found it felt it was of more value to trade it in for other ‘desirable’ goods—rather than keep it,” Chris Standish of the University of Southampton said in a press release. Standish and team member Alistair Pike, also of the University of Southampton, think that the value of gold may have varied from region to region. “Prehistoric economies were driven by factors more complex than the trade of commodities—belief systems clearly played a major role,” Pike said. To read more about the recovery of several rare prehistoric gold artifacts, go to "Irish Gold."
CRAWLEY, AUSTRALIA—Dates obtained from charcoal associated with stone artifacts at the Yalibirri Mindi rock shelter in the Mid-West region of Western Australia indicate that the ancestors of the Wajarri Traditional Owners and other cultural groups have lived in the area for 30,000 years. “The history of Aboriginal occupation to the north in the Pilbara, south at places like Devil’s Lair and to the east in the Western Desert has been well established for many years but the handful of excavated sites in the Mid-West are all relatively young,” Viviene Brown of The University of Western Australia said in a press release. “This new date from Yalibirri Mindi rock shelter pushes regional occupation by 20,000 years and is enormously important for the archaeological community,” she added. For more on Australian archaeology, see "The Rock Art of Djulirri."
RENNES, FRANCE—The well-preserved remains of Louise de Quengo and the heart of her husband, Toussaint de Perrien, Knight of Brefeillac, were found in a sealed lead coffin in a stone tomb at a convent chapel in western France. The noblewoman, who died in 1656 and was identified through inscriptions on the reliquary containing the heart, is thought to have entered the convent after the death of her spouse in 1649. “We saw at once there was not just a well-preserved corpse but a mass of material that was still supple and humid, and shoes. Because the coffin was completely sealed it had kept everything preserved. But we had to move quickly because once the coffin was opened it sets of the decomposition process again after 350 years. We had 72 hours to bring the body down to four degrees to preserve everything,” Rozenn Colleter of the Institute National Recherches Archaeologiques Préventive (INRAP) told The Guardian. Medical tests showed that De Quengo suffered from kidney stones and that she had lung adhesions. She will be reburied later this year, but her clothing, made up of simple religious vestments, will be preserved. To read about a purported relic of the French Revolution, see "French Revolution Forgeries?"
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Preliminary high-resolution images of Port Royal have been made by an international marine robotics team at the invitation of Jamaica’s National Heritage Trust. Port Royal, now off the coast of Jamaica, was submerged 300 years ago after an earthquake. “In the seventeenth century, Port Royal was the English mercantile capital of the New World—a bustling sea port that was a haven for privateers and pirates due to its excellent geographic location in the middle of the Caribbean,” Andrew Durrant of the University of Sydney said in a press release. The team will create a detailed map of the site, which has intact buildings and streets, while developing new practices for marine archaeological survey. “The city remains are widely dispersed, often covered in soft sediments and re-deposited coral, conditions which have challenged existing approaches to mapping the sunken area,” Durrant explained. The new survey will be part of Jamaica’s application to have Port Royal included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. To read more about underwater archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
ROME, ITALY—Archaeologists are examining the inscriptions on some of the millions of shards of broken amphorae that compose Monte Testaccio, an artificial hill that accumulated over about three centuries as amphorae that could no longer be used for the transport of wine, olive oil, and garum were smashed and stacked on the top of the pile. The huge amphorae weighed more than 60 pounds when empty, and more than 200 pounds when full of oil or wine. They could no longer be used when oil had seeped into the clay. “The inscriptions are like a sort of ancient Roman bar code. They tell us the year in which the shipment arrived in Rome, the import duty that was paid, and where the product came from,” Francesco Pacetti of Rome’s cultural heritage department told The Telegraph. Officials known as “curatores” supervised the process and sprinkled lime over the top of new deposits to reduce the smell of rancid oil. “It is helping us understand how Roman trade evolved. Important discoveries are being made,” Pacetti said. To read more in-depth about Monte Testaccio, go to "Trash Talk."
BUFFALO, NEW YORK—New research suggests that a higher than expected number of fire-tolerant, large-nut-bearing trees such as hickory, chestnut, and oak were present near the sites of Native American villages in Western New York in the early nineteenth century. In contrast, beech and sugar maples, which burn readily in forest fires, appeared in smaller numbers than expected. Steve Tulowiecki, who conducted the study while a student at the University at Buffalo with Chris Larsen, used data on trees that was collected in a survey of Chautauqua County between 1799 and 1814, and mapped it along with temperature, precipitation, and soil conditions, to predict what types of trees would have been growing if environmental conditions were the only variables at work. “Our results contribute to the conversation about how natural or humanized the landscape of America was when Europeans first arrived,” Tulowiecki said in a press release. According to the analysis, as much as 20 percent of the land in modern-day Chautauqua County may have been modified. For more about early New York, go to "The Hidden History of New York's Harbor."
MAINZ, GERMANY—The Cultural Preservation Program of the German Federal Foreign Office has provided Johannes Gutenberg University with a grant for the restoration of Khirbat Al-Minya. The early Islamic caliph’s palace, located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, was built by Caliph Walid I (ruled A.D. 705-715), with white limestone on a lower course of black basalt. The complex includes one of the oldest mosques in the region, which was damaged by a severe earthquake a few years after construction began. “Every year we have been witness to the gradual deterioration of the palace. By backing the project financially, Germany is assuming responsibility for an important archaeological site that would not have been excavated without the German initiative in the 1930s. At the same time, we are supporting the work of the Israel National Parks management, our students have the chance to gather practical experience in archaeological conservation, and we are also setting an example within the archaeological community for a dialog with Islam,” Hans-Peter Kuhnen of Johannes Gutenberg University said in a EurekAlert press release. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Rebuilding Beirut."