MOGOU, CHINA—An article in Chinese Cultural Relics describes a 4,000-year-old cemetery made up of hundreds of tombs that has been excavated by a team from the Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Northwest University Silk Road Heritage Preservation and Archaeology Research Center near the village of Mogou in northwestern China. Live Science reports that the remains of sacrificed humans were found in some of the tombs, and some held the remains of entire families. There were also small chambers where finely made pottery, decorated with incised designs, had been placed near the tombs’ occupants. Jewelry and weapons such as bronze sabers, stone mace heads, axes, daggers, and knives were also recovered. Artifacts known as bone divination lots suggest that the people, most of whom belonged to the Qijia culture, attempted to predict the future. Some of the tombs had been covered with mounds of sediment, perhaps to mark them. To read more about archaeology in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."
XANADU, MONGOLIA—A recent article published in English in Chinese Cultural Relics describes three “life-like and dramatic” dragon heads discovered at the palace constructed by the grandsons of Genghis Khan in the thirteenth century. The dragon heads, which had been fashioned from fine red clay that had been glazed in yellow, blue, white, and black, would have decorated the ends of beams. Other colorful artifacts from the palace, known as Shangdu in China, include a fish glazed with “bright and life-like scales” of yellow and green, and dripstones shaped like dragons and birds that deflected water from the palace roof. The Chinese team of archaeologists from Inner Mongolia Normal University, the Inner Mongolian Institute of Cultural Relics, and the Archaeology and Inner Mongolian Institute for Cultural Relics Conservation also uncovered a type of ramp called a mandao that was used by horses and vehicles to enter the palace. The ramps “would have been strongly connected to the pastoral way of life of the Mongols,” Live Science reports. To read about spectacular medieval ruins in Siberia, see "Fortress of Solitude."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Luca Pagani of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge led a team of scientists who produced whole-genome sequences from 225 Egyptians and Ethiopians. They found that regions of the Egyptian samples were more similar to non-African samples, and were present in higher frequencies outside of Africa, than regions of the Ethiopian genome. This suggests that when early humans left Africa some 60,000 years ago, they traveled through Egypt to the rest of the world. The results also indicate that people outside Africa split from the Egyptian genomes about 10,000 years more recently than from the Ethiopian genomes. “While our results do not address controversies about the timing and possible complexities of the expansion out of Africa, they paint a clear picture in which the main migration out of Africa followed a Northern, rather than a Southern route,” Toomas Kivisild of the University of Cambridge said in a press release on Phys.org.
AUSTIN, TEXAS—Chemical modifications, known as epigenetic marks, can be added to or removed from a person’s DNA in response to environmental factors such as diet, disease, and climate. These changes can influence which genes are turned on or off during a person’s life, shaping physical traits and health, and can even be passed on to offspring if the changes occur in sperm and egg DNA. Anthropologists from The University of Texas at Austin have shown that epigenetic marks on DNA can be detected in ancient human remains using techniques that are normally used to measure changes in modern DNA. They looked for an epigenetic mark known as cytosine methylation on the remains of 30 individuals who lived in five different places in North America between 230 to more than 4,500 years ago. They were able to identify methylation in 29 of the samples. “By studying methylation in ancient DNA from archaeological populations, not just isolated samples, we may gain insights into how past environments affected ancient societies. Future research in ancient epigenetics should open a new window into the lives and experiences of people who lived long ago,” anthropologist Deborah Bolnick explained in a press release. To read about the first people to reach the New World, see "America, in the Beginning."
SILISTRA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that rescue excavations in the ancient city of Durostorum, the headquarters of the elite Roman 11th Legion, have revealed a fortress wall thought to have been built in the beginning of the fourth century A.D. According to archaeologist Georgi Atanasov of the Silistra Regional Museum of History, the well-preserved wall was held together with very strong red mortar. It encircled the city, strategically located on the Danube River, and had rectangular towers. Ioan Piso of Babes Bolyai University thinks that the wall could indicate that the city was the capital of the Roman province of Moesia Inferior, instead of Tomis, which is located in Romania. In fact, earlier excavations at Durostorum have uncovered Roman inscriptions bearing the names of the governors of the province of Moesia Inferior. The team has also found a second-century building that had been decorated with murals painted with the color Pompeian red, deep blue, green, and yellow. To read about how the construction of a port fueled the Roman Empire's rise, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."
CIRENCESTER, ENGLAND—It had been thought that a finely carved tombstone unearthed in western England was the first in Roman Britain to have remained with its intended grave, but researchers have found that even though the dedication on the tombstone named Boudicca, a woman, the skeleton in the grave was male. In addition, the gravestone dates to the second century A.D., while the skeleton dates to the fourth century A.D. The five-foot-long stone, which has a roughly carved back, may have originally hung on a mausoleum wall. “We believe the tombstone to have been reused as a grave cover perhaps as long as two centuries after it was first erected,” Ed McSloy of Cotswold Archaeology told Discovery News. Even so, the gravestone is notable because it is the first time that the name Boudicca has been found. And the limestone pediment is decorated with a unique image that depicts the Roman god Oceanus, which according to McSloy “is also hitherto unknown in funerary sculpture.” To read about the search for the great leader Boudicca's tomb, see "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."
BEIJING, CHINA—China’s Ministry of Public Security announced that 175 people were arrested for looting tombs in Niuheliang, a Neolithic site in northeastern Liaoning province. According to the South China Morning Post, the pillagers had been divided into ten gangs that specialized in tasks such as digging, retrieval, and keeping watch. Four archaeologists are suspected of assisting the well-organized, well-equipped gang and trafficking the stolen antiquities. More than 1,000 police officers participated in the operation, and they reportedly recovered 1,168 artifacts, including a coiled jade dragon thought to be one of the earliest of its kind. For more on looting in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."
FUKUOKA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—A fragment of a mold used to cast bronze mirrors in 200 B.C. has been unearthed at the Sugu Takauta ruins in northern Kyushu. It had been thought that such tachukyo, or mirrors with knobs, had been imported from the Korean Peninsula at this time. The mold shows indentations to create knobs on the back of the mirror, which was circular in shape, and markings known as “rough patterns.” This mold may have been an early attempt to make mirrors with markings known as “detailed patterns” in Japan. Twelve mirrors with detailed patterns dating between the fourth and second centuries B.C. have been found in the tombs of powerful people in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Kyushu, and the Kinki region of the island of Honshu. “This has added a new chapter in uncovering the situation of early bronze tool production in Japan,” Junichi Takesue of Fukuoka University told The Asahi Shimbun. To read about Roman glass discovered in Japan, go to "Imported Glass in Japanese Tomb Identified."
CLEVELAND, OHIO—Fossils of the upper and lower jaw of a new early human ancestor were discovered in the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region of Ethiopia by an international team of scientists led by Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The Australopithecus deyiremeda fossils are 3.3 to 3.5 million years old, overlapping with Australopithecus afarensis, who lived from 2.9 to 3.8 million years ago. Australopithecus deyiremeda differs from the famous “Lucy” fossils in the size and shape of its thick-enameled teeth and its robust lower jaws, suggesting that the two closely related species had different diets. “Current fossil evidence from the Woranso-Mille study area clearly shows that there were at least two, if not three, early human species living at the same time and in close geographic proximity,” Haile-Salassie said in a press release. The name of the new species, deyiremeda, (day-ihreme-dah) means “close relative” in the language spoken by the Afar people. To read about more recent evolutionary history, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."
MADRID, SPAIN—Discovery News reports that a new analysis of Cranium 17 from Spain’s Sima de los Huesos suggests that the individual had been killed some 430,000 years ago by two blows to the head with the same object. The Sima de los Huesos, or Pit of Bones, is located at the bottom of a deep shaft in an underground cave system in northern Spain. It contains the remains of at least 28 individuals who are thought to be proto-Neanderthals and Neanderthals, but how the remains arrived in the pit has been a mystery until now. “Given that either of the two traumatic events was likely lethal, the presence of multiple blows implies an intention to kill,” wrote Nohemi Sala, a researcher at Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos and lead author of the study published in PLOS One. Sala suggests that the blows to the skull indicate that the bodies of the dead must have been placed there. The Pit of Bones could thus “represent the earliest funerary behavior in the human fossil record.”
ROME, ITALY—The United States has returned 25 historic artifacts, including Etruscan vases, first-century frescoes, a third-century B.C. terracotta head, the cover of a second-century Roman sarcophagus, and a second-century bronze figurine to Rome. Some of the looted objects had been handed over to U.S. authorities by American museums, universities, and private collections when it became clear that the items had been stolen. Other artifacts were seized by police and customs officers. “Italy is blessed with a rich cultural legacy and therefore cursed to suffer the pillaging of important cultural artifacts,” U.S. Ambassador John Phillips said at a press conference reported by the Associated Press. He also said that the United States has returned more than 7,500 cultural artifacts to more than 30 countries since 2007. Interpol estimates that each year, antiquities trafficking produces $9 billion in profits. To read about earlier repatriations, see "A Tangled Journey Home."
NUNAVUT, CANADA—Last month, underwater archaeologists from Parks Canada with the support of Royal Canadian Navy divers descended to the wreck site of HMS Erebus, lost nearly 170 years ago during Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The ship, discovered late last summer in remote Arctic waters, was covered with kelp. Over the course of the five-day project, the team removed the kelp from the well-preserved ship’s port side. “It’s tedious, but all of a sudden you have a shipwreck that looks like a wreck site,” senior underwater archaeologist Ryan Harris told CBC News. “We haven’t identified what caused it to sink. Maybe on the starboard side we’ll see some evidence of trauma,” he added. The divers found Franklin’s cabin, and they recovered a cannon, ceramic plates, and two brass buttons from the uniform of a non-commissioned officer of the Royal Marines. “Those are the artifacts that are probably the most personal,” Harris said. To read more, see "Saga of the Northwest Passage."
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—Fragments of artifacts from the Staffordshire Hoard have been cleaned and are being fitted together in work funded by Historic England and public donations. The seventh-century Anglo-Saxon artifacts include a rare high-status helmet and a unique form of sword pommel that was in 26 pieces when it was uncovered. The pommel “combines multiple different styles of ornament, much in the same way as the earliest seventh-century illuminated manuscripts do, like the Book of Durrow. It suggests the coming together of Anglo-Saxon and British or Irish high cultures,” project archaeologist Chris Fern said in a Birmingham Museums press release. The helmet was discovered in 1,500 thin, fragile sheets and strips of silver that had been stamped with designs depicting warriors, birds, animals, and mythical beasts. And it had a gilded helmet band, a decoration thought to have encircled the helmet. “The Staffordshire Hoard links us with an age of warrior splendor. The gold and silver war-gear was probably made in workshops controlled by some of England’s earliest kings, to reward warriors that served those rulers, when multiple kingdoms fought for supremacy,” Fern explained. The original find of the hoard was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2009, to read more, go to "Anglo-Saxon Hoard."
YORK, PENNSYLVANIA—Archaeologist Steve Warfel is leading the search for the stockade at the site of Camp Security, where British prisoners from the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Yorktown were held during the final years of the Revolutionary War, from 1781 to 1783. “There should be a very specific footprint for this stockade. I’m looking for a soil stain,” Warfel told The York Dispatch. When the prisoners from the Battle of Yorktown arrived at the camp, those from the Battle of Saratoga were moved into huts outside the stockade to make room for them. This area, which came to be known as Camp Indulgence, is thought to have been found nearby in 1979, when archaeologists recovered thousands of artifacts, but no sign of the stockade. Warfel is using its location to help in the search for the Camp Security stockade. “It’s not quite a needle in a haystack, but it’s going to be a challenge,” he said. To read about a Civil-War era prison camp, go to "Life on the Inside."
CAIRO, EGYPT—The Catholic Leuven University archaeology mission announced on their Facebook page (KU Leuven - Egyptologie) that a section of a wall relief had been removed from the wall of the 3,850-year-old tomb of Djehutyhotep, located in the necropolis of Deir el-Bersha, where they had been excavating. “A small scene to the east of the entrance has been hacked out. It was damaged already in Newberry’s day (1891-1892), but it still showed the well preserved top part of a man carrying a chest towards Djehutyhotep. It was also one of the few reliefs where the head of a figure was still in good condition,” Monica Hanna, co-founder of Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, told The Cairo Post. Djehutyhotep is thought to have been a provincial governor during the 12th Dynasty. To read about a recently excavated temple in Sudan, see "The Cult of Amun."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Scholars have taken a fresh look at a 5,000-year-old seal impression unearthed in western Galilee in the 1970s, and think that it may be the oldest depiction of music being played ever found in Israel. The image shows two standing women and one sitting woman, who is playing a musical instrument, thought to be a lyre. The performance could be a scene from the sacred marriage ritual between a Mesopotamian king and a goddess. “We identified it as a lyre by searching through artworks and observing the remains of actual lyres found in Mesopotamia,” Yitzhak Paz of the Israel Antiquities Authority told Haaretz. Other known seal impressions from the third millennium B.C. depict dancing and feasting as part of this sacred marriage rite. To read more about Bronze Age seal impressions, go to "Lasting Impressions."
YORK, ENGLAND—The foundations of St. Leonard’s Hospital have been found under the stage and auditorium at the site of the York Theatre Royal. It had been thought that the medieval foundations had been destroyed in the Victorian era, but they have been found intact. “It is amazing that, considering all the alterations to the theater since 1764, so much of the medieval hospital has survived under the stalls and elsewhere within the building,” chief archaeologist Ben Reeves told The Northern Echo. To read about another recent medieval discovery in England, go to "Medieval Leather, Vellum, and Fur."
LIMA, PERU—A small temple thought to predate the great temples of the Moche culture has been discovered on a mountain in the Lambayeque region of northern Peru. The two small mounds on the mountain are surrounded by looted cemeteries. “The temple, which is 30 meters wide and 40 meters long, dates back to the earliest stage of the Mochica culture,” archaeologist Walter Alva, Director of the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, told The Andina News Agency. The oldest Mochica structure at the site is a white and yellow low platform. There are signs of erosion of the adobe structures from heavy rain and subsequent repairs. “This might imply that heavy rains affected the place in early Mochica’s times and that its origin must have been characterized by small religious and administrative centers that later evolved into huge pyramidal constructions such as Sipan and Pampagrande,” he added.
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—DNA from an ancient Taimyr wolf bone from Siberia has been compared to DNA from modern dogs by Pontus Skoglund of Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute, and Love Dalén of the Swedish Museum of Natural History. They say that the specimen, dated to 35,000 years ago, represents the most recent common ancestor of modern wolves and dogs, and shares a large number of genes with today’s Siberian Huskies and Greenland sled dogs. “Dogs may have been domesticated much earlier than is generally believed,” Dalén said in a press release. It is also possible that there was a divergence between two wolf populations at that time, and one of those populations gave rise to modern wolves, but if that were so, then the second wolf population would have had to have gone extinct in the wild. “It is possible that a population of wolves remained relatively untamed but tracked human groups to a large degree, for a long time,” added Skoglund. Earlier genetic studies have suggested that the ancestors of domesticated dogs split from wolves no more than 16,000 years ago. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have excavated a section of Jerusalem’s ancient Lower Aqueduct, which was uncovered during the construction of a new sewer line in the Umm Tuba quarter of the city. “The Lower Aqueduct to Jerusalem, which the Hasmonean kings constructed more than 2,000 years ago in order to provide water to Jerusalem, operated intermittently until about 100 years ago,” excavation director Ya’akov Billig said in a press release. The aqueduct began at a spring near Solomon’s Pools and sloped gently downward for more than ten miles along an open channel until the Ottoman period, when a terracotta pipe was installed inside the channel to protect the water as it traveled through the growing city. This section of the aqueduct has been preserved for future generations. To read more about ancient aqueducts, go to "Rome's Lost Aqueduct."