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Archaeology News - March 30, 2016

ASWAN, EGYPT—A New Kingdom necropolis of rock-cut tombs has been discovered at the quarry site of Gebel el-Silsila. “So far we have documented over 40 tombs, including a small shrine on the banks of the Nile. Many tombs are in bad condition. They have suffered from heavy erosion and extreme decay due to the rising water and its high salt content,” Maria Nilsson of Lund University and director of the Gebel el-Silsila Survey Project told Discovery News. The undecorated tombs had crypts cut out of the rock floors. Slots cut in the doorways suggest that there had been heavy, vertically-closing doors. The artifacts, including fragments of painted mud plaster, mummy wrappings, beads, amulets, a reversible seal ring, and pottery, indicate that it wasn’t the quarry workers who were buried at Gebel el-Silsila. “However, the higher officials, viziers and such that were active at Silsila were buried in Thebes, so it is likely that the people entombed in the rock-cut graves belong to the level just below the officials,” Nilsson said. To read more about Gebel el-Silsila, go to "'T' Marks the Spot."

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Archaeology News - March 30, 2016

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—A light rail construction project near Sydney has unearthed some 20,000 indigenous artifacts at what archaeologists say may have been a ceremonial meeting place. “I would suggest quite strongly that this site is of state significance,” archaeologist Jakub Czastka told The Sydney Morning Herald. Some of the artifacts, including spear heads and cutting tools, are made of materials from the Lower Hunter Valley, located more than 75 miles away. “You have material that’s not from Sydney. It demonstrates a trading route, or that the mobs out of the Hunter Valley were working with the mobs in Sydney,” explained Scott Franks, an indigenous heritage consultant. He has asked the construction of the light rail stable yard in Randwick stop. “Transport for New South Wales and ALTRAC Light Rail [the public-private partnership consortium] are investigating, in conjunction with the Aboriginal representatives, opportunities to recognize the items found on site, for example in displays or education programs,” responded a Transport for New South Wales spokesperson.

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Archaeology News - March 30, 2016

HAMILTON, SCOTLAND—Ed Archer of the Lanark and District Archaeological Society disagrees with the recent claim that medieval buildings unearthed during roadwork in the Lowlands of Scotland could be the lost village of Cadzow. He says the buildings are the remnants of Netherton, which appears at the site of the excavation on a sixteenth-century map. In addition, he says that Cadzow was mentioned as the location for a sixth-century legend set on the banks of the River Avon. “Down by the water’s edge Langoreth, the wife of Rhydderch, King of Strathclyde, was having an affair with a young man and lost her marriage ring which fell into the Avon. She was mortified and sought the help of St. Kentigern. After some while a servant who was fishing brought a salmon out of the river. Fortunately the ring was inside the salmon,” Archer told The Daily Record. Archer thinks Cadzow is located in Hamilton’s Chatelherault Country Park. “Cadzow is generally thought to be the area up in the High Parks and it was one of the palaces of the kings of Strathclyde,” he said. “This palace might be the circular enclosure that shows up on aerial photos of the High Parks.” For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

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Archaeology News - March 30, 2016

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Scholars from Tel Aviv University say that Neanderthals may have been shorter and stockier than modern humans due to their high-protein diet based upon large animals. Their wider rib cages could have accommodated a larger liver for metabolizing large quantities of protein, and the wider pelvis may have held an enlarged bladder and kidneys to remove the waste products of protein metabolism. “During harsh Ice-Age winters, carbohydrates were scarce and fat was in limited supply. But large game, the typical prey of the Neanderthal, thrived. This situation triggered an evolutionary adaptation to a high-protein diet—an enlarged liver, expanded renal system and their corresponding morphological manifestations. All these contributed to the Neanderthal evolutionary process,” Miki Ben-Dor said in a press release. The team adds that early indigenous Arctic populations that eat a meat-based diet also had enlarged livers and drank a lot of water to process their high-protein diet. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

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Archaeology News - March 29, 2016

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA—A team of researchers from the University of Oklahoma, Arizona State University, and Pennsylvania State University retrieved human DNA from dental calculus and used it to reconstruct whole mitochondrial genomes for analysis. The samples were obtained from six individuals from a 700-year-old Oneota cemetery. “We can now obtain meaningful human, pathogen and dietary DNA from a single sample, which minimizes the amount of ancient material required for analysis,” Christina Warinner of the University of Oklahoma said in a press release. Dental calculus, or calcified dental plaque, contains saliva and other human secretions in addition to the remains of food and microbes, and can be tested without damaging skeletal remains. “We hope that this research on dental calculus from the Norris Farms site acts as the first step toward future paleogenomic investigations of prehistoric North American remains in a respectful and non-destructive way that interests and benefits both descendent communities and anthropologists,” added team member Andrew Ozga. For more, go to "Life (According to Gut Microbes)."

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Archaeology News - March 29, 2016

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—An 11,000-year-old flint and limestone quarry has been discovered in central Israel by a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Humans became more dominant and influential in there terrestrial landscape and Kaizer Hill quarry provides dramatic evidence to the alteration of the landscape,” archaeologist Leore Grosman said in a press release. At the time the quarry was in use, people were shifting from hunting and gathering to farming, and, according to Grosman and colleague Naama Goren-Inbar, this shift in practice was accompanied by a change in the attitude to the use of the surrounding land. “The ancient people at the time carved the stone with flint working tools (for example axes). This suggestion differs from the commonly held view, which considers all features defined as cup marks to be devices that were primarily involved in a variety of grinding, food preparation, social or even symbolic activities,” the researchers concluded. To read about a discovery in Jordan dating to this period, go to "Neolithic Community Centers." 

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Archaeology News - March 29, 2016

DALLAS, TEXAS—The excavation of a temple at the Poggio Colla site in Tuscany has yielded a four-foot-tall stele inscribed in the Etruscan language. But the stone is heavily abraded and chipped, and will have to be cleaned before scholars can read it. “This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions,” archaeologist Gregory Warden of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project said in a press release. The inscription, which dates to the sixth century B.C., may contain new words, and even the name of a god or goddess. The stone was reused in the foundation of a monumental temple some 2,500 years ago. “This stone stele is evidence of a permanent religious cult with monumental dedications, at least as early as the Late Archaic Period, from about 525 to 480 B.C. Its re-use in the foundations of a slightly later sanctuary structure points to deep changes in the town and its social structure,” explained Etruscan scholar Jean MacIntosh Turfa of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. To read more about Etruscans, go to "The Tomb of the SIlver Hands."

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Archaeology News - March 29, 2016

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Scientists from the University of Oxford and the University of Manchester have used a new technique, “Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry,” or ZooMS, to identify more than 2,000 bone fragments recovered from Russia’s Denisova Cave. ZooMS analyzes the collagen peptide sequences in bone, which can then be used to identify its species. Among the remains of mammoths, woolly rhino, wolf, and reindeer, the researchers found one Neanderthal bone. “When the ZooMS results showed that there was a human fingerprint among the bones I was extremely excited. …The bone itself is not exceptional in any way and would otherwise be missed by anyone looking for possible human bones amongst the dozens of fragments we have from the site,” Sam Brown of the University of Oxford said in a press release. Svante Pääbo and his team at the Max Planck Institute then examined the mitochondrial genome of the bone to identify it as Neanderthal. Radiocarbon dating of the bone revealed it is more than 50,000 years old. Acid etching on its surface suggests that it passed through the stomach of a hyena before landing in the cave’s sediments. For more on our extinct cousins, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?."

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Archaeology News - March 28, 2016

KYOTO, JAPAN—It had been thought that shifting climate led to adaptive evolutionary changes in the nasal cavity of the genus Homo. To test this idea, Takeshi Nishimura of Kyoto University and his colleagues used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and 3-D models of the nasal passages of humans, chimpanzees, and macaques to evaluate how well their nasal passages conditioned inhaled air to the correct temperature and humidity for use by the lungs. The study, published in PLOS Computational Biology, found that non-human primates are better able to condition air, which flows horizontally through their nasal passages, while in humans, it flows upward and curves. But when the team made virtual modifications to the human nose so that its airflow would be horizontal, its air-conditioning performance did not improve. The scientists note that as human ancestors evolved flat faces, protruding external noses, and a short nasal cavity, the pharyngeal cavity lengthened to condition inhaled air for the lungs. Thus, the human high-nasal cavity may have evolved to compensate for other facial changes in the genus Homo. To read about the evolution of the throwing motion, go to "No Changeups on the Savannah."

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Archaeology News - March 28, 2016

NAPLES, ITALY—According to a report in Discovery News, Marco Giglio, Giovanni Borriello, and Stefano Iavarone of the University of Naples “L’Orientale” may have found a factory in the city of Cumae where cookware mentioned in the first-century Roman cookbook De Re Coquinaria was made. Known as “Cumanae testae,” or “Cumanae patellae,” the pans, made in the city of Cumae, were said to be the best for making chicken stews. “We found a dump site filled with internal red-slip cookware fragments. The dump was used by a pottery factory. This shows for the first time the ‘Cumanae patellae’ were indeed produced in this city,” Giglio said. More than 50,000 fragments of high-quality lids, pots, and pans with the non-stick red coating were found in the first-century dump. “All the defective artifacts were dumped here. These pieces help us enormously to reconstruct the way the pottery was manufactured,” Giglio said. To read more about what ancient Roman dump sites can tell us, go to "Trash Talk."

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Archaeology News - March 28, 2016

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Harvard University compared genomic data for more than 250 modern human populations with DNA obtained from Denisovan fossils, a hominid group that diverged from the human family tree some 500,000 years ago. The data suggests that people living today in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, and other parts of South Asia carry more Denisovan DNA than had been previously thought. Previous studies have shown that the highest concentrations of Denisovan DNA—as much as five percent—are found in people who are native to Australia, Papua New Guinea, and other parts of Oceana. The study also found that Denisovans and modern humans interbred as recently as 44,000 to 54,000 years ago. “We did not even know about this important group until just a few years ago, and our study yields some insights on where Denisovans fit into this story. This also shows some new paths of interest that computational biology can explore,” Sriram Sankararaman of UCLA said in a press release. To read more, go to "Denisovan DNA." 

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Archaeology News - March 25, 2016

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—In a new genetic study of 2,500 people from around the world, biologists from the University of Michigan and Tufts University have found nineteen new pieces of DNA left in the genetic code by viruses that infected human ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago. According to a University of Michigan press release, the team even found one stretch of DNA in about 50 of the people studied that contains the full genetic code for an entire virus, which might give scientists the tools to study an ancient viral epidemic. “These are remnants of ancient events that have not been fixed in the population as a whole, but rather happened in the ancestors of some people alive today,” said University of Michigan geneticist Jeffrey Kidd. To read more about ancient genetic studies, go to “Denisovan DNA.” 

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Archaeology News - March 25, 2016

WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA—A construction crew working in front of Wilmington’s Federal Courthouse has uncovered a colonial-era cannon. Weighing up to 800 pounds, the weapon probably dates to between 1700 and 1750, says Chris Southerly of the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the Office of State Archaeology. “It’s been probably buried, maybe used as backfill or just an old cannon that was non-functional,” Southerly told Port City Daily. “More than likely it could have been off an armed vessel at the time. We have a lot of shipwrecks here in the vicinity, especially the Cape Fear River, that date from colonial times right on up to modern wrecks.” Archaeologists plan to conserve the cannon and search for maker’s marks that could help date it with more precision. To read more about colonial-era archaeology in America, go to “American Refugees.” 

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Archaeology News - March 25, 2016

ABU DHABI, UAE—At the site of a 7,500-year-old village on an island off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a team of archaeologists has unearthed a collapsed stone house that was subsequently converted into a burial chamber. The team found human remains inside the structure, which may be the earliest example of stone architecture found in the Persian Gulf. “This partial skeleton was inserted into one of the already semi-collapsed rooms of the house, indicating that the structure had originally been used as a house for the living, and then later as a ‘house for the dead’,” Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority director Mohammed Al Neyadi told the National. To read more about excavations in the Persian Gulf, go to “Archaeology Island.” 

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Archaeology News - March 25, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists reexamining artifacts unearthed in a 1970 excavation in London’s Brentford neighborhood have discovered a fourth-century piece of pottery decorated with a Christian symbol. Culture 24 reports that the sherd was unearthed with a number of other artifacts when the line of a Roman road was discovered running between ancient Londinium and the west of Britain. Close examination of the sherd showed it bears a monogram of first two letters of the Greek Khristos (Christ). “Christian symbols from the Roman period are rare, especially from sites within Londinium’s surrounding Hinterland,” says archaeologist Adam Corsini of the Museum of London. “There are only a few examples within our collections relating to London.” To read about another rare Roman artifact unearthed in London, go to “Artifact: Roman Eagle Sculpture.” 

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Archaeology News - March 24, 2016

STRATFORD, ENGLAND—Archaeologists carrying out a ground-penetrating radar survey of Shakespeare’s grave at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford have discovered that the playwright’s skull is likely missing, reports the BBC. The radar data show that there was a major repair to the head end of Shakespeare’s grave, which lends new support to a previously dismissed 1879 magazine story claiming that trophy hunters stole his skull. "We have Shakespeare's burial with an odd disturbance at the head end and we have a story that suggests that at some point in history someone's come in and taken the skull of Shakespeare,” said Staffordshire University archaeologist Kevin Colls. "It's very, very convincing to me that his skull isn't at Holy Trinity at all." The survey also revealed that Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway and his other relatives were buried in shallow graves beneath the church’s floor. To read more about archaeology in England’s medieval churches, go to “The Writing on the Church Wall.” 

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Archaeology News - March 24, 2016

KYOTO, JAPAN—Paleontologists have found Australopithecus afarensis fossils in a part of Kenya that suggest that the early hominin species lived much farther east then previously believed. Fossilized teeth and a forearm bone from an adult male and two infants were found in an area eroded by the Kantis River in Ongata-Rongai, a settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi. These are the first A. afarensis fossils to be found east of the Great Rift Valley. The species is thought to have lived between 3.7 and 3 million years ago, based on fossils such as “Lucy,” found in Ethiopia. Stable isotope analysis has shown that the Kantis area was humid with a plain-like environment and fewer trees than the areas where A. afarensis fossils have previously been found. "The hominid must have discovered suitable habitats in the Kenyan highlands,” says Masato Nakatsukasa of Kyoto University in a press release. “It seems that A. afarensis was good at adapting to varying environments.” For more, go to “Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?

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Archaeology News - March 24, 2016

GALLOWAY, SCOTLAND—Conservators have finished work on artifacts from a metal vessel containing the so-called Galloway Viking Hoard, discovered in 2014, reports the BBC. Dating to the ninth or tenth century A.D., the lidded pot held artifacts that Vikings likely looted from monasteries in England and Ireland. They include silver Anglo-Saxon and Irish brooches, a gold ingot, and even silk from Byzantium. ”The complexity of the material in the hoard raises more questions than it answers, and like all the best archaeology, this find doesn't give any easy answers," said National Museums Scotland archaeologist Stuart Campbell. “Questions about the motivations and cultural identity of the individuals who buried it will occupy scholars and researchers for years to come." Officials expect the hoard to go to a Scottish museum. To read more about the history of the Vikings in the British Isles, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

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Archaeology News - March 24, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—The USS Conestoga, a U.S. Navy tugboat, has been discovered in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, 95 years after it sank with 56 officers and sailors aboard, according to an announcement from NOAA and the U.S. Navy. "After nearly a century of ambiguity and a profound sense of loss, the Conestoga's disappearance no longer is a mystery," said Manson Brown, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy NOAA administrator. The boat departed the Golden Gate on March 25, 1921, en route to American Samoa via Hawaii. When it failed to reach Pearl Harbor, a large-scale search was mounted in its vicinity. Later, when one of its lifeboats was found off the coast of Mexico, a search was undertaken there as well. In 2009, a likely shipwreck was identified several miles off Southeast Farallon Island under 189 feet of water, and in October 2015, it was confirmed to be the Conestoga. When the ship set out, it faced increasing wind speeds and high waves. Based on the location and orientation of the wreck, it appears that the crew was attempting to take shelter in a protected cove when it sank. For more, go to “History's 10 Greatest Wrecks..."

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Archaeology News - March 23, 2016

ONTARIO, CANADA—A project to build a light rail system in the city of Waterloo has unearthed a corduroy road, made with logs sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, beneath King Street. “They would have put the trees down to help vehicles not get stuck in the mud,” Kate Hagerman, cultural heritage specialist with the Region of Waterloo, told CBC News. “That’s been a road for a long time, so there’s layers and layers of what people have done to keep it and maintain it. It would have been from the earliest historic development of the region,” she explained. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to "Canada Finds Erebus," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

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