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Settlements Dating Back 12,000 Years Uncovered in England

February 25, 2017

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Excavations in Lincolnshire associated with the construction of a new roadway have uncovered evidence of inhabitation stretching back to the Mesolithic period, according to a report in The Lincolnite. The finds, made by a team from Network Archaeology, include part of a Bronze Age cemetery, along with a settlement dating from the Iron Age to the Roman Age. Remains of a twelfth-century tower that may have been used as a beacon to warn against threats around the time of the First Battle of Lincoln in 1141 were also found. Additional discoveries include Mesolithic and Neolithic flint tools, field systems, pottery kilns, a possible vineyard, and a medieval monastic grange. “The evidence we’ve seen so far suggests that small communities were already living in this area around 12,000 years ago and that it has been a favored spot for human activity ever since,” said Chris Taylor of Network Archaeology. To read about another recent discovery in England, go to “Something New for Sutton Hoo.”

Categories: Blog

Neanderthal Genes Still Influencing Health Today

February 25, 2017

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—New Scientist reports that a recent genetic study shows that Neanderthal DNA that survives in people of non-African descent is still controlling how some genes work. University of Washington geneticist Joshua Akey led a team that did a comprehensive DNA analysis of 214 Americans of European ancestry, and was able to isolate Neanderthal genes that were active in 52 kinds of tissue. In some cases, individuals had both a human and Neanderthal copy of a gene, and the team could compare the copies and find which variant controlled gene expression. They found that in the case of one gene that is a known risk factor for schizophrenia, the Neanderthal DNA controls the gene in such a way that it reduces the risk of developing the disease. “Strikingly, we find that Neanderthal sequences present in living individuals are not silent remnants of hybridization that occurred over 50,000 years ago, but have ongoing, widespread, and measurable impacts on gene activity,” says Akey. In other genes, such as ones that regulate brain activity, the influence of Neanderthal DNA is much less pronounced. To read more, go to “Should We Clone Neanderthals?

Categories: Blog

Temple to Near Eastern God Found on Corsica

February 25, 2017

 

MARIANA, CORSICA—A team of French archaeologists excavating the Roman city of Mariana on the island of Corsica have discovered a Mithraeum, or a temple dedicated to the Indo-Iranian god Mithras, reports International Business Times. Mithraism was probably spread through the Roman Empire by Near Eastern merchants and soldiers around the same time Christianity was introduced. “This is a very rare and exciting find,” says archaeologist Philippe Chapon, who led the team. “It is the first time we find evidence that Mithraism was practiced in Corsica.” Inside the temple the team found fragments of a marble altar depicting Mithras sacrificing a bull, while a dog and a snake drink its blood. The archaeologists also found oil lamps, bronze bells, as well as the marble head of a woman. Some of the artifacts show signs of being damaged, perhaps after the temple was attacked by Christians, who built a church on the island around A.D. 400. To read more about Near Eastern dieties, go to “How to Pray to a Storm God.”

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Sally Hemings’ Monticello Living Quarters Excavated

February 25, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—Archaeologists believe they have uncovered the living space of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman with whom Thomas Jefferson is thought to have fathered six children, according to a report from NPR. The excavation is part of a renovation project at Jefferson’s Monticello plantation that aims to illuminate the lives of the enslaved people who lived there. The area where Hemings is thought to have lived was turned into a restroom in 1941. In the area, archaeologists have uncovered a fireplace, the original brick floor, and traces of several shelves. One of the goals of the project is to make the presence of enslaved people at the plantation more apparent to visitors. “There were no remnants of slavery that visitors could encounter,” said Christa Dierksheide, a historian at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. “And we're recreating or restoring spaces where enslaved families would've worked, would've lived, and made it the dynamic place that it was.” For more, go to “Mr. Jefferson’s Laboratory.”

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Skeletons Buried Hand in Hand Excavated in London

February 24, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—The skeletons of two men who appear to have been interred hand in hand were excavated from a plague burial ground in London during the construction of the Crossrail tunnel, according to a report from The Guardian. The men are thought to have been in their 40s and were buried in the early fifteenth century in a carefully dug double grave. They were placed in identical positions, with their heads angled to the right, and the left hand of one man clasping the right hand of the other. “One possible interpretation is that they were related in some way, for example by blood or marriage,” said archaeologist Sam Pfizenmaier, who led the excavation, noting that the positioning of their hands could be accidental. Both men are thought to have died in an outbreak of bubonic plague and were buried in the cemetery in Smithfield that opened in 1348 and ultimately held more than 50,000 bodies. DNA of several of the skeletons excavated from the cemetery has revealed exposure to Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague. To read about another discovery as part of the Crossrail project, go to “A Tale of Two Railroads.”

Categories: Blog

WWII Bomb Defused in Greek City

February 24, 2017

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—Soldiers recently defused a World War II bomb in Greece’s second-largest city after evacuating tens of thousands of people from the area, according to a report from Agence France-Presse. The bomb was discovered during roadwork near a gas station. It took several hours to defuse the five-foot-long bomb, which was found to contain 375 pounds of explosives. According to Army chief of staff Nikos Phanios, the American-made bomb’s firing mechanism “was still in a very good shape, and this was what had us worried.” The bomb is thought to have been dropped by a British place as part of a campaign of strikes on the city’s railway station and port in 1943. Around 70,000 people were evacuated from a one-mile radius around the site before the bomb was defused. “A bomb of this size has never been found in an area this densely populated” in Greece, said regional security chief Apostolos Tzitzikostas. For more on handling unexploded ordnance from World War II, go to “Letter from the Marshall Islands: Defuzing the Past.”

Categories: Blog

Crouched Medieval Burials Found in Siberia

February 24, 2017

YAMAL PENINSULA, RUSSIA—Unusual burials of three women and a man dating to the eleventh century have been discovered in Russia’s Yamal Peninsula, according to a report from The Siberian Times. All four bodies were found in a crouched position, which archaeologist Andrey Plekhanov said indicates they may have been ritually buried or possibly even sacrificed. All four also suffered from serious diseases or starvation, and the man was set on fire after death, a phenomenon not previously recorded in the area. “We can be sure that he did not die in the fire,” said Plekhanov. “His dead body was set to fire, but not a very strong one. His bones remained almost intact, the fire damage[d] mostly the soft tissues.” Among the artifacts found with the bodies were a bronze bracelet with a bear image, a knife with a bronze handle, a tanning scraper, bronze and silver pendants, a ring, and a facial mask made of animal skin. Fragments of pottery, possibly from the funeral meal, were also found. To read about another recent discovery in the area, go to “Siberian William Tell.”

Categories: Blog

Chaco Canyon’s Matrilineal Dynasty

February 23, 2017

 

CHACO CANYON, NEW MEXICO—New research shows that a matrilineal dynasty may have controlled Pueblo Bonito, one of the massive masonry villages at the Ancestral Puebloan site of Chaco Canyon, reports Live Science.  A team of archaeologists and geneticists recently reanalyzed an elaborate two-layered burial crypt at the site that had been previously excavated. Such burial arrangements are rare in Puebloan cultures and the crypt is thought to have held high-ranking members of Chacoan society, who were buried there from A.D. 800 to 1120, when the site was abandoned. At the bottom of this crypt lay the graves of two men who had been buried with thousands of turquoise beads and other prestigious objects. Above them, separated by a wooden floor, were the graves of 12 people thought to have descended from the two men. A genomic study of the remains showed that nine of the people in the crypt all had identical mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from mothers, suggesting power was inherited at Chaco through the maternal line. "For the first time, we're saying that one kinship group controlled Pueblo Bonito for more than 300 years," said University of Virginia archaeologist Steve Plog, who co-led the study. "This is the best evidence of a social hierarchy in the ancient Southwest." To read about how Pueblo culture endured Spanish rule, go to “The First American Revolution.”

Categories: Blog

Japanese Internment Camp on Oahu Excavated

February 23, 2017

HONOLULU, HAWAII—Archaeologists are excavating an area of the Honouliuli National Monument where a Japanese internment and POW camp once stood, according to a report from NBC News. William Belcher, an archaeologist at the University of Hawaii West Oahu, and his students aim to preserve the site and map its features. In one area, they are looking for underground concrete slabs where they believe the camp’s mess hall once stood. The camp was one of more than a dozen World War II–era internment sites, and was used to detain prominent local Japanese residents and to house prisoners of war. Since Japanese people made up some 40 percent of Hawaii’s population, and many worked on plantations, only a small portion were interred at the camp. To read in-depth about underwater archaeology of the attack on Pearl Harbor, go to “December 7, 1941.”

Categories: Blog

Ancient Children’s Footprints Uncovered in Egypt

February 23, 2017

 

CAIRO, EGYPT—Children’s footprints dating back more than 3,000 years have been found at Pi-Ramesse, which was the Egyptian capital during the reign of Ramesses II (r. 1279–1213 B.C.), according to a report from Seeker. The prints were found near rare painting fragments in a mortar pit measuring around 8 by 26 feet. According to Henning Franzmeier, field director of the Qantir-Piramesse project, the footprints measure around 6 to 6.5 inches, which corresponds to an age of three to five. It is unclear whether the footprints were left by more than one child. “The differences in size are not big enough for us to clearly differentiate,” said Franzmeier. “And they are also not so well preserved that we could distinguish so far any other features of the feet.” It is also unclear why the children would have been in the area. Further excavation in the area and analysis of the footprints will be carried out in the project’s next field season. To read about another discovery in Egypt, go to “World’s Oldest Dress.”

Categories: Blog

A Bronze Age Male Migration

February 23, 2017

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA—Science reports that a new DNA study shows males belonging to a Bronze Age culture now known as the Yamnaya had a transformative impact on the European population. Prior to the Yamnaya migration, many prehistoric Europeans were descended from Neolithic farmers who migrated to Europe from Anatolia beginning around 9000 years ago. Some 4000 years later, the Yamnaya, herders who had mastered horseback riding and were likely speakers of Indo-European, left the Eurasian steppe and moved west into central Europe. To investigate the ratio of men to women who participated in these two migrations, Stanford University geneticists used a new statistical method to compare DNA from 20 skeletons belonging to people who lived after the arrival of Neolithic farmers and 16 who lived just after the Yamnaya migration. They found that equal numbers of men and women took part in the Neolithic population movement, but that there were some 10 men for every woman who participated in the Yamnaya migration. The finding is consistent with the theory that the Yamnaya who moved west were largely horse-mounted male warriors. To read more about the study of prehistoric Indo-European languages, go to “Telling Tales in Proto-Indo-European.” 

Categories: Blog

Kennewick Man Reburied

February 22, 2017

 

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—The Seattle Times reports that after two decades of legal battles, the 9,000-year-old remains dubbed Kennewick Man by scientists and called the Ancient One by Native Americans have been reburied at an undisclosed site on the Columbia Plateau. Since being discovered on the banks of the Columbia River in 1996, the remains have been claimed by tribes indigenous to the area, which pushed for the repatriation of the Ancient One even as his bones were being exhaustively studied by anthropologists. Last Friday, representatives of five tribes met with officials at Seattle's Burke Museum, where they took possession of the Ancient One's bones, as well as vials containing his DNA samples and a spear point that had been found lodged in his hip. All were buried on Saturday during a ceremony attended by more than 200 people. To read about the earliest people to arrive in North America, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

Categories: Blog

Colonial-Era Artifacts Uncovered in Australia

February 22, 2017

 

NORTH PARRAMATTA, AUSTRALIA—An excavation in a suburb of Sydney has turned up evidence of the early decades after the arrival of Europeans in Australia, according to a report from ABC News. The site, in North Parramatta, was home to an early nineteenth-century “female factory,” where women convicts sent to Australia were put to work. Later, it was expanded to include a mental asylum and orphanage. Among the items found at the site are toothbrushes, combs, beads, and bits of jewelry. The archaeologists are unsure who owned these items. A number of small pieces of glass have also been discovered, possibly dating back to 1788, around the time the first colonists arrived in Australia. Archaeologist Jillian Comber believes these provide evidence of relationships between the European settlers and Aboriginal people, who used the glass for cutting or carving. “The glass is really important,” she said, “because we don't have a great deal of evidence of that coexistence between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.” For more on archaeology of nineteenth-century Australia, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval English Graffiti Surveyed

February 22, 2017

BOLTON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists are searching buildings in Bolton for medieval markings designed to fend off evil spirits and bad omens, according to a report in The Bolton News. Members of the Bolton Archaeology and Egyptology Society are being trained to spot the marks through tours of historic buildings such as Hall i' th’ Wood, a Tudor manor house built in the early sixteenth century. “Buildings often change uses,” says Ian Trumble, the society’s chairman. “For example, Hall i’ th’ Wood was a farmhouse before it become a posh home and markings could show the different uses of the building over time.” Among the markings society members will be looking for are daisy wheels, taper burns, and the “VV” sign, which stands for “Virgo Virginum” and has traditionally been associated with the cult of the Virgin Mary. To read in-depth about medieval graffiti, go to “Letter from England: Writing on the Church Wall.”

Categories: Blog

Roman House Unearthed in Israel

February 22, 2017

OMRIT, ISRAEL—A house built in the late first or early second century A.D. has been unearthed at the ancient site of Omrit in northern Israel, reports Live Science. A team led by Carthage College archaeologist Daniel Schowalter excavated the building and found that its floor was covered in plaster and its walls were decorated with elaborate frescoes. The surviving images depict bucolic scenes of trees, plants, and fish, as well as two ducks that appear to be huddling together. Schowalter believes the house may have been built for a Roman official, but that it's also possible a wealthy local could have lived there and commissioned the Roman-style frescoes. The team also unearthed several amulets in the shape of phalluses, which were thought to ward off misfortune during the Roman period. To see elaborate frescoes dating to the same era, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”  

Categories: Blog

Face of Pictish Murder Victim Recreated

February 18, 2017

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a team of researchers led by Sue Black of the Center for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee has recreated the face of a Pictish man whose skeleton was discovered in the Scottish Highlands, in a cave on the coast of the Black Isle peninsula. Examination of his bones revealed that he had suffered from at least five serious head injuries, including broken teeth on the right side of his face; a fractured jaw on the left; a fracture to the back of his head, probably after falling from the first two blows; and a wound through the head that was probably made with the same weapon. The fifth injury is thought to have come from a larger weapon to the top of the skull. Radiocarbon dating indicates that he was killed some 1,400 years ago. Large stones had been placed on his arms and legs, which were crossed to keep the remains in place. Excavation leader Steven Birch said it was clear the man was carefully buried, though the team members don’t know why he was brutally killed. For more on facial reconstruction, go to “Neolithic FaceTime.”

Categories: Blog

Possible Pomegranate Seeds Found in Ancient Tomb

February 18, 2017

HOHHOT, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that more than 100 seeds thought to be 2,000 years old have been found in a brick tomb in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of northern China. The seeds were found in a circle near the head of the woman who had been buried in the tomb. Archaeologists have not yet determined the species of the seeds, which are half-moon in shape and resemble modern pomegranate seeds. The tomb also contained the remains of a bronze seal. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

New World Epidemic May Have Been Caused by Salmonella

February 18, 2017

JENA, GERMANY—Nature reports that evolutionary geneticist Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and his team think that a rare strain of Salmonella could be responsible for an epidemic that killed as much as 80 percent of Mexico’s population between 1545 and 1550, in the years following the Spanish conquest. The scientists sequenced bacterial DNA obtained from the teeth of 29 people who had been buried in southern Mexico, and compared the samples to a database of more than 2,700 modern bacterial genomes. The DNA recovered from several of the individuals matched that of Salmonella. Further testing suggests the strain is a rare one that today causes enteric fever and can be fatal without treatment. Evidence for the presence of the same strain of bacteria has been found in a woman who was buried in Trondheim, Norway, around the year A.D. 1200. The study suggests that the bacteria may have been carried by Spanish explorers to the New World. To read in-depth about the study of ancient DNA, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

Categories: Blog

Nero’s Domus Aurea Receives Virtual-Reality Treatment

February 17, 2017

ROME, ITALY—CBS News reports that visitors to the Domus Aurea, Emperor Nero’s “Golden House,” can experience how it might have looked 2,000 years ago through virtual reality headsets. Raffaele Carlani, an architect and graphic designer, and his team at the company KatatexiLux, studied the works of Renaissance painters who viewed the palace’s frescoes in their efforts to reproduce its faded splendor. “Nothing is invented,” Carlani said, “every part of the reconstruction has a scientific base.” To read in-depth about the Domus Aurea, go to “Golden House of an Emperor.”

Categories: Blog

Welcome Back, Woolly Mammoth?

February 17, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—The woolly mammoth went extinct about 4,000 years ago, probably due to climate change and human hunting. The Guardian reports that scientists think they may be able to create a hybrid mammoth-elephant embryo in two years through the use of the Crispr gene-editing tool. “Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits,” explained George Church of Harvard University. Those woolly mammoth traits include small ears, subcutaneous fat, shaggy hair, and cold-adapted blood. So far, woolly mammoth DNA, obtained from the remains of animals found frozen in Siberian ice, has only been inserted into Asian elephant cells. But the team is also experimenting with an artificial womb in which a “mammophant” embryo could develop, rather than try to implant it into an endangered female Asian elephant. Church suggests that mammoth traits could help strengthen Asian elephants, and that bringing the animals back could help preserve the frozen tundra. “They keep the tundra from thawing by punching through snow and allowing cold air to come in,” he said. To read about the discovery of mammoth remains in Michigan, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”

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