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Genomes of Scythian Horses Mapped

April 29, 2017

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The New York Times reports that Ludovic Orlando of the University of Copenhagen and an international team of scientists analyzed DNA extracted from the bones of 11 male horses buried in a mound some 2,300 years ago by the Scythians in what is now Kazakhstan; two male horses buried in a royal Scythian tomb some 2,700 years ago in southern Siberia; and the 4,100-year-old remains of a Sintashta mare found in Russia, near the border of Europe and Asia. The researchers were able to identify several characteristics selected by the Scythian breeders, including robust forelimbs, increased milk production, and bay, black, chestnut, cream, and spotted coat colors. Some of the Scythian horses carried a gene variant associated with short-distance sprinting. And only two of the horses were related, which supports Herodotus’ description of sacrificed horses in funerary rituals as gifts from tribes across the steppes. The study also noted that none of the horses were inbred. Orlando suggests this indicates that the Scythians maintained natural herd structures, rather than limit the number of stallions, as is often the case in modern breeding programs. For more, go to “Rites of the Scythians.”

Categories: Blog

Hominin DNA Recovered From Cave Sediments

April 28, 2017

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—According to a report in Seeker, an international team of scientists has recovered hominin genetic material from cave sediments ranging in age from 14,000 to 550,000 years ago. Nine samples, taken from four archaeological sites, produced enough mitochondrial DNA for analysis. Neanderthal DNA was found in eight of the samples, most of which came from archaeological layers where no Neanderthal remains had been recovered. The ninth sample, from a site in Russia, yielded Denisovan DNA. “We were surprised by how well this worked,” said geneticist Viviane Slon of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. The team also looked for DNA of other mammals, and found it in layers dating to times when the animals were alive, but not in later layers dating to periods after the animals had gone extinct. The researchers note, however, that they need more data to learn how DNA moves through the environment. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Castle Found in Poland

April 28, 2017

WROCLAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that remnants of a fourteenth-century castle belonging to Bolko II the Small have been discovered on an island in the Czerna Wielka River. The castle is located in the Lower Silesian Wilderness of southwestern Poland and was mentioned in medieval documents, but archaeologists had not been able to look for it because the area was used a a military training ground until the 1990s. Pawel Konczewski of Wroclaw University said the castle’s foundation was made of bog iron, while its single, rectangular tower was constructed of bricks marked with craftsmen’s fingerprints. The Piast dynasty prince built the fortress as part of a plan to expand his territory. “Bolko II set a new route—to save time and take the lead in trade,” Konczewski said. “On his route was a castle around which a settlement was built. Its inhabitants’ trade was the ironworks, due to rich deposits of iron in the area.” The research team has also found traces of the ironworking village, including mining areas and slag heaps, but they have not yet found any furnaces. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

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Scans Provide a Glimpse of the Homo naledi Brain

April 28, 2017

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA—According to a report in Science News, Shawn Hurst of Indiana University and Ralph Holloway of Columbia University laser scanned the inside surfaces of severaln partial Homo naledi skulls, and created virtual casts to look for any surviving details of the brain surfaces. They found two grooves and imprints of folds of tissue on a partial Homo naledi skull in an area corresponding to Broca’s area in modern humans, which is linked to language as well as social emotions such as empathy, pride, and shame. Hurst claimed that Homo naledi’s small brain may have had similar capabilities. “We can’t say for sure whether that included language,” Hurst said. Surface features from the back of the Homo naledi brain were preserved on other partial skulls. Holloway said that some of those features are more pronounced on the left side, which in modern humans, is associated with right-handedness. The fossils, recently reoprted to have been dated to between 200,000 and 300,000 years old, were discovered from a deep chamber in South Africa’s Rising Star Cave. For more on Homo naledi, go to “A New Human Relative.”

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Maya Sculpture Uncovered in Southern Mexico

April 27, 2017

SUCHIAPA, MEXICO—The International Business Times reports that a piece of a Maya sculpture was discovered under a house on private land in the southern state of Chiapas. The carving is thought to represent the god of maize and abundance, and to date to the late Classic period, between A.D. 600 and 900. The carving has been housed at the Regional Museum of Chiapas. For more, go to “Rituals of Maya Kingship.”

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Genetic Study Reveals Deep History of Dogs

April 27, 2017

BETHESDA, MARYLAND—According to a report in Nature, biologists Heidi Parker and Elaine Ostrander of the National Institutes of Health, and their colleagues, examined the genomes of more than 1,300 dogs to develop a family tree for more than 160 breeds. The study suggests that dogs bred to perform similar functions, such as working or herding breeds, emerged at different times and places. “In retrospect, that makes sense,” Ostrander said. “What qualities you’d want in a dog that herds bison are different from mountain goats, which are different from sheep, and so on,” she explained. Hunter-gatherers are thought to have domesticated canines thousands of years ago and bred them for their skills, while more recent breeders are believed to have selected for physical traits. The study also revealed that most of the breeds in the study originated in Europe and Asia. These types of dogs are thought to have replaced the New World domesticated dogs that crossed the Bering land bridge with the first Americans. The Peruvian hairless dog, and the xoloitzcuintli, however, are clustered together on the family tree. Parker thinks these canines may retain genes from New World ancestors. For more, go to “Denmark’s Bog Dogs.”

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Middle Stone Age Hunting Technology Found in South Africa

April 27, 2017

LIÈGE, BELGIUM—Live Science reports that 25 stone points discovered in South Africa’s Sibudu Cave indicate that people had mastered using a pointed bone tool to manufacture stone weapons some 77,000 years ago. Known as “pressure flaking,” the technique removes small flakes from a sharpened stone in a controlled manner. Veerle Rots of the University of Liège said that some of the stone weapons in the study had been worked on both sides, and more than half of them bore evidence that they had been used for hunting, including impact-related damage, animal blood and bone, and traces of resin to attach them to wooden shafts for throwing. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

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Ancient Inscription May Link Cave to Shaolin Kung Fu

April 27, 2017

SHIJIAZUHANG, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a 1,400-year-old inscription has been found carved on the wall of a cave in northern China’s Hebei Province. The inscription identifies the cave as a place of seclusion for Master Sengchou, who may have been in the military before he became a Buddhist monk in the sixth century A.D. Master Sengchou is remembered as a martial arts expert and is credited with promoting Zen Buddhism and the tradition of Shaolin monks practicing martial arts. “The discovery offers precious materials to study the history of local Buddhism and the Northern Qi Dynasty,” said Liu Xinchang of Handan City’s history association. For more, go to “Buddhism, in the Beginning.”

Categories: Blog

Mother-of-Pearl Ornament Found at Caesarea Maritima

April 27, 2017

CAESAREA, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists discovered a 1,500-year-old mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a six-branched menorah near a first-century B.C. temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar. The ornament is thought to have adorned a box that contained a Torah scroll, and to date to the fourth to fifth centuries A.D., pointing to a Jewish presence in Caesarea during the Byzantine period. The excavation team, led by archaeologist Peter Gendelman, also uncovered the Augusteum’s altar and a fragment of a Greek inscription. For more, go to “Byzantine Riches.”

Categories: Blog

New Dates Suggested for Homo naledi

April 27, 2017

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—According to a report in BBC News, Lee Berger of Wits University says the fossilized remains of Homo naledi, discovered in a remote chamber in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system, may be between 200,000 and 300,000 years old. When the specimens were discovered in 2015, Berger thought they could be up to three million years old. The new dates suggest that Homo naledi, which exhibits some traits similar to the genus Australopithecus, and some traits found in the genus Homo, could have overlapped with modern humans. “These look like a primitive form of our own genus—Homo,” said Berger’s colleague, John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin. “It looks like it might be connected to early Homo erectus, or Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis,” he said. Berger thinks the Homo naledi remains could have been placed in the hard-to-reach chamber deliberately, which would suggest that the small-brained hominins were capable of ritual behavior. To read more about Homo naledi, go to “A New Human Relative.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on the Death of the Iceman

April 26, 2017

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—It has been suggested that Ötzi, the man whose frozen remains were found in a melting glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991, was murdered some 5,300 years ago. Examination of the body has revealed an arrow wound to the left shoulder and depressions and fractures in the skull. Frank Rühli of the University of Zurich thinks these wounds were not fatal, however, according to a report in Science News. The new analysis suggests that the arrow wound caused just a half-cup loss of blood. Rühli thinks fur headgear found with the remains probably offered Ötzi some protection from injury after an accidental fall on the rocks. “Freezing to death is quite likely the main cause of death in this classic cold case,” he said. For more, go to “Ötzi’s Sartorial Splendor.”

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World War I Training Tunnels Studied in England

April 26, 2017

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that tunnels and trenches used to train Australian troops for the First World War have been investigated ahead of a construction project at Larkhill, an army base located about two miles from Stonehenge. Si Cleggett of Wessex Archaeology explained that more than 200 grenades were carefully recovered, and half of them were still live. The researchers also found food cans, combs, toothbrushes, cigarette and tobacco tins and pipes, candlesticks and stubs of candles, Australian toffee tins, scorch marks from fires, and a bucket adapted into a brazier. Graffiti on the chalk walls of the tunnels has been linked to soldiers’ service records. More than 140 men died in training at the site, many of them from illnesses contracted on the journey to England. Later artifacts, thought to have been deposited in the tunnels by soldiers stationed at the army base, have also been recovered, including a 1930s red MG sports car, and a 1950s motorbike. The tunnels will be sealed and filled before housing for military service personnel is built over the site. To read more about archaeology of World War I, go to “Letter from Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter.”

Categories: Blog

Who Was Australopithecus sediba?

April 26, 2017

TEMPE, ARIZONA—According to a report in Science Magazine, Bill Kimbel of Arizona State University and Yoel Rak of Tel Aviv University have analyzed the skull of a juvenile Australopithecus sediba individual, discovered in Malapa, South Africa, in 2008 by Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand. Berger suggested that the Australopithecus sediba fossils, which have been dated to 1.98 million years ago, could represent an ancestor to Homo erectus and, thus, to modern humans. Kimbel and Rak examined the facial features and cheekbones of other australopithecines, apes, and Homo fossils in order to try to predict how the young Australopithecus sediba individual would have matured. They concluded that Australopithecus sediba could be a “sister species” to Australopithecus africanus, and, therefore, not a direct human ancestor. “The ultimate resolution of the question must await the long-hoped-for recovery of the adult cranium of Australopithecus sediba,” commented Darryl de Ruiter of Texas A&M University. For more, go to “The Human Mosaic.”

Categories: Blog

Townspeople May Have Fled 15th-Century Inca Invasion

April 25, 2017

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA—Elizabeth Arkush of the University of Pittsburgh suggests that the Colla people fled their homes in Ayawiri, a hillfort in Peru’s southern central Andes, when the Incas attacked around A.D. 1450, according to a report in The International Business Times. Arkush and her team uncovered valuable bronze jewelry, metal tools, and intact pottery in the round, stone houses at the site. She argues that the metal items, tools, and pots are things that the Colla would have taken with them if they had had time to pack their belongings. “Even if a metal object is broken, you can melt or hammer it into something else,” she explained. “You can always recycle metal.” Some of the high-status residents may have known the Inca invasion was coming, since fewer objects were found in their homes. The people are thought to have lived in smaller settlements in the countryside after they fled from their town. “But exactly where the people of Ayawiri went, we don’t know,” she said. For more, go to “In Search of History's Greatest Rulers: Atahualpa, Last Inca Emperor.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on England’s White Horse Geoglyph

April 25, 2017

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—According to a report in the International Business Times, archaeologist Joshua Pollard of the University of Southampton thinks the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric geoglyph, is not a symbol of ownership, as has been suggested, but a representation of a mythical horse pulling the sun across the sky. Pollard says the horse’s body is positioned as if it is running up a slope, from a site known as Dragon Hill, toward a long mound, a round barrow, and Uffington Castle, which dates to the Iron Age. “If you follow the horse’s position and its track of movement, then that corresponds with the arc of the midwinter sun,” Pollard explained. He added that in Indo-European mythologies and cosmologies, the sun is pulled across the sky by a horse or a horse-drawn chariot during the day, and carried through the underworld at night by boat or chariot. If so, the Uffington White Horse could link Britain’s religious tradition to that of Europe. “It may have acted as a regional or even inter-regional focus for ceremonial activity,” Pollard said. To read more about Indo-European myths involving horses, go to “Horses and the Heavens.”

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DNA Obtained From Franklin Expedition Crew

April 25, 2017

NUNAVUT, CANADA—According to a report in Live Science, a team led by Douglas Stenton of Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage obtained DNA samples from at least 24 members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, which attempted to find a Northwest Passage linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in 1845. All were lost when Sir John Franklin’s ships were trapped in the ice of the Canadian Arctic and the sailors abandoned their ships in 1848. The tests revealed that the bones of one individual were found at two different sites about a mile apart. Stenton suggests that an 1879 search party may have moved some of the bones and reburied them. The tests also suggest that four of the samples came from women, but this may be the result of an insufficient amplification of Y chromosomes in the samples. And, although it would have been unusual to have so many women on one voyage, women may have served surreptitiously or been smuggled on board disguised as men. Finally, the researchers may eventually be able to identify the remains of the crew members. “We have been in touch with several descendants who have expressed interest in participating in further research,” Stenton said. To read in-depth about the discovery of one of the expedition's ships, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”

Categories: Blog

Gold Jewelry Repatriated to Cambodia

April 25, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Cambodia Daily reports that ten gold artifacts were handed over to Cambodian authorities by a private collector in London. The jewelry pieces, made of gold and other metals, are thought to have once decorated Khmer statues. Experts in Europe noticed the artifacts in publicity for a sale in a London-based gallery by a private collector, and contacted Cambodia’s Culture Minister, Phoeung Sakona. She explained that it is not known how the artifacts left the country, but authorities expect is was during Cambodia's long civil war. “This artistic style is Khmer—there are no other countries that made items like this,” she said. To read more about archaeology in Cambodia, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Categories: Blog

The Knight’s Tombstone Conserved in Jamestown

April 22, 2017

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that Preservation Virginia conservators are working with large-stone specialist Jonathan Appell to preserve the so-called Knight’s Tombstone, which has lain on the floor of the church at Historic Jamestowne for some 400 years. The stone is carved with an image of a knight and was once adorned with monumental brasses. Nearly half of the 1,200 pound stone is in one piece; the lower section has cracked into several large pieces. “Each of the pieces were light enough for one or two people to lift it onto the cart, except that last part took about five,” said field supervisor Mary Anna Hartley. The largest piece was propped against the church wall, and then lowered onto a wooden platform that had been built beneath it. The platform was then moved up a wooden ramp to a work station on a cart. The team is now carefully removing concrete applied to the stone in the early twentieth century. “It’s very hard to reverse,” Appell said. The pieces will eventually be reassembled with a softer, pigmented mortar. Researchers will try to identify the grave’s occupant. For more, go to “Jamestown’s VIPs.”

Categories: Blog

Peru’s Logosyllabic Khipus Record 3-D Texts

April 22, 2017

FIFE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Courier, Sabine Hyland of the University of St. Andrews has deciphered two lineage names from two eighteenth-century logosyllabic khipus found in the village of San Juan de Collata in the Peruvian Andes. Khipus, made by the Inca from cotton or fibers obtained from alpacas, llamas, or deer, were used to record and transport information. It was previously understood that the Incas used khipus to record numbers, but evidence that they were used to record narratives has only come to light recently, Hyland noted. Her analysis of the special khipus held at San Juan de Collata revealed 95 different symbols of a writing system in which each pendant cord represents a phonetic syllable. At the end of each khipu, three-cord sequences used colors, types of fibers, and the direction of the ply to represent lineage names, she explained, noting that it is often necessary to feel the cords in order to determine what sort of fiber the texts were made with. For more, go to “Reading an Inca Archive.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on the Origin of “The Hobbits”

April 21, 2017

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—The Guardian reports that researchers led by Debbie Argue of Australian National University compared the bones of Homo floresiensis, also known as “The Hobbit,” to cranial, postcranial, mandibular, and dental samples of early hominids from several countries. It had been suggested that hobbits evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, which lived in the region, while isolated on the Indonesian island of Flores. But statistical analysis of the remains concluded that Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis had completely different bone structures. The new findings support the idea that the hobbits may have shared a common ancestor in Africa with Homo habilis. If this is the case, then perhaps Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and then migrated, or perhaps the common ancestor migrated and evolved elsewhere. “Homo floresiensis occupied a very primitive position on the human evolutionary tree,” explained Mike Lee of Flinders University and the South Australian Museum. “We can be ninety-nine percent sure it’s not related to Homo erectus and nearly one-hundred percent it isn’t a malformed Homo sapiens.” For more, go to “A New Human Relative.”

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