MINSK, BELARUS—Vadim Belavec of Belarusian State University believes he has found a home of the ancestors of the Slavs in the Pripyat River Basin in southern Belarus, according to a Science in Poland report. Belavec’s excavation team uncovered two buildings and an assortment of artifacts from the settlement, which dates from the second to fifth centuries A.D. The two buildings at the site were probably used to store grain. Evidence of gold working, in the form of crucibles and casting spoons, was recovered, in addition to bronze brooches decorated with red and white enamel, and a coin bearing the image of the Roman emperor Commodus (A.D. 161-192). An unusual sword sheath that may have belonged to a Germanic warrior was also found. Belavec speculates this warrior may have taken part in an attack that led to the demise of the settlement in the fifth century. The oldest-known historical record of the Slavs dates to the sixth century A.D. To read about a recent discovery made in southwestern Russia, go to “Hellenistic Helmet Safety.”
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—According to an Associated Press report, a 75-foot piece of USS Abner Read has been found under almost 300 feet of water in the Bering Sea, near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, by a team of scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Delaware. Abner Read struck a Japanese mine while looking for Japanese submarines during the 1943 Battle of Attu, the only World War II battle fought in North America. Seventy-one men were lost in the blast, but the remaining 250 men on the ship were able to make it watertight for the journey back to the West Coast of the United States. The ship was repaired and eventually sank after a kamikaze attack during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in 1944. To read about the discovery of the wreck of another World War II ship, go to “Finding Indianapolis, which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2017.”
YORK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that an international team of researchers including Stephen Buckley of the University of York has worked out an ancient Egyptian embalming “recipe” through the analysis of a human mummy dated to approximately 3600 B.C. It had been previously thought that this mummy had been formed through natural processes, but chemical analysis of its wrappings revealed the body was intentionally embalmed. The remains, housed in The Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy, and never treated by conservators, had been treated with a plant oil such as sesame oil; a “balsam-type” plant or root extract, perhaps derived from bulrushes; a plant-based gum that may have been produced from acacia; and a conifer tree resin, probably from pine trees. When combined with oil, the resin possessed antibacterial properties that helped to protect the body from decay, Buckley said. This basic recipe was used 2,000 years later to embalm the pharaohs, he added, suggesting there was an Egyptian identity long before the Egyptian nation-state was formed. To read more about research on early embalming in Egypt, go to “Mummification Before the Pharaohs,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Science Nordic reports than an international team of researchers is translating previously unpublished ancient Egyptian texts in the collections of the University of Copenhagen. Egyptologist Kim Ryholt said the topics of the works include medicine, botany, astronomy, and astrology, and are likely to contribute to scholars’ understanding of the history of science, since Egyptian ideas spread to Greece, Rome, and the Middle East. The kidneys, eye diseases, and pregnancy are among the topics covered in medical texts investigated by the researchers so far. One 3,500-year-old papyrus prescribes a method of determing the sex of an unborn child. “The text says that a pregnant woman should pee into a bag of barley and a bag of wheat,” explained Sofie Schiødt of the University of Copenhagen. “Depending on which bag sprouts first reveals the sex of her child. And if neither of the bags sprout then she wasn’t pregnant.” A similar pregnancy test has been found in German folklore dated to 1699. “That really puts things into perspective,” Schiødt said, “as it shows that the Egyptian ideas have left traces thousands of years later.” To read about a recently translated religious text from Egypt, go to “Divine Invitation.”
KARDZALI, BULGARIA—Excavation of a Christian bishop’s residence dating to the early fifth century A.D. continues in southern Bulgaria’s ancient Thracian city of Perperikon, according to Archaeology in Bulgaria. The residence was part of a 70-foot-long basilica. “This is one of the earliest ensembles [of religious Christian buildings] in all of early Christian Europe,” said archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov. The front piece of a bronze engolpion cross, complete with depictions of the crucified Christ figure and the four Christian saints known as the Evangelists, was found within the building. Such crosses were designed to be worn on the chest, suspended by a chain, and are now worn as a symbol of a bishop’s rank. This cross, dated from the tenth to twelfth centuries A.D., may have held relics of a saint. Ovcharov thinks the well-worn cross may have been worn for more than 100 years, since the faces of its figures are worn off. To read about another recent discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN—According to a BBC News report, Peter Fernandez of Marquette University led a team of researchers who made 3-D scans of the toe bones of living and fossil primate species and human relatives, and compared them to scans of the toes of modern humans. The study suggests early hominins, beginning with Ardipithecus ramidus some 4.4 million years ago, would have been able to walk upright while still having an opposable big toe for climbing and grasping. The scientists found that hominin feet changed slowly and were versatile, with the modern big toe—and the commitment to upright walking—emerging later than other modern foot features. “It might have been last because it was the hardest to change,” Fernandez said. To read about recent study of the oldest known hominin footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”
STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a Smithsonian Magazine report, a new study of scarlet macaw bones unearthed in New Mexico suggests the birds were bred in captivity and raised with a great deal of specialized care and effort at a single, small aviary in what is now the southwestern United States or northwestern Mexico by ancestral Pueblo peoples between A.D. 850 and 1150. Richard George of Penn State University and his team extracted mitochondrial DNA from the remains of 14 macaws recovered from five different sites in Chaco Canyon and the Mimbres region of New Mexico. They found that all 14 birds shared a similar heritage, and more than 70 percent of them likely shared a maternal lineage. “This is important… not only the population history of macaws and human interaction, but also what was happening between groups of people,” George explained. Images of macaw chicks on Mimbres pottery also support the idea that the fast-growing birds were raised locally. It had been previously suggested that macaws in North America had been imported from the Paquimé aviary in Mexico, which was most active between A.D. 1250 and 1450. Such a long journey from Mexico to Chaco Canyon would have taken more than a month. For more on evidence of macaws in the American Southwest, go to “Angry Birds.”
BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Science Magazine reports that biochemists Mélanie Roffet-Salque and Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol and their colleagues analyzed the residues on pottery from the site of Çatalhöyük, which is located in central Turkey, for clues to how a shift in the climate some 8,200 years ago might have affected early farmers. The scientists speculated that drought could have damaged crops and grazing lands, while cooler weather could have increased the food needs of the farmers’ sheep, goats, and cattle. A technique called gas chromatography—mass spectrometry revealed that the fat residues on the pottery dating to the time of the climate shift contained about nine percent more heavy hydrogen—an isotope that correlates with lower levels of precipitation—than sherds from other periods. The researchers also note the higher number of cut marks on animal bones beginning about 8,200 years ago, suggesting that the farmers ate every morsel of available food, and a drop in the number of cattle bones and a rise in the number of goat bones. Goats may have been better at surviving in drought conditions. To read about a figurine discovered at Çatalhöyük, go to “Figure of Distinction.”
EVIA, GREECE—A team of researchers led by Karl Reber of the Swiss Archaeological School in Greece and Amalia Karappaschalidou of the Evia Ephorate of Antiquities has uncovered a variety of artifacts at the sanctuary of Artemis near Amarynthos, according to The Greek Reporter. The site, discovered last year, was the end point of an annual procession from the ancient city of Eretria. The items include embossed tiles bearing the name “Artemis”; statue bases inscribed with dedications to Artemis, her brother Apollo, and their mother, Leto; and a copper and quartz object that may have been part of a larger statue. Scholars suggest the temple, which is thought to have been destroyed by a natural disaster in the first century B.C., and rebuilt in the second century A.D., helped to strengthen Eretria’s border. The excavation team also found evidence of earlier buildings at the site, dating back to the tenth century B.C. To read in-depth about study of the temple of Hera at the site of Olympia, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”
LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a collection of eight ancient artifacts seized by the London Metropolitan police from an antiquities dealer have been repatriated to Iraq, based upon an identification made by scholars at the British Museum. Cuneiform inscriptions on the 5,000-year-old ceramics named a Sumerian king, a temple, and a dedication, which indicated they had been taken from Iraq’s ancient city of Girsu. British Museum archaeologist Sebastian Rey and his Iraqi colleagues were able to find the holes in the Eninnu temple’s mudbrick walls that had held the objects, and broken pieces at the site that had been discarded by the looters. “This is a very happy outcome,” commented St. John Simpson, assistant keeper at the museum’s Middle East department, “nothing like this has happened for a very, very long time if ever.” To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”
PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that archaeologists working in the eastern part of the agora in the ancient city of Philippopolis have uncovered a 30-foot stretch of the Cardo Maximus, or main street. They also unearthed large fragments of the main façade, columns, and architectural elements of the Odeon, which had three or four entrances and a portico. Fragments of a marble statue of a prominent citizen named Sozipatar were also recovered. Text on the fragments indicate Sozipatar was given the right to sit in the theater’s front row. The building, which had been originally used by Philippopolis’s city council, was destroyed by an earthquake in the medieval period. To read about another recent Roman-era discovery in Bulgaria, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—CNN reports that Dale Simpson, Jr., of the University of Queensland and colleagues think the idea that Easter Island’s Rapa Nui culture collapsed due to overuse of resources and competition to build the stone carvings known as moai may be overstated. Jo Anne Van Tilburg of the Easter Island Statue Project led a team that recently excavated four of Easter Island’s moai and uncovered more than 1,500 volcanic stone basalt carving tools. Chemical analysis of 17 of the recovered tools, which are known as toki, found that most of them came from one of three quarry complexes on the island. Simpson says this focused effort in one quarry points to craft specialization, information exchange, and cooperation among the Rapa Nui to produce the nearly one thousand statues, thought to represent important Rapa Nui ancestors. Van Tilburg cautions, however, that such focused labor may have been coerced, and more study is needed. To read about archaeological evidence of collaboration in Mesoamerica, go to “Kings of Cooperation.”
YANGQUANY, CHINA—A 700-year-old octagonal tomb with a pyramid-shaped roof has been discovered in north China, according to a Live Science report. It has been excavated by a team of archaeologists from Yangquan City’s Office of Cultural Heritage Administration and the Bureau of Cultural Relics and Tourism of the Suburbs of Yangquan City. The archaeologist said that the door to the tomb was placed in one of the eight walls, while the other seven featured murals, including depictions of the husband and wife who are thought to have occupied the tomb, and scenes from life in China, which was then under the rule of the Mongol Empire.The scenes include musicians playing songs, tea being prepared, and horses and camels led by a man wearing Mongol-style clothes. At the time the tomb was built, the Mongol dress code restricted Han Chinese officials to round-collared shirts and folded hats. The tomb's roof was decorated with images of the sun, moon, and stars. To read more about the Mongol Empire, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—According to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation report, researchers led by Ceri Shipton of Australian National University say Homo erectus living in what is now Saudi Arabia employed “least-effort strategies” when making tools and gathering resources, when compared to Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who are thought to have gone the extra mile to obtain quality materials. Shipton explained that tools found at the site of a Homo erectus camp near the town of Saffaqah, which is about 175 miles west of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, were made from rocks sourced at a nearby outcrop that may even have rolled into camp. “We also found that in the technology they were using to make the stone tools, they were very conservative,” Shipton said. “They used the same strategies for making the tools in the face of changing environments.” As the local rivers dried up and the environment turned to desert, Shipton thinks the Homo erectus living in the camp may have been unable to plan ahead, and were perhaps reluctant to travel to pursue new water sources. “They would be just planning just a few hours, perhaps a day ahead at most, whereas Homo sapiens and Neanderthals [did] things like target seasonal migration,” he added. Shipton suggests this inability to adapt may have contributed to the extinction of Homo erectus. To read more about Homo erectus, go to "Homo Erectus Stands Alone."
ARTA, GREECE—Tornos News reports that a mosaic made of pebbles was discovered in a bathhouse near the center of the ancient city of Ambracia, which is located in northwestern Greece. The round mosaic features depictions of cupids, swans, fish, water fowl, and an octopus, rendered in off white and dark river pebbles. Archaeologists from the Ephorate of Antiquities in Arta said the mosaic is similar to pebble mosaics found in fourth-century B.C. baths in Corinth. To read more about late Archaic period artwork and architecture in ancient Greece, go to "A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics."
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to a CBC report, archaeologists have discovered human remains in southern Mexico's Puyil cave, the earliest of which are estimated to be around 7,000 years old. According to archaeologist Alberto Martos of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, the oldest remains—which are now on display in Mexico City—date to a period when the progenitors of the Maya began to shift from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agrarian, sedentary one. This eventually leading to the grand city states of the Maya Classic Period (A.D. 250-900). The exhibit also houses artifacts uncovered in the surrounding region, including ceramics and jade artwork. Martos and his team believe that the cave was likely used by multiple groups over a long period of time and would have mostly functioned as a ritual, rather than domestic, space. To read more about Maya origins, go to "The City at the Beginning of the World."
STAFFA, SCOTLAND—According to a report in the Scotsman, archaeologists working with the National Trust for Scotland have discovered evidence of human occupation on the Hebridean island of Staffa going back nearly 4,000 years. In addition to a fragment of prehistoric pottery, the team recovered a burnt grain of hulled barley from a small pit, which radiocarbon analysis dates to between 1880-1700 B.C. Previous estimates for the first human arrival on Staffa, which is now a tourism destination known for its distinctive geological formations, ranged between the 15th and 16th centuries A.D. According to Derek Alexander, the National Trust for Scotland’s Head of Archaeological Services, the team's next objective is to determine whether this evidence represents a longterm settlement on the island or, rather, occasional visits for ritual purposes. To read more about the Bronze Age Hebrides, go to "Scottish 'Frankenstein' Mummies."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to an Associated Press report, a new genetic analysis of 1,000-year-old walrus skulls in European museum collections suggests at that at least 80 percent of them were imported from Norse settlements in Greenland. Walrus tusks were used to produce luxury items such as ivory crucifixes, knife handles, dice, and chess sets for Europe’s medieval elite. But because museum officials have been reluctant to allow scientists to take samples of medieval artifacts for testing, the source of the ivory was unknown. James Barrett of the University of Cambridge and his colleagues found 23 walrus tusks that were still attached to pieces of skull in museum collections around Europe, and collected samples of the bones for the investigation. The researchers now think a collapse in the European market for ivory, brought on by the Black Death and other factors, may have triggered the downfall of the Norse settlements, rather than the cooler climate of the Little Ice Age, as had been previously thought. To read more about the archaeology of Greenland, go to "Letter from Greenland."
ONTARIO, CANADA—Economic historian Cornelius Christian of Brock University thinks the assassinations of Roman emperors could be linked to decreased rainfall and lack of food for the Roman military, according to a Live Science report. Christian compared ancient climate data collected in a previous study from fossilized tree rings in France and Germany—the Roman frontier—with records of mutinies and emperor assassinations. If local farmers could not produce enough food, he reasoned, hungry Roman soldiers could have been pushed into mutiny. “And that mutiny, in turn, would collapse support for the emperor and make him more prone to assassination,” Christian said. He pointed to the death of emperor Vitellius in A.D. 69 as an example. “Vitellius was an acclaimed emperor by his troops,” he explained. “Unfortunately, low rainfall hit that year, and he was completely flabbergasted. His troops revolted, and eventually he was assassinated in Rome.” Critics of the idea say the correlation of drought and assassination merits more research, but note the influence of inflation, disease, and war on the stability of the Roman Empire. To read more about the lives of Roman soldiers, who often lived in harsh conditions, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire."
KIRKWALL, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that two polished stone axes were uncovered last week at the Ness of Brodgar, a Neolithic settlement made up of monumental stone buildings on the island of Orkney. The first ax, the largest found so far at the site, showed signs of heavy use. Site director Nick Card of the University of the Highlands and Islands said the tool may have been damaged while cutting timber joists for a building with a characteristic stone-slab roof. The second ax had been shaped to maximize the beauty of the stone’s natural colors. It also showed signs of wear and tear from use, and may have even been used as an anvil, since it is covered in peck marks. Card explained that the second ax had been placed opposite the entrance of the structure in which it was found. The building was aligned to catch the equinox sunrise. He thinks axes may have served as symbols of power, in addition to multifunctional tools. To read more about the Ness of Brodgar, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."