MIAMI, FLORIDA—Abrupt climate change may have affected some of the earliest civilizations in the Middle East and the Fertile Crescent, according to a study conducted by an international team of scientists led by researchers from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. The team made a high-resolution image of a sediment core taken from Neor Lake in northwest Iran that recorded conditions and changes in climate over the past 13,000 years, and measured the physical properties of its layers. “The high-resolution nature of this record afforded us the rare opportunity to examine the influence of abrupt climate change on early human societies. We see that transitions in several major civilizations across this region, as evidenced by the available historical and archaeological records, coincided with episodes of high atmospheric dust; higher fluxes of dust are attributed to drier conditions across the region over the last 5,000 years,” Arash Sharifi of the University of Miami said in a press release. To read about a 5,000-year-old civilization in what is now Iran, go to "The World in Between."
YORK, ENGLAND—Steve Ashby of the University of York thinks that Viking raiders of the eighth century were motivated by more than the acquisition of wealth. “The lure of the exotic, of the world beyond the horizon, was an important factor. Classic anthropology has shown that the mystique of the exotic is a powerful force, and something that leaders and people of influence often use to prop up their power base. It is not difficult to see how this would have worked in the Viking Age,” he said in a press release. Ashby argues that Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, and Celtic metal objects were not melted down because they served as reminders of successful raids and became symbols of status and power. And those who participated in raiding parties not only accumulated wealth, they built their reputations. “The lure of the raid was thus more than booty; it was about winning and preserving power through the enchantment of travel and the doing of deeds. This provides an important correction to models that focus on the need for portable wealth; the act of acquiring silver was as important as the silver itself,” Ashby explained. To read about a discovery presenting other novel ideas about the Vikings, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."
GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA—Marcello A. Canuto of Tulane University and Tomás Barrientos of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala announced at a press conference the discovery of a fifth-century stele at the Maya site of El Achiotal, located to the east of La Corona. “This stela portrays an early king during one of the more poorly understood periods of ancient Maya history,” Canuto said in a press release. Graduate student Luke Auld-Thomas found fragments of the stela in a shrine that had been built for it during a time of political upheaval in the central Maya area. The archaeologists, who are part of the La Corona Regional Archaeological Project in Guatemala, also uncovered two hieroglyphic panels in a corner room at La Corona’s palace. These texts, which tell of rituals of kingly accession, had been missed by looters. “The fact that the stela and these panels were preserved by the ancient Maya themselves long after they were first carved adds a new wrinkle to our interpretation of how much the ancient Maya valued and strove to preserve their own history,” Canuto said. To read about the excavation of another Maya site in Guatemala, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."
MONTREAL, CANADA—Construction crews discovered traces of Saint-Henri-des-Tanneries, an eighteenth-century village, beneath Montreal’s busy Turcot Interchange. More than half of the village’s residents were employed in the leather and tanning trades. “Montreal was almost like the shoe and leather capital of the world,” Dinu Bumbaru of Heritage Montreal told CTV News. Among the stone foundations of the family-owned shops and homes, archaeologists have unearthed wood tanks for washing and treating skins, cattle bones and horns, and a double-hilted knife used to make wood chips for the tanning process.
TEMPE, ARIZONA—Isaac Ullah of Arizona State University, Ian Kuijt of the University of Notre Dame, and Jacob Freemann of Utah State University combined existing research on the origins of agriculture with dynamical systems theory (DST) to try to understand what propelled humans to shift from hunting and gathering to farming. This shift has been difficult for scientists to study because it happened at different times in different places with different crops and animals. “DST tells us that there ought to be some combinations of subsistence behaviors and environmental characteristics that are generally stable and some that aren’t,” Ullah said in a press release. The analysis showed that resource density, mobility, and population size are important variables that can be influenced by social and environmental conditions. “It is this specific insight that may help to explain why the transition to food production happened in some times and places but not in others, why it happened so differently in all these places and at different times and rates,” he said.
ENFIELD, ENGLAND—A triangular pane of glass, still set in its lead cames, was found among demolition debris in a guarderobe chute at the Forty Hall Estate by members of the Enfield Archaeology Society. The estate had formerly been the site of Elsyng Palace, used by Henry VIII for hunting. “We were tracing the outline of the palace, once home to the future Edward VI and ‘Bloody’ Mary as children, and in the process found this chute full of demolition material from 1657 when the palace was demolished,” Martin Dearne, director of excavations, told Culture 24. The team uncovered a dump of window glass and lead cames, the channeling that holds the glass in place, and the one pane that was still intact. To read more about historical archaeology in England, go to "Treason, Plot, and Witchcraft."
MONMOUTH, WALES—A timber that once supported a crannog, or fortified farmhouse on stilts, was found in the remains of a post-glacial lake two years ago during the construction of a new housing development. The Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in Glasow has radiocarbon dated the timber to 2917 B.C., making this crannog 2,000 years older than the only other known crannog in England and Wales. “The timber, bearing cut marks left by stone or flint axes, formed the end of an oak post which had been carefully levelled to create a flat surface which would probably have rested on a post pad set in the bottom of the lake,” archaeologist Steve Clarke, founder of the Monmouth Archaeological Society, told the South Wales Argus. To read about another crannog in the British Isles, go to "Saving Northern Ireland's Noble Bog."
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The 4,000-year-old skeleton of an adolescent has been uncovered by a team from the University of Reading at Wilsford Henge in the Vale of Pewsey, an area located between Stonehenge and Avebury. The child had been buried in the fetal position, and had been wearing an amber necklace. “The skeleton is a wonderful discovery which will help tell us what life was like for those who lived under the shadow of Stonehenge at a time of frenzied activity. Scientific analysis will provide information on the gender of the child, diet, pathologies and date of burial. It may also shed light on where this young individual had lived,” Jim Leary of the University of Reading told BT News. The excavation has also recovered flint blades, decorated pottery, shale and copper bracelets, and a Roman brooch. To read more, go to "Under Stonehenge."
XUCHANG, CHINA—The 100,000-year-old remains of at least nine individuals have so far been unearthed at the Lingjing Historical Site in central China by a team from the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Two of the limb bones, which may have belonged to the same young individual, carry bite marks. “We are not quite sure whether those [bite marks] were from predators or other humans,” researcher Li Zhanyang told China Daily. Sixteen pieces of a skull known as Xuchang Man that still bore traces of a fossilized membrane were recovered from the site in 2008. “Different from the ancient human skull fossils that were discovered eight years ago, the first discovery of limb bone fossils provides more opportunities to decode the process of human evolution,” Li said. For more on archaeology in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."
RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL—Evidence of small-scale agriculture has been found at a 23,000-year-old camp site on the shore of Israel’s Sea of Galilee. Scientists from Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, and Harvard University found that the site had more domestic wheat and barley than was expected, in addition to plants, or proto-weeds, that are usually found in fields planted with crops. Microscopic examination of the cutting edges of blades from the site found silicon that may have been transferred during the cutting and harvesting of the cereal plants. The site, once underwater, has also yielded six dwellings, a grave, traces of more than 140 different plant species, remains of animal foods, beads, and worked flint. “The plant remains from the site were unusually well-preserved because of being charred and then covered by sediment and water which sealed them in low-oxygen conditions,” Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University said in a press release. The team also found evidence that the cereals were processed on a grinding slab set on the floor of one of the brush huts. Flat stones found outside another shelter may have been used to bake dough. To read about another recent prehistoric discovery in the region, go to "New Thoughts on Neolithic Israel."
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—Fragments of two parchment leaves on which text of the Qur’an had been written have been radiocarbon dated to between A.D. 568 and 645. The manuscript, held at the University of Birmingham, is thought to have been written shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, who is thought to have lived between A.D. 570 and 632, making it one of the oldest surviving examples of the book. The text contains parts of the Suras 18 to 20, and is written is an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi. These leaves had been bound with similar leaves that date to the late seventh century. “The radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Qur’an folios has yielded a startling result and reveals one of the most surprising secrets of the University’s collections. They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam,” Nadir Dinshaw of the University of Birmingham said in a press release.
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Two fragments of a female figurine carved from mammoth ivory have been found in Hohle Fels Cave. The fragments resemble a breast and part of the stomach of the 40,000-year-old figurine known as the Venus from Hohle Fels, which was discovered in 2008. This carving may have been slightly larger, however, than the approximately two-inch-tall Venus. “The new discovery indicates that the female depictions are not as rare in the Aurignacian as previously thought, and that concerns about human sexuality, reproduction and fertility in general have a very long and rich history dating to the Ice Age,” Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen said in a press release. To read about another masterpiece of Paleolithic art, go to "New Life for Lion Man."
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A new large-scale genome study is adding to the debate over how the peopling of the Americas occurred. An international team of scientists sampled several present-day Native American and Siberian populations, in addition to ancient DNA samples from across the Americas. “Our study presents the most comprehensive picture of the genetic prehistory of the Americas to date. We show that all Native Americans, including the major sub-groups of Amerindians and Athabascans, descend from the same migration wave into the Americas. This was distinct from later waves that gave rise to the Paleo-Eskimo and Inuit populations in the New World Arctic region,” Maanasa Raghavan of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen said in a press release. The results also indicate that the initial migration took place no earlier than 23,000 years ago, when Native Americans split from East Asian and Siberian populations. Ancestral Native Americans may then have been isolated in Beringia for some 8,000 years, since the oldest archaeological evidence in the Americas is about 15,000 years old. The study also found that some 13,000 years ago, this population split into northern and southern branches. Gene flow between some Native American groups and present-day East Asians and Australo-Melanesians was also detected. “It is a surprising finding and it implies that New World populations were not completely isolated from the Old World after their initial migration. We cannot say exactly how and when this gene flow happened, but one possibility is that it came through the Aleutian Islanders living off the coast of Alaska,” added Eske Willerslev, who headed the study. To read more about the peopling of the New World, go to "America, in the Beginning."
CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh al-Damaty announced the discovery of two carvings by archaeologists from the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archaeology. The reliefs were uncovered in the temple of Serapis in the ancient port city of Berenice, located on the Red Sea coast. One of the reliefs has been dated to the Middle Kingdom (2134-1690 B.C.) because it bears the cartouche of the 12th Dynasty king Amenemhat IV. The other has been dated to the Second Intermediate Period (1674-1549 B.C.), although it is not as well preserved as the first. The reliefs are older than the port city, which was built by Ptolemy II in the third century A.D. To read about a recently unearthed temple to the god Amun, go to "The Cult of Amun."
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A genetic study has revealed that the Tupí-speaking Suruí and Karitiana, and the Ge-speaking Xavante peoples of the Amazon had an ancestor more closely related to indigenous Australasians than other present-day populations. “We’ve done a lot of sampling in East Asia and nobody looks like this. It’s an unknown group that doesn’t exist anymore,” Pontus Skoglund of Harvard Medical School said in a press release. Skoglund and population geneticist David Reich have labeled this ancestor group Population Y, after the Tupí word for ancestor, “Ypykuéra.” They think that Population Y and the so-called First Americans, whose DNA resembles that of today’s Native Americans, traversed the Bering land bridge into North America more than 15,000 years ago. “We don’t know the order, the time separation or the geographical patterns,” Skoglund said. The team would need DNA from a member of Population Y to determine how much it contributed to today’s Amazonians. “We have a broad view of the deep origins of Native American ancestry, but within that diversity we know very little about the history of how those populations relate to each other,” Reich said. To read about the earliest migration to the New World, go to "America, in the Beginning."
HAIFA, ISRAEL—Archaeological evidence suggests that chickens were used in cockfighting in Southeast Asia as early as 8,000 years ago, and that the birds and the sport reached the Levant some 5,000 years ago. Now more than 1,000 chicken bones have been unearthed at Maresha, a city that flourished in what is now southern Israel between 400 and 200 B.C., on the trade route between Jerusalem and Egypt. Here there were twice as many female bird bones as males, and the bones showed signs of butchering, indicating that the birds had been raised for meat, and probably eggs. “This is a matter of culture. You have to decide that you are eating chicken from now on,” Lee Perry-Gal of the University of Haifa told NPR. Just one hundred years later, chickens had spread across Europe.
LONDON, ENGLAND—Fossil fuel emissions could soon make it impossible for radiocarbon dating to distinguish between new items and artifacts that are hundreds of years old, according to a study by Heather Graven of Imperial College London. Fossil fuels are so old that they contain no radioactive carbon-14. Radiocarbon dating works by measuring the fraction of carbon-14 in an object, so fossil fuel emissions in the atmosphere that are taken up by plants make an object seem to be older than it really is. For example, at the rate that fossil fuel emissions are increasing, by 2050, a new t-shirt would have the same radiocarbon date as a 1,000-year-old robe. “If we reduced fossil fuel emissions, it would be good news for radiocarbon dating,” Graven said in a press release. To read about an innovative dating technique, go to "Nondestructive Radiocarbon Dating."
KOMOTINI, GREECE—A new analysis of bones from the tomb complex at Vergina suggests that the remains of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, were laid to rest in Tomb I, and not Tomb II, as scholars have speculated for decades. Philip II, who, according to historical records, limped from a battle injury, was assassinated in 336 B.C. His young wife Cleopatra and her infant daughter died days later in the Macedonian royal intrigue. Antonis Bartsiokas of Democritus University of Thrace and Juan-Luis Arsuaga of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid say that the remains of the man in Tomb I was in his 40s when he died, and had suffered an injury that left his left femur fused to his tibia and locked in a 79-degree angle. A hole in the bone suggests the wound had been caused by a projectile and not disease. The tomb also contained the remains of a young woman and a newborn child. But not all scholars are convinced of the identification. “I think that we have made a very strong case. Now the focus of attention will turn to Tomb I. I am open to debate,” Arsuaga told Live Science. To read about the search for Alexander the Great's tomb, go to "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."
DOVER, ENGLAND—After two years of excavations conducted by volunteers, the Fan Bay Deep Shelter, constructed in just 100 days by order of Winston Churchill, has been opened to visitors. Consisting of tunnels under the White Cliffs of Dover, the bombproof shelter served as a hospital, store, and housing for officers and soldiers from the Royal Artillery. The tunnels were filled with more than 100 tons of rubble and soil in the 1970s, until they were rediscovered in 2012. The volunteers removed the debris by hand to reveal wartime graffiti, wire twisted by hand into hooks, ammunition, and a needle and thread tucked into a tunnel wall. The site also has two sound mirrors, which gave an early warning of approaching enemy aircraft during World War I. “With no public access for over 40 years, the tunnels remain much as they were when they were abandoned. We’ve preserved both the natural decay and authentic atmosphere of the space,” Jon Barker, visitor experience manager at the White Cliffs, said in a National Trust press release. To read more about how archaeologists are adding to the history of the Second World War, go to "Archaeology of World War II."
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK—More than 100 Native American artifacts, including pottery and stone tools dating to between A.D. 200 and 1000, have been unearthed near the waterfront in Pelham Bay Park. The site may have been a meeting place where clams and other food sources could be harvested. “I’ve never seen anything like it found in New York City before,” Amanda Sutphin, director of archaeology for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, told The New York Post. The site was discovered during a project to remove a deteriorating seawall and add a walking path and an area for dogs to the Bronx park, but the construction has been put on hold and the site covered up it ensure its safety. The park may be redesigned around the archaeological site, which could be declared a landmark to protect it from future development. To read about another fascinating site in the history of New York City, go to "The Hidden History of New York's Harbor."