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France Returns Artifacts to Egypt

June 8, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that nine artifacts recovered in France have been returned to Egypt. Shaaban Abdel-Gawad of the repatriation department at the Ministry of Antiquities said five of the artifacts are pieces of an ancient sarcophagus. The other pieces include two cat statues, a basalt sculpture of a human head, and a plaster-covered wooden mummy mask that had been stolen from a storage area on Elephantine Island in 2013. To read about a genetic analysis of two Egyptian mummies, go to “We Are Family.”

Categories: Blog

Rat Study Offers Clues to Island Ecology

June 8, 2018

MUNICH, GERMANY—Smithsonian Magazine reports that Jillian Swift of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and her colleagues analyzed the levels of carbon and nitrogen isotopes in 145 rat bones collected at archaeological sites on three Polynesian island chains to see how the arrival of humans and rats some 2,000 years ago impacted their ecology. Although not domesticated, rats eat and live in environments created by humans. Based on the levels of carbon isotopes in the bones, researchers could determine the balance of tropical grasses and cultivated plants, such as breadfruit, yam, and taro, in the rats’ diets. Levels of nitrogen isotopes provide evidence of the balance of land-based and marine food sources. The study indicates that the rats’ consumption of sea birds and other marine resources declined at times when agricultural food sources increased. These changes occurred at different times on different islands, except for one island with steep hills and poor soil, which continually relied on fishing for survival. “The ecosystems we see today are a result of deep-time historical process,” Swift said. For more on archaeology in Polynesia, go to “Letter From Hawaii: Inside Kauai's Past.”

Categories: Blog

Did Most Men Die Off 7,000 Years Ago?

June 7, 2018

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—Live Science reports that population geneticist Marcus Feldman of Stanford University has proposed a new explanation for the population bottleneck between 5,000 to 7,000 years ago detected in the genes of modern men, which suggest that during this stretch, there was just one male for every 17 females. Feldman and his team conducted 18 simulations that took into account factors such as Y chromosome mutations, competition between groups, and death. The study suggests that warfare among people living in clans made up of males from the same line of descent could have wiped out entire male lineages and decreased the diversity of the Y chromosome. In this scenario, there are not dramatically fewer males, but there was significantly less diversity in their genes. “In that same group, the women could have come from anywhere,” Feldman said. The study found no bottleneck in mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child. “[The women] would’ve been brought into the group from either the victories that they had over other groups, or they could’ve been females who were residing in that area before,” he said, since the victorious male warriors may have killed all the men they conquered, but kept the women alive and assimilated them. To read about genetic adaptation to life at high elevations, go to “The Heights We Go To.”

Categories: Blog

Small, Sculpted Head May Depict Ancient King

June 7, 2018

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a Live Science report, the intricately carved head from a statue estimated to have stood between eight and ten inches tall has been uncovered in a large building situated on the highest point of the ancient city of Abel Beth Maacah, in northern Israel. Robert Mullins of Azusa Pacific University said the glazed ceramic head depicts an elite bearded man with long, black hair held with a yellow and black headband. He thinks the statue may have represented a king, since it was found in a possible administrative building. Radiocarbon dating of organic material found in the same room as the sculpture suggests it is about 2,800 years old. Mullins explained that at that time, different kingdoms, including Israel, Tyre, and Aram-Damascus, controlled the site of Abel Beth Maacah, so there are many possible royal candidates for the portrait. To read about recent discoveries of mosaic inscriptions in Israel, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

Categories: Blog

Nautical Archaeologists Examine 19th-Century Schooner

June 7, 2018

TORONTO, CANADA—CBC News reports that nautical archaeologists from Texas A&M University are examining the wreckage of an early nineteenth-century Lake Ontario schooner unearthed at a construction site in downtown Toronto. Only the ship’s keel, the lower portions of the stern and bow, and a small section of the hull on the port side have survived. Measuring about 50 feet long, the ship is thought to have been used to carry goods across Lake Ontario. Team leader Carolyn Kennedy said the ship had been patched and modified, but it is not yet clear why. Kennedy's investigation should offer insight into how the sailors lived and what cargo they had on board. “They would have carried all that cargo to the settlers who were coming to the city of York, to the city of Toronto, who would really have needed a lot of supplies because there would have been a lot of wilderness out here,” she said. More than 1,000 artifacts, including an American penny, an arrowhead, a rivet hammer, chisels, a soup ladle, a fork, dishes, a clay tobacco pipe, a clasp knife, and a tin cup were recovered along with the wreckage. To read in-depth about the discovery of a famed nineteenth-century shipwreck in Canada's Arctic, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”

Categories: Blog

Radiocarbon Cycle Reevaluated

June 7, 2018

ITHACA, NEW YORK—According to a Laboratory Equipment report, a team led by dendrochronologist Sturt Manning of Cornell University has found that the traditional carbon-14 calibration curve for the Northern Hemisphere produces inaccurate dates for organic materials in southern Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. Standard radiocarbon chronologies are based on the assumption that radiocarbon levels are similar and stable everywhere across the Northern or Southern Hemisphere at any given time. The researchers dated juniper trees in Jordan known to have grown between about A.D. 1610 and 1940 through an assessment of their tree rings, and found a discrepancy of about 19 years—enough to require a restructuring of the historical timeline—with radiocarbon tests. Manning suggests the variations in the radiocarbon cycle could be related to climate conditions, and what time of year plants grow in different parts of each of the two hemispheres. For more on potential problems with radiocarbon dating, go to “Premature Aging.”

Categories: Blog

Easter Island’s Massive Stone Hats Studied

June 6, 2018

BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—According to a Popular Science report, the Rapa Nui of Easter Island may have used ropes and ramps in a technique known as parbuckling to place 13-ton stone “hats” known as pukao on the heads of the island’s massive moai. Carl Lipo of Binghamton University and his colleagues created 3-D models of pukao based on photographs of them for the study. The researchers rejected the idea that the pukao were dragged or slid into place. Instead, they suggest a pukao would have been rolled from the quarry to the location of the moai, where a line was wrapped around it. The cylinder of the pukao was then pulled up a ramp to a platform at the top of the statue. They estimate it would have taken few resources and just 10 to 15 people to complete the job. Lipo also noted rocky debris around the statues may have been left behind from the construction of ramps. For more on Easter Island, go to “World Roundup: Chile.”

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4,000-Year-Old Chariots Found in Northern India

June 5, 2018

UTTAR PRADESH, INDIA—Outlook India reports that three chariots dating to about 1800 B.C. have been unearthed in northern India, at a site made up of eight burials. “The wheels rotated on a fixed axle linked by a draft pole to the yoke of a pair of animals,” said S. K. Manjul of the Institute of Archaeology in Delhi. “The axle was attached with a superstructure consisting of a platform protected by side-screens and a high dashboard.” Copper shaped into triangles thought to represent the rays of the sun decorated the wheels and the pole. Swords with copper-covered hilts, shields, daggers, a helmet, beads, and combs were also recovered. Manjul said the coffins in the burial pits were decorated with copper-plated figures with horns and leafy crowns, suggesting those buried in them may have been royalty. The sides of the coffins were decorated with floral motifs. To read about another recent discovery in India, go to “Early Buddhism in India.”

Categories: Blog

Remains of Possibly Crucified Man Examined in Italy

June 5, 2018

FLORENCE, ITALY—Researchers from the University of Ferrara and the University of Florence have examined the 2,000-year-old remains of a man they think might have been crucified, according to a report in Live Science. The poorly preserved bones, which were discovered near Venice in 2007, belonged to a man of slim stature and below average height who had been buried directly into the ground, rather than placed in a tomb with grave goods. “We found a particular lesion on the right calcaneus [heel bone] passing through the entire bone,” said medical anthropologist Emanuela Gualdi of the University of Ferrara. No evidence that his wrists had been nailed to a cross has been found, but Gualdi said they could have been tied to the cross with rope. She notes that crucifixion was commonly used to execute slaves and criminals in Roman society. “We cannot know if he was a prisoner,” she said, “but the burial marginalization indicates that he probably was an individual deemed dangerous or defamed in Roman society.” To read in-depth about a tomb in Italy, go to “The Tomb of the Silver Hands.”

Categories: Blog

Ashes From Santorini Eruption Found at Smyrna

June 5, 2018

IZMIR, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that ashes from the eruption of Thera, on the island of Santorini, some 3,600 years ago have been found in the ancient city of Smyrna, around 165 miles away. Cumhur Tanriver of Ege University said the volcanic explosion may have led to the collapse of Minoan civilization in Crete. “Once the ashes are examined, they will provide us the opportunity to see what changes the explosion caused in Smyrna and how it affected the people and their culture,” Tanriver said. “We will also be able to chronologically rank some events in Smyrna that for which could not set an exact date before.” To read in-depth about Minoan civilization, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”

Categories: Blog

Intact Tomb Dating to Fourth Century B.C. Found in Rome

June 5, 2018

ROME, ITALY—The New York Times reports that an intact chamber tomb containing the remains of three men and one woman was discovered dug into the volcanic rock in a suburb of Rome during the construction of an aqueduct. The men had lived to be over the age of 35, and all were thought to have belonged to a privileged social class, based on their grave goods. A coin found next to one of the tomb’s occupants helped to date it to between 335 and 312 B.C. On one side, the coin bears an image of Minerva, while the obverse shows a horse head and the word “Romano.” Two bronze strigils, or instruments used to scrape sweat from the skin, and black-glazed bowls and plates decorated with images of a rabbit and a lamb or a goat were also recovered. Paleobotanist Alessandra Celant of the University of Rome La Sapienza collected samples of ancient pollens and plants that will help her to reconstruct the ancient landscape and funerary rituals. To read about the excavation of a Roman temple, go to “A Brief Glimpse into Early Rome.”

Categories: Blog

Seventeenth-Century Cellar Identified at James Fort

June 5, 2018

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that a cellar has been found under the current church building at James Fort. The building now standing at the site was constructed in 1906, but historic records indicate the first brick church was constructed in 1617. “This [cellar] we assume has to be pretty darn early because it’s already been abandoned and backfilled prior to 1617,” said archaeologist Danny Schmidt of Jamestown Rediscovery. He thinks a different type of building stood on the site, located outside the fort’s original walls, between 1608, when the fort was expanded, and 1617. The fill in the cellar contained the colony’s trash items, such as scrap copper, a dagger hilt, oyster shells, gun parts, eggshells, glass beads, pipe fragments, and a Harington Farthing—a small copper coin. Archaeologists note that the cellar fill had been disturbed by the burials of the dead under the church floor, and by the construction of the current church. The researchers now know that the unusual artifacts described by the archaeologists who investigated the church’s burials in the early 1900s were trash items from the cellar. To read about other recent work at Jamestown, go to “Knight Watch.”

Categories: Blog

Egyptian “Hawk Mummy” Evaluated

June 2, 2018

LONDON, ONTARIO—Live Science reports that high-resolution CT scans of what had been thought to be the 2,100-year-old mummified remains of a hawk are actually the remains of a stillborn human fetus. The fetus, estimated to have been born at a gestational age between 23 and 28 weeks, suffered from anencephaly, a condition in which the brain and skull fail to develop normally. Bioarchaeologist Andrew Nelson of the University of Western Ontario said the identification of the mummy as a hawk votive had been based upon the decoration of the mummy’s cartonnage, which includes depictions of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld, and the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. A bird with a human head is shown flying over Osiris, who is lying on a coffin frame. An Udjat eye, a symbol of protection and good health, is shown at the top of the image. The mummy has been in collections of England’s Maidstone Museum since 1925. Its origins are otherwise unknown. To read in-depth about tomb paintings in Egypt, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

Categories: Blog

Icelanders' Genetic Heritage Analyzed

June 2, 2018

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND—According to a report in Science Magazine, a new genetic study of Icelanders led by S. Sunna Ebenesersdóttir of the University of Iceland suggests the population rapidly shifted from a roughly even mix of Norse and Gaelic ancestry some 1,000 years ago, to mostly Norse ancestry today. The team analyzed genomes obtained from 27 ancient skeletons found across Iceland, and found that these early settlers of the island had genes associated with populations from Norway, Sweden, Ireland, and Scotland. The researchers then used a computer simulation to model the change to predominantly Norse ancestry, and found evidence for genetic drift, or random fluctuations in gene frequencies, which has been seen in isolated populations of animals. The study notes that recent immigration from Scandinavia, and especially from Denmark, also had an impact on Iceland’s gene pool. The scientists note that those settlers with Gaelic ancestry were likely to have been enslaved, giving those with Norse ancestry a reproductive advantage. In addition, the enslaved may have been buried in unmarked graves, possibly leaving them underrepresented in the test sample. To read in-depth about a mysterious site in Iceland, go to “The Blackener’s Cave.”

Categories: Blog

New Dates Push Back Use of Olive Oil in Italy

June 1, 2018

TAMPA, FLORIDA—According to a Live Science report, 4,000-year-old olive oil has been detected in residues obtained from an egg-shaped ceramic pot unearthed at Castelluccio, an archaeological site in Sicily. The jar, which is decorated with rope bands and three vertical handles on each side, was discovered in hundreds of pieces in one of 12 huts on a rocky ridge at the site in the 1990s. The three-foot-tall jar was reconstructed by conservators at the Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum in Syracuse, Italy. Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida and his colleagues said the new dates for the residues suggest olive oil was being systematically produced in Italy about 700 years earlier than previously thought. Two ceramic basins with internal dividers and a large terracotta cooking plate were also found at the site. To read about extensive evidence of olive oil use by Rome, go to “Trash Talk.”

Categories: Blog

Archaeologist Examines Possible Waka in New Zealand

June 1, 2018

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—Stuff reports that a kauri tree unearthed during a road construction project on the North Island is not a partially complete waka, or Maori canoe, as had been previously thought. The 55-foot-long piece of trunk had been modified, however. “There is evidence of stones and rocks wedged into the wood to try to split parts off and there are cut edges, but it’s not consistent with waka carving,” said archaeologist Sarah Phear. Branches and logs had been placed under the trunk as part of the preparations to process it. The log was reburied in the trench where it had been found. To read about another Maori site, go to “World Roundup: New Zealand.”

Categories: Blog

Intact Roman Sarcophagus Found in Serbia

May 31, 2018

KOSTOLAC, SERBIA—According to a Reuters report, an intact sarcophagus containing two skeletons, gold and silver jewelry, a silver mirror, and three glass perfume bottles has been discovered in the ancient Roman city of Viminacium. Founded in the first century A.D., the city was capital of the province of Moesia Superior and home to as many as 40,000 people. Anthropologist Ilija Mikic said the skeletons belonged to a tall, middle-aged man and a younger woman. She was buried wearing gold earrings, a necklace, and hair pins, while he wore a silver belt buckle. Remains of his shoes were also found. “We can conclude that these two people surely belonged to a higher social class,” Mikic said. To read about a Gallo-Roman necropolis discovered in France, go to “Shackled for Eternity.”

Categories: Blog

Geoglyphs Discovered in Southern Peru

May 31, 2018

PALPA, PERU—Reuters reports that an additional 25 geoglyphs, including an image of a killer whale and a dancing woman, have been found in Peru’s coastal desert, near the Nazca Lines, using drones. Archaeologist Johny Isla of Peru’s Ministry of Culture said the geoglyphs are thought to have been etched by the Paracas culture more than 2,000 years ago. The so-called Palpa Lines were carved into hillsides and can be seen from the ground, unlike the Nazca Lines, which are best viewed from above. To read about the only known prehistoric geoglyph in Europe, go to “White Horse of the Sun.”

Categories: Blog

Alaska’s Ancient Landscape Reconstructed

May 31, 2018

BUFFALO, NEW YORK—A new survey of southeastern Alaska conducted by geologist Alia Lesnek of the University at Buffalo suggests a boat route headed southward into the New World would have been mostly free of ice some 17,000 years ago, according to a report in Science Magazine. To determine how long rocks from four islands along the southeastern coast of Alaska had been exposed to air, Lesnek measured the concentration of beryllium-10 in the rocks. Since cosmic rays change individual oxygen-16 atoms in quartz to beryllium-10 atoms, higher levels of beryllium-10 translate to longer exposure. The study also indicates that the early migrants from Beringia would have found plenty of plant and animal life along the Pacific coastline. Lesnek and her colleagues reexamined animal bones recovered from caves, and adjusted their radiocarbon dates for the effects of marine diets. The results suggest that the oldest bones had been left behind by carnivores some 45,000 years ago. The researchers also found a lack of bones dating to between 20,000 and 17,000 years ago, which could suggest the area had been covered in ice in the years before the Beringians took to the sea. To read in-depth about excavations in southwestern Alaska, go to “Cultural Revival.”

Categories: Blog

Constantine’s Bronze Finger Found in France

May 31, 2018

PARIS, FRANCE—According to a report in The Art Newspaper, researcher Aurelia Azema has identified a piece of a bronze sculpture in the collections at the Louvre as a bronze index finger from the colossal bronze statue of Emperor Constantine housed in Rome’s Capitoline Museum. All that survives of the fourth-century statue in Rome is the head, the left forearm, the left hand missing part of its middle finger and most of its index finger, and a sphere that rested in the palm of the statue’s left hand. The missing digit arrived at the Louvre in the 1860s with items from the collection of the Italian Marquis Giampietro Campana. It was eventually cataloged as a toe in 1913. Azema, joined by specialist in ancient metallurgy Benoît Mille and archaeologist Nicolas Melard, created a 3-D model of the finger which they took to Rome earlier this month. The finger turned out to be an exact fit with Constantine’s colossal hand. To read about another Roman statue, go to “Artifact: Roman Dog Statue.”

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