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Medieval Italian Grave Reveals Coffin Birth

March 29, 2018

IMOLA, ITALY—According to a report in Live Science, archaeologists have analyzed the 1,300-year-old remains—initially discovered in 2010—of a woman who posthumously gave birth to a stillborn fetus in the grave. Rarely discovered archaeologically, coffin births refer to the expulsion of a fetus after death and are caused by the build-up of gas pressure from the decomposition of a pregnant woman’s body. Skeletal evidence shows signs that before her death, the interred underwent a primitive medieval brain surgery called trepanation, which involves drilling into the patient's skull to relieve pressure. Archaeologists speculate that, in this case, the procedure was intended to treat preeclampsia or eclampsia. To read more about medieval Italy, go to “Fifteen Centuries of Life in Chianti.”

Categories: Blog

Prehistoric Britons Weathered Severe Cooling

March 28, 2018

 

SCARBOROUGH, ENGLAND—People living at the early Mesolithic site of Star Carr in northern England survived two periods of dramatic climate change around 9000 B.C. The Northern Echo reports that researchers used macrofossils and pollen unearthed at the site, together with isotopes from sediment in a nearby lake, to create a history of the region’s microclimate. They found that during the site’s occupation the average temperature dropped dramatically during two episodes that each lasted around 100 years. “It has been argued that abrupt climatic events may have caused a crash in Mesolithic populations in Northern Britain,” says Simon Blockley, a paleoclimatologist at Royal Holloway, University of London. “But our study reveals, that at least in the case of the pioneering colonizers at Star Carr, early communities were able to cope with extreme and persistent climate events." To read about an engimatic artifact discovered at Star Carr, go to "Mesolithic Markings."

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Orkney’s Neolithic Burials Revisited

March 28, 2018

 

ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND—Bones discovered in Neolithic tombs on the Orkney Islands tend to be mixed together in a way that make them seem unconnected. But, according to a report from BBC News, a new study suggests there is more order to the collections than meets the eye. Based on her analysis of the bones, archaeologist Rebecca Crozier of the University of Aberdeen has concluded that complete bodies were likely deposited in the chambered structures and then taken apart later. “When we look at these assemblages we're finding that all the elements of the human body—so, every single bone—is present at some level within the tomb," Crozier said. She believes that people may have gone into the tombs after the burial and dismembered the bodies, possibly to help ensure that all the remains in a given tomb decayed at the same rate. To read in-depth about archaeology on the Orkney Islands, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Categories: Blog

Thousands of Bronze Coins Unearthed in Japan

March 28, 2018

SAITAMA, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, at least 100,000 bronze coins with holes in their centers were discovered in a fifteenth-century ceramic jar at the Arai Horinouchi archaeological site, located on the island of Honshu. So far, researchers have studied 70 of the coins, which were strung on a piece of cord, and identified 19 different types, minted in China and other places in Japan. A thin wooden tablet had been placed at the edge of the jar’s stone lid, with the words “nihyaku rokuju,” meaning 260, written on it in ink. The label could indicate that 260 kan, or units of 1,000 coins, had been placed in the jar. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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New Thoughts on Ancient Hominin Brains

March 28, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Science News reports that paleoanthropologist Dean Falk of Florida State University has revised conclusions she drew from her earlier research regarding the brain structure of ancient hominins. In 2014, Falk studied endocasts of three Australopithecus africanus individuals, and one Australopithecus sediba, and suggested the impressions of brain folds left inside those braincases could indicate development in the areas of the brain involved in speech production. At the time, Falk said those creases were distinctly humanlike. However, in their new study, Falk and her colleagues analyzed MRIs of eight living chimpanzees, and found creases on the surfaces of their brains similar to the ones she had thought signified modern human–like brain organization in the ancient hominins. The study also found grooves in the brain of one of the chimps that correspond with a structure on a Homo naledi endocast that had been thought to be humanlike. Falk said her new research highlights the need for further study of living primates and how specific folds and creases on the surface of the brain relate to its inner structures. For more on brain evolution, go to “Hungry Minds.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Ancient Hominin Brains

March 28, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Science News reports that paleoanthropologist Dean Falk of Florida State University has revised conclusions he drew from his earlier research regarding the brain structure of ancient hominins. In 2014, Falk studied endocasts of three Australopithecus africanus individuals, and one Australopithecus sediba, and suggested the impressions of brain folds left inside those braincases could indicate development in the areas of the brain involved in speech production. At the time, Falk said those creases were distinctly humanlike. However, in their new study, Falk and his colleagues analyzed MRIs of eight living chimpanzees, and found creases on the surfaces of their brains similar to the ones he had thought signified modern human–like brain organization in the ancient hominins. The study also found grooves in the brain of one of the chimps that correspond with a structure on a Homo naledi endocast that had been thought to be humanlike. Falk said his new research highlights the need for further study of living primates and how specific folds and creases on the surface of the brain relate to its inner structures. For more on brain evolution, go to “Hungry Minds.”

Categories: Blog

6,000 Years on a Landscape in East England Revealed

March 27, 2018

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a range of discoveries were made in farmland now in the path of a highway bypass in East England. The discoveries included Neolithic trackways and henges; a Roman army camp, trade distribution center, and pottery kilns; and Anglo-Saxon villages and a boundary site with ditches, a gated entrance, and a beacon on a hill. The distribution of medieval villages suggests they sat along a Roman road now buried under the current highway system. Other villages were placed around the Neolithic barrows and henges, suggesting those monuments retained cultural significance. At one of the sites, located in what is now the village of Houghton, the archaeologists found that a medieval village of at least 12 buildings had been constructed over the remains of 40 Anglo-Saxon structures, including houses, workshops, and agricultural buildings. “The medieval village was occupied between the twelfth and early fourteenth centuries, and the most likely explanation for its abandonment was that they lost the use of their woods when they were enclosed as a royal forest,” said Emma Jeffery of Mola Headland Infrastructure. Once the village lost its grazing and foraging areas and its source of bark for tanning leather, it could no longer survive, she explained. For more on medieval England, go to “The Curse of a Medieval English Well.”

Categories: Blog

Amazon’s Earthworks Spotted in Satellite Images

March 27, 2018

EXETER, ENGLAND—According to a report in New Scientist, areas of Brazil’s Amazon Basin thought to have been made up of virgin forests may have once been densely populated. A retired financial manager in São Paulo contacted archaeologists after he spotted circular earthworks in online satellite images of the southern rim of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. More than 80 possible pre-Columbian sites, including small ditched enclosures and large settlements with mounds, plazas, and causeways, dating to between A.D. 1250 and 1500, were detected by scientists during a survey. Excavation at some of the sites revealed pottery and dark earth, which suggests the land had been farmed intensively. Jonas Gregorio de Souza of the University of Exeter said many of the earthworks were likely to have been fortified settlements. The one million people thought to have lived in these settlements likely died of disease and violence brought by European explorers and slavers. To read about other recent discoveries made using satellite imagery, go to “Satellites on the Silk Road.”

Categories: Blog

Mummified Remains Found in Ancient Egyptian Coffin

March 27, 2018

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in ABC News Australia, human remains were discovered in a 2,500-year-old Egyptian coffin that has been stored at the University of Sydney for the past 150 years. It had been previously thought that the looted coffin was empty. Hieroglyphics indicate it was made for a priestess named Mer-Neith-it-es, but the mummy fragments inside the coffin are not necessarily hers. Radiologist John Magnussen said scans of the debris revealed feet and ankle bones that were largely intact, and that the remains belonged to an adult over the age of 30. After the scan, Egyptologist Connie Lord sifted through the contents of the coffin, and found among the debris the lump of hardened resin that had been poured into the mummy’s skull after the brain had been removed. “Little by little this excavation is really telling us more about the person in the coffin and hopefully giv[ing] it some dignity that it lost when in ancient times it was looted so badly,” Lord said. For more, go to “Tut’s Mesopotamian Side.”

Categories: Blog

2,000-Year-Old Illustration Depicts Village in Japan

March 27, 2018

IBARAKI, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, nine pieces of unglazed earthenware dating to the Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 B.C.–A.D. 300) were uncovered at the Nakagawara site on the island of Honshu. When the pieces were fitted together, researchers from the Ibaraki Municipal Education Board found images of five wooden structures built on stilts with ridge roofs and ornamental cornices. The center building is smaller than the others, while another has a ladder leading to a raised platform, and yet another has munamochi-bashira, or pillars to support a shrine’s gables. “The structure with munamochi-bashira must be a key structure,” said Tadashi Kurosaki, director of the Museum of Yayoi Culture in Osaka Prefecture. “The etchings were clearly meant to portray in detail a daily scene in the settlement.” For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Categories: Blog

Rare, Ancient Egyptian Relief Identified in England

March 24, 2018

SWANSEA, WALES—BBC News reports that a rare image of Hatshepsut, one of five women to have ruled Egypt as pharaoh, has been found in the collections at Swansea University. The front side of the sculpted relief fragment shows the head of a figure whose face is missing, and a fan. A cobra on the figure’s forehead marks her as a pharaoh. Egyptology lecturer Ken Griffin and his students spotted the image of Hatshepsut in an old photograph while reviewing the contents of Sir Henry Wellcome’s collection, which came to the university in 1971. Griffin has contacted the researchers of the Polish Archaeological Mission to Egypt, who are excavating, recording, and restoring the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri. They may be able to find the spot where the relief was once attached to a wall. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Anatolia’s First Farmers

March 24, 2018

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—A new study suggests that hunter-gatherers living on the Anatolian plateau some 10,000 years ago may have invented farming on their own, or learned to farm through their relationships with their neighbors, according to a Haaretz report. At the hunter-gatherer village known as Boncuklu, Douglas Baird of the University of Liverpool and his colleagues discovered stone tools, burned seeds, wheat chaff, and weeds known to have grown in early farmers’ fields. An abundance of pests also suggests the residents of Boncuklu farmed. Bones from the site suggest they kept sheep and goats. But the tools at Boncuklu and other sites in central Anatolia are unlike those found at other early farming sites in the Fertile Crescent, suggesting the Levantine farmers did not replace the Anatolians. “In addition, the ancient DNA evidence now clearly shows that there is a distinctive local gene pool in the early Neolithic at places like Boncuklu, different from the genetics of Levantine Neolithic populations,” Baird said. Anatolians who picked up farming survived to pass their genes on to later Neolithic populations in central and western Anatolia. To read about studies suggesting Europe's first farmers were also its first carpenters, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

Categories: Blog

Repair Work at Pompeii Reveals Garden, Frescoes

March 24, 2018

NAPLES, ITALY—Massimo Osanna, superintendent for Pompeii, announced the discovery of public and private buildings that have not been seen since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. ANSA reports the excavations were undertaken to improve the stability and prevent collapses in the Regio V area of the ancient city. The discovery of the buildings, gardens, and porticoes was a surprise, Osanna said. “And, for the first time as academics,” he added, “we have come across objects, plasterwork, and frescoes that have never been restored, that are in their original shape and color without having been tampered with in past restoration.” The soil from an area thought to have been a garden in antiquity will be analyzed as well as the contents of amphoras recovered from its southeastern corner. For more on Pompeii, go to “Food and Wine Gardens: Pompeii, Italy.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Settlement Unearthed in Dublin

March 24, 2018

DUBLIN, IRELAND—According to a report in The Journal a well-preserved settlement dating to the twelfth century has been found at a construction site in Dublin by archaeologists from Aisling Collins Archaeology Services. The site consists of dwellings, complete with gardens, cobbled stones, and smaller outbuildings where animals were probably housed. The excavation team recovered leather shoes, a wooden spoon and bowl, a copper alloy key, and a piece of slate inscribed with two birds and a picture of a figure riding a horse and carrying a shield and sword. They also unearthed items dating to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, including jug handles and evidence of a pit thought to have been used to tan hides. The artifacts will be housed in the National Museum of Ireland. To read about recent discoveries made in Cork, go to “Irish Vikings.”

Categories: Blog

World War II Shipwreck Discovered Near the Solomon Islands

March 23, 2018

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—Live Science reports that the wreckage of USS Juneau, a light cruiser lost on November 3, 1942, during the Battle of Guadalcanal, has been found under more than 13,000 feet of water in the South Pacific by Vulcan, Inc., an exploration and conservation company led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Allen and his team detected the wreckage with side-scan sonar, and identified it with video taken by a remotely operated underwater vehicle. More than 680 American sailors, including five brothers, were killed when the ship was cut in half by Japanese torpedoes and sank. Although the Navy usually prohibits family members from being assigned to the same ship, Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison, and George Sullivan had received special permission to serve together. Naval historians say the brothers’ deaths became a rallying cry for allied forces. The U.S. Navy has since named two destroyers The Sullivans after the brothers. The current ship’s motto is “We Stick Together.” To read about another recent discovery of a World War II ship, go to “Finding Indianapolis.”

Categories: Blog

Prehistoric Native American Sites Excavated in New Jersey

March 23, 2018

CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY—According to a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer, a total of some 10,000 Native American artifacts have been uncovered from two archaeological sites in Camden. Almost 1,300 artifacts were recovered at the first site, which is thought to have been a short-term camp. Among those objects, archaeologist Ilene Grossman-Bailey found a rectangular ceramic cooking vessel and a hearth containing charcola that has been dated to 1400 B.C. The second, slightly older site may have started as a temporary camp, but then it likely became a year-round settlement. It yielded ceramics; grinding and hammer stones thought to have been used to grind maize, legumes, and barley; and the burned bones of deer and other mammals, turtles, and wild fowl. A tool bearing protein residue may have been used to process the meat. Many of the artifacts at this site were recovered from a 20-foot-long ditch. “We don’t really know what it is,” said Grossman-Bailey. “There really isn’t anything else like it in New Jersey, although similar features have been found near the Chesapeake and in New England.” She thinks it may have been part of a house.

Categories: Blog

Five Additional Neanderthal Genomes Mapped

March 23, 2018

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Seeker reports that scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have sequenced the genomes of five Neanderthals who lived between 39,000 and 47,000 years ago. The samples were obtained from the remains of male and female individuals, which were unearthed in Belgium, France, Croatia, and the Russian Caucasus. “The addition of the genome sequences of these five Neanderthals presented in this study doubles the number of genomes available,” explained Mateja Hajdinjak of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The samples were taken from bones and teeth, ground into a fine powder, and treated with a mild hypochlorite solution to remove any contaminants. Analysis of the genomes revealed that these five Neanderthals shared a common ancestor some 150,000 years ago with another Neanderthal individual whose genome was sequenced from remains found in Siberia. Researcher Svante Paabo added that the new research supports previous findings suggesting that Neanderthals and Denisovans shared an unidentified common ancestor some 400,000 years ago. To read about a new method for recovering genetic material left behind by early humans, go to “Caveman Genetics.”

Categories: Blog

Germany Repatriates Olmec Artifacts to Mexico

March 21, 2018

MUNICH, GERMANY—According to a Deutsche Welle report, German officials handed over two 3,000-year-old Olmec busts to Mexico in a ceremony held earlier this week. German authorities seized the two wooden sculptures, and about 1,000 other artifacts, from an antiquities dealer in 2008. The sculptures were then stored in the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection. The repatriated sculptures are thought to have been looted in the 1980s from El Manati, an archaeological site in eastern Mexico, where they are believed to have been buried along with 13 other artifacts that were excavated from the site by archaeologists. These items included axes and stone knives. “The recovery is very significant, since Olmec culture represents one of the first civilizations in ancient Mexico and only 13 pieces exist with the same characteristics,” said Maria Villarreal of Mexico’s National Institute of History and Anthropology. The Olmec busts will eventually be exhibited in Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology. To read in-depth about the Olmec, go to “Kings of Cooperation.”

Categories: Blog

Seventeenth-Century Decorations Uncovered in English Castle

March 21, 2018

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Wall paintings dating to the seventeenth century have been uncovered at Lindisfarne Castle, which was originally constructed as a fort in 1550 on Holy Island, off the coast of northeastern England. The Guardian reports that the images were found under layers of paint and plaster in the castle’s old kitchen and in one of the bedrooms by conservators. “They used charcoal to draw it, very simple carbon, and there are areas of red pigment so they might have been painted and colored,” said house steward Nick Lewis. “We know it was done professionally, so you didn’t just sit and do it yourself, and in those days there was a guild of wall painters who they would have used.” Lewis said the find surprised him, since the building was originally constructed for military use. And, because the decorations were found in two different parts of the structure, the entire building may have received similar treatment. The paintings will be stabilized and restored. To read in-depth about nearby Bamburgh Castle, go to “Letter From England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Categories: Blog

Two Historic Ships Discovered in Virginia

March 21, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a WTOP report, two shipwrecks have been unearthed at a construction site in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. An eighteenth-century ship was found nearby in 2015. The three vessels are thought to have been used as landfill when the port was filled in. City archaeologist Eleanor Breen said additional evidence of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century wharves, piers, maritime vessels, and commercial industries may still be uncovered at the site. To read in-depth about shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, go to “Shipwreck Alley.”

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