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46,000-Year-Old Bone Ornament Found in Australia

November 19, 2016

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—New Scientist reports that a piece of bone jewelry dated to more than 46,000 years ago has been discovered in a rock shelter in the Kimberley region of Western Australia by Sue O’Connor of Australian National University. Microscopic analysis, conducted by her colleague Michelle Langley, revealed that the pointed kangaroo leg bone bears traces of red ochre on its ends and scrape marks made by stone tools. The ornament was probably worn through the nasal septum. “I’ve met Indigenous Australians who remember their granddads wearing nose bones for special occasions,” said Langley. Depending upon the group, nose bones may have been worn by everyone, or may have been limited to elders. Langley explained that before the nose bone was found, it had been thought that the oldest bone tools and ornaments in Australia were only about 20,000 years old. Some scholars had suggested that bone-tool technology had been lost on the journey from Africa some 60,000 years ago. “This shows that the first people in Australia were just as capable as those everywhere else of complex actions,” commented Ian Lilley of the University of Queensland. To read about early rock art in Australia, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."

Categories: Blog

New Scan Spots Dozens of Mummified Hatchling Crocodiles

November 19, 2016

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—A scan in the 1990s showed that a nearly ten-foot-long crocodile mummy housed at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden since 1828 contains the remains of two juvenile crocodiles, who were preserved nose-to-tail in the wrappings. BBC News reports that a new 3-D CT scan, conducted by the Swedish company Interspectral, has revealed 47 mummified crocodiles hatchlings tucked into the mummy’s exterior bindings. “You can’t see them very well on the old scans unless you know they’re there—and we never expected to find this,” said museum curator Lara Weiss. She explained that the mummy could reflect the Egyptian belief in life after death, and was probably an offering to the crocodile god Sobek. A similar crocodile mummy of a large adult with 20 young on its back is housed at the British Museum. To read in-depth about Egyptian animal mummies, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

Categories: Blog

Kukulkan’s Inner Structure Detected at Chichén Itzá

November 18, 2016

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to a report by the Associated Press, archaeologists have detected what may be the original 30-foot-tall structure within the pyramid of Kukulkan with tri-dimensional electric resistivity tomography, or ERT-3D. Previous research at the Maya site of Chichén Itzá had detected a 65-foot-tall “intermediate” pyramid beneath Kukulkan’s last construction stage, which dates to A.D. 900 and is now visible. The innermost pyramid is thought to date to between A.D. 500 and 800, before the Maya came into contact with other civilizations. The computer-generated image suggests the first pyramid is not perfectly aligned with the outer layers. Archaeologist Denisse Argote of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History explained that the pyramid may have been refurbished when new groups came to power, or as the building deteriorated. Minimal fill was used to cover the inner temple, however, perhaps out of respect for its sacred space over an underground water source. The new images could help scientists find a way into the inner temple. They may have to reinforce an unstable tunnel first opened in the early twentieth century, when the third platform was first found. For more, go to “The Maya Sense of Time.”

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Denture Made of Human Teeth Found in Tuscany

November 18, 2016

PISA, ITALY—The Local, Italy, reports that a team of paleopathologists from the University of Pisa found a denture dating to between the late fourteenth and early seventeenth centuries in the mass grave of more than 200 members of the Giunigi family in Lucca’s convent of San Francesco. The denture consists of five canines and incisors obtained from different people, covered in a layer of metal. A strip of gold was attached at the base for wearing over the lower gums. A layer of tartar over the surface of the device indicates that it was used for a long period of time. Team member Simona Minozzi explained that scholars know about dentures from this period through historical descriptions, but this is the first known example of them. The team has not been able to match the prosthesis with a jaw from the grave. To read in-depth about the study of microbes in dental calculus, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

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Early Farmers Kept Dairy Animals 9,000 Years Ago

November 18, 2016

YORK, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that researchers from the University of York, the University of Bristol, and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique dated more than 500 Neolithic pottery vessels recovered in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, and analyzed their contents for traces of dairy products and fat residues. The team members also examined animal bones found at the more than 80 archaeological sites to compare the types of fats found in the pots with the kinds of animals that were kept by the farmers. They found that in the eastern and western areas of the northern Mediterranean, dairying was commonly practiced, but not in northern Greece, where meat production was more popular. Cynthianne Spiteri of the University of Tübingen explained that milk was probably an important resource for early farmers, who may have turned milk into yogurt and cheese to make it easier to digest. Genetic testing of human bones at the sites could reveal if the early farmers were able to digest lactose. The team also found that that Neolithic communities living in rugged terrain were more likely to raise sheep and goats, while open landscapes with plenty of water were better for keeping cattle herds. To read more about food in the archaeological record, go to “A Prehistoric Cocktail Party.”

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Possible Early Christian Cemetery Unearthed in England

November 17, 2016

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that a cemetery containing more than 80 Anglo-Saxon burials arranged in rows has been unearthed in eastern England. Based upon pottery found in the fill, James Fairclough of Museum of London Archaeology says the cemetery dates from the seventh to the ninth centuries A.D. Fairclough added that the cemetery appears to be Christian, since there are no grave goods, and the burials were arranged on an east-west grid. Many of the wood coffins, made from split and hollowed oak trees, were found intact, due to the waterlogged environment. Six of the graves had been lined with planks, and may be the earliest such graves in Britain. Fairclough’s team also found the remains of a timber structure that may have been a chapel. The skeletons from the cemetery will be analyzed for information on sex, age, and possible family connections. To read in-depth about an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Categories: Blog

Genetic Study Reflects Drop in Native Canadian Population

November 17, 2016

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—The Independent reports that a team of researchers including members of the Canadian aboriginal communities of the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla First Nation, analyzed the genomes of 25 people who lived on the north coast of British Columbia between 1,000 and 6,000 years ago, and compared the results with the genomes of 25 of their descendants. The study suggests that there was a steep drop in the size of the population some 175 years ago, about the time that European diseases were introduced to the region. Nearly six out of ten people are thought to have died. Biologist Michael DeGiorgio of Pennsylvania State University added that a gene variant associated with survival, and helping the body identify diseases, may have been beneficial before the arrival of Europeans, but then became disadvantageous upon European contact. The variant was found to be 64 percent less common in the descendant community than in the ancient remains. For more, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

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Did Autism Fuel Human Success?

November 17, 2016

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a report in ZME Science, Penny Spikins of the University of York and her colleagues argue that collaborative morality, or a group-oriented attitude, emerged in humans some 100,000 years ago, and changed how individuals with autism, a condition thought to have a long evolutionary history, were integrated into society. Spikins thinks people who may have been ostracized before the emergence of collaborative morality came to be seen as valuable to group survival due to their heightened senses, exceptional memory skills, and attention to detail. Those traits may have helped groups of hunter-gatherers navigate the landscape, understand the behavior of prey animals, and recognize different plants and animals. According to Spikins, people with diverse abilities took on specialized roles, which helped lead to human success. Some scholars have argued that identifying traits of autism can even be seen in Paleolithic cave art. For more, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

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Mesolithic Settlement Mapped in the Baltic Sea

November 17, 2016

LUND, SWEDEN—The International Business Times reports that researchers from Lund University have mapped an underwater site off the southern coast of Sweden with multibeam echosounder technology. Geologist Anton Hansson explained that 9,000 years ago, the sea level was more than 30 feet lower than it is today. The people who lived in this Mesolithic settlement, which was located near a lagoon, are thought to have had access to abundant fish. The archaeologists found stationary fish traps, and a 9,000-year-old pickax made of polished antler that may have been used to mount the traps. “We are not really sure how it’s used, as it’s the only one we have found,” Hansson said. “There’s been finds of stone axes looking similar which people think were replicas of this horn.” The ax had a crack in its shaft hole, and was found discarded in the refuse layer. For more, go to “Öland, Sweden. Spring, A.D. 480.”

Categories: Blog

Unusual Roman Pot Discovered in Switzerland

November 16, 2016

AARGAU, SWITZERLAND—The Local, Switzerland, reports that a cooking pot filled with oil lamps has been uncovered at the site of Vindonissa, a first-century A.D. Roman legion camp. Each of the 22 lamps was decorated with an image of the moon goddess Luna, a gladiator, a lion, a peacock, or an erotic scene, and each lamp contained a bronze coin dating to A.D. 66-67. The pot also contained charred pieces of animal bone. “What astonished us was the quantity and the combination of coins and lamps,” said cantonal archaeologist Georg Matter. “The intentions behind this burial are puzzling at the moment.” For more, go to “Switzerland Everlasting.”

Categories: Blog

Study Suggests Neolithic Amulet Was Cast With Lost-Wax Method

November 16, 2016

PARIS, FRANCE—The Washington Post reports that a team of scientists used a full-field photoluminescence technique to examine the molecular structure of a 6,000-year-old amulet discovered in Pakistan at the Neolithic site of Mehrgarh. Using a powerful synchrotron beam, the researchers found copper oxides inside the amulet that have a different structure than the corrosion covering the object. Mathieu Thoury of the European Ipanema laboratory suggests the early metallurgists may have been trying to cast the amulet with pure copper, but admitted some oxygen during the production process that produced the microscopic bristles seen in the amulet’s interior. In addition, the amulet is not symmetrical, which also supports the idea that it was probably cast as a single piece through lost-wax casting. “It is not the most beautiful object, but still it holds so much history,” said Thoury. “It shows how the metalworkers at the time were so innovative and wanted to optimize and improve the technique.” To read about a Late Roman amulet, go to “Artifact.”

Categories: Blog

Canaanite Offering Unearthed at Tel Gezer

November 16, 2016

TEL GEZER NATIONAL PARK, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that a team of researchers from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary have discovered a 3,600-year-old pottery vessel in the foundations of a building at Tel Gezer, a city located in central Israel along the ancient strategic route between Egypt and Mesopotamia. The vessel contained figurines of Canaanite deities, including Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, sex, love, and war, and Sin, the god of the moon; a silver disc-shaped pendant carved with an eight-pointed star and topped with two narrow cylinders where a lace or chain may have been attached; and an Egyptian scarab with a gold bezel dating to the era of Hyksos rule. The valuable items were wrapped in a linen cloth, which left an impression on the artifacts, and then placed in the lidded vessel, which was secreted in the building’s foundation, perhaps as an offering to the gods. “What’s nice about this trove is that it shows Canaanite culture together with a clear Egyptian influence,” said head archaeologist Zvika Zuk. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Autumn of the Master Builder.”

Categories: Blog

2,000-Year-Old Mosaic Floors Found in Turkey

November 16, 2016

ŞANLIURFA, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports that a floor mosaic has been discovered in a necropolis of nearly 80 rock-cut tombs in southeastern Turkey, near the ninth-century Urfa Castle. The mosaic depicts two men and two women, whose images are each contained in a separate square surrounded by a border. The portraits are thought to represent people been buried in the tombs. Syriac inscriptions in the mosaic are thought to date to the Edessa Kingdom, which reigned from 132 B.C. to A.D. 639. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

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1,500-Year-Old Engraved Stones Uncovered in Kazakhstan

November 15, 2016

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—Live Science reports that a 1,500-year-old archaeological site in Altÿnkazgan, Kazakhstan, has been investigated by Andrey Astafiev of Mangistaus State Historical and Cultural Reserve, and Evgenii Bogdanov of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The site is a complex of stone structures located near the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, and is thought to have been built by the nomadic Huns as they moved across Asia and Europe, around the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Made with stone slabs carved with images of weapons and animals, the smallest structures measure about 13 feet by 13 feet, while the largest measure some 112 feet by 79 feet. Within one of the structures, the team uncovered silver decorations thought to have adorned a saddle belonging to a wealthy person. The surface of the silver was decorated with images of boars, deer, and beasts that may be lions, and tamgas, or signs that may have been symbols of power. The saddle may have been placed in the stone structure for ritual purposes or as a burial offering. The team members also found two bronze parts of a whip in the same structure. For more, go to “First Domesticated Horses: Botai, Kazakhstan.”

Categories: Blog

Monks’ Graves Found at Ruined Fountains Abbey

November 15, 2016

RIPON, ENGLAND—The Herald Scotland reports that a team of researchers from the National Trust, the University of Bradford, Geoscan Research, and Mala Geoscience used ground-penetrating radar to find more than 500 graves, holding as many as 2,000 bodies, in rows curving out from the east of the church at Fountains Abbey. The monastery, located in North Yorkshire, was built in the early twelfth century, and closed in 1539 under Henry VIII. During the Victorian era, workmen uncovered some of these graves, and reported that they found several tiers in each. The new study agrees that the monks were buried in “bunk beds,” or graves separated by stone partitions, perhaps in order to protect them from damage during later burials. The monks may have believed that it was important to preserve their physical remains for resurrection on the Christian Day of Judgment. For more, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”

Categories: Blog

Mummy and Its Sarcophagus Discovered in Egypt

November 15, 2016

LUXOR, EGYPT—The Guardian reports that a mummy has been discovered in a tomb near Luxor by a team of Spanish archaeologists led by Myriam Seco Alvarez. According to Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, the tomb is thought to date to between 1075 and 664 B.C. The mummy, wrapped in linen and plaster, is thought to be the remains of Amenrenef, a nobleman and servant in the royal household. The mummy had been placed in a wooden sarcophagus decorated with images of the goddesses Isis and Nephtys, as well as the four sons of Horus. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

Categories: Blog

Study Suggests Interbreeding Helped Modern Humans Adapt

November 12, 2016

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—USA Today reports that Joshua Akey of the University of Washington and colleagues examined the DNA of 1,500 Europeans, East Asians, South Asians, and Melanesians to look for pieces of the genetic code inherited from Neanderthals and Denisovans. The team found that each group has 10 to 20 beneficial pieces of DNA from extinct human relatives. For example, the study suggests that genes from Neanderthals affect skin color and the immune system’s response to viruses and other microbes. Denisovan DNA is thought to help modern Tibetans live at high altitudes. Akey explained that borrowing DNA was “a way of short-circuiting the normal evolutionary process” for modern humans entering new environments. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

Categories: Blog

Birch Bark Quiver Discovered in Siberia

November 12, 2016

KOKORYA, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that two local people found a wooden coffin, along with a birch bark quiver, complete with pockets for different kinds of arrows, as well as arrow shafts and iron arrow heads. They claim to have found the artifacts in a hole in a cliff. Archaeologists have not opened the coffin, which they believe dates to sometime between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, but the two residents say it held bones and a bow. The residents also retrieved two decorative bone plaques, the remains of silk ribbons, a leather strap, and birch bark linings for a saddle. “The leather strap was used for attaching the quiver to the belt, we believe,” said Nikita Konstantinov, head of the Museum of Gorno-Altaisk State University. “Judging by the shape of the arrow heads, I would say that the owner was a warrior.” He added that this type of quiver has not been found before in the Altai Mountains, and may have come from Mongolia. “When the Mongolian tribes came to Altai, previous Turk traditions were forgotten,” added researcher Alexey Tishkin. “Part of the local population was assimilated or destroyed.” The team of archaeologists is making plans to investigate the burial site. For more, go to “Letter from Siberia: Fortress of Solitude.”

Categories: Blog

Beer Brewed With 18th-Century Yeast

November 11, 2016

TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA—Live Science reports that researchers led by David Thurrowgood of the Queen Victoria Museum brewed beer with yeast recovered from bottles found in an eighteenth-century shipwreck using a traditional English recipe. The bottled beer, along with bottles of wine, brandy, gin, and casks of cheaper beer, came from the Sydney Cove, a British trading ship that wrecked near the island of Tasmania in 1797 while traveling from Calcutta to the prison colony at Port Jackson, now known as the city of Sydney. Some of the survivors eventually tried to complete the trip to the prison colony, but only three of the 17 ever made it. “They were the first Europeans to do that trek, so in terms of early colonial history, it was an enormous trip and tale of survival—I don’t know how they did it,” Thurrowgood said. The mild, sweet-tasting beverage may be similar to a celebrated eighteenth-century English beer. Thurrowgood thinks the original may have been exported from England for military officers stationed at Port Jackson. He added that the live yeast and the several species of bacteria found in the beer bottles could provide scientists with more information about the microorganisms in pre-industrial diets. To read about an ancient Chinese beer recipe, go to “World Roundup.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on the Demise of Greenland’s Norse Settlements

November 11, 2016

TASILIKULOOQ, GREENLAND—Science Magazine reports that the North Atlantic Biocultural Organization has analyzed data on the settlement patterns, diet, and landscape of the Norse living in Greenland from the eleventh century to the mid-fifteenth century, when they disappeared. It had been thought that the Norse were primarily farmers whose crops and livestock failed to support them when the Little Ice Age set in, but new evidence suggests that the Norse spread to Iceland and Greenland in the pursuit of walrus ivory, which was highly valued in medieval Europe. Analysis of human remains from Norse cemeteries indicates that the settlers relied more heavily on marine animals for food as temperatures fell and it became harder to farm, even though pollen and soil data show that the settlers were more skilled in farming techniques such as irrigation, fertilizing, and allowing fields to rest than had been previously thought. Climate change and stormy seas would have made hunting and the ivory trade more difficult, too. “We used to think of Norse as farmers who hunted,” explained Thomas McGovern of Hunter College. “Now, we consider them hunters who farmed.” For more, go to “Vikings, Worms, and Emphysema.”

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