KAZANLAK, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a team has unearthed three Late Roman Graves beneath the 20-foot-tall Otrusha burial mound in the Valley of Thracian Kings. Located in central Bulgaria, the mound was built to hold the remains of Thracian aristocrats who had integrated into Roman society. A landslide at the site last fall led to rescue excavations led by Diana Dimitrova of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology. Her team found two tombs containing skeletal remains, and one containing a cremated individual who had been buried with several artifacts, including a ceramic wine jug and Roman bronze coins minted between A.D. 335 and 378, which were probably buried near the remains in a leather purse. Dimitrova believes there could still be more tombs to be discovered at the Otrusha mound. To read more about Thracian burial sites, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”
LOWER SAXONY, GERMANY—The remains of a young man who was buried in an unusual vertical position around 7,000 years ago have been discovered near the village of Groß Fredenwalde, around 50 miles north of Berlin. Researchers believe that the body was put in a standing position into a five-foot-deep pit with its back leaning against the grave wall, and then sand was filled in to a level above the knees. After the man’s upper body was allowed to decay and to be consumed by scavengers, the grave was filled in and sealed. “The burial is unique in central Europe and therefore it is difficult to find specific reasons for such treatment,” Thomas Terberger, the excavation director at the Lower Saxony Department of Historic Preservation, told Discovery News. The site is thought to be among the first real cemeteries in Europe, dating back to a period when Europe was inhabited by hunter-gatherers who tended to move from place to place. For more on archaeology in Germany, go to “World’s Oldest Pretzels,” one of ARCHAEOLOGY’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists have discovered a prehistoric village in the Jordan Valley that appears to have been occupied by both Paleolithic foraging peoples and early Neolithic farmers. Stone tools at the site strongly resemble those made by the Late Paleolithic Natufian culture, which lasted from about 15,000 to 11,500 years ago. Buildings and many artifacts found at the site, such as shell beads and other examples of jewelry, more closely resemble those found in early agricultural communities. The discovery suggests that people living at the site continued to use Paleolithic-style tools even as they began to adopt agriculture. “Characterizing this important period of potential overlap in the Jordan Valley is crucial for the understanding of the socioeconomic processes that marked the shift from Paleolithic mobile societies of hunter-gatherers to Neolithic agricultural communities,” said Hebrew University archaeologist Leore Grosman in a press release. To read more about the Natufian-Neolithic transition, go to "Grave of the Middle East's Oldest Witch."
NORFOLK, ENGLAND—A gold mount dating to the late sixth or early seventh century that was found in a Norfolk field may provide clues to the location of Anglo-Saxon settlements in the area. The piece, found near the town of Fakenham, may be from a sword grip, but experts have been unable to determine its precise function. The BBC reports that, according to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the item is “similar to sword-grip mounts from the Sutton Hoo ship burial and the Staffordshire Hoard.” Several other items, including a brooch and a belt mount, have been found in the area in recent years, but no sign of Anglo-Saxon dwellings has been found in the village so far. For more, go to “Anglo-Saxon Hoard - Staffordshire, England,” which was one of our Top 10 Discoveries of 2009.
COLD SPRING HARBOR, NEW YORK—A new genetic study suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans interbred well before scientists have previously supposed. Since 2010, DNA studies have consistently shown that humans and Neanderthals must have interbred around 47,000-65,000 years ago, when modern humans are known to have emigrated from Africa. But recent sequencing of the DNA of the so-called “Altai Neanderthal," using a tiny toe bone fragment unearthed in a cave in Siberia's Altai mountains, shows its ancestors also interbred with modern humans who left Africa tens of thousands of years before the famous "Out of Africa" migration dating to around 60,000 years ago. "The signal we're seeing in the Altai Neanderthal probably comes from an interbreeding event that occurred...a little more than 100,000 years ago," said Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory geneticist Adam Siepel in a press release. This group of modern humans probably broke off from other human populations around 200,000 years ago, and went extinct sometime after interbreeding with Neanderthals. To read more about Neanderthals, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"
KAMPEN, THE NETHERLANDS—A well-preserved medieval ship has been raised from bed of the Ijssel River, an offshoot of the Rhine, where it is thought to have been sunk intentionally more than 600 years ago. The 65-foot-long ship, which was a wooden international trading vessel known as a cog, was active at a time when the Hanseatic League dominated maritime trade in Europe. The wreck was discovered at the bottom of the river in 2012 and its raising is the culmination of three years of careful planning. “The fact that we were able to raise the Ijssel cog in its entirety and in one attempt is a fantastic achievement by the entire team,” lead maritime archaeologist Wouter Waldus said in a statement, according to Live Science. The ship was oriented perpendicular to the river’s flow, and researchers believe that it and two other vessels were sunk with the intention of redirecting the river’s flow to minimize silt buildup. For more, go to “History's 10 Greatest Wrecks...”
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A team from the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) has excavated the remains of a 7,000-year-old settlement in a Jerusalem neighborhood. It is the first significant site dating to the Copper Age ever unearthed in the city. Led by IAA archaeologist Ronit Lupo, the team discovered two well-preserved dwellings that retained their floors. “Thousands of years later, the buildings uncovered are of a standard that would not fall short of Jerusalem’s architecture,” Lupo said in an Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release. “This discovery represents a highly significant addition to our research of the city and the vicinity.” In addition to the houses, the team unearthed small sickle blades that would have been used for harvesting cereals, and a number of other artifacts, including a carnelian bead. To read in-depth about a dig at another site in Israel, go to "Excavating Tell Kadesh."
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—For the past three years, archaeologists led by DePaul University's Morag M. Kersel have used drones or UAVs to monitor looting at the Early Bronze Age site of Fifa on Jordan's Dead Sea Plain. "Three seasons of monitoring at Fifa have demonstrated that UAVs can provide quantifiable evidence for the rate of ongoing site damage," said Kersel in a DePaul University press release. Their work shows that while looting at the site is ongoing, it is now continuing at a much reduced pace compared to when the project began. "An element of the ongoing research is the examination of why looting has abated," says Kersel. "Are there no more graves to loot? Have looters found more lucrative financial resources?" The team is now using ethnographic interviews with people in the area to understand why looting at the site may have slowed. To read more about archaeology in Jordan, go to "Neolithic Community Centers."
ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Renovation of the Aberdeen Art Gallery has led to the discovery of a graveyard associated with the thirteenth-century Blackfriars Abbey, a Dominican friary. A team from AOC Archaeology discovered about 40 disturbed skeletons outside the gallery, along with coffin wood, furniture, and textiles, all of which the archaeologists suspect were removed during previous development of the gallery in the nineteenth century. Under the gallery itself, the team unearthed 52 skeletons, as well as large quantities of animal bone, coffin fixtures, and coins. "We expected to find some remains underneath the Art Gallery, but the nineteenth-century building works actually left more burials intact than we ever imagined,” said Aberdeenshire Council archaeologist Bruce Mann in a press release. “This now presents a fantastic window into medieval life in Aberdeen." For more about archaeology in Scotland, go to “Letter from Scotland: Living on the Edge.”
EVANSTON, ILLINOIS—A Northwestern University team led by archaeological scientist Marc Walton has carried out a cutting-edge study of 15 Romano-Greek mummy portraits from the site of Tebtunis in Egypt. Using imaging technologies and pigment analysis, the group made a number of discoveries, including the fact that three of the portraits probably came from the same workshop and were possibly done by the same artist. They were also able to pinpoint the sources for the pigments used in the portraits. “Our materials analysis provides a fresh and rich archaeological context for the Tebtunis portraits, reflecting the international perspective of these ancient Egyptians,” Walton said in a Northwestern University press release. “For example, we found that the iron-earth pigments most likely came from Keos in Greece, the red lead from Spain, and the wood substrate on which the portraits are painted came from central Europe. We also know the painters used Egyptian blue in an unusual way to broaden their spectrum of hues.” To read more about the team’s work with Egyptian blue, go to “Hidden Blues.”
BINGHAMTON, NY—A new analysis of triangular obsidian objects found on Easter Island suggests they were not used as weapons, as previously believed, but had a wide variety of non-lethal uses. Thousands of the artifacts, known as ma'ta, have been found on the island, and they have often been used to support the idea that widespread violence among the islanders led to the collapse of prehistoric society. Now a team led by Binghamton University archaeologist Carl Lipo has examined more than 400 of the artifacts and found that they would have made for sub-par spear points. "What people traditionally think about the island as being this island of catastrophe and collapse just isn't true in a prehistoric sense," said Lipo in a Binghamton University press release. "Populations were successful and lived sustainably on the island up until European contact." Lipo believes ma'ta were actually used as agricultural implements, and perhaps for tattooing, and that Easter Island did not begin to decline until after European contact. To read more about archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From Hawaii: Inside Kauai's Past."
HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—Dredging to widen and deepen Portsmouth Harbor for new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers has recovered an iron cannon. “Cannons are particularly exciting finds because they could indicate the presence of a previously unrecorded shipwreck,” Andrea Hamel of Wessex Archaeology told BBC News. The cannon will be examined at the Mary Rose Museum. “More investigation into the cannon will be needed to determine its significance, but hopefully ongoing research will provide a date range for the cannon and possible provenance,” Hamel added. It is also possible that the cannon may have been used for ballast before it was thrown overboard. To read about other finds in the same area, go to "As American as Sliced Bacon in a Can."
WINNIPEG, CANADA—University of Winnipeg alumnus Luther Sousa identified two objects from the 450 lamps, storage jars, dishware, stone tools, bone game pieces, shabtis, and Osiris figurines in the university’s Hetherington Collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. The first is a miniature wooden hoe, and the other is a set of miniature wooden rockers. Sousa suspects that the items, both marked with hieroglyphs, were found in a foundation deposit at Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahri in the 1880s. “The glyphs strongly suggest that the objects belonged to Queen Hatshepsut from the 18th dynasty of ancient Egyptian kings. The writing includes her cartouche, as well as the name of the location of Hatshepsut’s temple,” Sousa said in a press release. At that time, the temple was being excavated by Henri Edouard Naville on behalf of the Egyptian Exploration Fund. The artifacts in the collection were received in two shipments—one in 1903, and the other after 1925. The shipments were likely through the Egyptian Exploration Society. For more, go to "Hatshepsut Found; Thutmose I Lost."
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—Researchers from Vanderbilt University used a database of 28,000 anonymous individuals, whose DNA samples were linked to their electronic health records, to look for Neanderthal DNA variants and see if they could be connected to modern health problems. “Our main finding is that Neanderthal DNA does influence clinical traits in modern humans: We discovered associations between Neanderthal DNA and a wide range of traits, including immunological, dermatological, neurological, psychiatric, and reproductive diseases,” evolutionary geneticist John Capra said in a press release. But 40,000 years ago, Neanderthal DNA might have provided modern humans with adaptive advantages as they came into contact with different pathogens and levels of sun exposure in new environments. For example, a Neanderthal variant that increases blood coagulation may have sealed wounds more quickly and prevented infections. Today, people who carry this variant are at an increased risk of stroke, pulmonary embolism, and pregnancy complications. Neanderthal DNA can also increase the risk of nicotine addiction, and influence the risk for depression. “The brain is incredibly complex, so it’s reasonable to expect that introducing changes from a different evolutionary path might have negative consequences,” added graduate student Corinne Simonti. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."
LARAMIE, WYOMING—Statistical analysis shows that more fossils, such as the remains of mammoths, mastodons, camels, horses, and ground sloths, have been lost in the continental United States and South America than in Alaska and areas near the Bering Strait. Todd Surovell and Spencer Pelton of the University of Wyoming compiled radiocarbon dates of bones from animals that died during the Pleistocene era and the rates at which sedimentary deposits were lost over time. “While bone preservation in Arctic regions is aided by cold temperatures and the presence of permafrost, considerably more bone has been lost over time in regions farther south—in fact, at a faster rate than the sediments in which they were deposited have eroded,” Surovell said in a press release. “That means that researchers must adjust for those differences as they estimate the numbers of these animals, many of which are now extinct, across the Americas,” he said. Estimates of populations of large mammals can be used to determine if their extinctions were caused by human hunters.
SUSSEX, ENGLAND—Domesticated horses are able to distinguish between angry and happy human facial expressions, according to a study conducted by Amy Smith and Karen McComb of the University of Sussex. When shown angry human faces, the horses looked more with the left eye, which allows the right brain hemisphere to process threatening stimuli. (Dogs have also been shown to have a tendency to use the left eye when viewing negative human facial expressions.) The horses’ heart rates also increased more quickly, and they exhibited more stress-related behaviors, when shown the angry human expressions. “In this context, recognizing angry faces may act as a warning system, allowing horses to anticipate negative human behavior such as rough handling,” Smith said in a press release. “There are several possible explanations for our findings,” added McComb. “Horses may have adapted an ancestral ability for reading emotional cues in other horses to respond appropriately to human facial expressions during their co-evolution. Alternatively, individual horses may have learned to interpret human expressions during their own lifetime,” she explained. For more, go to "The Story of the Horse."
PENSACOLA, FLORIDA—According to a press release, Kristina Killgrove of the University of West Florida and Janet Montgomery of Durham University analyzed isotope ratios in the teeth of 105 skeletons in an effort to determine what these individuals ate over the course of their lifetimes and where they had been born. The skeletons came from two Roman cemeteries dating to the first through third centuries A.D., and their burials suggest that they may have been poor or enslaved. The results of the study, published in PLOS ONE, indicate that as many as eight of these individuals, mostly men and children, may have come from North Africa and the Alps. They probably adapted to the local Roman diet of wheat, legumes, meat, and fish. Further isotope analysis and DNA studies could provide more information. For more, see "The Gladiator Diet."
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—A chamber in South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves has yielded four early hominin fossils that can be associated with stone tools dating to more than two million years ago. Two of these fossils, a finger bone and a tooth, are new to scientists. The finger bone is large and curved, but lacks the strong muscle attachments expected for a hominin living in trees. “The finger is similar in shape to the partial specimen from Olduvai Gorge that has been called Homo habilis, but is much larger. Overall, this specimen in unique in the South African plio-pleistocene fossil hominin record and deserves more studies,” Dominic Stratford of the University of the Witwatersrand said in a press release. The tooth is a relatively small, adult first molar resembling the teeth of Homo habilis and perhaps Homo naledi, discovered in 2013 in Rising Star Cave. “The specimens are exciting not only because they are associated with early stone tools, but also because they possess a mixture of intriguing features that raise many more questions than they give answers,” Stratford said.
COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have known about the arcade that had been built at the Temple of Claudius in Colchester for some 60 years, but the demolition of a modern office block has uncovered evidence that the covered walkway was the largest in Roman Britain. The arcade was built in the first or second century A.D., following the destruction of Colchester during Boudicca’s rebellion. “Its closest rival in terms of size stands in what was Gaul, in northern France, and shares some of the architecture we can see in Colchester today,” Philip Crummy, director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, told The Telegraph. “The original arcade and its grand columns are similar to those you see in Bath, at the Roman Baths. It really is an extraordinary find and confirms the grandeur and richness of its Roman culture,” he said. For more on the Roman period in England, go to "What’s in a Name?"
FOULUM, DENMARK—Three members of the Central Jutland Detector Society discovered a cache of 700-year-old coins in a field near the excavation of an Iron Age building. The poor quality and low silver content of the coins are thought to reflect the civil war in Denmark at the time. “The treasure comes from an unstable period, and it is conceivable that the owner wanted to hide them away until better and more stable times. For some unknown reason, he never returned to collect his coins,” Viborg Museum curator Mikkel Kjeldsen told The Local, Denmark. The coins will be cleaned and displayed at Viborg Museum. For more on archaeology in Jutland, go to "Bronze Age Bride."