WROCLAW, POLAND—According to a report from Radio Poland, a team of Polish and Mongolian researchers has found stone tools in the southern Gobi Desert. “The highly diversified forms of objects found and the varied techniques of working stone prove that certain locations were repeatedly colonized across history,” said Józef Szykulski of Wroclaw University. The oldest tools date to the Middle Paleolithic, between 200,000 and 40,000 years ago, and were found in an area that once had lakes and abundant wildlife. The team also recovered 11 jasper artifacts, which were dated to about 40,000 years old. To read about archaeology in the Atacama Desert of Chile, go to "Off the Grid."
BARCELONA, SPAIN—A rock shelter in the Sierra de Cantabria mountains in northern Spain was repeatedly used as an animal pen some 5,000 years ago, according to a study conducted by scientists from the University of Barcelona, the University of the Basque Country, and the Spanish National Research Council. Analysis of charcoal, pollen, seeds, and other plant remains recovered during the investigation indicate that Copper Age herders held their goats and/or sheep in the rock shelter intermittently, probably to take advantage of hazelnut and acorn trees that grew in the area. “We also know thanks to the microscopic study of the sediments that every now and again they used to burn the debris that had built up, probably to clean up the space that had been occupied,” archaeologist Ana Polo-Diaz of the University of the Basque Country said in a UPI report. For more on the archaeology of Spain, go to "The Red Lady of El Mirón."
WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA—Six teeth and a jawbone fragment thought to belong to ancestors of Homo floresiensis, the hominin often referred to as the "hobbit," have been discovered at a site called Mata Menge on the Indonesian island of Flores. The fossils represent at least one adult and two children of small stature who lived 600,000 years earlier than Homo floresiensis. Gert van den Bergh of the University of Wollongong and colleagues argue that this ancient human relative descended from Homo erectus individuals who arrived on the island and shrank over a period of about 300,000 years, perhaps because they were challenged by few predators and thus did not have a need for a big brain. “But what is clear is that they made stone tools, so they weren’t stupid,” van den Bergh said in an ABC News report. He recovered the fossils from an ancient riverbed that had been covered and preserved by a volcanic mudflow. His team will continue to look for additional fossils, such as wrist bones and skulls, for more information on possible Homo floresiensis ancestors. To read about another discovery in Indonesia, go to "The First Artists."
REDDING, CONNECTICUT—Archaeologists Beth Morrison and Laurie Weinstein of Western Connecticut State University and their students surveyed a possible Revolutionary War–era encampment in Redding, Connecticut, and concluded that the site was likely home to 1,000 to 1,500 Connecticut soldiers during the winter of 1779. Known as the Middle Encampment, the site was under the command of General Samuel Holden Parsons. Twelve collapsed fireplaces and other piles of rocks are thought to mark the locations of cabins and other outbuildings. A layer of burned animal bone at the site is similar to debris found at nearby Putnam Park, where soldiers from New Hampshire and Canada camped under the command of Major General Israel Putnam over the same winter. The investigators also recovered military buttons, shoe buckles, and musket balls. “We’re happy to say that every single [site] we put a hole into came up with a period-specific artifact,” Morrison said in a report by The Redding Pilot. The site of a third Revolutionary War encampment in the region has been lost to development. The Middle Encampment has been named a state archaeological preserve. For more on the archaeology of the Revolutionary War, go to "Finding Parker’s Revenge."
EUGENE, OREGON—Western Digs reports that archaeologist Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon and his team predicted where they would find stone artifacts left behind by early seafaring people on Santa Cruz Island by analyzing the attributes of known Paleocoastal sites in the Channel Islands. They looked for areas with natural shelter, access to rocks and fresh water, and a view of the coastline. “We added overlook sites later as our surveys revealed that they, too, were important,” Erlandson said. In fact, two of the new sites were discovered on high bluffs overlooking the ocean. Erlandson thinks the ancient mariners valued the commanding views for spotting seals and sea lions, and maybe even other people. One of the sites has been carbon-dated to about 8,500 years ago with cast-off mussel shells. The types of tools at the other two sites suggest that they may be 11,000 or 12,000 years old. For more on early inhabitants of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."
SOFIA, BULGARIA—The graves of several aristocrats have been found under the site of the medieval Church of St. George, located near the town of Botevgrad in northwestern Bulgaria. Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that Filiip Petrunov of the country’s National Museum of History discovered a ring with the monogram of the Shishman Dynasty, which ruled from 1331 to 1395, in the grave of one woman that had been built into the foundations of the church. His team also found evidence that the church had been part of a monastery, which at the time was located on an island in a small lake. Byzantine coins from the fifth and sixth centuries suggest that the monastery could date to the early Christian era. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—Researchers led by David Lambert of Griffith University’s Research Centre for Human Evolution used new DNA sequencing methods to analyze the 40,000-year-old remains of Mungo Man, discovered in the Willandra Lakes region in New South Wales in 1974. A 2001 study had suggested that Mungo Man was not an ancestor of Australia’s Aboriginal people, but instead represented an extinct human lineage. The new study finds that the sample from the previous test had been contaminated. “We could not, with better technology, repeat what the original study found and therefore the evidence that Aboriginal people were not the first Australians has no foundation,” Lambert said in an ABC News report. Lambert and his team were not able to recover any DNA from the Mungo Man sample. They did, however, reanalyze samples from 20 other ancient skeletons discovered in Willandra. The team was able to sequence a complete mitochondrial genome from the bones of one man, but the age of his skeleton is so far unknown. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to "What's the Point?"
MAINZ, GERMANY—A new genetic study led by Joachim Burger of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz has linked Neolithic farmers in Germany, Hungary, and Spain to early farmers in Greece and northwestern Anatolia. Burger said in an Associated Press report that the farmers in Central Europe and Spain were more closely related to the Aegean farmers than to each other, which suggests that the farmers arrived in Europe in two separate waves. “One is the Balkan route and one is the Mediterranean route,” Burger said. The study also indicates that the migrating farmers had dark eyes, fair skin, and were not able to digest milk after childhood. A comparison of the ancient DNA with samples collected from modern Europeans found that after hundreds of years, the farmers eventually mixed with European hunter-gatherers and then with a third group of people who traveled from the eastern Steppes some 5,000 years ago. For more, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."
ALBERTA, CANADA—A new study coordinated by Duane Froese of the University of Alberta has analyzed nearly 200 bison fossils as a way to investigate when people may have been able to travel through an ice-free corridor in the Rocky Mountains. Bison to the north and south of the corridor were separated from each other by the ice some 21,000 years ago and, as a result, became genetically distinct. So, as a first step, the researchers carbon-dated the bison fossils and then analyzed their DNA to show which were from the north and which were from the south. The results suggest that the southern bison began moving north some 13,400 years ago, and that the populations began to overlap some 13,000 years ago, when the corridor was fully cleared of ice. “It’s intriguing from the perspective that as much as bison and game animals were separated, so too would have been early human populations,” Jack Ives of the University of Alberta said in a CBC News report. “Once that corridor region opened … this would open the door for human populations to reengage.” For more, go to "Bison Bone Mystery."
MODI’IN, ISRAEL—A cache of silver coins was discovered during salvage excavations at a 2,100-year-old agricultural estate in Israel. The coins had been placed in a crevice against a wall of the estate. Olive presses and wine presses suggest that the family grew olive trees and vineyards. Ritual baths, vessels made of chalk, and bronze coins minted by Hasmonean kings were also found. The Times of Israel reports that the 16 silver coins include one or two tetradrachms or didrachms minted in the city of Tyre from every year between 135 and 126 B.C. “It seems that some thought went into collecting the coins, and it is possible that the person who buried the cache was a coin collector,” said coin expert Donald Tzvi Ariel of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Excavation director Abraham Tendler thinks that the estate’s Jewish residents may have participated in the rebellion against Rome in A.D. 66, based upon bronze coins found at the site. Hiding places connected by tunnels to cisterns and storage pits were found under the floors of the house. An opening in a ritual bath led to a hiding place that contained artifacts that date to the Bar Kokhba rebellion, which occurred in A.D. 132. To read about another coin cache dating to the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt, go to "2,000-Year-Old Stashed Treasure."
MURCIA, SPAIN—Science News reports that paleontologist Michael Walker of the University of Murcia and his colleagues have found evidence for the earliest controlled use of small fires in Europe at Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar. The cave, located in southeastern Spain, has yielded more than 165 stones and stone artifacts and 2,300 heated or charred animal-bone fragments. Microscopic and chemical analysis of these objects indicates that they were heated to between 750 and 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures consistent with having been burned in fire. Walker thinks the fires were started by human ancestors some 800,000 years ago, based upon the identification of a reversal in the Earth’s magnetic field some 780,000 years ago in sediments above the burned artifacts. Fossils of extinct animals have also been found with the stone tools. Some scientists question the early date and think the tools are at most 600,000 years old. That would still make the fires the earliest known in Europe. For more on archaeology in Spain, go to "The Red Lady of El Mirón."
COUNTY DOWN, IRELAND— Archaeologist Heather Montgomery of Queen’s University is investigating the remains of military trenches uncovered in Northern Ireland, near the Ballykinler army base. BBC News reports that many of the men who trained in these trenches went on to fight in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and the Battle of Messines in 1917. “The training they did in there, did it actually help them?” asked Tony Canniford, estate manager for Ballykinler. “Is there any history within the bottom of the trenches? Most soldiers drop stuff when they’re training.” Plans to restore the trenches and open to the public are in the works. To read about a well-known World War I battlefield, go to "Letter from Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter."
GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND—A bronze wing measuring 5.5 inches long has been unearthed in southwestern England. At first it had been thought that the wing, discovered in an earthen bank behind what would have been the Roman city wall, was part of an eagle statue. But Martin Henig of Oxford University has concluded that the wing was actually part of a Roman statuette of Victoria, the goddess of victory. “It would be nice to think a retired Roman soldier, spending his retirement years in Gloucester, had a nice statuette to Victory as thanks for making it through the Roman invasion of Britain in one piece,” Neil Holbrook of Cotswold Archaeology said in a BBC News report. For more on Roman remains found in England, go to "What’s in a Name?"
TURIN, ITALY—The statues and walkways in a symmetrical nineteenth-century garden in Washington D.C. are aligned to the rising and setting sun on the summer and winter solstices, according to physicist Amelia Sparavigna of Politecnico di Torino. Live Science reports that, using satellite imagery and astronomical software, Sparavigna found that the solstice sun aligns with the statue of President Andrew Jackson that stands in the center of the Lafayette Square garden. Four walkways radiate out from this statue. Standing near the statue of Andrew Jackson, it would appear that on the summer solstice, the sun rises at the northeast end of one path, and sets at the northwest end of the opposite path. On the winter solstice, the sun would appear to rise at the southeast end of another path and set at the southwest end of its opposite. Sparavigna says it is unclear why designer Andrew Jackson Downing aligned the ends of the walkways to the solstice sun. For more, go to "Letter from England: The Scientist's Garden."
NORWICH, ENGLAND—Scientists from the University of Athens and the University of East Anglia say that what looked like the paved floors, courtyards, and colonnades of a lost city in shallow waters off the coast of the Greek island Zakynthos were actually created by a natural geological phenomenon up to five million years ago. According to a report in Tech Times, Julian Andrews of the University of East Anglia noticed that there wasn’t any pottery or other signs of human activity around the supposed ruins, which were discovered by recreational divers. The researchers took a closer look at the mineral content and texture of the stones with X-rays, microscopy, and stable isotope techniques. They think the column-shaped concretions are the result of mineralization at hydrocarbon seeps along a fault under the seabed. Microbes in the seafloor sediments used the methane and other gases from the fault as fuel, changing the chemistry of the sediment and forming the concretions. Erosion eventually exposed and shaped the concretions. “This kind of phenomenon is quite rare in shallow waters,” Andrews said. “Most similar discoveries tend to be many hundreds and often thousands of meters deep underwater.” For more, go to "Greece's Biggest Tomb."
OXFORD, ENGLAND—A genetic study led by Laurent Frantz of the University of Oxford suggests that dogs may have been domesticated separately in Asia and in Europe or the Near East. The researchers obtained DNA from the inner ear bone of a nearly 5,000-year-old dog discovered at Newgrange, a site on the east coast of Ireland, and sequenced its entire genome. They then compared it to the nuclear DNA of 605 modern dogs from around the world and calculated a genetic mutation rate. The analysis revealed a divide between Asian dogs and European dogs between 6,400 and 14,000 years ago, and a sharp decline in the numbers of European dogs. “We never saw this split before because we didn’t have enough samples,” project leader and evolutionary biologist Greger Larson said in a report in Science. Remains of dogs found in Germany have been estimated to be more than 16,000 years old, however, suggesting that dogs could have been domesticated in Europe before migrating Asian dogs might have replaced them. “We don’t know if the dogs that evolved [early] in Europe were an evolutionary dead end, but we can safely say that their genetic legacy has mostly been erased from today’s dogs,” said Laurent Frantz, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Oxford. For more on dogs in archaeology, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."
MÉRIDA, MEXICO—According to a report in Fox News Latino and the Mexico City newspaper Excelsior, Beatriz Quintal Suaste of the Yucatán National Institute of Anthropology and History says that an observatory at the Early Classic Maya site of Acanceh may have helped priest-astronomers track the movement of the planet Venus. The third-brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon, Venus is thought to have been represented in Maya mythology by a god named Noh Ek. The new study suggests that the southern edge of the observatory aligns with the northernmost position of Venus in the night sky. Three codexes found at the site support the idea that the ancient astronomers would have been able to track Venus’s 584-day cycle through the sky from the observatory.
TZEELIM VALLEY, ISRAEL—Reuters reports that Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists have returned to the Judean desert as part of a national project to rescue any artifacts remaining in cliff-side caves from looting. “These looters that operate in the area are experts at finding scrolls,” said Guy Fitoussi, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority robbery prevention unit in southern Israel. “We go after them, look for what they are looking for, and try to catch them.” His team is currently excavating the Cave of the Skulls, named for human remains thought to have belonged to Jewish rebels who hid in the cave during the Bar Kokhba rebellion some 2,000 years ago. In 2014, six people were arrested at the site, which is located on a cliff some 820 feet above a dry river bed that leads to the Dead Sea. So far, the team has recovered a piece of rope that may have been used by the Bar Kokhba rebels. To read about another find associated with the Bar Kokhba rebellion, go to "2,000-Year-Old Stashed Treasure."
CHILLICOTHE, OHIO—The Chillicothe Gazette reports that archaeologist Andy Sewell, members of the Ohio History Connection, and additional volunteers are investigating Camp Sherman, a large World War I–era training site for the Ohio Army National Guard, ahead of the construction of a power distribution center. The team has uncovered sewer pipes and the foundations of several buildings, including one they think might have been a fire station. “Surprises have been finding parts of buildings that don’t match the maps,” Sewell said. “Mainly, the buildings are where they are supposed to be, but there’s a mess hall, for instance, that’s further to the west than it shows on the map, and it kind of matches up with some of the photos that show it in line with another mess hall,” he said. Footprints in the bakery’s concrete could also reflect how quickly the camp was constructed. Charred pages from a ledger, a broken bottle, the base of a toilet, food waste, and burned soil where the bakery ovens may have been located have also been found. To read about the World War I battlefield at Gallipoli, go to "Letter from Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter."
MILAN, ITALY—Daniela Comelli of the Polytechnic University of Milan and her team conducted an analysis of the dagger found in the wrappings of Tutankhamun’s mummy by Howard Carter in 1925. The dagger, which dates to the fourteenth century B.C., has a gold handle, a rock crystal pommel, a gold sheath, and an iron blade. But the ancient Egyptians are thought to have developed iron smelting much later, in the eighth century B.C. “The problem is iron working is related to its high melting point,” Comelli said in an Associated Press report. “Because of it, early smiths couldn’t heat ore enough to extract iron and couldn’t forge the iron into weapons.” Using a technique called X-ray fluorescence, Comelli found that Tutankhamun’s metal blade contains ten percent nickel and 0.6 percent cobalt, a composition that is similar to that of known metallic meteorites. The analysis suggests that the dagger could have been hammered from rare meteoritic iron, which is thought to have been considered more valuable than gold. For more, go to "Egypt’s Immigrant Elite."