QUEENS, NEW YORK—At the Maya site of Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Petén, Guatemala, archaeologist Timothy Pugh of Queens College has found evidence that the city’s ceremonial and residential areas were laid out on a grid pattern. “It’s a top-down organization. Some sort of really, really, powerful ruler had to put this together,” he told Live Science. The early city was in use from 600 B.C. to 300 B.C., a time when the first Maya cities were under construction. Nixtun-Ch’ich’ had a main route that stretched east-west, along a line that is only three degrees off true east. “You get about 15 buildings in an exact straight line—that’s the main ceremonial area,” he said. At the eastern end of the route, there is a group of pyramids and buildings facing each other on a platform, similar to structures found in other early Maya cities. Many of the buildings face east, perhaps to follow the movement of the sun, and many of the buildings were decorated with shiny white plaster. “Most Mayan cities are nicely spread out. They have roads just like this, but they’re not gridded,” Pugh explained. To read more about high-tech mapping of Maya cities, see "Lasers in the Jungle."
SINAI, EGYPT—Egypt’s Minster of Antiquities, Mamdouh El Damaty, announced the discovery of the eastern gate to Tharu Fortress, the headquarters of the Egyptian army during the New Kingdom period, at Tell Habwa on the east bank of the Suez Canal. The Luxor Times reports that three limestone blocks from the huge gate are inscribed with the name of King Ramses II. The fort was one of a series of forts that sat on the Horus Military Route, which protected Egypt’s eastern front. The Egyptian Mission working at the site also uncovered royal warehouses made of mud brick that belonged to Thutmosis III and Ramses II, and some seals bearing the name of Thutmosis III. A cemetery dating the 26th Dynasty was also found. Its tombs contained bodies marked with battle injuries.
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—People first arrived on the Tongan island of Tongatapu around 2,838 years ago, according to a study by Marshall Weisler of the University of Queensland and David Burley of Simon Fraser University. In a new study, Weisler and his colleagues obtained dates for coral abraders, animal bones, shell tools, and charcoal from ovens from 20 Lapita sites across the Tongan archipelago using uranium- and radiocarbon-dating techniques. “We now have a precise chronology for the settlement of Tonga and the radiating out and occupying the islands of Tonga,” he told ABC Science. “Within one human generation or so the first settlers explored the rest of the archipelago and put down additional daughter communities.” The depletion of resources at the original site, the love of seafaring, and even sibling rivalry could have fueled the rapid settlement, he added.
LOLLAND, DENMARK—A pronged spear with a center bone point was uncovered during the construction of a tunnel that will connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland. “It was found obliquely embedded in the seafloor and must have been lost during fishing at some point in the Neolithic,” Line Marie Olesen of the Museum Lolland-Falster told Discovery News. Known as a leister, this Stone Age spear is the first to have been found with the lateral prongs and the bone point still in place. “It tells us, that in some cases at least, the leisters were equipped with a bone point much like present day eel leisters, which implies that the fishing of eel in that respect has not changed much,” Olesen said. Radiocarbon dates for the leister are in the works.
VIZCAYA, SPAIN—Teresa Fernández-Crespo of the University of the Basque Country suggests that late Neolithic and Chalcolithic societies were starting to become hierarchized, based upon data obtained from five megalithic graves in La Rioja and two in Araba-Álava, which together contained the remains of 248 individuals. “We propose that the people buried were intentionally selected,” she said in a press release. “The demographic composition of the megaliths displays significant anomalies with respect to a natural population of an ancient type. The bias identified, which almost systematically affects children under five, but certain adults as well, above all female ones, could be indicating that access to graves was restricted to those people who enjoyed certain rights and privileges only, against what is usually maintained in the traditional archaeological literature,” she said. Isotope analysis of the remains could shed more light on who was buried in the dolmens. Fernández-Crespo and her colleague, Concepción de la Rua, think that people of lower social status may have been buried in as-yet undiscovered natural caves, sheltered spaces under rocks, or pits.
ODENSE, DENMARK—A rune stick dating to the thirteenth century has been unearthed among market stalls buried beneath I. Vilhelm Werners Square in Odense. “The stick itself had the consistency of cold butter before it was conserved, and some little devil of a root has gouged its way along the inscription on one side, which is a bit upsetting,” Lisbeth Imer of the National Museum of Denmark said in a press release reported in Science Nordic. The fragile, round stick was found in three pieces that had been carved with the words “good health” and “Tomme his servant,” thought to refer to the owner of the stick as a servant of God. The stick may have been worn as a talisman.
GHENT, BELGIUM—Musket balls thought to be from some of the first shots fired in the Battle of Waterloo have been discovered by a team led by Tony Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. “The full team has only been working on site for two days and we have made some very interesting discoveries. In particular, we have started a comprehensive survey, including metal detecting, of the area of the former wood to the south of the Hougoumont buildings and we have already found spent and unfired musket shots at the southern-most tip of the wood, also fragments of firearms and clothing such as uniform buttons,” he said in a press release. The French and Allied armies exchanged fire in these woods during the night before the battle. “Today, we have the technology to scan these lands efficiently in sufficient detail to direct archaeological excavations. The opportunity to do this jointly with veterans from a regiment who played a key role at the battle, the Coldstream Guards, is unique and adds an impressive social dimension to this project,” added Marc Van Meirvenne of Ghent University. To read in-depth about archaeology at Waterloo, see "A Soldier's Story."
POCKLINGTON, ENGLAND—One of 38 square barrows unearthed at an Iron Age cemetery in Yorkshire has yielded the skeleton of a man of the Arras culture who had been buried on his shield. Jewelry and a sword have also been recovered from the site. “Naturally we’re still investigating our findings, so at present we aren’t able to share much more detail—however we’re looking forward to learning more and understanding what these new discoveries mean for the local area,” Paula Ware of MAP Archaeological Practice told The Pocklington Post. The site is being excavated ahead of the construction of a housing development. To read about an Iron Age chariot burial discovered in northern England, see "Riding Into the Afterlife."
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Analysis of the isotope ratios of lead and strontium in tooth enamel from people who lived 4,000 years ago in the Indus Valley shows that they had not been born in Harappa, where they had been buried. This study looked at different tooth types in order to get an idea of where the people were living at different times in their lives, and the chemical signatures of water, fauna, and rocks of the time, and found that they had been born in the hinterland. “Previous work had thought the burial sites represented local, middle-class people. There was no notion that outsiders were welcomed and integrated by locals within the city. It’s not clear why certain young hinterland people were sent to the city,” biological anthropologist John Krigbaum of the University of Florida said in a press release. To read in-depth about a contemporary civilization in Iran, see "The World in Between."
PRESTON, IDAHO—On January 29, 1863, a regiment of 200 California Volunteers approached the confluence of the Bear River and a frozen creek, where a Northwestern Band of Shoshone were wintering. The regiment’s commander, Col. Patrick Connor, wrote in a letter to the War Department that he sent troops into the village to “chastise” the Shoshone for recent raids and deadly attacks on white settlers. The Shoshone returned fire, and Conner sent in another wave of troops. “That set up what initially was a battle, but that lasted a very short period of time. The Shoshone probably ran out of ammunition, and they were overwhelmed by the California Volunteers,” archaeologist Ken Cannon of USU Archaeological Services told Western Digs. He and his team from Utah State University have used ground-penetrating radar, magnetic gradiometer, and metal detectors, in addition to witness accounts and maps, to look for the site where approximately 23 soldiers and 250 Shoshone died in what is now known as the Bear River Massacre. The land has been disturbed by railroad, canal, and highway construction, so the team began by looking for what became known as Battle Creek to try to find the missing village. “That was the most important landmark for us—to understand where the course of Battle Creek was—because that’s where the village was,” Cannon said. So far, the team has found some anomalies that could be traces of lodges from the village. “Nobody knows about these events. They’ve been lost, and yet they’re incredibly important,” he said.
PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—Inhabitants of the Tibetan Plateau may have left in 2000 B.C. because of climate change, according to Jade D’Alpoim Guedes of Washington State University. She found that cooling temperatures would have made it impossible to grow millet, the primary food source. Farmers who moved into the region hundreds of years later would have been able to cultivate wheat and barley, which have overall lower heat requirements. “Wheat and barley came in at the opportune moment, right when millets were losing their ability to be grown on the Tibetan Plateau,” Guedes said in a press release. “The introduction of wheat and barley really enabled Tibetan culture to take the form it has today, and their unique growth patterns may have played a crucial role in the spread of these crops as staples across the vast region of East Asia,” she added. Now that the region is warming rapidly, millet may become useful again. For more on recent research into agriculture in the region, see "How to Thrive on the Roof of the World."
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—A study of the mitochondrial DNA of modern-day Iñupiat people suggests that all of the Iñupiat and Inuit populations from Alaska, Canada, and Greenland came from the Alaskan North Slope. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child, with few changes from generation to generation. All of the mitochondrial DNA haplogroups that have been found in the remains of Neo- and Paleo-Eskimos and living Inuit peoples were found among the people from the North Slope villages, including the haplogroup of Paleo-Eskimos, which until this study had only been detected in their ancient remains. The haplogroup of the Neo-Eskimos, thought to have replaced the Paleo-Eskimos, was also detected. “We think the presence of these two haplotypes in villages of the North Slope means that the Paleo-Eskimos and the Neo-Eskimos were both ancestors of the contemporary Iñupiat people,” Jennifer A. Raff of Northwestern University said in a press release. A third haplogroup, typically seen in Native Americans living further south, may have been carried by the first people to enter the Americas. It could also have entered the peoples of the North Slope through recent marriages between Athapascan and Iñupiat families, or ancient contact between the two groups. “We found that there were many lineages shared between villages along the coast, suggesting that women traveled frequently between these communities. In fact, when we compared the genetic composition of all the communities in the North Slope, we found that they were all so closely related that they could be considered one single population. This fits well with what the elders and other community members told us about Iñupiat history,” added Northwestern’s M. Geoffrey Hayes. Future studies will examine the genetic markers on the male Y-chromosome. For more about early people in the New World, see "America, in the Beginning."
UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—It had been thought that there was a large difference in size between male and female Australopithecus afarensis individuals, but a new study conducted by researchers from Penn State University and Kent State University suggests that the sexual dimorphism among the early hominids was similar to that of modern humans. The difference in body size is usually seen in body size, weight, and the size of the canine teeth, which are about the same in male and female Australopithecines. “Lucy,” who stood about 3.5 feet tall, and other smaller A. Afarensis individuals have been thought of as females. Their brains were not yet large enough to require the alteration of the pelvic structure to allow for the birth of large-headed babies, however. “There is no reason why Lucy, if female, would have the wide notched pelvic bone of a human female. We can’t really sex Australopithecines,” Philip Reno of Penn State said in a press release. Reno and C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State compared the bones of Lucy, and another larger, reasonably intact specimen known as Kadanuumuu, who stood between five and 5.5 feet tall, to the partial remains of other individuals. By determining the ratio of these fossils to Lucy, the team members could calculate the relative size of individuals from incomplete skeletons. “The range shows intermediate moderate levels of sexual dimorphism, A. afarensis is within the human dimorphic range,” Reno explained. For an annotated image of Lucy's remains, see "Lucy Up Close."
MANOA, HAWAII—A recent survey of I-400, a World War II-era Imperial Japanese Navy mega-submarine, has located and mapped the submarine’s hangar and conning tower, and found the submarine’s bell. The vessel was sunk outside of Pearl Harbor after the war to keep its technology from the Soviet Union, and in 2013, was rediscovered by a team from the University of Hawaii and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “We made a lucky guess where to start when we approached the main hull of the I-400 from the northwest,” Terry Kerby, operations director and chief submarine pilot of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL,) said of the recent expedition in a press release. “Our guess started to pay off when the giant hangar door came into view, followed by the conning tower and hangar. Many items were amazingly intact for something that had ripped out of the hull of a sinking 400-foot-long submarine,” he said. The aircraft hangar had been large enough to launch three float-plane bombers. The bell was found close to the conning tower on the seafloor.
LONDON, ENGLAND—Cremated human bones have been found packed in an old cooking pot, near the site where Roman-era skulls had been found along the former banks of the Walbrook River. It had been thought that the skulls had eroded out of burials and tumbled downstream, but the cremation burial suggests that skulls could have been placed there. “Certainly no river ever carried off the cooking pot with its cremated bones which was unquestionably deliberately placed here. And the horse skull we found with one of the skulls didn’t come out of some equine graveyard, that was clearly also placed there,” Jay Carver, lead archaeologist of the Crossrail project, told The Guardian. The skulls may have been ritual deposits, or the remains of executed criminals. Some think the skulls could be from the first-century rebellion led by Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe, against the Romans. “I think we now have to look back at earlier finds in this area—we have found 40 human and two horse skulls, but if you add them up over the last two centuries you’re talking hundreds of skulls in a very small area—and try and work out what is actually going on,” Carver said. To read about the search for the final resting spot of the great Iceni leader, see "Boudicca: Queen of the Iceni."
NAGOYA, JAPAN—Researchers from Nagoya University and The University of Tokyo studied 40,000-year-old stone tools, including small stone points used as tips for hunting weapons, which were used by people of the Early Ahmarian culture and the Protoaurignacian culture. It is thought that these innovative tools and weapons helped modern humans migrate from west Asia to Europe, where they had a significant advantage over Neanderthals. “We’re not so special, I don’t think we survived Neanderthals simply because of technological competence,” Seiji Kadowaki of Nagoya University said in a press release. The team found that the points appeared in Europe 3,000 years earlier than in the Levant. “We looked at the basic timeline revealed by similar stone points, and it shows that humans were using them in Europe before they appeared in the Levant—the opposite of what we’d expect if the innovation had led to the humans’ migration from Africa to Europe,” Kadowaki explained. For a study of later tools in Europe, see "The Neolithic Toolkit."
SHARJAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—An archaeological site in central Sharjah has yielded axes, scrapers, and awls thought to be hundreds of thousands of years old. “The discovery of these tools will add valuable information to our records about the Stone Age in the emirate, and the early history of human groups and their predecessors in this region,” Sabah Jassim, head of the Department of Antiquities, told The National. Several of the tools will be analyzed and dated at Tübingen University in Germany. For more on early human discoveries in the Emirates, see "New Evidence for Mankind's Earliest Migrations."
ASWAN, EGYPT—The Luxor Times reports that the lower part of a rare statue carved with the name of King Sahure, the second king of the Old Kingdom’s Fifth Dynasty, has been discovered at El-Kab. The excavation, conducted by the Belgian mission, is directed by Dirk Huyge of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels. The statue base was carved from fine-grained sandstone. The complete statue would have depicted King Sahure seated on a throne. There are only two known statues of King Sahure—one of them is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the other is at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir. For another recent Egyptological discovery, see "18th-Dynasty Tomb Discovered in Luxor."
BURNABY, CANADA—Biological anthropologist Kimberly Plomp of Simon Fraser University has investigated the relationship between vertebral shape, upright locomotion, and human spinal health using two-dimensional shape analyses of chimpanzee, orangutan, and archaeological human vertebrae. “We found that some characteristics of human vertebrae differ in shape between those individuals who have a lesion called a Schmorl’s node—a small hernia that can occur in the cartilaginous disc between the vertebrae,” she said in a press release. It turns out that the vertebrae of people with Schmorl’s nodes resemble the vertebrae of chimpanzees. Humans and chimpanzees split from a common ancestor between eight and nine million years ago, and still have 98 percent of DNA in common. Humans evolved to be bipedal, while chips evolved to be knuckle-walkers. “However evolution is not perfect and some vertebral characteristics, such as the ones we identified as being similar to chimpanzees, may have remained within the human ‘blueprint’ and result in some people having vertebrae that are less able to withstand the pressures of bipedal walking,” she explained. She and her colleague Mark Collard will continue to investigate this “ancestral shape hypothesis” with three-dimensional shape studies.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—Sean Hixon, a student at the University of Oregon, presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology on possible ways that the pukao, or headgear worn by Easter Island’s moai, might have been put in place by the Rapa Nui. Hixon and his team modeled the force and torque needed to move the sculpted volcanic rock, which could weigh 12 tons, into place with different techniques, including rolling the stones up a ramp to the top of the statues, building a tower and using a pulley system, or erecting the pukao and moai simultaneously. “It seems like a relatively small number of people could have done it, either by levering or rolling,” Hixon told Live Science. The oblong shape of the carving would have prevented it from rolling down the ramp by accident, and a small lip at the base of the pukao could have kept it from tipping over during placement. “The base indentation isn’t really necessary for the hat once it’s on the statue. The hats are pretty massive. It’s not like they’re going to fall off without the base indentation,” he said. Other indentations and marks on the red volcanic rock may have provided traction for rolling the pukao up a ramp, but erosion and damage make it difficult to determine if the marks were place deliberately. To read more about experimental archaeology, see "The Neolithic Toolkit."