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November 9, 2015

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—A team of scientists led by Theodore Schurr of the University of Pennsylvania has conducted a genetic study of people living in the Lesser Antilles in an effort to look for traces of the original inhabitants of the islands. They examined mitochondrial DNA, inherited through the maternal line; Y-chromosomes, passed from father to son; and autosomal markers, which give an overall picture of genetic contributions from ancestors through both sides of the family, from 88 individuals from the First Peoples Community in Trinidad and the Garifuna people in St. Vincent. “In the case of the mitochondrial DNA and the Y-chromosome, we know the markers that define those lineages commonly seen in indigenous populations of the Americas,” Schurr said in a press release. The team found 42 percent indigenous ancestry from the maternal side, and 28 percent from the paternal side. “These communities are not passive in this whole process; they’re actively exploring their own ancestry. They’re also trying to establish the fact that they have indigenous ancestry, that they are the descendants of the original inhabitants. They’re reclaiming that history,” Schurr added. To read about historical archaeology in the Caribbean, go to "Pirates of the Original Panama Canal."

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November 9, 2015

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—New radiocarbon dates suggest that people were mining in Austria’s Central Alps in the middle Bronze Age, and again in the early Middle Ages. This is “a small sensation, since the academic world had so far not considered that Bronze Age mining in the Montafon mining area could be possible,” Rüdiger Krause of Goethe University said in a press release. Evidence for Bronze-Age mining had been found in the Eastern Alps, in the Mitterberg mining area, however. “What significance our new site in Montafon had in the context of Bronze Age copper supply in the Alps will be seen when we examine it further,” Krause explained. To read about a Bronze Age discovery in Russia, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."

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November 6, 2015

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—A 5,000-year-old site consisting of pits in the ground that were used for processing and smoking fish has been unearthed in Siberia. “This year we came across an unusual facility, a Neolithic smokehouse,” Vyacheslav Molodin of the Russian Academy of Sciences told The Siberian Times. “This method is known and is still used by some Siberian and Extreme North ethnic groups. The fish starts smelling, but it didn’t bother our ancestors,” he said. The bones of other animals were also found in the pits, including a wolverine, ermine remains, a dog, and a fox. Wolverines are native to the taiga, and not the local steppe, raising the question of how a wolverine ended up in a smokehouse pit. “For some time the pits were used for ritual purposes but it’s a huge mystery which we have yet to understand,” Molodin added. To read about medieval archaeology in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude."

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November 6, 2015

 

MAINZ, GERMANY—Recent excavations led by archaeologist Behzad Mofidi-Nasrabadi of Mainz University at the site of Haft Tappeh have uncovered a workshop with an attached clay tablet archive. The archive dates to the city’s time as a prominent center in the Elamite Empire and records the expansion of commerce, arts, and crafts. Physical evidence of this prosperity include lavish grave goods found in the tomb of a female official, and an artful female figurine unearthed by the team. But at the end of the fourteenth century B.C., the city began to decline for reasons that have yet to be determined. Some of its temples and palaces were abandoned, and their materials were reused to build simple dwellings. The 3,400-year-old remains of several hundred massacre victims were found piled on top of one another behind one of these walls. The research team will continue to investigate what might have happened. To read more about Bronze Age archaeology in Iran, go to "The World in Between."

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November 6, 2015

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Fossils of seven giant rat species found in East Timor are helping archaeologists track the migration of people through Southeast Asia and determine what kind of impact they had on the environment. “We’re trying to find the earliest human records as well as what was there before humans arrived,” Julien Louys of Australian National University said in a press release. It has been shown that people were living in East Timor some 46,000 years ago and eating the giant rats. “The funny thing is that they are co-existing up until about a thousand years ago. The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor, people could start to clear forests at a much larger scale,” he said in a press release. To read about archaeology in Borneo, go to "Landscape of Memory."

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November 6, 2015

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—In the late fifteenth century, the Portuguese constructed a church on Santiago Island, one of the ten barren Cabo Verde islands located off the West African coast. Eventually, Cabo Verde became a hub for the transatlantic slave trade. Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge have excavated the structure, thought to be the oldest European colonial building discovered in sub-Saharan Africa. “We’ve managed to recover the entire footprint-plan of the church, including its vestry, side-chapel, and porch, and it now presents a really striking monument,” Christopher Evans, director of the Cambridge Archaeology Unit, said in a press release. More than 1,000 people are thought to have been buried in the floor of the church by the mid-sixteenth century. Preliminary analysis shows that about half of them were African, while the rest came from various places in Europe. “From historical texts we have learned about the development of a ‘Creole’ society at an early date with land inherited by people of mixed race who could also hold official positions. The human remains give us the opportunity to test this representation of the first people in Cabo Verde,” Evans said. To read about extraordinary African structures dating to the same period, go to "Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast."

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November 5, 2015

CINCINNATI, OHIO—Snail shells collected from an archaeological site in northeast Morocco have been analyzed to determine the climate conditions in the region between 10,800 and 6,700 years ago by Yurena Yanes of the University of Cincinnati, Rainer Hutterer of the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum, and Jorg Linstadter from the University of Cologne. “Because the isotopes of snail shells are only influenced by temperature and water conditions and not by humans, we have natural archives at the time of prehistoric occupation,” Yanes said in a press release. The researchers found that the climate grew warmer and could have supported the switch from hunting and gathering to agriculture. “Even though previous research has not observed major climate change at that temporal transition at the study site, with the oxygen isotope analysis of these shells, we have evidence for a significant natural climate change,” she explained. For more about prehistoric snails, go to "What Paleolithic People Were Really Eating."

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November 5, 2015

ROME, ITALY—Radioactive deposits in sediments taken from the inside of two Neanderthal skulls discovered in a gravel pit in central Italy in the early twentieth century have been re-dated by a team made up of researchers from Sapienza University, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Italian Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV). “The results of our studies show that the Saccopastore remains are 100,000 years older than previously thought—and push back the arrival of Neanderthal man in Italy to 250,000 years ago,” Fabrizio Marra of INGV told The Local, Italy. This is about the same time that Neanderthals are believed to have arrived in central Europe. The new dates are also in line with the age of 11 stone artifacts that had been discovered with the fossils. To read more in-depth about Paleolithic Europe, go to "Structural Integrity."

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November 5, 2015

SHANGHAI, CHINA—A team of scientists led by Yu Li of Fudan University has conducted proton-induced X-ray emission analyses of pieces of proto-porcelain and fragments of impressed stoneware collected at the site of the Piaoshan kiln. The site is thought to date to China’s first dynasty, between 2070 and 1600 B.C. Samples from five other early kiln sites in the vicinity were also tested. They found that the samples from the six kiln sites each had distinct chemical profiles, which may indicate that the raw materials used to produce the pots had been procured locally. “The research clearly show the relationship of inheritance of early Chinese proto-porcelain, and fill the large gaps in knowledge regarding the origin of Chinese proto-porcelain,” Yu Li said in a press release. For more on archaeology in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."

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November 5, 2015

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK—A burial vault thought to date to the nineteenth century has been found near Washington Square Park by a Department of Design and Construction (DDC) crew installing new water mains, catch basins, sewer manholes, traffic lights, and other park upgrades. The park, located in Greenwich Village, had been built on a cemetery for the poor. “Working together with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, DDC will evaluate the extent and significance of the vault and its contents,” Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora said in a statement reported in DNA Info. The vault measures some eight feet deep, 15 feet wide, and 20 feet long, and contains the remains of at least a dozen people. For more on excavations in the city, go to "New York's Original Seaport."

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November 4, 2015

JAFFNA, SRI LANKA—War and neglect have taken a toll on Jaffna Fort, a star-shaped structure built in the seventeenth century by Dutch colonists on the Jaffa peninsula. Archaeologist Prashantha Mandawala of the University of Sri Jayewadenepura is leading the effort to remove unexploded mines and shells from the site. “There was also vandalism. Some people whose houses were damaged during the war had vandalized the fort to remove limestones to rebuild their homes,” Mandawala told The Sun Daily. Some 150 workers are looking for the limestone bricks in people’s homes, in the fort’s moat, and making replacements. “The biggest challenge we face in carrying out the restoration is finding coral stone. Environmental laws prevent us from quarrying limestone so we have to improvise,” he explained. The project will also restore a Dutch church and the governor’s residence built by the British in the eighteenth century. 

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November 4, 2015

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA—Russian researchers are examining the blood-stained clothing worn by Tsar Alexander II when he was assassinated in 1881, and making plans to exhume the remains of Tsar Alexander III, located in the Peter and Paul Cathedral. Alexander III, who died in 1894, was the father of the last Romanov Tsar Nicholas II, who was killed, along with his wife and five children, during the Russian Revolution in 1918. The bodies of Nicholas II, his wife, and three of the children are thought to have been discovered in Yekaterinburg in 1991, and were reburied in Peter and Paul Cathedral in 1998. In 2007, the remains identified as Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria were found in another grave, and are now stored in a state archive. According to the Associated Foreign Press, the Russian Orthodox Church is insisting on further DNA testing to confirm the identity of the remains of the slain family, canonized as martyrs, before they can be buried together. To read about how forensic archaeology has been applied in Iraq, go to "Witness to Genocide."

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November 4, 2015

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Archaeologist Gilly Carr of the University of Cambridge has been researching the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, which began in 1940 and lasted until 1945. There was one German soldier for every three inhabitants on the heavily fortified islands. Last summer, she requested information from residents, and received a briefcase full of papers that were compiled in the 1960s. “The file is incredible. Resistance in the Channel Islands was different: it was not organized, and was unarmed—individuals and small groups doing small acts of silent and symbolic resistance. I realized as soon as I saw it that this is the most important resistance archive to come out of the Channel Islands in the last 50 years,” she told The Guardian. The stories had been compiled by Frank Falla, who was deported to Germany and imprisoned for organizing a newspaper after radios were confiscated in 1942. The testimonies were sent to the Foreign Office, which was distributing compensation received from Germany. “It is an immensely important archive, demonstrating their bravery and courage,” commented Sir Geoffrey Rowland, the current bailiff of Guernsey. To read more, go to "Archaeology of WWII."

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November 4, 2015

GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND—A seventeenth-century family burial vault was discovered under the floor of Gloucester Cathedral’s north transept when archaeologists lifted a nearby ledger stone in preparation for the installation of an elevator. The vault contains the remains of the wealthy Hyett family, including an infant, who had been buried in well-preserved coffins. “What you normally find when you dig up a ledger slab is earth and bones, there’s nothing specific in there,” cathedral archaeologist Richard Morriss explained in a press release. But a small hole was created when the ledger stone was lifted, and archaeologists could see the contents of the vault. “And the name plates [on the coffins] actually match up with the names on the ledgers above, which is remarkable,” Morriss added. To read about archaeological evidence for Christian worship in medieval England, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."

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November 3, 2015

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Researchers led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology have developed a way to test the authenticity of ancient DNA based upon biochemical changes that accumulate with age. The changes cause cytosine (C), a building block of DNA, to be misread as thymine (T), another building block. Therefore, DNA samples will show either ancient or modern patterns of cytosine-to-thymine changes. “Modern DNA can easily contaminate precious samples so it is crucial to build in assurances that historic DNA is authentic,” Clemens Weiß told Phys.org. His team used this new test to examine a sample of wheat found submerged off the Isle of Wight. It had been thought that the wheat was 8,000 years old and evidence of trade between hunter-gatherers living in England and Neolithic farmers in Europe. The new test suggests that the wheat is younger than a few hundred years old. To read more about ancient DNA, go to "Neanderthal Genome Decoded."

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November 3, 2015

 

BOULDER, COLORADO—Excavations under the direction of Payson Sheets of the University of Colorado, Boulder, continue at Cerén, a Maya village in El Salvador that was buried under 17 feet of volcanic ash in A.D. 660. Recent research suggests that the estimated 200 people who resided in the farming village lived with little influence from elites over their architecture, crop choices, religious activities, and economics. Among the 12 buildings that have been uncovered are living quarters, storehouses, workshops, kitchens, religious buildings, and a community sauna. Specialty items, including jade axes, have been found in most of the households. Sheets and his team think that the Cerén commoners may have traded with Maya elites in nearby towns for these objects. The team is also investigating a sacbe, or roadway made from packed ash, where they have found more than a dozen footprints to the south of the village. “More than half of the footprints were headed south away from the village, away from the danger. I think at least some of them were left by people fleeing the eruption,” Sheets said in a press release from the National Science Foundation. To read more about Cerén, go to "Off the Grid."

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November 2, 2015

GRENOBLE, FRANCE—A small metal box unearthed from a seventeenth-century grave at the site of the Saint Laurent Church has been examined with X-ray imaging techniques developed at the European Synchrotron (ESRF). Conservators from the Centre de Restoration et d’Etude Archaeologique Municipal in Vienne, France, had not been able to open the badly damaged box and view its contents, but they were able to stop the oxidation process from inflicting further damage to it. They could also see through the box’s broken lid that it contained three coin-like artifacts. Scans were made by the ESRF team of the contents using phase contrast synchrotron X-ray micro-tomography. The 3-D images revealed that the coin-like objects were three religious medals made of clay. Two pearls were also seen in the box. The team then employed 3-D virtual lighting and rendering techniques to view the images on the medals. “It was only supposed to be a small feasibility study to produce an image for an exhibition. However, the results were so astounding that it turned into a full scale research project,” researcher Paul Tafforeau, who produced the images, said in a press release

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November 2, 2015

LONDON, ENGLAND—More than 5,000 artifacts have been found over a large area of the 14,000-year-old site of Les Varines on the Channel Island of Jersey, but this year the excavation team found denser concentrations of tools, burnt bones, and, for the first time, fragments of engraved stone. “We are at an early stage in our investigations, but we can already say the stones are not natural to the site, they show clear incised lines consistent with being made by stone tools, and they do not have any obvious functional role. Engraved works of abstract or figurative art on flat stones are part of the Magdalenian cultural package and one exciting possibility is that this is what we have here,” Silvia Bellow of the Natural History Museum said in a press release. Incised stones are known from Magdalenian camps in Germany and the south of France, but they are rare in northern France and the British Isles. “Although we are not yet sure of the exact age of the campsite, it might well represent some of the first hunter-gatherer communities to recolonize the north of Europe after the coldest period of the last Ice Age,” explained co-director Chantal Conneller of the University of Manchester. To read more about Paleolithic art, go to "New Life for the Lion Man."

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November 2, 2015

 

MÜNSTER, GERMANY—A luxurious mosaic floor has been uncovered in a villa in the ancient Roman city of Doliche, which is located in Turkey, by a team of scholars from the University of Münster. “The city is one of the few places where Syrian urban culture from the Hellenistic-Roman era can currently still be studied,” Englebert Winter said in a press release. The political situation in the Middle East, development, and looting have prevented archaeologists from working in other sites from Roman Syria such as Apamea, Cyrrhus, and Antioch on the Orontes. “The most outstanding discovery of our excavations is a high-quality mosaic floor in a splendid complex of buildings with a court enclosed by columns that originally covered more than 100 square meters,” archaeologist Michael Blömer said in a press release. “Because of its size and the strict, well-composed sequence of filigran geometric patterns, the mosaic is one of the most beautiful examples of late antique mosaic art in the region,” he added. The site has also yielded houses, alleys, and water pipelines. Public areas of the city will be excavated next year. To read more about Roman-era mosaics in Turkey, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

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November 2, 2015

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND—Researchers from the Idiap Research Institute of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Digital Humanities Laboratory of the College of Humanities are working with Maya epigraphers to create a digital catalog of Mayan hieroglyphs from the three codices that survived the Spanish conquest. They have analyzed thousands of symbols, some of which have been drawn in different ways over time and in different regions. “Each image tells a story. Sometimes we can guess their meaning with the help of people who still speak this language today, and also by using glossaries,” Idiap researcher Rui Hu said in a press release. This new tool will help scholars quickly identify a hieroglyph and its meaning, and see what common combinations of symbols in a block of text are. “This research is of great interest to Mayanists, given the potential of such novel multidisciplinary approaches for overcoming obstacles resulting from applying more traditional methods,” explained Carlos Pallán Gayol of Bonn University. The project could one day lead to a machine translation tool for Mayan iconography and writing. To read more about Mayan hieroglyphs, go to "The Maya Sense of Time."

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