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Shakespeare’s Curtain Theater Excavated

November 11, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that an excavation at the Curtain Theater by researchers from the Museum of London Archaeology has uncovered a rectangular stage some 45 feet long that was built over a passageway with doors at either end. It had been thought that the early Elizabethan theater had a polygonal structure, but the excavation has revealed that the building was rectangular in shape, and that it had timber galleries and a courtyard of compacted gravel built for theater goers. “The question is now whether Shakespeare and other playwrights were writing plays specifically for this kind of stage—which would have required a completely different style of interaction compared to a thrust stage with the audience on three sides,” said senior archaeologist Heather Knight. The excavation also revealed that the theater was purpose-built behind a structure that faced Curtain Road. Fragments of green-glazed money boxes that held entrance fees have been found. These boxes were smashed in a “box office,” where the money was counted. Glass beads and pins that may have come from the actors’ costumes were recovered, along with drinking vessels and clay pipes. For more, go to “Richard III’s Last Act.”

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Genetic Study Targets Neanderthal Material in Modern Humans

November 10, 2016

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—Live Science reports that evolutionary biologist Ivan Juric of the University of California, Davis, and his colleagues want to know why modern humans carry so few Neanderthal genes. A large population of modern humans and a small Neanderthal population are thought to have interbred thousands of years ago, but very little Neanderthal DNA has survived in the modern human genome. It had been suggested that many of the offspring of Neanderthals and modern humans failed to thrive, or were infertile. Juric’s team developed a computer model to simulate the effects of natural selection on the distance between segments of Neanderthal DNA and modern human genes, since less Neanderthal DNA has been found in regions close to modern human genes than in the inactive areas between genes. The results of the simulation suggests that Neanderthal gene variants are being slowly removed by natural selection. Now Juric wants to know which gene variants contributed by extinct human relatives have been deleted from the modern human genome. “Once we know more about the genes involved, we can ask what those genes do and what traits they are involved with in modern humans,” he said. “Then, we might be able to make some guesses about the traits of those early human-Neanderthal hybrids.” For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

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Remains of Shackled Man Found in Etruscan Tomb

November 10, 2016

MILAN, ITALY—Seeker reports that the remains of a shackled man have been found in a 2,500-year-old Etruscan necropolis made up of otherwise “normal” burials in central Tuscany. The necropolis was located near the seaside settlement of Populonia, noted for iron processing in antiquity. The man, who was between 20 and 30 years old at the time of death, may have been a slave who worked in maritime activities, or in the local iron mines. He was bound with irons on his legs, and he wore a heavy iron collar around his neck. “We found a black spot under the nape, most likely what remained of a wood object which was likely connected to the iron collar,” said Giorgio Baratti of the University of Milan. He thinks the man’s neck and leg shackles were connected with ropes or leather straps. An iron ring found on one of his left fingers may also have been connected to the shackles. Analysis of the bones could reveal more information about the man, including where he had been born. To read in-depth about an Etruscan site, go to “The Tomb of the Silver Hands.”

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Dogs May Have Adapted to Farmers’ Starchy Diets

November 10, 2016

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—Science Magazine reports that paleogeneticist Morgane Ollivier of the Ecole Normale Supéieure de Lyon, evolutionary geneticist Erik Axelsson of Uppsala University, and their colleagues examined DNA extracted from the bones and teeth of wolves and dogs whose remains were unearthed at Neolithic-era archaeological sites in Eurasia. Dogs are thought to have been domesticated by hunter-gatherers more than 15,000 years ago. The researchers found that as early as 7,000 years ago, at a time when humans were beginning to farm wheat and millet, the dogs had four to 30 copies of a gene involved in the digestion of starch, while wolves usually have just two. “This [expansion] probably constituted an important advantage for dogs feeding on human leftovers,” Ollivier said. He added that the number of copies of the starch gene carried by humans also increased at this time. To read in-depth about dogs and archaeology, go to “More Than Man's Best Friend.”

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Study Suggests Greenland’s Early Settlers Hunted Whales

November 10, 2016

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The International Business Times reports that scientists from the University of Copenhagen tested sediments at archaeological sites in Greenland dating back 4,000 years for DNA clues to what the island's first inhabitants ate. The study suggests that bowhead whales and other large mammals made up much of the diet of the Saqqaq culture. But whale bones have not been found at Saqqaq archaeological sites, probably because pieces of meat and blubber, rather than the entire carcass of the animal, were transported from the shore to the settlement. It had been previously thought that the people of the Thule culture were the first to hunt and eat whales between 600 and 800 years ago. For more on on archaeology in the area, go to “Letter from Norway: The Big Melt.”

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Viking Toolbox Uncovered in Denmark

November 9, 2016

ZEALAND, DENMARK—Science Nordic reports that a 1,000-year-old toolbox containing 14 iron tools was discovered at Borgring, a Viking ring fortress, by metal detectorists. “The toolbox is the first direct indication of life that we’ve found around the fortress,” said archaeologist Nanna Holm. The tools are thought to have been kept in a wooden box near the east gate of the fortress, which was damaged by fire. “It looks like the fire was brought under control before it spread, and afterwards they laid two layers of clay inside the gate,” Holm explained. “In each layer we find a fireplace, and we found the toolbox in the youngest layer.” The evidence also suggests that the gate eventually collapsed, burying the toolbox. Such valuable iron was usually melted down and reused, making the tools, including spoon drills, a drawplate for making thin wire, a piece of chain, and a clink nail, a rare discovery. For more, go to “The First Vikings.”

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Ancient Egyptian Causeway Discovered in Aswan

November 9, 2016

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a causeway leading to the three-room tomb of Sarenput I has been found at the Qubbet El-Hawa necropolis by a team of archaeologists from the University of Birmingham and the Egypt Exploration Society. Sarenput I was the provincial governor of Aswan’s Elephantine Island during the Middle Kingdom, in addition to holding other posts in service to King Senusert I of the 12th Dynasty. The causeway, which measures more than 400 feet long, is decorated with engravings. One of the images depicts a group of men pulling a bull and presenting it as an offering to the deceased governor. A pit in the causeway has yielded containers that may have been used as canopic jars. According to Hani Abul Azm, head of the central administration of Upper Egypt, their contents will be studied. To read in-depth about recent excavations in Egypt, go to "The Cult of Amun."

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Clues to Religious Conversion of Enslaved People Unearthed

November 9, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND—A team led by Mark P. Leone of the University of Maryland says that a set of circular-shaped objects unearthed at the site of a former Maryland plantation may have held religious significance to African Americans, according to a report in The New York Times. One of the objects, which were found in a house, may reflect a cosmogram, or a circle with an X inside of it that was a traditional religious symbols from the BaKongo belief system of West Central Africa. Christian preachers are thought to have repurposed the cosmogram as Ezekiel’s blazing chariot wheel, described in the Old Testament as a wheel inside a wheel, in their efforts to convert enslaved people who originated from West Central Africa. The team members say that this is the first time that these circle images have been found together. “Christianity had not erased traditional African spirit practices,” Leone said. “It had merged with them to form a potent blend that still thrives today.” To read in-depth about archaeology at another Maryland plantation, go to "Letter From Maryland: Belvoir's Legacy."

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1,000-Year-Old Rock Art Found in India

November 8, 2016

ANDHRA PRADESH, INDIA—The Hindu reports that a rock art site thought to date to the tenth century A.D. has been found near the southeastern coast of India by a team led by Sivakumar Challa of Yogi Vemana University. The researchers had been investigating a megalithic site in the area when they found the artwork. The drawings had been made with white pigment, and depict a woman warrior wearing head gear and shoes, and holding a lance with both hands. She is carrying two daggers, on each side of her waist. A horse stands near her. Other images include circle and floral designs, a parrot, and an elephant. To read more about archaeology in southern India, go to "India's Village of the Dead." 

Categories: Blog

Vikings May Have Risked Raids for “Wealth and Status”

November 8, 2016

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—The Telegraph reports that research by Mark Collard of the University of Aberdeen and Simon Fraser University, Ben Raffield of Simon Fraser University, and Neil Price of Uppsala University supports the idea that young Viking men may have been driven to raid other lands in the pursuit of wives, rather than as part of a battle against the spread of Christianity. They say that social inequality and the rise of polygamy in the Iron Age world meant that there were few women available as potential partners for young, poor men. They explain that by raiding, young men would have been able to accumulate wealth and power quickly, and thus improve their chances of gaining wives. The researchers cite recent research that suggests that Yanomamo tribes in South America practice intervillage raiding in pursuit of wives for polygamous marriages. They also say that the graves of members of Viking raiding parties belonged to young men rather than seasoned veterans. For more, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

Categories: Blog

Nazi Weather Station Investigated in the Arctic

November 8, 2016

ARKHANGELSK, RUSSIA—Live Science reports that a team led by Evgeny Ermolov of the Russian Arctic National Park investigated a World War II–era weather station, complete with a bunkhouse, emergency supply depot, and an emergency aircraft landing strip built by the German military on an island in the Barents Sea. The island is usually trapped by snow and ice for much of the year, but this August, the land was clear and the team was able to investigate the site. The last of the German meteorology team members who worked at the station were evacuated by U-boat in 1944, but others had to be airlifted off the island earlier that year after getting ill from eating improperly cooked polar bear meat. “It was quite disastrous—the expedition leader went crazy, and when they were flown out he had to be strapped down to the floor of the aircraft, so he wouldn’t run riot,” commented polar historian William Barr. Ermolov and his team recovered more than 600 artifacts, including army and naval uniforms, fragments of weapons and ammunition, fuel barrels, tents, batteries, crates, smoke bombs, signal flares, books, documents, manuals, and meteorology textbooks. After the war, the Soviet military used the base into the 1950s. To read about another discovery in the Arctic, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”

Categories: Blog

Recovered Bones May Have Been Earhart’s

November 5, 2016

NIKUMARORO, REPUBLIC OF KIRIBATI—CNN reports that human remains discovered on the island of Nikumaroro in 1940 may have belonged to aviator Amelia Earhart, who disappeared in 1937. The skeleton, which British authorities had identified as male, was eventually lost, but researchers with the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) obtained the original files of the examination, which include measurements of the bones. Forensic anthropologists determined that the measurements are consistent with a woman of Earhart’s height and ethnic origin. Recently, while reviewing those measurements, Richard Jantz of the University of Tennessee noticed that the skeleton in question had unusually long forearms. He joined forces with Jeff Glickman, a forensic imaging specialist, to analyze photographs of Earhart. They concluded that her forearms are nearly identical to those of the recovered skeleton. The TIGHAR team suggests that Earhart’s navigator, Frederick J. Noonan, died shortly after the plane crashed, and that his body was washed away by the island’s tides, since Earhart reported him injured in her initial distress calls, and only one set of human remains was recovered. “We believe she survived heroically, and alone, for a period of time, in terrible circumstances,” said Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR executive director. For more, go to “Last Flight of a Tuskegee Airman.”

Categories: Blog

Megalithic Carving Spotted at Ireland’s Hellfire Club

November 4, 2016

DUBLIN, IRELAND—BBC News reports that archaeologists working at the site of the Hellfire Club, an eighteenth-century hunting lodge built with stones taken from nearby passage tombs, spotted a carving that may be 5,000 years old on a damaged stone that had long been part of a fire ring. The image is nearly invisible, but the changing fall sunlight hit the stone at an angle and revealed a long curving line cutting over two concentric circles. “This is a motif that appears in megalithic art at some of the most famous passage tombs in the country,” said archaeologist Neil Jackman of Abarta Heritage. The stone is being analyzed at Ireland’s National Museum, and could help researchers learn more about the destroyed passage tomb. To read about other discoveries in Ireland, go to “Treasures of Rathfarnham Castle.”

Categories: Blog

Legendary Medieval Well Uncovered in England

November 4, 2016

RAINHILL, ENGLAND—Discovery News reports that archaeologist Jamie Quartermaine of Historic England Heritage uncovered St. Anne’s Well on private land in northwest England that had been buried by years of farming. “The fabric of the well is consistent with a medieval date,” Quartermaine said. The structure, built of sandstone blocks and surrounded by a small, three-roomed structure to accommodate pilgrims, was associated with a nearby priory. Legend has it that the waters had healing powers, especially for eye and skin diseases, but there were also tales of a curse uttered by a sixteenth-century prior on the neighboring landowner. Pilgrims continued to travel to the well into the nineteenth century. They entered the shallow basin, descended two steps, and then submerged themselves in a four-foot-deep pool fed by the well below its floor. A stone conduit, now gone, carried away the overflow. Wooden edging will be placed around the well to protect it from farm machinery. To read about another discovery in northwest England, go to “Artifact: Silver Viking Coin.”

Categories: Blog

Another Australian Cave Offers Early Occupation Evidence

November 4, 2016

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—ABC News reports that a cave in Western Australia has yielded campfires, stone tools, animal bones, and emu eggshells dating back 25,000 years. Previous excavations at Yellabidde Cave indicated that its earliest inhabitants lived there 10,000 years ago. Carly Monks of the University of Western Australia, who has been working with Amangu traditional owners and elders, explained that the dates suggest people were living in the cave just before the last Ice Age. “So potentially there’s a lot more archaeology in the area that can tell us about this early period of site use,” she explained. Caves are thought to have been used by the first Australians to shelter from the heat during the warmest months of the year. For more on early cave use, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

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Ireland’s Earliest-Known Burial Site Studied

November 4, 2016

COUNTY LIMERICK, IRELAND—The Irish Times reports that a highly polished adze recovered from an ancient burial on the banks of the River Shannon 15 years ago may have been made for the funeral. Microscopic analysis of the 9,000-year-old shale blade shows that it was only used for a short time before it was blunted and placed in the grave with cremated human remains. The site was then marked with a post. “We make the argument [the adze] was probably commissioned for the burial and was probably used as part of the funerary rights, possibly to cut the wood for the pyre for the cremation, or to cut the tree used as the grave post marker,” said lead researcher Aimée Little of the University of York. To read about the roots of Halloween in Ireland, go to “Samhain Revival.”

Categories: Blog

The Role of Climate in the Colonization of the Pacific

November 4, 2016

EUGENE, OREGON—The New York Times reports that geographer and climatologist Alvaro Montenegro of Ohio State University, anthropologist Scott Fitzpatrick of the University of Oregon, and archaeologist Richard Callaghan of the University of Calgary created computer simulations using recent satellite data sets of winds, ocean currents, land distribution, and El Niño and La Niña patterns to study possible routes for the colonization of the South Pacific. Archaeological evidence suggests that people left the Solomon Islands some 3,400 years ago, and traveled to other islands, such as Tonga and Samoa. But then they waited 2,000 years before traveling on to Hawaii, Tahiti, and New Zealand. The simulations suggest that for the first leg of the migration, the wind had been at the travelers’ backs. But when they reached the area around Samoa, the migrants had to develop new boating and navigation technologies to move against the wind before they could proceed to the rest of Oceania. To read more about Oceania, go to “Letter From the Marshall Islands: Defuzing the Past.”

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Australia’s Warratyi Rock Shelter Excavated

November 4, 2016

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—ABC News reports that a rock shelter in the arid interior of South Australia may have been inhabited 49,000 years ago. Giles Hamm of La Trobe University and Adnyamathanha elder Clifford Coulthard were conducting surveys in the Flinders Ranges when they found the site, known as Warratyi, near a spring surrounded by rock art. Excavations at the rock shelter, which has a blackened roof, have uncovered more than 4,000 artifacts, and 200 bone fragments from 16 mammals and one reptile. One of the animals was Diprotodon optatum, an extinct, giant wombat-like creature. The team also found egg shells from an ancient giant bird. “The only way those bones and shells got there [because of the steep incline up to the rock shelter] is because people brought them there [to eat],” said Gavin Prideaux of Flinders University. "In terms of megafauna that’s the really significant finding." Other discoveries at the site establish that ochre was used in Australia between 49,000 and 46,000 years ago, and also push back the timeline for the development of other technologies, such as bone needles and wood-handled tools. The findings, according to Prideaux, “smashed several paradigms about indigenous Australians.” To read about another recent discovery, go to “Rock Art Recorded in Remote Western Australia.”

Categories: Blog

Ochre May Have Had Many Uses in Middle Stone Age Ethiopia

November 4, 2016

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—It has been suggested that ochre was used by Middle Stone Age peoples for either utilitarian or symbolic purposes. Cosmos reports that a team of researchers led by Daniela Rosso of the University of Bordeaux examined 40,000-year-old ochre-processing tools and ochre-stained artifacts collected in a small area of Ethiopia’s Porc-Epic Cave with microscopy, spectroscopy, and X-rays. They found that the red and yellow powders were produced in a variety of colors and textures, perhaps for multiple different uses. For example, preparing ochre in a limestone or sandstone grindstone yielded a lighter-colored powder, while using harder basalt and quartzite grindstones affected the granularity of the ochre. Rosso and her team suggest that fine ochre with a clayish texture would have been made for symbolic body painting or cosmetics. Ochre of the mixed-grain size may have served utilitarian purposes, such as an ingredient in an adhesive used for attaching a blade to a handle or strap. The researchers add that a round-shaped stone found in the collection of ochre-related tools may have been used as a stamp to apply pigment to surfaces. For more, go to “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Neanderthal?

Categories: Blog

Coin Suggests New Construction Date for the Segovia Aqueduct

November 3, 2016

SEGOVIA, SPAIN—El País reports that the discovery of a coin has revised the construction date for the Segovia Aqueduct to the early years of the second century A.D. A team of researchers, including Santiago Martínez Caballero, director of the Segovia Museum; Víctor Manuel Cabañero Martín of the National Distance Education University; regional archaeologist Luciano Municio; and archaeologists Clara Martín García and José Miguel Labrador Vielve analyzed materials collected during an excavation at three of the aqueduct’s pillars in the Plaza del Azoguejo, the city’s old market square, in 1998. The fill in the foundations included ceramics from workshops in La Rioja dating to the first third of the second century A.D., and a Roman coin minted between A.D. 112 and 116 Previous studies of anchors used to hang large bronze letters on the arches of the aqueduct suggested that the structure had been erected around A.D. 98. For more, go to “Roman Coin Cache Discovered in Spain.”

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