CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—A team of scientists made up of researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and La Trobe University sequenced the Y-chromosomes of 13 Aboriginal Australian men, and found that their genetic history dates back some 50,000 years, to the time of the arrival of the first humans on the continent. It had been suggested by a previous genetic study that another wave of people arrived in Australia from India between four and five thousand years ago, at a time when changes in stone tool use have been noted in the archaeological record. Dingos are also thought to have arrived in Australia some 5,000 years ago. “The data show that Aboriginal Australian Y-chromosomes are very distinct from Indian ones. These results refute the previous Y-chromosome study, thus excluding this part of the puzzle as providing evidence for a prehistoric migration from India. Instead, the results are in agreement with the archaeological record about when people arrived in this part of the world,” Anders Bergstrom of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said in a press release. To see examples of prehistoric Aboriginal art, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY—Historian Szilard Papp of the Istvan Moller Foundation thinks that fragments of a fresco in a late fourteenth-century church ruin in Transylvania may be a medieval copy of The Navicella, an early fourteenth-century mosaic by Giotto di Bondone. The original artwork was installed above the entrance arcade of Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The original was destroyed when the basilica was rebuilt in the seventeenth century, although three copies of the image, which depicts the Christian Christ walking on water before his apostles in a boat, are known to exist in France and Italy. Papp says a sketch of the mosaic must have made its way to Transylvania. “This is definitely the fourth,” he told the AFP. “It is astonishing that such a major work was reproduced in a small village church on the periphery of western Christianity at that time, so far from Rome,” he added. To read about an isolated medieval Christian settlement in the Middle East, go to "Hidden Christian Community."
TOTTORI, JAPAN—A small image of shark has been discovered engraved on the blade of a bronze sword that was donated to the Tottori Prefectural Museum more than 25 years ago. The weapon’s blade dates to the second century B.C., but researchers do not know where it was found. Similar images of sharks have been found on pottery and wooden objects from the Yayoi Pottery Culture (300 B.C.-A.D. 300) in the region, but this is the first time that a shark has been spotted on a bronze artifact from the period. “Sharks repeatedly shed and replace their teeth. Shark meat also is rich in ammonia, which makes it difficult to go rotten. Perhaps sharks were a symbol of regeneration or longevity,” Isao Yumura of the Tottori Prefectural Archives told The Asahi Shimbun. To read about a Viking sword from Norway, go to "Artifact."
LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA—Hunter-gatherers are known to have a more diverse gut microbiome than those who live in western-style industrialized societies. Microbial ecologist Andres Gomez of the J. Craig Venter Institute was studying the gut microbiomes of wild gorillas with the help of BaAka gorilla trackers, who live without western influences, when he and his colleagues decided to also collect samples from the BaAka, and from the Bantu community of the Central African Republic. The Bantu community is a traditional agriculturalist group that has incorporated some westernized lifestyle practices, such as the use of some flour-like products, domestic goat meat, antibiotics, and other therapeutic drugs. The researchers found that the Bantu gut microbiome is in an intermediate state between the microbiomes of the BaAka hunter-gatherers and western industrialized societies. “The BaAka microbiome is more similar to that of wild primates than it is to western humans,” Gomez said in a press release. The differences in the bacteria are involved in processing carbohydrates and foreign substances. “The study supports the idea that diet is the most important driver of microbiome composition in humans,” he explained. To read about hunter-gatherers in South America, go to "The Desert and the Dead."
CANTERBURY, ENGLAND—A team from the University of Kent, led by biological anthropologist Patrick Mahoney, used 3-D microscopic imaging to examine the teeth of children between the ages of one and eight years who lived near Canterbury Cathedral during the medieval period. Dental micro-wear texture analysis allowed the researchers to measure microscopic changes in the surface topography of the teeth without damaging them, and offered clues to how hard the food was that the children had been eating. The team found that weaning had begun for the youngest children, and that their diets became tougher at the age of four. By the age of six, the children were eating even harder foods. It had been thought that wealthier children had different diets than poorer children, but the variation in micro-wear texture surfaces suggests that diet did not vary with socio-economic status. For more on what can be learned from teeth, go to "Tracing Slave Origins."
YORK, ENGLAND—An 11,000-year-old pendant has been discovered in lake-edge deposits at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire. It is triangular in shape, was carved from a single piece of shale, has a hole in one corner, and is engraved with a series of lines that scholars think could represent a tree, a map, a leaf, or tally marks. At first, the artifact was thought to be a natural stone, since the perforation was blocked by sediment. “It is unlike anything we have found in Britain from this period. We can only imagine who owned it, how they wore it, and what the engravings actually meant to them,” Nicky Miller of the University of York said in a press release. Shale beads, a piece of perforated amber, and two perforated animal teeth have also been recovered from the site. “The designs on our pendant are similar to those found in southern Scandinavia and other areas bordering the North Sea, showing a close cultural connection between northern European groups at this time,” added Chantal Conneller of the University of Manchester. To read about another find from the same area, go to "The Precious."
BISMIL, TURKEY—A burial at Kavuşan Höyük, a mound near the Tigris River, contained the 2,500-year-old remains of a woman aged between 45 and 55 years, and a six- or seven-year-old child. “A broken iron fibula grave good that was placed next to the skull may indicate that the child was a girl,” Rémi Berthon of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and Güriz Kozbe of Batman University in Turkey, wrote in the journal Antiquity. At this time, researchers don’t know if the child and the woman were related, and there’s no evidence of trauma on the bones. “We know that the child and the woman were buried in a short time range because the woman’s skeleton, found just below the child, had not been disturbed when the child’s body was placed into the grave,” Berthon told Discovery News. The grave was surrounded with the remains of butchered turtles, including a spur-thighed tortoise, Euphrates softshell turtles, and Middle Eastern terrapins. “Although the Middle Eastern terrapin is very common in eastern Turkey, this is the first evidence of its use as a grave good. Finding Euphrates soft-shelled turtles in a burial is unprecedented as well,” he added. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to "In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone."
BORDEAUX, FRANCE—Three graves unearthed in southern France may reflect an Arab-Islamic presence north of the Pyrenees during the early Middle Ages. Yves Gleize of the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research and the University of Bordeaux, and Fanny Mendisco of the University of Bordeaux, examined three medieval graves in Nimes, France. The position of the bodies and the orientation of the heads towards Mecca appear to follow Islamic rites, and genetic testing of the remains suggests North African ancestry in the paternal line. Radiocarbon testing dates the skeletons to between the seventh and ninth centuries. “The joint archaeological, anthropological, and genetic analysis of three early medieval graves at Nimes provides evidence of burials linked with Muslim occupation during the eighth century in the south of France,” Gleize explained in a press release. For more on French archaeology, go to "Tomb of a Highborn Celt," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.
JERUSALEM—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that a seven-year-old boy discovered a 3,400-year-old female figurine while hiking at Tel Rehov, located in northeastern Israel, with friends. “Ori returned home with the impressive figurine and the excitement was great. We explained to him this is an ancient artifact and that archaeological finds belong to the state,” his mother said in a press release. Amihai Mazar, director of the excavations at Tel Rehov and professor emeritus at Hebrew University, examined the artifact, which had been made by pressing clay into a mold. “It is typical of the Canaanite culture of the fifteenth to thirteenth centuries B.C. Some researchers think the figure depicted here is that of a real flesh and blood woman, and others view her as the fertility goddess Astarte, known from Canaanite sources and from the Bible,” he said. For more, go to "Egyptian Style in Ancient Canaan."
LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Researchers led by Mark Jobling of the University of Leicester studied the Y-chromosomes, inherited from fathers, and mitochondrial DNA, inherited from mothers, of chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. They then constructed genealogical trees for each species, and found that the ancestor of the chimpanzee Y-chromosome family tree lived more than one million years ago. In contrast, the so-called “Y-chromosomal Adam” for gorillas lived only 100,000 years ago. The shapes of the family trees are also very different. “The Y-chromosome tree for gorillas is very shallow, which fits with the idea that very few male gorillas (alpha males) father the offspring within groups. By contrast, the trees in chimpanzees and bonobos are very deep, which fits with the idea that males and females mate with each other more indiscriminately,” team member Pille Hallast of the University of Leicester said in a press release. The human family tree, which stretches back about 200,000 years, is shaped more like the gorilla tree than the chimpanzee, suggesting that over the course of evolution, humans practiced a polygynous system. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."
CLAYTON, AUSTRALIA—Biologist Alistair Evans of Monash University says that the teeth of humans and fossil hominins follow the rule of “the inhibitory cascade,” which predicts how the size of one tooth affects the size of the tooth next to it. He and an international team of scientists used a database of fossil hominins and modern humans, and high-resolution 3-D imaging, to study the evolution of molars. “Our new study shows that the pattern is a lot simpler than we first thought—human evolution was much more limited,” he said in a press release. And, Evans and the team found that although the genus Homo and the australopiths both follow the inhibitory cascade, “there seems to be a key difference between the two groups of hominins—perhaps one of the things that defines our genus, Homo,” he said. “What’s really exciting is that we can then use this inhibitory cascade rule to help us predict the size of missing fossil teeth. Sometimes we find only a few teeth in a fossil. With our new insight, we can reliably estimate how big the missing teeth were. The early hominin Ardipithecus is a good example—the second milk molar has never been found, but we can now predict how big it was.” To read about the earliest known evidence of dental work, go to "Paleo-Dentistry."
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—It had been thought that children only learn to use tools from other humans, but a new study conducted at the University of Birmingham by Eva Reindl and Claudio Tennie has shown that, like wild chimpanzees and orangutans, human children can invent tool behavior. The researchers asked 50 children between two-and-a-half and three years old to solve 12 problems similar to those faced by great apes, such as retrieving objects from a small box with a stick. They found that in 11 of the tasks, the children, who were provided with the raw materials but not told they would need to use a tool, invented the correct tool behavior. “While it is true that more sophisticated forms of human tool use indeed require social learning, we have identified a range of basic tool behaviors which seem not to. Using great ape tasks, we could show that these roots of human tool culture are shared by great apes, including humans, and potentially also their last common ancestor,” Reindl said in a press release. For more on tool use by great apes, go to "Cultured Cousins?"
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—A collection of 3,000-year-old textiles, including fragments of imported linen and sheep’s wool, has been discovered in the copper mines at ancient Timna by a team from Tel Aviv University. “We found fragments of textiles that originated from bags, clothing, tents, ropes, and cords,” team leader Erez Ben-Yosef said in a press release. “The wide variety of fabrics also provides new and important information about the Edomites, who, according to the Bible, warred with the Kingdom of Israel. We found simply woven, elaborately decorated fabrics worn by the upper echelon of their stratified society. Luxury grade fabric adorned the highly skilled, highly respected craftsmen managing the copper furnaces. They were responsible for smelting the copper, which was a very complicated process,” he explained. Seeds were also well preserved in the arid conditions of the mines. Ben-Yosef adds that it is the first time that seeds from this period have been discovered uncharred and in large quantities. “This tells us how developed and sophisticated both their textile craft and trade networks must have been,” Ben-Yosef said. For more on textiles, go to "Peru's Mummy Bundles."
CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—Thomas E. Emerson and Kristin M. Hedman of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey-Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois suggest that internal conflict between social, political, ethnic, and religious factions living at Cahokia may have been responsible for its collapse. They say that osteological evidence and information from isotopic analysis collected from human remains unearthed at the pre-Columbian city indicate that as many as one-third of the people living at Cahokia were immigrants. “There is no smoking gun if you want to pin Cahokia’s dissolution on environmental factors.…It makes more sense, given the heterogeneous population with differences in language, and social, religious, and political cultures to look to internal dissension at Cahokia as the underlying reason,” Emerson said in a press release. For more on Cahokia, go to "Mississippian Burning."
PANAMÁ CITY, PANAMÁ—According to a press release from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, a new genetic study of 408 Panamanian men reveals that overall, only 22 percent of them carry Y-chromosomes of native origin. Sixty percent of the men’s Y-chromosomes, which are inherited from fathers, originated in West Eurasia and North Africa. Six percent of the Y-chromosomes came from sub-Saharan Africa, and two percent came from South Asia. In contrast, most of the men’s mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the maternal line, was of indigenous origin. Very few of the men had European mitochondrial DNA. The team of geneticists, including Antonio Torroni of the University of Pavia, also found that the percentage of Panamanian men with Eurasian Y-chromosomes varied regionally. In the early sixteenth century, most of the Spaniards who came to Panama settled on the Pacific coast, driving the indigenous groups that survived the invasion to the mountains and the Caribbean coast. Today, as many as 70 percent of Panamanian men living on the Pacific coast have Eurasian Y-chromosomes. Yet on the Caribbean side, as many as 88 percent of men carry indigenous Y-chromosomes. And as many as 44 percent of the men living in a region inhabited by escaped slaves now carry sub-Saharan Y-chromosomes. To read in-depth about archaeology in Panama, go to "Pirates of the Original Panama Canal."
DORSET, ENGLAND—Human remains have been unearthed at the site of Dorchester Prison, where the writer Thomas Hardy, who was 16 years old at the time, witnessed the hanging of Martha Brown in August 1856. Brown had been convicted of killing her violent husband, and some think that her story inspired Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which was published in 1891. Hardy enthusiasts reportedly think that the newly discovered remains may be Brown. “At this stage, it is not possible to determine whether the remains are male or female, as the remains have not been removed for recording or analysis,” a spokesperson for Cotswold Archaeology told The Guardian. To read more about historical archaeology in Britain, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Man."
CAIRO, EGYPT—A team of American archaeologists led by Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama, working with Egyptian archaeologists, discovered the 12th Dynasty tomb of King Senusret I’s stamp bearer to the south of his pyramid. “The mission has been working on documenting and preserving the result of illicit digs which took place after the 25th of January 2011 turmoil,” Ministry of Antiquities Mamdouh El-Damaty told the Luxor Times. Mohamed Youssef, director of the Dahshur necropolis, told Ahram Online that the tomb had been carved into the bedrock and has a mud brick ramp. Engravings on the tomb walls depict the stamp bearer hunting, at work, and with his family. Parcak is also training Egyptian archaeologists in the use of satellites to protect archaeological sites. To read in-depth about recent Egyptological discoveries, go to "The Cult of Amun."
JERUSALEM—The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library of the Israel Antiquities Authority will be linked to the Qumran Lexicon Project of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities in a project that will create a virtual workspace for scholars to work together to study the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls, discovered between 1946 and 1956 in the Qumran Caves, consist of religious literature, including texts of the modern Hebrew Bible, that date from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. Researchers will be able to access the original texts of the scrolls, translations, high-resolution images, dictionary entries, and parallel texts. Advanced digital tools will also be developed to help scholars find joins in the thousands of manuscript fragments. To read about a major dig in Israel, go to "Excavating Tel Kedesh."
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO—A study of the food web on Sanak Island, Alaska, has been conducted by a team of ecologists and archaeologists led by Jennifer Dunne of the Santa Fe Institute. “It’s the first highly detailed ecological network data to include humans,” Dunne said in a press release. The team studied ecological data, bones and shells from ancient middens on the island, and collected oral histories from Aleut elders. The researchers found that over a period of 7,000 years, the Sanak Aleuts used about one quarter of the species, which is far more species than other predators in the food web. And when a favored prey decreased in population due to hunting or environmental conditions, the Aleuts switched to an alternative food source, allowing the prey populations to bounce back. “It’s a very stabilizing behavior in the system,” Dunne explained. Ancient technologies such as fish hooks, spears, and kayaks did not put the kind of pressure on food webs that modern fisheries do, however. Intensive fishing now drives the value of prey up, leading to increased harvesting. For more about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."
LOS ALAMOS, NEW MEXICO—New dates have been obtained for fossils discovered in Ethiopia’s Chorora Formation. Argon dating and paleomagnetic methods, combined with fieldwork, volcanic ash chemistry, and geochronology, suggest that the nine gorilla-like teeth of Chororapithecus abyssinicus, a common ancestor of apes and humans, are younger than previously thought. “Our analysis of C. abyssinicus fossils reveals the ape to be only eight million years old, younger than previously thought. This is the time period when human and African ape lines were thought to have split, but no fossils from this period had been found until now,” geologist Giday WoldeGabriel of the Los Alamos National Laboratory said in a press release. For more, go to "Cultured Cousins?"