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June 13, 2016

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Haaretz reports that the Zea Harbor Project mapped the remains of ancient Greek naval bases in Mounichia Harbor and Zea Harbor between 2001 and 2012. The team of archaeologists, working on land and under water, has found massive fortifications and a total of 15 structures that were used to house ships when they were pulled ashore. “It is an enticing thought that some of the Athenian triremes that fought against the Persians at Salamis in 480 B.C. were most probably housed in these ship-sheds,” said project director Bjørn Lovén of the Danish Institute at Athens. The foundations for the sheds measured more than four feet wide and stood more than 160 feet long and 20 feet tall. For more, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."

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June 13, 2016

DUMFRIESSHIRE, SCOTLAND—Cast-lead sling bullets recently unearthed in southwestern Scotland are thought to have been used by Roman auxiliary troops during an attack of a fort on Burnswark Hill some 1,800 years ago. Such sling bullets range in size from an acorn to a lemon. About 20 percent of the sling bullets recovered from the site had been drilled with a small hole. Similar sling bullets have been found at ancient battle sites in Greece, and at first, researchers thought the small holes might have contained poison. Now archaeologist John Reid of the Trimontium Trust thinks the projectiles with holes might have produced a whistling sound intended to terrify opponents, since his brother pointed out that lead weights used for casting fishing lines can produce a whistle in flight. “We think it was an all-out assault on the hilltop, to demonstrate to the natives what would happen to them if they resisted,” Reid said in a Live Science report. His team thinks the small bullets, shot in groups of three or four from a pouch attached to two long cords, were used for close-range fighting. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

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June 10, 2016

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Climate change and the appearance of grasslands coincided with the evolution of the first hominins, according to a study led by Kevin Uno of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He and his team collected sediment cores dating back 24 million years from the bottom of the Red Sea and the western Indian Ocean. Analysis of the chemicals in the sediments suggests that plants that grew in East Africa, where the first hominins are thought to have evolved, blew out to sea and sank. More than ten million years ago, those plants came from dense forests. Chemicals linked to grasses slowly began to appear in later layers of sediment. “This now gives us a timeline for the development of those grasses, and tells us they were part of our evolution from the very beginning,” Uno said in a UPI report. For more, go to "A New Human Relative."

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June 10, 2016

OXFORD, ENGLAND—The wild macaques of coastal Thailand have been using stones as tools for generations, according to a UPI report. Scientists led by Michael Haslam of the University of Oxford observed the monkeys searching for good stones and using them to process oysters, snails, nuts, and crabs. When particular stones worked well, the monkeys placed them near the boulders where they preferred to eat. The researchers then examined the marks on the stones and excavated the area to look for similar ones. They found identical marks on stones in a layer with oyster shells that were carbon-dated to between ten and 50 years ago. “As we build up a fuller picture of their evolutionary history, we will start to identify the similarities and differences in human behavior and that of other primates,” Haslam explained. For more on Southeast Asia, go to "Letter From Cambodia: Storied Landscape."

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June 10, 2016

ATHENS, GREECE—Using X-ray scanning equipment and imaging technology, an international team of scientists has read around a quarter of the explanatory text engraved in tiny letters on the surviving fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism. Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University said that the text does not instruct the reader on the use of the device, but is more like a descriptive label. The artifact, recovered from a first-century B.C. shipwreck off the coast of a Greek island in the early years of the twentieth century, is made up of bronze gears and plates, and was probably encased in wood and operated with a hand crank. It is thought to have functioned as an astronomical instrument to  track the position of the sun, the phases of the moon, the positions of the planets, and the timing of eclipses. “It’s like a textbook of astronomy as it was understood then, which connected the movements of the sky and the planets with the lives of the ancient Greeks and their environment,” Alexander Jones of New York University said in an Associated Press report. Investigators have returned to the shipwreck to look for more pieces of the device. For more on archaeology in Greece, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."

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