MUNICH, GERMANY—Analysis of DNA obtained from a 40,000-year-old jawbone from Romania’s Oase Cave—one of the earliest modern-human fossils found in Europe—indicates that five to 11 percent of the man’s genome came from a Neanderthal ancestor. “The data from the jawbone imply that humans mixed with Neanderthals not just in the Middle East but in Europe as well,” researcher Qiaomei Fu said in a press release. The international team of scientists, including researchers from the Emil Racoviţă Institute of Speleology, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard Medical School, and Beijing’s Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, estimates that the man’s exceptionally large segments of inherited Neanderthal DNA, which shorten with each generation, came from a Neanderthal ancestor in the previous four to six generations. “Interestingly, the Oase individual does not seem to have any direct descendants in Europe today. It may be that he was part of an early migration of modern humans to Europe that interacted closely with Neanderthals but eventually became extinct,” added David Reich, who coordinated the population genetic analyses of the study.
SURRY COUNTY, VIRGINIA—An excavation to install a handicapped parking space at Bacon’s Castle uncovered an H-shaped chimney base with two 11-foot-wide fire boxes. Bacon’s Castle is a four-story Jacobean brick house built in 1665 by Arthur Allen, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. “This was a very substantial building. It probably combined the function of a kitchen with that of a laundry or a brewery. And it dates back to the late 1600s or early 1700s, when Arthur Allen II was reshaping the landscape here to reflect his status as one of the most powerful men in Virginia,” archaeologist Nick Luccketti of the James River Institute for Archaeology told Daily Press. Arthur Allen II, who was himself elected as Speaker of the House of Burgesses in 1686 and 1688, is known for planting one of the first pleasure gardens in the English colonies. The recent excavation also uncovered a large, brick-lined root cellar that butts up against the fireplace. “What we’re seeing here is that Bacon’s Castle continued to grow and develop after the original house was completed,” added Jennifer Hurst-Wender, director of museum operations. To read about another archaeological discovery in the area, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."
YAKUTSK, RUSSIA—Scientists at North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) have autopsied the remains of a three-month-old female dog thought to have died during a landslide near the Syallakh River some 12,450 years ago. (Two twigs in her stomach suggest that she tried to grab onto nearby plants with her teeth.) The puppy, whose fur, skin, bones, and internal organs are intact, was discovered in permafrost by two men who were looking for mammoth tusks in an area where hikers have found stone and bone tools and weapons. Was the puppy an early domestic breed? “Our task is to estimate the preservation of the ancient animal tissues at the macro and micro level. What is of real interest is the fact the animal has a completely preserved carcass, which is unique by itself, with nothing like it in the world. Although the tissues are mummified, they have no post-mortem decomposition, as it usually happens with biological material,” Darima Garmaeva of the NEFU Medical Institute told The Siberian Times. Members of the dog research project will return to the site with archaeologists this summer to look for evidence of early dog owners. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—DNA analysis conducted by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen and Morten Rasmussen of Stanford University suggests that Kennewick Man, discovered in 1996 along the banks of the Columbia River in Washington State, is more closely related to Native American populations than to any other population in the world. It had been thought that the 8,500-year-old skeleton, known as the Ancient One by Native American groups, was more likely to be related to indigenous Japanese or Polynesian peoples, based upon anatomical data. “Although the exterior preservation of the skeleton was pristine, the DNA in the sample was highly degraded and dominated by DNA from soil bacteria and other environmental sources. With the little material we had available, we applied the newest methods to squeeze every piece of information out of the bone,” Rasmussen said in a press release. The study also reveals that Kennewick Man is more closely related to some members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, located in Washington State, than to many other contemporary Native American groups. To read about the earliest people to arrive in North America, go to "America, in the Beginning."
SAQQARA, EGYPT—Researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University conducted a new survey of the dog catacomb near the temple of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of death, at Saqqara. The catacomb is thought to have been dug in the fourth century B.C. “It’s a very long series of dark tunnels. There is no natural light once you’ve gone into the forepart of the catacomb, and beyond that everything has to be lit with flashlights. It’s really quite a spectacular thing,” Nicholson told Live Science. More than 90 percent of the millions of mummies in the catacomb were of dogs, as expected, but the team also found the mummies of jackals, foxes, falcons, cats, and mongoose. Many of the dogs were very young puppies that were likely bred for the cult and separated from their mothers shortly after birth. “It would have been a busy place. A permanent community of people living there supported by the animal cults,” Nicholson explained. To read more about animal mummies in ancient Egypt, go to "Messengers to the Gods."
CARDIFF, WALES—Analysis of more than 70,000 fragments of animal bone from a midden at a prehistoric feasting site in Llanmaes, Vale of Glamorgan, reveals an usual preference for imported pork. “Surprisingly, nearly 80 percent of the animal remains at Llanmaes were from pigs, at a time when sheep and cattle were the main food animals and pork was not a favored meat. What is perhaps more remarkable is that the majority of the pig bones were just one quarter of the animal—the right forequarter. It might be that each household had to donate the same cut of meat to be included in the feast—that way everyone would have to slaughter a pig in honor of the feast,” osteoarchaeologist Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University said in a press release. To read about a recent Bronze Age discovery in Wales, see "Artifact: Gold Lock-Rings."
CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—The Maryport Roman Temples Project has entered its final year of excavation. “By the end of the season we hope to have a detailed understanding of one of the most important Roman cult complexes ever to have been explored in Britain,” archaeologist Ian Haynes of Newcastle University told Culture 24. The team has uncovered a second-century A.D. building that had red sandstone walls, yellow sandstone decorations, a grey slate roof, and a columned entrance. This temple stood near the area where a collection of Roman altars was unearthed in 1870. “We believe that we have located the general area where the altars once stood, now we will close in on the part of the site where we think that they were originally erected,” he said. Earlier excavations revealed that the altars had been reused in the foundation of a Roman timber building, and had not been ritually buried, as had been thought. The team also found another complete altar, inscribed by T Attius Tutor, commander of the Maryport garrison. The altars are housed at the Senhouse Roman Museum. To read about an intriguing Roman discovery made in northern England, go to "Artifact: Roman Party Invitation."
ENFIELD, NEW HAMPSHIRE—A team from Plymouth State University is conducting an excavation in front of the Great Stone Dwelling at the Enfield Shaker Museum, where a Shaker religious community settled in 1793 and lived for more than 100 years. “I am standing in what we believe is the cellar of the Shakers’ trustees office. The trustees were the business leaders of the community. They conducted business transactions with the outside world,” Michael O’Conner, the curator of the Shaker Museum, told WCAX.com. The team is working to uncover the building’s foundation. “From an architectural standpoint, from a religious history, from a communal studies standpoint—yes, this site and this group are of great relevance to our society,” O’Connor added. There had once been 100 structures on the 3,000-acre property. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "The Hidden History of New York Harbor."
COUNTY SLIGO, IRELAND—Recent stormy weather off the coast of Ireland has exposed a ship from the Spanish Armada that sank near Sligo while attempting to invade England in 1588. Some ship timbers had washed ashore, so divers from Ireland’s Ministry of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht’s Underwater Archaeology Unit conducted surveys and have begun to recover artifacts, including a cannon, to be conserved by the National Museum of Ireland. “We have uncovered a wealth of fascinating and highly significant material, which is more than 425 years old. The National Monuments Service believes that all of the material has come from La Juliana, one of the three Armada ships wrecked off this coastline in 1588. On current evidence, the other two wreck sites remain buried beneath a protective layer of sand, but the wreck of La Juliana is now partly exposed on the seabed along with some of its guns and other wreck material,” Heather Humphreys, Ireland’s Minister for the Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, told UTV Ireland. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
MOUNT TABOR, GALILEE—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that arsonists had destroyed two storerooms filled with artifacts from the salvage excavation at Tel Kishon in northern Israel. Among the artifacts were Bronze Age pottery and weapons from the late fourth millennium and early third millennium B.C. Tel Kishon had been excavated ahead of road construction. “It’s significant and serious damage to the study of historical objects [belonging to] everyone,” archaeologist Amir Golani told The Times of Israel. The police are investigating the incident. To read about a recent discovery in Israel, go to "Egyptian Artifacts Found in Southern Israel."
TEHRAN, IRAN—Mohammad Reza Rokni of the Archaeology Research Center and his team have created a 3-D reconstruction of the 7,000-year-old remains of a woman unearthed in Tehran. “The model was developed drawing upon the supine position of the skeleton to represent its true position when interred; to reconstruct the face we added a digital version of missing parts mounted on the 3-D model; the prepared model was pinpointed in 11 points on the face, on eyes, nose, ears, cheeks, lips, and chin, and then the digital texturing filled these pinpoints to give us a clear image of the face,” he told Mehr News Agency. The team based the woman’s hair upon images from pottery from Cheshmeh Ali, a late Neolithic and Chalcolithic village in northern Iran. To read about a 5,000-year-old civilization in what is now Iran, go to "The World in Between."
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Potential respiratory irritants have been found in the dental calculus on 400,000-year-old teeth from Israel’s Qesem Cave. The irritants, including traces of charcoal, are thought to have come from smoke inhaled from cooking fires in the cave. “Human teeth of this age have never been studied before for dental calculus, and we had very low expectations because of the age of the plaque. However, our international collaborators, using a combination of methods, found many materials entrapped within the calculus. Because the cave was sealed for 200,000 years, everything, including the teeth and its calculus, were preserved exceedingly well,” Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University (TAU) said in a press release on Phys.org. The hardened plaque also contained traces of essential fatty acids, possibly from nuts or seeds, particles of starch, and fibers that may have been used for teeth cleaning. “Now we have direct evidence of a tiny piece of the plant-based part of their diet also, in addition to the animal meat and fat they consumed,” added Ran Barkai of TAU. To read about another finding based on the analysis of dental plaque, go to "Dental Calculus Offers Direct Evidence of Milk-Drinking."