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Continuously Occupied Cave Excavated in East Africa

May 9, 2018

JENA, GERMANY—Haaretz reports that evidence for 78,000 years of human occupation has been found in Kenya’s Panga ya Saidi network of caves, ranging from the Middle Stone Age to the present day. The cave’s main chamber measures more than 1,000 feet square, and could have housed hundreds of people, according to Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, although it has recently been used just for burials and rituals. Stone arrowheads, blades, and tools with a dull edge for attachment to a shaft first appeared in the cave’s layers dated to about 67,000 years ago, or some 10,000 years after the first inhabitants, who used larger stone tools, moved in. Kenya’s oldest-known bead, dated to about 65,000 years old, was also recovered. Carved bones, tusks, and worked pieces of ochre were found in layers dated between 48,000 and 25,000 years ago. Petraglia explained that the turning points in technologies were marked by mixes of tools and artifacts, rather than sudden changes. He thinks the cave’s inland location, in a transitional area between the forest and the savannah, may have provided generations of residents with a stable environment at a time when other areas of Africa experienced drought. To read about another discovery in Kenya, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

Categories: Blog

19th-Dynasty Priest’s Statue Unearthed in Heliopolis

May 9, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt Today reports that two artifacts have been discovered in northeastern Cairo, in the ancient city of Heliopolis. “The digging process uncovered a statue of a royal compartment’s priest,” said Mamdouh Eldamaty of Ain Shams University. He added that the compartment dates to the Ramesses dynasty, during the thirteenth and twelfth centuries B.C. “The area witnessed important incidents of the ancient Egyptian history, including King Ramesses II to King Ramesses IX,” Eldamaty explained. “The royal compartment was considered as the first of its kind during that Late Dynasty of Egypt.” Eldamaty’s team also found a second, small artifact that has not yet been identified. To read about a recent reanalysis of a pair of Egyptian mummies, go to “We Are Family.”

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New Kingdom Tomb Discovered in Saqqara

May 9, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, a tomb dating to the reign of Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.) has been discovered in Saqqara. Ola El-Aguizy of Cairo University said that inscriptions on the tomb walls indicate it belonged to General Iwrkhy, his son Yuppa, and grandson Hatiay. Iwrkhy is thought to have moved to Egypt from another land when he began his career under Seti I, and to have attained his high rank in the court of Ramesses II. Images on the walls relate to Iwrkhy’s military career, including an infantry unit and charioteers crossing a waterway dotted with crocodiles, presumed to be Egypt’s eastern border, and relationships with other countries, such as pictures of Canaanite wine jars being unloaded from boats. Other images depict daily life in the military garrison. The tomb features a forecourt, a statue room, plastered vaulted storehouses, a peristyle court, and chapels. Excavation of the tomb will continue. To read in-depth about tomb paintings in Egypt, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

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Well-Preserved Ancestral Puebloan Pot Found in Arizona

May 9, 2018

ST. GEORGE, UTAH—The Spectrum reports that hiker Randy Langstraat discovered a nearly intact pot estimated to be 1,000 years old in the Arizona Strip desert. After concealing the pot in situ, he contacted the Bureau of Land Management. Archaeologist Sarah Page returned to the site with Langstraat, where they found the pot undisturbed. “While the BLM is tasked to protect these resources,” she said, “we need everyone’s help to do so.” The vessel is thought to have been crafted by the Ancestral Puebloan people who lived in the region between A.D. 1050 and 1250. It has an effigy handle that may depict a deer or bighorn sheep. Pieces that may have represented the animal’s ears or horns have broken off. To read about another discovery associated with the Ancestral Puebloan people, go to “Angry Birds.”

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World War II–Era Deposit Unearthed in Poland

May 9, 2018

MASURIA, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that a 14-year-old boy on vacation with his family discovered documents and family heirlooms once owned by an aristocratic Prussian family in two milk cans buried near Lake Jeziorak in northeastern Poland. Most of the objects, including glasses, toiletries, clothing, hunting accessories, military decorations, a Wehrmacht officer uniform, banknotes, jewelry, a pocket watch, and a silver spoon, had been owned by Count Hans Joachim von Finckenstein, who lived in an estate near the lake until 1945. The cans also contained his will, marked with the family seal and coat of arms, a diary dating to World War I, letters, postcards, notes, and family photo albums. The personal items were handed over to the count’s daughter, who is now 81 years old and lives in Germany. She and a sister had been sent away from the estate before the arrival of the Red Army in 1945. Although the count eventually died in a Soviet camp, his wife was reunited with the children in Germany. Researcher Michal Mlotek thinks she may have buried the items before she left. “You can guess that these were things that could be used again after being retrieved,” he said, “most of them had a sentimental value, so in a sense they were a family treasure.” For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

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China’s Oldest Bone Tools

May 8, 2018

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that seven bone hammers estimated to be 115,000 years old have been found in central China, at a Paleolithic site in Xuchang City. Li Zhanyang of the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage and Archaeology said the tools had been made from the long leg bones of herbivores, and are thought to have been used to retouch stone tools. Before this discovery, China’s oldest known bone tools, unearthed in southwest China, dated to 35,000 years ago. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Tomb Couture.”

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Doctor Offers Possible Diagnosis for 12th-Century Sultan

May 8, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a Live Science report, Stephen Gluckman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine suggests that Saladin may have been killed by typhoid. Born in what is now Tikrit, Iraq, Saladin fought against the Egyptian Fatimid Caliphate, and eventually became commander of Syrian troops in Egypt. In 1187, his army conquered Jerusalem, which led to the Third Crusade, from 1189 to 1192. Saladin died in 1193, at the age of 55 or 56, after a two-week-long illness with fever. Gluckman analyzed historical documents that recorded the sultan’s symptoms, and ruled out plague or smallpox, which kill people quickly, and tuberculosis, because there was no mention of coughing or breathing problems. Malaria, Gluckman added, is likely to have caused chills, which were not listed in the records. However, Gluckman explained, typhoid is contracted through the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella typhi, and causes high fever, weakness, stomach pain, headache, and loss of appetite. For more on archaeology in Iraq, go to “Assyrian Archivists.”

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Two 19th-Century Ships Discovered Off Coast of Australia

May 8, 2018

WELSHPOOL, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in The Guardian, the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean has revealed two nineteenth-century ships, about 20 miles apart, some 1,400 miles off the southwest coast of Australia. Tests of samples of coal recovered from both wreck sites suggest the vessels had traveled from Britain. The first ship was found in splinters, in a debris field of coal, as if it sank after an explosion. A large, rectangular metal object at the site has been identified as a water tank. Records of coal ships lost during the nineteenth century are incomplete, but researchers suggest the wooden ship may be the brig W Gordon, which had been traveling to Australia from Scotland when it disappeared in 1877, or the barque Magdala, which was lost in 1882 while sailing from Wales to Indonesia. The second wreck, found sitting upright on the seabed, is thought to have been made of iron and to have had at least two decks. This ship may be the barque West Ridge, which sank in 1883. “These are the deepest wrecks so far located in the Indian Ocean, they’re some of the most remote shipwrecks in the world,” said Ross Anderson of the Western Australian Museum. To read about the investigation of another shipwreck, go to “Is it Esmeralda?”

Categories: Blog

Third Radar Study of Tutankhamun’s Tomb Completed

May 8, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a third radar survey of Tutankhamun’s tomb has found no evidence of any hidden chambers. Francesco Porcelli of the Polytechnic University of Turin led the team that conducted ground-penetrating radar (GPR) studies of the tomb, which is located in the Valley of the Kings. Porcelli said the GPR found no evidence of walls, voids, or doorjambs or lintels in the natural rock adjacent to the tomb. To read in-depth about tomb paintings in Egypt, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

Categories: Blog

DNA Tests Suggest Family Relationships in Roman Cemetery

May 8, 2018

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—According to a report in the Daily Gazette, scientists have detected a family relationship among individuals whose remains were found in a fourth-century A.D. burial site in southeast England. Earlier burials in the cemetery, which date to the era of Roman paganism, were laid out north-south, while later Christian burials, associated with traces of a church building, were oriented east-west. The configuration of the graves also suggested to researchers that the Christian cemetery had been arranged in family plots. Scientists led by Nelson Fernández of Essex University analyzed mitochondrial DNA and human leukocyte antigen from bone samples of 29 individuals in the Christian-era cemetery. “It means we have been able to for the first time scientifically prove the long-held theory there were family burial areas at the Butt Road Roman cemetery by showing they shared the same inherited genetic markers,” Fernández said. For more on Roman England, go to “London’s Earliest Writing.”

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40,000-Year-Old Stone Tools Unearthed in Australia

May 5, 2018

VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA—The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that nearly 100 flaked stone tools estimated to be up to 40,000 years old were uncovered in southeastern Australia during sewer work. “It gives us an understanding of how long our ancestors have been in this area and where they traveled,” said Stephen Hood, a spokesperson for the Gunai Kurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation. The artifacts have been photographed and documented, and will be reburied near their original location after the traditional land owners have analyzed them. To read about another discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Categories: Blog

Mesolithic Settlement Found in Copenhagen

May 5, 2018

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The Copenhagen Post reports that flint arrowheads as well as human and animal bones have been uncovered during construction work at Kastellet, a star-shaped fortress dating to the seventeenth century located in what is now Copenhagen. The artifacts suggest a settlement stood on the site some 7,000 years ago. The people who lived there are thought to have been hunter-gatherers who were part of the Kongemose culture, which covered southern Scandinavia. To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”

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Artifacts from Prague’s Past Recovered

May 4, 2018

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—Czech Radio reports that researchers from the City of Prague Museum excavated the city’s Wenceslas Square and St. Valentine’s Gate, where they found a wooden doorstep and traces of the city’s medieval ramparts. Analysis of the oak step suggests the tree used to make it had been cut down around the year A.D. 1239. In Wenceslas Square, the team, led by archaeologist Petr Starec, found evidence of the market where horses were traded and agricultural products and crafts were sold from the mid-fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries. Starec said the markets and the dwellings in the area produced a lot of waste, including the bones of cattle, sheep, and goats; pottery; and horseshoes, so the muck was periodically covered with layers of pebbles from the Vltava River. A two-inch-tall Christian statue depicting the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus was also recovered from the layers of Wenceslas Square. Starec thinks this valuable item must have been accidentally dropped by a wealthy person. “There is a little metal device on her back,” he said, “so it was probably attached to some object, perhaps a home altar.” For more, go to “Off The Grid: Prague.”

Categories: Blog

Texts Found on Small Dead Sea Scroll Fragments

May 4, 2018

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a Live Science report, examination of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls has revealed previously unseen texts. The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that the writing was spotted by researcher Oren Ableman of Hebrew University on fragments of scrolls that had been recovered from Cave 11, and appeared to be blank. Using infrared imaging, Ableman discovered Hebrew letters and words on the fragments. He was able to determine that some of the scraps had fallen from the scrolls of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, two books from the Hebrew Bible, and from the Book of Jubilees, which was written during the same period. Of the many fragments in the collection, one is thought to be from an unknown third copy of the Temple Scroll; a piece of Psalm 147:1 from the Great Psalms Scroll which suggests the ancient version of the Psalm is slightly shorter than the modern one; and a fragment bearing letters written in paleo-Hebrew that could belong to an unknown manuscript. To read about another Dead Sea Scrolls-related discovery, go to “Scroll Search.”

Categories: Blog

700,000-Year-Old Butchery Site Found in the Philippines

May 3, 2018

LUZON, PHILIPPINES—Science Magazine reports that a team of scientists led by Thomas Ingicco of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and M. Clyde Shago of the National Museum of the Philippines has found butchered rhino bones and stone tools at Kalinga, an archaeological site on the island of Luzon. The enamel of one of the animal’s teeth was dated to about 709,000 years old, which corresponds with the results of electronic spin resonance testing of the sediments above and below the fossils and artifacts. The discovery is said to push back the known date for human occupation of the Philippines by more than 600,000 years. Archaic human fossils have not been found at the site, however, so scientists are not sure who butchered the rhino, but Homo erectus is a likely candidate. Homo erectus is thought to have evolved in Africa nearly two million years ago, and Homo erectus fossils of the same age as the site in the Philippines have been found in China and Java. To read more about this extinct human species, go to “Homo erectus Stands Alone.”

Categories: Blog

Marks on Neanderthal Flint Flake Analyzed

May 3, 2018

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—According to a Cosmos Magazine report, grooves etched into a small piece of flint some 35,000 years ago could represent Neanderthal symbolic art to convey information. Anna Majkic of the University of Bordeaux and her colleagues say the edges of the flake, which was unearthed at the Kiik-Koba archaeological site in Crimea, show the marks were not made before the flake was struck from a larger stone, and they reject the possibility that the stone was manipulated in order to create powder, or as a way to record a count. They add that the flake is too small to have been used as a cutting or scraping tool, and may have been crafted for the purpose of carrying the engravings, which they say were deliberately started and ended, and made with two pointed tools. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

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Archaeologist Experiments With Possible Bronze Age Saw

May 3, 2018

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA—Science News reports that archaeologist Nicholas Blackwell of Indiana University built a pendulum saw to test stone-cutting techniques that may have been employed by Mycenaean builders, beginning about 3,300 years ago. Distinctive, curved cuts have been found in the hard stone conglomerate at Mycenaean palaces, and scholars have surmised that they were made with some kind of swinging blade, but no ancient blades or evidence for pendulum saws have been found to date. With the help of his father, George, who is a plumber, Blackwell constructed the eight-foot-tall pendulum and a frame that would allow it to swing, and tested it with four bronze blades of varying shapes, including a long, curved blade; a triangular blade with a rounded tip; a short, straight-edged saw; and a long, straight-edged saw with rounded corners. The surface of the limestone cut during the testing was lubricated with water and sand every two minutes. The experiment shows that the straight blade with rounded corners produced a cut resembling those found at Mycenaean sites. Blackwell said that after a deep enough cut was made, a worker could have chiseled and hammered off stone on one side of the incision. To read in-depth about experimental archaeology, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

Categories: Blog

Relics of Revolt Against the Romans Found in Germany

May 2, 2018

KREFELD, GERMANY—According to a report in The Local, thousands of Roman-era artifacts have been unearthed at a site near the Rhine River in western Germany, including coins, weapons, more than 300 horse skeletons, jewelry, helmets, and a soldier’s belt buckle. The artifacts are thought to be linked to a battle of 20,000 Romans and Batavians that was fought in the area, known in antiquity as Gelduba, around A.D. 69. After their eventual victory over the Germanic tribes, the Romans established a military fort at Gelduba, on the border of the Roman Empire, and remained there until the beginning of the fifth century. “This is one of the very rare cases where archaeology and historical sources are in accord,” said archaeologist Hans-Peter Schletter. To read about archaeological evidence of a battle between Romans and Germanic tribes discovered in the Netherlands, go to “Caesar’s Diplomatic Breakdown.”

Categories: Blog

Cuneiform Tablets May Have Originated in Unknown City

May 2, 2018

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK—Live Science reports that hundreds of 4,000-year-old tablets seized from the company Hobby Lobby by the United States government are thought to have been looted from Irisagrig, a Sumerian city whose exact location remains unknown to scholars. The cuneiform tablets in the collection of artifacts purchased by Hobby Lobby were inscribed with legal and administrative texts, and incantations, or magical spells. Other texts from Irisagrig have recently appeared on the antiquities market, as well, according to Manuel Molina of the Spanish National Research Council. All of the artifacts seized from Hobby Lobby will be handed over to Iraq’s ambassador to the United States in a ceremony to be held in Washington, D.C., tomorrow. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Scotland’s “Melted Stones”

May 2, 2018

GLEN NEVIS, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Scotsman, a team of volunteers and archaeologists from Forestry Enterprise Scotland and Stirling University investigated possible sources of heat hot enough to fuse the stones of Iron Age hillforts together. Such “melted” stones have been found at Dun Deardail, Tap O’Noth, and Ord Hill. Matt Ritchie of Forestry Enterprise Scotland said the tests had shown the vitrified stone was likely produced when tall timber superstructures, such as roofed rampart walls, caught fire and heated the stone citadel below it “like an oven.” Now the researchers want to know whether the fires were accidental, or were set as an act of war, or were perhaps even ceremonial, set to mark the death of a revered ruler. “We may never know,” Ritchie said. Similar structures have been found in France, Germany, Wales, and Ireland. For more, go to “Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

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