JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A charred scroll discovered in the 1970 excavations of the synagogue at Ein Gedi has been “virtually unwrapped” by Brent Seales of the University of Kentucky. Seales and his team used data collected from a micro-computed tomography scan for the study, leaving the scroll intact and unopened. “The text revealed today from the Ein Gedi scroll was possible only because of the collaboration of many different people and technologies. The last step of virtual unwrapping, done at the University of Kentucky through the hard work of a team of talented students, is especially satisfying because it has produced readable, identifiable, biblical text from a scroll thought to be beyond rescue,” Seales said in a press release. Part of the scroll, dated to the sixth century A.D., is from the beginning of the biblical book of Leviticus. “The page actually comes from a layer buried deep within the many wraps of the scroll body, and is possible to view it only through the remarkable results of our software, which implements the research idea of ‘virtual unwrapping,’” Seales said. To read about another project working to decipher ancient scrolls using hi-tech methods, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum."
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—A small, well-preserved Maori fishing settlement that may have been inhabited as early as A.D. 1350, just 30 years after the oldest known evidence of humans in New Zealand, has been found on the coast of a private island. “It’s filling in the picture of how those early Maoris and Polynesians were using the coast,” Louise Furey of the Auckland Museum told Stuff.co.nz. Moa-bone fishhooks, made from the bones of the smallest and most common moa species, were unearthed at the site, in addition to fossilized dog waste. Simon Holdaway of the University of Auckland said that early Maori fed the dogs leftover fish carcasses, used their hair in cloaks, and high-status Maori ate their meat. He and his team will continue to look for houses, pits where sweet potato crops were stored, and a waka, or Maori war canoe, before the site is lost to erosion. “It’s really, really important that we analyze the material that’s left,” Holdaway said.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA—The Peace Camp outside the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nevada National Security Site, has been surveyed by a team led by archaeologist Colleen Beck of the Desert Research Institute. “This archaeological research is unique, because the Peace Camp is the only known intact Cold War protest camp in the world,” she told Western Digs. Beck and her colleagues recorded more than 700 features at the site, including tent pads, hearths, ornamental rock formations, and graffiti painted in drainage tunnels. “The features are from daily camping activities, markers for paths and places, and rock patterns on the landscape in the shape of spirals, flowers, crosses, and peace signs, a rock garden in honor of a peace activist, and people’s initials,” she said. The team also compared the graffiti in the private areas of the camp with historic photographs of signs such as “No More Nukes” and “Food Not Bombs” held by the campers at demonstrations. “The tunnel graffiti, of course, had peace symbols but had very few other symbols or slogans that were used on the placards. Instead, most of the art and writings in the tunnels are personal in nature or art especially created for this setting,” Beck explained. To read in-depth about Colleen Beck's research into Atomic Age sites in Nevada, go to "Dawn of a Thousand Suns."
SALEKHARD, RUSSIA—Scientists conducted an MRI scan of the birch-bark coffin discovered several weeks ago in the Zeleny Yar necropolis, located near the Siberian Arctic, and then opened it. “The remains belong to a boy, six to seven years old. We suppose it was a boy because we have found a small bronze ax with the body, and some sharp tool, which we cannot identify yet,” Alexander Gusev of the Center for the Study of the Arctic told The Siberian Times. Like other burials in the Zeleny Yar necropolis, the body was naturally mummified by the permafrost and the copper or bronze plates that had been fastened to the face, chest, and abdomen with leather straps. “The body was wrapped in two layers of fur, one layer is reindeer hide, with long and stiff hair. The other layer is softer, we will be able to say more clearly which animal it was after the analysis in Ekaterinburg,” he added. The child had also been buried with a bronze bear-shaped pendant and bronze temple rings. To read more about archaeology in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude."
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—A shipwreck that could date to the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century has been detected by a research expedition made up of scientists from Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of Oregon aboard the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ship Atlantis. The team was looking for a mooring that had been lost on a previous expedition with a robotic autonomous underwater vehicle and a manned submersible when they found an iron chain, ship timbers, red bricks that may have formed a cooking hearth, glass bottles, an unglazed pottery jug, a metal compass, and an instrument that might be an octant or a sextant. “Lying more than a mile down in near-freezing temperatures, the site is undisturbed and well preserved,” Bruce Terrell, chief archaeologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Heritage Program, said in a press release. “We discovered a shipwreck but, ironically, the lost mooring was never found,” added expedition leader Cindy Van Dover, director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory. To read more about underwater discoveries, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
BOLOGNA, ITALY—Stefano Benazzi of the University of Bologna and Marco Peresani of the University of Ferrara found microscopic markings on the surface of a large cavity in a 14,000-year-old molar that “were the result of a variety of gestures and movements associated with slicing a microlithic point in different directions,” Benazzi told Discovery News. They then conducted tests on the enamel of three molars with wood, bone, and microlithic points to confirm that the infected tissue in the ancient cavity had been picked away from the tooth with a small, sharp stone tool. “This shows that Later Upper Paleolithic humans were aware about the deleterious effects of caries, and the need to intervene with an invasive treatment to clean a deep dental cavity,” Benazzi said. Wear on the tooth shows that the treatment had been conducted long before the man died at the age of 25. His remains were discovered in 1988 in a rock shelter in northern Italy. “The treatment went unnoticed for all these years. The cavity was described as a simple carious lesion,” Benazzi said. For more on prehistoric dentistry, go to "Fixing Ancient Toothaches."
PANAJI, INDIA—Researchers from India’s National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) have uncovered an ancient wall along the Zuari River that could be the remains of a port on the country’s central west coast. It is estimated to be between 1,000 and 3,500 years old. “This area was earlier known as Gopakapattinam. The exploration work on the site is done and scientists have found the steps going in the water. It is imminent that existence of such a big wall parallel to the river indicates that it is remnant of a port,” Rajiv Nigam, head of the Marine Archaeology unit of the NIO, told NDTV. The researchers plan to date the sediments with radiocarbon and thermo-luminance techniques, and conduct a survey of the area with ground-penetrating radar. Nigam thinks the port may have served the ancient capital of Goa. “If the project comes through it will be a big discovery for the central west coast of India. This was a very flourishing harbor of ancient time,” he explained. To read more about archaeology in India, go to "Oceans of Dharma."
ADAMS COUNTY, OHIO—A 19-year-old man who has confessed to taking a joy ride over an ancient earthwork near Serpent Mound could face prison time, more than $3,000 in damages, community service, and a research paper. “He has been cooperative, so we’re working with him. But I don’t think he appreciates the significance of the site, the gravity of what he’s done,” Adams County Assistant Prosecutor Ken Armstrong told Cincinnati.com. The young man allegedly jumped the curb of the parking lot at the monument and drove his pick-up truck over a 2,000-year-old Adena mound. Park Manager Tim Goodwin says the tire marks will be repaired by replacing the sod. Acts of vandalism at the site are rare, but Goodwin explained that additional security cameras will be installed. Serpent Mound has been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status. “It deserves the respect of the world,” said archaeologist Brad Lepper. For more on the site, go to "Who Built the Great Serpent Mound?"
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Excavations ahead of the construction of a shopping center have uncovered hundreds of objects, including 50 medieval leather shoes, a leather bag, a wooden bowl, and timber posts that had been placed in muddy stream banks. “These finds are as rare as gold,” project director Ben Ford of Oxford Archaeology told BBC News. “It’s amazing to think these shoes were worn by people who walked the streets of medieval Oxford.” The excavation covers an area that was just outside the Oxford city walls at the time, where a friary for the Greyfriars religious order stood. To read about another medieval excavation in Oxford, go to "Vengance on the Vikings."
MITCHELL, SOUTH DAKOTA—An intact pot has been unearthed for the first time at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. Its small size may have helped to keep it in one piece. “It was less than a meter below the surface of the ground but it still had weight on it. We’re fortunate,” executive director Cindy Gregg told The Mitchell Republic. Residues from the pot, which will be tested at the University of Exeter, could provide information on what the pot was used for. Gregg thinks the pot may have been held paints or served as a child’s toy.
HAMBURG, GERMANY—A metal detectorist discovered a cache of gold coins dating between 1831 and 1910 in a field in northern Germany last fall. After recovering ten coins, Florian Bautsch alerted archaeologists who recovered 207 more during a two-week excavation. The coins had been minted in Belgium, France, Italy, but the team also recovered a piece of pasteboard with two seals bearing images of a swastika, an imperial eagle, and the stamp “Reichsbank Berlin 244.” The coins were probably placed in two separate pouches and buried during the last days of World War II under a tree, but were scattered when the tree was uprooted. Archaeologist Edgar Ring of the Lüneburg Museum told The Local that such limited edition coins belonged to the central bank during the Nazi era and had probably been stolen.
STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—Sergio Almecija, Jeroen Smaers, and William Jungers of Stony Brook University measured the hand proportions of modern humans, living and fossil ape species, and human ancestors, including Ardipithecus ramidus and Australopithecus sediba, in an effort to understand the evolution of the hand. They found that there has been relatively little change in the proportions of the human hand, which has a long thumb in relation to the fingers, since the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. This had been thought to be important to human success, but it could indicate that the structure of the human hand is largely primitive in nature, rather than the result of the selective pressures of making stone tools. The fingers of chimpanzee and orangutan hands, meanwhile, have gotten longer and more suited to living in trees.
SHEFFIELD, OHIO—A team led by Brian Redmond of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is excavating a 4,000-year-old site in northeastern Ohio. So far, they have uncovered a three-inch-thick floor made from layers of yellow clay that was carried to the site. A basin was built into the floor, along with cooking pits and storage holes that held hickory nuts. Post holes show where hickory saplings were placed and then tied together to create a framework covered with cattail mats. “A small family would be very comfortable. They were well insulated, and sheltered under the tree canopy of oaks. Unlike at other sites, they’re going to the trouble to make floors. They’re here for months at a time,” Redmond told Cleveland.com. He thinks that these hunter-gatherers migrated to the area from the southeast to spend the fall and winter for a period of some 200 to 300 years. “There’s nothing like this anywhere in Ohio. It’s very significant, a much more significant site than we previously thought. These are house structures. This was like a village site,” he added.
MADISON, WISCONSIN—A genetic study of corn conducted by Huai Wang and John Doebley of the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers insight into the domestication of this crop in Mexico some 9,000 years ago. The seeds of the wild grass teosinte, the ancestor of modern corn, are protected by a hard casing. Over a period of a few thousand years, early farmers developed varieties in which the seed case turns into the cob, exposing the seed as a “naked kernel.” A series of experiments showed that only one mutation in the gene tga1, and the protein encoded by it, TGA1, is necessary to affect the structure of the seed case. “TGA1 acts a bit like an orchestra conductor coordinating the actions of many different musicians. The same orchestra can play in different ways, depending on the conductor’s signals,” Doebley said in a press release. “Humans completely reshaped the ancestor of corn, effectively turning the cob inside out. Our results show that a small genetic change has had a big effect on this remarkable transformation,” he said. For more, go to "New Thoughts on Corn Domestication."
OSLO, NORWAY—A sword from the late Viking Age has been discovered in a burial in Langeid, a village in southern Norway. “Although the iron blade has rusted, the handle is well preserved. It is wrapped with silver thread and the hilt and pommel at the top are covered in silver with details in gold, edged with a copper alloy thread,” project leader Zanette Glørstad said in a press release. Post holes in the four corners of the large grave once held a roof, and yielded charcoal dated to the year A.D. 1030, which coincides with coins found at the bottom of the grave. One of the coins, from England, was minted during the reign of Ethelred II, between 978 and 1016. A battle ax with a shaft coated with brass was also discovered in the same grave. Similar axes have been found in the River Thames in London, suggesting that the weapons in this burial might be linked to Viking battles along the Thames in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. “It’s quite possible that the dead man was one of King Canute’s hand-picked men for the battles with King Ethelred of England,” Glørstad added. To read more about the Viking era in England, go to "Vengeance on the Vikings."
CHIAPAS, MEXICO—News.com Australia reports that recent excavations at Tonina by archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have shown the Maya city to be twice as large as predicted, with clearly defined districts, including areas of palaces, temples, housing, and administration. It had been thought that the Tonina acropolis had been built on a hill, but the excavations have shown that the mound covers a pyramid more than 240 feet tall, with 208 stone steps from its base to its apex. “It’s a big surprise to see that the pyramid was done almost entirely by the architects and therefore is more artificial than natural. This is because it was believed that almost every hill was a natural mound, but recent evidence has revealed that it was almost entirely built by the ancient inhabitants,” said Emiliano Gallaga, director of the site. More than 300 hieroglyphic texts have also been found. Some of them reveal the names of city rulers. The texts could eventually help scholars understand the decline of the ancient Maya civilization. To read in-depth about another ancinet Maya discovery, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA—Additional portions of the floor mosaics in the east aisle of a fifth-century synagogue in the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq have been uncovered by a team led by Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Previous excavations in the synagogue, which is located in the Lower Galilee, unearthed pictures of Samson and an image that may depict Alexander the Great and a Jewish high priest—the first non-biblical story to be found in an ancient synagogue, according to Magness. This summer’s excavations have revealed images surrounding a dedicatory inscription that include animals, male figures supporting a garland, a rooster, and male and female faces in a wreath. There are also winged putti, or cupids, holding roundels with theater masks. The team also uncovered columns inside the synagogue that had been covered in plaster and painted ivy leaf designs. “The images in these mosaics—as well as their high level of artistic quality—and the columns painted with vegetal motifs have never been found in any other ancient synagogue. These are unique discoveries,” Magness said in a press release. To read about the previously unearthed portions, go to "Mosaics of Huqoq."
DORSET, ENGLAND—A geophysical survey conducted by a team from the University of Bournemouth has located 150 roundhouses and other features in a prehistoric town named Duropolis, after the Durotriges, a local Iron Age tribe. Sixteen roundhouses in the settlement have been excavated so far. “What we’ve discovered is extremely significant for the whole of Southern Britain because in the past archaeologists have tended to look at really obvious sites, like the big hill-fort of Maiden Castle, near Dorchester. What we have here is an extensive open settlement, not a hill fort, so it wasn’t visible as a settlement from the earthwork on the landscape. What we’ve discovered is one of the earliest and largest open settlements in Britain,” archaeologist Miles Russell said in a press release. It had been thought that before the arrival of the Romans, most people in Britain lived in protected hill forts. The team also uncovered the bones of animals whose body parts had been rearranged to form hybrid beasts, grinding stones, spindle whorls, and metal working debris.
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—A new study of 71,000-year-old stone tools from Sibudu and Blombos, two South African archaeological sites that are more than 600 miles apart, shows that these two groups of people used similar types of tools, but made them differently and from different materials. Lyn Wadley of the University of the Witwatersrand and an international team of scientists examined two types of Middle Stone Age tools—Still Bay and Howiesons Poort—from the two sites. The two sets of Howiesons Poort tools were crafted in a similar pattern that may have been socially transmitted by teaching and verbal instruction. But the team concluded that although similar, the differences between the Still Bay-type tools from Sibudu and Blombos suggest that the toolmakers from the two sites did not share the same rules and traditions. “This was not the case at 65,000 years ago when similarities in stone tool making suggest that similar cultural traditions spread across South Africa,” Wadley said in a press release. To read about the oldest stone tools yet discovered, go to "The First Toolkit."
BE’ER SHEVA, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority reports that two sling stones were returned to the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures in Be’er Sheva. A museum employee found the stones in a bag in the museum’s courtyard with a note that read, “These are two roman ballista balls from Gamla, from a residential quarter at the foot of the summit. I stole them in July 1995 and since then they have brought me nothing but trouble. Please, do not steal antiquities!” The museum handed over the stones, which were chiseled by Roman soldiers or their prisoners, to the Israel Antiquities Authority. “Almost 2,000 such stones were found during the archaeological excavations in the Gamla Nature Reserve, and this is the site where there is the largest number of ballista stones from the Early Roman period. The Romans shot these stones at the defenders of the city in order to keep them away from the wall, and in that way they could approach the wall and break it with a battering ram,” explained archaeologist Danny Syon, who excavated at Gamla for many years. To read more about this period, go to "Artifact: Roman Coins in Israel."