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August 2, 2016

SOUTH CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY—Ancient hearths and some 1,300 artifacts, including unglazed ceramics and pieces of soapstone, have been found at an industrial construction site along the South Camden waterfront. Archaeologists from Richard Grubb & Associates think the site was used by Native Americans for processing and cooking fish around 1400 to 1350 B.C. Native Americans “would have been fishing along the Delaware, utilizing the forests around them for shelter, watercraft … just maximizing the natural resources,” forensic archaeologist Kimberlee Sue Moran of Rutgers University-Camden, said in a report by the Courier-Post. She added that evidence for long-term settlement during this time period is unusual. For more, go to "Possible Revolutionary War Campsite Found in New Jersey."

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August 2, 2016

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Lead investigator Nesta Anderson announced at a “Reimagine The Alamo” press conference that more than 300 eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artifacts, including Native American ceramics from the mission era, square nails, and a bone button, have been uncovered near the west wall of the Alamo. The excavation team has also recovered a piece of glass stamped with the words “San Antonio Apothecary,” ceramics from Europe and Mexico, part of a toothbrush, and a blade that may have been part of a utility knife or scissors. “As of yet, we’re not finding a lot of battle-related things,” Anderson said in a Houston Chronicle report. Work at the south wall of the Alamo is now underway as well. For more on archaeology in Texas, go to "Off the Grid: Caddo Mounds State Historic Site." 

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August 2, 2016

COUNTY DOWN, NORTHERN IRELAND—Excavations on the grounds of an eighteenth-century country house known as Hillsborough Castle have uncovered a skeleton thought to have belonged to a young woman who lived 1,000 years ago. Archaeologists and volunteers had been looking for traces of a medieval church on the site when they found the remains and signs of additional burials. “We arrived hoping to find the remains of a fifteenth- or sixteenth-century church, but about two hours into our first day we uncovered a skeleton,” Jonathan Barkley of Northern Archaeology Consultancy told BBC News. The skeleton will be studied before it is reburied. No other human remains at the site will be removed. The excavation is being conducted ahead of construction to transform the castle into a tourist destination. For more, go to "Saving Northern Ireland's Noble Bog." 

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August 1, 2016

FOGGIA, ITALY—Italian researchers suggest that Joan of Arc’s visions may have been caused by a form of epilepsy, according to a report in Live Science. Epileptic seizures occur when electrical signals in the brain misfire, and can result in muscle movements or confusion, or cause the subject to hear voices. Guiseppe d’Orsi of the University of Foggia and Paola Tinuper of the University of Bologna examined documentation of the fifteenth-century trial in which Joan was accused of heresy and witchcraft. Joan reported hearing voices and seeing Christian saints, which d’Orsi and Tinuper say are symptoms of idiopathic partial epilepsy with auditory features. This type of epilepsy may be inherited and has been linked to certain genes. D’Orsi and Tinuper have been looking for letters written by Joan of Arc, which she reportedly sealed with red wax, a fingerprint, and a hair, which they would like to test for these particular genes. So far, they haven’t found any surviving examples. For more, go to "France’s Roman Heritage."

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August 1, 2016

NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA—Large pieces of what could be a nineteenth-century ship were recovered by the Canadian Coast Guard in waters near Nova Scotia. According to a report in CBC News, the crew of the CCGS Alfred Needler was conducting a survey of fish in the region when the nets hauled in the sections of the shipwreck. Katie Cottreau-Robins, curator of archaeology for the Nova Scotia Museum, and her team examined the fragments when they were brought to shore. Some of the pieces are better preserved than others. “We have a section of the hull where there’s copper sheathing on the outside and we could see that very clearly, and all the rivets holding the copper onto the frame,” she said. A search of Nova Scotia’s shipwreck database suggests the vessel could be a Swedish ship built in 1877 that sank in bad weather in 1905. Cottreau-Robins said that her team will continue to research the shipwreck pieces and try to find the best place to conserve them. To read about another well-known shipwreck found in Canadian waters, go to "Franklin’s Last Voyage."

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August 1, 2016

NORDLAND COUNTY, NORWAY—A faint 5,000-year-old carving depicting a figure on skis has been vandalized by a teenaged boy who used a sharp object to scratch over the original etching. The Local, Norway, reports that the perpetrator thought he was making the rock art easier for other visitors to see. Other images in the hunting scene, which is located on the island of Tro in northern Norway, were also defaced. “It’s a tragedy, because it’s one of the most famous Norwegian historical sites,” says Bård Anders Langø, mayor of the Alstahaug municipality. Archaeologists will study the damage to the site, but Langø says they suspect it is irreversible. For more, go to "Artifact: Norway Viking Sword."

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August 1, 2016

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Cold-weather gear may have helped early modern humans survive while Neanderthals died out, according to a new study led by Mark Collard, a visiting fellow at Simon Fraser University. He noted that figurines discovered in Siberia dating back 24,000 years are thought to depict people wearing furry, hooded outfits. Bone needles, pelt scrapers, and the bones of creatures such as rabbits, foxes, mink, and wolverine have been found at modern human campsites. Their fur may have been used to make such warm garments. Collard explained that wolverine fur makes an excellent ruff for a parka hood because it shields one from the wind, sheds hoarfrost, and is durable. Neanderthals are thought to have worn draped animal skins, since the tools associated with crafting closely fitted garments have not been found at Neanderthal sites. Inadequate clothing could have left Neanderthals vulnerable to frostbite and hypothermia, and may have limited their ability to look for food. “Keeping children warm particularly is likely to have led to many more surviving childhood which would have improved population size,” Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum commented in The Telegraph. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

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July 29, 2016

OXFORD, ENGLAND—It had been previously believed that the first rice grown in northern China, Japan, and on the Korean peninsula was only of the sticky japonica variety, which requires cultivation in dry fields. But a team led by Masahiko Kumagai of the University of Tokyo obtained DNA from carbonized rice ranging in age from 900 to 2,800 years old found at archaeological sites in Japan and Korea. The scientists then compared the genomes of the ancient rice samples to a database of more than 200 cultivated and wild rice DNA samples from around the world. They found that some of the ancient grains seemed to be more similar to the indica variety of rice, which has a long grain, grows submerged in water, and is usually associated with the tropics. This suggests that the crops were moved long distances. Michael Purugganan of New York University told The Christian Science Monitor that early farmers may have tried to grow “everything they could get their hands on,” until they developed a crop that adapted well to the environment. To read about the earliest evidence for tea drinking in China, go to "The Price of Tea in China."

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July 29, 2016

DUBLIN, IRELAND—An American student from New York University was taking a tour of Ireland’s Omey Island with archaeologist Michael Gibbons when she discovered a twelfth-century kite brooch in some rabbit burrows. The brooch would have been used to fasten a cloak or shawl. “I kept it with me until I caught up with Michael and he was very intrigued," Gibbons told Irish Central. "He had me take him back to the site at which I found it. I didn’t fully realize how important the find was at the time. Now, I’m amazed and surprised and I’m very happy that I was able to place it in the hands of people who would appreciate it.”  The artifact will be housed in the National Museum of Ireland. To read more about medieval archaeology in Ireland, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."

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July 29, 2016

XUNANTUNICH, BELIZE—Archaeologist Jaime Awe of Northern Arizona University has excavated a tomb at the Maya site of Xunantunich. According to The Reporter Newspaperthe tomb contained skeletal remains thought to have belonged to a male ruler, based upon the size and appearance of the femurs, skull, and teeth. The remains of an animal—perhaps a deer or a jaguar—were also found in the chamber, along with ceramics and pieces of jade. “What’s amazing about the discovery of this tomb is that, we know that archaeologists have been working at Xunantunich since the 1890s," says Awe. "That’s more than a century of continuous archaeological work at the site. And, never before have we found a tomb. Well, this tomb is also remarkable in other ways, it is one of the largest burial chambers we have ever found.” To read about the discovery of another Maya ruler's burial , go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."

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July 29, 2016

EDGEWATER, MARYLAND—Ecologist Denise Breitburg of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center teamed up with biologists and archaeologists to survey the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay dating back 800,000 years. They found the oldest shells in Native American middens in the area dated to 3,200 years ago. They also measured the size of the oysters, to see if they were harvested before they reached full size. The results of the study suggest oysters were much larger hundreds of thousands of years ago than they are today, but they didn’t decrease in size between 3,200 and 400 years ago, when Native Americans were harvesting them. Torben Rick of the Smithsonian Institution told NPR he thinks Native Americans fished close to shore, and rotated fishing sites seasonally, giving oysters space to recover, grow, and reproduce. Since then, pollution, overfishing, and dredging have damaged oyster populations. “Ultimately, it’s about rethinking our oyster strategy so we can have our cake and eat it too,” he said. To read more about prehistoric life on North America's coasts, go to "The Edible Landscape." 

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July 29, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—A prehistoric campsite in Utah’s West Desert has yielded a 12,300-year-old hearth surrounded by more than 60 artifacts, including a large spear point, stone flakes, the bones of ducks and geese, and the earliest-known collection of tobacco seeds. “It’s a new world plant, not a plant from the other side of the world, so obviously this raises a lot of questions,” archaeologist Daron Duke of Far Western Anthropological Research Group said in a Western Digs report. “Also of significance is that these people were carrying their big-game tool kits, as evidenced by the big point found right next to the hearth,” added geoarchaeologist Craig Young. He thinks the spear point resembles those found nearby at a mammoth-hunting site of similar antiquity. At the time, the region would have been ten to 15 degrees cooler, with rivers, lakes, and marshy wetlands. “Toward the end of this period, for people who had the run of North America, things were drying up, and this could have been one of the last places they decided to make use of,” Duke said. To read about the earliest humans in the New World, go to "America, in the Beginning." 

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July 28, 2016

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—Previous studies of Neanderthal brain development have suggested that Neanderthal and modern human brains looked similar at birth, but then developed differently. Chirstoph Zollikofer of the University of Zurich and his team generated 3-D casts of the brain cases of 15 Neanderthal skulls ranging in age from newborn to adult. The scientists then compared the images of the Neanderthal brains with patterns of brain development in modern human children. New Scientist reports that at birth, Zollikofer found the Neanderthal brains to be longer, wider, and flatter than modern human brains. He claimed that similar to patterns of modern human development, the cerebellum and other regions of the Neanderthal brains grew quickly during childhood. He also argued that this pattern of development suggests that Neanderthals may have had similar cognitive abilities as well. But some are skeptical of Zollikofer’s results, in part because the bones in newborn skulls are fragile and not fully fused, making it hard to produce accurate measurements. “I think [researchers] should not put cognition on the table every time they find a morphological difference between specimens,” commented Emiliano Bruner of the National Research Center on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain. 

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July 28, 2016

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, has been identified in the toe bone of a human ancestor who lived some 1.7 million years ago. A team of British and South African researchers noticed that the bone, unearthed in Swartkrans Cave in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, was not hollow, as it should have been. “So we compared it with modern biopsies of cancer patients and realized it was a malignant tumor,” biological and forensic anthropologist Patrick Randolph-Quinney of the University of Central Lancashire told The Telegraph. He explained that the painful tumor would have affected the individual’s mobility, and thus the ability to survive. A collaborating team of scientists also identified a benign tumor in the vertebrae of Karabo, the two-million-year-old remains of an Australopithecus sediba child discovered at the site of Malapa. “Modern medicine tends to assume that cancers and tumors in humans are diseases caused by modern lifestyles and environments, but our studies show the origins of these diseases occurred in our ancient relatives millions of years before modern industrial societies existed,” explained Edward Odes of the University of the Witswatersrand. To read more about Australopithecus sediba go to "The Human Mosaic."

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July 28, 2016

KALMAR, SWEDEN—Divers led by Lars Einarsson of the Kalmar County Museum have recovered a diamond ring, gold coins, and a black tin pot containing a thick, gooey substance that may be cheese from the Kronan, the seventeenth-century flagship of the Swedish navy. “It looks a bit like some kind of granular Roquefort cheese. It’s been in the mud, so it’s reasonably well preserved, but at the same time it has been at the bottom of the sea for 340 years,” Einarsson told The Local, Sweden. Scientists will analyze the contents of the pot to try to determine exactly what they are. The Kronan capsized and sank in bad weather during the Battle of Öland in 1676, and was discovered in the Baltic Sea in 1980. Remains of some of the 800 crew members who died in the vessel have been recovered to date, along with more than 20,000 artifacts. To read about the sinking of another great seventeenth-century Swedish ship, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

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July 27, 2016

GALILEE, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that a Roman-era workshop has been discovered the town of Shlomi, located in northern Israel. Ceramic vessels for wine and oil are thought to have been made at the factory, which featured a kiln with two chambers cut out of the chalky bedrock. One chamber would have held the pots being fired, while the other served as a firebox. Excavation director Joppe Gosker said that fragments of vessels made for transport over land and sea were found around the kiln. Live Science reports that most kilns at the time were constructed of stone, earth, and mud, rather than hewn from bedrock. To read in-depth about Roman-era ceramics, go to "Trash Talk."

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July 27, 2016

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Mark Tanaka of the University of New South Wales thinks that the use of fire by early humans may have triggered the development of tuberculosis as a deadly disease. Tanaka and a team of researchers used a mathematical model to investigate ways that Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is benign when it lives in soil and water, might have developed into a pathogen transmissible between people. Tanaka’s team found that adding fire to the equation increases the risk of just such a mutation. Campfires enjoyed by early humans could have caused smoke damage to lungs, making them more vulnerable to infection. Campfires may have also brought people together for longer periods of time, increasing the chance of disease transmission. “You get multiple sporadic cases, and most of them fail in the sense that they fail to evolve and so there are multiple failed chains of transmission, but eventually the right mutations come along and the whole thing is triggered,” Tanaka explained in an ABC News Australia report. To read about another study exploring ancient health, go to "Heart Attack of the Mummies."

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July 27, 2016

DURHAM, ENGLAND—A study led by Adriano Lameira, now of Durham University, suggests that ancestral great apes may have had control of their voices. It had been thought that great apes could only make sounds driven by arousal, but an adolescent orangutan named Rocky, who is housed at the Indianapolis Zoo, has produced more than 500 vowel-like calls in imitation of researchers. While working at the University of Amsterdam, Lameira and his team compared Rocky’s new calls with a database of recorded orangutan calls to make sure that they were learned sounds. “This opens up the potential for us to learn more about the vocal capacities of early hominids that lived before the split between the orangutan and the human lineages to see how the vocal system evolved towards full-blown speech in humans,” Lameira said in a UPI report. To read in-depth about a possible human ancestor, go to "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"

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July 26, 2016

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—The Texas General Land Office announced that Spanish colonial adobe bricks have been unearthed in Alamo Plaza just 23 inches below the modern surface. The poorly preserved bricks may have been part of the original, eighteenth-century western wall at the mission, or they may have been part of a structure that stood near the original mission. “Because we’ve got something from the Spanish colonial period, we know we are digging in the right place,” archaeologist Nesta Anderson said in a press conference reported in The Texas Tribune. “All we know right now is that we’ve got a wall,” she added. To read more about the Spainish colonial period in the Southwest, go to "Searching for the Comanche Empire."

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July 26, 2016

HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA—Temples built by the rulers of the Chamba Kingdom between the seventh and eleventh centuries A.D. were analyzed by Mayank Joshi and V.C. Thakur of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in an effort to assess the risk of future earthquakes in the region. Recent catastrophic earthquakes in nearby areas have killed tens of thousands of people, but the town of Chamba was unharmed. Chamba’s ancient buildings, however, do exhibit signs of earthquake damage, including tilted pillars on the Lakshmi Narayan temples and shifted rooftops on the Bharmour temple. “In case of the ground settling, there would not be a preferred orientation. It will be randomly oriented,” Joshi told Live Science. Joshi and Thakur suggest that the damage to the Chamba temples occurred in the 1555 Kashmir earthquake, whose epicenter is thought to be in the Srinagar Valley, some 125 miles away from Chamba. In fact, a temple built in 1762 showed no signs of earthquake damage. “This shows that the area has enough potential to produce great earthquakes similar to [the] 2005 Kashmir earthquake,” Joshi said. To read more about archaeology in India, go to "Oceans of Dharma."

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