BOULDER, COLORADO—Excavations under the direction of Payson Sheets of the University of Colorado, Boulder, continue at Cerén, a Maya village in El Salvador that was buried under 17 feet of volcanic ash in A.D. 660. Recent research suggests that the estimated 200 people who resided in the farming village lived with little influence from elites over their architecture, crop choices, religious activities, and economics. Among the 12 buildings that have been uncovered are living quarters, storehouses, workshops, kitchens, religious buildings, and a community sauna. Specialty items, including jade axes, have been found in most of the households. Sheets and his team think that the Cerén commoners may have traded with Maya elites in nearby towns for these objects. The team is also investigating a sacbe, or roadway made from packed ash, where they have found more than a dozen footprints to the south of the village. “More than half of the footprints were headed south away from the village, away from the danger. I think at least some of them were left by people fleeing the eruption,” Sheets said in a press release from the National Science Foundation. To read more about Cerén, go to "Off the Grid."
GRENOBLE, FRANCE—A small metal box unearthed from a seventeenth-century grave at the site of the Saint Laurent Church has been examined with X-ray imaging techniques developed at the European Synchrotron (ESRF). Conservators from the Centre de Restoration et d’Etude Archaeologique Municipal in Vienne, France, had not been able to open the badly damaged box and view its contents, but they were able to stop the oxidation process from inflicting further damage to it. They could also see through the box’s broken lid that it contained three coin-like artifacts. Scans were made by the ESRF team of the contents using phase contrast synchrotron X-ray micro-tomography. The 3-D images revealed that the coin-like objects were three religious medals made of clay. Two pearls were also seen in the box. The team then employed 3-D virtual lighting and rendering techniques to view the images on the medals. “It was only supposed to be a small feasibility study to produce an image for an exhibition. However, the results were so astounding that it turned into a full scale research project,” researcher Paul Tafforeau, who produced the images, said in a press release.
LONDON, ENGLAND—More than 5,000 artifacts have been found over a large area of the 14,000-year-old site of Les Varines on the Channel Island of Jersey, but this year the excavation team found denser concentrations of tools, burnt bones, and, for the first time, fragments of engraved stone. “We are at an early stage in our investigations, but we can already say the stones are not natural to the site, they show clear incised lines consistent with being made by stone tools, and they do not have any obvious functional role. Engraved works of abstract or figurative art on flat stones are part of the Magdalenian cultural package and one exciting possibility is that this is what we have here,” Silvia Bellow of the Natural History Museum said in a press release. Incised stones are known from Magdalenian camps in Germany and the south of France, but they are rare in northern France and the British Isles. “Although we are not yet sure of the exact age of the campsite, it might well represent some of the first hunter-gatherer communities to recolonize the north of Europe after the coldest period of the last Ice Age,” explained co-director Chantal Conneller of the University of Manchester. To read more about Paleolithic art, go to "New Life for the Lion Man."
MÜNSTER, GERMANY—A luxurious mosaic floor has been uncovered in a villa in the ancient Roman city of Doliche, which is located in Turkey, by a team of scholars from the University of Münster. “The city is one of the few places where Syrian urban culture from the Hellenistic-Roman era can currently still be studied,” Englebert Winter said in a press release. The political situation in the Middle East, development, and looting have prevented archaeologists from working in other sites from Roman Syria such as Apamea, Cyrrhus, and Antioch on the Orontes. “The most outstanding discovery of our excavations is a high-quality mosaic floor in a splendid complex of buildings with a court enclosed by columns that originally covered more than 100 square meters,” archaeologist Michael Blömer said in a press release. “Because of its size and the strict, well-composed sequence of filigran geometric patterns, the mosaic is one of the most beautiful examples of late antique mosaic art in the region,” he added. The site has also yielded houses, alleys, and water pipelines. Public areas of the city will be excavated next year. To read more about Roman-era mosaics in Turkey, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND—Researchers from the Idiap Research Institute of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Digital Humanities Laboratory of the College of Humanities are working with Maya epigraphers to create a digital catalog of Mayan hieroglyphs from the three codices that survived the Spanish conquest. They have analyzed thousands of symbols, some of which have been drawn in different ways over time and in different regions. “Each image tells a story. Sometimes we can guess their meaning with the help of people who still speak this language today, and also by using glossaries,” Idiap researcher Rui Hu said in a press release. This new tool will help scholars quickly identify a hieroglyph and its meaning, and see what common combinations of symbols in a block of text are. “This research is of great interest to Mayanists, given the potential of such novel multidisciplinary approaches for overcoming obstacles resulting from applying more traditional methods,” explained Carlos Pallán Gayol of Bonn University. The project could one day lead to a machine translation tool for Mayan iconography and writing. To read more about Mayan hieroglyphs, go to "The Maya Sense of Time."
FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA—Francis Smiley has built a collection of more than 900 epoxy resin lithic artifact casts at the lithic casting lab at Northern Arizona University. The casting processes uses grains of eroded rock to mold 3-D replicas of artifacts from North America, Europe, South America, and North Africa so that students can handle and study them. “The original artifacts are locked away in museums or private collections that are almost entirely inaccessible to students. The lithic casting process gives students and researchers hands-on experience with exact, museum-quality replicas of artifacts,” he explained in a press release. Some of the duplicated artifacts are more than two million years old, but Smiley focuses on replicating Clovis artifacts, which date back some 13,000 years. “Here, we get to experience all lithic technologies from every time period from around the world. Not only that, but we get to see actual data preserved in the casted stone. It’s pretty amazing,” commented graduate student Tim Murphy. To read about early peoples who may have predated Clovis, go to "Migrating Away From Clovis."
ANGLESEY, WALES—A Neolithic site that was in use for at least 1,000 years has been discovered on an island off the northwest coast of Wales at the site of a new school. “This settlement (at Llanfaethlu) has the best preserved houses and is the only one which has more than one house,” archaeologist Cat Rees told The Daily Post. The team has unearthed three buildings, and more than 2,000 flint, stone, and pottery artifacts. “We also have burnt hazelnuts, acorns, and seeds which will allow us to radiocarbon date the site and reconstruct the Neolithic diet,” she said. Archaeologist Matt Jones of CR Archeology added that the site may have been a stone ax factory, since stone imported from the quarries at Penmaenmawr has been found there. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Letter From Wales: Iron Age Hillforts."
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Ashley Sharpe of the University of Florida and Kitty Emery of the Florida Museum of Natural History examined 22,000 animal remains from three Maya sites in Guatemala—Aguateca, Piedras Negras, and Yaxchilan—that are held in the museum’s collections. “The Maya used animals for things like hides, tools, jewelry, and musical instruments, but they were also vitally important as emblems of status, royalty, and the symbolic world of the gods, and thus often were prime resources jealously guarded by the rich and powerful,” Emery said in a press release. They found that while the royalty ate animals that were considered prestigious delicacies, the middle-ranking elites used the widest variety of animals. The poor ate mostly fish and shellfish from local rivers. Animal products were also transported from deep in the forests and from the ocean to the city centers. “They had complicated systems in place for trade relations, distribution of food and access to species, which varied among the cities and social classes much like they do today,” Sharpe explained. To read more about the ancient Maya, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."
BARCELONA, SPAIN—Fossils from the site of Abocador Can Mata in Catalonia have been identified as a new genus and species, Pliobates cataloniae, by scientists from the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP). Dubbed “Laia,” this small adult female primate lived some 11.6 million years ago, before hominids and hylobatids, or gibbons, split from a last common ancestor, and shares features with living hominoids. “The origins of gibbons is a mystery because of the lack of fossil record, but until now most scientists thought that their last common ancestor with hominids must have been large, because all of the undoubted fossil hominoids found so far were large-bodied,” ICP researcher David M. Alba said in a press release. “This find overturns everything,” he said. Pliobates suggests that the last common ancestor of all living humans and apes might have been more similar to living gibbons than to the great apes than previously thought. In fact, some of Laia’s features are exclusive to extant gibbons. “This suggests that, alternately, Pliobates might be the sister group of extant gibbons only,” added Salvadore Moyà-Solà, ICREA researcher and director of the ICP. To read about another recently discovered species, go to "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—Archaeological sites in the Middle East will be documented with 3-D imaging technology by the Institute for Digital Archaeology (a partnership between Harvard University and the University of Oxford), The Dubai Museum of the Future Foundation, and UNESCO. The project team plans to take up to one million digital images of cultural heritage monuments by the end of 2015. This information would permit scholars to recreate ancient monuments through 3-D printing. “It is important to preserve heritage sites as they serve as a source of inspiration for innovators and pioneers to build the future. What we are doing today is part of our efforts to give back to the history of our region and build on the achievements of our rich past,” Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi of the Dubai Museum of the Future Foundation said in a press release. To read about efforts to 3-D scan archaeological sites, go to "The Past in Hi-Def."
CUZCO, PERU—Guards and conservation workers at the Peñas site in Ollantaytambo archaeological park have discovered a complex of Inca platforms, a food storeroom, and a ceremonial court in a 12-acre area that had been covered by vegetation. “We have cut away and removed the thick vegetation from the area and we will now proceed to make the corresponding study of the site. Later we will work up an emergency conservation project for this archaeological site whose existence was unknown up to now,” archaeologist and park manager Oscar Montufar told Fox News Latino. The platforms are thought to have been built to control landslides and to expand available land for agriculture. Construction of the Cuzco-Quillabamba highway in 1933 is thought to have caused some damage to the site.
BUCKINGHAM, ENGLAND—Last week, David Jacques of the University of Buckingham discovered a Stone Age dwelling near the constant-temperature spring at Blick Mead, about a mile away from Stonehenge. The house was constructed from a large tree that had fallen. The pit left by the tree’s roots was lined with stones, and the tree itself was used to make a flint-lined wall. A roof was fashioned from animal skins, and nearby, a stone hearth has also been uncovered. Large stones placed near the wall may have been heated in a fire and used for overnight warmth. “This is a key site for where Britain began. It is the only continuously occupied Mesolithic site in Western Europe and we believe the ‘eco’ home is the sort of place the first Brits lived in,” Jacques said in a press release. Plans to build a tunnel to accommodate Stonehenge traffic could destroy the site.
MELBOURNE, FLORIDA—Some scholars have argued that today’s Amazonian rainforests are the result of ancient managed landscapes, but a new study suggests that people who lived in Amazonian forests prior to the arrival of Europeans had dense settlements in areas near rivers and little impact at all on other areas. Dolores Piperno of the American Museum of Natural History and Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology examined plant fossils, estimates of mammal density, and information from remote sensing and human population modeling, and found that Amazonian forests in remote regions are slow-growing, fragile ecosystems that may be very vulnerable to logging, mining, and other disruptive enterprises. “Nobody doubts the importance of human actions along the major waterways. But whether humans had a greater impact on the ecosystem than any other large mammal has yet to be established in much of western Amazonia,” Bush explained in a press release. To read about work in Mesoamerican rainforests, go to "Lasers in the Jungle."
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A cache of Viking-era coins including some dating to the reign of Harald Bluetooth was found on the island of Omø by a Danish man with a metal detector. “A treasure like this is found once every ten to 15 years. It contains many items and is extremely well kept because it has been buried in sandy earth,” Hugo Hvid Sørensen, a curator from the Museum Vestsjælland, told The Copenhagen Post. The site was excavated by a team from the museum, where the treasure is now on display. “It’s very rare to have found so many Harald Bluetooth coins—one of the earliest coins of that era,” added Sørensen. To read more, go to "The First Vikings."
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Twenty-two shipwrecks have been discovered and mapped in a 17-square-mile area near Greece’s Fourni archipelago. The islands are in the middle of high-traffic routes that connected the Aegean to the Levant, the Black Sea regions, and Egypt. “Surpassing all expectations, over only 13 days we added 12 percent to the total of known ancient shipwrecks in Greek territorial waters,” Peter Campbell of the University of Southampton and the RPM Nautical Foundation told Discovery News. The wrecks range in age from the Archaic Period (700-480 B.C) through the sixteenth century A.D. More than half of them date to the Late Roman Period (300-600 A.D.). “What is astonishing is not only the number of the shipwrecks but also the diversity of the cargoes, some of which have been found for the first time,” said underwater archaeologist George Koutsouflakis. Three of those cargoes include Archaic pots from the island of Samos, second-century A.D. amphoras from the Black Sea region, and carrot-shaped amphoras from Sinop, which is located on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. The team expects to find many more wrecks along the archipelago’s coastline next season. To read more about underwater archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Twelve mitochondrial genomes from two lineages of the White Plymouth Rock chicken, which has a well-documented pedigree, have been sequenced by an international team of scientists. The researchers found that in one case, mitochondrial DNA was passed from a father to its offspring, and overall, the rate of mutation since the two lineages split is up to 30 times faster than had been thought. Two mutations occurred within the past 50 years, or a rate of four percent per million years, rather than one percent per million years. “If we use an incorrect mutation rate, then our estimates of the timing of chicken domestication will be very wrong,” Simon Ho of Sydney University told ABC News Australia. Chickens are thought to have been carried by the people who colonized the islands of the Pacific Ocean. “We may be able to apply this new rate to our data and see whether the dates for the original chickens in the islands and Southeast Asia and their movement out into the South Pacific correlates well with radiocarbon dating of human remains along that translocation route,” commented Jeremy Austin of the University of Adelaide. For more about archaeology and chickens, go to "Kon Tiki Fried Chicken?"
WARSAW, POLAND—Researchers from the University of Warsaw are studying the ancient temple at Gebelein in Upper Egypt, and they are employing new technology that will help to bring its damaged and faded decorations and inscriptions to life. The temple was dedicated to Hathor, and perhaps Amun-Ra, and it was constructed and first decorated during the reign of Hatshepsut, in the fifteenth century B.C. (Fragments of preserved inscriptions contain feminine word endings for the queen’s name.) “Perhaps, many years after her death, due to a complicated dynastic situation, Tuthmosis III was afraid that another ambitious queen might take over and push his own son away from power? This could lead to his decision to remove references to Hatshepsut as pharaoh, according to the principle—if it is not engraved in hieroglyphics, it never happened. But this is one of many theories. Why he wanted to erase her name is still a mystery,” expedition director Wojciech Ejsmond told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The team also plans to remove the debris from the floor of the temple and look for artifacts from the period. To read about another ancient Egyptian temple, go to "The Cult of Amun."
LARAMIE, WYOMING—A team of scientists from the University of Wyoming compiled radiocarbon dates from the fossils of now-extinct animals from North and South America, and looked at how those dates correspond to the evidence of human colonization of the New World. They found that, as geoscientist Paul Martin predicted in 1973, the decline and extinction of mammoths, mastodons, camels, horses, and ground sloths can be used to map the spread of the migrating humans who hunted them for food. Large mammals began to disappear from Alaska and the areas near the Bering Strait between 13,300 and 15,000 years ago; from the contiguous United States between 12,900 and 13,200 years ago; and from South America between 12,600 and 13,900 years ago. “The north to south time-transgressive pattern is striking, and, barring significant new data, it would be difficult to reconcile this pattern with the extinction hypotheses that invoke a single climatic, ecological or catastrophic extinction mechanism across the entirety of the Americas,” the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported in a press release. For more, go to "New Dates Link Humans to Australia's Megafauna Extinctions."
FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—Archaeologist Ben Potter of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and geneticists Dennis O’Rourke and Justin Tackney of the University of Utah have analyzed mitochondrial DNA recovered from the remains of two infants found at the Upward Sun River site in Interior Alaska. The cremated remains of a three-year-old child were also recovered at the site, but they did not yield any genetic material. “These infants are the earliest human remains in northern North America and they carry distinctly Native American lineages. These genetic variations had not previously been known to have existed this far north and speak to the early genetic diversity of the time,” O’Rourke said in a press release. O’Rourke adds that “there had to be a period of isolation for these distinctive Native American lineages to have evolved away from their Asian ancestors. We believe that was in Beringia.” Human remains older than 8,000 years have been found at only eight sites in North America, and all five major Native American lineages have been found in them. “That indicates they were present in the early population in Beringia that gave rise to all modern Native Americans,” Tackney explained. To read more, go to "America, in the Beginning."
CINCINNATI, OHIO—The tomb of a wealthy warrior who had been buried with more than 1,400 artifacts, including jewels and beads made from precious stones, ivory objects, weapons, armor, and vessels made from precious metals has been discovered in southwestern Greece by a team of archaeologists led by researchers from the University of Cincinnati. Many of the objects are in the Minoan style and may have been brought from Crete. The tomb dates to 1500 B.C. and was originally thought to be the corner of a house located in the area of the Palace of Nestor, but the excavators soon realized that they had found an undisturbed grave shaft. “This latest find is not the grave of the legendary King Nestor, who headed a contingent of Greek forces at Troy in Homer’s Iliad. Nor is it the grave of his father, Neleus. This find may be even more important because the warrior predates the time of Nestor and Neleus by, perhaps, 200 or 300 years. That means he was likely an important figure at a time when this part of Greece was being indelibly shaped by close contact with Crete, Europe’s first advanced civilization,” team co-leader Sharon Stocker said in the University of Cincinnati Magazine. To read more about the period, go to "The Minoans of Crete."