REYKJAVIK, ICELAND—Traces of a Viking longhouse dating between A.D. 870 and 930, the first years of settlement in Iceland, were discovered in central Reykjavik while archaeologists were looking for a house built in the late eighteenth-century. “We have no records of any building on this spot other than the cottage built in 1799. The cottage was built on a meadow with no remnants of anything else,” Lisabet Guðmundsdóttir of the Icelandic Institute of Archaeology told The Iceland Monitor. The building was at least 60 feet long, and its “long fire,” a hearth that stretched down the middle of the structure, was more than 15 feet long. The excavation team has also uncovered weaving implements within the building and a silver ring and a pearl near it. “The find came as a great surprise for everybody. This rewrites the history of Reykjavik,” said preservationist Þorsteinn Bergsson of Minjavernd.
ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—Stone artifacts have been found in Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, suggesting that people were in the Cairngorm Mountains as early as 8,000 years ago, or thousands of years earlier than had been previously thought. At this time after the last ice age, there were permanent snow fields in the region and glaciers may have even been reforming. “It is incredible to think that what we have discovered at this one spot in a vast landscape may represent a small group of people stopping for only a night or two, repairing their hunting equipment and then moving on,” Shannon Fraser of the National Trust for Scotland said in a press release. “Glen Geldie is a very chilly place today, even with all our modern outdoor clothing—it is hard to imagine what it must have been like in the much harsher climate 8,000 years ago,” he added.
MITCHELL, SOUTH DAKOTA—Charred corncobs, kernels of corn, and sunflowers have been unearthed by students from Augustana College and England’s University of Exeter at a 1,000-year-old site along Lake Mitchell in southern South Dakota. “This village isn’t the origin of prehistoric agriculture, but it is one of the key sites in understanding what was done here,” professor Adrien Hannus of Augustana College told The Mitchell Republic. The corn cobs are about the size of an adult finger and were probably roasted or boiled whole. “You can see that the corn kernels are about the same size, but the cobs were a lot smaller and there were a lot fewer kernels on the cobs,” added Alan Outram from the University of Exeter. The storage pits, where the cobs and seeds were found, were eventually used for trash and capped with clay and ash.
HAMILTON, ONTARIO—Spencer Pope of McMaster University, Peter Schultz of Concordia College, and David Scahill of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens think that the city-state of ancient Athens may have stored reserves of coins in the Parthenon’s attic. Writers in antiquity noted that the Athenian reserves sometimes reached 10,000 talents—a staggering sum of silver coins that could have potentially weighed 260 metric tons. However, the ancient records do not mention exactly where on the Acropolis the coins were stored. Very little of the Parthenon’s attic still exists, but estimates suggest that it was 62 feet wide by 164 long, with a floor made of thick beams of wood from cypress trees. There are also remnants of a utilitarian staircase that could have been used to move money to and from the attic, where coins could have been spread across the floor space to distribute their weight. “The attic of the Parthenon is the only suitable space large enough to hold all of the coins in the Treasury. While we cannot rule out the possibility that coins were distributed across numerous buildings, we should recall that the attic is the most secure space,” Pope told Live Science. To read more about money from this period, go to "Mysterious Greek Coins Studied."
DAQAHLIYAH, EGYPT—Polish archaeologists digging at Tel Al-Farkha have unearthed four Pre-Dynastic tombs, according to a report in Ahram Online. Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty announced that three of the tombs are in poor condition, but that the fourth, a small mastaba with two chambers, is well preserved. It contained pottery such as beer jars and bowls, stone vessels of different shapes and sizes, and carnelian beads, in addition to human remains. Marek Chlodnicki, head of the Polish team, added that two buildings were also found near the tomb. One of them is rectangular in shape, had thick walls, and was located along a courtyard. The second building was built during the second half of the First Dynasty, and had double mud-brick walls. A brewery with the remnants of two vats was also unearthed at the site. To read more about the Pre-Dynastic period, go to "Mummification Before the Pharaohs."
RENO, NEVADA—An international team of scientists has analyzed more than 20 ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica and reconstructed the climate timeline for the first millennium. “Ice-core timescales had been misdated previously by five to ten years during the first millennium leading to inconsistencies in the proposed timing of volcanic eruptions relative to written documentary and tree-ring evidence recording the climatic responses to the same eruptions,” Francis Ludlow of the Yale Climate & Energy Institute explained in The Telegraph. The new study of ice cores, combined with historic records from around the world, suggests that two huge volcanic eruptions in North America could have caused the sixth-century dust clouds that led to widespread famine and disease in Europe, and even the fall of the Roman Empire. “Our new dating allowed us to clarify long-standing debates concerning the origin and consequences of the severe and global climate anomalies which began with the mystery cloud in A.D. 536 observed in the Mediterranean basin,” said Michael Sigl of the Desert Research Institute and the Paul Scherrer Institute.
YAMAGATA, JAPAN—A team from Yamagata University has found an additional 24 images etched into the dust in urban areas of Nazca, Peru, using a 3-D scanner. The geoglyphs, many of which are heavily eroded, date from 400 to 200 B.C., and are thought to be older than other Nazca Line images such as the hummingbird. Most of the newly found drawings depict llamas. “There are no other areas concentrated with this many examples. Yet with both urban areas and farmland encroaching on the drawings, they are under the threat of being destroyed without being recognized as geoglyphs,” Masato Sakai of Yamagata University told The Asahi Shimbun.
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Some 2,000 spirals made of gold have been unearthed in a field in southwestern Zealand, where four gold bracelets and six gold bowls have been found in the past. The spirals date to the Bronze Age, between 900 and 700 B.C. “Maybe the spirals were fastened to the threads lining a hat or parasol. Maybe they were woven into hair or embroidered on a ceremonial garb. The fact is that we do not know, but I am inclined to believe that they were part of a priest-king’s garb or part of some headwear,” Flemming Kaul of the Danish National Museum said in a Danish-language press release reported in The Local. The site has now yielded the most gold jewelry and other artifacts by weight from the northern European Bronze Age. “The sun was one of the holy symbols in the Bronze Age and gold was presumably seen as having some sort of particular magic power. It is colored like the sun, it shines like the sun, and because gold lasts forever, it was also seen as containing some of the sun’s power,” Kaul said. To read more in-depth about the Bronze Age, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."
MEGIDDO, ISRAEL—The second and third century A.D. permanent headquarters of Rome’s Sixth Legion Ferrata have been discovered at the site of Legio, located near Tel Megiddo in northern Israel. One of two imperial legions sent to the region, the Sixth Legion Ferrata helped keep order in Galilee during the Bar Kochba Revolt between A.D. 132 and 135. Conducted by the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research as part of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project, the excavations have uncovered ceramic roofing tiles marked with the sign of the Sixth Ironclad Legion, clay pipes, sewer channels, streets, and several buildings, including one that may have been the residence of the commander. “We’re talking about a large camp, an imperial camp, one of about 5,000 soldiers, about 984 feet by 1,640 feet,” Yotam Tepper of the Israel Antiquities Authority told The Times of Israel. “Our entire understanding about Roman military architecture, and especially Roman legionary bases for this particular period…comes from the western empire—Germany, Britain, and Gaul,” added Matthew J. Adams of the Albright Institute. To read more about Roman military fortifications, go to "Rome's Earliest Fort."
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—For the first time, scientists have visualized the brain within a 15 million-year-old monkey skull that was discovered in 1997 on an island in Kenya’s Lake Victoria. Fred Spoor of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Lauren Gonzales of Duke University used high resolution x-ray imaging and created a 3-D computer model of Victoriapithecus’s tiny brain, and determined that it was more complex than they had expected. The brain has numerous wrinkles and folds, and its olfactory bulb is three times larger than anticipated. “It probably had a better sense of smell than many monkeys and apes living today,” Gonzales said in a press release. It had been thought that early primate brains evolved to be larger first and then more folded and complex. “But this study is some of the hardest proof that in monkeys, the order of events was reversed—complexity came first and bigger brains came later,” she said.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—A team of scientists from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and the University of Manchester examined DNA samples from more than 2,200 people from 43 populations around the world and found that different populations tend to have different gene sequences for OR7D4, a receptor on human smell cells that allows people to detect androstenone, a smell produced by pigs and found in boar meat. Androstenone makes the pork from uncastrated boars taste unpleasant to people who can smell it. Statistical analysis of the frequencies of the different forms of the gene in different populations suggests that it might have been subject to natural selection. Populations from Africa tend to be able to smell androstenone, suggesting that human ancestors were able to as well. Pigs were originally domesticated in Asia, where many people now have a reduced sensitivity to androstenone. The team, led by Kara Hoover of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, also examined DNA for OR7D4 from Neanderthal and Denisovans from Siberia. Neanderthals would have been able to smell androstenone, but Denisovans had a unique mutation that changed the structure of the OR7D4 receptor. Hiroaki Matsunami of Duke University found that the Denisovan sense of smell was not changed by this mutation, however, and that these early humans would have been able to smell the compound. For more on Neanderthals and Denisovans, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."
POZNAŃ, POLAND—At a cemetery in Gebel Ramlah, an area of Egypt’s Western Desert near the border of Sudan, archaeologists led by Jacek Kabaciński of the Polish Academy of Sciences unearthed the 6,500-year-old burials of 60 adults. One of the graves contained the remains of two individuals. Deliberate cuts on the femur, which have not been seen in other Neolithic burials in North Africa, were found on one of these skeletons. Another unusual grave had been lined with stone slabs, and in a third burial, the team found the remains of a man whose body had been covered with pottery fragments, stones, and lumps of red dye. A fragment of a Dorcas gazelle skull with horns found near his head may have been a ceremonial headdress. This skeleton also showed signs of abnormal bone adhesions and fractures. According to a report in Science & Scholarship in Poland, Kabaciński and his team think this man may have performed rites associated with hunting. To read more about this period, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."
SALEKHARD, RUSSIA—A birch-bark coffin has been removed from Zeleny Yar, a medieval site on the edge of the Siberian Arctic. Similar burials from the site have contained mummified remains. “The mummification was natural. It was a combination of factors: the bodies were overlain with copper sheets, parts of copper kettles, and together with the permafrost, this it gave the preserving effect,” Alexander Gusev of the Research Center for the Study of the Arctic told The Siberian Times. Five of the mummies from the site that had been shrouded in copper had also been buried with reindeer, beaver, wolverine, or bear furs. One man had also been wearing a head ornament in the shape of a bear and had been buried with an iron hatchet. Metal has been detected within the newly discovered birch bark coffin, thought to date to the twelfth or thirteenth century. “It follows the contours of the human body. If there is really a mummy, the head and skull are likely to be in good condition. We think it is a child, maybe a teenager. The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in a special freezer,” Gusev added. His team will open the “cocoon” later this month. To read more about archaeology in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude."
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—A team from Wessex Archaeology has found items left by American soldiers who trained for the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on Salisbury Plain—usually noted for Stonehenge and other prehistoric archaeological sites. The artifacts include spoons and plates, cans of cooking oil, 16 intact containers of sunscreen, packages of bacon and lard, and bottles of sauce. “The state of preservation of the provisions shows how well made they were,” a spokesperson for Wessex Archaeology told BBC News. “It’s evidence of US military presence on Salisbury Plain and the surrounding area. Sadly, there were no contents left in the tins of sliced bacon.” The artifacts will be housed in the Salisbury Museum. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of World War II."
CROWNSVILLE, MARLYAND—While looking for traces of French troops thought to have camped at Belvoir, an eighteenth-century plantation, during the Revolutionary War, archaeologists uncovered a 34-by-34-foot structure with a stone foundation and brick walls and floors that, according to the 1798 tax roll, housed slaves close to the brick plantation house. “There was a large front room with a kitchen hearth for cooking, meals, and socializing. In the rear were two rooms, perhaps with bunk beds in one and a family’s quarters in another,” Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the State Highway Administration, told The Capital Gazette. The large kitchen hearth, where meals may have been prepared for the plantation house, shared a chimney with two smaller hearths, one in each of the back rooms. Similar buildings have been found listed in historic documents, but this is the first time that a square, stone and brick structure has been unearthed in the Chesapeake. The tax roll also lists a log structure on the property that may have housed field laborers. To read more about the archaeology of slavery, go to "Free Before Emancipation."
GRANADA, SPAIN—Analysis of human remains from a burial site at Cova do Santo in northwestern Spain suggests that the diet eaten by the local residents between 1800 and 1600 B.C. consisted mostly of plant food. Stable isotopes from the bone collagen of at least 14 men, women, and children indicate that they ate little meat or fish, despite living near the Sil River. “There are no significant differences between individuals in terms of diet, so access to food resources must have been similar, regardless of sex or age,” Olalla López-Costas of the University of Granada said in a press release. López-Costas and her team think that the Bronze Age diet in northwestern Iberia may have included millet earlier than had been previously thought, although they cannot confirm it. Millet crops “give a high yield in a short time, which probably helped people become more sedentary and the excess of production could have contributed to the construction of a social hierarchy,” she said. To read more about the period, go to "Bronze Age Palace & Royal Burial Unearthed in Spain."
MATSURRA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that underwater archaeologists surveying the waters off the island of Takashima have located the remains a second shipwreck that was part of one of the two 13th-century Mongol invasions that were destroyed by the “divine wind” (Kamikaze) typhoons. Artifacts from the second invasion, in 1281, have been found around Takashima Island, and a vessel from that fleet was discovered in 2011. The recently discovered ship is estimated to have been 65 feet long and around 20 feet wide and was carrying 13th-century Chinese ceramics, as well as ironware that positively identified it as a ship belonging to one of the two doomed Mongol fleets. “We have successfully confirmed the two ships from the Mongolian invasion, and further research on them is expected to lead to the discovery of even more sunken Mongolian ships,” said University of the Ryukyus archaeologist Yoshifumi Ikeda. To read more about some of the most important underwater discoveries made by archaeologists, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS—In the 1980s, archaeologists excavating a Hopewell Culture (ca. 100 B.C.–A.D. 400) burial mound 50 miles north of St. Louis found the remains of 22 adults buried in a ring around an infant. They also discovered the skeleton of a small animal, which they assumed was a puppy, buried with a necklace made of marine shells and bear teeth. The Hopewell people were known to bury dogs in village sites, so the discovery did not strike the team as unusual. But more recently, Max Planck Institute zooarchaeologist Angela Perri, a specialist in canine burials, examined the remains and made a startling discovery. "As soon as I saw the skull, I knew it was definitely not a puppy,” Perri told Science. “It was a cat of some kind.” She determined the remains belonged to a bobcat that was no more than seven months old when it died and found no marks on the bones that would suggest it had been sacrificed. “It shocked me to my toes,” says the Illinois State Archaeological Survey's Kenneth Farnsworth. “I’ve never seen anything like it in almost 70 excavated mounds. Somebody important must have convinced other members of the society that it must be done. I’d give anything to know why.” To read more about this period, go to "Who Were the Hopewell?"
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—A team led by University of Sydney archaeologist Alison Carter is excavating the site of an ordinary house at Ankor Wat. Until now, researchers have concentrated their efforts on the more spectacular remains of the capital of the Khmer Empire, which flourished between the ninth and fifteenth centuries A.D. “We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the temples and inscriptions and the elite members of the society, but there’s still so much that can be learned about the regular people who were contributing to the Angkorian empire," Carter told the Phnom Penh Post "I hope that this project can spark some interest in those regular people.” So far, the team has unearthed a number of ceramics related to cooking. They hope to find evidence that will give scholars a clearer picture of diet and agricultural practices of the time. To read more about work at Angkor, go to "Remapping the Khmer Empire."
GIANUTTRI, ITALY—An impressive ancient Roman villa that has been closed to the public for more than a decade has reopened for visitors, according to Discovery News. The so-called “Villa Domitia,” named after the family of the Domitii Ahenobarbi who likely owned it, the sprawling seaside property located on a tiny island in Tuscany near the island of Giglio, the location of the Costa Concordia shipwreck three and a half years ago. Because there was no fresh water or raw materials on the island, according to Paola Rendini, the archaeological superintendent of Tuscany, it was a “huge task” for the Romans to bring the luxuries of a sprawling seaside villa to this harsh location. To read about the re-opening of one of Pompeii’s most famous houses, go to “House of the Chaste Lovers.”