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First Farmers May Have Practiced “Unconscious Selection”

May 19, 2017

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—ZME Science reports that scientists from the University of Sheffield examined the possible origins of agriculture by analyzing the sizes of the seeds of a range of crops thought to have been domesticated thousands of years ago. According to Colin Osborne and his team, the size of the seeds would not be directly affected if hunter-gatherers selected vegetable plants for their food value—leaves, stems, roots, or fruit. Changes in these seed sizes could have been the result of natural selection acting on cultivated crops, or genetic links between seed size and other plant characteristics such as the overall size of the plant, or the size of the crop yield. The researchers found that the seeds of seven vegetables did get bigger due to domestication, even in the case of crops such as sweet potato, which is propagated with tubers. Osborne noted that the sizes of grains, lentils, and beans, where the seed is eaten, were significantly larger than the seeds of vegetable crops. He also suggests that early changes to crops raised by the first farmers were unintended, and may have been the result of sowing wild plants in cultivated soil and then caring for them. For more on the archaeology of agriculture, go to “Mapping Maya Cornfields.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Hopewell Metal Beads

May 18, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Nature reports that tube-shaped beads found in a 2,000-year-old Native American grave in Illinois were made from shards of the Anoka meteorite, which landed in central Minnesota, more than 400 miles away. The 22 beads, found in 1945, were made by people of the Hopewell culture, and were found along with more than 1,000 shell and pearl beads. An earlier study had ruled out the Anoka meteor as the source of the material for the iron-nickel beads. But Timothy McCoy and his colleagues at the National Museum of Natural History compared the beads to a second chunk of the meteor and found that both the beads and the new piece of space rock contain micrometer-sized granules of iron enriched with nickel. Further tests indicated that the beads and the meteor were a near-perfect match. McCoy added that bands of a brittle mineral that extend through the Anoka meteorite would have made it possible to break off a lump of it. He also experimented with producing beads with a piece of the metal, a wood fire, and a stone hammer—and noted that making the beads must have been a very slow process. “You wonder how many failed experiments there were,” he commented. To read about another discovery associated with the Hopewell culture, go to “Baby Bobcat.”

Categories: Blog

Graves Exhumed at 19th-Century Georgia Cemetery

May 18, 2017

ATHENS, GEORGIA—The Athens Banner-Herald reports that a portion of a cemetery was unearthed at the campus of the University of Georgia in 2015 by archaeologist Laurie Reitsema and her students and colleagues. About one third of the 105 graves that were excavated contained enough material to attempt mitochondrial DNA analysis. The tests revealed that most of the people buried in the cemetery were of African descent, and were probably enslaved, since the cemetery closed about ten years before the start of the Civil War. One burial is known to date to after the Civil War, however, since it included two nickels minted sometime between 1867 and 1883. Two of the children buried in the cemetery suffered from syphilis, which can be passed from mother to child. A low rate of arthritis was also observed, when compared to the remains of enslaved people whose remains were uncovered at a nineteenth-century plantation in Charleston. Reitsema suggests this could indicate the difference between the work performed by those living on plantations and those living in towns. For more on the archaeology slavery, go to “Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation.”

Categories: Blog

New Dates Obtained for Al Badiyah Mosque

May 18, 2017

FUJAIRAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—According to a report in Gulf News, the Al Badiyah Mosque may be more than 150 years younger than had been previously believed. Geochemist Julie Retrum of the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi and archaeologist Michele Ziolkowski sent samples of the farush blocks used to construct the mosque to the University of Minnesota, where trace amounts of uranium preserved in the coral were tested with a technique known as uranium-thorium radiometric dating. The scientists also tested blocks from two coastal watchtowers. The test results suggest the mosque was built in the sixteenth century. Earlier excavations at the site recovered charcoal fragments dated to between 1450 and 1655, and pottery and porcelain fragments dated to the sixteenth century. Retrum and Ziolkowski think the mosque was probably standing by 1599, when the Portuguese controlled trade in the Arabian Sea, and Portuguese documents refer to the presence of a fort in Bidiya. “This research has helped to throw new light on the ages of some of Fujairah’s historic buildings,” Ziolkowski said. To read about a recent discovery in the area, go to “Bronze Age Bling.”

Categories: Blog

Students Uncover 1,400-Year-Old Buddha Statue in India

May 17, 2017

ODISHA, INDIA—The Odisha Sun Times reports that students from Utkal University have discovered a 1,400-year-old statue of the Buddha with a seven-headed snake in eastern India. They found the statue buried three feet beneath a banyan tree whose roots had grown over it. “The recent discovery shows that the Buddhists were residing in the Banapur area in Khurda district earlier [than had been previously thought],” said team leader Anam Behera. The seven-headed snake is said to have protected the Buddha while he meditated over a period of seven rainy days. For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

Categories: Blog

Human Bones Found Under South Korea’s Wolseong Palace

May 17, 2017

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA—The AFP reports that the bones of two people were found side-by-side under a western corner wall of Wolseong Palace, the capital of the Silla Kingdom, established in 57 B.C. The people are thought to have been sacrificed sometime during the fifth century A.D., and then to have been buried under the foundation. “This is the first archaeological evidence that folklore about humans being sacrificed for the foundations of buildings, dams, or walls were true stories,” said spokeswoman Choi Moon-Jung of the Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage. The human remains will be examined in order to try to determine the health, diet, and characteristics of the individuals. DNA tests will also be attempted. For more on Korean archaeology, go to “Guide to the Afterlife.”

Categories: Blog

Early Silk Road Settlement Found in Uzbekistan

May 17, 2017

MING-TEPE, UZBEKISTAN—The Daily Sabah reports that a 2,000-year-old Silk Road settlement, including a tomb, a workshop, and a garrison for travelers, has been discovered in Central Asia’s Ferghana Valley by a team of archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the Institute of Archaeology of Uzbekistan. The city is thought to have been part of the Hellenistic Dayuan Kingdom, said in ancient accounts to have linked the descendants of Greek colonists and Chinese civilization. “Chinese and foreign archaeologists are carrying out collaborative work for the re-exploration of the Silk Road,” explained Chen Xingcan, director of CASS. For more on archaeology of the Silk Road, go to “The Price of Tea in China.”

Categories: Blog

East African Hominin Diet Studied

May 17, 2017

TEMPE, ARIZONA—According to a report in The International Business Times, a study by Joshua Robinson, John Rowan, Christopher Campisano, and Kaye Reed of Arizona State University, and Jonathan Wynn of the University of South Florida, analyzed animal and hominin fossils to learn about the environment in areas of East Africa between 3.5 and one million years ago, since it has been suggested that a change from woody forests to cooler grassy plains might be connected to the emergence of the genus Homo. Stable isotopes preserved in fossilized teeth indicate whether animals fed on the leaves of woody trees, or if they ate grasses from arid, open plains. The researchers analyzed these isotopes in a 2.8 million-year-old Homo fossilized jaw, which was discovered at the site of Ledi-Geraru in Ethiopia, and is about 400,000 years older than the previously oldest known Homo fossil. The test results suggest this individual ate a diet similar to other animals that lived in the region during the same time period, even though some of those animals ate a diet based on tree leaves prior to 2.8 million years ago. The early Homo diet, however, was also similar to that eaten by Australopithecus, implying that a change in diet did not coincide with the origin of Homo. For more, go to “The Human Mosaic.”

Categories: Blog

Artifacts Repatriated to Peru

May 16, 2017

CHICLAYO, PERU—Andina reports that an American citizen has handed over nine owl-head ornaments and one copper disc ornament thought to have been crafted by the Mochica and Lambayeque cultures to the Lord of Sipán Royal Tombs Museum. He had acquired the artifacts 28 years ago from an antiquities dealer in Lima. “They resemble [Lord of] Sipán pieces and might belong to other tombs around him,” said museum director Walter Alva, who excavated the tomb of the Moche Lord of Sipán, discovered at Huaca Rajada in 1987. Alva estimates the owl heads, associated with night and priests, are about 1,300 to 1,400 years old. The copper disc ornament is probably about 700 years old, he added. For more, go to “Peruvian Woman of Means.”

Categories: Blog

Bolivia’s Tiwanaku Citadel Surveyed

May 16, 2017

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA—The Latin America Herald Tribune reports that the archaeological complex at Tiwanaku spans some 1,675 acres, and is thus larger than had been previously thought. Archaeologist Jose Ignacio Gallegos led a team that employed topographic imagery, satellite technology, and drone flights to make plans for the conservation of the site. The survey also revealed a large underground plaza and two platforms that may be part of a pyramid. There may even be as many as 100 circular houses, a network of water channels, and another temple buried at the site. “It’s going to change the focus and many theories will be enriched or complemented, but mainly it will allow us to make a …reinterpretation of what [Tiwanaku] was,” said Julio Condori, director of the Centro de Investigaciones Arqueologicas Antropologicas y Administracion de Tiwanaku. Plans to excavate later this year are being made. To read about another discovery made using remote sensing, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Teutonic Castle Uncovered in Poland

May 16, 2017

TORUŃ, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a thirteenth-century castle has been unearthed in north-central Poland. The structure, built on a steep slope in Unislaw overlooking the Vistula River valley, is thought to have been first built by the Teutonic Knights. “It consisted of the high castle and two wards,” said team leader Bogusz Wasik of Nicolaus Copernicus University. The high castle, he explained, measured only about 100 feet long. A small courtyard was situated in front of the buildings. Ceramics, animal bones, eggshells, and fish bones and scales were found in a kitchen area. Other artifacts include a knife and armor plates. The castle was captured and destroyed during the Thirteen Years’ War, when the Teutonic Knights were eventually defeated by Poland and the Prussian Confederation. The castle was annexed to Poland and rebuilt, but was destroyed again in the seventeenth century during the Polish-Swedish wars. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

Categories: Blog

Cachette of Mummies Discovered in Central Egypt

May 16, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a team from Cairo University discovered an unmarked burial site containing a collection of 17 mummies dating to the Late Period at Tuna Al-Gabal, also known as the necropolis of Khmun, located in central Egypt. Salah El-Kholi, head of the project, said that a radar survey of the area revealed the burial shafts, which also contained limestone and clay sarcophagi. The two clay sarcophagi are anthropoid coffins, one of which is damaged. Two papyri inscribed with Demotic script and a gold, feather-shaped decoration were also found. “This feather could be decoration on the hair dress of one of the deceased,” said El-Kholi. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “Messengers to the Gods.”

Categories: Blog

15th-Century Printed Page Discovered in Archive

May 13, 2017

READING, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that librarian Erika Delbecque found a page from a Latin text of instructions for priests known as the Sarum Ordinal or Sarum Pye in an archive at the University of Reading. The book was printed in late 1476 or early 1477 by William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England, with black text, red paragraph marks, and double-sided pages. Delbecque said that the page is one of only two surviving fragments of the medieval book, which fell out of use after the Reformation. The rare leaf had been pasted into another book to reinforce its spine for about 300 years, until it was recovered at the University of Cambridge around 1820. The University of Reading purchased the page 20 years ago as part of a collection belonging to a typographer. To read in-depth about the search for medieval manuscripts, go to "Recovering Hidden Texts."

Categories: Blog

Millstone Found at Cleveland Park Site

May 13, 2017

CLEVELAND, TENNESSEE—According to a report in The Cleveland Banner, a large millstone was discovered near Taylor Spring in downtown Cleveland, the site where the city’s first residents are thought to have settled. A city public works crew found the stone while picking up litter and debris near the spring, and hauled it away as garbage. But a local resident noticed what had happened and contacted a historian, who alerted the crew’s director to the potential value of the find. City historian Bob George said that although it appears that the stream and spring at the site are not powerful enough to turn a millstone, there may have been dams at one time to increase the force of the water. He added that millstone may have belonged to the Cleveland Milling Company, which owned the property in 1906. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "Empire of Glass."

Categories: Blog

Millstone Found at Cleveland Park Site

May 13, 2017

CLEVELAND, OHIO—According to a report in The Cleveland Banner, a large millstone was discovered near Taylor Spring in downtown Cleveland, the site where the city’s first residents are thought to have settled. A city public works crew found the stone while picking up litter and debris near the spring, and hauled it away as garbage. But a local resident noticed what had happened and contacted a historian, who alerted the crew’s director to the potential value of the find. City historian Bob George said that although it appears that the stream and spring at the site are not powerful enough to turn a millstone, there may have been dams at one time to increase the force of the water. He added that millstone may have belonged to the Cleveland Milling Company, which owned the property in 1906. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "Empire of Glass."

Categories: Blog

Scottish Soldiers Remembered in Durham

May 12, 2017

DURHAM, ENGLAND—The National reports that Durham University hosted an event to commemorate the lives of the Scottish soldiers taken prisoner after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 and imprisoned in Durham. A plaque in Durham Cathedral, which had stated that the soldiers’ burial place was unknown, has been updated, and a new plaque has been placed in the courtyard at Palace Green Library. The remains of some 1,700 of these men were found in a mass grave during the construction of the library, which began four years ago. Researchers have studied the remains to learn about the lives of the Scottish soldiers who died while imprisoned in England, and they have tracked down what happened to those who survived the battle and imprisonment. Their descendants were consulted in the creation of the new plaque, made of stone quarried at the site of the Battle of Dunbar. “It is our intention through this project to give these individuals a voice in our history,” explained Stuart Corbridge, vice-chancellor and warden of Durham University. The soldiers’ remains will eventually be reburied in a cemetery close to the original site of the mass grave. To read an in-depth article about the prisoners, go to "After the Battle." 

Categories: Blog

1,800-Year-Old Kiln Uncovered in Verulamium

May 12, 2017

HERTFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—St. Alban’s Review reports that an 1,800-year-old kiln has been unearthed at Verulamium, a Roman town in southeastern England. Archaeologists found the kiln deep underground, ahead of the installation of a new gas pipe. “To find another ancient pottery kiln is a wonderful surprise,” said Councillor Annie Brewster. Recent excavations at the ancient site also uncovered a townhouse and the absence of a tower expected at the corner of the city walls. To read more about Roman Britain, go to “The Wall at the End of the Empire.”

Categories: Blog

An Update on Mississippi’s Asylum Cemetery

May 12, 2017

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI—The Clarion-Ledger reports that as many 7,000 people may be buried on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus. The deceased are thought to have been patients of the Mississippi Asylum for the Insane, which stood on the property from 1855 to 1935. In 2013, 66 coffins were uncovered during road construction, and a ground-penetrating radar survey before the construction of a parking garage in 2014 detected another 2,000 coffins. Because the burials rest in areas where the school is considering additional construction work, officials may exhume the burials and create a memorial, visitors’ center, and a lab where the remains and artifacts could be studied. “It would make Mississippi a national center on historical records relating to health in the premodern period, particularly those being institutionalized,” commented Molly Zuckerman of Mississippi State University’s Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures. To read about a very different sort of discovery made in Mississippi, go to “Not Quite Ancient.”

Categories: Blog

Burial Chamber Discovered in Pyramid at Dahshur

May 12, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to a report in Live Science, a team of archaeologists from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has discovered a burial chamber in the remains of a 3,800-year-old pyramid uncovered at the Dahshur royal necropolis last month. At the time, the name “Ameny Qemau,” a pharaoh who ruled around 1790 B.C., was found on an alabaster block at the site. Within the chamber, the researchers found a wooden box inscribed with the name “Hatshepset,” who may have been a daughter of Ameny Qemau. Such boxes were used to store canopic jars containing the inner organs of mummies, but only a few mummy wrappings were recovered from this box. Egyptologist James Allen of Brown University suggested that the princess may have been buried in her father’s pyramid, which would explain why two pyramids in Dahshur bear his name. The excavation team also found a poorly preserved sarcophagus in the burial chamber. For more on Egypt, go to “Hidden Blues.”

Categories: Blog

Ancient Log Boat Unearthed in England

May 11, 2017

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Lincolnshire Live reports that roadwork has uncovered a 20-foot log boat that may be 4,000 years old. A wood sample has been sent for radiocarbon dating. The vessel was found in a silted-up channel of the Witham River, with the prow slightly higher than the stern, which suggests that it had been pulled ashore. The prow is not as well preserved as the stern, perhaps because it was exposed to the air while the rear of the vessel was covered by the swampy riverbank. The vessel was probably made by splitting a tree trunk in half with wedges, then hollowing out half of it with flint or metal tools, and then, possibly, subjecting it to controlled burning. Slots cut into the stern of the boat would have held a transom board to square it off. For more, go to “The Curse of a Medieval English Well.”

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