ROME, ITALY—Reuters reports that the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels has repatriated a sculpture of Rome’s first emperor that it purchased in 1975 from an antiquities dealer in Zurich. Art historians say the veiled head resembles another in the town of Nepi's museum, and was probably part of a statue of a young man wearing a toga. Now known as the “Augusto di Nepi,” the sculpture is thought to depict the young Octavius before he became emperor of Rome around 27 B.C. “After more than 40 years of exile in Europe, he’s finally home. Welcome back Augustus,” said Nepi mayor Pietro Soldatelli. For more on the archaeology of ancient Rome, go to "Trash Talk."
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Researchers led by Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen returned to a farmer’s field in northeastern Scotland where a hand pin, chain, and spiral bangle all made of silver in the fourth or fifth centuries A.D. had been found more than 170 years ago. According to a report in Live Science, on the second day of the investigation, the team, which had the assistance of metal detectorists, found three Roman silver coins, a silver strap end, a piece of a silver bracelet, and pieces of hack silver. Over a period of 18 months, they gathered a total of 100 artifacts, now known as the Gaulcross Hoard. The pieces are thought to have been high-status objects imported from the Roman world. The research team suggests that the items in the hoard had been collect by non-Romans, such as the Picts, through looting, trade, bribes, or as military pay. Noble adds that the chunks of silver may even have served as currency. For more, go to "Seaton Down Hoard."
CAIRO, EGYPT—Conservators are restoring a second solar boat discovered in 1954 in a pit beside the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The first boat was found dismantled but arranged to resemble a boat, and was reconstructed. A Japanese-Egyptian team began the restoration of the second boat in 2009. So far, they say they have documented and removed 700 of the 1,200 pieces of the boat from the pit’s 13 levels. Eissa Zidan, supervisor of the restoration work, told Ahram Online that the solar boats each had two shrines—one for the pharaoh at the rear of the boat, and one for the captain, at the front of the boat. Timbers removed from the pit recently may be the floors to the captain’s shrine. “This is a great step forward in the conservation of Khufu’s second boat,” Zidan said. For more, go to "Egypt’s Immigrant Elite."
SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—According to a report in The Guardian, analysis of data collected last year with lidar (light detection and ranging) technology over a 734-square-mile area reveals the extent of multiple cities, iron smelting sites, and a system of waterways that surrounded Angkor Wat and other medieval temple complexes built by the Khmer Empire. The results of the study, led by Australian archaeologist Damian Evans of the École Française d’Extrême-Orient and the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative, suggest that Mahendraparvata, discovered in 2012 beneath Mount Kulen, was larger than had been previously thought. Evans’ team also discovered a city surrounding the archaeological site of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay. In addition, the researchers expect that the lidar information will help them understand what has been thought of as the collapse of Angkor. “There’s an idea that somehow the Thais invaded and everyone fled down south—that didn’t happen, there are no cities [revealed by the aerial survey] that they fled to. It calls into question the whole notion of an Angkorian collapse,” Evans said. For more, go to "Letter From Cambodia: Storied Landscape."
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Haaretz reports that the Zea Harbor Project mapped the remains of ancient Greek naval bases in Mounichia Harbor and Zea Harbor between 2001 and 2012. The team of archaeologists, working on land and under water, has found massive fortifications and a total of 15 structures that were used to house ships when they were pulled ashore. “It is an enticing thought that some of the Athenian triremes that fought against the Persians at Salamis in 480 B.C. were most probably housed in these ship-sheds,” said project director Bjørn Lovén of the Danish Institute at Athens. The foundations for the sheds measured more than four feet wide and stood more than 160 feet long and 20 feet tall. For more, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."
DUMFRIESSHIRE, SCOTLAND—Cast-lead sling bullets recently unearthed in southwestern Scotland are thought to have been used by Roman auxiliary troops during an attack of a fort on Burnswark Hill some 1,800 years ago. Such sling bullets range in size from an acorn to a lemon. About 20 percent of the sling bullets recovered from the site had been drilled with a small hole. Similar sling bullets have been found at ancient battle sites in Greece, and at first, researchers thought the small holes might have contained poison. Now archaeologist John Reid of the Trimontium Trust thinks the projectiles with holes might have produced a whistling sound intended to terrify opponents, since his brother pointed out that lead weights used for casting fishing lines can produce a whistle in flight. “We think it was an all-out assault on the hilltop, to demonstrate to the natives what would happen to them if they resisted,” Reid said in a Live Science report. His team thinks the small bullets, shot in groups of three or four from a pouch attached to two long cords, were used for close-range fighting. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Climate change and the appearance of grasslands coincided with the evolution of the first hominins, according to a study led by Kevin Uno of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He and his team collected sediment cores dating back 24 million years from the bottom of the Red Sea and the western Indian Ocean. Analysis of the chemicals in the sediments suggests that plants that grew in East Africa, where the first hominins are thought to have evolved, blew out to sea and sank. More than ten million years ago, those plants came from dense forests. Chemicals linked to grasses slowly began to appear in later layers of sediment. “This now gives us a timeline for the development of those grasses, and tells us they were part of our evolution from the very beginning,” Uno said in a UPI report. For more, go to "A New Human Relative."
OXFORD, ENGLAND—The wild macaques of coastal Thailand have been using stones as tools for generations, according to a UPI report. Scientists led by Michael Haslam of the University of Oxford observed the monkeys searching for good stones and using them to process oysters, snails, nuts, and crabs. When particular stones worked well, the monkeys placed them near the boulders where they preferred to eat. The researchers then examined the marks on the stones and excavated the area to look for similar ones. They found identical marks on stones in a layer with oyster shells that were carbon-dated to between ten and 50 years ago. “As we build up a fuller picture of their evolutionary history, we will start to identify the similarities and differences in human behavior and that of other primates,” Haslam explained. For more on Southeast Asia, go to "Letter From Cambodia: Storied Landscape."
ATHENS, GREECE—Using X-ray scanning equipment and imaging technology, an international team of scientists has read around a quarter of the explanatory text engraved in tiny letters on the surviving fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism. Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University said that the text does not instruct the reader on the use of the device, but is more like a descriptive label. The artifact, recovered from a first-century B.C. shipwreck off the coast of a Greek island in the early years of the twentieth century, is made up of bronze gears and plates, and was probably encased in wood and operated with a hand crank. It is thought to have functioned as an astronomical instrument to track the position of the sun, the phases of the moon, the positions of the planets, and the timing of eclipses. “It’s like a textbook of astronomy as it was understood then, which connected the movements of the sky and the planets with the lives of the ancient Greeks and their environment,” Alexander Jones of New York University said in an Associated Press report. Investigators have returned to the shipwreck to look for more pieces of the device. For more on archaeology in Greece, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA—Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Christopher Tuttle, executive director of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, spotted a monumental structure at Petra, a 2,500-year-old Nabatean city in southern Jordan, using high-resolution satellite imagery and pictures taken with aerial drones. National Geographic reports that the structure consists of a building measuring roughly 28 feet square, centered on a rectangular, paved platform, surrounded by a larger, 184-by-161-foot, platform. The building faced a row of columns and a staircase to the east. Pottery recovered from the site dates to the mid-second century B.C. Parcak and Tuttle say that the platform’s design is unique in the ancient city, and may have been used for ceremonial purposes in the early days of the settlement. “I’ve worked in Petra for 20 years, and I knew that something was there, but it’s certainly legitimate to call this a discovery,” Tuttle said. For more, go to "Neolithic Community Centers - Wadi Faynan, Jordan."
COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—A lump of waxy “bog butter” thought to be about 2,000 years old was unearthed 12 feet below the surface in Emlagh Bog by a turf cutter last week. Butter, placed in a wooden casket or animal hide, is thought to have been buried in bogs as a way to preserve it, or as a ritual offering. Andy Halpin of the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum says this ancient lump of butter was not covered when it was buried in a place where 11 townlands and three baronies met. “It is at the juncture of three separate kingdoms, and politically it was like a no-man’s land, that is where it all hangs together,” Halpin said in a Belfast Telegraph report. He added that bog butter is theoretically still edible, but he wouldn’t advise tasting it. For more, go to "Oldest Bog Body."
WROCLAW, POLAND—According to a report from Radio Poland, a team of Polish and Mongolian researchers has found stone tools in the southern Gobi Desert. “The highly diversified forms of objects found and the varied techniques of working stone prove that certain locations were repeatedly colonized across history,” said Józef Szykulski of Wroclaw University. The oldest tools date to the Middle Paleolithic, between 200,000 and 40,000 years ago, and were found in an area that once had lakes and abundant wildlife. The team also recovered 11 jasper artifacts, which were dated to about 40,000 years old. To read about archaeology in the Atacama Desert of Chile, go to "Off the Grid."
BARCELONA, SPAIN—A rock shelter in the Sierra de Cantabria mountains in northern Spain was repeatedly used as an animal pen some 5,000 years ago, according to a study conducted by scientists from the University of Barcelona, the University of the Basque Country, and the Spanish National Research Council. Analysis of charcoal, pollen, seeds, and other plant remains recovered during the investigation indicate that Copper Age herders held their goats and/or sheep in the rock shelter intermittently, probably to take advantage of hazelnut and acorn trees that grew in the area. “We also know thanks to the microscopic study of the sediments that every now and again they used to burn the debris that had built up, probably to clean up the space that had been occupied,” archaeologist Ana Polo-Diaz of the University of the Basque Country said in a UPI report. For more on the archaeology of Spain, go to "The Red Lady of El Mirón."
WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA—Six teeth and a jawbone fragment thought to belong to ancestors of Homo floresiensis, the hominin often referred to as the "hobbit," have been discovered at a site called Mata Menge on the Indonesian island of Flores. The fossils represent at least one adult and two children of small stature who lived 600,000 years earlier than Homo floresiensis. Gert van den Bergh of the University of Wollongong and colleagues argue that this ancient human relative descended from Homo erectus individuals who arrived on the island and shrank over a period of about 300,000 years, perhaps because they were challenged by few predators and thus did not have a need for a big brain. “But what is clear is that they made stone tools, so they weren’t stupid,” van den Bergh said in an ABC News report. He recovered the fossils from an ancient riverbed that had been covered and preserved by a volcanic mudflow. His team will continue to look for additional fossils, such as wrist bones and skulls, for more information on possible Homo floresiensis ancestors. To read about another discovery in Indonesia, go to "The First Artists."
REDDING, CONNECTICUT—Archaeologists Beth Morrison and Laurie Weinstein of Western Connecticut State University and their students surveyed a possible Revolutionary War–era encampment in Redding, Connecticut, and concluded that the site was likely home to 1,000 to 1,500 Connecticut soldiers during the winter of 1779. Known as the Middle Encampment, the site was under the command of General Samuel Holden Parsons. Twelve collapsed fireplaces and other piles of rocks are thought to mark the locations of cabins and other outbuildings. A layer of burned animal bone at the site is similar to debris found at nearby Putnam Park, where soldiers from New Hampshire and Canada camped under the command of Major General Israel Putnam over the same winter. The investigators also recovered military buttons, shoe buckles, and musket balls. “We’re happy to say that every single [site] we put a hole into came up with a period-specific artifact,” Morrison said in a report by The Redding Pilot. The site of a third Revolutionary War encampment in the region has been lost to development. The Middle Encampment has been named a state archaeological preserve. For more on the archaeology of the Revolutionary War, go to "Finding Parker’s Revenge."
EUGENE, OREGON—Western Digs reports that archaeologist Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon and his team predicted where they would find stone artifacts left behind by early seafaring people on Santa Cruz Island by analyzing the attributes of known Paleocoastal sites in the Channel Islands. They looked for areas with natural shelter, access to rocks and fresh water, and a view of the coastline. “We added overlook sites later as our surveys revealed that they, too, were important,” Erlandson said. In fact, two of the new sites were discovered on high bluffs overlooking the ocean. Erlandson thinks the ancient mariners valued the commanding views for spotting seals and sea lions, and maybe even other people. One of the sites has been carbon-dated to about 8,500 years ago with cast-off mussel shells. The types of tools at the other two sites suggest that they may be 11,000 or 12,000 years old. For more on early inhabitants of the Americas, go to "America, in the Beginning."
SOFIA, BULGARIA—The graves of several aristocrats have been found under the site of the medieval Church of St. George, located near the town of Botevgrad in northwestern Bulgaria. Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that Filiip Petrunov of the country’s National Museum of History discovered a ring with the monogram of the Shishman Dynasty, which ruled from 1331 to 1395, in the grave of one woman that had been built into the foundations of the church. His team also found evidence that the church had been part of a monastery, which at the time was located on an island in a small lake. Byzantine coins from the fifth and sixth centuries suggest that the monastery could date to the early Christian era. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—Researchers led by David Lambert of Griffith University’s Research Centre for Human Evolution used new DNA sequencing methods to analyze the 40,000-year-old remains of Mungo Man, discovered in the Willandra Lakes region in New South Wales in 1974. A 2001 study had suggested that Mungo Man was not an ancestor of Australia’s Aboriginal people, but instead represented an extinct human lineage. The new study finds that the sample from the previous test had been contaminated. “We could not, with better technology, repeat what the original study found and therefore the evidence that Aboriginal people were not the first Australians has no foundation,” Lambert said in an ABC News report. Lambert and his team were not able to recover any DNA from the Mungo Man sample. They did, however, reanalyze samples from 20 other ancient skeletons discovered in Willandra. The team was able to sequence a complete mitochondrial genome from the bones of one man, but the age of his skeleton is so far unknown. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to "What's the Point?"
MAINZ, GERMANY—A new genetic study led by Joachim Burger of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz has linked Neolithic farmers in Germany, Hungary, and Spain to early farmers in Greece and northwestern Anatolia. Burger said in an Associated Press report that the farmers in Central Europe and Spain were more closely related to the Aegean farmers than to each other, which suggests that the farmers arrived in Europe in two separate waves. “One is the Balkan route and one is the Mediterranean route,” Burger said. The study also indicates that the migrating farmers had dark eyes, fair skin, and were not able to digest milk after childhood. A comparison of the ancient DNA with samples collected from modern Europeans found that after hundreds of years, the farmers eventually mixed with European hunter-gatherers and then with a third group of people who traveled from the eastern Steppes some 5,000 years ago. For more, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."
ALBERTA, CANADA—A new study coordinated by Duane Froese of the University of Alberta has analyzed nearly 200 bison fossils as a way to investigate when people may have been able to travel through an ice-free corridor in the Rocky Mountains. Bison to the north and south of the corridor were separated from each other by the ice some 21,000 years ago and, as a result, became genetically distinct. So, as a first step, the researchers carbon-dated the bison fossils and then analyzed their DNA to show which were from the north and which were from the south. The results suggest that the southern bison began moving north some 13,400 years ago, and that the populations began to overlap some 13,000 years ago, when the corridor was fully cleared of ice. “It’s intriguing from the perspective that as much as bison and game animals were separated, so too would have been early human populations,” Jack Ives of the University of Alberta said in a CBC News report. “Once that corridor region opened … this would open the door for human populations to reengage.” For more, go to "Bison Bone Mystery."