CAIRO, EGYPT—A palimpsest containing an ancient medical treatise beneath biblical text has been discovered by the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery in South Sinai, according to a report in Ahram Online. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said the manuscript was found during restoration work in the monastery’s ancient library, which holds some 6,000 manuscripts. The leather pages of the palimpsest were first used in the sixth century A.D. for a recipe attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates. Three other medical recipes, and pictures of medicinal herbs, had also been recorded on its pages by an anonymous scribe. During the medieval period, the pages were scraped and reused for the text of the Codex Sinaiticus, an early version of the Christian scriptures. “This was done due to the high cost of leather at that time,” explained Ahmed Al-Nimer, supervisor of Coptic archaeology for the ministry. To read more about recovering ancient texts, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum."
LEIPZIG, GERMANY—According to a report in Live Science, a fourth fossil of an individual of the extinct hominin species known as the Denisovans has been found in Siberia’s Denisova Cave. The specimen is estimated to be 50,000 to 100,000 years older than the other three known Denisovan fossils. “This would indicate that Denisovans were present in the Altai area for a very long time—at least as long as modern humans have been in Europe, if not much more,” said paleogeneticist Viviane Slon of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The new fossil is a well-worn baby tooth probably shed by a girl between the ages of ten and 12. Slon and her team examined the tooth with 3-D X-rays, and analyzed a tiny bit of powdered tooth to look for DNA. The results suggest that there was a low level of genetic diversity among the Denisovans, which could indicate a small, isolated population lived in the cave. To read more about Denisovans, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."
HEXHAM, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that well-preserved documents written in ink on wafer-thin pieces of wood have been discovered at Vindolanda, a Roman fort located near Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. The documents, which are about the size of a modern postcard, include letters, lists, and personal correspondence, and are thought to have been discarded toward the end of the first century A.D. Some of the writing was protected in the damp soil by the backs of adjoining wooden pages. In one letter, a man named Masclus, known from other documents discovered at Vindolanda, applied for leave, or commeatus. Once the tablets have been conserved, they will undergo infrared photography and the texts will be translated. To read in-depth about the forts of Hadrian's Wall, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire."
KONYA, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that baths used by the Seljuk sultans 1,000 years ago have been found in Gevele Castle on Takkeli Mountain, located in central Anatolia. The bath water was heated with a furnace and circulated through gaps in the lower part of the bath. “We did not expect to find such a structure,” said Ahmet Çayci of Necmettin Erbakan University. The team also found private rooms that may have been used for washing. Gevele Castle is known for its small mosque, cistern, tunnels, and dungeons. “The castle should have a view terrace and the venues where the sultan was hosted,” Çayci added. “We are continuing to search for it.” To read in-depth about another excavation of a medieval Islamic castle, go to "Expanding the Story."
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to a report in Reuters, the remains of a young wolf sacrificed some 500 years ago have been found in a stone box near the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square and the site of the Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan’s main ceremonial center before the arrival of the Spanish. The cache was damaged in 1900 when a sewage line was installed, but otherwise it was undisturbed. Archaeologist Leonardo Lopez said that after the wolf had been killed, it was adorned with ornaments crafted from precious metals, including pendants covered with symbols, a nose ring, and a chest plate, and belts made of shells from the Atlantic Ocean. The wolf’s body was then placed in the stone box, along with the remains of other animals from the air, land, and sea. The box was then set on a layer of flint knives. Wolves are thought to represent Huitzilopochtli, Aztec god of war and the sun. Wolves may have also been believed to help guide fallen warriors to the underworld. Lopez added that the wolf’s ribs will be studied to try to determine if its heart was removed during the sacrifice. To read in-depth about excavations of Tenochtitlan, go to "Under Mexico City."
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND—According to a report in BBC News, nine burials were discovered during construction work at the Brighton Dome Corn Exchange, which is located in the Royal Pavilion Estate. The burials are thought to have been part of a Quaker cemetery that occupied the site before the Royal Pavilion Estate was first built as a seaside retreat for the Prince of Wales in the late eighteenth century. “The best clue as to when worship and burial ceased is when the Quaker meeting house moved to the current location on Meeting House Lane in 1805,” explained Darryl Palmer of Archaeology South-East. The remains will be exhumed and studied. To read in-depth about the bioarchaeology of early modern England go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Man."
ROME, ITALY—ANSA reports that new rooms have been discovered beneath the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, said to have been built around the fourth-century home, or domus, of Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. “We have shed more light on the main entrance into the domus and better established the division between the various rooms,” said archaeologist Anna De Santis. The newly uncovered rooms are thought to have been living quarters for Helena’s ladies in waiting. According to tradition, Helena, who is revered as a saint, housed Christian relics she obtained in Jerusalem in her chapel. Its floor was said to be covered with soil from the Holy Land. To read more about Imperial residences in Rome, go to "Golden House of an Emperor."
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to a report by Agence France-Presse, archaeologists led by María de la Luz Escobedo of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History uncovered a stone dwelling with polished floors in the Colhuacatonco neighborhood of Mexico City, where elite Aztecs are thought to have tried to resist the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan by preserving their customs and traditions. The excavation team found the sixteenth-century remains of three adults and four children buried in the fetal position in the corners of the home and at its entrances. A coyote figurine, a shell bracelet, two small obsidian knives, and ceramics were found in the graves, along with figurines of people wearing non-Aztec hats. “What we detect in the materials is ‘that which is Mexican,’ the blending that began to take place after the Spanish conquest,” Escobedo explained. To read in-depth about excavations of the Aztec capital, go to "Under Mexico City."
YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND—Could men from Central Asia have brought Indo-European languages to India thousands of years ago? Live Science reports that archaeogeneticist Martin Richards of the University of Huddersfield and his colleagues conducted an analysis of genetic material collected from modern populations living in India, where ancient DNA rarely survives in the hot climate. The data from the study suggest that multiple waves of people migrated into the subcontinent from Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Iran over the past 20,000 years. In particular, Richards and his colleagues say between 4,000 and 3,800 years ago, the Y-chromosome subtype associated with men of the Yamnaya culture appeared in Indian populations. The Yamnaya lived between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, are known for their pit graves and wheeled horse chariots, and spoke a precursor of Indo-European languages. The Yamnaya subgroup is now carried by about 17.5 percent of Indian men—more often in the north than in the south. So, did Yamnaya warriors conquer northern India, or perhaps migrate there and have large families? “It’s very easy for Y-chromosome composition to change very quickly,” Richards said. “Just because individual men can have a lot more children than women can.” To read more about Bronze Age Indo-European cultures, go to "The Wolf Rites of Winter."
HUELVA, SPAIN—According to a report in The Local, gold and silver Roman coins have been found at a copper mining site in southwestern Spain. Luis Iglesias, director of archaeology at Atalaya Mining, said the cache of second-century coins is thought to have been stored in a leather pouch by a wealthy resident of the Roman mining settlement of Orium. According to Iglesias, the location of the coins at the site suggests that the ancient settlement stretched further west than had been previously thought. The area will be covered with a metal sheet to protect any additional artifacts in the ground. To read about the impact of ancient mining on Spain's environment, go to "Spain's Lead-Lined Lakes."
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—A tunnel traveling from Teotihuacan’s Pyramid of the Moon to the center of the plaza in front of the structure has been discovered by a team of scientists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, according to an Associated Press report. The researchers used an electrical resistivity tomography to look for the tunnel, which sits about 30 feet underground, since similar tunnels have been found in front of other monuments built by the people of Teotihuacan, including the Pyramid of the Sun and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. The scan also suggests that the tunnel was filled in antiquity. Such tunnels are thought to represent the underworld, and may have been used for rituals to re-enact the creation of life, plants, and food. To read more about Teotihuacan, go to "Mythological Mercury Pool."
JENA, GERMANY—According to a report in Science, researchers led by Johannes Krause and Cosimo Posth of the Max Planck Institute for Human History have made the surprising discovery that Neanderthals may have decended from a female member of the lineage of modern humans. They sequenced mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the maternal line, from a 120,000-year-old Neanderthal femur excavated from southwest Germany’s Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave in 1937. They then compared the data with the mitochondrial DNA of other Neanderthals and Neanderthal ancestors, Denisovans—a hominin closely related to Neanderthals, and modern humans. The study suggests that sometime between 470,000 and 220,000 years ago, a female relative of modern humans interbred with a male Neanderthal, possibly in the Middle East. Over many generations, her mitochondrial DNA may have eventually replaced Neanderthals’ ancestral mitochondrial DNA. The study could explain why Neanderthals and Denisovans, who have similar nuclear DNA, do not share similar mitochondrial DNA. Critics say analysis of mitochondrial DNA from additional Neanderthal samples is needed in order to show the material wasn’t inherited from a common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans. To read more about how the study of ancient mitochondrial DNA is revealing suprising connections between ancient human species, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—Archaeologist Lisbeth Louderback of the National History Museum of Utah, and botanist Bruce Pavlik of the University of Utah’s Red Butte Garden, analyzed residues obtained from ancient grinding tools found in southern Utah’s Escalante Valley, according to a report in The Salt Lake Tribune. They identified starch granules of Solanum jamesii, a wild potato species native to North America, on the 10,900-year-old metates and manos. The small, nutritious tuber still grows primarily in the Four Corners region, where it is most abundant in the highlands of New Mexico. In Utah, however, Louderback and Pavlik note that the plants only grow near archaeological sites. Were the plants carried to Utah nearly 11,000 years ago? Genetic studies of Solanum jamesii, planned with scientists at the USDA Potato Genebank, could help to determine if the Utah plants had been transported, manipulated, or domesticated by hunter gatherers. To read in-depth about early Native Americans, go to "America, in the Beginning."
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—Modern concrete, when placed in the presence of sea water, erodes over time. According to a report in BBC News, scientists led by Marie Jackson of the University of Utah examined samples of ancient Roman concrete from ancient harbor structures with an electron microscope, X-ray micro-diffraction, and Raman spectroscopy in an effort to learn why it gained strength from exposure to sea water. The tests, conducted at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, revealed crystals of a rare mineral known as aluminum tobermorite growing throughout the samples of concrete, in addition to a porous mineral called phillipsite. The mineral crystals continued to grow in the Roman mix of volcanic ash and lime, which reinforced the concrete over long-term exposure to sea water. A similar chemical reaction has been detected in underwater volcanoes. “Their technique was based on building very massive structures that are really quite environmentally sustainable and very long-lasting,” Jackson said. To read in-depth about how Romans used concrete, go to "Rome's Lost Aqueduct."
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Anthropologists studying remains from a recently unearthed Aztec tzompantli, or trophy skull rack, were suprised to discover skulls belonging to women and children, according to the BBC. Built between 1485 and 1502, the rack was thought to have been used by the Aztecs to display the heads of enemy warriors who were ritually sacrificed. "We were expecting just men, obviously young men, as warriors would be, and the thing about the women and children is that you'd think they wouldn't be going to war," says biological anthropologist Rodrigo Bolanos of the National Institute of Anthropology and History. "Something is happening that we have no record of." More than 600 skulls have been found, and the tzompantli is still being excavated, so archaeologists expect to find more. To read in-depth about the excavations, go to "Under Mexico City."
ROME, ITALY—Researchers have discovered distinct patterns in the facial features of individuals buried at three separate Roman grave sites in Italy, LiveScience reports. Employing a statistical technique often used in criminal forensics called geometric morphometrics, anthropologists were able to precisely map the shape of skulls found at each site in order to determine if the people buried there showed evidence of being related or resembling one another. Of the three cemeteries chosen for the project, one is located on Isola Sacra, a tiny island southwest of Rome, which was mostly used by the city's middle class, another is at Velia on the southwestern Italian coast, where researchers expected to see evidence of the Greek origin of the region's Roman-era population, and the third is at Castel Malnome on the outskirts of Rome, which was used for lower class laborers. In individuals from Isola Sacra and Velia, the team was indeed able to discern visible similarities that confirm the common genetic background of both communities, but in Castel Malnome, a burial ground for itinerant workers and veterans from around the Roman Empire, such patterns were absent. To read more about the population of ancient Rome, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."
VORDINGBORG, DENMARK—Archaeologists working at Borgring, a Viking ring fortress on the island of Zealand in Denmark, have uncovered evidence that challenges conventional wisdom about the site's lifespan and purpose, according to a report by ScienceNordic. One of five famous ringed fortifications in Denmark, Borgring was likely built around A.D. 980 by the Viking King Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson, who, perhaps under pressure from the Holy Roman Empire, agreed to be baptized in the year 965, and is credited with the Christanization of the Danes. While many scholars have traditionally understood Borgring as a single-purpose structure meant to project Bluetooth's power or cement the spread of Christrianity, recently uncovered ceramic sherds at the site dating to the eleventh century suggest that the fortress continued as a settlement for hundreds of years. To read more about Harald Bluetooth, go to "Bluetooth's Fortress."
GEZER, ISRAEL—Archaeologists excavating at the Canaanite site of Gezer have unearthed the remains of inhabitants who appear to have perished when Egyptians destroyed the city in the thirteenth century B.C. Haaretz reports that the remains belonged to two adults and one child, and were found in a room full of ash and collapsed mud brick that was part of a large building thought to be the residence of a Canaanite prince. Gezer was one of many Canaanite cities that fell under Egyptian control during the New Kingdom period, and that eventually rebelled. According to Egyptian inscriptions, the pharaoh Merneptah reconquered the city. “The heavy destruction suggests that the Egyptian pharaoh encountered much resistance from the Gezerites," says excavation co-director Steven Ortiz of the Tandy Institute for Archaeology. To read in-depth about the Egyptian occupation of Canaan, go to "Egypt's Final Redoubt in Canaan."
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The discovery of a lead musket ball suggests that archaeologists in Charleston, South Carolina, may have located a Revolutionary War–era trench, The Post and Courier reports. Excavations are ongoing behind the city's historic Aiken-Rhett house, where a team from the College of Charleston hopes to uncover British military earthworks used in the 1780 Siege of Charleston. The ball and trench constitute the first physical evidence of British lines from the battle, which have eluded researchers for years. To read more about archaeology in the Low Country, go to “Off the Grid: Colonial Dorchester, South Carolina.”
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Archaeologists working in St. Louis have uncovered evidence that contradicts convential understandings of the city's founding, according to a report by St. Louis Public Radio. A team led by archaeologist Michael Meyer of the Missouri Department of Transportation has conducted excavations ahead of construction on the Poplar Street Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River and connects the city to East St. Louis, in Illinois. They have uncovered evidence, including trade beads, brass goods, and ceramics, which indicates both French and Native settlement in the area prior to 1764, the recorded year of St. Louis' founding by French fur trader Pierre Lacléde. While the region is famed for the Mississipan mound cities that flourished for centuries before European arrival, it has been previously accepted that the area of St. Louis was sparsely populated when Lacléde and his followers arrived. To read more about archaeology in Missouri, go to "Digging the Scorched Earth."