HAMILTON, CANADA—Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University and Edward Holmes of the University of Sydney led an international team of scientists who have sequenced the complete genome of a strain of hepatitis B dating back hundreds of years, according to a report in The Star. They obtained the sample of the virus from the naturally mummified body of a two-year-old girl kept in the sacristy of the Basilica of Saint Domenico Maggiore in Naples, Italy. It had been thought the child had died of smallpox, due to the rash-like scars on her face and body. When the researchers failed to find any genetic evidence of smallpox in the samples of the child’s skin and bone, they looked for a genetic match with other disease-causing organisms. The test results suggest she may have suffered from Gianotti-Crosti syndrome, a rare childhood disease that can follow hepatitis B infection. “That’s a rash that breaks out extensively on children and it can cause death,” Poinar said. The scientists also found that the sixteenth-century strain of hepatitis B virus differed very little from modern-day iterations of the virus. For more, go to “Diagnosis of Ancient Illness.”
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—The Salisbury Post reports that 16 tiny scraps of paper have been recovered from a mass of sludge found in a breech-loading cannon on Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard, by the conservators at the Queen Anne’s Revenge Conservation Lab. Printed text was discerned on a few of the scraps, the largest of which measures about the size of a quarter. Researchers determined the paper came from a 1712 first edition of the book A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710, and 1711, written by Captain Edward Cooke. Such voyage narratives were popular reading at the time. In the book, Cooke described his trip on an expedition on the Duke and the Dutchess, two ships that sailed from Bristol, England, in 1708 under the command of Captain Woodes Rogers. Scholars have found references in the historical record to the fact that there were books aboard the vessels in Blackbeard’s fleet, but no specific titles were mentioned. The newly discovered paper fragments offer the first-known clue to the pirates' reading habits. To read about another discovery on the Queen Anne's Revenge, go to “Medicine on the High Seas.”
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—International Business Times reports that National Institute of Anthropology and History archaeologists have identified a possible Aztec stone shrine in a pond near the dormant Iztaccihuatl volcano, at an elevation of almost 13,000 feet. They say the tetzacualco, or sanctuary, may have been built to depict the Aztec universe. The stones are said to appear to float on the surface of the water, recalling a Mesoamerican creation myth featuring Cipactli, the monster of the earth. In the story, the sky and the earth were made from Cipactli’s body, which floated on primitive waters. Archaeologist Iris del Rocio Hernandez Bautista explained that the flow of water to the pond could have been controlled through nearby springs in order to control its visual effects. Excavation of the site has revealed that a rectangular-shaped temple made of stacked stones once stood around the main part of the pond. Artifacts associated with the rain god Tlaloc, including ceramic tripod bowls, blades, and pieces of gray and pink shale, were found near springs located to the southeast of the main pond. For more, go to “Aztec Warrior Wolf,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2017.
CAIRO, EGYPT—Newsweek reports that American authorities will hand over the head and hands of an ancient mummy to the Egyptian consulate. Egypt passed laws against the sale and export of ancient artifacts in 1912. The head and hands are thought to have been purchased illegally some 90 years ago by an American from a worker on a dig in Luxor before they were documented by archaeologists. The items recently came to light when a dealer in the United States attempted to sell the remains to a buyer in Manhattan. For more, go to “Animal Mummy Coffins of Ancient Egypt.”
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—According to a Radio New Zealand report, Christine Cave of Australian National University has developed a technique to determine how old people were when they died, based upon the wear and tear on their teeth. She said that it is difficult to determine a person’s age after 50 based upon an examination of skeletal remains. “You could have two old people who are the same age, and one is crippled with arthritis and can’t move, while the other runs a marathon every week—so there’s a great variation,” she explained. Cave examined the teeth of more than 300 people who had been buried in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in England between A.D. 475 and 625. She found several who may have lived to be at least 75 years of age, and she suggests that most people who lived so-called traditional lives may have reached the age of 70. The new technique could help scientists better understand what life was like for the elderly in antiquity. For more, go to “The Case of the Missing Incisors.”
LONDON, ENGLAND—A team led by Adam Gibson of University College London has developed a non-destructive scanning technique to read what was written on pieces of papyrus some 2,000 years ago, before it was recycled and made into funeral masks and mummy cases, according to a BBC News report. In the past, objects made of cartonnage would have been taken apart in order to read what had been obscured by paint, plaster, and paste. “They are finite resources and we now have a technology to both preserve those beautiful objects and also look inside them to understand the way Egyptians lived through their documentary evidence—and the things they wrote down and the things that were important to them,” explained Kathryn Piquette of University College London. The new technique revealed the name “Irethorru,” which is translated as “the eye of Horus is against my enemies,” on the footplate of a mummy case housed at Chiddingstone Castle in Kent. The name had previously been invisible to the naked eye. For more, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”
XINJIANG, CHINA—Newsweek reports that archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have recovered some 2,000 artifacts from continuous layers spanning tens of thousands of years in Tongtiandong Cave, which is located in northern China. Some of the artifacts, such as stone tools and the butchered and burned bones of rabbits, sheep, donkeys, rhinoceroses, bears, and birds, are thought to be 45,000 years old. Other artifacts include objects made of iron and bronze, pottery, and millstones for grinding grain. Wheat recovered from the cave has been dated to between 3,500 and 5,000 years ago. It could be some of the first wheat grown in the region. For more, go to “Letter From China: Tomb Raider Chronicles.”
FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—According to a New York Times report, an international team of scientists has mapped the genome of a six-week-old infant girl who is thought to have belonged to a previously unknown human lineage, dubbed the Ancient Beringians. Her 11,500-year-old remains were discovered at the Upward Sun River archaeological site in central Alaska by Ben A. Potter of the University of Alaska, under the remains of a three-year-old that had been cremated in a hearth. The scientists were not able to recover DNA from these bones, however. The remains of two infants were found in the hearth itself. One set of remains yielded the genome mapped in the new study; only fragments of DNA were recovered from the remains of the other child. While mitochondrial DNA found in each of the infants has been found in living Native Americans, the study suggests the people who lived at Upward Sun River split from the ancestors of the two other known groups of Native Americans some 20,000 years ago. The study also supports the idea that people lingered in Beringia for thousands of years before crossing into North America. To read in-depth about early inhabitants of the Americas, go to “America, in the Beginning.”
INCHINNAN, SCOTLAND—The Inchinnan Historical Interest Group has sponsored the creation of virtual models of three burial stones now resting at Inchinnan Parish Church, located in west central Scotland, with reflectance transformation imaging and photogrammetry, according to a report in The Scotsman. It had been thought that all of the burial stones dated to the twelfth century. They were moved to Inchinnan Parish Church from the site of a church dedicated to St. Conval, who is credited with establishing a nearby monastery around A.D. 600. Megan Kasten of the University of Glasgow studied the models of the stones and noticed that one of them had a cross design carved at its top, and faint panels of interlacing. The same motifs are found on the well-known Govan Stones, which have been dated to the ninth century. “We have few historical records for this time period,” Kasten said, “so each new discovery increases our understanding of the connections between important early medieval sites in the local area, like Inchinnan and Govan.” The stones are now thought to have commemorated an important person from the early medieval kingdom of Strathclyde. To read about another recent discovery in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a report in Haaretz, a 2,700-year-old seal bearing the mark of the governor of the city of Jerusalem has been discovered under the Western Wall plaza, at a site where a First Temple–period building has been found. The monumental building is thought to have been home to a government official. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said it is the first time that such a seal has been found in its archaeological context. In the upper part of the impression on the tiny piece of clay, two figures wearing striped, knee-length garments stand facing each other. “Sari’ir,” which the archaeologists believe is ancient Hebrew for "sar ha'ir," or “governor of the city,” is written in script at the bottom of the seal. Seven other seals found in the house bear writing in ancient Hebrew. One of them depicts an Assyrian-type bowman. Archaeologist Joe Uziel of the IAA said the images would have been pressed into moist clay to seal correspondence. A fire in the city is thought to have baked the seals hard and preserved them. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Conspicuous Consumption.”
EAST YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Yorkshire Post reports that traces of a 4,000-year-old wooden henge have been unearthed at the Little Catwick Quarry, located near the North Sea coast. The wooden posts were encircled with a ditch and bank with entrances facing northwest and southeast. A pit in the middle of the circle contained heavily burned stones. Additional burned stones were found discarded in the entrances. “It is possible that bodies were brought there to be cremated and then the remains buried elsewhere,” said lead archaeologist John Tibbles. A cemetery dating to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods has been found about a mile away from the henge site. Tibbles thinks the two sites could be linked. But the burned stones could also have been used to heat a sauna, he explained. Stones may have been heated at a fire and carried into a sauna building with a hearth surrounded by ledge-style seating. To read about another henge site in England, go to “The Square Inside Avebury’s Circles.”
CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that mudbrick walls, furnaces, the bases of limestone columns, pottery, and other artifacts dating to Egypt’s Late Period (664–332 B.C.) have been uncovered at the Tel Al-Pharaeen archaeological site in Lower Egypt. The walls and limestone columns are thought to have been part of a temple in the ancient city of Buto, while the furnaces may have been used to prepare offerings to the temple’s gods. Ayman Ashmawy of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities said the site yielded a limestone statue of King Psamtik I seated on a throne, and the base of a black granite statue that may have also depicted the ruler. It is missing its head, neck, base, and parts of its arms and legs, but the body is shown wearing a shendit, or royal kilt. Hossam Ghoneim, head of the excavation team, said part of a quartzite statue of the god Hur, a fragment of a hand sculpted from granite and bearing an inscription of the royal cartouche of King Psamtik I, and part of a menit necklace, the symbol of the goddess Hathor, were also recovered. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”
ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, the remains of two toys have been found in a child’s grave at the Itkol II burial ground in the Republic of Khakassia. Andrey Polyakov of the Institute of History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences said the grave belongs to the Okunev culture and dates to the Bronze Age. The first toy is a doll’s head carved of soapstone. The piece measures about two inches long, and probably had a body made of organic materials. The second toy, carved from an antler or horn, resembles a horse’s head. It may have also had a body that has since decomposed. To read more about archaeology in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude."
HULL, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a blockhouse commissioned by Henry VIII has been excavated by a team led by Ken Steedman of Humber Field Archaeology. The structure was part of a system of three forts linked by a curtain wall to protect the city of Hull and its port. Guns and ammunition were stored in the blockhouse. The researchers uncovered the original floor surface, which dates to the 1540s, and the remains of three-foot-tall walls. Fragments of materials taken from monasteries dissolved by the king between 1536 and 1540 were found in the walls, along with intact gun ports. The blockhouse was demolished in 1864, but materials from the upper floor were dumped onto the original floor to raise the level of the ground, thus protecting some of the sixteenth-century structure. “It proved that what we have is a bit of a gem,” Steedman said. To read more about Tudor-era archaeology, go to "Henry VIII's Favorite Palace."
FUKUOKA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that an intact, 1,900-year-old mirror has been found at the Nakashima archaeological site on the southern island of Kyushu. The site was part of the Na state during the late Yayoi period, which ended around A.D. 300. The mirror is thought to have been made in China during the later Han Dynasty, between A.D. 25 and 220. An inscription on the mirror, which measures about four and one-half inches across, reads “to benefit future generations forever.” It was decorated with the “linked-arc” pattern, and is in such good condition that it is still reflective. The mirror may have been obtained when the king of Na sent a mission to China in A.D. 107—an event recorded in Chinese history. Hidenori Okamura of Kyoto University added that the artifact could help researchers date the late Yayoi period. To read about another discovery made in Japan, go to “Dogu Figurine.”
DURHAM, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that more than 1,000 Acheulian artifacts have been recovered from Wadi Dabsa, which is located near the Red Sea in southwest Saudi Arabia. Some of the artifacts, including hand axes, cleavers, scrapers, projectile points, piercers, and hammer stones, may be more than 1 million years old. “It’s strange to be walking over hard, dry rocks which were formed by water pooling during a far wetter period,” said Frederick Foulds of Durham University. “We think it was during these wetter periods that it’s likely the site was occupied.” Foulds and his research team will attempt to date the tufa and basalt flows at the site, in order to obtain dates for the tools. Those more precise dates could point to what type of hominins crafted the tools and when they left Africa. To read about another recent discovery in Saudi Arabia, go to “Hot Property.”
TEHRAN, IRAN—The Tehran Times reports that dwellings at Nadali-Beig Hill in western Iran are estimated to be 7,000 years old. According to archaeologist Hannan Bahranipour, several stages of construction have been uncovered, in addition to pottery. The excavation team will continue to study the site’s architecture, which is threatened by a dam on the nearby Jamishan River. For more on archaeology in Iran, go to “The Price of Plunder.”
CAIRO, EGYPT—According to an ANSAmed report, a wall measuring about 70 feet long and 26 feet tall has been uncovered in Wadi Tumilat, at the site of the Canal of the Pharaohs, by a team led by Giuseppina Capriotti Vittozzi of the Italian Archaeological Center in Cairo. In antiquity, the canal linked the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. The newly unearthed wall was attached to a fortress, which Vittozzi described as “a different defensive structure of gigantic proportions.” The fortress and the city it protected were on the ancient route that connected Egypt to Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia. Underneath the fortress, the researchers have found evidence of an earlier Hyksos settlement. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing,” one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2017.
KYOTO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that researchers led by Kenichi Yano of Ritsumeikan University investigated the Tsuzuraozaki Kotei Iseki archaeological site, which is located under more than 200 feet of water in Lake Biwako, with an underwater robot. The site is known for containing a wide variety of pottery dating from as early as 8000 B.C. to the twelfth century A.D., and may have served as a dumping ground. The researchers spotted a Haji pottery urn, measuring about a foot long and dating to the sixth to eighth century A.D., and shallow, grayish-black bowls thought to be Sue pottery, made in Japan and southern Korea for funeral and ritual use beginning in the fifth century A.D. Strong currents in the lake are thought to have kept the pieces free from silt. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”
CHANGSHA, CHINA—Xinhua reports that medical texts written more than 2,000 years ago, found on 48 of the more than 35,000 wooden slips discovered in a well in central China in 2002, have been analyzed by scholars. The texts on some of the slips recorded the command of Qin Shihuang, the country’s first emperor, to launch a nationwide search for an elixir of life, and replies from local governments and remote villages. For example, the village of Duxiang had not yet found a miraculous potion, but it reported that it would continue to search for one, while the people of Langya, located near the sea, handed over herbs collected from a local mountain. “It required a highly efficient administration and strong executive force to pass down a government decree in ancient times when transportation and communication facilities were undeveloped,” explained Zhang Chunlong of Hunan’s Provincial Institute of Archaeology. Medical texts on other slips recorded treatments such as acupuncture, oral medicines, and topical therapies administered in most cases to members of the upper class, under the direction of the government. For more on early Chinese history, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”