READING, ENGLAND—A team led by archaeologists from the University of Reading has just begun an excavation of a Neolithic building at Marden Henge in the Vale of Pewsey. Constructed in 2400 B.C., the earthworks is the largest henge in England, yet very little is known about it. The people who used the building may have even participated in the construction of Stonehenge. “Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out,” archaeologist Jim Leary said in a press release. The Vale of Pewsey was also inhabited during the Roman and medieval periods. “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there—a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved—from prehistory to history,” he said. To read more about recent discoveries in the area, go to "Under Stonehenge."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The name Eshba’al Ben Bada’, written in Canaanite script, has been found on a 3,000-year-old jar from the site of Khirbet Qeiyafain in the Valley of Elah by a team led by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “This is the first time that the name Eshba’al has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country. Eshba’al Ben Shaul, who ruled over Israel at the same time as David, is known from the Bible. Eshba’al was murdered by assassins and decapitated and his head was brought to David in Hebron (II Samuel, Chapters 3-4),” the researchers said in a press release. They also note that the name Eshba’al appears in the Bible and in the archaeological record only during the first half of the tenth century B.C., and was probably a common name during this period. However, “the name Beda’ is unique and does not occur in ancient inscriptions or in the biblical tradition,” they add. The name on the jar suggests that Eshba’al Ben Bada’ owned an agricultural estate and that its produce was packed and shipped in jars inscribed with his name. To read more about this period, go to "Egyptian Style in Ancient Canaan."
SOFIA, BULGARIA—Eighty-two silver coins, some bearing an image of the head of King Philip II of Macedon, were recovered by Bulgaria’s customs agency at Sofia International Airport. The coins were hidden in three routers in a package headed for the United States. “Each of the coins is a cultural artifact as per [Bulgaria’s] Cultural Heritage Act. In addition to their extremely high financial and collectors’ worth, the coins are also priceless from a scientific point of view because they are completely unknown for the historical science,” read a statement from the Customs Agency in Sofia, reported in Archaeology in Bulgaria. Customs officers are continuing to investigate the case. They have not released any information about where the coins may have been unearthed. To read more about ancient coins, go to "Artifact: Roman Coins in Israel."
YORK, ENGLAND—The need to socialize, and the ability to experiment and learn, may have helped early humans to survive genetic bottlenecks, when the pool of potential mates was small or even crossed species boundaries. The father and daughter research team of Isabell Winder of the University of York and Nick Winder of Newcastle University speculates in their model of hominins as “Vulnerable Apes” that selection pressure would favor those who were able to cope with the challenges of hereditary disabilities such as weak jaws, hairless bodies, short, weak arms, and straight feet that might have emerged during times when the population dwindled. “In situations where the probability of producing disabled offspring was high, the ‘fittest’ individuals would be those that could help their offspring co-exist with this vulnerability. Those that were a little smarter, more flexible, and more compassionate would have been at an advantage,” Nick Winder said in a press release. To read more, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY—Many graffiti in the Greek-speaking ancient city of Aphrodisias, named for the goddess Aphrodite, depict battling gladiators, according to Angelos Chaniotis of the Institute for Advanced Study. “And this abundance of images leaves little doubt about the great popularity of the most brutal contribution of the Romans to the culture of the Greek east,” Chaniotis said in a lecture given at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and reported in Live Science. The images, most of which date to between A.D. 350 and 500, may have been scratched into the rock by spectators who had seen gladiator battles in the arena. There are also sexual images, pictures that show chariot races, and religious graffiti, including Christian crosses, the double ax of Carian Zeus, and a depiction of a Jewish Hanukkah menorah. “This may be one of the earliest representations of a Hanukkah menorah that we know from ancient times,” he said. The graffiti declined around the time that Justinian became emperor of the Byzantine Empire, in A.D. 527. Justinian restricted or banned polytheistic and Jewish practices, and renamed Aphrodite’s city Stauropolis. For more, go to "The Gladiator Diet."
ATLANTA, GEORGIA—Liv Nilsson Stutz and Jonas Aaron Stutz of Emory University suggest that the variety of stone tools from Mughr el-Hamamah, a cave overlooking the Jordan Valley, supports the idea that between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago, people were organizing themselves into more complex social groups. “These toolmakers appear to have achieved a division of labor that may have been part of an emerging pattern of more organized social structures,” Arron Stutz said in a press release. The cave sits midway between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, and would have been in the path of migrating modern humans and Neanderthals. Prior to the Upper Paleolithic, tools in the Near East looked similar to each other and served many uses. Toolmakers at Mughr el-Hamamah, however, efficiently produced large quantities of different types of tools using different techniques. “They were investing in the kinds of activities that require maintaining relationships and group planning. They were gearing up for a clearly defined division of labor, including firewood gathering, plant gathering, hunting, and food foraging,” Stutz said. To read more about diverse Paleolithic stone tools, go to "Neanderthal Tool Time."
FRANKFORT, MICHIGAN—Michigan state archaeologist Dean Anderson and underwater archaeologist Wayne Lusardi, along with Michigan State Police divers, visited wreckage in Lake Michigan found by local enthusiasts who thought it could be Le Griffon, a ship built and lost by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, in 1679. The wooden hull, which is 80 feet long, is too big to be the long-lost ship, however. Lusardi added that steam machinery on the ship suggests it was a tug boat dating to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. “We’re interested in what’s down there. We encourage people to report when they find a shipwreck,” State Historic Preservation Office spokeswoman Laura Ashlee told MLive.com. To read about and see some amazing pictures of some of the Greak Lakes' most fascinating wrecks, go to "Shipwreck Alley."
RIBE, DENMARK—An intact trefoil jug, or wine pitcher, has been unearthed in a cemetery in Ribe, Denmark, by students from the University of Aarhus. The jug was produced in a workshop in France or Belgium, and is estimated to be 1,000 years old. “The pitcher is an example of the finest pottery produced in northern Europe at the time, and it has never been seen before in Denmark. The vessel reveals information about the vast trading network that put Ribe on the map during the Viking era,” Morten Søvsø of the Sydvestjyske Museum told The Copenhagen Post. To read about an even older Egyptian vintage, go to "Wine for Eternity."
WATERLOO, CANADA—Newsweek reports that the remains of hundreds of dogs and human infants that were discovered in a well in the Athenian agora in the 1930s have been examined by biological anthropologist Maria Liston of the University of Waterloo and her team, who determined that all but three of the 450 infants were less than a week old at the time of death, and as many as one third of the babies died of bacterial meningitis, a disease that can be transmitted by cutting the umbilical cord with an unsterile object. The rest of the babies are likely to have died from other natural causes that did not leave marks on the bones. Archaeologist Susan Rotroff of Washington University in St. Louis dated the deposits to between 165 and 50 B.C., a time when babies in Greece and Rome may not have been considered to be full individuals until they were named in a ceremony conducted a week to ten days after birth. Babies who died before the ceremony may have ended up in a well. Zooarchaeologist Lynn Snyder adds that the dogs may have been killed as sacrifices. There are no signs of fatal trauma on their bones, but some of them have healed fractures. To read about another mass grave in Athens, go to "Plague Victims Found."
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—A study of the smile types displayed by chimpanzees in the wild suggests that their communication is more similar to that of humans than had been previously recognized. Humans and chimpanzees have the same types of smiles when laughing, and they can produce those smiles silently. “Humans have the flexibility to show their smile with and without talking or laughing. This ability to flexibly use our facial expressions allows us to communicate in more explicit and versatile ways, but until now we didn’t know chimps could also flexibly produce facial expressions free from their vocalizations,” Marina Davila-Ross of the University of Portsmouth said in a press release. This suggests that positive facial expressions and flexibility in facial expressions were present in our common ancestor. There are still differences between the laughter of humans and chimps, however. “Chimps only rarely display crow’s feet when laughing, but this trait is often shown by laughing humans. Then, it is called Duchenne laughter, which has a particularly positive impact on human listeners,” she said. To read about a very different way scientists are looking at the evolution of the human face, go to "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?"
LINCOLN, ENGLAND—Road construction in England’s East Midlands uncovered part of a medieval wall. “You can see pieces of pottery and bone through the layers allowing us to date them. Although we have what looks like a medieval dwelling, we do not know at this stage its purpose—whether it was residential or if a trade was carried out here,” archaeologist Leigh Brocklehurst said in a press release from the Lincolnshire County Council. The wall is thought to date to the twelfth century, when it would have been set back, behind buildings that faced the High Street. Its rough construction could indicate that it had been a home for daily wage workers who had moved into the growing town, then known as Wigford. To read about how chess was played in medieval England, go to "Artifact."
URBANA, ILLINOIS—Scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studied the limestone deposits within the Anio Novus aqueduct in order to estimate the rate of water flow from the Apennine Mountains to Rome. They determined that the aqueduct, which was built between A.D. 38 and 52, would have delivered 370 gallons of Aniene River water to the city each second. The buildup of limestone, or travertine, indicates that the 54-mile-long aqueduct channel was almost always full of water. But as the deposits got larger, they eventually reduced the water flow by 25 percent. Earlier estimates of the amount of water carried into Rome were taken from historical accounts and average velocity based upon the slope of the aqueduct. However, this new study has found variations in the slope across the aqueduct that could dramatically change those estimates. “Regardless of the different estimates, researchers agree that these aqueducts were the core piece of infrastructure that permitted large-scale urbanization. With this reliable water supply, Rome’s population was able to grow between 600,000 to a million people during the first century A.D.,” geologist and microbiologist Bruce Fouke said in a press release. To read about the search for the source of one of the most famous ancient aqueducts, go to "Rome's Lost Aqueduct."
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Analysis of the genomes of 101 individuals who lived in Europe and Central Asia during the Bronze Age—between 5,000 and 3,000 years ago—suggests that the economic and social changes that occurred during this period were due to massive migrations. “Cultural change is happening because people are moving around and not just through the spread of ideas,” Eske Willerslev of the Natural History Museum of Denmark said in video clip press release. It also shows that at the end of the Bronze Age, the ability to drink raw milk was still very rare, even though it is common among northern Europeans today. “Previously the common belief was that lactose tolerance developed in the Balkans or in the Middle East in connection with the introduction of farming during the Stone Age….We think that it may have been introduced into Europe with the Yamnaya herders from Caucasus but that the selection that has made most Europeans lactose tolerant has happened at a much later time,” added Martin Sikora of the museum’s Centre for GeoGenetics.
NORMAN, OKLAHOMA—Leland Bement of the University of Oklahoma was surveying bison kill sites along the Beaver River in northwestern Oklahoma when he found butchered bison bones on a narrow bench of land between two arroyos. Such “arroyo traps,” where the ditches were used as natural drive lines, are the oldest-known method of large-scale bison hunting. The pieces of leg, foot, and back bones were accompanied by a quartzite hammerstone and a small flake made from Texas chert. This site is 11,500 years old, and is “the most recent Paleoindian site along this stretch of the river,” Bement told Western Digs. “All of these sites [in the Beaver River complex] are large-scale bison kills in arroyo traps. Each kill was of between 30 and 60 animals.” Taken together, the sites, which are part of a study being conducted by Kristen Carlson of the University of Oklahoma, reveal a transformation from the tools of the Clovis culture to the Folsom tradition. “To have a kill complex in use for over 800 years speaks to the ability of hunters to plan and coordinate and revisit a successful hunting ground through generations,” Carlson said. To read about the remarkable way prehistoric Native Americans hunted buffalo, go to "Letter from Montana: The Buffalo Chasers."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A large Byzantine-era church and additional rooms that may have served as living quarters and storage space have been uncovered near the town of Abu Ghosh, during work to expand the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. The church, placed near a spring, had a side chapel with a floor of white stone and a baptismal font in the shape of a four-leaf clover. Red-colored plaster among the rubble at the site indicates that the church’s walls were decorated with frescoes. Oil lamps, coins, glass vessels, marble fragments, and mother-of-pearl shells were also recovered. “The road station and its church were built in the Byzantine period beside the ancient road leading between Jerusalem and the coastal plain. This road station ceased to be used at the end of the Byzantine period, although the road beside which it was built was renewed and continued to be in use until modern times,” Annette Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority told The Times of Israel. To read about a Byzantine church that made our last Top 10 Discoveries of the Year list, go to "Sunken Byzantine Basilica."
LIMA, PERU—Peru’s Ministry of Culture announced the discovery of three statuettes crafted by the Caral civilization. According to Phys.org, the 3,800-year-old statuettes had been placed in a reed basket in a building in the ancient city of Vichama. Two of the mud statuettes are of a man and a woman painted in white, black, and red, and are thought to represent political authorities. The third statuette depicts a woman with 28 fingers and red dots on her white face, who may be a priestess. Two sculptures of women’s faces that had been wrapped in cloth and covered with yellow, blue, and orange feathers were also found by a team led by archaeologist Ruth Shady. She thinks the objects may have been used in religious rituals performed before the construction of a new building. To read about the discovery of a 4,000-year-old painting in Peru, go to "New World's Earliest Mural."
PAVLIKENI, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that four kilns and a well from the Roman period were discovered in northern Bulgaria during a project to upgrade the town’s water and sewer systems. The furnaces resemble the more than 50 furnaces that were uncovered at a Roman military veteran’s villa near the modern town of Pavlikeni in the 1970s. At the time, it had been thought that the modern town had been built on top of a Roman town and necropolis dating to mid-second century A.D. The ceramic factory was destroyed by the Goths at the end of the second century. To read about life and death on the Roman empire's eastern frontier, go to "Burial Customs."
DORSET, ENGLAND—An analysis of 30,000-year-old rabbit bones found in caves in the Iberian Peninsula suggests that rabbits were a crucial part of the modern human diet, but not in the diet of Neanderthals. “Rabbits originated in Iberia and they are a very special kind of resource, in that they can be found in large numbers, they are relatively easy to catch, and they are predictable. This means that they are quite a good food source to target. The fact that the Neanderthals did not appear to do so suggests that this was a resource they did not have access to in the same way as modern humans,” paleoecologist John Steward of Bournemouth University said in a press release. Neanderthals are usually thought of as hunters of large prey over short distances, but as the climate and environment changed and large game died out, Neanderthals may have been driven to extinction as well. Technological innovations could have helped modern humans adapt to catching faster, smaller prey. “If modern humans thrived when Neanderthals did not, it must mean that modern humans were better at exploiting resources than Neanderthals,” he explained. To read about the debate over whether to clone Neanderthals, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—While excavating ahead of a construction project in St. Augustine’s historical district, city archaeologist Carl Halbirt uncovered a late eighteenth-century horse burial. “This is the only horse burial we have ever uncovered here in the colonial downtown district,” he told First Coast News. The small horse had been buried on land that had been the site of the Spanish Dragoon Barracks, so the horse was likely to have been a part of the colonial Spanish cavalry in St. Augustine. Its size suggests that it was a now rare breed called a Marsh Tacky. “There’s this subgroup of swamp ponies that are descendants of the original horses brought over from Spain,” explained Amanda LaPorta, a colonial cavalry expert. Marsh Tackies are known for being strong, fast, and able to maneuver the Florida terrain. Halbirt thinks this horse had been a dragoon’s companion. “I think there’s reverence here. They actually laid it out on its side with the legs folded in the chest area. That’s a sign of reverence,” he said. To read about the role of horses in history, go to our newest feature, "The Story of the Horse."
YORK, ENGLAND—Nuclear physicist David Jenkins and archaeologist John Schofield of the University of York traveled to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the site of the Large Hadron Collider, and investigated it as if it was an archaeological site. “It is hard to think of anywhere more significant for all of humanity,” they said in a press release. The complex was established in 1954 on the Franco-Swiss border to promote peaceful cooperation between nations, and it became the place where the existence of the Higgs Boson was established in 2012, and the World Wide Web was created in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. “This is a landscape where events ranging from the ordinary to the iconic have become heritage over a short space of time. But this is not to imply the site has in any way reached the end of its useful life—far from it. Here scientists just get on with it, as they have done to spectacular effect for the last 60 years,” said Jenkins, who is himself a CERN researcher.