LONDON, ENGLAND—The Independent reports that genetic traces of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes bubonic plague, have been detected in skeletons recovered from an orderly, seventeenth-century burial pit in London’s Bedlam burial ground. No outward evidence of the disease, which kills quickly, was found on the bones, but plague killed more than 100,000 people in London in 1665, so researchers suspected that the possibly 100 people buried in the pit died in the epidemic. Fragments of pottery, glass, and coffin handles in the pit were used to help date it. The remains of the dead were stacked with care in the crowded cemetery, where more than 3,000 people were interred in all. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany, will now sequence the recovered Yersinia pestis genome and compare it to pathogens from other historic outbreaks of plague. Further tests on the bones could yield information on the victims’ diets and where they had been born. To read more about London, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."
TAHRIR, EGYPT—Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities has authenticated an ancient ushabti figurine recovered in Mexico. Ahram Online reports that the wooden statuette was handed over by a Mexican citizen who found it in his newly purchased house. Shabab Abdel-Gawad, head of Egypt's Antiquities Repatriation Department, said that the carving dates to the nineteenth dynasty, from around 1292 to 1190 B.C. Hieroglyphic text on the figurine includes the name “Ra-Nes,” and says that “he was honest.” Abdel-Gawad also suggested that the artifact had been excavated illegally and smuggled out of the country. The statuette is being restored at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir. To read more about Egypt, go to "The Great Parallelogram."
CLYDEBANK, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that Kenny Brophy of Glasgow University is leading a team of researchers in a new study of the Cochno Stone. “This is the biggest and, I would argue, one of the most important Neolithic art panels in Europe,” he said. The stone, which measures about 26 feet by 42 feet and is located in an urban area, was buried in 1965 to protect it from the weather, foot traffic, and vandals who carved graffiti into its surface. As a first step, the team is uncovering the stone. Then they will use 3-D imaging technology to record its cup and ring marks, and produce a life-size copy. The facsimile will include the prehistoric surface and the pre-1965 graffiti. To read about a silver hoard found in Scotland, go to "Lost and Found (Again)."
DINAJPUR, BANGLADESH—The Dhaka Tribune reports that a figurine of Mohini, the only female avatar of the god Vishnu, has been found in a temple estimated to date to the eleventh or twelfth century. This is the thought to be the first time that a stone idol of Mohini, whose image is well known in south and west India, has been found in the eastern subcontinent. The style of the temple itself is also highly unusual for the region. The Madhabgaon Vishnu temple “is the first Navarath temple in Bangladesh,” explained archaeologist Shadhin Sen. The team of archaeologists and students from Jahangirnagar University also found a shankha, or conch shell, which had been placed in the hand of a Vishnu statue; a sudarshana chakra, or a weapon with more than 100 serrated edges used by Vishnu; a mace; and part of the foot of a Vishnu statue. Local people have asked that this temple be opened to the public after the excavation is completed. For more, go to "Letter from Bangladesh: A Family's Passion."
ARAKAN STATE, MYANMAR—Narinjara News reports that a stone engraved with 44 sentences of text was unearthed at a pagoda located near the western coast of Myanmar. U Nyein Lwin, director of the local archaeological department, said that that almost half of the sentences on the stone are illegible because the stone was damaged on one side. The text is thought to date to the Mrauk Oo period, which dates from around 1430 to 1785, and will be translated. For more on Myanmar, go to "Earthquake Strikes Bagan Archaeological Zone."
ROSKILDE, DENMARK—The Guardian reports that a team led by museum owner Gert Normann Andersen and marine archaeologist Innes McCartney have found the wreckage of the HMS Tarpon, a Royal Navy T-class submarine sunk in 1940 by a heavily armed German merchant vessel, the Schiff 40. German naval records indicate that the Tarpon fired twice, and that both torpedoes missed the merchant vessel, which had been suspected of carrying arms to occupied Norway. The records also indicate that the German ship used sonar to find the Tarpon and dropped several depth charges on it. Divers found the Tarpon standing almost upright on the seabed off the coast of Denmark. “The damage was so severe behind the conning tower it would have flooded in seconds,” McCartney said. The glass in the submarine’s periscope had been shattered, and some of its hatches were open. Two of the submarine’s torpedo tubes were empty. McCartney explained that 57 British submarines were lost during the war. “The question for the Ministry of Defense is how to protect them from threats including fishing trawlers and illegal metal reclaimers,” he said. “After all, they are the tombs of British sailors.” For more, go to "Archaeology of World War II."
MONTREAL, CANADA—Archaeologists uncovered two complete graves and scattered human bones representing about 40 different people from a site that had been a Protestant cemetery between 1799 and 1852. The Star reports that the archaeological team was investigating the site ahead of the installation of electrical cables below René-Lévesque Boulevard in downtown Montreal. At this time, the researchers are not sure if the loose bones came from a mass grave, or if they were left behind when most of the remains from the cemetery were moved at the end of the nineteenth century. The bones will be analyzed to determine the age, sex, and size of the individuals. To read about another discovery in Canada, go to "Franklin’s Last Voyage."
SKAFTARHREPPUR, ICELAND—The Iceland Monitor reports that a group of men out hunting geese in southern Iceland recovered a 1,000-year-old Viking sword. “It was just lying there, waiting to be picked up,” said hunter Rúnar Stanley Sighvatsson. The men handed the artifact over to officials from the Cultural Heritage Center of Iceland. Experts believe the sword had been placed in a grave. An excavation of the site is being planned. For more, go to "Artifact: Viking Sword."
SWANSEA, WALES—BBC News reports that high-resolution, 3-D reconstructions of a skull and artifacts recovered from the wreckage of Henry VIII’s warship the Mary Rose are now available to the public. The skull, recovered on the ship’s lower deck, was identified by researchers as having belonged to a carpenter based on the tools, including a wood plane and a whetstone holder, found near the bones. The carpenter's remains reveal that he suffered from an abscess in his jaw, arthritis in his spine, ribs, and left clavicle. He also had a healed wound across his right eyebrow. Researchers will have access to additional bones recovered from the Mary Rose. “We're going to challenge the research community to see if they can actually do osteological analysis,” said materials engineer Richard Johnston of Swansea University. “Then we will take the results from around the world and try and compare those to a study that we did, where people looked at the real remains,” he explained. To read more about this wreck, go to "Mary Rose and Vasa."
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that archaeologists Gary Feinman and Linda Nicholas of The Field Museum discovered a carved stone crocodile in Lambityeco that could answer some questions about the ancient city. Located in Oaxaca, Mexico, Lambityeco had been thought to have had close connections to the larger city of Monte Albán. But the new excavations suggest that the residents of Lambityeco reorganized their public buildings to look less like the layout of Monte Albán, perhaps to reflect a change in their relationship. Feinman and Nicholas suggest that the crocodile stone, which is only carved on three sides, was originally a balustrade at Lambityeco’s ball court. That stairway was destroyed and blocked off during the remodel. They discovered the crocodile stone placed upside down, with one of its carved sides against a temple building, along a jar-lined path that connected the ball court and the temple. The path had also been hidden and barricaded. “The ball court was seen as access to the underworld. You’d come out of the underworld, get food from the jars, go up to the plaza—the level of earth—and up to the temple, where you accessed the supernatural world. That clearly changed when they remodeled,” Feinman said. To read more, go to "Deconstructing a Zapotec Figurine."
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—A recent building boom in Tennessee has uncovered many family cemeteries, including one at Nashville’s Aquinas College. The Tennessean reports that the small, nineteenth-century cemetery had been covered by a parking lot. A headstone at the site recorded the name of Charles Bosley, who died in 1870 at the age of 93. Archaeologists found a total of ten graves and five grave markers at the site, including stones for Bosley’s wife and daughter, who died in 1825 at the age of one. Historic documents revealed that the college had been built on Bosley’s farmland. Bosley himself was remembered in a 1963 newspaper article as “a man who was both rugged and rich.” Tennessee state historian and director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University said that as the suburbs of Nashville expanded, Bosley’s influence was largely forgotten. His descendants thought the burials had been moved off the family land. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Return to the Trail of Tears."
SALISBURY, ENGLAND—The Salisbury Journal reports that development in the city center has uncovered artifacts and features ranging from the medieval period through the Victorian age. The finds include medieval building foundations, a Tudor kiln, a sixteenth-century well, and silver coins from the Tudor period. Archaeologists also recovered a clasp or pin made of polished bone. “It was a nice surprise that so much of what we found has survived, considering all of the development on the site that’s gone on in the modern period,” said Ray Kennedy of Cotswold Archaeology. To read about another site in southern England, go to "The Many Lives of an English Manor House."
SUSSEX, ENGLAND—Culture 24 reports that archaeologists from England’s National Trust will use laser scans, environmental scanning, and analyze microscopic snails that only live in certain habitats to investigate an earthwork at the site of Belle Tout, which is located on the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. The huge structure, thought to be one of the largest prehistoric enclosures in England, may have been part of an early Bronze Age settlement. “We don’t know for sure how much we’ve lost over the last 6,000 years due to coastal erosion,” said archaeologist Tom Dommett. To read more about prehistoric archaeology in Britain, go to "Hillforts of the Iron Age."
CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the Egyptian-Japanese team recovering Khufu’s second solar boat from a pit near the Great Pyramid of Giza found a unique wooden beam and circular and U-shaped hooks made of metal. “What we can expect for now is that the beam may be the oar holder and the metal pieces may be frames to hold the oars and prevent friction with the boat body,” said Eissa Zidan, director of restoration for the Khufu Second Boat Project. The boat could eventually be reconstructed and put on display with the first solar boat at the new Grand Egyptian Museum. For more, go to "Oldest Egyptian Funerary Boat."
ARMINDALE, AUSTRALIA—Rock art in Australia’s northwest Kimberley dates to the Paleolithic era, according to a report in Perth Now. A team of researchers with the Australian Research Council documented, analyzed, and dated more than 200 rock sites in the region with different dating techniques. One of the techniques, optically stimulated luminescence, dated sand grains found in fossilized mud wasp nests that had been built over the ancient images. “As long as we understand how the nests are constructed and how well they’re preserved over thousands of years, we can use the resulting age to confidently claim that the artist painted this image before the mud wasp constructed its nest,” explained geochronologist Kira Westaway of Macquarie University. Accelerator mass spectrometry was also used to date the carbon in the wasp nests and spots of beeswax found on the images. June Ross of the University of New England said that the oldest image in the study, “a perfectly preserved, yam-like motif painted in mulberry colored ochre on the ceiling of a deep cavern,” was dated to more than 16,000 years old. She added that Australia’s oldest pictures may have been painted along the ancient coastline and may now be submerged. To read more, go to "The First Artists."
BERLIN, GERMANY—The Press Association reports that human bones, including fractured skulls, teeth, vertebrae, and other bones from both adults and children, have been uncovered on land that belongs to Berlin’s Free University, near the site of what was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Human bones were first discovered on the site in 2014. Some of the bones bear adhesive residue, which suggests they may have been put on display. The Institute is known to have had a collection of human remains from Germany’s colonies. During World War II, body parts of people killed at Auschwitz were sent to the Institute by SS doctor Josef Mengele for pseudo-scientific studies pursued by members of the Nazi party. Susan Pollock of the Free University and her team will examine the bones and try to determine the number of people represented, their ages, and their sexes. To read more about this period, go to "Archaeology of World War II."
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—Roger Seymour of the University of Adelaide and his colleagues in Australia and South Africa calculated the rate of blood flow to the brain in 12 species of hominins who lived over a span of three million years, according to a report in Popular Science. Seymour’s team based the rate of blood flow on the size of the two holes in the base of hominid skulls that allow arteries to reach the brain. They found that while brain size increased by about 350 percent, blood flow to the brain increased 600 percent. The scientists suggest that the increase in blood flow could have provided the evolving hominid brain with increasing levels of oxygen and nutrients. To read about research into the evolution of the human face, go to "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—NBC News reports that researchers led by Emanuela Cristiani of the University of Cambridge examined micro-fossils in the dental calculus of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who lived in central Europe some 8,600 years ago. She found evidence that they ate starches such as wheat, barley, millet, peas, and lentils. The wheat and barley granules, however, were consistent with early domestic species found in early Neolithic communities in southeastern Europe. She thinks the grains may have been introduced to the inland foragers through social networks 400 years before they adopted domesticated animals and farming tools. It had been thought that the domesticated plants, animals, farming tools, pottery, and timber houses usually associated with farming and the Neolithic age were adopted as a package. To read more, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."
MUNICH, GERMANY—Live Science reports that scientists Michal Feldman, Johannes Krause, Michaela Harbeck, and their colleagues have conducted a new analysis of the genome of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium thought to have caused the Justinian plague. The researchers obtained a high-quality sample of DNA from the tooth of a sixth-century skeleton unearthed more than 50 years ago at Altenerding, a cemetery in southern Germany. The new study found mutations in the bacterial genome that the researchers say are associated with plague virulence. (As many as 50 million people in the Byzantine world are thought to have died of the plague between the sixth and the eighth centuries.) The new study also confirmed the conclusions of a previous study of Yersinia pestis, conducted by David Wagner of Northern Arizona University, that the strain could be traced back to China. “More high-quality genomes from different locations and time periods could shed light on the disease transmission routes and the rate that it spread,” Feldman said. To read more, go to "A Killer Bacterium Expands Its Legacy."
FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks analyzed the stable isotopes of charcoal samples collected from the 17 fire pits at the Upward Sun River site in central Alaska. Dwellings at the site have been dated to as early as 13,200 years ago. Western Digs reports that the unique chemical signature of salmon fat was detected in ten of the cooking pits. One of these pits dated to at least 11,800 years old. Evidence for the cooking of freshwater fish and land animals was found in other pits, suggesting that the different foods were consistently prepared in different areas over the course of thousands of years. It had been previously believed that the Ice Age hunters who cooked here relied on land animals, such as bison, elk, and mammoth for food. For more on early peoples in the New World, go to "America, in the Beginning."