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16th-Century Crypt Discovered in New World’s First Cathedral

July 31, 2017

SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—According to a report in El País, a brick vault that could hold the remains of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo has been found at the Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the first cathedral built in the Americas. Oviedo wrote Summary of the Natural History of the Indies, the first account of the New World, and served as governor of the fortress of Santo Domingo from 1532 until his death in 1557. “We know that up to middle of the sixteenth century there was an altar dedicated to Santa Lucía built on Oviedo’s instructions, and that right underneath he ordered a vault to be constructed, where he was buried,” said Esteban Prieto Vicioso, head of the conservation project at the cathedral. Christopher Columbus had also been buried at the cathedral for a time, but his body was later moved. Prieto Vicioso explained that there is no documentary evidence that Oviedo’s body was ever exhumed, however. The restoration team plans to open the crypt, which, in addition to Oviedo’s remains, might hold an iron key to the fortress of Santo Domingo. A head injury received during a knife fight could help Prieto Vicioso’s team identify Oviedo’s remains. For more on archaeology in the Caribbean, go to “Finding Lost African Homelands.”

Categories: Blog

Fifth-Century Baptismal Font Found in Bulgaria

July 29, 2017

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that a Christian baptismal font has been found at a basilica site in the ancient city of Philippopolis, which is located in southern Bulgaria. “Some time in the second half or towards the end of the fifth century, there was a Constantinople Patriarch Makedonii, who had been deported and who was sent to our Black Sea in exile,” said archaeologist Zheni Tankova. Tankova thinks this exiled bishop may have given the font as a gift to the basilica. Other architectural elements uncovered in the basilica include mosaic flooring, architraves, and friezes. The team has also uncovered some of the street that led from the bishop’s residence to the basilica. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Categories: Blog

2,300-Year-Old Carpentry Tool Discovered in Japan

July 29, 2017

ISHIKAWA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that an intact carpenter’s tool has been unearthed at the Yokaichijikata site on the island of Honshu. The 2,300-year-old tool is made up of an iron yariganna, or cutting pike plane, measuring about six inches long. The iron is thought to have been imported from overseas, since the tool predates known iron production in Japan. The upper part of the iron bar was inserted into a carved haft, the top of which resembles the handle of a baseball bat, and was affixed with tape made of Japanese cherry bark. The small tool may have been used with just one hand to smooth wooden surfaces. Much larger yariganna would have been used with two hands. The tool could provide information on how iron was traded throughout the Japanese archipelago. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Categories: Blog

18th-Century Cemetery Excavated on Nova Scotia

July 29, 2017

CAPE BRETON ISLAND, CANADA—Students from the University of New Brunswick are assisting with the effort to exhume approximately 1,000 eighteenth-century graves near the Fortress of Louisbourg before they erode into the Atlantic Ocean, according to a report from CBC News. The settlement began in 1713 as a French fishing village, but it grew into a commercial port and was surrounded by fortification walls by 1740. The site changed hands several times with the British over the following tumultuous 30 years. “What we’ll be looking at is overall health patterns,” said Amy Scott of the University of New Brunswick. “We will also be looking at elements of trauma, infectious disease, migration patterns, even potentially ancient DNA,” she said. The remains will be reburied when the project is completed. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to “Discovering Terror.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Child’s Burial Unearthed in Northern Russia

July 29, 2017

SALEKHARD, RUSSIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, a medieval burial containing the remains of a young child has been discovered in northern Russia, above the Arctic Circle. Researchers spotted a fragment of a bronze bowl exposed by wind erosion while on an expedition to monitor permafrost on the Gydan Peninsula. The turquoise-colored piece of bronze is thought to have been made in Persia, and was about 200 years old when placed over part of the child’s head some 1,000 years ago. The lone burial could have been left by traders who camped at the site while hunting for walrus, birds, and furs. “He or she was from some wealthy family, judging by the things laid in the grave,” said archaeologist Andrey Gusev of the Arctic Research Center. A ceramic vessel, fragments of fur clothing, a ring, and the decorated handle and sheath of a knife were also recovered. The iron blade itself was not preserved. For more, go to “Siberian William Tell.”

Categories: Blog

Monumental Tomb Discovered Near Pompeii

July 28, 2017

NAPLES, ITALY—A monumental tomb with a long funerary epigraph describing the life of the deceased has been discovered in Porta Stabia, according to a report in ANSAmed. The inscription is missing the man’s name, but it says he was a duoviro, or Pompeii city magistrate, and describes his coming of age, his wedding, and his sponsorship of banquets and games. The inscription also contains information about an armed brawl at a gladiator show in Pompeii in 59 B.C., in which the tomb’s occupant may have been killed. We know from an account left by the Roman historian Tacitus that after a Senate investigation into the brawl, ordered by Emperor Nero, that the residents of Pompeii were forbidden to hold gladiator games for ten years, and those who organized the games and incited the clash were exiled. Pompeii’s general director, Massimo Osanna, said the newly found inscription complements the account left by Tacitus and mentions that some of the city’s magistrates were also exiled. For more on Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

Categories: Blog

New Imaging Technique Reveals Sixth-Century Text

July 28, 2017

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that a sixth-century text has been found hidden in the binding of a sixteenth-century book of poetry. A team led by Emeline Pouyet and Marc Walton of the Northwestern University–Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies developed a technique combining visible hyperspectral imaging and X-ray fluorescence to examine the binding of a 1537 copy of Works and Days, a book written by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod, when they noticed writing beneath the parchment covering the book board. They suspect the sixteenth-century bookbinder tried to remove the text on the board by washing and scraping it, but some of the ink remained and over time, it degraded the parchment placed over it. The new imaging technique revealed the recycled materials had originally been pages of the Roman law code, annotated with references to the church’s canon law in the margins, perhaps by a medieval university student. Pouyet and Walton say the new imaging technique will make it easier to examine delicate, recycled books when the powerful X-rays of a synchrotron are not available. For more on using new technology to read ancient texts, go to “The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum.”

Categories: Blog

Scientists Analyze Ancient Canaanite DNA

July 28, 2017

HINXTON, ENGLAND—According to a report in Science News, researchers led by Marc Haber of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute mapped the genomes of five 3,700-year-old Canaanite skeletons uncovered in Sidon, Lebanon, and compared the results with other ancient and modern populations. Little is known about the Canaanites, who left few written records. Scholars have had to rely upon second-hand accounts written by ancient Hebrew, Egyptian, and Greek sources for historical information on the origins and supposed demise of the Canaanites. The results of the DNA study suggest that the Canaanites descended from early farmers who settled in the Levant some 10,000 years ago, and migrants from Iran who arrived between 6,600 and 3,550 years ago. The spread of the Akkadian Empire between 4,400 and 4,200 years ago could account for the large contribution of migrants from the east to Canaanite ancestry. In fact, a similar mixture of genes has been found in ancient skeletons unearthed in Jordan. The researchers also found that modern Lebanese people received about 93 percent of their DNA from the ancient Canaanites. The remaining seven percent likely came from Eurasians who arrived in the Levant some 3,700 to 2,200 years ago. To read more about ancient Canaan and its time as an Egyptian colony, go to "Egypt's Final Redoubt in Canaan." 

Categories: Blog

Hunters May Have Driven New Zealand’s Swans to Extinction

July 27, 2017

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND—Stuff.co.nz reports that New Zealand’s native black swans were hunted to extinction by Polynesians in the fifteenth century. Nic Rawlence of the University of Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory and his team compared the skeletons of living birds and fossilized swan remains, and examined DNA samples of the birds. The researchers concluded that almost all of the black swans now living in New Zealand are descended from swans brought from Australia in the 1860s. The native swans also arrived from Australia, but between one and two million years ago. They were heavier, and had longer legs and smaller wings, and might have eventually become flightless in another million years, Rawlence said. It had been thought the black swans living in New Zealand now were the same species as those found in the fossil record. Rawlence and his colleagues dubbed the fossil species “pouwa,” after a black bird that lived in the Chatham Islands in a Moriori legend. For more, go to “Angry Birds.”

Categories: Blog

Bronze Age “Lunch Box” Found in Switzerland

July 27, 2017

MUNICH, GERMANY—A wooden box containing traces of grains has been recovered on Switzerland’s Lötschberg Mountain, according to a report in The International Business Times. The 3,500-year-old box is thought to have been lost or forgotten at the summit of an alpine pass, some 8,500 feet above sea level. Molecular traces of spelt, emmer, and barley were detected in the box by a team including Jessica Hendy of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. “We knew that cereals were around but don’t know how important they were in the general economy,” she said. “Now we’ve developed this, we can try to apply it more widely to understand how important cereals were for these early farmers.” For more, go to “Switzerland Everlasting.”

Categories: Blog

Gold Coin and Ivory Icon Unearthed in Bulgaria

July 27, 2017

BOURGAS, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that a gold coin and an icon carved from ivory have been unearthed at the site of Rusokastro Fortress, which is located on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast. Milen Nikolov of the Regional History Museum in Bourgas said the fortress was part of a complex defense system along the border with Byzantium. The coin dates to the early seventh century A.D., to the reign of Emperor Phocas, when the fortress is thought to have been built. The ivory icon, an extremely valuable item, probably belonged to a ruler who lived in the palace built on the site at the end of the fourteenth century. “Historically, it is definitely the place where Tsar Ivan Alexander, Emperor Andronik III Paleologus, and probably King Todor Svetoslav Terter resided,” Nikolov said. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Categories: Blog

Freshwater Turtles Hunted in Israel 60,000 Years Ago

July 26, 2017

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, Rebecca Biton of Hebrew University has found evidence that hominins hunted freshwater turtles in the northern Jordan Valley some 60,000 years ago. “In Israel, at every archaeological site you will find some evidence of the exploitation of tortoises, which do not have much meat, but were consumed,” she said. The discovery of Western Caspian turtle remains, which live in fresh water, suggests that humans were also exploiting animals from Hula Lake and the surrounding swamps. “They took the turtle and smashed the shell and cooked whatever meat they could extract,” she said. The meat was carefully removed with a flint knife, she added. For more, go to “Let a Turtle Be Your Psychopomp.”

Categories: Blog

Christian Crucifix Found at Michigan’s Fort Michilimackinac

July 26, 2017

MACKINAW CITY, MICHIGAN—According to a report by 9 & 10 News, archaeologists working at the site of an eighteenth-century fur trader’s home in Fort Michilimackinac have discovered a small brass crucifix. Archaeologist Lynn Evans suggested the artifact may be older than the British trade silver uncovered at the site last week. Located on the shore of the Straits of Mackinac, the fort was constructed by French soldiers in 1715 and thrived as a center of the fur trade, even after the British took control in 1761. During the Revolutionary War, however, the British demolished the fort and moved the fur trading hub to Mackinac Island. The cross was found in the rubble left behind at the site of the original fort. For more on archaeology in Michigan, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”

Categories: Blog

Byzantine-Era Wine Press Discovered in Israel

July 26, 2017

RAMAT NEGEV, ISRAEL—A 1,600-year-old wine press has been found in a large building along the incense trade route in the southern Negev desert, according to a report in The Times of Israel. Archaeologist Tali Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the stone building measured about 44 yards square—large enough to have supplied wine for an army unit or for export throughout the Byzantine Empire. Its juice run-off pit could have held more than 1,500 gallons. “In the entire southern Negev region, there is only one other wine press that is included inside an enclosed structure,” commented archaeologist Yoram Chaimi. Gini thinks the winepress fell out of use after a sixth-century plague, when there was less need for wine in the region. For more, go to “A Prehistoric Cocktail Party.”

Categories: Blog

1,100-Year-Old Coin Unearthed in Scotland

July 26, 2017

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a ninth-century coin was found alongside evidence of a longhouse at Burghead Fort, a site researchers believe to have been a Pictish power center in northeast Scotland. The site is thought to have been occupied between 500 and 1000 A.D., and was largely destroyed by a nineteenth-century building project. The Alfred the Great coin, discovered in the longhouse's floor layers, was pierced, so it may have been worn by its owner. “The coin is also interesting as it shows that the fort occupants were able to tap into long-distance trade networks,” said Gordon Noble, senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

Categories: Blog

A History of Citrus Fruit

July 25, 2017

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Archaeobotanist Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University has traced the spread of citrus fruit from Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean, according to a report in Live Science. She used ancient texts, murals, coins, and other artifacts to study the ancient citrus trade, and she tracked the spread of citrus fruits from Southeast Asia into the Mediterranean through fossil pollen, charcoals, seeds, and other fruit remains. Langgut found that by the third and second centuries B.C., the citron had spread to the western Mediterranean from the Levant, where a 2,500-year-old fruit was found in a Persian-style garden in Jerusalem. The oldest lemon found in Rome dates to sometime between the late first century B.C. and the early first century A.D. She explained that, at first, lemons and citrons were reserved for the Roman elite, who prized them for their healing qualities, pleasant odor, taste, and symbolic use. She thinks sour oranges, limes, and pomelos may have been grown as cash crops more than a millennium later, which made them available to more people. “The Muslims played a crucial role in the dispersal of cultivated citrus in Northern Africa and Southern Europe, as evident also from the common names of many of the citrus types which were derived from Arabic,” Langgut said. For more on the archaeology of food, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

Categories: Blog

18th-Century Plague Victims Unearthed in Medieval Cemetery

July 25, 2017

POZNAŃ, POLAND—The remains of three people who may have died during an early eighteenth-century epidemic have been unearthed at the site of a medieval cemetery in west-central Poland, according to a report in Science & Scholarship in Poland. A silver coin helped archaeologists date the burials. “The medieval graves are dug deep beneath the surface of the earth, so it was a surprise to discover three skeletons above them,” said archaeologist Pawel Pawlak. As many as eight or nine thousand people, or 65 percent of the population of Poznań, are thought to have died of the plague in 1709. “The residents of Poznań had to deal with the burials of their loved ones themselves,” Pawlak explained. The bodies are thought to have been buried in a garden near a house. One of the bodies, which appears to have belonged to an elderly woman, had been placed in a pine coffin, and the other two were probably just wrapped in shrouds. Among the medieval burials in the cemetery, Pawlak’s team also found the remains of a man who may have been executed and quartered before he was hastily buried in a pit. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow.”

Categories: Blog

Small Pot Unearthed at Scotland’s Ness of Brodgar

July 25, 2017

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a rare small pot with a “waisted” profile has been discovered at the Ness of Brodgar, a 5,000-year-old complex of monumental stone buildings enclosed by thick stone walls. Victorian archaeologists suggested such pots could have held incense, perhaps in ceremonies, according to site director Nick Card. He added that such pots seem to be associated with the burials, but analysis of residues in the pots has been inconclusive. The pots could also have been used to carry embers for cremations, he said. To read in-depth about the Ness of Brodgar, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Categories: Blog

Possible Extinct Human Relative Detected in Saliva

July 25, 2017

BUFFALO, NEW YORK—According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers led by Omer Gokcumen of the University at Buffalo say they detected a “ghost” species of ancient hominin while they were studying a protein that occurs in saliva and its influence on the bacteria in the human mouth. To study the protein, known as MUC7, the researchers examined the MUC7 gene in more than 2,500 modern human genomes. The researchers say a version of the gene found in people living in sub-Saharan Africa was “wildly different” from those found in other modern humans. Gokcumen explained that even the MUC7 genes from Neanderthal and Denisovan samples were closer to those of other modern human populations than the sub-Saharan variant. He thinks the variation may have been introduced to the population by an as-yet-undiscovered hominin that lived as recently as 150,000 years ago, based upon gene mutation rates. For more, go to “Proteins Solve a Hominin Puzzle.”

Categories: Blog

Dog Domestication: The Survival of the Friendliest?

July 22, 2017

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY—Live Science reports that it may have taken just a few genetic changes to transform wolves into creatures who can communicate and interact with humans. An interdisciplinary team of researchers tested the friendliness of domesticated dogs and human-socialized wolves by measuring how much time the dogs and wolves spent around humans, and if they turned to human companions for help in solving a puzzle box. The researchers then analyzed DNA samples taken from the dogs and wolves, and found the differences in social behavior correlated with variations in three genes. “Some of these structural variants could explain a huge shift in a behavioral profile—that you go from being a wolf-like, aloof creature, to something that’s obsessed with a human,” vonHoldt said. The researchers also looked at those three genes in samples from 201 dogs from 13 different breeds, some known for their friendliness, and found similar patterns in genetic variation and friendly behavior. In humans, missing DNA in the corresponding part of the genome can produce Willilams-Beuren syndrome, which is associated with exceptional gregariousness. To read more about the history of humans and dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."

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