NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY—Gail M. Ashley of Rutgers University, Clayton R. Magill of the Geological Institute in Zurich, Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo of Complutense University in Madrid, and Katherine H. Freeman of Pennsylvania State University have reconstructed the landscape at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, some 1.8 million years ago, from a layer of bones and organic matter preserved in volcanic ash. The detailed landscape, which included a freshwater spring, wetlands, woodlands, and grasslands, will help paleoanthropologists to understand how early hominins, including Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis, survived. “We were able to map out what the plants were on the landscape with respect to where the humans and their stone tools were found. That’s never been done before,” Ashley said in a press release. The information could help scientists determine if early humans were hunting or if they scavenged meat left by competing carnivores, such as lions, leopards, and hyenas. “The subject of eating meat is an important questions defining current research on hominins. We know that the increase in the size of the brain, just the evolution of humans, is probably tied to more protein,” she said. For more on the Olduvai Gorge, go to "Zinj and the Leakeys."
PARIS, FRANCE—According to a press release, a team of French archaeologists headed by Guillaume Gernez of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) has discovered a complex made up of two main buildings and several smaller ones at a site in central Oman known as Mudhmar East. In a small room in the larger of the two buildings, the team found a collection of under-sized bronze weapons dating to between 900 and 600 B.C. scattered on the floor. Thought to have been models of actual weapons, the two small quivers, five battle axes, five daggers, arrowheads, and complete bows may have been placed on furniture or shelves, or perhaps hung on the walls. Objects like this have never been found before on the Arabian Peninsula or in the Middle East. Incense burners and small bronze snakes have been found in the other building at the site, suggesting that the weaponry may have served a ceremonial function. To read about a Bronze Age dagger found in Denmark, go to "Artifact."
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—The remains of approximately 150 people that were removed from an eroding beach in the Kodiak Archipelago in the 1960s will be repatriated under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. After the excavation from Chirikof Island, which is federal land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the remains were held at the University of Wisconsin, and later moved to Indiana University in Bloomington. “Many tribes around the country have their ancestors and collections from their land scattered throughout the nation, and so this law was developed to help tribes and also museums to develop procedures so that there’s a process for returning funerary objects, sacred objects, and human remains to tribes,” Marnie Leist, Alutiiq Museum Curator of Collections, told KNBA.org. The repatriation process will be completed by 2018. To read in-depth about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A new study suggests that slicing, pounding, and eventually cooking meats and vegetables reduced the effort it took to chew them and the number of chews required per day by early humans. “Meat has a lot of nutrients, but it is also very elastic. You can think of it as being like a rubber band,” Katie Zink of Harvard University said in a press release. She gave volunteers raw, sliced, pounded, and cooked goat, and carrots, beets, yams, and other vegetables to chew until they would normally swallow, but then had the volunteers spit out the food. Zink then analyzed the food particles and found that smaller teeth are not adequate for consuming raw meat. “Eating meat and using stone tools to process food apparently made possible key reductions in the jaws, teeth, and chewing muscles that occurred during human evolution,” she explained. To read about Homo erectus, go to "Bon Voyage, Caveman."
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—A team of scientists from the University of Manchester and the College of Charleston have developed and tested a technique to determine if a bone specimen is suitable for use in radiocarbon analysis. The process of radiocarbon dating requires collagen, which may have deteriorated even in an otherwise well-preserved specimen. “Our new method has so far exhibited a 100 percent success rate with regards to successfully categorizing samples as suitable for dating or not, a figure significantly larger than the success rates achieved via previously used techniques,” Mike Bukley, creator of the technique, said in a press release. The team tested the new method, called “ZooMS,” on sub-fossil bone specimens collected from cave deposits in the tropical Cayman Islands. Collagen fingerprints were obtained for all of the sub-fossil bone specimens that yielded radiocarbon dates, while radiocarbon dates could not be obtained from samples that gave poor collagen fingerprints. ZooMS “can reduce time and expense, whilst lowering the risk of unreliable dates, preventing unnecessary sample destruction and providing additional information on species identification,” Buckley explained. To read more, go to "Nondestructive Radiocarbon Dating."
MILAN, ITALY—ANSA.it reports that a tomb dating to the eighth century B.C. has been discovered at the archaeological site of Vulci in northern Lazio. It has yielded an amber necklace, a golden Egyptian scarab, and rare pottery. Scientists think that the occupant of the tomb, whose bones have been found wrapped in cloth, may have been an Etruscan princess. To read about more discoveries at Vulci, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."
TUSCON, ARIZONA—Detailed records of Spanish shipwrecks and tree-ring data have been combined to offer new information on historic hurricanes. The growth of trees is slowed in years with hurricanes, and so the storms leave a mark on annual growth rings. Wood from shipwrecks can be dated, revealing when they had been built. Researchers checked this information against a list of ships lost in Caribbean storms between 1495 and 1825. They found a 75 percent reduction in the number of Caribbean hurricanes between 1645 and 1715, a time of cooler temperatures in the northern hemisphere and little sunspot activity that is known as the Maunder Minimum. “By combining shipwreck data and tree-ring data, we are extending the Caribbean hurricane record back in time and that improves our understanding of hurricane variability,” Valerie Trouet of the University of Arizona said in a press release. This information could help scientists predict future hurricanes in the changing climate. To read in-depth about nautical archaeology, go to "Letter From Bermuda: Secrets of a Civil War Shipwreck."
MOGHALMARI, INDIA—An archaeological excavation in eastern India at the site of a sixth-century Buddhist monastery, or vihara, has recovered a fragment of gold embedded in terracotta. “We were stunned to find the portion of the gold crown," archaeologist Prakash Maity told The Times of India. "We feel it was part of the main Buddha statue of the vihara. Gold ornaments were normally not part of Buddha statues. But the Vajrayana sect of Buddhism worshipped what was known as the Crown Buddha. It seems this gold crown was worn by a Crown Buddha.” Statuettes, pottery, bronze artifacts, and gold coins bearing the name Samachar Deva have also been found recently. “It is possible that the Moghalmari vihara received royal patronage during the pre-Pala times from Samachar Deva, a local satrap who came into prominence in south Bengal after the fall of the Guptas in A.D. 550,” Maity explained. Two seals recovered at the site suggest that the monastery was known as “Sribandaka vihara.” To read more about archaeology in India, go to "India's Village of the Dead."
CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty announced that a collection of historic documents has been found in a Supreme Council of Antiquities storehouse in the Al-Abbassiya district of Cairo. The documents include, maps, architectural diagrams, and letters exchanged between the historic Egyptian Antiquities Organization and early Egyptologists such as Gaston Maspero, Jacques de Morgan, Pierre Lacau, and Howard Carter. There are also papers from the Gabry and Fayyed families who were known to trade in antiquities; a file on the Egyptian Exploration Society; and a file on the French Institute for Oriental Studies. The French Institute at the time had been working at Tanis, Matariya in Heliopolis, and Karnak Temple in Luxor. A committee has been formed to study and archive the collection of documents. “These are the oldest documents found in the history of the Antiquities Ministry,” Hisham El Leithy, director general of the Egyptian Antiquities Registration Center, told Ahram Online. To read more about Egyptology, go to "The Cult of Amun."
AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS—Oyster reefs in New York Harbor provided protection from floods and storm waves, according to Jon Woodruff and Christine Brandon of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While investigating sand deposits left by Hurricane Sandy, Woodruff and Brandon discovered that there was no record of storm deposits prior to the period between 1600 and 1800. “If it were just one site it would have been one thing, but at every site we saw the same: no storm deposits for thousands of years before European settlement and then after colonization, storm waves start to become more and more effective in transporting sand inland to our field sites,” Woodruff said in a press release. “We kept reaching dead ends until we considered one of the largest impacts European settlers had on New York Harbor, the decimation of its natural oyster beds,” he explained. Philip Orton at Stevens Institute of Technology tested the idea with a circulation and wave simulation model. The team also collected core sediment samples dating back about 3,000 years. They found as much as a 200 percent increase in wave energy with the loss of the oyster beds. To read in-depth about prehistoric North Americans relationship to coastal environments, go to "The Edible Landscape."
HAIFA, ISRAEL—Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, Eric Cline of George Washington University, and Andrew Koh of Brandeis University think there may have been a winery during the Middle Bronze Age at the Canaanite palace at Tel Kabri. Analysis of residues from the jars discovered in four storerooms at the site revealed that the wine had been mixed with different flavorings, such as terebinth resin, cedar oil, honey, and other plant extracts. “It seems that some of the new storerooms were used for mixing wines with various flavorings and for storing empty jars for filling with the mixed wine. We are starting to think that the palace did not just have storerooms for finished produce, but also had a winery where wine was prepared for consumption,” Yasur-Landau said in a press release. Tel Kabri has also yielded select parts of sheep and goats, suggesting that the rulers who lived there put on luxurious banquets. “In this period it was not normal practice to mix wine beforehand. Accordingly, in order to provide guests with high-quality wines, the palace itself must have had a winery where they made prestigious wine and served it immediately to guests,” Yasur-Landau explained. To read about another major excavation in Israel, go to "Excavating Tel Kadesh."
KURE BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA—The wreckage of an iron-hulled ship has been discovered by the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology and the Institute of International Maritime Research in the Atlantic Ocean. It was found near the mouth of the Cape Fear River and Fort Caswell, built to defend the port of Wilmington in the early nineteenth century. The vessel may be one of three Confederate blockade runners—the Agnes E. Fry, Spunkie, or Georgianna McCaw—known to have been lost in the area. “A new runner is a really big deal. The state of preservation on this wreck is among the best we’ve ever had,” Billy Ray Morris, Deputy State Archaeologist-Underwater and Director of the Underwater Archaeology branch said in a press release. Union forces cut off this last Confederate supply line in January 1865. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—Historians have suggested that Henry VIII, who had been described as an even-tempered and intelligent young man, may have suffered traumatic brain injuries that caused lasting health and behavioral problems. Muhammad Qaiser Ikram and Fazle Hakim Saijad of Yale University analyzed Henry’s letters and other historical sources for information on his medical history and events that could explain his ailments. While in his 30s, Henry was injured during a jousting tournament when a lance penetrated his visor, and he received another blow to the head while attempting to pole-vault over a brook. In 1536, a horse fell on him during jousting match and the king was unconscious for two hours. “Historians agree his behavior changed after 1536,” behavioral neurologist Arash Salardini said in a press release. Salardini and his team argue that traumatic brain injury offers a better explanation for Henry’s memory problems, explosive anger, inability to control impulses, headaches, insomnia, and perhaps even impotence than other ailments that have been suggested, such as syphilis, diabetes, and Cushing Syndrome. To read about archaeology at one of Henry VIII's royal estates, go to "The Many Lives of an English Manor House."
BEIJING, CHINA—Scholars say they have confirmed that a 2,000-year-old tomb in Jiangxi Province belonged to Liu He, the grandson of Emperor Wu. Also known as the Marquis of Haihun, a small kingdom to the north of Jiangxi, Liu He was deposed from the throne after serving only 27 days as emperor. “There are six pieces of evidence to prove our conclusion. The three direct pieces of evidence are letters from Liu He and his wife to the emperor, the 90 golden pieces we found between the outer and inner coffins, and a jade stamp, all of which bore his name,” Xin Lixiang of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage told ECNS. “And the indirect evidence includes Han-Dynasty official scripts we found on bamboo slips and wooden tablets, coins and porcelain and ceramics, in styles consistent with the works of that age,” he added. Some of the artifacts have gone on display in Beijing, but the bamboo slips and wooden tablets are being carefully conserved. “Those light wooden pieces are the most difficult items to clean and preserve, and they are terribly rotten. We are using the most advanced technologies on them,” added excavation team leader Yang Jun. To read more about archaeology in China, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."
PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND—Workers discovered burials while installing a new heating system in the floor of Stoke Damerel Church, which is thought to have been built in the thirteenth century. A large burial vault was uncovered near the center of the floor and may hold as many as twelve coffins. Most of the burials have been found toward the rear, older part of the church and may date to the fifteenth century. “When the church was extended through the eighteenth century, people seem to have had scant respect for burials as bones were all over the place and must belong to all sorts of people,” church warden John Steer told The Plymouth Herald. The remains will be reburied as close to where they were found as possible under the new church floor. To read more about archaeological work in English churches, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."
ROME, ITALY—A 4,000-year-old cemetery made up of more than 100 tombs has been found near Bethlehem in the West Bank. Now known as Khalet al-Jam’a, the cemetery probably served an undiscovered settlement for more than 1,500 years. Many of its tombs have been destroyed by modern construction or looting, but at least 30 tombs have survived. Many of them are shaft tombs with one or more rock-cut chambers. According to Lorenzo Nigro of Sapienza University of Rome, the settlement was situated near trade routes, and artifacts from the tombs indicate that it had been a wealthy place. “Typical pieces of the burial sets are finely executed carinated bowls, small shouldered jars/bowls with everted rim[s], one-spouted lamps, huge and well-refined Canaanite jars with two or four handles, as well as bronze daggers and spearheads,” he wrote in the journal Vicino Oriente as reported in Live Science. The settlement may have been “Beth-Lehem,” referred to in ancient texts. The cemetery fell out of use around 650 B.C. “It seems that the town suffered a crisis,” Nigro wrote in Vicino Oriente. To read about Egyptian influence in Canaan, go to "Egyptian Style in Canaan."
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA—People living on Panama’s Pedro González Island some 6,200 years ago grew maize and root crops, fished, gathered palm fruits and shellfish, and hunted dwarf deer, opossums, agoutis, iguanas, and large snakes. But they eventually hunted the dwarf deer to extinction. “When I was washing the animal bones from the first test cut in 2008, out fell a deer ankle bone called a calcaneum. It was so tiny that I realized we had come across a population that had probably dwarfed through isolation,” archaeologist Richard Cooke of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute said in a press release. Animals on Panama’s Pearl Islands became isolated when the seas rose some 8,500 years ago. Over time, isolated animals competing for limited resources can undergo a reduction in size. An adult deer on Pedro González Island weighed less than 22 pounds. Cooke and his team recovered some 2,500 fragments of dwarf deer bones that had been butchered, burned, smashed, and bore human teeth marks from a midden near the coast. Fewer bones were recovered in the youngest layer of the midden, and those that were found were from younger individuals. No deer bones were found after 2,300 years ago. To read more about archaeology in Panama, go to "Pirates of the Original Panama Canal."
PITLOCHRY, SCOTLAND—A copper alloy pendant, a harness boss, two buckles, part of the support for a sword belt, horseshoes, buttons, and musket munitions were recovered by archaeologists from GUARD Archaeology, who conducted a survey at the site of the Battle of Killiecrankie ahead of road construction in the region. On July 27, 1689, Jacobites led by John Graham of Claverhouse, also known as “Bonnie Dundee,” faced King William’s troops under the command of General Hugh Mackay of Scourie. Grenades are thought to have been used for the first time in the United Kingdom during this battle. And even though the Jacobites won the day, one-third of them died, including their leader. “Thanks to the survey work, experts are shedding more light on the Battle of Killiecrankie which took place over three hundred years ago, bringing “Bonnie Dundee’s” Jacobite victory to life. They are able to offer more information on the battle including the possible route soldiers took during the battle, potential cavalry positions, where the key skirmishes and close quarters fighting took place, and the likely retreating route taken by the fleeing Government forces,” Transport Minister Derek Mackay told students at Pitlochry High School, reported in a press release. To read more about historical archaeology in Scotland, go to "Living on the Edge."
LEIPZIG, GERMANY―A new study of chimpanzee behavior could shed light on the origin of ritual sites in hominin evolution. Chimpanzees are known to use tools to extract and consume food, and the ways in which they use tools can vary depending upon where they live. A new standardized protocol for collecting data on chimpanzee behavior, called the “Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee,” has thus been initiated by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology at 39 research sites across Africa. Camera traps in West Africa caught chimpanzees throwing stones at trees. “The PanAf cameras filmed individual chimpanzees picking up stones from beside, or inside trees, and then throwing them at these trees while emitting a long-distance pant hoot vocalization,” Ammie Kalan of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology said in a press release. This behavior is usually performed by adult males, in the context of ritualized displays. “As the stone accumulation behavior does not seem to be linked to either the abundance of stones or the availability of suitable trees in the area, it is likely that it has some cultural elements,” added Christophe Boesch, director of the Max Planck Institute’s Department of Primatology. To read about the discovery of the first known chimpanzee archaeological site, go to "Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use."
EDMONTON, CANADA—Robert Losey of the University of Alberta has unearthed the remains of dogs in an ancient cemetery at Lake Baikal, Siberia. The dogs had been buried between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago alongside their humans. “The dogs were being treated just like people when they died,” Losey said in a press release. “They were being carefully placed in a grave, some of them wearing decorative collars, or next to other items like spoons, with the idea being potentially that they had souls and an afterlife.” Chemical analysis of the bones of these dogs indicates that they had been fed the same foods eaten by the people that lived in the settlement. Across the Siberian Arctic, Losey has found evidence of dogs wearing harnesses, perhaps for pulling sleds. He’s also found evidence that people sometimes ate their dogs. “What can we learn about people’s relationship with dogs in the past? The history of our working relationships with animals, and our emotional relationships, is what interests me,” he said. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More than Man's Best Friend."