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Fifth-Century Church Discovered Near Black Sea

February 8, 2018

KARABÜK, TURKEY—The International Business Times reports that the ruins of a fifth-century Christian church have been found near the Black Sea, in the ancient city of Hadrianopolis. Ersin Çelikbaş of Karabük University said the church measures about 65 feet long and is thought to be one of the oldest in Anatolia. Surviving floor mosaics in the church feature an image of a bull leaping over a row of plants, and depictions of rivers mentioned in the Bible. The building could be related to monasteries mentioned in ancient sources that were built by the Christian saint Alypius the Stylite, who was born and died in Hadrianopolis. He is remembered for building the Church of St. Euphemia and living on top of a pillar erected next to it. Çelikbaş and his team have also uncovered a second church, two baths, and a villa at the site, which was located on an early Christian pilgrimage route. To read about another discovery in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

Categories: Blog

Scientists Map Cheddar Man’s Genome

February 8, 2018

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, a team of University College London scientists led by Mark Thomas and Yoan Diekmann have mapped the genome of Cheddar Man, the skeletal remains discovered in Gough’s Cave at the beginning of the twentieth century. Cheddar Man stood about five feet, five inches tall, and died some 10,000 years ago in his early twenties. His DNA, which was extracted from bone powder drilled from his skull, revealed that he probably had blue eyes, dark brown skin, and dark hair that may have been curlier than average. In addition, the genetic study revealed he was lactose intolerant, and was related to migrants who walked across Doggerland, a landmass that connected Britain to mainland Europe, about 11,000 years ago, making him an ancestor of present-day Britons. He was also related to other Mesolithic hunter-gatherers living in Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary. Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis integrated the genetic information and skull measurements to create a sculpture of Cheddar Man’s face.  

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Frescoed Tomb With Drainage System Found in China

February 7, 2018

SHENYANG, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a 1,000-year-old frescoed tomb equipped with a drainage system has been discovered in northeast China. The tomb’s walls had been painted with images of vehicles, horses, and camels multiple times during the late Liao Dynasty, which ruled from A.D. 907 to 1125. Si Weiwei of Liaoning Province’s Cultural Relics and Archaeological Institute thinks the tomb may have been constructed before the death of its owner, and then its frescoes repainted at the time of his or her death. The second touch-up may have taken place at the death of his or her spouse. The tomb’s drainage system consists of ditches filled with stones. “The function of those stone balls is to drain away water, on the one hand, and also to prevent tomb raiders, on the other hand,” Si explained. To read about another tomb recently discovered in China, go to “Underground Party.”

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Partially Digested Neanderthal Teeth Identified

February 7, 2018

PARIS, FRANCE—Live Science reports that Bruno Maureille of France’s National Center for Scientific Research led a team that re-examined two unusual teeth discovered in cave in western France in the late twentieth century. The bones of some 17,000 butchered reindeer bones, as well as bones of horses and bison have also been found at the hunting campsite, known as Marillac, along with Neanderthal bones bearing butchery marks. The teeth in the study are thought to have been consumed and regurgitated by a cave hyena some 65,000 years ago. Previous analysis suggested the teeth had belonged to cattle or deer, but the new study indicates they belonged to a Neanderthal, and had been altered by the carnivore’s digestive juices. “We don’t know exactly what was going on,” said Alan Mann, a Princeton University professor emeritus, “but [the Neanderthals] must have left skulls or parts of the face there, because cave hyenas came in and ate them.” For more, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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Neanderthals May Have Used Fire to Make Tools

February 7, 2018

TUSCANY, ITALY—Science Magazine reports that 58 nearly identical charred wood objects have been found at the site of Poggetti Vecchi, in an area where Neanderthal artifacts have been found in the past. The items are thought to be digging sticks, which are used by modern-day hunter-gatherers to uncover roots and tubers, and to hunt small, burrowing animals. They can also serve as weapons when needed. The artifacts are about three feet long, rounded on one end, and sharpened on the other, and have been dated to some 171,000 years ago, when Neanderthals lived in the region. The tips of the sticks had been charred, perhaps as a way to remove the bark from the various hard woods, including boxwood, oak, ash, and juniper. The pattern of char is similar on a number of the sticks, which suggests it was intentional. The char marks could also be the earliest-known use of fire by Neanderthals. Cut marks on the shafts of the sticks suggest they had been shaped with stone tools. Some 200 stone tools were also found at the site, along with the fossilized remains of the extinct straight-tusked elephant. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

Categories: Blog

Study Re-creates 8,000-Year-Old Projectiles

February 6, 2018

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—According to a report in The Times of London, researchers in Alaska have reconstructed weapons used by Stone Age hunters some 8,000 years ago. Taking cues from projectile points found by archaeologists, graduate student Janice Wood and her colleague Ben Fitzhugh have recreated various kinds of arrowheads from carved caribou antler and obsidian. Wood, who tested the tips by firing them into blocks of ballistic gelatin, a substance used to simulate flesh in firearms tests, speculates that each point may have been designed specifically for particular prey, and suggests these ancient barbs were likely even more effective than the broadhead arrows used by modern hunters. To read more about prehistoric hunters in the Americas, go to “Where the Ice Age Caribou Ranged.”

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Old Kingdom Priestess Tomb Discovered in Egypt

February 6, 2018

CARIO, EGYPT—The BBC reports that archaeologists in Egypt have discovered a 4,400-year-old tomb near the Giza pyramids that contains rare wall paintings and is believed to belong to a high-ranking priestess named Hetpet. According to researchers from Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities, Hetpet was a preistess for Hathor, a godess associated with fertility, motherhood, and love, and is thought to have been closely connected to the royal family of the Old Kingdom's Fifth Dynasty, around 2400 B.C. To read more about powerful women in Egypt's Old Kingdom period, go to “The Queen of the Old Kingdom.

Categories: Blog

Dice Have Grown More Fair Over Time

February 6, 2018

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—A survey of cube-shaped dice dating back to the Roman era finds that they were not designed to have an equal chance of landing on different numbers until the Renaissance, according to a report from Science Alert. Researchers based their analysis on 110 different dice, and suggest that the trend toward “fair” dice coincided with the rise of scientific thinking. “People like Galileo and Blaise Pascal were developing ideas about chance and probability, and we know from written records in some cases they were actually consulting with gamblers," said Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis. “We think users of dice also adopted new ideas about fairness, and chance or probability in games.” Eerkens and colleagues found that Roman-era dice each had a slightly different shape, and many were visibly lopsided. It is possible that those using the dice believed that providence—not the shapes of the dice—determined the results of rolls. Dice dating to the Middle Ages are more regular in shape, but have their pips arranged in what is known as the “primes” configuration, popular in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, in which opposite sides add up to prime numbers—1 opposite 2, 3 opposite 4, and 5 opposite 6. Around 1450, dice shifted to the “sevens” configuration used today, in which opposite sides add up to seven: 1 opposite 6, 2 opposite 5, and 3 opposite 4. For more, go to “Game of Diplomacy.”

Categories: Blog

Chinese Mummies Unearthed in Peru

February 6, 2018

LIMA, PERU—CBC reports that the natural mummies of three nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants to Peru have been discovered near Lima. Workers installing gas pipelines accidentally unearthed wooden coffins holding the mummies, who likely belonged to first generation Chinese immigrants who came to Peru to work in the country’s agricultural sector. A number of Chinese artifacts were found inside the coffins and archaeologists say they expect to find more coffins at the site in the near future. To read in-depth about the archaeology of Chinese settlements in the New World, go to “America’s Chinatowns.” 

Categories: Blog

Unusual 2,400-Year-Old Burial Unearthed in Mexico City

February 3, 2018

 

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—According to a Live Science report, archaeologists associated with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History unearthed a 2,400-year-old burial while investigating the ancient settlement of Tlalpan, which is located in southern Mexico City. The circular burial is unusual because it contains the remains of men, women, and children, whose bodies had been interlocked in a spiral shape. The grave also held stones and ceramic jars and bowls. The condition of the skeletons suggests the skulls of two of the individuals had been modified by binding during childhood, and the teeth of some of the others had been filed into different shapes. Jimena Rivera, head of the excavation, suggests the tableau and the age range of the deceased could have been intended to symbolize the stages of life. For more, go to “Aztec Warrior Wolf.”

Categories: Blog

Lidar Survey Reveals Thousands of Maya Structures

February 3, 2018

EL PETÉN, GUATEMALA—Some 60,000 Maya structures have been discovered in the dense forests of northern Guatemala by a consortium of scholars led by the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative, according to a Live Science report. Lidar, or “light detection and ranging” technology, beams laser pulses at the ground from airplanes and measures the wavelengths of light that bounce back, creating an accurate 3-D map of the topography. Archaeologist Tom Garrison of Ithaca College said most of the structures detected during the survey are probably stone platforms that supported pole-and-thatch dwellings. Some of those architectural mounds could be pyramids and defensive structures, however. The scientists also detected roads that may have served as causeways during the rainy season, or as platforms for processions. David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin commented that knowing where the Maya chose not to build and live could also offer information about how they farmed and used water. “It’s going to change our views of population and just on how the Maya lived on that landscape,” he said. For more, go to “Letter From Guatemala: Maya Metropolis.”

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New Dates Obtained for Possible Viking Mass Grave in England

February 3, 2018

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—The International Business Times reports that new radiocarbon dates have been obtained for the human remains discovered some 40 years ago in a mass grave at a seventh-century church in Repton. Historic records indicate that a Viking army invaded England’s four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in A.D. 865, and spent the 873–874 winter in Repton. The remains of hundreds of dead, mostly males between the ages of 18 and 45 who had suffered violent injuries, had initially been thought to be members of this Great Viking Army, but radiocarbon dating had indicated some of the bones were too old for that to be the case. Cat Jarman of the University of Bristol says the Vikings’ seafood-rich diet could have thrown off the first radiocarbon tests. The new dates, which adjust for the older carbon ingested with marine foods, place all of the remains in the ninth century A.D. Jarman said the new dates don’t prove the bones belonged to the Vikings, but they do make it far more likely. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Categories: Blog

Prehistoric Enclosure Found Near Stonehenge

February 3, 2018

LARKHILL, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a team led by Si Cleggett of Wessex Archaeology has uncovered a series of nine post holes in a causewayed enclosure they say matches the orientation of the circle at Stonehenge. The site is located a short walk from Stonehenge, and dates to between 3750 and 3650 B.C., or about 600 years before a circular ditch and timber posts were first installed at the Stonehenge site. Cleggett suggests the people who built the enclosure at Larkhill may have been the architects of the Stonehenge landscape. “That nine-post alignment could be an early blueprint for the laying out of the stones at Stonehenge,” he said. For more, go to “The Square Inside Avebury’s Circles.”

Categories: Blog

Three Burial Shafts Found at Egypt’s Abusir Necropolis

February 2, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that three rock-hewn burial shafts at the Abusir necropolis were uncovered during emergency excavations after a report of illegal digging. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said the shafts contained four poorly preserved wooden coffins. One of the coffins bears the cartouche of King Ptolemy IV, who reigned from 221 to 204 B.C. The coffins held the mummified remains of what are thought to be birds, and three round linen bundles thought to contain the animals’ stomachs. A collection of 38 faience pots was also recovered. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “Queen of the Old Kingdom.”

Categories: Blog

When Did Modern Humans Arrive in India?

February 2, 2018

CHENNAI, INDIA—According to a Washington Post report, thousands of stone tools spanning a period of one million years have been unearthed at Attirampakkam, a site in southern India. No hominin remains were found at the site, so researchers led by archaeologist Shanti Pappu of the Sharma Center for Heritage Education do not know who crafted the tools. The oldest implements are blunt Acheulean hand axes, which are thought to have been made by the first hominins to leave Africa. Stone points that may have been affixed to projectiles have also been recovered, and are thought to belong to the Levallois culture. These tools, dated to between 385,000 and 172,000 years ago, are associated with the ability to think abstractly and plan ahead. It had previously been thought that Levallois tools were first made in India by modern humans some 100,000 years ago. “We hope this will be a jumping-off point for a new look at regions like India,” Pappu said. For more, go to “Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk.”

Categories: Blog

Range of Artifacts Found in Jerusalem Hills

February 1, 2018

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that excavations at Ein Hanya, which is located at the site of a spring in the Judean Hills, have uncovered a system of Byzantine-era pools, a column capital dating to the First Temple era, and a Greek coin dating to the fourth century B.C. Irina Zilberbod of the Israel Antiquities Authority said a pool surrounded by roofed colonnades had been placed at the foot of a church in the center of a complex of buildings. It may have been used for irrigation, washing, landscaping, or even Christian baptismal ceremonies, she explained. Coins, pottery, glass, roof tiles, and multicolored mosaic pieces dating to the Byzantine era were also recovered. Water from the pool drained through a network of channels into a fountain, or nymphaeum. The 2,400-year-old column discovered at the site suggests it may have once been home to a royal estate. The rare coin, a silver drachma, is one of the oldest found in the region. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Reading Invisible Messages.”

Categories: Blog

1,000-Year-Old Hunting Weapon Found in Melting Yukon Ice

February 1, 2018

CARCROSS, CANADA—CBC News reports that a barbed antler arrow point with a copper end blade discovered in melting ice last summer has been radiocarbon dated to 936 years ago. Yukon archaeologist Greg Hare discovered the hunting artifact in an area frequented by caribou during the summers on the traditional territory of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. The blade had been pointed into the earth, with the arrow half buried in ice, as if it had just been shot from a bow. “This is one of the oldest copper elements that we [have] ever found in the Yukon,” Hare said. The copper used to make the weapon was locally sourced, probably from a creek in southwest Yukon. Hare explained that in addition to representing the development of metallurgy in the Yukon, the arrow also marks the period when First Nations hunters were changing from atlatl (throwing dart) technology to bows and arrows. He thinks it may have taken two weeks to make the artifact, and that it would have been a significant loss for the hunter. For more, go to “Where the Ice Age Caribou Ranged.”

Categories: Blog

Ancient Shell Midden Uncovered in British Columbia

January 31, 2018

WHITE ROCK, CANADA—The Vancouver Sun reports that an ancient midden made up of shell, charcoal, and animal bones has been discovered in British Columbia. Joanne Charles, a council member of the Semiahmoo First Nation, said oral history marks the site, which has been disturbed by construction, as an ancient village. The site is currently part of the city of White Rock’s Memorial Park. “The midden was found when they started digging to locate the utility lines to the washrooms,” she said. An archaeological impact assessment will be conducted, and cultural monitors from the Semiahmoo and Tsawwassen First Nations have been brought onto the project to evaluate the situation before the expansion of the park resumes. For more on archaeology in British Columbia, go to “Coast over Corridor.”

Categories: Blog

Bronze Age Skeleton Found in Northeast England

January 31, 2018

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that skeletal remains were found in a burial cist on farmland in northeast England. The body and a beaker had been placed in the stone-lined grave and covered with what appears to be a horsehair blanket. Sanita Nezirovic of the University of Derby evaluated the bones. She thinks they belonged to a young man who was between the ages of 17 and 21 when he died some 3,500 years ago, and added that his teeth were in good condition. “The shape of his head is beautiful, and you can see from the teeth he would have had a perfect smile,” she said. Nezirovic also noted that he probably stood somewhere between five feet, six inches, and five feet, nine inches tall. For more, go to “Bronze Age Traveler.”

Categories: Blog

Two-Bladed Knife Unearthed at Polish Castle Site

January 31, 2018

PASYM, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that a rotary knife that may have been used by a medieval scribe was found in a hearth in a building at a castle site in northern Poland. The four-inch-long knife has two blades and is estimated to date to the eighth or ninth centuries A.D. “No similar object has been found in Poland until now,” said Slawomir Wadyl of the University of Warsaw. Similar knives have been found in the British Isles, Frisia, and Norway, however, and have been depicted in illustrations of scribes. But such knives may also have been used by other types of craftspeople. Evidence of antler processing was also found in the building where the knife was discovered. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

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