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July 8, 2015

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Some 2,000 spirals made of gold have been unearthed in a field in southwestern Zealand, where four gold bracelets and six gold bowls have been found in the past. The spirals date to the Bronze Age, between 900 and 700 B.C. “Maybe the spirals were fastened to the threads lining a hat or parasol. Maybe they were woven into hair or embroidered on a ceremonial garb. The fact is that we do not know, but I am inclined to believe that they were part of a priest-king’s garb or part of some headwear,” Flemming Kaul of the Danish National Museum said in a Danish-language press release reported in The Local. The site has now yielded the most gold jewelry and other artifacts by weight from the northern European Bronze Age. “The sun was one of the holy symbols in the Bronze Age and gold was presumably seen as having some sort of particular magic power. It is colored like the sun, it shines like the sun, and because gold lasts forever, it was also seen as containing some of the sun’s power,” Kaul said. To read more in-depth about the Bronze Age, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."

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July 7, 2015

MEGIDDO, ISRAEL—The second and third century A.D. permanent headquarters of Rome’s Sixth Legion Ferrata have been discovered at the site of Legio, located near Tel Megiddo in northern Israel. One of two imperial legions sent to the region, the Sixth Legion Ferrata helped keep order in Galilee during the Bar Kochba Revolt between A.D. 132 and 135. Conducted by the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research as part of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project, the excavations have uncovered ceramic roofing tiles marked with the sign of the Sixth Ironclad Legion, clay pipes, sewer channels, streets, and several buildings, including one that may have been the residence of the commander. “We’re talking about a large camp, an imperial camp, one of about 5,000 soldiers, about 984 feet by 1,640 feet,” Yotam Tepper of the Israel Antiquities Authority told The Times of Israel. “Our entire understanding about Roman military architecture, and especially Roman legionary bases for this particular period…comes from the western empire—Germany, Britain, and Gaul,” added Matthew J. Adams of the Albright Institute. To read more about Roman military fortifications, go to "Rome's Earliest Fort."

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July 7, 2015

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—For the first time, scientists have visualized the brain within a 15 million-year-old monkey skull that was discovered in 1997 on an island in Kenya’s Lake Victoria. Fred Spoor of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Lauren Gonzales of Duke University used high resolution x-ray imaging and created a 3-D computer model of Victoriapithecus’s tiny brain, and determined that it was more complex than they had expected. The brain has numerous wrinkles and folds, and its olfactory bulb is three times larger than anticipated. “It probably had a better sense of smell than many monkeys and apes living today,” Gonzales said in a press release. It had been thought that early primate brains evolved to be larger first and then more folded and complex. “But this study is some of the hardest proof that in monkeys, the order of events was reversed—complexity came first and bigger brains came later,” she said. 

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July 7, 2015

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—A team of scientists from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and the University of Manchester examined DNA samples from more than 2,200 people from 43 populations around the world and found that different populations tend to have different gene sequences for OR7D4, a receptor on human smell cells that allows people to detect androstenone, a smell produced by pigs and found in boar meat. Androstenone makes the pork from uncastrated boars taste unpleasant to people who can smell it. Statistical analysis of the frequencies of the different forms of the gene in different populations suggests that it might have been subject to natural selection. Populations from Africa tend to be able to smell androstenone, suggesting that human ancestors were able to as well. Pigs were originally domesticated in Asia, where many people now have a reduced sensitivity to androstenone. The team, led by Kara Hoover of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, also examined DNA for OR7D4 from Neanderthal and Denisovans from Siberia. Neanderthals would have been able to smell androstenone, but Denisovans had a unique mutation that changed the structure of the OR7D4 receptor. Hiroaki Matsunami of Duke University found that the Denisovan sense of smell was not changed by this mutation, however, and that these early humans would have been able to smell the compound. For more on Neanderthals and Denisovans, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

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July 7, 2015

POZNAŃ, POLAND—At a cemetery in Gebel Ramlah, an area of Egypt’s Western Desert near the border of Sudan, archaeologists led by Jacek Kabaciński of the Polish Academy of Sciences unearthed the 6,500-year-old burials of 60 adults. One of the graves contained the remains of two individuals. Deliberate cuts on the femur, which have not been seen in other Neolithic burials in North Africa, were found on one of these skeletons. Another unusual grave had been lined with stone slabs, and in a third burial, the team found the remains of a man whose body had been covered with pottery fragments, stones, and lumps of red dye. A fragment of a Dorcas gazelle skull with horns found near his head may have been a ceremonial headdress. This skeleton also showed signs of abnormal bone adhesions and fractures. According to a report in Science & Scholarship in Poland, Kabaciński and his team think this man may have performed rites associated with hunting. To read more about this period, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

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<p>SALEKHARD, RUSSIA&mdash;A birch-bark

July 6, 2015

SALEKHARD, RUSSIA—A birch-bark coffin has been removed from Zeleny Yar, a medieval site on the edge of the Siberian Arctic. Similar burials from the site have contained mummified remains. “The mummification was natural. It was a combination of factors: the bodies were overlain with copper sheets, parts of copper kettles, and together with the permafrost, this it gave the preserving effect,” Alexander Gusev of the Research Center for the Study of the Arctic told The Siberian Times. Five of the mummies from the site that had been shrouded in copper had also been buried with reindeer, beaver, wolverine, or bear furs. One man had also been wearing a head ornament in the shape of a bear and had been buried with an iron hatchet. Metal has been detected within the newly discovered birch bark coffin, thought to date to the twelfth or thirteenth century. “It follows the contours of the human body. If there is really a mummy, the head and skull are likely to be in good condition. We think it is a child, maybe a teenager. The find is now in Salekhard, in the Shemanovsky Museum, in a special freezer,” Gusev added. His team will open the “cocoon” later this month. To read more about archaeology in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude."

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July 6, 2015

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—A team from Wessex Archaeology has found items left by American soldiers who trained for the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on Salisbury Plain—usually noted for Stonehenge and other prehistoric archaeological sites. The artifacts include spoons and plates, cans of cooking oil, 16 intact containers of sunscreen, packages of bacon and lard, and bottles of sauce. “The state of preservation of the provisions shows how well made they were,” a spokesperson for Wessex Archaeology told BBC News. “It’s evidence of US military presence on Salisbury Plain and the surrounding area. Sadly, there were no contents left in the tins of sliced bacon.” The artifacts will be housed in the Salisbury Museum. To read more, go to "The Archaeology of World War II."

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July 6, 2015

CROWNSVILLE, MARLYAND—While looking for traces of French troops thought to have camped at Belvoir, an eighteenth-century plantation, during the Revolutionary War, archaeologists uncovered a 34-by-34-foot structure with a stone foundation and brick walls and floors that, according to the 1798 tax roll, housed slaves close to the brick plantation house. “There was a large front room with a kitchen hearth for cooking, meals, and socializing. In the rear were two rooms, perhaps with bunk beds in one and a family’s quarters in another,” Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the State Highway Administration, told The Capital Gazette. The large kitchen hearth, where meals may have been prepared for the plantation house, shared a chimney with two smaller hearths, one in each of the back rooms. Similar buildings have been found listed in historic documents, but this is the first time that a square, stone and brick structure has been unearthed in the Chesapeake. The tax roll also lists a log structure on the property that may have housed field laborers. To read more about the archaeology of slavery, go to "Free Before Emancipation." 

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July 6, 2015

GRANADA, SPAIN—Analysis of human remains from a burial site at Cova do Santo in northwestern Spain suggests that the diet eaten by the local residents between 1800 and 1600 B.C. consisted mostly of plant food. Stable isotopes from the bone collagen of at least 14 men, women, and children indicate that they ate little meat or fish, despite living near the Sil River. “There are no significant differences between individuals in terms of diet, so access to food resources must have been similar, regardless of sex or age,” Olalla López-Costas of the University of Granada said in a press release. López-Costas and her team think that the Bronze Age diet in northwestern Iberia may have included millet earlier than had been previously thought, although they cannot confirm it. Millet crops “give a high yield in a short time, which probably helped people become more sedentary and the excess of production could have contributed to the construction of a social hierarchy,” she said. To read more about the period, go to "Bronze Age Palace & Royal Burial Unearthed in Spain."

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July 3, 2015

MATSURRA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that underwater archaeologists surveying the waters off the island of Takashima have located the remains a second shipwreck that was part of one of the two 13th-century Mongol invasions that were destroyed by the “divine wind” (Kamikaze) typhoons. Artifacts from the second invasion, in 1281, have been found around Takashima Island, and a vessel from that fleet was discovered in 2011. The recently discovered ship is estimated to have been 65 feet long and around 20 feet wide and was carrying 13th-century Chinese ceramics, as well as ironware that positively identified it as a ship belonging to one of the two doomed Mongol fleets. “We have successfully confirmed the two ships from the Mongolian invasion, and further research on them is expected to lead to the discovery of even more sunken Mongolian ships,” said University of the Ryukyus archaeologist Yoshifumi Ikeda. To read more about some of the most important underwater discoveries made by archaeologists, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

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July 3, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS—In the 1980s, archaeologists excavating a Hopewell Culture (ca. 100 B.C.–A.D. 400) burial mound 50 miles north of St. Louis found the remains of 22 adults buried in a ring around an infant. They also discovered the skeleton of a small animal, which they assumed was a puppy, buried with a necklace made of marine shells and bear teeth. The Hopewell people were known to bury dogs in village sites, so the discovery did not strike the team as unusual. But more recently, Max Planck Institute zooarchaeologist Angela Perri, a specialist in canine burials, examined the remains and made a startling discovery. "As soon as I saw the skull, I knew it was definitely not a puppy,” Perri told Science. “It was a cat of some kind.” She determined the remains belonged to a bobcat that was no more than seven months old when it died and found no marks on the bones that would suggest it had been sacrificed. “It shocked me to my toes,” says the Illinois State Archaeological Survey's Kenneth Farnsworth. “I’ve never seen anything like it in almost 70 excavated mounds. Somebody important must have convinced other members of the society that it must be done. I’d give anything to know why.” To read more about this period, go to "Who Were the Hopewell?"

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<p>&nbsp;PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA&mdash;A

July 2, 2015

 PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—A team led by University of Sydney archaeologist Alison Carter is excavating the site of an ordinary house at Ankor Wat. Until now, researchers have concentrated their efforts on the more spectacular remains of the capital of the Khmer Empire, which flourished between the ninth and fifteenth centuries A.D. “We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the temples and inscriptions and the elite members of the society, but there’s still so much that can be learned about the regular people who were contributing to the Angkorian empire," Carter told the Phnom Penh Post "I hope that this project can spark some interest in those regular people.” So far, the team has unearthed a number of ceramics related to cooking. They hope to find evidence that will give scholars a clearer picture of diet and agricultural practices of the time. To read more about work at Angkor, go to "Remapping the Khmer Empire." 

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July 2, 2015

GIANUTTRI, ITALY—An impressive ancient Roman villa that has been closed to the public for more than a decade has reopened for visitors, according to Discovery News. The so-called “Villa Domitia,” named after the family of the Domitii Ahenobarbi who likely owned it, the sprawling seaside property located on a tiny island in Tuscany near the island of Giglio, the location of the Costa Concordia shipwreck three and a half years ago. Because there was no fresh water or raw materials on the island, according to Paola Rendini, the archaeological superintendent of Tuscany, it was a “huge task” for the Romans to bring the luxuries of a sprawling seaside villa to this harsh location. To read about the re-opening of one of Pompeii’s most famous houses, go to “House of the Chaste Lovers.”

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July 2, 2015

NEW YORK CITY—The Wall Street Journal reports that a looted sacred Indian statue has been recovered by federal customs agents. The two-foot-tall bronze statue depicts the Tamil poet and saint Manikkavichavakar and dates to the 11th century. It's thought that the statue was taken from a village temple in southeastern India about a decade ago. It was voluntarily surrendered to officials by a collector who purchased it from a dealer who allegedly smuggled it into the U.S. and sold it using a false ownership history. The federal government intends to repatriate the object to India, along with a number of other artifacts the dealer is said to have illegally brought into the country. To read more about threats to medieval heritage in India, go to "Letter from India: Heritage at Risk." 

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July 2, 2015

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND—Construction work in downtown Wellington has revealed four 19th-century wells containing artifacts, including several porcelain dolls heads and a china elephant depicted with a small girl riding it. Several schools existed in the area beginning around 1850. “These school buildings could explain the collection of little china dolls’ heads that were found,” said Clough and Associates archaeologist Sarah Phear said in a Wellington City Council press release. “Though we think the larger head might once have been attached to the top of a tea cosy and others are likely to have been from ornaments or figurines, so they could also have been discarded items from people’s homes.” Other artifacts recovered from the wells included a glass inkwell and an early bottle of ginger beer. To read more about historical archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From the Marshall Islands."

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July 1, 2015

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—Construction workers building a rainwater storage facility unexpectedly encountered a trove of historic artifacts beneath Seattle's Magnolia Bridge. Archaeologists believe most of the objects came from an immigrant community known as Finntown that lasted from 1911 to 1941. "It's a really special site because this is one of Seattle's smaller shantytowns," project archaeologist Alicia Valentino told Komo News. "This very diverse community that was living in this spot (was not) mentioned in the historic record, so it really tells us a lot about this group of people that was living there." Among the finds are eyeglasses, children's toys, and alcohol bottles dating to the Prohibition era. A Chinese coin dating to the 1700s was also found, and was probably a keepsake brought to the area by an immigrant. To read more about the archaeology of immigration in the American West, go to "America's Chinatowns."

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July 1, 2015

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—During renovations of their home in the neighborhood of ‘Ein Kerem, a family discovered a ritual bath, or mikveh, under the living room floor, reports Haaretz. Carved out of bedrock and accessed by a stone staircase, the mikveh is 11.5 feet long, more than seven feet wide, and almost six feet deep, and would have been completely covered in plaster in antiquity. Inside the bath, archaeologists found pottery vessels dating to the first century A.D., as well as fragments of stone vessels dating to the same period. According to IAA archaeologist Amit Re’em, archaeological finds from this era are rare in this part of Jerusalem, making the discovery of the mikveh even more of a surprise. To read about the debate surrounding an ancient ossuary also discovered in Jerusalem, go to "The Perils of Interpretation."

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July 1, 2015

SIBUDU CAVE, SOUTH AFRICA—Researchers studying residue on a stone tool found in South Africa's Sibudu Cave have discovered a powdered paint mixture made of milk and ochre that dates to 49,000 years ago. While ochre was being used in what is now South Africa as early as early as 125,000 years ago to produce paint powder, this is the first time milk proteins have been identified in an ochre-based paint. The milk likely came from a bovid such as a buffalo or impala, and the paint might have been used for body decoration or to adorn a stone or wooden object. "Although the use of the paint still remains uncertain, this surprising find establishes the use of milk with ochre well before the introduction of domestic cattle in South Africa," University of Colorado Museum of Natural History curator Paola Villa said in a press release. "Obtaining milk from a lactating wild bovid also suggests that the people may have attributed a special significance and value to that product." To read more about the prehistoric use of ochre, go to "Stone Age Art Supplies."

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June 30, 2015

LOLLAND, DENMARK— A ceramic "funnel beaker" vessel unearthed in Denmark still bears a 5,500-year-old fingerprint, reports Discovery News. Such ritual artifacts were made by members of the early farming peoples known as the Funnel Beaker Culture, which flourished in northern Europe from around 4000 to 2800 B.C. “It is one of three beakers at the site, which originally was deposited whole probably containing some food or liquid presumably as part of some long forgotten ritual,” said Museum Lolland-Falster archaeologist Line Marie Olesen.“The fragile fingerprint, left unintentionally, is an anonymous, yet very personal signature, which somehow brings us a bit closer to the prehistoric people and their actions.”  To read in-depth about the technological skills of people living around this time, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."  

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<p>&nbsp;GLENSHEE, SCOTLAND&mdash;<a

June 30, 2015

 GLENSHEE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that archaeologists excavating a Viking longhouse in central Scotland have unearthed an unusual spindle whorl, or a weight used while spinning textiles on a spindle. About five centimeters in diameter, the spindle whorl appears to have been decorated with symbols that could be writing. “Through the ages spindle whorls have often been covered in abstract shapes and the spinning action would bring life to these shapes, much like the old spinning top toy," said Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust archaeologist David Strachan. “While we certainly have abstract shapes on this example, some of the symbols look like they could be writing, perhaps Viking runes or Ogham inscription a form of early medieval Irish script.” To read in-depth about Vikings in the British Isles, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."

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