CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the Egyptian-German Archaeological Mission has found a group of large blocks at the site of Matariya in northern Cairo, where the ancient city of Heliopolis was located. The blocks are thought to have been part of a temple built by Ramses II. Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, said that the engravings on the blocks show Ramses II anointing a divinity. According to Aymen Ashmawi, co-director of the mission, the blocks would have come from the temple’s innermost rooms. “It confirms the hypothesis that Ramses II showed special interest in Heliopolis in the later decades of his long reign of almost 70 years,” Ashmawi said. For more on ancient Egypt, go to "The Great Parallelogram."
MUNICH, GERMANY—The Christian Science Monitor reports that scientists led by Alexander Stoessel of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology examined the tiny bones of the Neanderthal middle ear. They found that although the bones look very different from the ossicles of modern humans, they amplified the vibrations received from the eardrum in a way similar to the modern human ear. This suggests that Neanderthals were capable of hearing the same range of frequencies as modern humans, and probably heard speech as modern humans did. Previous research has found that Neanderthals and modern humans also had similar hyoid bones, a horseshoe-shaped structure that supports the tongue and the ability to speak. Unfortunately, a larynx, or voice box, which is formed from soft tissue, has not been found in the Neanderthal fossil record. “As humans, we always try to point out the differences between modern humans and Neanderthals to show that these are the different ones,” Stoessel said. “But now our research shows actually how similar they were to us.” For more on Neanderthals' abilities, go to "Gimme Middle Paleolithic Shelter."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that Joseph Patrich of Hebrew University and Shlomit Wexler-Bedolah of the Israel Antiquities Authority believe that two rooms found near the Western Wall Plaza five years ago served as Jerusalem’s city council triclinium in the first century B.C. The rooms, connected by a water feature with a decorative fountain, are thought to have been part of a large, opulent building. Indentations on the walls may have been left by sofa seating, where guests could have rested and dined. The structure is thought to have been destroyed in an earthquake around A.D. 30. It was previously believed that the rooms served as a public fountain. To read more about archaeology in Israel, go to "Artifact: Roman Coins in Israel."
URUMA, JAPAN—The Japan Times reports that Roman coins dating to the third and fourth centuries A.D. have been found at the ruins of Katsuren Castle in southern Japan. The castle dates to the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, when trade with China and Southeast Asia could have transported the four copper coins to Okinawa. X-ray analysis of the worn coins suggests that they bear an image of Constantine I and a soldier holding a spear. The castle site also yielded a coin from the Ottoman Empire. For more on Roman coin finds, go to "Seaton Down Hoard."
BALZANO, ITALY—Seeker reports that Angelika Fleckinger, the director of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, requested that chief inspector Alexander Horn of Munich’s Criminal Investigation Department research a possible scenario for the death of the 5,300-year-old frozen mummy known as Ötzi the Iceman. Horn evaluated information from the forensic medical examinations conducted on the mummy’s remains, and used behavioral investigative analysis to analyze records of the ancient “crime scene.” He suggests that Ötzi was resting in the mountains, where he had eaten a hearty meal of wild goat, when he was taken by surprise and shot in the shoulder with an arrow. Another injury, to his right hand, may have been inflicted a few days prior to his murder. “Since no other injuries could be found, we believe he came out as a winner from that hostile encounter,” Horn said. The loser, however, may have carried a grudge and pursued Ötzi. And, since Ötzi's mummy was found with his valuable copper ax, made with materials from southern Tuscany, theft was an unlikely motive for the murder. “A personal conflict is more likely,” Horn said. “We are talking of a behavioral pattern that is also prevalent today in most murder cases. It starts with little things and it grows to the extreme.” To read more, go to "Ancient Tattoos: Ötzi the Iceman."
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—The Star.com reports that researchers from the University of Glasgow think that accidents, and not illnesses such as tuberculosis, scurvy, and lead poisoning, may have been responsible for the loss of many of the Franklin Expedition’s 129 crew members. No log books from the Franklin Expedition have ever been found, so team leader Keith Millar and colleagues evaluated the “sick books” of nine Royal Navy ships that searched for the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition. Those ships were similarly equipped to the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. The researchers found that the crews of the later ships suffered some symptoms of scurvy and lead poisoning, but not on a large scale. Millar suggests that accidents that occurred while hunting for wild game on foot in a harsh climate and over difficult terrain could be to blame for the Franklin Expedition’s heavy losses. Robert Park of the University of Waterloo, who was on the team that discovered HMS Erebus in 2014, disagrees with Millar, noting that 15 Franklin Expedition officers were dead by 1848, three years into the expedition. “I can’t imagine a catastrophic accident that would kill so many officers,” he said. For more, go to "Franklin’s Last Voyage."
DORSET, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a limestone sarcophagus holding the remains of a Roman man was uncovered in a quarry in southwest England by a team from Thames Valley Archaeologist Services. The researchers said that the burial was unusual because the man’s feet had been bent backwards so that his body would fit in the coffin. “In the Roman period, burial in a sarcophagus was moderately common in Italy but very unusual in Britain, where even wooden coffins seem to have been rare,” said archaeologist Steve Ford. He thinks the sarcophagus, which would have been a prestigious item, may have been reused. An initial examination of the bones did not reveal any signs of disease. Further investigation into the cause of death are underway. For more on Roman Britain, go to "Artifact: Roman Eagle Sculpture."
TORONTO, CANADA—Live Science reports that dozens of circular geoglyphs of varying sizes have been recorded in southern Peru, near the ancient town of Quilcapampa. Many of the images, dated to between A.D. 1050 and 1400, were created by removing stones from the surface of the ground. Justin Jennings of the Royal Ontario Museum and his colleagues mapped the intertwined rings with satellite imagery, aerial drones, and ground surveys, and found that they had been placed near trade routes. The researchers suggest that the circular images may reflect the continuous movement of people, goods, and food along the route linking the coast and the highland. Some of the geoglyphs are accompanied by cairns, or rock piles, as part of the design. To read about another massive site in Peru, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."
ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Shetland News reports that Michael Stratigos of the University of Aberdeen and underwater archaeologist Sally Evans think they may have found the remains of an Iron Age broch—a type of hollow-walled stone roundhouse found only in Scotland on an islet in the Loch of Strom. The site consists of a large mound with a small, circular depression in its center. Possible stone piers have also been found. “If it’s not a broch and is an Iron Age house, then it’s still significant because we don’t have many large Iron Age houses, and we should have more,” commented archaeologist Val Turner of the Shetland Amenity Trust. Stratigos said that part of the broch may have already been lost to erosion. “It is difficult to say how well preserved the site is without taking back some or all of the vegetation, something that would undoubtedly speed up the decay of the site,” he explained. To read more, go to "Hillforts of the Iron Age."
SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—The Cambodia Daily reports that forestry official Mom Bun Lim, chief of the Banteay Srei division, seized two tenth-century sandstone sculptures after pursuing a car on rural roads for several hours. He noted that the vehicle seemed overloaded, and suspected the two occupants were carrying a load of illegal timber. He called for reinforcements to cut the driver off when he neared a populated area. The illegal cargo turned out to be two ancient sandstone sculptures that may have been stolen from the remote site of the Koh Ker temple in Preah Vihear province, which is located about 75 miles away, since the region around the Angkor Archaeological Park is well guarded. Anthropologist Ang Choulean of the Royal University of Fine Arts said that antiquities thefts were “a pretty frequent occurrence in the 1990s, but it’s been years since we’ve heard talk of thieves.” To read more, go to "The Battle Over Preah Vihear."
MANOA, HAWAII—Live Science reports that scientists led by Axel Timmermann of the University of Hawaii at Manoa have developed a new computer simulation, spanning a period of 125,000 years, of how rainfall, temperature, sea levels, glacial ice, vegetation, carbon dioxide levels, and the migration patterns of modern humans might have been affected by Milankovitch cycles, or wobbles in the planet’s orbit and tilt that occur every 21,000 years. The model suggests that modern humans may have traveled between northeastern Africa and other parts of the world through periodic “habitable green corridors” in the Sahara and Arabian deserts. Timmermann says these results align with archaeological and fossil data from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. “If the climate had been constant over the past 125,000 years, we would have evolved in a very different way,” he said. A future version of the simulation will add Neanderthals, interbreeding, cultural exchange, and competition for food into the mix. For more on modern human origins, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."
LIMA, PERU—Andina reports that forensic anthropologists have reconstructed the face of the Lord of Sipan, a Mochica ruler whose third-century grave was discovered in Lambayeque in 1987 by archaeologist Walter Alva. Researchers from Inca Garcilaso de la Vega University, and Cícero Moraes and Paulo Miamoto of the Brazilian NGO Team of Forensic Anthropology and Odontology, used computer software to reassemble the Lord of Sipan’s skull, which had been severely damaged by the weight of his burial. The team also determined that the ruler stood about five feet, four inches tall, had arthritis in his spine, healthy teeth, and was between 45 and 55 years old when he died. “He was quite tall for that time period. He had a slightly strong muscle tone, which means he did not do any physical work, as befits his high rank,” Alva said. A replica of the reconstruction will be 3-D printed for display in the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan. To read more about archaeology in Peru, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The Guardian reports that evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen conducted a population analysis of 83 Indigenous Australians and 25 Papuans, and found that their ancestors can be traced back 50,000 years, to the first arrivals on the continent. “They are probably the oldest group in the world that you can link to one particular place,” he said. The study also suggests that about four percent of the Indigenous Australian genome came from an unknown human relative. Willerslev added that Indigenous populations in Australia remained almost totally isolated until about 4,000 years ago, about the same time that the languages now spoken by these populations began to spread. “You see a movement of people spreading across the continent and leaving signatures across the continent,” he said. “That is the time that this new language has spread.” For more on the prehistory of Australia, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY—Live Science reports that a team from the University of Kentucky has “virtually unwrapped” the En-Gedi scroll using X-ray-based micro-computed tomography scans. The scroll was discovered in the Holy Ark at the synagogue at En-Gedi, which was destroyed by fire around A.D. 600. The team, led by computer scientist Brent Seales, first identified each of the five layers of parchment in the scroll. Then they created a virtual geometric mesh for each of the layers to help make the text, written with an ink containing metal, more visible. In the last step, the researchers digitally flattened the scroll and merged the layers into one, 2-D image. The text, placed in two columns, consists of 35 lines of Hebrew. Biblical scholars now know that the En-Gedi scroll contains the beginning of the Book of Leviticus, the third of the five books in the Jewish Torah. And the text is identical to the text of the Book of Leviticus in medieval Hebrew Bibles. “This is quite amazing for us,” said Emanuel Tov, professor emeritus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “That in 2,000 years, this text has not changed.” To read about a similar project, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum."
LE PIANELLE, ITALY—Live Science reports that airborne drones have been used to discover traces of a possible Samnite community in Italy’s Apennine Mountains, where rugged terrain has prevented scientists from taking conventional aerial photographs. Tesse Stek of Leiden University and his colleagues wanted to look for villages, farms, villas, and cemeteries that may have been connected to two ancient temples uncovered by construction projects in the region. So, they programed aerial drones to take photographs in areas where they had found artifacts on the ground. Strong winds in a narrow valley caused the loss of one drone, but other flights revealed several archaeological complexes surrounding the once-mysterious temples. “We have a very complete overview of the internal organization of the settlement, including its disposition along the road, storage spaces, domestic areas, and so on,” Stek said. The villages were denser and better organized than had been anticipated, he added. For more on the Samnites, go to "Pompeii Before the Romans."
NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in Nature, archaeologist Thomas Sutikna and geochronologist Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong say that two teeth from modern humans have been found in the Indonesian cave where the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered in 2003. The teeth have been dated to 46,000 years ago, making them slightly younger than the estimated date for the extinction of the hobbits some 50,000 years ago. The upper premolar and lower molar are larger than the teeth of H. floresiensis, but some scholars are not convinced that they belonged to a modern human. Other evidence for the presence of modern humans in the cave after the hobbits disappeared includes fireplaces and freshwater mollusk shells. “What we don’t yet know is whether there was at least a short overlap in the populations, thus raising the question once again of the possible role of modern humans in the extinction of floresiensis,” commented paleoanthroplogist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. To read about another discovery in Indonesia, go to "The First Artists."
PARIS, FRANCE—Nature reports that evolutionary geneticist Eva-Maria Geigl of the Institute Jacques Monod and her colleagues Claudio Ottoni and Thierry Grange investigated the origins of domesticated cats by sequencing mitochondrial DNA obtained from more than 200 sets of cat remains recovered from more than 30 archaeological sites in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The cats lived between about 15,000 years ago and the eighteenth century A.D. The researchers found that wild cats from the Middle East are likely to have traveled with early farmers into the eastern Mediterranean. The feline hunters may have been drawn to the rodents attracted to new grain stockpiles. A mitochondrial lineage found in later Egyptian cat mummies was also found in the remains of cats in Eurasia and Africa, and in cat remains from a Viking site in northern Germany. Geigl suggests that seafaring peoples probably kept cats on their ships to keep rodents at bay as well. The team also found evidence indicating that the tabby coat variation first appeared in the medieval period. For more, go to "Animal Mummy Coffins of Ancient Egypt."
SUFFOLK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that traces of a large structure at the Anglo-Saxon site at Rendlesham have been detected with aerial photography and geophysical surveys. Researchers think Rendlesham may be the “king’s village” described by the Venerable Bede, an eighth-century monk, who also mentioned a palace in the village. “We have discovered what we think is a large Anglo-Saxon Hall, which could be the palace itself, if you could call it that,” said Faye Minter of Suffolk County Council’s archaeological unit. The building measures 75 feet by 30 feet. Helen Geake of the British Museum explained that Anglo-Saxon kings probably had many palaces and halls in East Anglia so that they would have places to stay when they toured the kingdom. Scholars also think that the king at Rendlesham was buried in the ship burial at Sutton Hoo, located about four miles away. To read about other discoveries in Suffolk, go to "Letter from England: Writing on the Church Wall."
CHÂTELPERRON, FRANCE—Science reports that bioarchaeologist Matthew Collins of the University of York analyzed ancient proteins in hominin bone fragments that were discovered in the Grotte du Renne cave in central France between 1949 and 1963. Some of the many bone fragments, which were reportedly found in the same archaeological layer as bone tools and tiny beads made of animal teeth, shells, and ivory, appeared to be Neanderthal. But some researchers argued that the delicate artifacts must have been made by modern humans, who were entering Europe at about the same time that the artifacts were produced. The new study, conducted by Collins and an international team of scientists, dated and identified proteins and mitochondrial DNA in the bone fragments from the site, and determined that they probably are the remains of a single breast-fed Neanderthal infant. In addition, the bones were dated to about 42,000 years old—the same age as the beads and tools. “You can invent all sorts of stories,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “But the simplest explanation is that this assemblage was made at least in part by Neanderthals.” For more, go to "Neanderthal Necklace."
THYBORON, DENMARK—Live Science reports that the wreckage of the HMS Warrior has been discovered near Norway by marine archaeologist Innes McCartney of Bournemouth University and an exploration firm sponsored by the Sea War Museum Jutland. The Warrior is the last of the 25 British and German ships sunk during the Battle of Jutland, fought in the North Sea on May 31 and June 1, 1916, to be found. “It’s completely upside down, and it sank down into an area of very soft seabed, right to the level of the upper deck—so everything inside it is completely sealed in,” McCartney said. The British armored cruiser was heavily damaged during the battle by German gunfire. A British aircraft carrier attempted to tow the Warrior, but the vessel was eventually abandoned after the crew was moved to safety. McCartney explained that shipwrecks from the Battle of Jutland, many of which are war graves, have been looted for their valuable bronze fittings. The Warrior has been protected by its partial burial and because its location, away from the site of the battle, was unknown. “It’s the only wreck left from the Battle of Jutland that we can categorically say is completely unspoiled,” McCartney added. For more, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks..."