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March 2, 2016

JERUSALEM—A 1,600-year-old winery has been unearthed at a construction site that was once home to a nineteenth-century orphanage located just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The winery is thought to have been part of a large manor house. It featured a pit with a press screw anchored in it surrounded by a pressing surface paved with a white mosaic. Eight cells around the pressing surface were used for storing grapes and possibly for blending their juices. Traces of a private bath house, including terracotta pipes and bricks, were found near the winepress. Some of the bricks were stamped with the name of the Tenth Roman Legion, one of the four garrisoned in Jerusalem until A.D. 300. These bricks may have been produced at the nearby site of Binyanei Ha-Uma. “Once again, Jerusalem demonstrates that wherever one turns over a stone ancient artifacts will be found related to the city’s glorious past. The archaeological finds discovered here help paint a living, vibrant, and dynamic picture of Jerusalem as it was in ancient times up until the modern era,” archaeologist Alex Wiegmann of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a press release

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March 2, 2016

SZCZECIN, POLAND—Researchers from the University of Szczecin have discovered previously unknown megalithic tombs in western Poland. Such tombs, built by the Funnel Beaker Culture between the fifth and third millenniums B.C., are generally triangular in shape and surrounded with stone blocks. “For our analyses we used the project ISOK (National Protection Computer System Against Extraordinary Threats),” Agnieszka Matuszewska told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The information from a geographic information system, airborne laser scanning technology, and 3-D mapping helped the team to spot potential sites and known sites in wooded areas. “The area near Dolic is undoubtedly the most interesting, we have selected at least a dozen potential megalithic tombs. In the course of verification in the field we have clearly confirmed the presence of 18 Kujawy type megalithic tombs, a much higher number than previously known from the literature,” Matuszewska said. The technology can also assist archaeologists with identifying endangered monuments. “This is particularly important considering the aspect of the protection and conservation of forest areas, in particular the protection of monuments with their own landscape forms,” she explained. For more on technology in archaeology, go to "The Past in High-Def."

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March 2, 2016

BEIJING, CHINA—Seventeen bone tools recovered from Ma’anshan Cave in southern China have been analyzed by a team led by Gao Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Francesco d’Errico of the Université de Bordeaux. The oldest tools, from the cave’s Stratum 6, are three awls dated to about 35,000 years ago. Six spear points, awls, and a cutting tool were found in Stratum 5, and they are an estimated 34,000 years old. The youngest of the tools, from Stratum 3, include two types of barbed points that date to between 23,000 and 18,000 years old. All of the tools were crafted by scraping and grinding. The tools from strata 5 and 3 were also polished. “Ma’anshan Cave records the oldest formal bone tools from China, and amongst the oldest known evidence of indisputable barbed point manufacture outside Africa,” Zhang Shuangquan of the IVPP told Phys.org. “Change in the hunting toolkit between strata 5 and 3 may indicate a shift in prey preference from medium to small size mammals and fish, which needs to be verified by supplementary analyses,” he added. To read more, go to "An Opportunity for Early Humans in China."

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March 2, 2016

CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO—The 3,200-year-old grave of a teenaged girl has been found in northern Mexico, at a site that yielded more than 18,000 stone flakes, cores, and hammers; 370 projectile points; and a dozen stone ovens. Emiliano Gallaga and his colleagues at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History think that the site may have been intermittently used as a tool-making camp over thousands of years, while the girl may have been one of the first corn farmers to live in the region. “When we were doing the surface collection, we noticed an interesting feature on the surface: a circle of bones coming out. We thought it could be a turtle shell, but we decided to make an [excavation] unit there, just in case. And there it was. We just cleaned a little bit, and a human cranium appeared,” Gallaga told Western Digs. The grave dates to about the same time as a nearby settlement known as Cerro Juanaqueña, whose residents are thought to have grown corn on some of the more than 400 terraces. Further analysis of the bones could tell scientists more about who the girl was, where she lived, and what she ate. For more on archaeology in Mexico, go to "A Circle of Skulls."

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<p>LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND&mdash;A team

March 1, 2016

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—A team from the University of Sheffield has confirmed that a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon site was discovered by a metal detectorist in the village of Little Carlton. The metal detectorist found an eighth-century silver stylus in a plowed field, and reported it to England’s Portable Antiquities Scheme. He then returned to the site, and using a GPS system to record the location of his discoveries, recovered an additional 20 writing implements, 300 dress pins, a small lead tablet bearing the woman’s name “Cudberg,” and coins from the seventh and eighth centuries. Archaeologists from the University of Sheffield recovered Saxon pottery and butchered animal bone from the site. They think that it may have been an island monastery or trading center. Geophysical and magnetometry surveys, and 3-D modeling suggest that the island was connected to the rest of the Lincolnshire area through water courses. “It’s one of the most important sites of its kind in that part of the world. The quantity of finds that have come from the site is very unusual—it’s clearly not your everyday find,” Hugh Willmott of the University of Sheffield told The Guardian. For more on Anglo-Saxon England, go to "The Kings of Kent."

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March 1, 2016

SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA—A woman’s burial in a cemetery in Tombos is an example of cultural entanglement, according to Stuart Tyson Smith of UC Santa Barbara and Michele Buzon of Purdue University. Located in what is now northern Sudan, the site had been a colonial hub after the Egyptians conquered Nubia around 1500 B.C. The woman’s middle-class tomb was Egyptian, but she had been buried on a bed in a flexed position on her side, in the Nubian style. Amulets of the Egyptian god Bes, the protector of households, were found around her neck. The woman herself was Nubian, according to Buzon, who has measured craniofacial features of skeletons from Tombos and established biological relationships and mixing between the Nubians and the Egyptians. “What we’re looking at is a more nuanced model of Egyptian and Nubian culture entangling, and how individual choices drive this kind of ethnic and cultural change, and ultimately enable these Nubian pharaohs to take over,” Smith said in a press release. For more on the relationship between Egypt and Nubia, go to "The Cult of Amun."

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March 1, 2016

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Scientists from Leiden University and Delft University of Technology think that Neanderthals that lived at the site of Pech-de-l’Azé some 50,000 years ago may have used manganese dioxide to help kindle their fires. It had been thought that the blocks of manganese oxides found at Neanderthal sites in France were used for body decoration, but soot from their fires would have been readily available for use as a dark pigment. Why would Neanderthals go to the trouble to collect this mineral? Peter J. Heyes, Konstantinos Anastasakis, Wiebren de Jong, Annelies van Hoesel, Wil Roebroeks, and Marie Soressi found that although manganese dioxide is a non-combustible material, when ground into a powder and sprinkled on wood, it lowers the auto-ignition temperature of the wood and makes it easier to start a fire. The researchers suggest that the use of manganese dioxide for lighting fires provides new insight into Neanderthal cognitive capabilities. They also note that manganese dioxide is used today to make batteries. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

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March 1, 2016

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to archaeologist Emmanuelle Honoré of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and the Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique, mysterious prints at the remote rock art site of Wadi Sura II in Egypt’s Western Desert were not made by tiny infants or even other primates. “After many discussions with my colleagues of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, especially Professor Brigitte Senut, a great primatologist and palaeoanthropologist, we decided to investigate the reptile hypothesis,” Honoré told News.com.au. She found that the proportions of the prints were more closely aligned with the legs of desert monitor lizards, or even young crocodiles. “We are not sure if we will get a definitive answer, but our first results are also very convincing,” she explained. Researchers think that the paintings at Wadi Sura II date back at least 6,000 years. Discovered in 2002, they depict animals, people, and headless creatures. For more on cave painting, go to "The First Artists."

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February 29, 2016

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—An eighteenth-century Hungarian mummy has been found to have a genetic predisposition to colorectal cancer by a team led by Rina Rosin-Arbesfeld and Ella H. Sklan of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine. The mummy was one of more than 265 found in the cool, dry crypts in use between 1731 and 1838 at a church in Vác, Hungary. The well-preserved soft tissues, paired with abundant archival information about the deceased, provide medical researchers with valuable samples. “Colorectal cancer is among the most common health hazards of modern times. And it has a proven genetic background. We wanted to discover whether it was the same mutation known to us today,” Rosin-Arbesfeld said in a press release. Colon cancer is also known to be caused by the modern problems of obesity, physical inactivity, and processed food. “Our data reveal that one of the mummies may have had a cancer mutation. This means that a genetic predisposition to cancer may have already existed in the pre-modern era,” Sklan said. “But we’ve found this mutation in only one individual so far. Additional studies with a larger sample size should be conducted in order to draw more meaningful conclusions,” she added. To read more about the study of cancer, go to "Ancient Oncology." 

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February 29, 2016

CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—A team of scientists made up of researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and La Trobe University sequenced the Y-chromosomes of 13 Aboriginal Australian men, and found that their genetic history dates back some 50,000 years, to the time of the arrival of the first humans on the continent. It had been suggested by a previous genetic study that another wave of people arrived in Australia from India between four and five thousand years ago, at a time when changes in stone tool use have been noted in the archaeological record. Dingos are also thought to have arrived in Australia some 5,000 years ago. “The data show that Aboriginal Australian Y-chromosomes are very distinct from Indian ones. These results refute the previous Y-chromosome study, thus excluding this part of the puzzle as providing evidence for a prehistoric migration from India. Instead, the results are in agreement with the archaeological record about when people arrived in this part of the world,” Anders Bergstrom of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said in a press release. To see examples of prehistoric Aboriginal art, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."

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February 29, 2016

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY—Historian Szilard Papp of the Istvan Moller Foundation thinks that fragments of a fresco in a late fourteenth-century church ruin in Transylvania may be a medieval copy of The Navicella, an early fourteenth-century mosaic by Giotto di Bondone. The original artwork was installed above the entrance arcade of Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The original was destroyed when the basilica was rebuilt in the seventeenth century, although three copies of the image, which depicts the Christian Christ walking on water before his apostles in a boat, are known to exist in France and Italy. Papp says a sketch of the mosaic must have made its way to Transylvania. “This is definitely the fourth,” he told the AFP. “It is astonishing that such a major work was reproduced in a small village church on the periphery of western Christianity at that time, so far from Rome,” he added. To read about an isolated medieval Christian settlement in the Middle East, go to "Hidden Christian Community."

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February 26, 2016

TOTTORI, JAPAN—A small image of shark has been discovered engraved on the blade of a bronze sword that was donated to the Tottori Prefectural Museum more than 25 years ago. The weapon’s blade dates to the second century B.C., but researchers do not know where it was found. Similar images of sharks have been found on pottery and wooden objects from the Yayoi Pottery Culture (300 B.C.-A.D. 300) in the region, but this is the first time that a shark has been spotted on a bronze artifact from the period. “Sharks repeatedly shed and replace their teeth. Shark meat also is rich in ammonia, which makes it difficult to go rotten. Perhaps sharks were a symbol of regeneration or longevity,” Isao Yumura of the Tottori Prefectural Archives told The Asahi Shimbun. To read about a Viking sword from Norway, go to "Artifact."

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February 26, 2016

LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA—Hunter-gatherers are known to have a more diverse gut microbiome than those who live in western-style industrialized societies. Microbial ecologist Andres Gomez of the J. Craig Venter Institute was studying the gut microbiomes of wild gorillas with the help of BaAka gorilla trackers, who live without western influences, when he and his colleagues decided to also collect samples from the BaAka, and from the Bantu community of the Central African Republic. The Bantu community is a traditional agriculturalist group that has incorporated some westernized lifestyle practices, such as the use of some flour-like products, domestic goat meat, antibiotics, and other therapeutic drugs. The researchers found that the Bantu gut microbiome is in an intermediate state between the microbiomes of the BaAka hunter-gatherers and western industrialized societies. “The BaAka microbiome is more similar to that of wild primates than it is to western humans,” Gomez said in a press release. The differences in the bacteria are involved in processing carbohydrates and foreign substances. “The study supports the idea that diet is the most important driver of microbiome composition in humans,” he explained. To read about hunter-gatherers in South America, go to "The Desert and the Dead."

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February 26, 2016

CANTERBURY, ENGLAND—A team from the University of Kent, led by biological anthropologist Patrick Mahoney, used 3-D microscopic imaging to examine the teeth of children between the ages of one and eight years who lived near Canterbury Cathedral during the medieval period. Dental micro-wear texture analysis allowed the researchers to measure microscopic changes in the surface topography of the teeth without damaging them, and offered clues to how hard the food was that the children had been eating. The team found that weaning had begun for the youngest children, and that their diets became tougher at the age of four. By the age of six, the children were eating even harder foods. It had been thought that wealthier children had different diets than poorer children, but the variation in micro-wear texture surfaces suggests that diet did not vary with socio-economic status. For more on what can be learned from teeth, go to "Tracing Slave Origins."

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February 26, 2016

YORK, ENGLAND—An 11,000-year-old pendant has been discovered in lake-edge deposits at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire. It is triangular in shape, was carved from a single piece of shale, has a hole in one corner, and is engraved with a series of lines that scholars think could represent a tree, a map, a leaf, or tally marks. At first, the artifact was thought to be a natural stone, since the perforation was blocked by sediment. “It is unlike anything we have found in Britain from this period. We can only imagine who owned it, how they wore it, and what the engravings actually meant to them,” Nicky Miller of the University of York said in a press release. Shale beads, a piece of perforated amber, and two perforated animal teeth have also been recovered from the site. “The designs on our pendant are similar to those found in southern Scandinavia and other areas bordering the North Sea, showing a close cultural connection between northern European groups at this time,” added Chantal Conneller of the University of Manchester. To read about another find from the same area, go to "The Precious."

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February 25, 2016

BISMIL, TURKEY—A burial at Kavuşan Höyük, a mound near the Tigris River, contained the 2,500-year-old remains of a woman aged between 45 and 55 years, and a six- or seven-year-old child. “A broken iron fibula grave good that was placed next to the skull may indicate that the child was a girl,” Rémi Berthon of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and Güriz Kozbe of Batman University in Turkey, wrote in the journal Antiquity. At this time, researchers don’t know if the child and the woman were related, and there’s no evidence of trauma on the bones. “We know that the child and the woman were buried in a short time range because the woman’s skeleton, found just below the child, had not been disturbed when the child’s body was placed into the grave,” Berthon told Discovery News. The grave was surrounded with the remains of butchered turtles, including a spur-thighed tortoise, Euphrates softshell turtles, and Middle Eastern terrapins. “Although the Middle Eastern terrapin is very common in eastern Turkey, this is the first evidence of its use as a grave good. Finding Euphrates soft-shelled turtles in a burial is unprecedented as well,” he added. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to "In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone."

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February 25, 2016

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—Three graves unearthed in southern France may reflect an Arab-Islamic presence north of the Pyrenees during the early Middle Ages. Yves Gleize of the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research and the University of Bordeaux, and Fanny Mendisco of the University of Bordeaux, examined three medieval graves in Nimes, France. The position of the bodies and the orientation of the heads towards Mecca appear to follow Islamic rites, and genetic testing of the remains suggests North African ancestry in the paternal line. Radiocarbon testing dates the skeletons to between the seventh and ninth centuries. “The joint archaeological, anthropological, and genetic analysis of three early medieval graves at Nimes provides evidence of burials linked with Muslim occupation during the eighth century in the south of France,” Gleize explained in a press release. For more on French archaeology, go to "Tomb of a Highborn Celt," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

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February 25, 2016

JERUSALEM—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that a seven-year-old boy discovered a 3,400-year-old female figurine while hiking at Tel Rehov, located in northeastern Israel, with friends. “Ori returned home with the impressive figurine and the excitement was great. We explained to him this is an ancient artifact and that archaeological finds belong to the state,” his mother said in a press release. Amihai Mazar, director of the excavations at Tel Rehov and professor emeritus at Hebrew University, examined the artifact, which had been made by pressing clay into a mold. “It is typical of the Canaanite culture of the fifteenth to thirteenth centuries B.C. Some researchers think the figure depicted here is that of a real flesh and blood woman, and others view her as the fertility goddess Astarte, known from Canaanite sources and from the Bible,” he said. For more, go to "Egyptian Style in Ancient Canaan."

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February 25, 2016

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Researchers led by Mark Jobling of the University of Leicester studied the Y-chromosomes, inherited from fathers, and mitochondrial DNA, inherited from mothers, of chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. They then constructed genealogical trees for each species, and found that the ancestor of the chimpanzee Y-chromosome family tree lived more than one million years ago. In contrast, the so-called “Y-chromosomal Adam” for gorillas lived only 100,000 years ago. The shapes of the family trees are also very different. “The Y-chromosome tree for gorillas is very shallow, which fits with the idea that very few male gorillas (alpha males) father the offspring within groups. By contrast, the trees in chimpanzees and bonobos are very deep, which fits with the idea that males and females mate with each other more indiscriminately,” team member Pille Hallast of the University of Leicester said in a press release. The human family tree, which stretches back about 200,000 years, is shaped more like the gorilla tree than the chimpanzee, suggesting that over the course of evolution, humans practiced a polygynous system. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."

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February 24, 2016

CLAYTON, AUSTRALIA—Biologist Alistair Evans of Monash University says that the teeth of humans and fossil hominins follow the rule of “the inhibitory cascade,” which predicts how the size of one tooth affects the size of the tooth next to it. He and an international team of scientists used a database of fossil hominins and modern humans, and high-resolution 3-D imaging, to study the evolution of molars. “Our new study shows that the pattern is a lot simpler than we first thought—human evolution was much more limited,” he said in a press release. And, Evans and the team found that although the genus Homo and the australopiths both follow the inhibitory cascade, “there seems to be a key difference between the two groups of hominins—perhaps one of the things that defines our genus, Homo,” he said. “What’s really exciting is that we can then use this inhibitory cascade rule to help us predict the size of missing fossil teeth. Sometimes we find only a few teeth in a fossil. With our new insight, we can reliably estimate how big the missing teeth were. The early hominin Ardipithecus is a good example—the second milk molar has never been found, but we can now predict how big it was.” To read about the earliest known evidence of dental work, go to "Paleo-Dentistry." 

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