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New Dates May Push Back Possible Settlement of the Tibetan Plateau

January 7, 2017

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA—Live Science reports that a team of researchers led by geologist Michael Meyer of the University of Innsbruck obtained new dates for hand and footprints left in the mud of a hot spring at the high-altitude Chusang site in Tibet. The 19 prints were discovered in 1998, and initial studies suggested they were left some 20,000 years ago. Meyer and his colleagues used uranium-thorium dating to date the sediments, optically stimulated luminescence to date quartz crystals in the layer containing the prints, and radiocarbon dating of microscopic plant remains. The new tests suggest that the prints were made between 7,400 and 12,600 years ago—a date range that encompasses the results of genetic testing indicating that people were living on Tibet’s high central plateau at least 8,000 to 8,400 years ago. Meyer thinks that hunter-gatherers may have lived in the region year-round, since traveling to Chusang would have been a long and arduous trip. “There is a chance that there are older sites up here,” Meyer said. “I think we have to keep exploring.” For more, go to “England's Oldest Footprints.”

Categories: Blog

Archaeologists Investigate Mounds in Burkina Faso

January 6, 2017

KRAKÓW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a team of Polish researchers has been investigating archaeological sites in northern Burkina Faso, an area inhabited by the Kurumba people for the past several hundred years. The researchers found flint tools on the surface of the ground that could range in age from 15,000 to 50,000 years old. “This is one of the oldest known traces of human presence in this country,” said Krzysztof Rak of Jagiellonian University. The team also examined the remains of a settlement known as Damfelenga Dangomde, which was abandoned in the late nineteenth century, when the Kurumba people moved to their current capital of Pobé-Mengao. The site is likely to have been inhabited before the arrival of the Kurumba. The team also identified a necropolis near the Damfelenga Dangomde tell that had been thought to be the remains of an ancient village. “The mounds of stone and earth that we have studied are approximately 1,300 years old,” Rak said. To read about another recent discovery in Burkina Faso, go to “World Roundup.”

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Study Fails to Find Link in Brain and Tooth Size

January 6, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a report in The International Business Times, a recent study suggests that the sizes of human ancestor brains and teeth did not evolve together. Modern humans differ from other hominins in that they have large brains and small posterior teeth. It had been previously thought that as brain size increased, and hominins began making stone tools to process food, the size of their teeth decreased. Aida Gómez-Robles of George Washington University and her colleagues analyzed eight different hominin species, and found a relatively constant rate of change for tooth evolution, but different rates of brain evolution. “The fastest rate in the evolution of the brain occurred in the branch of the evolutionary tree predating the divergence of Homo erectus from the lineage leading to Neanderthals and modern humans,” she said. The study did not investigate the possible behavioral and ecological factors that may have influenced tooth and brain sizes. For more on hominin brain evolution, go to “Hungry Minds.”

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Neolithic “Calendar Rock” Discovered in Sicily

January 6, 2017

GELA, SICILY—Seeker reports that a research team conducting a survey on the southern coast of Sicily discovered a large hole carved in a 23-foot-tall rock. Archaeologist Giuseppe La Spina explained that the team set out to see if the hole could have been used to mark the seasons. At the winter solstice, La Spina and his colleagues found that the rising sun aligned precisely with the hole. They also found a 16.4-foot-tall stone on the ground to the east of the “calendar rock.” A pit at its base suggests that at one time, the stone, or menhir, had been placed upright in front of the hole in the calendar rock. The composition of the menhir is different from the calendar rock, which indicates that it was brought to the site from another place. “This obviously reinforces the sacrality of the site,” said La Spina. Two other similar holed stones have been found in Sicily—one marks the rising sun at the winter solstice, the other the rising sun at the summer solstice. “For this reason, I believe that another holed calendar stone, marking the summer solstice, may be found near Gela,” explained archaeoastronomer Alberto Scuderi of Italian Archaeologist Groups. For more, go to “The Maya Sense of Time.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Egyptian Pot Burials

January 5, 2017

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Science News reports that bioarchaeologist Ronika Power and Egyptologist Yann Tristant of Macquarie University reviewed studies of burials in ceramic pots at 46 archaeological sites, most of which were found near the Nile River and dated to between 3300 and 1650 B.C. It had been thought that such pot burials were a make-do effort for poor children, but the researchers found that more than half of the sites in the study contained adult remains in pot burials. And of 746 children’s burials in the study, 338 employed wooden coffins, while 329 used pots. The rest of the children were buried in baskets or limestone containers. One pot held an infant along with beads covered in gold foil. Other pots held offerings of gold, ivory, clothing, and ceramics. Power and Tristant suggest that rather than a necessity, a pot may have been chosen as a burial vessel to represent the womb, and symbolize rebirth into the afterlife. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

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Scientists Look For New Sources of Ancient DNA

January 5, 2017

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—NPR reports that Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology led a team of scientists searching for new sources of ancient human DNA for study. Since the fossil record is limited, the researchers have begun to analyze the dirt from floors of caves to look for the dust of degraded bones. Those samples could yield tiny DNA fragments, once DNA from recent cave visitors has been excluded. These additional DNA samples could help scientists learn about the lives of Neanderthals over time, and how often they may have interbred with modern humans. “Can we understand what happened to them in the end?” asked Janet Kelso, also of the Max Planck Institute. “That may not be something you can tell from the sequence, but it would be interesting to try.” For more, go to “Early Man Cave.”

Categories: Blog

Colonial-Era Cannon Recovered in North Carolina

January 5, 2017

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA—According to a report in Port City Daily, a Colonial-era cannon was recovered from the Cape Fear River near the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site by a dredging company. The 93-inch-long cannon has been wrapped in burlap and is under a light spray of water to keep it wet until conservation can begin at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson. Site Manager Jim McKee said that the cannon has no visible markings, but it appears to have burst, perhaps as the result of a casting flaw. McKee added that he thinks the cannon was in use before 1756, and that it was found empty. For more on archaeology in the vicinity of North Carolina, go to “Medicine on the High Seas.”

Categories: Blog

900-Year-Old Murals Discovered in Northern China

January 5, 2017

SHANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua News reports that a 900-year-old tomb adorned with murals has been found in northern China. The tomb was robbed, and lacks any artifacts or human remains, but archaeologists suspect that the tomb was constructed for aristocrats. The upper part of the murals, which are painted on a white background, depict acts of filial piety, according to Zhang Guanghui of the Shanxi Provincial Archaeological Research Institute. Images of people working and cooking make up the lower parts of the murals. Pictures of herdsmen and cattle were found at the gate of the tomb. Zhang added that all of the murals also have floral, animal, and cloud motifs. “We have seen several tombs with murals from the Jin Dynasty [A.D. 1115–1234], but such well-preserved ones are a rarity,” he said. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

19th-Century Potato Blight Analyzed

January 4, 2017

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Live Science reports that scientists from North Carolina State University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Museum have conducted a genetic study of Phytophthora infestans, the potato blight that wiped out potato crops in Ireland and Europe in the 1840s. The team of researchers analyzed nuclear genomes and mitochondrial genomes of 183 modern and historic potato blight samples from Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, and the United States, and found that the strain that caused the devastating blight probably originated in South America, and then through potato shipments and the seed trade, traveled to the United States and then on to Europe. The strain, known as FAM-1, remained the dominant strain of potato blight into the early twentieth century. To read about archaeology in Ireland, go to “Samhain Revival.”

Categories: Blog

Crushed Murex Shells Unearthed at Ancient Paphos

January 4, 2017

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—The Famagusta Gazette reports that a team of researchers from the University of Cyprus has unearthed an ancient rampart with two staircases and watchtowers at the ancient city of Paphos. The sixth-century B.C. rampart was found on the plateau of Hadjiabdoulla, where a palace and storage and industrial facilities were in use until the end of the fourth century B.C. Traces of olives, grapes, and wheat have been found in the complex. Additional samples have been taken for micro-morphological studies and the possible identification of additional crops. The team also found a thick layer of crushed murex shells on the floor of one of the storage rooms. Team leader Maria Iacovou noted that this is the first time that archaeological evidence for the production of the highly valued purple dye from murex shells has been found in Cyprus. To read about another archaeological discovery on Cyprus, go to “And They’re Off!

Categories: Blog

Rock Art Discovered in Israel

January 4, 2017

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a group of recreational cavers discovered rock art carved into the limestone walls of an ancient cistern near an unnamed archaeological site located in south-central Israel. The images include a three-footed menorah with seven branches, a cross, and a key. Archaeologist Sa’ar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority examined the patina-covered engravings and thinks the menorah was carved sometime during the Second Temple period, between 530 B.C. and A.D. 70. Niches, carved into walls alongside the cistern, may have been used for raising doves for temple use at this time. The cross is thought to date to the fourth century A.D. Ganor explained that the settlement near the cistern dates to the late Roman and Byzantine periods. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

Categories: Blog

“Ancient” Standing Stones May Commemorate Medieval Victory

December 31, 2016

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—The Herald Scotland reports that archaeologist Murray Cook obtained radiocarbon dates for the foundation of one of two stones that stand near the entrance to the Police Scotland Central Division headquarters. It had been thought that the stones were erected some 3,000 years ago and served as a landmark during the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn. “The date that came up is contemporary with the battle,” Cook said. He now thinks the stones might have been erected to mark the spot where Sir Thomas Randolph, a commander in Robert the Bruce’s army, defeated 300 English cavalry on the first day of the battle for Scottish independence. Randolph’s victory prevented Edward II’s attempt to relieve the siege of English forces holding Stirling Castle. To read more about archaeology in Scotland, go to "Living on the Edge."

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Japan’s Inariyama Burial Mound

December 31, 2016

GYODA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that Motoyuki Sato of Tohoku University and researchers from the Museum of the Sakitama Ancient Burial Mounds used radar technology to study the round section of the key-hole shaped Inariyama burial mound. An excavation at the late-fifth-century site in 1968 uncovered a sword blade bearing an inscription that refers to King Wakatakeru in a chamber made of small rocks in the center of the mound. A bronze mirror, military artifacts, and pieces of horse harnesses were also found, but no human remains were recovered. It had been thought that King Wakatakeru, who is mentioned in Japanese histories, owned the sword, and that he had been buried in one of the small chambers found near the weapon. But the new study has detected another chamber, deeper underground, which may be an earlier burial site. The scholars suggest that the individual who had been buried in the newly found chamber may have owned the sword, while the smaller chambers may have been added for later generations. To read more about archaeology in Japan, go to "Kublai Khan Fleet."

Categories: Blog

Vietnam’s Kinh Thien Palace Investigated

December 30, 2016

HANOI, VIETNAM—Vietnamnet reports that archaeologists in northern Vietnam have investigated the site of the Kinh Thien Palace, which is located inside the eleventh-century Thang Long Royal Citadel. The final palace at the site was built in the fifteenth century, and was torn down by the French in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The researchers uncovered traces of several earlier palaces that stood on the site as early has the eighth century A.D. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Categories: Blog

Ground-Penetrating Radar Raises Questions in Southern England

December 30, 2016

HARPENDEN, ENGLAND—The Herts Advertiser reports that archaeology student Alexander Thomas of Bristol University conducted a ground-penetrating radar survey on farmland scheduled for the construction of a new school building. Thomas says he has found “strong anomalies consistent with a large rectangular building constructed of brick or stone,” and chalk extraction pits. Historical records of the area from the medieval period through the nineteenth century note farm and mill buildings at the site, but not in the same spot as the anomaly, which he thinks could represent a large Roman industrial site and mining activity. Kris Lockyear of University College London points out, however, that no pottery, bricks, or roofing tiles have been found on the surface. “The pits are perfectly ordinary chalk pits which are dotted all over the Hertfordshire countryside used to extract chalk for marling, not for any industrial process,” Lockyear said. Archaeological fieldwork is planned before construction begins. For more, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

Categories: Blog

Excavation Reveals Traces of 17th-C. Fortress in Japan

December 30, 2016

OSAKA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that traces of Sanada Maru fortress have been found at Osaka Castle, located on the southern end of the island of Honshu. The fortress was built by warlord Sanada Nobushige during the Winter Campaign of the Siege of Osaka in 1614, and helped the Toyotomi clan repel the armies of the Tokugawa Shogunate, who eventually brought in artillery and dug under the fort’s walls. The fort was destroyed, and the moat at Osaka Castle was filled in after the Shogunate forces won the battle. Sanada Maru “may have been larger than previously assumed,” said Yoshihiro Senda of Nara University. The topography of the site suggests that the fort was rectangular in shape, and measured 380 by 330 yards. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Categories: Blog

Excavation of Magarsus Continues in Turkey

December 29, 2016

ADANA, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that a team of archaeologists will continue to uncover the theater in the ancient city of Magarsus in south-central Anatolia. The team, made up of researchers from the Adana Museum Directorate, the Provincial Directorate of Culture and Tourism, and Çukurova University has so far uncovered seating for 4,000 people. “The excavations in Magarsus will continue in the orchestra pit of the theater and the stadium of the ancient city,” said Nedim Dervişoğlu, deputy director of the Adana Museum. “Following the stadium excavations, archaeologists will also focus on unearthing the temple.” Restoration and conservation of the theater is scheduled as well. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “Zeugma After the Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Ancient Wall Collapsed After Heavy Rains in Northern Israel

December 29, 2016

GALILEE, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a section of stone wall dating to the First Temple period has collapsed after heavy rains. The wall is located at the Tel Dan archaeological site, which was identified as the ancient city of Dan by the discovery of an inscription in Greek and Aramaic. The wall stood next to an entrance known as Abraham’s Gate, based upon the biblical story of Abraham’s rescue of his nephew Lot from the city of Dan. Five ancient gravestones at the base of the wall were covered with fallen debris. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

Categories: Blog

Chinchorro Mummies Receive CT Scans

December 28, 2016

SANTIAGO, CHILE—The AFP reports that 15 Chinchorro mummies were taken from Chile’s National Museum of Natural History to the Los Condes clinic for computerized tomography scans. “We want to see what they physically looked like, to reconstruct them and bring to life someone who died thousands of years ago,” said chief radiologist Marcelo Galvez. The Chinchorro used wood, plants, and clay to create the mummies, which date back some 7,400 years. The mummies, which are the oldest known in the world, preserved newborns and fetuses, and are thought to have been made by their families. The researchers also collected skin and hair samples from the mummies to try to obtain DNA for study. “We want to better understand their way of life—from their diet to whether we Chileans still carry their genes,” added Veronica Silva of the National Museum of Natural History. For more, go to “Peruvian Woman of Means.”

Categories: Blog

Colombia Hands Over Artifacts to Peru’s Ambassador

December 28, 2016

LIMA, PERU—According to a report in Peru This Week, the government of Colombia handed over eight artifacts from the Nazca, Huari, and Chimú cultures to the Peruvian ambassador, Ignacio Higueras Hare. The artifacts will return to Peru’s Institute of Anthropology and History. Argentina and Germany have also repatriated artifacts to Peru this year. To read about a recent discovery, go to “Blue Collar in Ancient Peru.”

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