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Large Hominin Teeth Found in Hobbits’ Cave

September 22, 2016

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."

Categories: Blog

Ancient Cat DNA Examined for Clues to Domestication

September 22, 2016

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."

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Possible Anglo-Saxon Palace Discovered at Rendlesham

September 21, 2016

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."

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New Technique Identifies Neanderthal Bone Proteins

September 21, 2016

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."

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Sunken World War I Warship Found Near Norway

September 21, 2016

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..."

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Ottoman-Era Fisherman’s House Found in Israel

September 21, 2016

ASHKELON, ISRAEL—The Jerusalem Post reports that an Ottoman-era fisherman’s house and a lookout tower have been uncovered on the Mediterranean coastline by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority, who were assisted by boys and girls who live in the area. Excavation directors Federico Kobrin and Haim Mamliya said that the house had three rooms, and contained metal fish hooks, lead weights, a large bronze bell, and a stone anchor. Its door was placed on the north side of the building, presumably to keep wind and sea water out. The tower, situated on a hilltop, may have served as a lighthouse. To read about another recent discovery on the coast of Israel, go to "Sun and Moon."

Categories: Blog

Were Ancient Dogs Really Hunting Companions?

September 20, 2016

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Science reports that Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology zooarchaeologist Angela Perri surveyed excavations of prehistoric sites in Japan for evidence that early dogs helped people to hunt. She focused on the hunter-gatherers of the Jōmon culture who lived off the dense forest on the east coast of the island of Honshu, and found that beginning about 9,000 years ago, the Jōmon buried their dogs in shell middens in much the same way that they buried human hunters. Some of the 110 dog burials in the literature provided evidence of broken legs and teeth, injuries that the dogs may have sustained while hunting. And some of those injuries had healed, suggesting that humans had cared for the dogs. But after the Jōmon began farming about 2,500 years ago, dog remains appeared in the archaeological record as random piles of bones, and sometimes were even butchered. Perri suggests that the Jōmon revered dogs while they served a valued purpose as hunting companions, but when they were no longer needed to flush prey out of the forest cover and protect human hunters, dogs may have become a source of food. Jōmon groups located to the north and the south of Honshu, and who lived on foods from the sea, treated dogs like food all along, she added. To read in-depth about dogs in the archaeological record, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."

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Excavation of de Luna’s 16th-Century Settlement Continues

September 20, 2016

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA—WUWF.com reports that a team led by archaeologist John Worth of the University of West Florida has found a large garbage pit at the site of Spanish colonist Tristan de Luna’s 1559 settlement in the western Florida Panhandle. One month after de Luna’s arrival, a hurricane destroyed most of the expedition’s ships and supplies. So far, the team members have recovered a deer antler and the remains of shellfish, conk, oysters, and scallops, which suggests the 1,500 Spaniards in the expedition hunted and fished for food. The pit also contained pieces of iron from the straps and hoops of wooden barrels. Worth thinks de Luna’s men may have recycled the iron for nails, or may have traded it for food with local Native Americans. The team has also found floor surfaces and post molds from structures, and a balance scale weight that may have been used by the expedition’s treasurer to weigh pay for the soldiers. The hurricane “may have even changed the entire history of the continent, by altering what could have been a successful Luna Expedition, and which would never have led to St. Augustine and never have led to the southeast becoming dominated by the English,” Worth said. For more, go to "Letter from Florida: People of the White Earth."

Categories: Blog

Human Remains Recovered at Greece’s Antikythera Shipwreck

September 20, 2016

ANTIKYTHERA, GREECE—Nature reports that a set of human remains has been found at the site of the Antikythera shipwreck, known for the discovery of a clockwork device thought to have been used to track the motions of celestial bodies some 2,100 years ago. The remains of at least four people were recovered at the site in the 1970s. The newly discovered bones, which are red in color due to corroded iron artifacts at the site, include a partial skull with a jaw and several teeth, long bones from the arms and legs, and ribs. They were found under about 18 inches of sand and pieces of pottery by underwater archaeologists from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Over the years, the sand and debris protected the remains from hungry fish and sea currents. Hannes Schroeder of the Natural History Museum of Denmark says that the size and condition of the bones suggest that they belonged to a young man. Schroeder also explained that both petrous bones—small, dense bones located behind the ear—have been recovered by the excavation team. “If there’s any DNA, then from what we know, it’ll be there,” he said. To read about another underwater discovery in Greek waters, go to "The City That Wasn’t."

Categories: Blog

Early Fish Hooks Unearthed in Okinawa

September 19, 2016

OKINAWA, JAPAN—CNN reports that a team of Japanese researchers led by Masaki Fujita of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum has found 23,000-year-old fish hooks made from sea snail shells in Sakitari Cave, located on the south side of the island of Okinawa. These fish hooks are older than hooks unearthed on Timor, which are thought to be at least 16,000 years old, and hooks found in Papua New Guinea, which have been dated to at least 18,000 years ago. The team also found evidence that early inhabitants of Okinawa cooked and ate frogs, birds, small mammals, eels, and perhaps even lobster. Human skeletal remains, beads, and an artifact that may be a grindstone have also been found in the cave. "We found fish and human bones that dated back some 30,000 to 35,000 years," Fujita said. "We don't know what kind of tools were used to catch these fish, but we're hoping to find some even older fishing tools." For more on the history of fishing, go to "Off With Their Heads."

Categories: Blog

Monumental Burial Mound in Ukraine Reconstructed

September 17, 2016

POZNAŃ, POLAND—A report in Science & Scholarship in Poland describes a 5,000-year-old burial discovered and reconstructed by a team led by Danuta Żurkiewicz of Adam Mickiewicz University. Żurkiewicz said the evidence suggests the people buried in this cemetery, located on what is now the border between Ukraine and Moldova, were nomads who built monumental burial mounds. One mound in particular contained the remains of a man who stood over six feet tall. “This is not a typical height for the contemporary community. The man had to stand out with his stature,” Żurkiewicz explained. His body had been placed on a woven mat in a rectangular pit with a wooden roof that was covered with four limestone slabs. Analysis of the man’s bones suggests that he died between 35 and 50 years of age, and that he suffered from spinal degeneration, perhaps brought on by frequent horseback riding. To read about another group of nomads, go to "Rites of the Scythians."

Categories: Blog

Nineteenth-Century Boston Reflected in Privy’s Artifacts

September 17, 2016

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—WCVB.com reports that an excavation in the Washington Garden at Boston’s Old North Church has recovered artifacts reflecting the lives of English, Irish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants in the nineteenth century. City archaeologist Joseph Bagley said that the artifacts, which include pottery, toys, a clay pipe emblazoned with a shamrock, wooden clothespins, animal bones, religious figurines, and medicine bottles were recovered from a tenement privy. To read about another discovery in a privy, go to "World’s Oldest Pretzels."

Categories: Blog

Lime Kiln May Have Supplied Construction of Brick Palace

September 17, 2016

CHELMSFORD, ENGLAND—Essex Live reports that the archaeological investigation of a proposed development site in eastern England has uncovered a lime kiln thought to have been used between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Lime produced in the kiln by burning limestone or chalk would have been used in mortar, concrete, and plaster. The excavation team, made up of researchers from AECOM and Oxford Archaeology East, suggests that the kiln may have provided supplies for Henry VIII’s renovation of a nearby estate, which he called the Palace of Beaulieu. The building is now known as New Hall and is occupied by a school. For more on archaeology in England, go to "The Prisoners of Richmond Castle."

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Traces of Bronze-Age Cheese Production Unearthed in Denmark

September 16, 2016

SILKEBORG, DENMARK—Science Nordic reports that archaeologists found a 3,000-year-old clay pot in central Jutland that appears to have been discarded after a recipe burned. Kaj F. Rasmussen of Museum Silkeborg said that the pot, found intact in a waste pit, contained a white-yellow crust, rather than the black, burned starch that is usually found in ancient cooking pots. A sample of the residue was analyzed with mass spectrometry by Mads Chr. Christensen of the Danish National Museum. The results suggest that the crusty substance was burned bovine fat, perhaps curds from making hard cheese. “I cannot help but wonder if someone had a guilty conscience. It’s well and truly burnt and must have smelt terrible,” Rasmussen said. To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to "Bronze Age Traveler."

Categories: Blog

New Dates May Push Back Settlement of Iceland

September 16, 2016

STÖðVARFJÖðDUR, ICELAND—Iceland Review reports that excavations in Iceland’s East Fjords, led by archaeologist Bjarni F. Einarsson, have uncovered a longhouse that has been dated to as early as the year 800, some 70 years earlier than Iceland’s first permanent Nordic settler was thought to have arrived. Bjarni explained that the longhouse was built in the Nordic style, and its location is near a good harbor facing Norway and the British Isles. He thinks the building may have served as an outpost occupied on a seasonal basis to harvest natural resources. For more, go to "Iceland’s Young Migrant." 

Categories: Blog

Peru’s Indigo-Dyed Fabric Dated to 6,200 Years Ago

September 16, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Live Science reports that Jeffrey Splitstoser of the George Washington University and Jan Wouters of University College London used high-performance liquid chromatography to detect indigo in pieces of multi-colored cotton fabric from Peru’s Huaca Prieta, a temple made of layers of a concrete-like material made from ash, shells, and sand. The oldest scrap of blue fabric is thought to be at least 6,200 years old. When the temple was excavated in 2007 and 2008, archaeologists Tom Dillehay and Duccio Bonavia found that as the temple was renovated between 6,200 and 4,000 years ago, pieces of woven cotton in bundles were sealed in the layers of concrete-like material along a ramp to the top of the structure. The blue color of the textiles appeared when conservators washed away the ash. The first chemical analyses of the samples did not detect any indigo, which produces almost all blue dye in nature, so Splitstoser contacted Wouters, who conducted tests with the more sensitive technique. “That’s when we realized that we had the world’s oldest indigo, by far,” Splitstoser said. To read about use of an early artificial blue pigment, go to "Hidden Blues."

Categories: Blog

Aphrodite Statues Discovered in Jordan

September 15, 2016

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Live Science reports that a team of researchers discovered two marble statues representing the goddess Aphrodite, or Venus, at Petra, the ancient Nabataean capital. The team is codirected by Tom Parker, of North Carolina State University, and Megan Perry, of East Carolina State University. Working in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, the team has been excavating in a previously unexplored area of the city known as the North Ridge, where non-elite residents are thought to have lived. Most of the pieces of the Roman-style statues, which date to the second century A.D., have been recovered, and they still retain traces of paint. One of the statues is still attached to its base and a figure of Cupid. The statues were found in a first-century villa complete with a bath complex that may have been abandoned and later used for debris storage after an earthquake in A.D. 363. Coins and pottery helped the archaeologists determine that the statues were probably placed in the building late in the fourth century. “The statues were packed in pretty tight—I think that’s what preserved them in such extraordinary condition,” Parker said. For more, go to "Mystery Buildings at Petra."

Categories: Blog

Inscribed Scale Weight Unearthed in Jerusalem

September 15, 2016

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Ynetnews.com reports that a scale weight dating to the Second Temple period has been found in the Old City, at the site where the nineteenth-century Tiferet Israel Synagogue was located. Oren Gutfield of Hebrew University said that the weight is carved with two lines of text in Aramaic, which have not been fully translated, but are said to include the family name of a high priest. The weight was found beneath a burned layer thought to represent the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Artifacts from the Ottoman, Mamluk, Byzantine, and First Temple periods have also been recovered. For more, go to "The Gates of Gath."

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Roman Goddess Statuette Found on Croatian Beach

September 15, 2016

ZADAR, CROATIA—Total Croatia News reports that after a sunbather removed an uncomfortable rock from beneath her towel at Kolovare Beach and tossed it away from her, swimmers Dejan Filipčić, who studied archaeology, and Hrvoje Mijić, a geographer, picked it up. They saw that the "rock" was actually a statuette of the Roman goddess Diana thought to date to the second century A.D., when there was a Roman colony along the Dalmatian Coast. Filipčić said that fingerprints are still visible on the back of the figurine, likely left behind by the artist who made it. The figurine is missing its head, which may have broken off or been dissolved by the sea, he added. To read about more recently discovered Roman-era figurines, go to "Sun and Moon."

Categories: Blog

Aureus Discovered in Jerusalem

September 15, 2016

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—Live Science reports that a gold coin bearing the image the Roman Emperor Nero has been discovered near the ruins of a first-century villa on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion. Archaeologist Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, said that the villa is in the priestly and aristocratic quarter in the Upper City of Jerusalem. His team has also uncovered the villa’s well-preserved rooms; a mikveh, or Jewish ritual pool; and a bathroom. Gibson thinks the coin, which dates to A.D. 56, may have been lost and the villa destroyed in A.D. 70, when the Romans sacked the city. To read about Nero's lavish imperial palace, go to "Golden House of an Emperor."

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