LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—Students from the University of Leicester are conducting excavations at Bradgate Park, located near Bradgate House, the home of Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine-Day Queen in 1553. So far, they have recovered 10,000-year-old flint blades, Roman pottery, a musket ball, and a toy gun dating to the 1960s. They have also found two outbuildings and a medieval moated site that may have been the home of the park keeper. “We have uncovered the building on top of the moat which we expected, and recovered some pottery and glazed floor tile that are consistent with a medieval date. What is new, is that we have identified that the building has at least two different phases of construction—the original building with a later extension,” archaeologist Richard Thomas explained to the Leicester Mercury. To read more about recent discoveries in England, go to "Artifact: Medieval Chess Pieces."
WEST HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT—An early Christian mosaic floor has been unearthed at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth by a team of archaeologists from the University of Hartford, Duquesne University, the University of Wisconsin, and Haifa University. Tradition holds that the Angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to Mary at the site where the church was built and rebuilt over time. The ancient floor, thought to date to the fourth century, was discovered with ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity studies. “The mosaic floor is beautifully decorated with multiple stylized crosses and iconography,” Richard Freund of the University of Hartford said in a press release. The floor and the original church may have been constructed as a Christian pilgrim site when Christianity became the state religion of Rome. To read about the excavation of an early Christian community in Kuwait, go to "Archaeology Island."
MUNICH, GERMANY—Analysis of DNA obtained from a 40,000-year-old jawbone from Romania’s Oase Cave—one of the earliest modern-human fossils found in Europe—indicates that five to 11 percent of the man’s genome came from a Neanderthal ancestor. “The data from the jawbone imply that humans mixed with Neanderthals not just in the Middle East but in Europe as well,” researcher Qiaomei Fu said in a press release. The international team of scientists, including researchers from the Emil Racoviţă Institute of Speleology, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard Medical School, and Beijing’s Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins, estimates that the man’s exceptionally large segments of inherited Neanderthal DNA, which shorten with each generation, came from a Neanderthal ancestor in the previous four to six generations. “Interestingly, the Oase individual does not seem to have any direct descendants in Europe today. It may be that he was part of an early migration of modern humans to Europe that interacted closely with Neanderthals but eventually became extinct,” added David Reich, who coordinated the population genetic analyses of the study.
SURRY COUNTY, VIRGINIA—An excavation to install a handicapped parking space at Bacon’s Castle uncovered an H-shaped chimney base with two 11-foot-wide fire boxes. Bacon’s Castle is a four-story Jacobean brick house built in 1665 by Arthur Allen, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. “This was a very substantial building. It probably combined the function of a kitchen with that of a laundry or a brewery. And it dates back to the late 1600s or early 1700s, when Arthur Allen II was reshaping the landscape here to reflect his status as one of the most powerful men in Virginia,” archaeologist Nick Luccketti of the James River Institute for Archaeology told Daily Press. Arthur Allen II, who was himself elected as Speaker of the House of Burgesses in 1686 and 1688, is known for planting one of the first pleasure gardens in the English colonies. The recent excavation also uncovered a large, brick-lined root cellar that butts up against the fireplace. “What we’re seeing here is that Bacon’s Castle continued to grow and develop after the original house was completed,” added Jennifer Hurst-Wender, director of museum operations. To read about another archaeological discovery in the area, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."
YAKUTSK, RUSSIA—Scientists at North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) have autopsied the remains of a three-month-old female dog thought to have died during a landslide near the Syallakh River some 12,450 years ago. (Two twigs in her stomach suggest that she tried to grab onto nearby plants with her teeth.) The puppy, whose fur, skin, bones, and internal organs are intact, was discovered in permafrost by two men who were looking for mammoth tusks in an area where hikers have found stone and bone tools and weapons. Was the puppy an early domestic breed? “Our task is to estimate the preservation of the ancient animal tissues at the macro and micro level. What is of real interest is the fact the animal has a completely preserved carcass, which is unique by itself, with nothing like it in the world. Although the tissues are mummified, they have no post-mortem decomposition, as it usually happens with biological material,” Darima Garmaeva of the NEFU Medical Institute told The Siberian Times. Members of the dog research project will return to the site with archaeologists this summer to look for evidence of early dog owners. To read more about the archaeology of dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—DNA analysis conducted by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen and Morten Rasmussen of Stanford University suggests that Kennewick Man, discovered in 1996 along the banks of the Columbia River in Washington State, is more closely related to Native American populations than to any other population in the world. It had been thought that the 8,500-year-old skeleton, known as the Ancient One by Native American groups, was more likely to be related to indigenous Japanese or Polynesian peoples, based upon anatomical data. “Although the exterior preservation of the skeleton was pristine, the DNA in the sample was highly degraded and dominated by DNA from soil bacteria and other environmental sources. With the little material we had available, we applied the newest methods to squeeze every piece of information out of the bone,” Rasmussen said in a press release. The study also reveals that Kennewick Man is more closely related to some members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, located in Washington State, than to many other contemporary Native American groups. To read about the earliest people to arrive in North America, go to "America, in the Beginning."
SAQQARA, EGYPT—Researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University conducted a new survey of the dog catacomb near the temple of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of death, at Saqqara. The catacomb is thought to have been dug in the fourth century B.C. “It’s a very long series of dark tunnels. There is no natural light once you’ve gone into the forepart of the catacomb, and beyond that everything has to be lit with flashlights. It’s really quite a spectacular thing,” Nicholson told Live Science. More than 90 percent of the millions of mummies in the catacomb were of dogs, as expected, but the team also found the mummies of jackals, foxes, falcons, cats, and mongoose. Many of the dogs were very young puppies that were likely bred for the cult and separated from their mothers shortly after birth. “It would have been a busy place. A permanent community of people living there supported by the animal cults,” Nicholson explained. To read more about animal mummies in ancient Egypt, go to "Messengers to the Gods."
CARDIFF, WALES—Analysis of more than 70,000 fragments of animal bone from a midden at a prehistoric feasting site in Llanmaes, Vale of Glamorgan, reveals an usual preference for imported pork. “Surprisingly, nearly 80 percent of the animal remains at Llanmaes were from pigs, at a time when sheep and cattle were the main food animals and pork was not a favored meat. What is perhaps more remarkable is that the majority of the pig bones were just one quarter of the animal—the right forequarter. It might be that each household had to donate the same cut of meat to be included in the feast—that way everyone would have to slaughter a pig in honor of the feast,” osteoarchaeologist Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University said in a press release. To read about a recent Bronze Age discovery in Wales, see "Artifact: Gold Lock-Rings."
CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—The Maryport Roman Temples Project has entered its final year of excavation. “By the end of the season we hope to have a detailed understanding of one of the most important Roman cult complexes ever to have been explored in Britain,” archaeologist Ian Haynes of Newcastle University told Culture 24. The team has uncovered a second-century A.D. building that had red sandstone walls, yellow sandstone decorations, a grey slate roof, and a columned entrance. This temple stood near the area where a collection of Roman altars was unearthed in 1870. “We believe that we have located the general area where the altars once stood, now we will close in on the part of the site where we think that they were originally erected,” he said. Earlier excavations revealed that the altars had been reused in the foundation of a Roman timber building, and had not been ritually buried, as had been thought. The team also found another complete altar, inscribed by T Attius Tutor, commander of the Maryport garrison. The altars are housed at the Senhouse Roman Museum. To read about an intriguing Roman discovery made in northern England, go to "Artifact: Roman Party Invitation."
ENFIELD, NEW HAMPSHIRE—A team from Plymouth State University is conducting an excavation in front of the Great Stone Dwelling at the Enfield Shaker Museum, where a Shaker religious community settled in 1793 and lived for more than 100 years. “I am standing in what we believe is the cellar of the Shakers’ trustees office. The trustees were the business leaders of the community. They conducted business transactions with the outside world,” Michael O’Conner, the curator of the Shaker Museum, told WCAX.com. The team is working to uncover the building’s foundation. “From an architectural standpoint, from a religious history, from a communal studies standpoint—yes, this site and this group are of great relevance to our society,” O’Connor added. There had once been 100 structures on the 3,000-acre property. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "The Hidden History of New York Harbor."
COUNTY SLIGO, IRELAND—Recent stormy weather off the coast of Ireland has exposed a ship from the Spanish Armada that sank near Sligo while attempting to invade England in 1588. Some ship timbers had washed ashore, so divers from Ireland’s Ministry of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht’s Underwater Archaeology Unit conducted surveys and have begun to recover artifacts, including a cannon, to be conserved by the National Museum of Ireland. “We have uncovered a wealth of fascinating and highly significant material, which is more than 425 years old. The National Monuments Service believes that all of the material has come from La Juliana, one of the three Armada ships wrecked off this coastline in 1588. On current evidence, the other two wreck sites remain buried beneath a protective layer of sand, but the wreck of La Juliana is now partly exposed on the seabed along with some of its guns and other wreck material,” Heather Humphreys, Ireland’s Minister for the Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, told UTV Ireland. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
MOUNT TABOR, GALILEE—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that arsonists had destroyed two storerooms filled with artifacts from the salvage excavation at Tel Kishon in northern Israel. Among the artifacts were Bronze Age pottery and weapons from the late fourth millennium and early third millennium B.C. Tel Kishon had been excavated ahead of road construction. “It’s significant and serious damage to the study of historical objects [belonging to] everyone,” archaeologist Amir Golani told The Times of Israel. The police are investigating the incident. To read about a recent discovery in Israel, go to "Egyptian Artifacts Found in Southern Israel."
TEHRAN, IRAN—Mohammad Reza Rokni of the Archaeology Research Center and his team have created a 3-D reconstruction of the 7,000-year-old remains of a woman unearthed in Tehran. “The model was developed drawing upon the supine position of the skeleton to represent its true position when interred; to reconstruct the face we added a digital version of missing parts mounted on the 3-D model; the prepared model was pinpointed in 11 points on the face, on eyes, nose, ears, cheeks, lips, and chin, and then the digital texturing filled these pinpoints to give us a clear image of the face,” he told Mehr News Agency. The team based the woman’s hair upon images from pottery from Cheshmeh Ali, a late Neolithic and Chalcolithic village in northern Iran. To read about a 5,000-year-old civilization in what is now Iran, go to "The World in Between."
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Potential respiratory irritants have been found in the dental calculus on 400,000-year-old teeth from Israel’s Qesem Cave. The irritants, including traces of charcoal, are thought to have come from smoke inhaled from cooking fires in the cave. “Human teeth of this age have never been studied before for dental calculus, and we had very low expectations because of the age of the plaque. However, our international collaborators, using a combination of methods, found many materials entrapped within the calculus. Because the cave was sealed for 200,000 years, everything, including the teeth and its calculus, were preserved exceedingly well,” Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University (TAU) said in a press release on Phys.org. The hardened plaque also contained traces of essential fatty acids, possibly from nuts or seeds, particles of starch, and fibers that may have been used for teeth cleaning. “Now we have direct evidence of a tiny piece of the plant-based part of their diet also, in addition to the animal meat and fat they consumed,” added Ran Barkai of TAU. To read about another finding based on the analysis of dental plaque, go to "Dental Calculus Offers Direct Evidence of Milk-Drinking."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Kathelijne Koops of the University of Cambridge and colleagues from Kyoto University tracked wild chimpanzees and bonobos in Uganda and Congo and recorded their tool use, the surrounding environmental conditions, and social time. They also observed the young apes when manipulating objects, and whether or not those objects were deployed as tools. The researchers found that bonobos had similar access to as many tools and the opportunities to use them as the chimpanzees, but the bonobos rarely used tools, and never used them to forage for food. Immature chimpanzees were also observed playing with objects more frequently, and with more objects. “Chimpanzees are object-oriented, in a way that bonobos are not,” Koops said in a press release. “Given the close evolutionary relationship between these two species and humans, insights into the tool use difference between chimpanzees and bonobos can help us identify the conditions that drove the evolution of human technology. Our findings suggest that an innate predisposition, or intrinsic motivation, to manipulate objects was likely also selected for in the hominin lineage and played a key role in the evolution of technology in our own lineage,” she explained. For more, go to "Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use."
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Guillermo Bernal of the National Autonomous University of Mexico has translated hieroglyphs on the tomb of the Maya king K’inich Janaab’ Pakal in the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque as “The House of the Nine Sharpened Spears.” Bernal’s study of the jaguar, an animal sacred to the Maya, connected a hieroglyph that looks like a jaguar molar and has been interpreted to mean “edge,” with an inscription in the tomb. “This is a name linked with war and an aspect which was not previously known as the hieroglyphic (could not be) deciphered until now,” Bernal said in a press conference reported by NBC News. To read more about the ancient Maya, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."
READING, ENGLAND—A team led by archaeologists from the University of Reading has just begun an excavation of a Neolithic building at Marden Henge in the Vale of Pewsey. Constructed in 2400 B.C., the earthworks is the largest henge in England, yet very little is known about it. The people who used the building may have even participated in the construction of Stonehenge. “Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out,” archaeologist Jim Leary said in a press release. The Vale of Pewsey was also inhabited during the Roman and medieval periods. “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there—a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved—from prehistory to history,” he said. To read more about recent discoveries in the area, go to "Under Stonehenge."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The name Eshba’al Ben Bada’, written in Canaanite script, has been found on a 3,000-year-old jar from the site of Khirbet Qeiyafain in the Valley of Elah by a team led by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “This is the first time that the name Eshba’al has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country. Eshba’al Ben Shaul, who ruled over Israel at the same time as David, is known from the Bible. Eshba’al was murdered by assassins and decapitated and his head was brought to David in Hebron (II Samuel, Chapters 3-4),” the researchers said in a press release. They also note that the name Eshba’al appears in the Bible and in the archaeological record only during the first half of the tenth century B.C., and was probably a common name during this period. However, “the name Beda’ is unique and does not occur in ancient inscriptions or in the biblical tradition,” they add. The name on the jar suggests that Eshba’al Ben Bada’ owned an agricultural estate and that its produce was packed and shipped in jars inscribed with his name. To read more about this period, go to "Egyptian Style in Ancient Canaan."
SOFIA, BULGARIA—Eighty-two silver coins, some bearing an image of the head of King Philip II of Macedon, were recovered by Bulgaria’s customs agency at Sofia International Airport. The coins were hidden in three routers in a package headed for the United States. “Each of the coins is a cultural artifact as per [Bulgaria’s] Cultural Heritage Act. In addition to their extremely high financial and collectors’ worth, the coins are also priceless from a scientific point of view because they are completely unknown for the historical science,” read a statement from the Customs Agency in Sofia, reported in Archaeology in Bulgaria. Customs officers are continuing to investigate the case. They have not released any information about where the coins may have been unearthed. To read more about ancient coins, go to "Artifact: Roman Coins in Israel."
YORK, ENGLAND—The need to socialize, and the ability to experiment and learn, may have helped early humans to survive genetic bottlenecks, when the pool of potential mates was small or even crossed species boundaries. The father and daughter research team of Isabell Winder of the University of York and Nick Winder of Newcastle University speculates in their model of hominins as “Vulnerable Apes” that selection pressure would favor those who were able to cope with the challenges of hereditary disabilities such as weak jaws, hairless bodies, short, weak arms, and straight feet that might have emerged during times when the population dwindled. “In situations where the probability of producing disabled offspring was high, the ‘fittest’ individuals would be those that could help their offspring co-exist with this vulnerability. Those that were a little smarter, more flexible, and more compassionate would have been at an advantage,” Nick Winder said in a press release. To read more, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."