LONDON, ENGLAND—X-ray imaging has revealed a rare portrait of Mary Queen of Scots underneath a painting of a Scottish nobleman, according to a report in The Independent. The unfinished image is thought to have been started in 1586 by Dutch artist Adrian Vanson in Scotland, while Mary was a prisoner in England, and may have been abandoned when she was executed for her complicity in a plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I later that year. The sketch of Mary’s face, hat, and neck were eventually covered with the image of Sir John Maitland, the Scottish king’s Chancellor, in 1588. Part of Mary’s dress was turned into his doublet, and her right hand was modified to form Maitland’s right hand. “Now that we know from the X-ray images what was going on, it explains why the portrait of the Scottish Chancellor was so awkwardly painted,” said Caroline Rae of the Courtauld Institute of Art. To read about similar work being done on ancient Roman frescoes in Herculaneum, go to "Putting on a New Face."
SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that an excavation team from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History has uncovered parts of an ancient silver wreath in a burial mound located near Bulgaria’s Dyadovo Settlement Mound. The region, located in southeast Bulgaria, was inhabited from the end of the seventh millennium B.C. through the twelfth century A.D., and was the site of a Thracian fortress during the Bronze Age. The wreath is thought to have been crafted by the Thracians sometime between the late first century and beginning of the third century A.D., after the region was conquered by the Romans. The pieces, engraved with images of plant leaves and fruit, show signs of having been melted, perhaps because its owner had been cremated. To read more about Thracian grave goods, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."
DUNDEE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in BBC News, forensic artist Christopher Rynn of Dundee University’s Center for Anatomy and Human Identification used twentieth-century photographs of a now missing skull to create a 3-D digital reconstruction of Lilias Adie, a Scottish woman who died in 1704 while imprisoned for the crime of witchcraft. In the nineteenth century, her remains were exhumed from a grave on the Fife coast that had been covered with a large stone, presumably to keep her rising from the grave. Adie was tortured and interrogated in prison in an effort to get her to name other women as witches. But she only pointed the finger at those who had already been named. Adie is thought to have taken her own life. To read about archaeological evidence for witchcraft in the British Isles, go to "The Witches of Cornwall."
YINCHUAN, CHINA—According to a Xinhua News Agency report, archaeologists have found a total of four tiny beads estimated to be between 8,000 and 12,000 years old by sifting and washing tens of thousands of cubic feet of dirt removed from a site in northwest China. The smallest bead, crafted from eggshell, measures just 0.05 inches in diameter. “It is incredible that it can be so well processed with such a small diameter,” said Wang Huimin of the Ningxia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, and the Qingtongxia’s Cultural Relics Administration, also participated in the project. To read more about Paleolithic beadwork, go to "In Style in the Stone Age."
LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Thousands of Taino drawings and paintings have been discovered on the remote, uninhabited Caribbean island of Mona, according to a report in The St. Kitts & Nevis Observer. Archaeologists from the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico, the University of Leicester, the University of Cambridge, and the British Museum found the drawings spread over 30 of the island’s caves, and there are more than 100 caves still to be investigated. Initial tests suggest most of the rock art, which depicts combinations of animal and human faces, and geometric and curvilinear patterns, dates to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Some of the images were painted with bat guano that had absorbed naturally occurring yellow, brown, and red mineral pigments from the caves’ floors. Plant resin was sometimes added to the mixture to help it adhere to cave walls. Most of the images were created by dragging bare fingers across the layer of corroded calcite on the cave walls to expose the lighter-colored solid rock beneath it. Scholars think the island may have been the site of ceremonial rituals that were perhaps fueled by hallucinogens, as described by a sixteenth-century Spanish observer. To read more about the artwork on Mona Island, go to "Spiritual Meeting Ground."
PLYMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS—The Patriot Ledger reports that archaeologists led by David Landon of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, have uncovered traces of Pilgrim life between the remains of two buildings located within the palisade wall discovered last year. In one pit, they found the bones of a butchered calf that had not been completely processed. Landon thinks hot weather may have been the reason. “We’re filleting it out and it’s laying around for a little while,” he speculated. “Time to get rid of the rest of this into a pit on the side of the house,” he said. The alleyway also yielded samples from a trash pit that will be tested for pollen and parasites, and fish bones in a planting hole, reflecting the Wampanoag practice of fertilizing plants with fish. Other seventeenth-century artifacts uncovered during the excavation include European pottery and stoneware, straight pins, trader’s beads, and a lead seal marked with an image of a thistle, which may have come on a bolt of cloth from England. “It was very emblematic of the time and emblematic of the trade routes,” Landon said. To read more about historical archaeology in Massachusetts, go to "Finding Parker's Revenge."
EDMONTON, CANADA—According to a report in The International Business Times, an international group of historians of Indian mathematics disagrees with a study conducted by Oxford University researchers, which claimed the Bakhshali manuscript dated to 200 B.C., and recorded the earliest-known use of the number zero. The critics argue that the text of the Bakhshali manuscript is a unified treatise on arithmetic that was written all at once, by the same scribe, on birch bark leaves dating to different time periods. They suggest the text therefore dates to the time of the youngest birch bark leaves, in the eighth century A.D., but stress that it does contain important calculations using the concept of zero. To read about the original claim, go to "New Dates Push Back Use of Zero."
JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—According to a report in The Washington Post, archaeologists are looking for the remains of notable citizens of James Fort in the layers of burials within the memorial church at the site. “There are so many graves cutting through graves, cutting through graves, cutting through graves,” said Jamestown Rediscovery’s chief archaeologist, William M. Kelso. In particular, they are searching for the remains of Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, named governor and captain general of Virginia in 1610 by the Virginia Company of London. In 1618, he died at sea while returning to the colony, and was the first person buried in the church. His remains are presumed to be at the bottom of the layers of graves. De La Warr was in his 40s at the time of his death, and it is known that he suffered from fevers, dysentery, and scurvy during the year that he lived in Virginia. He is thought to have been buried in an aristocrat’s anthropoid-shaped coffin. For more, go to “Jamestown’s VIPs.”
AITAPE, PAPUA NEW GUINEA—Geologist James Goff of the University of New South Wales and anthropologist John Terrell of the Field Museum in Chicago analyzed sediment samples from the site where a 6,000-year-old skull was discovered embedded in a creek bank some seven miles from the northern coast of Papua New Guinea in 1929. According to a report in The New York Times, the researchers compared features of the sediments to those of some collected after the devastating tsunami that killed more than 2,000 people in Papua New Guinea in 1998. They found microscopic, fossilized deep sea diatoms, which indicate that ocean water had inundated the area, and geochemical signals that matched those recorded after the tsunami of 1998. “Yes, this was a tsunami,” Goff said. “And yes, this is most probably a tsunami victim, and he or she is the oldest one we know.” For more, go to “World Roundup: Papua New Guinea.”
JELLING, DENMARK—Science Nordic reports that traces of almost 400 houses dating to between A.D. 300 and 600 have been unearthed in southern Denmark, in an area where Harald Bluetooth, king of Denmark, settled in the tenth century. Katrine Balsgaard Juul of The Vejle Museums said the wooden houses measured, on average, about 110 feet long by 20 feet wide. She thinks many of the village residents were farmers, but evidence of skilled iron and pottery production were also found. Further investigation of the village could offer clues to why Harald Bluetooth chose Jelling as his power center. For more, go to “Bluetooth's Fortress.”
JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—According to a report in the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily, archaeologist Bob Chartrand was working in the Memorial Church at Jamestown when he unearthed what could be a time capsule left by archaeologists working at the same site in 1901. “We’re doing archaeology of the first archaeologists,” explained conservator Michael Lavin of Preservation Virginia. The small, rusty iron box was discovered in a cavity behind a brick, underneath the 1640s foundation of the James Fort church. The box was X-rayed in the Jamestown Rediscovery lab, and then carefully opened. Inside, the scientists found what looks like a folded piece of paper, but water damage made it impossible to read what it said. Lavin said the paper has been stabilized. To read about another recent discovery at Jamestown, go to “Knight Watch.”
NAPLES, FLORIDA—According to a report in the Naples Daily News, archaeologists and a team of “heritage scouts,” who are members of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, are looking for Calusa artifacts on Marco Island’s Otter Mound Preserve. The researchers have been tagging the 20 trees uprooted by Hurricane Irma last month, and then bagging and labeling the pieces of shell, fish bones, shark vertebrae, pottery, and colored glass recovered from the trees’ root balls. Austin Bell, Marco Island Historical Society curator, will clean and conserve the artifacts for the island’s museum. For more, go to “Letter From Florida: People of the White Earth.”
LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a preliminary translation of the Coptic text on a tombstone recently unearthed at the Avenue of Sphinxes names “Takla,” a ten-year-old girl, who died sometime between the seventh and tenth centuries A.D. The inscription above the cross image engraved on the stone is an abbreviation of the name “Jesus,” according to Mostafa Waziri of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. Scholars are still working on the incomplete, five lines of text below the cross, where the stone is broken. To read more about the Coptic presence at ancient Egyptian sites, go to "A Pyramid Fit for a Vizier."
KEHRSATZ, SWITZERLAND—The Local reports that archaeologists in the Swiss canton of Bern have uncovered a large, uncut stone near several houses at a Bronze Age archaeological site. Based upon marks in the ground, they think the stone may have been a menhir, or single standing stone, used to signify a meeting place or religious area. The stone may have been also been used during the Neolithic period, and eventually moved to the site of the Bronze Age town. To read more about the period, go to "Bronze Age Ireland's Taste in Gold."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Sarah Inskip of the University of Cambridge says that red squirrel pelts and meat traded by the Vikings of Denmark and Sweden could have introduced leprosy to southeastern England, according to a BBC News report. A strain of the incurable disease, which has also been found in medieval Scandinavian skeletons, was discovered in a medieval woman’s skull dating between A.D. 885 and 1015. The victim lived in the East of England, where squirrel products probably came into the country through the ports at Kings Lynn and Yarmouth. Inskip suggests the disease became endemic in the East of England earlier than in other parts of the country, requiring the construction of the island’s first leper hospitals in the eleventh century A.D. To read more about the Viking Age in England, go to "Vengeance on the Vikings."
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—Science News reports that evolutionary genomicist Tony Capra of Vanderbilt University and his team analyzed the genomes of more than 20,000 people contained in a databank of electronic health records and the 1000 Genomes Project. They found that when a small number of modern humans left Africa some 100,000 years ago, they lost some genes inherited from ancestors shared with Neanderthals. But when Europeans and Eurasians later mixed with Neanderthals, they regained some of these old genes, which can be found in modern African populations, in addition to Neanderthal genes. Capra says Europeans have more than 47,000 of these reintroduced ancestral alleles, and East Asians have more than 56,000 of them. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”
SHANDONG PROVINCE, CHINA—A 70-foot-long shipwreck with a cracked hull has been unearthed at a construction site in eastern China, according to a report in Live Science. The vessel is thought to have been used for river journeys during the Yuan Dynasty, some 700 years ago, before it sank and was covered with silt. Archaeologists from the Shandong Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, and the Heze Municipal Commission for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments, said they unearthed a captain’s cabin containing lacquerware; crew quarters containing porcelain jugs, net sinkers, scissors, oil lamps, and bronze mirrors; cargo compartments containing grain; and a kitchen/control room containing a stove, pot, and ladle all made of iron, and a tiller. The researchers also discovered a cabin they think had been used as a shrine, based upon the incense burner and Buddhist stone figurines known as arhats, or individuals who have attained enlightenment, that they found there. For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—The International Business Times reports that Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis and Sébastien Villotte of the French National Center for Scientific Research examined the remains of a Neanderthal known as Shanidar 1, which were discovered in 1957 in Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan. They found that the man had lived into his 40s, while likely suffering from profound hearing loss caused by bone growths in his ear canals. Such hearing loss is thought to have made him vulnerable to carnivores in the environment. Shanidar 1 also suffered from blows to the right side of his face at an early age, the amputation of his right arm at the elbow, injuries to his right leg, and what the scientists called a “systematic degenerative condition.” Trinkaus and Villotte conclude that Shanidar 1 would have relied upon other hunter-gatherers in his network for survival. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”
COVENTRY, ENGLAND—According to a BBC News report, an astrolabe dating to between 1495 and 1500 has been recovered from a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Oman. Mariners used such navigational instruments to measure the altitude of the sun. This astrolabe was recovered from the Esmeralda, part of a Portuguese fleet led by explorer Vasco da Gama, who was the first person to sail directly from Europe to India. Laser scanning of the instrument, conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick, revealed navigation markings. David Mearns of Blue Water Recovery said the instrument had to have been made before 1502, when the ship left Lisbon. It also bears a Portuguese coat of arms, and the personal emblem of Don Manuel I, who became King of Portugal in 1495. For more, go to “Is it Esmeralda?”
NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, a figurine that appears to be wearing a feathered headdress has been discovered at an approximately 5,000-year-old site near the Ob River in western Siberia. Archaeologist Natalia Basova said the unusual artifact was found along with a bird carved from bone that was probably sewn onto clothing or worn as a pendant, and several anthropomorphic figurines, also equipped with holes, made of mammoth tusk, sandstone, birch burl, and an organic material that has not yet been identified. A moose figurine, made of shale, was also recovered. The site was disturbed by an earthquake and tsunami wave some 4,000 years ago, and by a potato farm in the modern era. To read about another recent discover in Russia, go to “Arctic Ice Maiden.”