BOULDER, COLORADO—A 900-year-old petroglyph on a free-standing rock in Chaco Canyon could depict the solar eclipse that occurred over New Mexico on July 11, 1097, according to a report in Newsweek. J. McKim Malville of the University of Colorado, Boulder, says the carving is made up of an image that looks like the sun’s outer atmosphere—a circle surrounded by “tangled, looped protrusions” on its edges. Human figures are also shown engaged in different activities. Malville and José Vaquero of Spain’s University of Extremadura examined the amount of carbon in ancient tree rings, ancient observations of sunspots recorded by Chinese astronomers, and historic data on the northern lights compiled by northern Europeans. They determined that at the time of the New Mexico eclipse the sun was in a period of very high solar activity. The loops in the petroglyph could depict coronal mass ejections, or eruptions of tons of fast-moving plasma. Other images on the rock, known as Piedra del Sol, were used to mark the June solstice and probably served other ceremonial functions. To read about another discovery at Chaco Canyon, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”
STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—Science Magazine reports that an almost complete skull of an infant Miocene ape has been discovered sticking up out of the ground in Kenya’s Turkana Basin. The baseball-sized skull, which has been dated to 13 million years ago, could help scientists learn more about the last common ancestor of modern apes and humans, which lived an estimated seven million years ago. The team of researchers, led by Isaiah Nengo of Se Anza College and the Turkana Basin Institute, which is affiliated with Stony Brook University, says the infant’s teeth resemble those of other fossil primates from the genus Nyanzapithecus, but its molars are much larger, so it has been classified as a new species, N. alesi, after the Turkana word for “ancestor.” X-ray images produced at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, revealed growth lines on un-erupted adult teeth in the skull. The lines suggest that Alesi, as the creature has been nicknamed, was about 16 months old at the time of death. The X-rays also brought Alesi’s boney ear tubes to light. These structures have helped to classify nyanzapithecines as apes, and as ancestral to modern humans and apes. All previous nyanzapithecines species have only been represented by teeth in the fossil record. For more, go to “No Changeups on the Savannah.”
REINA, ISRAEL—Arutz Sheva reports that a second workshop where vessels were carved from chalkstone has been discovered in Lower Galilee. Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists say they have uncovered thousands of chalkstone cores and fragments of stone mugs and bowls in the small cave. Excavation director Yonatan Adler explained that according to ancient Jewish ritual law, vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken. Tableware made from stone vessels, however, was not thought to become ritually impure. The discovery of another chalkstone workshop in Galilee suggests that residents observed Jewish purity laws. The excavation could help scholars determine how long these laws continued to be observed among the Jews of Galilee during the Roman period. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Kira Westaway of Macquarie University and her colleagues have found evidence of the presence of Homo sapiens on the Indonesian island of Sumatra dated to between 63,000 and 73,000 years ago, according to a report in New Scientist. “This is a significant finding because it supports emerging ideas that modern humans left Africa and reached Australia much earlier than we thought,” said Michelle Langley of Griffith University. The evidence came in the form of two teeth, discovered by Dutch archaeologist Eugene Dubois in a cave on Sumatra in the late nineteenth century. The researchers confirmed the teeth belonged to Homo sapiens by comparing them to orangutan fossils found near the cave, and then dated them with electron spin resonance dating. Scientists could now look for traces of early human habitation in the rainforest, such as evidence of cooking and stone tool use. But, Langley notes, “It’s possible they were just passing through.” To read about another major discovery in Indonesia, go to “The First Artists.”
DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND—A team of archaeologists has returned to an archaeological site near the northern tip of New Zealand that could date to the arrival of the first Polynesians in the area, some 700 years ago. Live Science reports that archaeologists first investigated the site, located on Moturua Island, in 1981. The current team members are also studying the artifacts recovered during that dig. The items include a shell pendant, dog remains, bone fish hooks, shell fragments, and animal bones found in a stone-lined underground oven, or hangi. Recent finds from the site include the cooked remains of seals, shellfish, and moa, a flightless bird thought to have been driven to extinction by New Zealand’s first human hunters. Andrew Blanshard of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation said the recent research indicates the shell pendant was made from a species of pearl oyster native to tropical waters, not the cold waters of New Zealand. He thinks it may have been brought from another part of Polynesia. “But at this stage, it’s still very much a wish, rather than something we can prove,” he said. To read more about early Polynesian migration, go to "Inside Kauai's Past."
NORMAN, OKLAHOMA—Where did the Ancestral Puebloans go when they left Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde some 800 years ago? According to a report in Science Magazine, scientists led by molecular anthropologist Brian Kemp of the University of Oklahoma are attempting to track the Ancestral Puebloans through DNA samples taken from the remains of their domesticated animals. The researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA from turkey bones found at archaeological sites near Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado, and compared it to genetic material obtained from turkey remains in the northern Rio Grande region, where the Ancestral Puebloans are long thought to have migrated and joined the ancestors of the Tewa Pueblo. The study suggests that after the year 1280, the previously unrelated groups of turkeys shared clusters of genes. “The people who collected these turkey bones had no idea that one day we would get DNA out of them and use them to answer questions about ancient human migration,” said team member Scott Ortman of the University of Colorado, Boulder. To read about the archaeology of the Puebloan peoples, go to "The First American Revolution."
HYDERABAD, INDIA—One India reports that a collection of 50 carved bone ornaments has been found southern India. The nearly identical, rhombus-shaped ornaments are decorated with carved circular indentations. Holes in the middle suggest they may have been worn as jewelry. “There was a certain sense of calculation, certain technology, aestheticism involved,” commented N.R. Visalatchy, an official in the Department of Archaeology and Museums of Telangana. Further testing will help date the ornaments, which are estimated to have been made between 4,000 and 1,500 years ago. To read more about archaeology in India, go to "Exploring Hampi."
KRASNOSAMARSKOE, RUSSIA—Science News reports that researchers believe they have discovered evidence for Indo-European initiation rituals that took place between 1900 and 1700 B.C. on the Russian steppe. Hartwick College archaeologists David Anthony and Dorcas Brown led excavations at the Bronze Age Krasnosamarskoe site and discovered more than 2,000 dog bones and several wolf bones. Analysis of the animals' teeth showed that they were all likely killed during winter. Several ancient Indo-European cultures were known to practice wintertime coming-of-age rituals that linked young warriors with dogs or wolves. In some of these cultures, teenagers could join a warband only after killing a canid and either eating it or wearing its skin. Anthony and Brown believe the finds at Krasnosamarskoe show this practice is at least 4,000 years old. To read in-depth about the discovery, go to “Wolf Rites of Winter.”
Cambodia Daily reports that a team of researchers working at Angkor Thom in Cambodia has made its second major discovery in the course of two weeks. Excavating the remains of a 12th-century hospital built under the reign of Khmer ruler King Jayavarman VII in the ancient city of Angkor, archaeologists have uncovered a Buddha statue that they believe was once installed in the hospital's chapel. Last week, the team discovered a six-foot-tall sandstone statue of a guard that would have stood sentry in front of the complex, one of over 100 hospitals built by Jayavarman VII, who is believed to have been a devoted Buddhist. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”
OMSK, RUSSIA—The remains of a warrior who lived during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age were unearthed during renovation of a historical building in the Siberian town of Omsk. The Siberian Times reports that the man was buried holding a dagger in one hand and a knife in the other, as if prepared for combat. He was attired in style, wearing earrings and a metallic disk over one eye. An axe and several arrowheads were also found near the burial, which was one of five that was unearthed during the project. To read more about archaeology in Siberia, go to “Fortress of Solitude.”
OSLO, NORWAY—Viking fishermen appear to have freeze-dried cod and transported it from the Arctic to Germany hundreds of years earlier than the fish was known to have arrived there, according to a report from New Scientist. Researchers from the University of Oslo and the University of Cambridge compared DNA from four ancient cod samples found at Haithabu, a Viking-era village in what is now northern Germany, with around 170 modern cod samples and concluded that the ancient samples came from the northeast Arctic, close to the northernmost tip of Norway. This means that the Vikings transported the cod some 1,200 miles by boat, which would have taken at least a month. In order to preserve the fish for this length of time, the researchers conclude, they must have freeze-dried the fish by hanging it on wooden racks in the open air after catching it in the winter, which is when cod come close to the Norwegian shore to spawn. This is hundreds of years before the first recorded use of salt to preserve fish in Norway in the 1690s. “The early trade of dried cod, if this is what the bones represent, suggests the emergence of exchange in bulk commodities, not just prestige goods,” says James Barrett of the University of Cambridge. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”
PENSACOLA, FLORIDA—According to a WUWF report, Santa Maria de Ochuse, the settlement founded by Tristan de Luna, extended over a minimum of 27 acres. Located on a level site overlooking Pensacola Bay, the settlement was inhabited by 1,500 Spanish colonists between 1559 and 1561. A hurricane and storm surge in 1559 destroyed most of the expedition’s supplies and ships shortly after their arrival. The excavation team from the University of West Florida is working to find the outlines of buildings and possible structures such as a plaza and a church. The new measurements indicate Santa Maria de Ochuse was larger than St. Augustine when it was established in 1565, and Santa Elena, established in 1566 on the coast of South Carolina. Both of those communities started with between 300 and 600 individuals. For more, go to “Florida History Springs Forth.”
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—According to a report in Live Science, in 1901, a mummy identified as Sa-Nakht, a Third-Dynasty pharaoh, was discovered in an elite tomb in Upper Egypt. He was estimated to have stood more than six feet tall at a time when most men were about five and a half feet tall. Could the better diet likely available to a king account for his above-average size? Researchers led by Egyptologist Michael Habicht of the University of Zurich recently reexamined Sa-Nakht’s remains. Habicht and his colleagues found the skeleton’s long bones showed signs of “exuberant growth,” indicating that Sa-Nakht may have had gigantism, a condition caused by an overproduction of growth hormone. “Studying the evolutionary development of diseases is of importance for today’s medicine,” Habicht explained. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “Dressing for the Ages.”
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Early farmers in Mexico are thought to have domesticated the maize plant some 4,000 years ago. According to a report in Nature News, the practice of growing maize then spread north into the southwest United States, but the evidence suggests the plant wasn’t grown in high-altitude regions for another 2,000 years. Researchers led by Kelly Swarts of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology examined genomes obtained from 2,000-year-old maize cobs unearthed in a high-altitude cave in Utah, and compared them to the genomes and physical traits of modern corn plants. The study indicates it may have taken 2,000 years for early farmers to hit upon the right combination of natural variations occurring in the plants for successful crop growth in the uplands, such as a shorter, bushier shape with more branches than modern plants. The ancient, high-altitude plants are also thought to have had a shorter growing season than plants grown at lower elevations. “It’s really promising for maize’s future that it has so much standing variation—assuming we can conserve that diversity,” Swarts said. “If we needed to do this, it wouldn’t take 2,000 years. We could do it a lot faster now.” For more, go to “How Grass Became Maize.”
ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND—Live Science reports that marine archaeologists led by Sandra Henry of the Orkney Research Center for Archaeology used a multi-beam echo sounder and underwater robots to map ten naval shipwrecks at the bottom of Scapa Flow, a body of water sheltered by five of the Orkney Islands. The project is intended to help researchers track the condition of the wreck sites. “It's quite important for us to understand their current condition and how they’re deteriorating over time,” Henry explained. The entire German fleet was scuttled in Scapa Flow at the end of World War I by a German commander who wanted to prevent the ships from being seized under the Treaty of Versailles. Most of the 52 wrecks were salvaged—only seven of the vessels, and some parts of others, remain underwater. The British ships in the study include the HMS Vanguard and HMS Hampshire, which sank during World War I, and HMS Royal Oak, which sank during World War II. All three are protected war graves. To read in-depth about underwater archaeology at Pearl Harbor, go to “December 7, 1941.”
SALEKHARD, RUSSIA—The Siberian Times reports that the mummified remains of a woman have been found for the first time in the Zeleny Yar necropolis on the edge of the Arctic. All of the other burials unearthed at the site to date have belonged to men and children. A team of scientists from the Institute of the Problems of Northern Development SB RAS estimate the woman stood five feet, one inch tall, although her body was poorly preserved, and that she was about 35 years old at the time of her death, some 800 years ago. The woman’s head, including her hair and eyelashes, was well preserved in the permafrost, with the help of a piece of copper that had been placed over her face. She was buried with bronze temple rings, which were found close to her skull, which was wrapped in animal skin and birch bark. “This radically changes our concept about this graveyard,” said Alexander Gusev of Russia’s Arctic Research Center. For more on archaeology in the area, go to “Squeezing History from a Turnip.”
ÇANAKKALE PROVINCE, TURKEY—An 1,800-year-old stylus has been unearthed in the ancient city of Assos in northwestern Turkey, according to a report in Daily Sabah. Nurettin Arslan of Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University said the bronze writing implement is pointed on one end and has a flat edge on the other. “The flat part at the back side of the stylus was used to make corrections,” Arslan explained. Merchants and the wealthy would have kept their records on wax tablets, while students who were less well-off may have practiced writing on sand or ceramic floors. Writing tools were also made of bone during this period, Arslan said. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “Let a Turtle Be Your Psychopomp.”
MUNICH, GERMANY—A new study suggests humans have been encroaching on tropical forests for 45,000 years, according to a report in The International Business Times. Researchers including Patrick Roberts of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and Chris Hunt of Liverpool John Moores University, found that hunter-gatherers in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Guinea practiced controlled burns of tropical forest, perhaps in order to create additional “forest-edge” environments where their favored plant and animal food sources lived. These burns may have even contributed to the extinction of megafauna, which would further impact the life cycle of ancient forests. Later subsistence farmers, who domesticated and grew native plants such as yam, banana, black pepper, and taro some 10,000 years ago, did not trigger lasting changes to tropical forests. But when agriculturalists introduced pearl millet and cattle to tropical forests in western and central Africa some 2,400 years ago, significant forest burning and soil erosion resulted. Rice, millet, and palm farming in Southeast Asia brought on similar forest destruction. The study also found that the Maya practice of growing crops around native plants, rather than cutting them down, conserves the forest. For more, go to “The Environmental Cost of Empire.”
BERLIN, GERMANY—The Asahi Shimbun reports that an Ainu skull removed from a cemetery by a private academic society in Berlin in the late nineteenth century has been handed over to authorities at the Japanese Embassy in Berlin, at the request of the Japanese government. The skull has since been placed in a charnel house for displaced Ainu remains at Hokkaido University, where more than 1,000 sets of bones are housed. “We will look after the remains with great care, while maintaining dignity, until Ainu people decide its final resting place,” Hokkaido University President Toyoharu Nawa said of the skull. Hokkaido University archaeologist Hirofumi Kato added that at least 16 additional sets of Ainu remains are still in Germany. Ainu skeletons are also known to be housed in Australia, Britain, and the United States, among other places around world. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”
WARSAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that scientists from the Center for Precolumbian Studies at the University of Warsaw explored lakes within the Peruvian National Park of Machu Picchu. The remote, high-altitude lakes sit at the foot of the Salkantay Glacier, and are very deep, making it difficult to transport equipment to the sites and to explore them safely. Two of the lakes, Soctacocha and Yanacocha, are located near the Camino Inca, a trail that connected Machu Picchu with other settlements and temples. The researchers found ceremonial stone platforms at both of the lakes. “Sacrificial offerings were probably made from these platforms during rituals,” said archaeologist and diver Maciej Sobczyk. The team members, including underwater archaeologists Mateusz Popek and Przemyslaw Trześniowski, collected samples of the lake sediments and used sonar equipment to create bathymetric maps. Future expeditions will look for possible Inca offerings left in the water and under the ceremonial platforms. For more, go to “Letter From Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”