CRAWLEY, AUSTRALIA—Rock art in Australia’s Western Desert has been dated for the first time with a new technique known as plasma oxidation, which prepares the samples for carbon dating. Jo McDonald and her team documented rock art sites in the eastern Pilbara at the request of traditional owners. When possible, they collected tiny samples of paint for testing. “We have discovered that this technique is a useful way of dating black paintings with charcoal in them,” McDonald told Phys.org. The paintings are between 2,000 and 3,000 years old.
HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—Workers digging a foundation for an addition on a home uncovered human bones that may be the remains of at least two French soldiers captured during the Napoleonic War. BBC News reports that the home is near Portchester Castle, where thousands of French prisoners of war were held in the early nineteenth century. Men were also held on prison ships in Portsmouth harbor, and there was a hospital in the town.
DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—Chili peppers were first domesticated in central-east Mexico, according to plant scientist Paul Gepts of the University of California, Davis, who led a study of genetic, archaeological, linguistic, and archaeological evidence. Traces of the easily-transported chili pepper, or Capiscum annum, has been found in Romero Cave in eastern Mexico, and from Coxcatlán Cave, located further south. These two samples are between 7,000 and 9,000 years old. “By tracing back the ancestry of any domesticated plant, we can better understand the genetic evolution of that species and the origin of agriculture—a major step in human evolution in different regions of the world,” Gepts told Live Science.
LYON, FRANCE—Sediment cores taken from ancient Rome’s harbor basin at Portus and a canal that connected the port to the Tiber River suggest that lead levels in the city’s water supply varied over time from 14 to 105 times higher than the levels found in natural spring water. The different isotopes of lead in the sediments showed that some of it had occurred naturally in the river water, and some of it had come from lead that was imported and used in the city’s system of piping. Yet Francis Albarède of Claude Bernard University thinks that the amount of contamination was insufficient to cause problems in Roman society. “It’s marginal. You would start being worried about drinking that water all your life. Even though they probably did not get degenerate, as some people say, or even get more violent, lead pollution might have been something to be concerned about,” he told The Guardian.
GALVESTON, TEXAS—A robotic vehicle is transmitting images of three early nineteenth-century shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico to scientists at Texas A&M University. The largest of the three ships was armed with cannon and may have been a privateer that had taken control of the other two vessels. The presence of a chronometer on one of the wrecks suggests that no one escaped the sinking vessel alive, since sailors leaving the ship would have taken the valuable piece of equipment with them. The researchers have also spotted a telescope. “Right here, with the glass lenses broken out of it, probably because of pressure when the ship sank,” Steve Gittings of National Marine Sanctuaries explained to KHOU. “It’s hard to say what happened. All three ships are certainly within visual sight of one another. It’s entirely likely that they all could’ve gone down in the same storm,” added marine archaeologist Kim Faulk. To read more about the project, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature article "All Hands on Deck."
MINYA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that two tombs dating to the 26th Dynasty have been unearthed in the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus by a Spanish-Egyptian team of archaeologists. The first tomb, which contained a bronze inkwell and two small bamboo pens, belonged to a scribe whose mummy is well preserved. Coins and mummified fish were also recovered. Oxyrhynchus, Greek for “sharp-nosed fish,” is known for the papyrus texts dating from about 250 B.C. to A.D. 700 that were first discovered there in the late nineteenth century.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Herders dating back to the Neolithic period did not isolate their domesticated charges from wild animals, according to Fiona Marshall of Washington University in St. Louis, Keith Dobney of the University of Aberdeen, Tim Denham of the Australian National University, and José Capriles of the Universidad de Tarapacá. They reviewed recent research on the domestication of large herbivores in different places and at different times. “Our findings show little control of breeding, particularly of domestic females, and indicate long-term gene flow, or interbreeding, between managed and wild animal populations,” Marshall told Science Daily. Such contact with wild animals may have been accidental or intentional, in order to produce stronger, faster animals better suited to the environment. “The boundaries between wild and domesticated animals were much more blurred for much longer than we had realized,” she added.
WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—When the capital of colonial Virginia was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg in 1699, Duke of Gloucester Street, the main thoroughfare through the town, was designed to reflect the power and order of the British crown. The plan required, however, the long, straight street be constructed over ravines and gullies that had to be filled in and drained. “The most heroic work was probably done early in the century. But this was a very long campaign that started off with public projects and ended with private efforts,” Edward Chappell, director of Colonial Williamsburg’s department of architectural and archaeological research, told The Daily Press.
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—The Baltimore Sun reports that an excavation in Patterson Park by the nonprofit group Baltimore Heritage has uncovered a wall that may have been part of Jacob Laudenslager’s butcher shop during the War of 1812. The butcher shop was located close to the site of the Patterson Park Pagoda, built on a strategic hill with a view of the city. Thousands of Maryland militiamen camped on the property, and built earthworks that helped repel the British in the Battle of Baltimore. Volunteers have helped the recovery of bricks, mortar, glass, nails, pottery, and a gunflint.
NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Excavations have shown that Wark Castle, captured by the Scottish King James IV in 1513, one month before the Battle of Flodden, was twice as large as had been thought. “This helps us to understand why the castle was considered to be so important,” Chris Burgess, Flodden 1513 archaeology manager, told The Journal. After his victory at Flodden, the English King Henry VIII turned the castle, which is located on England’s side of the boundary between the two countries, into an artillery fortification and used it to prevent the Scots from crossing the River Tweed.
BEIJING, CHINA—The Global Post reports that three sections of the Great Wall thought to have been constructed during the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. to 206 B.C.) have been discovered in northwest China. The stone wall had been placed in a valley of the Yellow River in order to prevent foreign invaders from crossing the river when it was frozen.
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Environmental stressors brought on by the Trail of Tears and the Civil War led to significant changes in the shape of skulls of members of the eastern and western bands of the Cherokee people, according to researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. They analyzed data collected in the late nineteenth century by anthropologist Franz Boas, who measured the length and breadth of skulls from many Native American tribes. “When times are tough, people have less access to adequate nutrition and are at greater risk of disease. This study demonstrates the impact that those difficult times had on the physical growth of the Cherokee people,” Ann Ross of North Carolina State told Phys.org.
GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA—The remains of the Planter, a ship commandeered in Charleston Harbor by a 23-year-old enslaved man named Robert Smalls, may have been found buried in ten feet of silt with scanning sonar and a magnetometer. Smalls and other African-American crewmembers took control of the transport steamer, picked up Smalls’ wife and children, and headed to the Union blockade in 1862. He surrendered the vessel, which was transformed into a Union gunboat with Smalls as its captain. The Planter eventually sank off Cape Romain in 1876. “We have probed down. We know there’s wood there and we know there’s metal there, but we don’t know absolutely whether it is or is not the Planter,” Gordon Watts of Tidewater Atlantic Research Inc. told Greenville Online. Smalls went on to serve five terms in Congress. The site will be monitored and protected.
NINETY SIX, SOUTH CAROLINA—Firefighters wearing breathing equipment are assisting a team from the University of South Florida with the exploration of a siege tunnel dating to the Revolutionary War. The tunnel was dug by Americans in 1781 during the siege of Ninety Six in order to place explosives underneath the loyalist-controlled Star Fort, but they were turned back and the explosion never occurred. The unfinished tunnel will be mapped and photographed in order to create 3-D models. “We can capture whole landscapes in hours, minutes as opposed to traditional archaeology that would be out here for weeks and months,” project leader Lorie Collins told WNEM. The tunnel will be stabilized and preserved, but will be closed to visitors.
ANGLESEY, WALES—A copper artifact has been discovered at the ruins of a Neolithic tomb on the island of Anglesey by an international team of researchers. “The big question in archaeology at the moment is whether there was a Copper Age in Britain. Did copper come to Britain before bronze? This discovery helps to suggest that we did have a Copper Age,” George Nash of the University of Bristol explained to The Daily Post. Called Perthi Duon, the tomb is thought to have been built as a single-chambered tomb around 5,500 years ago, with a compacted-stone, kidney-shaped cairn surrounding the chamber. The tomb is known to have still been standing in the early eighteenth century, but plowing around the monument caused” a lot of disturbance,” Nash said.
SIMAV, TURKEY—The body of a statue thought to represent the Greek goddess Demeter has been recovered from two men accused of conducting illegal excavations in western Turkey, according to Greek Reporter. The two men were taken into custody. The head of the statue and an altar were later recovered at another location by Turkish police.
FLORENCE, ITALY—According to a report in ANSA, the painted walkways used by spectators to move from the outer circle of the theater to the orchestra pit have been uncovered at the Roman theater situated beneath the Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Gondi. Well shafts that provided water and waste disposal for the theater have also been found. Originally built to seat 7,000 people, the theater was expanded to accommodate as many as 15,000 in the first and second centuries A.D.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Dominic Rathbone of King’s College London has translated a third-century A.D. document from the collection of papyri discovered in the nineteenth century in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. The document records the details of an agreement between the father of Nicantinous and the guarantors of Demetrius to fix an upcoming wrestling match between the two teenaged boys. Under the terms of the contract, Demetrius is to fall three times and yield to Nicantinous in return for 3,800 drachmas of silver of old coinage, a relatively small amount of money. However, Demetrius would owe Nicantinous a large sum if he backed out of the deal. “It doesn’t look as though they’ve actually gone as far as getting a scribe with legal knowledge to do this form them, which makes you wonder if it’s a bit of an empty thing. It’s not really likely that either side is going to [seek recourse] if the other defaults,” Rathbone told Live Science.
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Ostia, a port of ancient Rome, extended beyond the Tiber River, which had been thought to form the northern edge of the city. Researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Cambridge discovered a new section of the city’s boundary wall on the opposite side of the Tiber while conducting a geophysical survey of the region between Ostia and Portus, another Roman port. They say that the newly discovered area contained three huge warehouses. “Our research not only increases the known area of the ancient city, but it also shows that the Tiber bisected Ostia, rather than defining its northern side,” Simon Keay, director of the Portus Project, told The Telegraph.
SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—Scurvy, a disease caused by a severe vitamin C deficiency, may have contributed to the decline of La Isabela, the colony established by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. “There were lots of diseases, fevers, epidemics, we know from their writing. It seems no one was spared. But apparently scurvy played a big role,” archaeologist Vera Tiesler of Mexico’s Universidad Autonoma de Yucatán told National Geographic News. Of the 27 skeletons Tiesler and her colleagues examined, 20 of the Spaniards had striations on the outer lining of weight-bearing bones on both sides of the body. The colonists’ bones also showed signs of healing from scurvy before they were killed by other diseases.