LOUISBOURG, NOVA SCOTIA—Underwater archaeologists are investigating as many as ten wrecks of eighteenth-century French warships in the waters off the coast of Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. The ships sank during the second siege of Louisbourg in 1758. Most of what has survived are lower hulls, embedded in the sea floor. “A common thing we are seeing is cannons that were on the warships when they went down: cannonballs, cannon shot, bar shot—all of the kinds of ordnance that was on the vessels when they sank,” said Jonathan Moore of Parks Canada.
ONEONTA, NEW YORK—The chopped-up bones of 51 dogs and seven wolves have been unearthed at the Bronze Age site of Krasnosamarkskoe in eastern Russia. Dorcas Brown and David Anthony of Hartwick College noticed that the dogs, which ranged in age from 7 to 12, had been butchered in a very precise, but unusual, way. Marks on their teeth indicated that the dogs had all died during the winter months. Research into Eurasia’s early literature revealed that dogs were often associated with death and the underworld, and that dogs are also linked to a secret initiation rite for boys who trained to become marauding warriors. At the end of their training, during a midwinter ceremony, the 16-year-old boys ritually “died” and journeyed to the underworld. Then they painted their bodies black and wore dog-skin cloaks. Brown and Anthony think that the boys of Krasnosamarkskoe may have also had to kill their own dogs as the final step in becoming a trained killer.
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—Analysis of mitochondrial DNA taken from 4,000-year-old Minoan skeletal remains suggests that Minoan civilization was created by the descendants of the first population to reach Crete some 9,000 years ago, when migrating farmers left Anatolia and spread into Europe. “[The Minoans] were very similar to Neolithic Europeans and to present day-Cretans,” said geneticist George Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington. One hundred years ago, British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans suggested that Minoan civilization was Egyptian in origin because of the similarities in the art of the two cultures, but those similarities may have been the result of cultural exchange.
BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—Early human ancestors had an ear bone similar to that of modern humans, according to palaeoanthropologist Rolf Quam of Binghamton University. Quam and his team recovered a complete set of the tiny bones from a 1.8-million-year-old Paranthropus robustus, and an incomplete set of ear bones from a 3.3 to 2.1-million-year-old Australopithecus africanus. The malleus from both hominids was smaller than those found in apes, implying a human-like, smaller eardrum, and sensitivity to the middle-range frequencies required for spoken language. “This could be like bipedalism: a defining characteristic of hominins,” said Quam. Further study is required to determine how the size of the ear bones and other ear structures affect hearing, however.
BELIZE CITY, BELIZE—A 2,300-year-old Maya pyramid at the Noh Mul complex in northern Belize has been destroyed by a construction company that used its stones for a road-building project. Heavy equipment was used to dig away at the sides of the pyramid, exposing a narrow chamber at the pyramid’s core. Although it sat in the middle of a privately owned sugar-cane field, all pre-Hispanic sites receive government protection. “These guys knew that this was an ancient structure. It’s just bloody laziness,” said Jaime Awe, head of the Belize Institute of Archaeology. Belizean police are conducting an investigation and may press criminal charges. The nearby Maya site of San Estevan was destroyed in a similar fashion in 2005.
EVANSVILLE, WYOMING—Camp Payne, an historic U.S. Army post, marks the spot where pioneers crossed the North Platte River while traveling the Oregon Trail. The post sits in what is currently a vacant lot, but developers have bought the land from the town and plan to extend a housing project into the site. “This site represents a unique opportunity to study both the early history of Wyoming and the relationship between Europeans and Indians. The site deserves to be preserved for this study,” reads a report by the Wyoming Archaeological Society, the Natrona County Historical Society, and the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist.
AKHMIM, EGYPT—Six years ago, a colossal sculpture of the head of Ramses II was unearthed in the cemetery of the town of Akhmim. Further investigation revealed that the area could be the site of a temple dedicated to Ramses II, which was described by the Greek historian Herodotus as being larger than the Karnak temple complex. The residents of Akhmim were ordered to stop burying their dead in the cemetery in order to protect the archaeological site, and some of the modern tombs were relocated, but since the revolution of 2011, the cemetery has become a garbage dump. Now, the Ministry of State of Antiquities has moved the sculpture and additional artifacts into storage for protection. Guards are also said to be patrolling the site.
DROGHEDA, IRELAND—Members of the Boyne Fishermen’s Rescue and Recovery Service found an ancient log boat in the Boyne River while removing shopping carts from the water. Archaeologist Karl Brady says that the boat is unusual because it has a pair of oval-shaped blisters on its upper edge that may have been used for holding oars. “I have seen them on some boats found in Northern Ireland and Britain but not in Ireland,” he explained. This particular boat may be between 500 to 5,000 years old, but log boats were used in Ireland until the eighteenth century.
B’NEI SHIMON, ISRAEL—A mosaic dating to the Byzantine era has been uncovered in Israel, along the route of an ancient road where a new highway is being constructed. The large, colorful mosaic, made up of geometric designs and images of decorated amphoras, would have served as the floor of a public building. Pools, water channels, and pipes were uncovered in front of the structure. “The find of this mosaic is extraordinary; the size of it and the [condition] goes beyond what is usually found. This is an unusual find,” said Davida Eisenberg Degen of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—The Roman fort known as Glannaventa was dismantled during the medieval period, its stones incorporated into village structures and a castle, leaving behind an earthwork platform. Archaeologists will examine the only standing Roman building at the site, the remains of a bathhouse thought to have been reused during the medieval period as a house. They also want to learn more about the settlement that surrounded the fort during the Roman period. “People have wanted to find out about the area for a long time and discover its wider context and involvement with Hadrian’s Wall,” said Holly Beavitt-Pike of English Heritage.
COLIMA, MEXICO—Many bones and at least eight skulls have been found in a shaft tomb in western Mexico. The tomb is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,500 years old. “At first they identified the burials because of the odd rock groupings that were used to cover them, they also found evidence of ceramic material which drove us deeper into the investigation,” said Marco Zavaleta Lucido of the National Institute of Anthropology and History. Among the pottery offerings were pots, plates, censers, and two dog-shaped bowls.
SEVILLE, SPAIN—A structure at the Carmona necropolis known as the Elephant’s Tomb may have been built as an underground temple of Mithraism in the second century A.D. A window in the main chamber of is positioned so that rays of sunlight reached the center of the room—a likely place for a statue of Mithras slaying the bull—three hours after sunrise during the spring and autumn equinoxes. “The presence of a fountain is also highly significant as these are commonly found in the Mithraeums,” said Immaculada Carrasco of the University of Pablo de Olavide. The building was later renovated for use as a necropolis.
TUCSON, ARIZONA—Chemist Wayne Wesolowski of the University of Arizona has analyzed paint chips from a surviving piece of window frame from the railcar that carried Abraham Lincoln’s body from New York to Illinois after his death in 1865. The rest of the car was destroyed in a fire in 1911. Millions had gathered to witness Lincoln’s funeral procession, but different witnesses reported different colors for the railcar. By comparing the chips with national color standards, Wesolowski has determined that the car was a brownish-red color, or “dark maroon.” “It was such a huge, important event, and we knew a lot of the technical details about the railcar, but the color had been a mystery,” he said. A replica train will be built to retrace the path of the procession for the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death in 2015.
BAVARIA, GERMANY—The bacterium Yersinia pestis, which caused the disease known as the Black Death in the fourteenth century, has been identified in DNA samples taken from 19 skeletons of people who died in sixth-century southern Germany. It is thought that these people were felled by the Justinianic Plague, which killed more than 100 million people between the sixth and eighth centuries. Named for the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, the plague is thought to have contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire. “It is always very exciting when we can find out the actual cause of the pestilences of the past,” said Barbara Bramanti of Johannes Gutenberg Univeristy.
LONDON, ENGLAND—A new genetic study by population geneticists Peter Ralph and Graham Coop of the University of California suggests that all modern Europeans share common ancestors who lived as little as 1,000 years ago. The scientists examined the entire genomes of 2,257 people from 40 populations. “Even pairs of people as far apart as the U.K. and Turkey share a chunk of genomic material 20 percent of the time,” they said.
MUĞLA, TURKEY—Roman-era mosaics have been discovered at the ancient city of Milas in southwestern Turkey, after police were tipped off that pottery had been looted from the site. The excavation team found the tiled artwork some three feet below the surface, where the suspects reportedly said that they had found the pots. “We already knew that there were very precious historical artifacts in the region. We need to focus more on unearthing them,” said Milas District Governor Bahattin Atçı.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A first-century quarry has been discovered in northern East Jerusalem. Pick axes, wedges, and a key have been found at the site, where huge stones were removed and transported along a road, downhill to the city’s building projects. “The quarrying phenomenon created a spectacular sight of bedrock columns and steps and craters of sorts that were the result of the rock-cuttings. What remained are rock masses in various stages of quarrying, and there were those that were found in a preliminary stage of rock-cutting prior to detachment,” said Irina Ziberbod of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—David Sear of the University of Southampton has created the most accurate map to date of the submerged medieval port town of Dunwich, on England’s eastern coast. Sear recorded the town’s streets, boundaries, and major buildings in the murky, muddy water, by combining high-resolution acoustic imaging with old charts and navigation guides. Beginning in 1286, storms eroded the coastline and silted up the Dunwich River and eventually the town’s harbor. By the fifteenth century, Dunwich was no longer viable. “Everyone was surprised, though, by how much of the eroded town still survives under the sea and is identifiable,” commented Peter Murphy of English Heritage.
MILAN, ITALY—Excavations at the Church of Saints James and Philip on the outskirts of Milan have uncovered the graves of an infant and an adult, in addition to coins dating to the reign of the Roman emperor Magnentius, who ruled between 350 and 353. The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage for Lombardy has declared the church to be of historical interest.
HAARLEM, NETHERLANDS—Skeletal remains, buttons, bullets, and musket parts were discovered in a sand dune in the northern Netherlands by surprised birdwatchers who had been awaiting the arrival of a rare feathered visitor. Archaeologist Esther Poulus was called in, and she determined that the bones were of a British soldier who had been killed in a one-day battle in 1799. His uniform buttons identify him as a member of the Coldstream Guards. Veterans of the current Coldstream Guards regiment claimed the soldier’s bones earlier this month. “The archives in the UK show that the two soldiers I think it could be were in the most dangerous jobs, as grenadiers. Judging by his remains, our soldier was probably around 1.8m tall, which was tall for the time. And the grenadiers recruited the tallest. So it’s just a hunch,” Poulus said.