RECHNITZ, AUSTRIA—Aerial photographs have led archaeologists in eastern Austria to concentric circular trenches dating to the Neolithic period. The trenches were surrounded by wooden poles, and defensive walls with multiple entrances were found inside the approximately 12-foot-deep trenches. “Such circular trenches are always positioned on a gentle slope, in order to give a clear view of the sky for the observation of the heavenly bodies,” archaeologist Franz Sauer told The Local. The circular earthworks may have been used as a calendar and a ritual space.
EASTON, MARYLAND—Mark Leone of the University of Maryland, College Park, is leading a team of students in the excavation of The Hill neighborhood in Easton. They are looking for evidence that could prove it was the country’s first free African-American community, and not the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans, which dates to 1812. The team is currently excavating a building where three free non-white residents lived, according to the 1800 census. “We also know that by around 1790 there were a few free African Americans who were actually purchasing property in this neighborhood. And so we’re excavating here, one, to figure out what their lives were like and also to better understand the community more broadly in order to help support the claim that this is the oldest free African-American community in the United States,” Stefan Woehlke told Delmarva Now. Those first 400 residents may have been freed by Methodists and Quakers who lived in the area in the eighteenth century.
YORK, ENGLAND—Samples of dental calculus obtained from 7,000-year-old skeletons at Al Khiday, a prehistoric site on the White Nile in Central Sudan, have been analyzed by an international team of scientists. Chemical compounds and microfossils in the calcified dental plaque suggest that purple nut sedge (Cyperus rotundus) was an important part of the diet. It is a good source of carbohydrates and it inhibits the growth of Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium that contributes to tooth decay. The researchers did observe a low level of dental cavities in the population. “We also discovered that these people ate several other plants and we found traces of smoke, evidence for cooking, and for chewing plant fibers to prepare raw materials. These small biographical details add to the growing evidence that prehistoric people had a detailed understanding of plants long before the development of agriculture,” Karen Hardy of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona told Science Daily. The people of Al Khiday continued to eat the beneficial purple nut sedge after agricultural plants had been introduced to their diets.
DEVON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists and students from the University of Exeter are excavating a Romano-British settlement in Ipplepen. They have unearthed a rutted road with repairs to its surface; Roman coins; fine, imported Roman pottery and local pottery made in the Roman style; and a Roman hair pin, brooch, and bracelet. “Roman women had some very elaborate hairstyles which changed through time like our fashions do today. Hairpins were used to hold complex hairstyles like buns and plaits together and suggests that Devon women may have been adopting fashions from Rome,” Danielle Wootton of the Portable Antiquities Scheme told the Exeter Express and Echo. The team also found green and blue glass beads, and two amber beads that were probably imported from the Baltic coast. “During the Roman period amber was thought to have magical, protective and healing properties. These very personal items worn by the women that lived on this site centuries ago have enabled us to get a glimpse into the lives of people living everyday lives on the edges of the Roman Empire,” she added.
NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND—Traces of a medieval church thought to have been destroyed during the Reformation were discovered at Rufford Country Park during an excavation at Rufford Abbey. “Uncovering the remains of the original church is momentous,” Emily Gillott, Nottinghamshire County Council’s community archaeologist, told BBC News. A piece of Tudor pottery and two teeth, thought to belong to a monk who had been buried there, have been found at the site of the church, which was constructed in 1160.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA—A painting has been discovered on the walls of the tomb of Perseneb, a priest and steward who had been buried to the east of the Great Pyramid of Giza during the fifth dynasty, sometime between 2450 and 2350 B.C. “Known since the nineteenth century, the [tomb] could hardly present any new principal features. Therefore, it was a real surprise to discover an Old Kingdom painting on the eastern wall of the central room,” Maksim Lebedev of the Russian State University for the Humanities told Live Science. The painting had been covered with soot and dirt, and much of it has been damaged. Yet “none of the scenes has been lost completely. The remaining traces allow [for the] reconstruction [of] the whole composition,” he said. The images reflect the deceased’s high status, and depict boats sailing on the Nile River, agricultural scenes, and a man hunting marsh birds. There’s also an image thought to represent Perseneb with his wife and his dog.
COVENTRY, ENGLAND—Microbial genomist Mark Pallen of Warwick Medical School and his colleagues used “shotgun metagenomics” to sample all of the DNA present in the bony nodules on a 700-year-old skeleton unearthed in Sardinia. They thought that the man had suffered from tuberculosis, but the results showed the DNA signature of Brucella melitensis, a microbe caught from working with livestock or consuming contaminated milk or cheese. The disease, known as brucellosis, causes chronic fatigue and recurring fevers, and has been diagnosed in other ancient skeletons, including a possible case in the human ancestor Australopithecus africanus. Pallen’s team is now using “shotgun metagenomics” to test other historic tissue samples. “We’re cranking through all of these samples, and we’re hopeful that we’re going to find new things,” he told Live Science.
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—According to Phys.org, Geoffrey Clark of Australian National University and his colleagues think that Tonga served as a trade hub and the seat of a maritime empire for people across Polynesia in the first half of the second century A.D. The team analyzed more than 500 stone artifacts found in Tongan political centers, and traced the types of rocks to different Central Pacific islands. They found that two-thirds of the stone tools had been imported from Fiji, Samoa, and Tahiti, some 2,500 miles away from Tonga. Yet very few stone tools in Samoa were imports. Valuable goods and ideas could have been shared by people throughout Polynesia in areas formed by Tongan rulers’ centralizing authority.
TUCSON, ARIZONA—Clovis projectile points and cutting tools have been found mingled with the bones of two juvenile gomphotheres, elephant-like relatives of mastadons and mammoths, in northwestern Mexico. Gomphotheres are known to have been hunted in Central and South America, but this is the first time such evidence has been found in North America. “At first, just based on the size of the bone, we thought maybe it was a bison, because extinct bison were a little bigger than our modern bison. We finally found the mandible, and that’s what told the tale,” Vance Holliday of the University of Arizona told Science Daily. The bones have been dated to 13,400 years ago, making them the last known gomphotheres in North America.
BOLZANO, ITALY—A bone sample taken from the natural mummy known as Ötzi, found in a melting glacier on the Austrian-Italian border by hikers 1991, was used to decode his genome. Now a team of experts from the European Academy of Bolzano (EURAC) and the University of Vienna analyzed the non-human DNA in the sample and identified traces of Treponema denticola, a pathogen involved in the development of periodontal disease. And, in fact, the Iceman was diagnosed with periodontitis with a computer tomography scan last year. “What is new is that we did not carry out a directed DNA analysis but rather investigated the whole spectrum of DNA to better understand which organisms are in this sample,” Frank Maixner of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman told Science Daily. The team of scientists also detected Clostridia-like bacteria in the bone sample that are thought to be in a dormant state. If they were to grow, they could cause the 5,300-year-old mummy’s tissues to degrade. Continued preservation of the Iceman will require additional micro-biological monitoring.
LONDON, ENGLAND—New technology has detected dozens of additional wounds on skeletons excavated from a 13,000-year-old cemetery on the east bank of the Nile River in northern Sudan. The bones were unearthed in the 1960s by American archaeologist Fred Wendorf, when arrow heads were found and their impact marks were noted. The bones were eventually moved to the British Museum, and they have also been studied by scientists from Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Alaska, and Tulane University. “The skeletal material is of great importance—not only because of the evidence for conflict, but because the Jebel Sahaba cemetery is the oldest discovered in the Nile Valley so far,” Daniel Antoine, a curator in the British Museum’s Ancient Egypt and Sudan Department, told The Independent. The new research indicates that the men, women, and children had been killed by enemy archers over time, during the drought of the Younger Dryas period. Human ethnic groups would have been drawn to the waters of the Nile, where they would have inevitably clashed. The victims are said to be from the world’s oldest-known large-scale armed human conflict. Further study will investigate the health of the victims at the time of death.
TRUJILLO, PERU—The tomb of a male ruler has been discovered at the Huaca de la Luna, or Temple of the Moon, in the ancient Moche capital of Cerro Blanco in northern Peru. In addition to the man’s remains, the 1,500-year-old tomb held a copper scepter, bronze earrings, a mask, and sharpened metal claws shaped like feline paws that may have been part of a ritual full-body costume. Santiago Uceda, co-director of the excavation, thinks that the paws may have been used in ceremonial combat. He told El Comercio that the winner of the battle would receive the costume, while the loser would be sacrificed.
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Excavations in southeastern Turkey, in the lower town of Tušhan, a provincial capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, have uncovered hundreds of clay tokens dating to the first millennium B.C. It had been thought that record-keeping with such tokens had been replaced with cuneiform two thousand years earlier, but these tokens were found in two rooms that may have served as a delivery area in an administrative building. “We think one of two things happened here. You either have information about livestock coming through here, or flocks of animals themselves. Each farmer of herder would have a bag with tokens to represent their flock,” John MacGinnis of the MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge told Science Daily. The information collected with the tokens would have been recorded onto cuneiform tablets somewhere else. “The tokens provided a system of moveable numbers that allowed for stock to be moved and accounts to be modified and updated without committing to writing; a system that doesn’t require everyone involved to be literate,” he explained. MacGinnis hopes that the codes of the token system will one day be fully understood.
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—Chuck Meide of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program will partner with the National Park Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state of Florida, the Institute of Maritime History, and the Center for Historical Archaeology in Melbourne to look for a French fleet lost in 1565 off Florida’s Atlantic coast. Jean Ribault, leader of the fleet, was planning to attack the Spanish colony at St. Augustine with his four largest ships when a hurricane pushed the heavily armed vessels to the south and then sank them. “It was a storm that literally changed American history,” Meide told the Florida Times-Union. The Protestant French settlement at Fort Caroline was soon destroyed by the Catholic Spanish, who also killed Ribault and the other shipwreck survivors. Meide’s ongoing expedition will employ a shrimp boat outfitted with sonar and a magnetometer to search for French cannons, cannonballs, and other artifacts. “It is Florida’s origin story, so it is also the story of the birth of our nation,” he said.
ANDONG, SOUTH KOREA—Yi-Suk Kim of Ewha Womans University in Seoul and colleagues conducted an autopsy on the mummified remains of an approximately 45-year-old man who had been buried in a royal tomb of the Chosun Dynasty. Live Science reports that the team found the right lobe of the man’s liver, part of his stomach, and part of his colon pushed through in a hole in his diaphragm. The man had suffered from a Bochdalek-type congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) that may have caused pain in his chest and abdomen, but the herniated organs had not perforated or strangulated, so the condition may not have been the cause of death. “He could have lived with CDH in this lifetime while experiencing a few signs of respiratory disturbances. We suspected that the functional defects caused by the CDH in the present male mummy case might have been largely compensated for as he grew older,” the authors report in PLOS One.
GDAŃSK, POLAND—A perfectly preserved stoneware bottle produced between 1806 and 1830 has been recovered from a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. The corked bottle had been carrying mineral water from Selters, a naturally carbonated spring in Germany’s Taunus mountain range. “The bottle contains a liquid, and for sure it’s not seawater,” underwater archaeologist Tomasz Bednarz of the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk told Discovery News. The bottle probably contains original Selters water, but it may have been reused and filled with wine. It will be opened under laboratory conditions.
FERRYLAND, NEWFOUNDLAND—A small copper crucifix with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child on its back has been unearthed at the Colony of Avalon site on the coast of Newfoundland. The territory had been granted to George Calvert, who became the first Lord Baltimore, in 1620. Calvert, a Catholic, envisioned the colony as place free of religious persecution for all Christians at a time when Catholics could be fined, imprisoned, or executed in England. The crucifix was discovered among ceramic fragments, bones, nails, and debris associated with the construction of a large stone house that had been built for Calvert sometime after 1623. “As artifacts go, this particular object is quite exceptional. The Catholic iconography is unmistakable,” archaeologist Barry Gaulton of the Colony of Avalon and Memorial University of Newfoundland told The Telegram. Archaeological conservator Donna Teasdale is cleaning and conserving the crucifix. “The smooth, almost polished, surfaces on the crucifix lead me to believe that it was definitely part of a rosary. It was rubbed repeatedly over a period of time,” she said. It may have belonged to Calvert or the colony’s second governor, Sir Arthur Aston, or even a craftsman who had been working on the house.
WARSAW, POLAND—A fourteenth-century Turkish bath with a central heating system was discovered at the site of the ancient Illyrian town of Scodra in northwestern Albania by archaeologist Piotr Dyczek of the University of Warsaw. “We know of very few early hammams. This makes our discovery even more interesting, because it allows us to see how the old Roman idea of a hypocaust, which is a system of heating the floors and walls of buildings with hot air, was adapted by the Turks,” he told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Dyczek’s team also located the original city center, dated to the third century B.C. “Now we know the location of the highest part of the fortress, with the Hellenistic structures. We have located parts of two walls made of large hewn stone blocks,” he said.
BLOOMFIELD, NEW MEXICO—Road workers widening the highway near Salmon Ruins in northwestern New Mexico uncovered pieces of charcoal, pottery, burned corn fibers, and fragments of a grinding stone. “I could see the reddish color with hand-painted black lines [on the pottery] and knew this was something,” laborer Hector Beyale told The Farmington Daily Times. Larry Baker, executive director at Salmon Ruins, thinks the site may have been a trash deposit dating between 1100 and 1300 A.D., due to the diversity of the shards recovered there. “I’ll be cleaning them up a bit and identifying the origins of the pottery fragments, if we can, to see whether they come from nearby or far away,” added ceramic specialist Tori Myers.
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA—The Jewish Daily Forward offers a report on the third mosaic unearthed at a late Roman synagogue at Huqoq, in Israel’s Lower Galilee, by a team from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brigham Young University, Trinity University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Wyoming. The image is thought to be the first non-biblical story illustrated in an ancient synagogue. The other mosaics depict Samson and the foxes, and Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders. The third mosaic shows a bull pierced by spears and gushing blood, and a dying or dead soldier holding a shield in its lowest register. The middle register consists of an arcade where young men are arranged around an elderly man holding a scroll. The uppermost register depicts a meeting between a bearded, diademed soldier wearing battle dress and a purple cloak. He is leading a large bull by the horns and is accompanied by soldiers and elephants. An elderly man wearing a white tunic and mantle is accompanied by young men who are also wearing ceremonial clothes and carrying sheathed swords. “Battle elephants were associated with Greek armies beginning with Alexander the Great, so this might be a depiction of a Jewish legend about the meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest. Different versions of this story appear in the writings of Flavius Josephus and in rabbinic literature,” said team leader Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina.