MARIANNA, FLORIDA—The remains of 55 bodies have been unearthed at the former Dozier School for Boys in the Florida panhandle—almost twice the number that had been recorded in official documents in the early twentieth century. Local legends of brutality at the reform school, and the deaths and disappearance of boys, led to the investigation, led by Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida. Her team is using artifacts recovered from the burials, including shirt buttons, and DNA testing to try to find relatives of the deceased. “Locating 55 burials is a significant finding, which opens up a whole new set of questions for our team,” she said.
ROME, ITALY—Excavations at the site of Sant’Omobono, a medieval church, have uncovered what may be Rome’s oldest known temple, dating to the seventh century B.C. It had been built on the banks of the Tiber River, near a bend that acted as a natural harbor. “At this point Rome is trading already as far afield as Cyprus, Lebanon, Egypt. So they build this temple, which is going to be one of the first things the traders see when they pull into the harbor of Rome,” said Nic Terrenato of the University of Michigan. The traders left behind offerings that were probably dedicated to the goddess Fortuna. The temple’s foundation was discovered below seven feet of water held back with metal sheets. The team of archaeologists could also see in the trench how the original path of the river had been diverted as the Romans added leveled hills and filled in lowlands to make the city flatter and drier.
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—Three pits have been found on the grounds of the South Carolina State Hospital. The site was once home to Camp Asylum, a Civil War-era prison camp where some 1,500 Union soldiers were held. They may have dug the pits as shelter during the winter of 1864-65, since the barracks at the mental hospital only held 400 men. Artifacts recovered in the excavation include a brass button embossed with an eagle; a copper straight pin; a moustache comb for removing lice; an iron mug; and a piece of woolen fabric that may have come from a uniform. Much of the site will not be investigated before new development begins in a few months.
COLUMBIA, MISSOURI—Are Paleoindian hunters responsible for the demise of North America’s megafauna? Matthew Boulanger and R. Lee Lyman of the University of Missouri, Columbia, compiled databases of radiocarbon dates of megafauna remains and Paleoindian sites in the northeastern United States. They found that although humans and megafauna coexisted in the region for about 1,000 years, most of the megafauna had already disappeared, after two major periods of decline, by the time that humans moved into the area. Environmental stresses and the climate change of the Younger Dryas period, a 1,300-year-long cold snap beginning 12,700 years ago, could be to blame for the massive extinctions.
HAMILTON, ONTARIO—DNA extracted from the teeth of two Justinian plague victims from Germany has been studied by a team of scientists in order to understand how future strains of the bacterium Yersinia Pestis could evolve. The Justinian Plague of the sixth century and the Black Death of the fourteenth century were caused by distinct strains of Yersinia Pestis. The strain that caused the Justinian Plague has died out, but the Black Death strain has evolved and mutated and is still causing outbreaks of disease today. “If the Justinian plague could erupt in the human population, cause a massive pandemic, and then die out, it suggests it could happen again. Fortunately we now have antibiotics that could be used to effectively treat plague, which lessens the chances of another large-scale human pandemic,” said researcher David Wagner of Northern Arizona University.
REHOVOT, ISRAEL—A repeatedly-used hearth full of ash and charred bone has been uncovered in Israel’s Qesem Cave. The hearth measures more than six feet in diameter at its widest point, and was located so that many individuals could have used it. Bits of stone tools that may have been used for butchering animals were also found in and around the hearth. “[The finds] …tell us something about the impressive levels of social and cognitive development of humans living some 300,000 years ago,” said Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Weizmann Institute of Science. But it is not clear exactly which hominins lived in the cave and shared this large campfire.
ANKARA, TURKEY—A 1,500-year-old basilica has been discovered in western Turkey’s Lake Iznik. Mustafa Şahin of Bursa Uludağ University says that the ancient building can be seen from the shore. Excavations should help scholars determine who used the building. It may have been known as St. Peter’s Church, which is mentioned in early Christian writings. “We will share the findings with the public as soon as we get detailed information,” Şahin said.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—A second or third-century A.D. papyrus held in private hands has yielded two previously unknown poems written by the seventh-century B.C. Greek poetess Sappho. The first poem speaks of a sea voyage undertaken by a Charaxos, and a Larichos. The two have been thought to be Sapphos’ brothers since antiquity. Only a few words of the second poem, dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite, survive. Both poems fit into the first of Sappho’s nine books of poetry. “All the poems of Sappho’s first book seem to have been about family, biography, and cult, together with poems about love/Aphrodite,” said papyrologist Dirk Obbink of Oxford University. He thinks the papyrus came from the Egyptian city of Oxyrynchus, where many ancient papyri have been discovered.
HAMBLEDEN, ENGLAND—Simon Mays of English Heritage continues to analyze the bones of Roman infants discovered near the site of Yewden Villa, which were first excavated in 1912. Mays and archaeologist Jill Eyers suggested two years ago that the babies had been killed at birth, based upon measurements of their arms and legs that indicated they were all newborns at the time of death. Now, DNA analysis suggests that boys had not been spared at the expense of girls. The researchers were able to obtain DNA from 12 of the 33 individuals. Of those, seven were female and five were male, a relatively even ration, according to Mays. And, none of the babies had shared a mother, making it unlikely that the burial site was used by prostitutes. “Very often, societies have preferred male offspring, so when they practice infanticide, it tends to be the male babies that are kept, and the female babies that are killed,” he explained.
BARCELONA, SPAIN—An international team of scientists led by Carles Lalueza-Fox of the University of Barcelona has released information from a preliminary study of 8,000-year-old DNA obtained from a skeleton discovered in Spain’s La Braña Cave. The new information, when compared to the genomes of other early nomadic hunter-gatherers from across Europe, indicates that nomadic hunter-gatherers were a genetically and culturally more cohesive group than had been thought. In particular, La Braña man was unable to digest starch and milk, had dark skin and blue eyes, and had immunity against several known diseases, including tuberculosis, pneumonia, and malaria. It had been thought that Europeans gained immunity from these diseases from domesticated cattle and sheep. But Lalueza-Fox suggests that “epidemics affecting early farmers in the [Middle East] spread to continental Europe before they went themselves.”
LONDON, ENGLAND—Irving Finkel of the British Museum has translated the text of a Babylonian tablet that he says is the original version of the story of Noah’s Ark. The 3,700-year-old tablet describes a giant, circular coracle with wooden ribs that was waterproofed with two kinds of bitumen. He adds that Hebrew scholars would have encountered such texts during the Babylonian exile. The tablet was brought to England after World War II by a returning airman, whose son has loaned it to the British Museum, where it will on display with an ancient Babylonian map of the world. The text of the flood tablet helps explain the details of the map and the edge of the known world, where the ark was said to rest.
KILCHOAN, SCOTLAND—With the help of a stonemason, archaeologists have opened a window at Mingary Castle that was probably sealed 500 years ago. “Considering it’s been there so long, the mortar is incredibly hard, so it took a good half-hour and some gentle persuasion with a small pneumatic drill before they finally broke through,” said Jon Haylett of the Mingary Castle Preservation and Restoration Trust. The thirteenth-century castle, which overlooks the northwestern coast, had been fortified to withstand cannon fire. Earlier castle defenders would have used the windows to fire arrows and crossbolts down onto their attackers, in addition to using the windows for light and air. A groove around the window may have held a wooden board to close it when needed. The castle is being restored.
GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN—Links to the Sea Peoples, or Philistines, have been discovered in a building dating to 1100 B.C. unearthed at Jordan’s Tell Abu al-Kharaz. The Sea Peoples, descended from Southern or Eastern Europeans, settled in the Eastern Mediterranean. “We have, for instance, found pottery resembling corresponding items from Greece and Cyprus in terms of form and decoration, and also cylindrical loom weights for textile production that could be found in central and south-east Europe around the same time,” said Peter Fischer of the University of Gothenburg. The large, well-preserved stone building had two levels and defensive walls. “What surprises me the most is that we have found so many objects from far away. This shows that people were very mobile already thousands of years ago,” he added.
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Some 60 bones from at least four adults and one child that were unearthed in a backyard in Edinburgh last year by consultants from GUARD Archaeology may have been used by medical students to study human anatomy in the early nineteenth century. The bones have small holes drilled in them that could have been used to articulate them with wire. Some of the bones also have shiny patches, suggested that they had been handled often. “Edinburgh’s medical schools acquired human remains legally from hangings, unclaimed poor, or, in fact, from illegally dug graves,” commented John Lawson of the City of Edinburgh Council Archaeology Service. These bones in particular may have been acquired illegally and then buried in order to hide them, or perhaps they were buried when they were no longer needed.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have been debating the truth of the claims made by ancient Greek and Roman propagandists that the Carthaginians offered their children as sacrifices to the gods since the early twentieth century, when cemeteries holding the cremated bones of small children packed into urns were discovered along with the remains of sacrificed animals. Now, an international team of scholars argues that the ancient Carthaginians did indeed sacrifice their infant children. “…When you pull together all the evidence—archaeological, epigraphic and literary—it is overwhelming and, we believe, conclusive: they did kill their children, and on the evidence of the inscriptions, not just as an offering for future favors but fulfilling a promise that had already been made,” said Josephine Quinn of Oxford University. Based upon the number of burials that have been found, she estimates that 25 such sacrifices a year were made for a city of perhaps 500,000 people.
MT CARMEL, ISRAEL—Dani Nadel of the University of Haifa, Robert C. Power of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and Arlene M. Rosen from the University of Texas, Austin, have studied the use of plants in Raqefet Cave by members of the Natufian culture some 13,000 years ago. Last summer, the research team announced their discovery of impressions left by salvia and other species of mint under human burials in the cave. Phytoliths from other locations in the cave, including impressions in the rock that may have been used to grind or pound cereals, include wheat and barley grasses. Evidence of the grains was also found buried with the dead as part of what may have been an offering or a final meal.
FLORENCE, ITALY—Researchers at the University of Florence have developed a process to help preserve fragile human bones unearthed at archaeological sites. Currently, bones are stabilized with vinyl and acrylic polymers, which can cause damage to the information that the bones contain. Inspired by the way sea animals strengthen their shells, Luigi Dei and his colleagues grew aragonite on skeletal fragments dating to the Late Middle Ages. The controlled growth hardened the surface and the pores of the bones, reportedly making them 50 to 70 percent sturdier. “These results could have immediate impact for preserving archaeological and paleontological bone remains,” they concluded.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Salvage excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority ahead of a construction project in the village of Moshav Aluma have uncovered the ruins of a 1,500-year-old basilica with mosaic floors. The large church was situated near a main road that connected Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast and Jerusalem, so it probably served as a center of Christian worship—one of the mosaics features a Christogram, an image made up of symbols that is surrounded by birds. Another section of mosaic contains the names ‘Mary’ and ‘Jesus’ as part of a dedicatory inscription written in Greek. The excavation also uncovered Byzantine glass vessels and a pottery workshop; early Islamic walls; and Ottoman garbage pits.
POZNAŃ, POLAND—An intact store of grain has been unearthed at the Neolithic urban center of Çatalhöyük, located in central Turkey. According to Arkadiusz Marciniak of Mickiewicz University, the four vessels of barley and an extinct species of wheat had been kept in a small room that had white walls. The room was in the northeastern part of a residential building that had burned down some 8,200 years ago.
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—A piece of a 35,000-year-old complex hunting weapon has been discovered on the Australasian island of Timor by a team led by Sue O’Connor of Australian National University. Wear on its notches and sticky residue suggest that the point would have been tied and glued to a wooden handle or inserted into a split hollow shaft, and used as a spear while hunting large fish at sea. Other complex weapons found in the region are only several hundred years old.