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Norway’s Melting Snow Exposes Fragile Artifacts

February 6, 2015

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—Scientists from The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) say that the Kringsollfonna ice patch and the Storbreen glacier are melting fast, and may not survive one or two more hot summers. Ground-penetrating radar has been used to measure the thickness of the ice, and GPS technology measures the barely perceptible movement of the glacier. Snow patches form when more snow accumulates in the winter than melts in the following summer, and they are ideal for preserving artifacts and organic materials, because unlike glaciers, snow patches are stationary. When the snow patches melt, the artifacts are exposed. “Then they’re lost forever. The probability of discovering finds in snow patches is greater than in glaciers, because they’re not moving. The ancient materials inside moving glaciers have melted out long ago,” said Geir Vatne of the department of geography. To read in-depth about the opportunities posed to archaeologists by melting glaciers, see "Letter From Norway: The Big Melt."

Categories: Blog

Italian Police Seize More Than 2,000 Artifacts

February 6, 2015

ROME, ITALY—Reuters reports that Italian police seized more than more than 2,000 artifacts, including vases, coins, and building fragments, in a sweep intended to dismantle a criminal gang dealing in looted antiquities throughout southern Italy. Some 550 artifacts alone were recovered from a house that had been turned into a private museum. The investigation, which led to the arrest of three people, was initiated last year after the theft of part of a fresco of Apollo and Artemis from the House of Neptune in Pompeii. Police also seized metal detectors and other items said to have been used in illegal digs. Police did not say if the missing fresco fragment has been found. To read more about looting of artifacts in Italy, see "Raiding the Tomb Raiders." 

Categories: Blog

Italian Police Seize More Than 2,000 Artifacts

February 6, 2015

ROME, ITALY—Reuters reports that Italian police seized more than more than 2,000 artifacts, including vases, coins, and building fragments, in a sweep intended to dismantle a criminal gang dealing in looted antiquities throughout southern Italy. Some 550 artifacts alone were recovered from a house that had been turned into a private museum. The investigation, which led to the arrest of three people, was initiated last year after the theft of part of a fresco of Apollo and Artemis from the House of Neptune in Pompeii. Police also seized metal detectors and other items said to have been used in illegal digs. Police did not say if the missing fresco fragment has been found. To read more about looting of artifacts in Italy, see "Raiding the Tomb Raiders." 

Categories: Blog

Research Continues at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys

February 5, 2015

TAMPA, FLORIDA—Erin Kimmerle and her team from the University of South Florida have updated the Florida Cabinet with the results of their research at the site of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. Thirty-one boys who died at the school, open from 1900 to 2011, were thought to have been buried on campus. But 55 graves, many of them outside of the boundary of the cemetery, have been found. What may be a projectile has been found near the lower abdomen or upper thigh area of the badly decomposed remains of one boy, thought to have been of African-American ancestry and between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time of death. The lead object, sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for analysis, “cannot be definitively determined to be an ammunition component due to damage and corrosion; however, it is consistent with ooo Buck size shot pellets for various muzzle loading balls based on weight, size, and physical appearance,” Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Detective Greg Thomas told The Tampa Bay Times. A total of five sets of remains have been identified. One of the individuals had been an employee of the school, while the others were inmates. And while there were 55 graves, the researchers believe they have the remains of only 51 individuals. Some of the remains were badly charred in a 1914 fire that killed seven to ten people, most of them boys who had not been able to escape their locked cells when the building ignited. 

Categories: Blog

Research Continues at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys

February 5, 2015

TAMPA, FLORIDA—Erin Kimmerle and her team from the University of South Florida have updated the Florida Cabinet with the results of their research at the site of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. Thirty-one boys who died at the school, open from 1900 to 2011, were thought to have been buried on campus. But 55 graves, many of them outside of the boundary of the cemetery, have been found. What may be a projectile has been found near the lower abdomen or upper thigh area of the badly decomposed remains of one boy, thought to have been of African-American ancestry and between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time of death. The lead object, sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for analysis, “cannot be definitively determined to be an ammunition component due to damage and corrosion; however, it is consistent with ooo Buck size shot pellets for various muzzle loading balls based on weight, size, and physical appearance,” Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Detective Greg Thomas told The Tampa Bay Times. A total of five sets of remains have been identified. One of the individuals had been an employee of the school, while the others were inmates. And while there were 55 graves, the researchers believe they have the remains of only 51 individuals. Some of the remains were badly charred in a 1914 fire that killed seven to ten people, most of them boys who had not been able to escape their locked cells when the building ignited. 

Categories: Blog

Crisis Management in the Ancient Southwest

February 5, 2015

TUCSON, ARIZONA—Throughout the mega drought in the American Southwest between 1276 and 1299, relationships between many social groups grew stronger, according to a study of ceramics conducted by Lewis Borck and a team at the University of Arizona. He used a database of millions of ceramic and obsidian artifacts that had been compiled by Barbara Mills of the University of Arizona and her collaborators at Archaeology Southwest to study the relationships of 22 different subareas of the Southwest from A.D. 1200 to 1400. It was understood that the same types of ceramics, found in similar proportions in different communities, indicated that those communities shared a relationship. Borck and the team members found that the relationships between the communities grew stronger during the drought, perhaps as people turned to their neighbors for food and information. “It seemed to be a way to mobilize resources and to increase your variability of resources, by increasing your interaction with more distant people,” Borck explained. And the communities that had larger social networks had a better chance of surviving the drought without migrating. “A lot of people have hypothesized that this process of having more extensive social networks is sort of a backup strategy for people, but this is one of the first times we’ve been able to demonstrate it at a very large, regional scale. It backs up a lot of these hypotheses about ‘social storage’ being as important as the real storage of actual items. The flip side is that if you are highly insular and protectionist and don’t interact with a lot of your neighbors, you’re really susceptible,” Mills said. For more on the archaeology of the Southwest, read "On the Trail of the Mimbres."

Categories: Blog

Crisis Management in the Ancient Southwest

February 5, 2015

TUSCON, ARIZONA—Throughout the mega drought in the American Southwest between 1276 and 1299, relationships between many social groups grew stronger, according to a study of ceramics conducted by Lewis Borck and a team at the University of Arizona. He used a database of millions of ceramic and obsidian artifacts that had been compiled by Barbara Mills of the University of Arizona and her collaborators at Archaeology Southwest to study the relationships of 22 different subareas of the Southwest from A.D. 1200 to 1400. It was understood that the same types of ceramics, found in similar proportions in different communities, indicated that those communities shared a relationship. Borck and the team members found that the relationships between the communities grew stronger during the drought, perhaps as people turned to their neighbors for food and information. “It seemed to be a way to mobilize resources and to increase your variability of resources, by increasing your interaction with more distant people,” Borck explained. And, the communities that had larger social networks had a better chance of surviving the drought without migrating. “A lot of people have hypothesized that this process of having more extensive social networks is sort of a backup strategy for people, but this is one of the first times we’ve been able to demonstrate it at a very large, regional scale. It backs up a lot of these hypotheses about ‘social storage’ being as important as the real storage of actual items. The flip side is that if you are highly insular and protectionist and don’t interact with a lot of your neighbors, you’re really susceptible,” Mills said. For more on the archaeology of the Southwest, read "On the Trail of the Mimbres."

Categories: Blog

3-D Measurements Revise Date of Dog Domestication

February 5, 2015

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NEW YORK—Biologists Abby Grace Drake of Skidmore College and Michael Coquerelle of the University Rey Juan Carlos have conducted a 3-D analysis of the 30,000-year-old skulls thought to belong to the earliest domesticated dogs. They compared the new skull measurements with those of modern and ancient wolves and dogs from North America and Europe, and found that the animals thought to have been the first dogs were actually wolves. “The difference between a wolf and a dog is largely about the angle of the orbits: in dogs the eyes are oriented forward, and a pronounced angle, called the stop, exists between the forehead and the muzzle. We could tell that the Paleolithic fossils do not have this feature and are clearly wolves,” Coquerelle said. Drake and Coquerelle add that the new measurements of dog and wolf fossils support the domestication of wolves some 15,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period, when wolves would have scavenged at permanent human settlements. To read more about dog domestication, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Categories: Blog

3-D Measurements Revise Date of Dog Domestication

February 5, 2015

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NEW YORK—Biologists Abby Grace Drake of Skidmore College and Michael Coquerelle of the University Rey Juan Carlos have conducted a 3-D analysis of the 30,000-year-old skulls thought to belong to the earliest domesticated dogs. They compared the new skull measurements with those of modern and ancient wolves and dogs from North America and Europe, and found that the animals thought to have been the first dogs were actually wolves. “The difference between a wolf and a dog is largely about the angle of the orbits: in dogs the eyes are oriented forward, and a pronounced angle, called the stop, exists between the forehead and the muzzle. We could tell that the Paleolithic fossils do not have this feature and are clearly wolves,” Coquerelle said. Drake and Coquerelle add that the new measurements of dog and wolf fossils support the domestication of wolves some 15,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period, when wolves would have scavenged at permanent human settlements. To read more about dog domestication, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Categories: Blog

New Dates for Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula

February 5, 2015

TENERIFE, SPAIN—Neanderthals may have disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula around 45,000 years ago, or some 5,000 years earlier than the rest of Europe, based upon the final occupation layer of El Salt, which has “a very robust archaeological context,” according to Bertila Galván of the University of La Laguna. Plataforma SINC reports that a team of scientists examined the extensive stratigraphic sequence at El Salt, and its lithic objects and remains of goats, horses, and deer. The team also obtained new dates from six teeth from a young adult who may have belonged to one of the last groups of Neanderthals in the region. They think that the Neanderthal population in the Iberian Peninsula gradually declined over several millennia, while the climate grew colder and more arid. Evidence at El Salt and other sites in the Iberian Peninsula suggests that modern humans arrived in the region after the Neanderthals had disappeared. To read more about our extinct cousins, see "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Categories: Blog

New Dates for Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula

February 5, 2015

TENERIFE, SPAIN—Neanderthals may have disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula around 45,000 years ago, or some 5,000 years earlier than the rest of Europe, based upon the final occupation layer of El Salt, which has “a very robust archaeological context,” according to Bertila Galván of the University of La Laguna. Plataforma SINC reports that a team of scientists examined the extensive stratigraphic sequence at El Salt, and its lithic objects and remains of goats, horses, and deer. The team also obtained new dates from six teeth from a young adult who may have belonged to one of the last groups of Neanderthals in the region. They think that the Neanderthal population in the Iberian Peninsula gradually declined over several millennia, while the climate grew colder and more arid. Evidence at El Salt and other sites in the Iberian Peninsula suggests that modern humans arrived in the region after the Neanderthals had disappeared. To read more about our extinct cousins, see "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Categories: Blog

Agriculture Brought Changes to Farmers’ Jaws

February 4, 2015

DUBLIN, IRELAND—An analysis of the lower jaws and teeth of 292 skeletons from the Levant, Anatolia, and Europe dating between 28,000 and 6,000 years ago has found differences in the form and structures of the jawbones of European hunter gatherers, Near Eastern/Anatolian semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and transitional farmers, and European farmers. “Our analysis shows that the lower jaws of the world’s earliest farmers in the Levant are not simply smaller versions of those of the predecessor hunter-gatherers, but that the lower jaw underwent a complex series of shape changes commensurate with the transition to agriculture,” Ron Pinhasi of University College Dublin told Phys.org. Hunter-gatherer populations had an “almost perfect state of equilibrium” between their jawbones and dental distances, resulting in straight teeth. But the “harmony” between the jaws and teeth of the semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and farmers was disrupted, perhaps by the shift in diet from wild, uncooked vegetables and meats to cooked cereals and legumes. Softer foods require less chewing, which in turn lessens the size of the jaw, but not the size of the teeth, resulting in dental crowding. To read about the evolution of the face, see "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?"

Categories: Blog

Agriculture Brought Changes to Farmers’ Jaws

February 4, 2015

DUBLIN, IRELAND—An analysis of the lower jaws and teeth of 292 skeletons from the Levant, Anatolia, and Europe dating between 28,000 and 6,000 years ago has found differences in the form and structures of the jawbones of European hunter gatherers, Near Eastern/Anatolian semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and transitional farmers, and European farmers. “Our analysis shows that the lower jaws of the world’s earliest farmers in the Levant are not simply smaller versions of those of the predecessor hunter-gatherers, but that the lower jaw underwent a complex series of shape changes commensurate with the transition to agriculture,” Ron Pinhasi of University College Dublin told Phys.org. Hunter-gatherer populations had an “almost perfect state of equilibrium” between their jawbones and dental distances, resulting in straight teeth. But the “harmony” between the jaws and teeth of the semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and farmers was disrupted, perhaps by the shift in diet from wild, uncooked vegetables and meats to cooked cereals and legumes. Softer foods require less chewing, which in turn lessens the size of the jaw, but not the size of the teeth, resulting in dental crowding. To read about the evolution of the face, see "Your Face: Punching Bag or Spandrel?"

Categories: Blog

Fifth-Century Wooden Ornament Discovered in Japan

February 4, 2015

SAKAI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a 1,500-year-old tachikazari, or standing ornament, has been found in Nisanzai Kofun, a keyhole-shaped burial mound built for a high-ranking figure in the late fifth century. The tachikazari would have been placed on top of a cloth parasol, or a figurine made of clay or wood. Such decorations were marks of status and authority. Five other objects discovered at the burial mound in 1976 and 2012 are now thought to be tachikazari.

Categories: Blog

Fifth-Century Wooden Ornament Discovered in Japan

February 4, 2015

SAKAI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a 1,500-year-old tachikazari, or standing ornament, has been found in Nisanzai Kofun, a keyhole-shaped burial mound built for a high-ranking figure in the late fifth century. The tachikazari wouldhave been placed on top of a cloth parasol, or a figurine made of clay or wood. Such decorations were marks of status and authority. Five other objects discovered at the burial mound in 1976 and 2012 are now thought to be tachikazari.

Categories: Blog

New Dates for Maui’s Ancient Temples

February 4, 2015

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Uranium/thorium dating of pieces of the small, stony coral Pocillopora meandrina that were left as offerings on altars or incorporated into the stone walls of Maui’s heiau, or temples, has been used to determine when the temples were constructed. Patrick Kirch of the University of California, Berkeley, says that signs of a temple-building boom could indicate a period of political consolidation. Hawaiian rulers would build shrines and temples near farmland and other areas of food production to strengthen their symbolic association with the gods of flowing waters, irrigation, the taro plant, dryland farming, and the sweet potato. “The chiefs and kings extracted surplus production from the commoners and used this to underwrite their own interests, such as supporting craft specialists and warriors,” Kirch told Western Digs. The new dates suggest that the heiau were built over a period of about 150 years ending around the year 1700. “This is the same time during which the Hawaiian oral traditions indicate that Maui island was consolidated into a single kingdom, under the reigns of King Pi’ilani and his successors Kiha-a-Pi’ilani and Kamalalawalu,” Kirch said. To read about the final resting place of one of Hawaii's greatest kings, see "Lost Tombs: Kamehameha I, King of Hawaii."

Categories: Blog

New Dates for Maui’s Ancient Temples

February 4, 2015

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Uranium/thorium dating of pieces of the small, stony coral Pocillopora meandrina that were left as offerings on altars or incorporated into the stone walls of Maui’s heiau, or temples, has been used to determine when the temples were constructed. Patrick Kirch of the University of California, Berkeley, says that signs of a temple-building boom could indicate a period of political consolidation. Hawaiian rulers would build shrines and temples near farmland and other areas of food production to strengthen their symbolic association with the gods of flowing waters, irrigation, the taro plant, dryland farming, and the sweet potato. “The chiefs and kings extracted surplus production from the commoners and used this to underwrite their own interests, such as supporting craft specialists and warriors,” Kirch told Western Digs. The new dates suggest that the heiau were built over a period of about 150 years ending around the year 1700. “This is the same time during which the Hawaiian oral traditions indicate that Maui island was consolidated into a single kingdom, under the reigns of King Pi’ilani and his successors Kiha-a-Pi’ilani and Kamalalawalu,” Kirch said. To read about the final resting place of one of Hawaii's greatest kings, see "Lost Tombs: Kamehameha I, King of Hawaii."

Categories: Blog

Hip Fossil Challenges Ape Family Tree

February 4, 2015

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A six-inch-long hipbone of a 12.5 to 8.5 million-year-old ape called Sivapithecus is challenging the belief that the upright body posture exhibited by today’s great apes evolved only once. The upright body posture, also known as the orthograde body plan, features broad torsos and mobile forelimbs. Michèle Morgan, museum curator of osteology and paleoanthropology at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and her colleagues say that this hip bone suggests that the upright body plan may have evolved multiple times. “We always thought if we found this body part, that it would show some of the features we find in the living great apes. To find something like this was surprising,” she said. Sivapithecus is thought to have had a relatively narrow, monkey-like chest, and facial features resembling those of modern orangutans. The Sivapithecus hipbone, however, differs from that of all living apes. “We initially believed that Sivapithecus, with a narrow torso, was on the orangutan line, but if that is the case, then the great ape body shape would have had to evolve at least twice. There are a lot of questions that this fossil raises, and we don’t have good answers for them yet. What we do know is that the evolution of the orthograde body plan in apes is not a simple story.” More fossils are needed to get a better picture of Sivapithecus. To read about a similar discovery, see "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"

Categories: Blog

Hip Fossil Challenges Ape Family Tree

February 4, 2015

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A six-inch-long hipbone of a 12.5 to 8.5 million-year-old ape called Sivapithecus is challenging the belief that the upright body posture exhibited by today’s great apes evolved only once. The upright body posture, also known as the orthograde body plan, features broad torsos and mobile forelimbs. Michèle Morgan, museum curator of osteology and paleoanthropology at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and her colleagues say that this hip bone suggests that the upright body plan may have evolved multiple times. “We always thought if we found this body part, that it would show some of the features we find in the living great apes. To find something like this was surprising,” she said. Sivapithecus is thought to have had a relatively narrow, monkey-like chest, and facial features resembling those of modern orangutans. The Sivapithecus hipbone, however, differs from that of all living apes. “We initially believed that Sivapithecus, with a narrow torso, was on the orangutan line, but if that is the case, then the great ape body shape would have had to evolve at least twice. There are a lot of questions that this fossil raises, and we don’t have good answers for them yet. What we do know is that the evolution of the orthograde body plan in apes is not a simple story.” More fossils are needed to get a better picture of Sivapithecus. To read about a similar discovery, see "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"

Categories: Blog

17th-C. Grave May Hold Victim of Batavia Shipwreck Massacre

February 3, 2015

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—The remains of an eleventh person believed to have come to Beacon Island from the Batavia shipwreck have been found. The vessel was carrying gold and silver when it left the Netherlands for the Dutch East Indies in 1628 to obtain spices, but it went off course and wrecked on Morning Reef, near an island off Western Australia’s coast, in 1629. An estimated 40 people drowned, and a total of 180, including 30 women and children, were ferried off the ship and taken to Beacon Island. When the captain left them to find help, under-merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz and his men took charge of the survivors and killed many of them. When the captain returned, he sentenced the mutineers to having their right hands chopped off and put them to death by hanging. Two musket balls were found near this body, which was found when a digging mutton bird brought a human tooth to the surface. “What’s very interesting is that it looks like that tooth doesn’t belong to that grave, which means that there’s another grave very close,” Jeremy Green, Western Australia Museum Head of Maritime Archaeology, told ABC News. “This was the first time that Europeans lived in Australia—albeit wasn’t in the mainland but it was here—so it’s the oldest known European habitation in Australia,” he said.

Categories: Blog

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