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The Origin & Evolution of Corn in the Southwest

January 8, 2015

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—An international team of scientists has compared samples of DNA extracted from ancient corn cobs unearthed in the American Southwest, including the multiple stratigraphic layers of New Mexico’s Tularosa Cave. “When considered together, the results suggest that the maize of the U.S. Southwest had a complex origin, first entering the U.S. via a highland route about 4,100 years ago and later via a lowland coastal route about 2,000 years ago,” said Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra of the University of California, Davis. The genes also show that maize adapted to the arid climate of the Southwest and to the preferences of the local people. “These unique data allowed us to follow the changes occurring in individual genes through time,” Rute Fonseca of the University of Copenhagen said of the samples taken from Tularosa Cave. To read more about how agriculture developed in the ancient Southwest, see "Early Irrigators."

Categories: Blog

The Origin & Evolution of Corn in the Southwest

January 8, 2015

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—An international team of scientists has compared samples of DNA extracted from ancient corn cobs unearthed in the American Southwest, including the multiple stratigraphic layers of New Mexico’s Tularosa Cave. “When considered together, the results suggest that the maize of the U.S. Southwest had a complex origin, first entering the U.S. via a highland route about 4,100 years ago and later via a lowland coastal route about 2,000 years ago,” said Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra of the University of California, Davis. The genes also show that maize adapted to the arid climate of the Southwest and to the preferences of the local people. “These unique data allowed us to follow the changes occurring in individual genes through time,” Rute Fonseca of the University of Copenhagen said of the samples taken from Tularosa Cave. To read more about how agriculture developed in the ancient Southwest, see "Early Irrigators."

Categories: Blog

Chief Monk’s Belongings Discovered in Phanigiri

January 8, 2015

HYDERABAD, INDIA—A red earthenware pot with a silver container holding 11 miniature beads was discovered at the northeastern corner of the Mahastupa during restoration and conservation work in Phanigiri, a Buddhist center of learning. “The Buddhist findings are pertaining to the third century A.D. [This is] the first time we have a Buddhist cascade with material in it and this puts Phanigiri area as an important Buddhist heritage site,” BP Acharya, principal secretary of tourism, Telangana, told The New Indian Express. A Potin coin, made from an alloy of copper and lead in the third century, was also recovered from the site.

Categories: Blog

Chief Monk’s Belongings Discovered in Phanigiri

January 8, 2015

HYDERABAD, INDIA—A red earthenware pot with a silver container holding 11 miniature beads was discovered at the northeastern corner of the Mahastupa during restoration and conservation work in Phanigiri, a Buddhist center of learning. “The Buddhist findings are pertaining to the third century A.D. [This is] the first time we have a Buddhist cascade with material in it and this puts Phanigiri area as an important Buddhist heritage site,” BP Acharya, principal secretary of tourism, Telangana, told The New Indian Express. A Potin coin, made from an alloy of copper and lead in the third century, was also recovered from the site.

Categories: Blog

Tombs Yield Chariots, Horses, and China’s Oldest Instruments

January 8, 2015

ZAOYANG CITY, CHINA—A complex made up of 2,800-year-old tombs is under excavation in central China by a team of archaeologists from Peking University. The tombs are thought to have belonged to high-ranking Chinese nobility from the Spring and Autumn Period, from 770 to 476 B.C. Near the 30 tombs, separate pits containing at least 28 wooden chariots and 49 pairs of horses have been found. “The chariots and horses were densely buried. Many of the wheels were taken off and the rest of the parts of the chariots were placed one by one,” Liu Xu of the School of Archaeology and Museology of Peking University told China Central Television, and reported in The International Business Times. The tombs have yielded fine pottery, a bronze pot engraved with Old Chinese characters, a dragon-shaped pot, and a thin, flat, metal object painted with Old Chinese characters that may have been a tool. Some of the oldest musical instruments in China were also recovered from the tombs, including a frame for a set of bronze chimes and a se, or stringed instrument. The wealth of the tombs suggests that the independent Chu state may have been more powerful than previously thought. To read about China's looting epidemic, see "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Categories: Blog

Tombs Yield Chariots, Horses, and China’s Oldest Instruments

January 8, 2015

ZAOYANG CITY, CHINA—A complex made up of 2,800-year-old tombs is under excavation in central China by a team of archaeologists from Peking University. The tombs are thought to have belonged to high-ranking Chinese nobility from the Spring and Autumn Period, from 770 to 476 B.C. Near the 30 tombs, separate pits containing at least 28 wooden chariots and 49 pairs of horses have been found. “The chariots and horses were densely buried. Many of the wheels were taken off and the rest of the parts of the chariots were placed one by one,” Liu Xu of the School of Archaeology and Museology of Peking University told China Central Television, and reported in The International Business Times. The tombs have yielded fine pottery, a bronze pot engraved with Old Chinese characters, a dragon-shaped pot, and a thin, flat, metal object painted with Old Chinese characters that may have been a tool. Some of the oldest musical instruments in China were also recovered from the tombs, including a frame for a set of bronze chimes and a se, or stringed instrument. The wealth of the tombs suggests that the independent Chu state may have been more powerful than previously thought. To read about China's looting epidemic, see "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Categories: Blog

New-World Dog DNA Examined

January 7, 2015

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—A study of a region of the mitochondrial DNA of 84 dogs from more than one dozen ancient sites in North and South America suggests that the animals came to the Americas only 10,000 years ago. “This also is about the same time as the oldest dog burial found in the Americas. This may not be a coincidence,” said Ripan Malhi of the University of Illinois. Some of the remains came from Colorado, British Columbia, and the Janey B. Goode site, located near the ancient city of Cahokia, where dogs were carefully buried. Dog remains at Cahokia, however, are sometimes burned and found with food debris. The new research found ancient dog populations that were more diverse than previously thought. Low genetic diversity was found in other dog populations, however, suggesting that people in those regions may have been breeding dogs. And, some samples featured similarities with American wolves, indicating that the wild animals may have interbred with domesticated dogs. “Dogs are one of the earliest organisms to have migrated with humans to every continent, and I think that says a lot about the relationship dogs have had with humans. They can be a powerful tool when you’re looking at how human populations have moved around over time,” added Kelsey Witt, who has sequenced the full mitochondrial genomes of 20 ancient dogs for further study. For more on the archaeology of dogs, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Categories: Blog

New-World Dog DNA Examined

January 7, 2015

CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS—A study of a region of the mitochondrial DNA of 84 dogs from more than one dozen ancient sites in North and South America suggests that the animals came to the Americas only 10,000 years ago. “This also is about the same time as the oldest dog burial found in the Americas. This may not be a coincidence,” said Ripan Malhi of the University of Illinois. Some of the remains came from Colorado, British Columbia, and the Janey B. Goode site, located near the ancient city of Cahokia, where dogs were carefully buried. Dog remains at Cahokia, however, are sometimes burned and found with food debris. The new research found ancient dog populations that were more diverse than previously thought. Low genetic diversity was found in other dog populations, however, suggesting that people in those regions may have been breeding dogs. And, some samples featured similarities with American wolves, indicating that the wild animals may have interbred with domesticated dogs. “Dogs are one of the earliest organisms to have migrated with humans to every continent, and I think that says a lot about the relationship dogs have had with humans. They can be a powerful tool when you’re looking at how human populations have moved around over time,” added Kelsey Witt, who has sequenced the full mitochondrial genomes of 20 ancient dogs for further study. For more on the archaeology of dogs, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

Categories: Blog

Medieval Tannery Discovered in Norwich

January 7, 2015

NORWICH, ENGLAND—Excavation at a construction site in the center of Norwich has unearthed a medieval tannery. Goat horncores and bones from cattle and cats suggest that animals were processed at the leather-tanning site, which may have produced vellum for making scrolls and books at two nearby friaries. “The cat bones in the assemblage are of interest, especially the cut juvenile bone. It is quite possible that cats were also providing skins and fur at this site—a common practice in medieval Britain and one that has been seen in Norwich. There is the possibility that cat fur could have made small items or contributed to other garments being produced, [such as] fur trims to leather gloves or hats,” read an archaeologists’ report quoted in EDP 24. County archaeologist David Gurney adds that the tannery was located within the city walls. “We know that from the late thirteenth century there were more than 120 different crafts and trades going on in Norwich and leather working gets mentioned quite a lot,” he said. To read about an archaeological site in England occupied in the prehistoric, Roman, and medieval periods, see "Letter From England: The Scientist's Garden."

Categories: Blog

Medieval Tannery Discovered in Norwich

January 7, 2015

NORWICH, ENGLAND—Excavation at a construction site in the center of Norwich has unearthed a medieval tannery. Goat horncores and bones from cattle and cats suggest that animals were processed at the leather-tanning site, which may have produced vellum for making scrolls and books at two nearby friaries. “The cat bones in the assemblage are of interest, especially the cut juvenile bone. It is quite possible that cats were also providing skins and fur at this site—a common practice in medieval Britain and one that has been seen in Norwich. There is the possibility that cat fur could have made small items or contributed to other garments being produced, [such as] fur trims to leather gloves or hats,” read an archaeologists’ report quoted in EDP 24. County archaeologist David Gurney adds that the tannery was located within the city walls. “We know that from the late thirteenth century there were more than 120 different crafts and trades going on in Norwich and leather working gets mentioned quite a lot,” he said. To read about an archaeological site in England occupied in the prehistoric, Roman, and medieval periods, see "Letter From England: The Scientist's Garden."

Categories: Blog

Unusual Metal Recovered from Ancient Greek Shipwreck

January 7, 2015

GELA, SICILY—Thirty-nine ingots of cast metal have been recovered from a ship that sank 2,600 years ago off the southern coast of Sicily. “The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century. It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela’s coast at a depth of ten feet,” Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office told Discovery News. The metal is being called orichalcum, a legendary metal that the fourth-century B.C. Greek philosopher Plato attributed to the mythical island of Atlantis. “Nothing similar has ever been found. We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects,” Tusa added. Analysis of the metal shows that it is an alloy made of copper, zinc, and small percentages of nickel, lead, and iron. The ingots were most likely destined for workshops in Gela. “It will provide us with precious information on Sicily’s most ancient economic history,” Tusa said of the shipwreck’s precious cargo. To read more about underwater archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Shipwrecks."

Categories: Blog

Unusual Metal Recovered from Ancient Greek Shipwreck

January 7, 2015

GELA, SICILY—Thirty-nine ingots of cast metal have been recovered from a ship that sank 2,600 years ago off the southern coast of Sicily. “The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century. It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela’s coast at a depth of ten feet,” Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office told Discovery News. The metal is being called orichalcum, a legendary metal that the fourth-century B.C. Greek philosopher Plato attributed to the mythical island of Atlantis. “Nothing similar has ever been found. We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects,” Tusa added. Analysis of the metal shows that it is an alloy made of copper, zinc, and small percentages of nickel, lead, and iron. The ingots were most likely destined for workshops in Gela. “It will provide us with precious information on Sicily’s most ancient economic history,” Tusa said of the shipwreck’s precious cargo. To read more about underwater archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Shipwrecks."

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Nichoria’s Dark Age

January 7, 2015

CINCINNATI, OHIO—W. Flint Dibble of the University of Cincinnati and Daniel J. Fallu of Boston University have examined soil clinging to poorly preserved bones collected in the 1960s from the Greek village of Nichoria, Messinia. Located near the palace of Pylos, the village thrived during the Greek Bronze Age, and was still occupied after the collapse of the Bronze Age, beginning around 1200 B.C., in a period known as the Dark Age, when other Greek settlements and palaces were abandoned. Excavations in the 1960s suggested that Nichoria survived through cattle ranching because of the number of cattle bones that were recovered. But Dibble and Fallu say that the acidic soil at the site that has damaged the cattle bones could also have destroyed crucial evidence. “Bone is made up of calcium carbonate, so other carbon materials could be destroyed, such as charred plants—key to understanding agriculture at that time. Also, there are few metal objects from the Dark Age, and the soil environment might be an explanation for that,” Dibble explained. To read about how Bronze Age names persisted in Dark Age poetry, see "Evidence From Homer."

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Nichoria’s Dark Age

January 7, 2015

CINCINNATI, OHIO—W. Flint Dibble of the University of Cincinnati and Daniel J. Fallu of Boston University have examined soil clinging to poorly preserved bones collected in the 1960s from the Greek village of Nichoria, Messinia. Located near the palace of Pylos, the village thrived during the Greek Bronze Age, and was still occupied after the collapse of the Bronze Age, beginning around 1200 B.C., in a period known as the Dark Age, when other Greek settlements and palaces were abandoned. Excavations in the 1960s suggested that Nichoria survived through cattle ranching because of the number of cattle bones that were recovered. But Dibble and Fallu say that the acidic soil at the site that has damaged the cattle bones could also have destroyed crucial evidence. “Bone is made up of calcium carbonate, so other carbon materials could be destroyed, such as charred plants—key to understanding agriculture at that time. Also, there are few metal objects from the Dark Age, and the soil environment might be an explanation for that,” Dibble explained.  

Categories: Blog

Mysterious Greek Coins Studied

January 6, 2015

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—For more than a century beginning around 540 B.C., the Greek cities of Southern Italy began minting so-called incuse coins, which show the same image on the front and back. Researchers have never been certain how the coins were manufactured, and with only a few dies used to make the coins surviving and with no contemporary accounts or illustrations, there is a dearth of information apart from the coins themselves. Now scientists from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) are teaming up with scholars from the Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatics (ACAN) to use neutron scattering, or the use of neutrons to characterize materials, to analyze some of the 1,267 incuse coins in ACAN's collection. "ANSTO's neutron scattering texture measurements will provide insight into the mechanical processes undertaken to create the coins," Kenneth Sheedy, Director of ACANS, said in an ANSTO news release. "Numismatists from ACANS will then infer the production steps undertaken to produce these coins using knowledge of ancient materials and equipment that were available at the time." To read about how coins can help change our understanding of history, see "Artifact: Silver Viking Coin." 

Categories: Blog

Mysterious Greek Coins Studied

January 6, 2015

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—For more than a century beginning around 540 B.C., the Greek cities of Southern Italy began minting so-called incuse coins, which show the same image on the front and back. Researchers have never been certain how the coins were manufactured, and with only a few dies used to make the coins surviving and with no contemporary accounts or illustrations, there is a dearth of information apart from the coins themselves. Now scientists from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) are teaming up with scholars from the Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatics (ACAN) to use neutron scattering, or the use of neutrons to characterize materials, to analyze some of the 1,267 incuse coins in ACAN's collection. "ANSTO's neutron scattering texture measurements will provide insight into the mechanical processes undertaken to create the coins," Kenneth Sheedy, Director of ACANS, said in an ANSTO news release. "Numismatists from ACANS will then infer the production steps undertaken to produce these coins using knowledge of ancient materials and equipment that were available at the time." To read about how coins can help change our understanding of history, see "Artifact: Silver Viking Coin." 

Categories: Blog

Did Easter Island Really Collapse?

January 6, 2015

EASTER ISLAND, CHILE—A new study contradicts the idea that the prehistoric Rapa Nui people of Easter Island suffered a demographic collapse brought on by poor environmental stewardship. Scholars had theorized that unchecked agricultural growth after the first settlers arrived around A.D. 1200 strained the island's fragile ecosystem to the breaking point, leading to the erosion of topsoil and the eventual death by starvation of many members of Rapa Nui society. But prehistoric demographics are notoriously difficult to determine with precision. Phys.org reports that an international research team has evaluated the claim that the population of Easter Island collapsed by studying how land was used at different times on the island. They dated obisidian farming tools from a variety of agricultural sites on the island using a method known as obsidian hydration and found that there were population shifts that correlated with changes in rainfall and soil quality. Some areas did lose population, but others gained in population over time. Overall, they were unable to find evidence for a dramatic population collapse, which happened only once Europeans reached the island in A.D. 1722 and islanders succumbed to diseases such as syphilis and smallpox. To read about the study of the decline of a prehistoric culture in the American Southwest, see "On the Trail of the Mimbres."  

Categories: Blog

Did Easter Island Really Collapse?

January 6, 2015

EASTER ISLAND, CHILE—A new study contradicts the idea that the prehistoric Rapa Nui people of Easter Island suffered a demographic collapse brought on by poor environmental stewardship. Scholars had theorized that unchecked agricultural growth after the first settlers arrived around A.D. 1200 strained the island's fragile ecosystem to the breaking point, leading to the erosion of topsoil and the eventual death by starvation of many members of Rapa Nui society. But prehistoric demographics are notoriously difficult to determine with precision. Phys.org reports that an international research team has evaluated the claim that the population of Easter Island collapsed by studying how land was used at different times on the island. They dated obisidian farming tools from a variety of agricultural sites on the island using a method known as obsidian hydration and found that there were population shifts that correlated with changes in rainfall and soil quality. Some areas did lose population, but others gained in population over time. Overall, they were unable to find evidence for a dramatic population collapse, which happened only once Europeans reached the island in A.D. 1722 and islanders succumbed to diseases such as syphilis and smallpox. To read about the study of the decline of a prehistoric culture in the American Southwest, see "On the Trail of the Mimbres."  

Categories: Blog

Pharaonic Carving Discovered in Egypt

January 6, 2015

CAIRO, EGYPT—A new epigraphic survey of the ancient sandstone quarries of Gebel el Sisila north of Aswan has revealed previously unrecorded inscriptions and rock art, reports the Cairo Post. Led by Lund University archaeologist Maria Nilsson, the team has found a rare depiction of two obelisks from the quarry being cut and loaded onto boats, as well as a small rock carved stela that shows a pharaoh making offerings to the gods Amun-Ra and Thoth, who are rarely portrayed together. A royal cartouche accompanying the stela is so poorly preserved that the team can not be sure which pharaoh is being depicted, but preliminary work suggests the stela dates to the late dynastic period, perhaps the Third Intermediate Period (1069-664 B.C.) The Gebel el Silsila Survey has also thus far discovered more 60 rock art sites on both sides of the Nile that date from the Epipalaeolithic (ca. 8500 to 6500 years ago), to the Early Dynastic (ca. 3100-2686 B.C.) periods. To read about epigraphic work at a later necropolis on the Nile, see "Minature Pyramids of Sudan."

Categories: Blog

Pharonic Carving Discovered in Egypt

January 6, 2015

CAIRO, EGYPT—A new epigraphic survey of the ancient sandstone quarries of Gebel el Sisila north of Aswan has revealed previously unrecorded inscriptions and rock art, reports the Cairo Post. Led by Lund University archaeologist Maria Nilsson, the team has found a rare depiction of two obelisks from the quarry being cut and loaded onto boats, as well as a small rock carved stela that shows a pharaoh making offerings to the gods Amun-Ra and Thoth, who are rarely portrayed together. A royal cartouche accompanying the stela is so poorly preserved that the team can not be sure which pharaoh is being depicted, but preliminary work suggests the stela dates to the late dynastic period, perhaps the Third Intermediate Period (1069-664 B.C.) The Gebel el Silsila Survey has also thus far discovered more 60 rock art sites on both sides of the Nile that date from the Epipalaeolithic (ca. 8500 to 6500 years ago), to the Early Dynastic (ca. 3100-2686 B.C.) periods. To read about epigraphic work at a later necropolis on the Nile, see "Minature Pyramids of Sudan."

Categories: Blog

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