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California Museum Will Return Statue to Cambodia

May 7, 2014

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA—Officials from the Norton Simon Museum have agreed to return a tenth-century statue known as the Bhima, or Temple Wrestler, after talks with government officials from Cambodia. The Bhima is one of several statues thought to have been looted from the Koh Ker site during the 1970s. One of them is the Bhima’s twin, the Duryodhana, which had recently been put up for auction, but will also be returned to Cambodia. “These statues were all plundered from Cambodia. They are war loot. They are stolen property,” Tess Davis, a cultural heritage attorney and an affiliate researcher at the University of Glasgow, told the Los Angeles Times. The museum had purchased the statue from an art dealer in New York in 1976.

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Wooden Notebook Discovered in Byzantine Ship

May 7, 2014

ISTANBUL, TURKEY—A wooden object dating to the ninth century has been discovered within one of the 37 ships uncovered in the Yenikapı area of Istanbul, which was known as Theodosius Port during the Byzantine period. “We found something like today’s notebook. It is made of wood and can be opened like a notebook. It has a few pages and you can take notes using was. Also, when you draw its sliding part, there are small weights used as an assay balance,” Ufuk Kocabaş of Istanbul University told Hurriyet Daily News. Sixty percent of the sunken ship was preserved, and a replica of it is being built. The amphoras it had been carrying suggest that its crew had traded from Crimea to Kersonesos.

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Looters Destroy Tomb in Southern Turkey

May 6, 2014

SILIFKE, TURKEY—Treasure hunters have reportedly blown up an ancient tomb carved from rock at the archaeological site of Olba, which is located on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey. Emel Erten of Gazi University blames the closure of a local police station for the destruction. “The ancient city has had a watch guard for the last eight months. But this last event proves that it is not enough. Our fears came true and one of the most precious pieces in the ancient city of Olba was damaged greatly,” she told Hurriyet Daily News. The closest police station is a half-hour away.

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Early Roman Basilica Discovered in Bursa

May 6, 2014

BURSA, TURKEY—A Roman-era basilica has been discovered in the ancient city walls of Bursa, which is located in northwestern Turkey. The rectangular-shaped structure had marble columns and painted walls. “This basilica served both as a court and a religious structure in the early Roman era. It is possibly the oldest structure in the city after the walls,” architect Ibrahim Yilmaz, who is in charge of the restoration of the walls and two of its towers, told Hurriyet Daily News. The basilica was discovered in the lower levels of one of the towers and will be restored.

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Peru’s Geoglyphs Guided Travelers to Celebrations

May 6, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—Geoglyphs created by the Paracas people some 2,000 years ago in Peru’s Chincha Valley probably pointed the way across the desert to gathering places for the winter solstice, according to Charles Stanish of the University of California, Los Angeles. Stanish and his team plotted the geoglyphs and the remains of settlements and ceremonial mounds and found that certain groups of geoglyphs led to particular mounds or settlements. He says that different political or ethnic groups created these signposts, which were visible from great distances, by clearing darker soil away from the white limestone. “They would be unmistakable,” Stanish told Science Now. A second type of geoglyph made of rocks was visible when the travelers approached them. “They’re converting this landscape into a big theater, and the ultimate goal is to bring people together to market, exchange goods, manufacture goods, exchange marriage partners, gossip, do all the things people like doing. And then they’re competing with each other to bring in the most supporters,” he explained. 

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Conservators Stabilize Hovenweep Monuments

May 5, 2014

CORTEZ, COLORADO—Hopi stonemasons led by Herschel Talashoma are working at the Cajon Canyon site at Hovenweep National Monument, as part of a restoration project to stabilize the thirteenth-century ruins affected by erosion and modern visitors. Previous conservation efforts in the 1940s and 1960s used concrete, but an acrylic polymer mixed with earth and mortar are now employed to strengthen the double-stone construction. “There’s always a learning process to stabilization. The terrain, the weather, the exposure: every site and situation is different,” National Park Service archaeologist Noreen Fritz told the Cortez Journal. Talashoma is keeping detailed records of all of the work he and his team have done at Hovenweep. “The work is important so future generations can enjoy these sites,” he explained.

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Did the Vikings Travel to Madeira?

May 5, 2014

MADEIRA, MACARONESIA—Dates for a sample of fossilized bone from a house mouse suggest that the rodents were carried to the island of Madeira by European colonists before A.D. 1036, or 400 earlier than previously thought. (The Portuguese took possession of Madeira in 1419.) “Current populations of house mice on Madeira show similarities in mitochondrial DNA with those in Scandinavia and northern Germany, but not with those in Portugal,” Josep Antoni Alcover of the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies told Phys.org. Could the mice have traveled to the island with the Vikings? Further morphologic and genetic studies of the fossils are needed. “There are no historical references so far about the Vikings traveling to Macaronesia,” Alcover added.

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Historic Taverns Unearthed in New York City

May 5, 2014

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—An excavation in Lower Manhattan has unearthed liquor bottles, plates, and mugs from a nineteenth-century German beer garden that was known as Atlantic Garden, and the colonial-era Bull’s Head Tavern, built in the 1740s by a butcher near New York City’s first slaughterhouse. “The Atlantic Garden was actually a tourist destination in its day—it was known for its German food and beer, and as a place for music and parties. It was built over the Bull’s Head Tavern, a place where travelers, many selling their cattle, stopped in for food, drink, to socialize or spend the night,” Alyssa Loorya, president of Chrysalis Archaeology, told DNAinfo New York. The site is located along The Bowery, which was once the only road in and out of Manhattan. 

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Rock Art Destroyed in Southern Spain

May 2, 2014

QUESADA, SPAIN—A UNESCO-listed rock-art panel estimated to be 5,000 years old was destroyed by thieves who tried to remove it from the wall of Los Escolares Cave, according to a report in The Local. Visitors to the cave, located along the Mediterranean coast, noticed the chip marks and rock fragments on the floor. “A lot of these places are abandoned and need greater supervision. Although there is legislation protecting these sites in theory, there is a lack of political will,” said José Antonio Berrocal, president of the Speleology Federation of Andalusia.

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Wet Sand May Have Helped Egyptians Move Pyramid Stones

May 2, 2014

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS—Egypt’s pyramid-builders may have used water to move massive stone blocks across the desert sands. Physicists at the University of Amsterdam tested the method shown in a wall painting in the tomb of Djehutihotep, which dates to 1900 B.C. In the painting, 172 men haul a statue with ropes attached to a sledge. A person standing on the front of the sledge pours water over the sand—an action that Egyptologists had reportedly labeled a ceremonial act. Tests have shown, however, that the right amount of water helps the sledges to glide across the surface of the sand. “If you use dry sand, it won’t work as well, but if the sand is too wet, it won’t work either. There’s an optimum stiffness,” Daniel Bonn told Live Science.

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Concretions Will Be Removed from Civil War Submarine

May 2, 2014

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The H.L. Hunley, a Civil War-era submarine, will be immersed in a caustic bath that will remove the concretion of sand and shell that accumulated on its 40-foot-long iron hull. The procedure will also extract salt from the hull so that the Hunley can eventually be displayed without immersing it in water. Once the sediment has loosened the scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center will begin to scrape it off. “Under that concretion is the possibility of new information about the attack,” archaeologist Michael Scafuri told The Post and Courier. The submarine sank and disappeared in 1864 after it rammed a torpedo into the USS Housatonic.

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Long-Term Residents Built Stonehenge

May 2, 2014

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The parish of Amesbury has been continuously inhabited in every millennia since 8820 B.C., making it the oldest settlement in Britain, according to carbon dates obtained from the bones of aurochs unearthed at the Mesolithic Blick Mead site. Located just one and a half miles from Stonehenge, “the site blows the lid off the Neolithic revolution in a number of ways. It provides evidence for people staying put, clearing land, building and presumably worshipping monuments,” David Jacques of the University of Buckingham told The Express. The first monuments at Stonehenge consisted of enormous pine posts that were put in place between 8820 and 6590 B.C. Residents of Blick Mead would have traveled the River Avon to the ritual area for feasting, and perhaps for the bright pink flint that wasn’t available anywhere else in the country. Stonehenge was eventually erected after the long-term use of the area in 3000 B.C.

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Interactions With Scavengers “Crucial” to Human Evolution

May 1, 2014

ELCHE, SPAIN—A team of researchers from the University Miguel Hernández concludes that interactions with scavengers, such as vultures, hyenas, and lions, have been crucial to the evolution and welfare of humanity. “At first, the interaction was primarily competitive, but when humans went from eating carrion to generating it, scavengers highly benefited from the relationship,” Marcos Moleón and José Antonio Sánchez Zapata explained in Science Daily. Language, cooperative partnership, and cultural diversity were all probably the result of selective pressures brought on by this competition with scavengers, they argue. 

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Foundation Deposits Found in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings

May 1, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND—Four rare deposits of artifacts have been unearthed in the western valley area of the Valley of the Kings. “Previously discovered foundation deposits in the Valley of the Kings have always been associated with a nearby tomb,” wrote Afifi Ghonim, of the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities, in a report cited by Live Science. According to Ghonim, who presented the discovery at the Current Research in Egyptology conference, foundation deposits are placed in front of a tomb or temple when construction begins, and usually include miniature versions of the tools used in the project, miniature offering vessels, and food offerings. These four offerings had been placed in a box shape, but there is usually a fifth placed on the axis of the tomb. “We found the four deposits that make up the box, but not the fifth. Perhaps it too is there, awaiting discovery in front of the tomb,” Ghonim explained. Precise dates for the deposits could help explain what happened.  

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Did Neanderthals Boil Their Food?

May 1, 2014

AUSTIN, TEXAS—John Speth of the University of Michigan thinks that Neanderthals probably boiled their food. Speth, who recently presented his ideas at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, speculates that Neanderthals boiled their food in skin bags or in trays crafted from twisted birch bark, citing as evidence animal bones at Neanderthal sites that are free of gnawing marks, suggesting that the fat had been removed by cooking, and grains found in the teeth of a Neanderthal from Iraq that show signs of having been cooked. “You can boil in just about anything as long as you take it off the flame pretty quickly,” he told National Geographic Daily News. It is known that Neanderthals made birch tar for hafting spear points by heating birch bark in oxygen-free holes. Evidence of boiling by modern humans dates to some 26,000 years ago, after the demise of the Neanderthals, and consists of stones that had been heated in fire pits and dropped into water.

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Intelligence Not Responsible for Neanderthal Demise

May 1, 2014

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Will Roebroeks of Leiden University and Paola Villa of Boulder’s University of Colorado Museum surveyed the archaeological record for evidence to support the idea that the Neanderthals died out because modern humans were better hunters with better weapons and a broader diet. “The explanations make good stories, but the only problem is that there is no archaeology to back them up,” Roebroeks told The Guardian. Villa adds that it is important to compare Neanderthals to their modern human contemporaries, not their successors. “The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there. What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true,” she said.

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Medieval Village Unearthed in Scotland

April 30, 2014

SELKIRK, SCOTLAND—Work on water pipes in the Scottish Borders has uncovered pivot stones used as hinges for doors, coins, imported pottery, and stone game pieces from a medieval village thought to have been known as Philiphaugh. Clay pipes for tobacco and glass bottles from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were also found. “The radiocarbon dates confirm activity in the period from 1472 to 1645. Although the artifacts were recovered from the lower plow soil rather than sealed archaeological contexts, they too support a late fifteenth to seventeenth century date,” archaeologist Susan Ramsay told Culture 24

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A History of Violence in California

April 30, 2014

SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIFORNIA—A “complex pattern of episodic violence” spanning 5,000 years has been identified in California from a survey of more than 16,000 burials, from 13 different ethnic groups, unearthed between the Sierra Nevada and the San Francisco Bay. The most common type of violence recorded in the survey was caused by projectiles such as arrows or atlatl darts, found in 7.2 percent of the burials. Blunt force trauma head to the head was seen in 4.3 percent of the hunter-gatherer burials. Just under one percent of the burials showed evidence of dismemberment. “Many people still seem to think that prehistoric California was a violence-free paradise, but the archaeological record shows clearly that that was not the case. People are people, and most of us believe that an inclination to resort to violence in certain situations is part of the human condition,” Terry Jones of California Polytechnic State University told Western Digs. The first spike in the violence may have been linked advances in technology, in the form of the atlatl, and the migration of many hunter-gatherer groups to new regions. The second spike took place between 1720 and 1899, when Europeans arrived on the scene. “The introduction of a new weapon system—the bow and arrow—definitely changed the social and political landscape, increasing inter-group conflict,” Jones added. 

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From Hunting to Herding in Turkey

April 30, 2014

TUSCSON, ARIZONA—Science Now reports that the site of Aşıklı Höyük, located along the Melendiz River in central Turkey, is offering archaeologists new insight into the transition from hunting and gathering to farming and herding between 9,500 and 10,500 years ago. Earlier layers of the settlement contain botanical remains related to the cultivation of cereals, lentils, and nuts, and the bones of a wide variety of wild animals. But, according to zooarchaeologist Mary Stiner of the University of Arizona, by 10,200 years ago, fewer wild animal bones and more sheep bones are found. By 9,500 years ago, nearly 90 percent of the bones unearthed at the site were coming from sheep. And, the ages and sex patterns of the bones, even though they still resembled the bones of wild sheep, suggest that they came from a managed herd. Dung deposits from the stabled sheep were discovered between the houses of the settlement. Stiner and her team suggest that the wild sheep were probably less aggressive than other animals and so early farmers kept them in the village as a matter of convenience. 

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Skeletal Remains Show Signs of Celiac Disease

April 30, 2014

ROME, ITALY—Biological anthropologist Gabriele Scorrano of the University of Rome Tor Vergata led a study of the 2,000-year-old skeletal remains of a young woman unearthed at the Cosa archaeological site on Italy’s Tuscan coast. The results of the tests indicate that she may have suffered from celiac disease. DNA analysis revealed that she carried two copies of an immune system gene variant associated with the severe allergic reaction to gluten in the intestinal lining, and her bones show signs of malnutrition and osteoporosis, which can be complications of the untreated disease. Gold and bronze jewelry included in the burial suggest that her malnutrition was not caused by a lack of access to food. “If she had excluded cereals from her diet she wouldn’t have experienced these problems. Probably she didn’t understand she had this disease,” Scorrano told Nature News.

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