BASEL, SWITZERLAND—Children’s skulls have been found at the edges of the palisades surrounding Bronze Age villages built on stilts at Alpine lakes in Switzerland and Germany. Some of the skulls showed signs of ax blows or other head traumas, but Benjamin Jennings of Basel University and his colleagues don’t think that the children were offered as human sacrifices. The children’s irregular wounds were probably inflicted during battle, and their remains were moved long after their initial burial, perhaps intended to ward off the regular flooding of the lakes. At one site, the bones had been placed at the high-water mark of the floodwaters. “Across Europe as a whole there is quite a body of evidence to indicate that throughout prehistory human remains, and particularly the skull, were highly symbolic and socially charged,” Jennings told Live Science.
VORDINGBORG, DENMARK—New dates for elk bones recovered from Lundby bog in 1999 show that the bones had been ritually placed there by Mesolithic people over several centuries during the tenth millenium B.C. “People have been living here, that’s quite certain. But so far we’ve not found settlements that are as old as the elk bones, so the identity of the people who put the bones in the bog is something of a mystery,” archaeologist and chief curator at Museum Southeast Denmark Kristoffer Buck Pedersen told Science Nordic. A total of 13 elk had been buried in six separate deposits. Some of the animals had been ritually packed in fur. An ax made of elk antler has also been recovered from the bog. “We’ve examined the bog many times and we’ve not been able to localize any settlements—but we assume they are there—somewhere,” Pedersen added.
WALLSEND, ENGLAND—Excavators at Segedunum Roman Fort, at the end of Hadrian’s Wall, have discovered the site of its bath house. “We’ve seen enough of the remains now to be 100 percent certain that we have the site of the fort bath house. In particular, we’ve got a Roman cement-lined cold plunged bath, which absolutely puts the tin lid on it,” project manager Nick Hodgson told Culture 24. The bath also had the typical steam room, tepid room, and gym area. Volunteers have been instrumental in finding the bath house, which was last seen in the early nineteenth century, before a pub was built on the site. A replica bath house at the fort is currently undergoing maintenance work.
READING, ENGLAND—John Francis Carson of the University of Reading and his colleagues examined sediment cores taken from Laguna Oricore and Laguna Granja, which are located near major earthworks sites in the Amazon basin of northeastern Bolivia. The researchers wanted to know if the activities of the people who had built the earthworks had deforested the region, or if they had tread lightly on the landscape. “The surprising thing we found was that it was neither. It was this third scenario where, when people first arrived on the landscape, the climate was drier,” Carson told Live Science. The pollen samples from the cores indicate that between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, the land was covered with grasses and a few drought-resistant species of trees. People would have been able to build their structures and grow maize without have to clear the land. More tree pollen and less charcoal in later samples suggest that people would have had to keep the areas around their structures clear as the forest grew up around them. “It kind of makes sense. It’s easier to stomp on a sapling than it is to cut down a big Amazonian tree with a stone ax,” Carson explained.
PORTSMOUTH, NEW HAMPSHIRE—A Jewish ritual bath, or mikveh, has been unearthed at Strawbery Banke, an outdoor history museum that preserves a neighborhood inhabited from the 1600s through the 1950s. The mikveh is thought to have been built sometime between 1912 and 1923, when the nineteenth-century house was occupied by representatives of the Hebrew Ladies Society. Ronald Pecunies, who grew up in the house in the 1940s and ‘50s, told the museum staff about the bath, which had been lined with white tiles. “His family did not use it for ritual immersion, but he remembered it being there. So, the only mention of a mikveh was in oral history,” museum archaeologist Alix Martin told Sea Coast Online. The mikveh will probably be backfilled for its protection.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Recent micro-CT scans of a 100,000-year-old human skull unearthed in Northern China in the 1970s have revealed the interior configuration of a temporal bone thought only to occur in Neanderthals. In fact, this arrangement of the inner ear has been used to classify skulls as Neanderthal since the mid-1990s. The other human teeth and bone fragments found with the skull, known as Xujiayao 15, all resemble an early, non-Neanderthal form of late archaic humans. And so, Erik Trinkaus of Washington University; Xiu-Jie Wu, Wu Liu, and Song Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing; and Isabelle Crevecoeur of PACEA, Université de Bordeaux, expected the scan to reveal an inner ear formation resembling that found in modern humans. “We were completely surprised….This discovery places into question whether this arrangement of the semicircular canals is truly unique to the Neanderthals,” Trinkaus told Science Daily. “The study of human evolution has always been messy, and these findings just make it all the messier. It shows that human populations in the real world don’t act in nice, simple patterns.”
VANTAA, FINLAND—A series of surveys in northern Finland have found pits used for trapping deer, pottery, and stone tools, including a 2,000-year-old spear tip or knife that had been uncovered from a sand pit by high winds. “It’s amazing to find an intact object, because when we map ancient artifacts we usually only find fragments generated during the creation of these objects, in other words waste,” archaeologist Sami Viljanmaa of Metsähallitus, Finland’s forestry service, told Yle Uutiset. The researchers also found prehistoric dwellings along a lake near the border guard station at Munnikurkkio.
ATHENS, GREECE—Kathimerini reports that more than 10,000 Neolithic artifacts looted from Greece during World War II have been returned by Germany’s Pfahlbaumuseum. Archaeologists conducted the excavations in the Thessaly region in 1941, under the direction of Hitler’s chief ideologist, Alfred Rosenberg. They uncovered pottery, stone tools, obsidian and flit blades, and bones, in an effort to prove Nazi ideology. The repatriation ceremony was attended by Greek and German officials, including Greek culture minister Constantinos Tasoulas, German ambassador to Athens Wolfgang Dold, and Pfahlbaumuseum director Gunter Schoebel.
TALENCE, FRANCE—According to New Scientist, Maïté Rivollat and her colleagues at the University of Bordeaux have confirmed that a young child whose skeleton was unearthed at a medieval cemetery in eastern France had Down’s syndrome. The child had a short and broad skull, a flattened skull base, and thin cranial bones, which are common in people with Down’s syndrome, a genetic disorder marked by three copies of chromosome 21, instead of two copies. Rivollat and her team suggest that because the child had been buried no differently than the other 94 people who had been interred in the cemetery, he or she may not have been stigmatized for the disability while alive.
LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Column bases thought to be from a temple dedicated to Haldi, the supreme god of the kingdom of Urartu, have been uncovered by villagers in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, where doctoral student Dlshad Marf Zamua of Leiden University has been conducting fieldwork. The 2,500-year-old temple was located in the city of Musasir, known as a “holy city founded in bedrock,” and “the city of the raven.” To the south of where the borders of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey intersect, Marf Zamua has also found several life-sized statues of bearded males carved from limestone, basalt, and sandstone that were originally erected above burials. Some of the figures hold a cup in their right hands, with their left hands on their bellies. “One of them holds a hand ax. Another one put on a dagger,” he told Live Science. The statues date to the seventh or sixth century B.C., after Musasir fell to the Assyrians.
COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA—Shawn Beightol, a high school chemistry teacher, led a small expedition in southern Florida’s Big Cypress Preserve to look for Fort Harrell, built by the U.S. Army in 1837 as an outpost for soldiers fighting the second Seminole War. “I’d like to see a monument placed there for the people who served in that godforsaken location 170 years ago. Their story needs to be told,” Beightol told the Sun Sentinel. On the team’s fifth expedition into the Everglades, after studying historic maps, engineering surveys, and aerial photographs, they found a clearing with postholes dug in limestone. “Once we saw the holes, I knew we had found it,” said expedition member Tony Pernas, who is an employee of the U.S. National Park Service. Traces of the fort were last seen during construction work in the early twentieth century.
SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR—The Japan Times reports that three nearly complete skeletons have been unearthed by a joint Salvadoran and Japanese team of archaeologists from a seven-foot layer of volcanic ash at Nueva Esperanza, thought to have been a center of salt production and fishing 1,600 years ago. The two adults had been between the ages of 25 and 35 at the time of death. The third skeleton belonged to a child between seven and nine years of age, who had been buried wearing to clay beads around his or her neck. Further analysis could determine the sex, diet, and health status of the individuals. Clay pots and jars decorated with red and brown stripes were also found in the burials.
DERBYSHIRE, ENGLAND—Coins from the Late Iron Age and coins from the Roman Republic have been discovered together in a cave in the Peak District. Four of the coins were discovered by a member of the public, which led to an excavation by archaeologists from the National Trust, who were assisted by wounded veterans from Operation Nightingale. “In total we found 26 coins, including three Roman coins which pre-date the invasion of Britain in A.D. 43. The coins would suggest a serious amount of wealth and power of the individual who owned them,” archaeologist Rachael Hall told the Northamptonshire Telegraph. Twenty of the Late Iron Age gold and silver coins are thought to belong to the Corieltavi tribe. All of the coins are being cleaned and conserved by specialists at the British Museusm and University College London.
HEBEI, CHINA—A small jade casket said to contain human relics of a prominent Hinayana Buddhist was discovered by a farmer plowing a field in the political, economic, and cultural center of Yecheng, a 2,500-year-old capital city. Hinayana Buddhism prevailed in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. The jade casket indicates that it had also been introduced to the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River. “Such as casket containing relics of a prominent Buddhist is often enshrined in an underground palace of a Buddhist temple,” archaeologist He Liqun of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told The Standard.
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND—Five skeletons that could represent three generations have been unearthed at a Roman villa in southern England. The skeletons, which date to the mid-fourth century, are the first to have been found at a villa in Roman Britain. “This could provide us with significant information, never retrieved before, about the state of health of the villa owners, their ancestry, and where they came from,” Miles Russell of Bournemouth University told The Bournemouth Echo. The team wants to know if the villa was owned by Britons who became Romans, or if people from another part of the Empire moved to the rural area. “These remains will shed light on the final stages of the golden age of Roman Britain,” said co-director Paul Cheetham.
BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—A gene variant that helps Sherpas and other Tibetans breathe at high altitudes was inherited from the Denisovans, according to a new study conducted by an international team of scientists. Tibetans have less hemoglobin in their blood, and are able to use smaller amounts of oxygen efficiently. The scientists sequenced a gene called EPAS1, which regulates the production of hemoglobin in the body, in 40 Tibetans and 40 Han Chinese. (Their ancestors split into two groups sometime between 2,750 and 5,500 years ago.) Population geneticist Rasmus Nielsen and Emilia Huerta-Sanchez of the University of California, Berkeley, analyzed the DNA and found that the Tibetans and two of the Han Chinese had a segment of the gene in which five letters of the code were identical. That particular code, however, was not found in anyone else from around the world who had participated in the 1000 Genomes Project. When compared to the genomes of archaic humans, the sequences of the Denisovan and Tibetan segments were a close match. The team thinks that the gene segment survived in Tibetans through natural selection because it helped them adapt to high-altitude life on the Tibetan plateau. “Modern humans didn’t wait for new mutations to adapt to a new environment. They could pick up adaptive traits by interbreeding,” Nielsen told Science Now.
HOLME BEACH, ENGLAND—A second Bronze Age timber circle preserved in salty silt on a beach in eastern England has been dated with dendrochronology to the same summer as its neighbor, Seahenge, whose 55 posts surrounded the upended stump of an oak tree. Known as Holme II, the second ring consisted of two oak logs laid flat, surrounded by an oval of oak posts with smaller branches woven between them, then an outer ark of split oak timbers, and then a fence of closely set split oak timbers, according to The Guardian. The two circles were built from trees cut down in the spring or summer of 2049 B.C. Coastal erosion exposed the circles, which had been built in boggy freshwater 4,000 years ago. “As the timbers used in both timber circles were felled at the same time, the construction of the two monuments must have been directly linked. Seahenge is thought to have been a free-standing timber circle, possibly to mark the death of an individual, acting as a cenotaph symbolizing death rather than a location for burial. If part of a burial mound, the second circle would have been the actual burial place,” said David Robertson, historic environment officer at Norfolk County Council.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—It had been thought that Northern Europeans developed light skin in order to absorb more UV light to process more vitamin D, necessary for healthy bones and immune function. But a new study conducted by a team led by professor of dermatology Peter Elias from the University of California, San Francisco, shows that the changes in skin’s function as a barrier to water loss is more likely. The skin-barrier protein filaggrin is broken down into a molecule called urocanic acid, which Elias says is the most potent absorber of UVB light in the skin. “It’s certainly more important than melanin in lightly-pigmented skin,” he explained. Elias and his team found that up to ten percent of normal Northern Europeans carry mutations in the filaggrin gene, compared to much lower mutation rates in southern European, Asian, and African populations. “Higher filaggrin mutation rates result in a loss of urocanic acid, correlated with higher vitamin D levels in the blood. Latitude-dependent variations in melanin genes are not similarly associated with vitamin D levels. This evidence suggests that changes in the skin barrier played a role in Northern Europeans’ evolutionary adaptation to Northern latitudes,” the study concluded. Pigmented skin would have offered ancestral humans living in sub-Saharan Africa protection against dehydration and infections. “Once human populations migrated northward, away from the tropical onslaught of UVB, pigment was gradually lost in service of metabolic conservation. The body will not waste precious energy and proteins to make proteins that in no longer needs.”
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—A five-year study of capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica led by Amanda D. Melin of Washington University in St. Louis suggests that figuring out how to find food during seasonal changes in the food supply may have spurred the development of bigger brains, higher-level cognitive functions, and increased manual dexterity in human ancestors and other primates. “We find that capuchin monkeys eat embedded insects year-round but intensify their feeding seasonally, during the time that their preferred food—ripe fruit—is less abundant. These results suggest embedded insects are an important fallback food,” she told Science Daily. Such fallback foods are thought to help shape the evolution of body forms that aid in digestion, and the evolution of the brain in primates that live in areas with wide seasonal variations and changes in the food supply. This is evident in capuchin lineages—gracile capuchins live in tropical rainforests and can bang snails and fruits against branches to obtain their food. But robust capuchins, which spread from the Atlantic rainforest into drier, more seasonal habitats millions of years ago, are known for their innovative use and modification of sophisticated tools.
ABYDOS, EGYPT—An 11th Dynasty chapel belonging to King Mentuhotep II was discovered on the west bank of the Nile in the city of Sohag, according to Ahram Online. Located near the large temple of King Seti I, Mentuhotep II built the chapel of limestone to honor the god Osiris after his unification with the local god of Sohag, Khenti-Amenty. Some of the engravings on the chapel’s walls have been damaged by subterranean water. “It is a very important discovery that will reveal more of the history of King Mentuhotep II,” said Minister of Antiquities and Heritage Mamdouh El-Damaty.