LEICESTER, ENGLAND—The skeleton identified as the remains of King Richard III shows signs of idiopathic adolescent-onset scoliosis, a condition that would have developed when the monarch was about ten years old. Mary Ann Lund of the University of Leicester speculates that he may have been treated for the disease, which was thought to have been caused by an imbalance in the body’s humors. Treatments at the time included ointments, massages, and possibly traction and a back brace made of wood or metal. “Historical accounts describe him as an active fighter in battle, so he was clearly able to do strenuous physical activity. On the other hand, it seems likely that the condition was painful and would have restricted his lung capacity,” she said. No sign of such treatments have been found on the bones, however.
GAZA—Bulldozers are reportedly digging at the site of the 3,000-year-old port of Anthedon, along the coast of Gaza City. The work, ordered by Hamas, is to build a new military installation. An interior ministry official says that the work is limited and will not damage archaeological remains, but concerned citizens have contacted officials from UNESCO and Hamas Premier Ismail Haniyet, asking them to protect the site’s mosaics and pillars.
DURHAM, ENGLAND—A medieval recipe book has been found in Durham Cathedral’s monastery. The collection of twelfth-century recipes, one of which is known to have come from France, was intended to improve health and cure certain ailments. The book also contains recipes for ointments. “The sauces typically feature parsley, sage, pepper, garlic, mustard, and coriander, which I suspect may give them a Mediterranean feel when we recreate them,” said Giles Gasper of Durham University. Restaurant chefs will prepare some of the dishes for workshop participants. A translation of the book is also in the works.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—A tapestry stolen in the 1970s from a cathedral in northeastern Spain has been returned by agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The agents seized the tapestry, which first surfaces in Brussels in 2008, from an identified Texas business that had purchased it. “Today’s repatriation is an example of what can be accomplished when law enforcement partners from around the world work together in the effort to ensure that stolen and looted priceless cultural objects like this are returned to their rightful owner,” said John Morton, director of the ICE.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Tools in ancient Roman beauty kits may have been used to treat the symptoms of trachoma, a leading cause of blindness even today. The bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis roughens the inner surface of the eyelid and causes the eyelashes to turn inward, scraping and damaging the cornea. “We have ethnographic examples from modern Africa and historical examples from ancient India that show utensils, such as tweezers and rasps, were used to pluck in-turned eyelashes and to scour away the afflicted eyelids,” said Wendy Morrison of the University of Oxford. She thinks that the Romans may have also used tweezers to pluck irritating eyelashes, what had been thought of as nail cleaners to scrape growths off eyelids, “cosmetic grinders” to make eye salves, and “earwax scoops” to apply medicine to eyes.
STAVANGER, NORWAY—Archaeologist Sigrid Alræk Dugstad of the University of Stavanger thinks that a discarded flake ax found at the Mesolithic site of Hundvåg in southwestern Norway was probably made by a child. “Given the numerous and characteristic failed strokes, it is also probable that the beginner had not received any form of direct instructions on how to proceed in manufacturing the tool. Maybe the purpose was to practice the technique in itself rather than produce a finished tool,” she said. Children probably acquired knowledge and skills working and playing alongside their parents and other adults in the settlement, she added.
ALICE, TEXAS—Humans remains and arrowheads have been uncovered and removed by archaeologists at a construction site in South Texas. The archaeologists say they do not expect to find additional bones. The site will be part of a park area in the new multi-use complex, so there are plans to eventually return the remains to the site in a memorial.
KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE—The skull base of 4.4 million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus was short and broad, with a forward-placed opening for the spinal cord, according to a reconstruction of a partial skull base by William Kimbel of Arizona State University. Such features are exclusive to hominids and modern humans. This skull was discovered in 1994, before Ardi, the partial skeleton of an adult female, was first described in 2009. A new analysis of Ardi’s pelvis, which has a mix of monkey, ape, and hominid characteristics, further suggests that Ardipithecus ramidus probably had a slow, two-legged gait on the ground, in addition to tree-climbing abilities.
TOKYO, JAPAN—High-resolution CT scans of the only known skull of Homo floresiensis show that the so-called hobbit’s brain was larger than had been previously thought. Using the new information, Japanese scientists carried out a comparative analysis of the ratio of brain to body size, and found that the brains of Homo floresiensis were not out of line with their other hominins. One theory of hobbit origins suggests that they evolved from an early Homo erectus population from Java that moved to the remote island of Flores, where successive generations shrank in stature. “Our work does not prove that erectus is the ancestor of floresiensis. But what we have shown is that it is possible (and counters the argument) by many people that floresiensis’s brain is too small to (be consistent with the view that it is a dwarf form of erectus),” said Yousuke Kaifu of Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science.
HARTLEPOOL, ENGLAND—An Anglo-Saxon grave uncovered during repair work at St. Hilda’s Church could lead archaeologists to a seventh-century monastery once led by St. Hilda of Whitby. “It’s always been presumed that this church was the site of St Hilda’s Anglo-Saxon monastery. We haven’t found any trace of that, but this one burial may be one of the clues pointing toward that,” said archaeologist Steve Sherlock. Six additional graves, dating between 1600 and 1900, were also found.
BENNACHIE, SCOTLAND—Jeff Oliver of Aberdeen University plans to investigate the site of the Bennachie colony, where a community of some 55 squatters lived and farmed on public lands in the early nineteenth century. Local landowners went to court in 1859 and had the property divided so that they could collect rents. Members of the Bennachie colony were portrayed as immoral and backward; they were eventually evicted and their homes destroyed. “We are hoping the archaeology will provide them with something of a voice,” said Oliver.
BUCHERES, FRANCE—An Iron Age cemetery where five Celtic warriors had been buried has been discovered southeast of Paris. One of the men had been buried with an iron sword, scabbard, and shield. The graves of women contained torcs and bronze brooches decorated with coral. The high-status burials lack pottery and food, however, and no remains of children have been found. “I have never seen anything like it,” said archaeologist Emilie Millet.
STEWART ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND—Archaeologists are trying to win protection for an intact Norwegian whalers’ base dating to the early twentieth century. “At the moment, because it is a post-1900 site, the Norwegian remains don’t have any legal protection under the Historic Places Act,” said Matthew Schmidt of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Whalers brought their boats to the remote cove for repairs by a staff of 40 people. To date, the team has found a complete whaling ship built in 1853 that had been brought to the base for use as a dry jetty, the foundations of the manager’s building, a winch, propellers, and the bunkhouse.
DURHAM, NEW HAMPSHIRE—Students are excavating the site of a train depot that once stood on the campus of the University of New Hampshire. When the campus opened in 1893, the Boston & Maine Railroad split the campus in half. In 1905, a derailment injured 11 passengers and prompted a change in the route. The students have unearthed coal, slag, off-slag, bricks, wood, ceramics, nails, and glass. “It is interesting to find history in our own backyard,” said mechanical engineering student Emily Hutchinson.
NANJING, CHINA—A tomb discovered last year in east Jiangsu Province may have belonged to the notorious Yang Guang, the last emperor of the Sui Dynasty (A.D. 581–618). His name was found on a stone in the tomb, along with an inscription of the year he was killed in a mutiny. “But we’re still not sure whether it was the emperor’s final resting place, as historical records said his tomb had been relocated several times,” said Shu Jiaping of the City of Yangzhou’s Institute of Archaeology. The tomb also contained a belt made of jade and gold, and it was connected to another tomb that may belong to the empress.
ENNISKILLEN, IRELAND—The unusual burial of a young woman has been unearthed at a crannog in County Fermanagh, leading archaeologists to wonder if she may have been murdered. “This person wasn’t laid out on their back in an east-west direction, which is normal for a Christian burial. The body seems to have been bundled into [the] position it was buried in,” said archaeologist Nora Bermingham. Further examination of her remains could reveal the cause of her death, which probably took place in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, during the later years of the settlement on the artificial island. More than 4,000 artifacts dating back 1,400 years have been recovered.
GALILEE, ISRAEL—A man-made pile of basalt boulders has been found on the floor of the Sea of Galilee. The monument is circular in shape, and rises 32 feet high. Scientists from the Israel Antiquities Authority think the structure may have been built in the third millennium B.C., when other megalithic structures, associated with fortified settlements, were built. Another theory suggests that the stones were dropped into the water to construct a gathering place for fish.
THURINGIA, GERMANY—The remains of some 70 people executed 700 years ago were found in a mound in eastern Germany, near the town of Alkersleben. Archaeologist Marita Genesis is studying the bones at the Thuringia State Office for the Preservation of Monuments. She has learned that one of the bodies had been tied up, one had been buried next to a strangulation chain, and a third had been buried with a sharp blade. “Some outlaws were hung so long by their necks that they decayed and fell down. Then they were contemptuously disposed of in unhallowed ground. There is no mention of this in any of the old documents,” explained historian and author Jost Auler. He is known for his work in the area of “execution site archaeology.”
YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND—When lead cannonballs from Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, began to rust, they were sent to physicist Susan Kilcoyne of the University of Huddersfield. She fired neutrons at the cannonballs and found that they contained iron cores. But were the iron cores intended to lower the cost of producing soft lead cannonballs, or had the iron been hardened in order to increase the amount of damage caused to enemy ships? “They would probably have worked like a soft-nose bullet. They could be some of the earliest examples of armor-piercing projectiles,” said Alex Hildred of the Mary Rose archaeology team. Additional tests could help to determine if the iron cores were a technological advancement. It had been thought that such shells were not developed until the late nineteenth century.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—A collection of papers published in the current issue of Science represents the most complete investigation of Australopithecus sediba fossils to date. Discovered in 2008 in South Africa, scientists think that the two-million-year-old hominin may be the oldest direct ancestor of the human lineage. Its long, apelike arms and shoulder blades would have been good for climbing, and its fingers would have been capable of powerful grips. But Australopithecus sediba fingers may also have been able to make and use tools, although no tools associated with the fossils have been found so far. Its legs, trunk, and lower back suggest that Australopithecus sediba was able to climb trees and walk with a primitive, pigeon-toed gait. “These skeletons are just interesting, wonderful blends of characteristics,” said evolutionary anthropologist Steven Churchill of Duke University. Click here for more photos of the Australopithecus sediba composite skeleton.