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Medieval Archway Uncovered at Cardigan Castle

March 19, 2014

CEREDIGION, WALES—Part of the medieval entrance to the tower at Cardigan Castle has been unearthed as part of the renovation project intended to reopen part of the castle to the public. The top of the archway was found when workmen removed floorboards to Castle Green House, a Georgian-era structure. “Building works revealed a possible entrance into the medieval tower which forms the back of the existing house. The entrance is formed by an opening capped by the vaulted ceiling of the basement, flanked by massive stone walls which form parts of the south wall of the medieval tower,” project manager Nigel Page explained to BBC News. The excavations at the castle have also recovered more than 9,000 artifacts, including iron arrowheads and a dolphin skull.

Categories: Blog

Shaman Statue Guards Shaft Tomb in Mexico

March 19, 2014

COLIMA, MEXICO—An intact, 1,500-year-old shaman figure has been found at the entrance to a shaft tomb in the city of Villa de Alverez. “He was found upright and is holding some kind of weapon, probably an ax. He was placed exactly at the entrance, towards the crypt. He is some kind of a guardian of the main character deposited inside the shaft tomb,” archaeologist Marco Zavaleta of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History told the Daily Mail. The vault contains the remains of one or two individuals that had been moved to the sides of the tomb to make room for a third individual at a later time. Six pots and an earthenware bowl were also found.

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Architecture Analysis Offers New Clues to Petra’s Culture

March 18, 2014

LA PALMA, TENERIFE—Statistical analysis of the measurements of the monuments, temples, and tombs of Petra, the ancient city carved from rock in modern-day Jordan, suggests that the Nabateans oriented their buildings so that the sun would highlight them during certain times of the year. “The facades of Petra are not only beautiful in themselves, but they also show something additional,” archaeoastronomer Juan Antonio Belmonte of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands told National Geographic News. For example, during the winter solstice, lights and shadows are produced around a sacred podium in Ad Deir, the Monastery, by the setting sun. “These [structures] are such huge marvels of human ability created with a sense of beauty, which is related to the sky,” Belmonte said.

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Bronze Age Burial Discovered in Cornwall Cliff

March 18, 2014

CORNWALL, ENGLAND—A Bronze Age cist containing a partial skeleton that may have belonged to a young woman was found in a cavity in a cliff face at Harlyn Bay. “This area is one of the most important for prehistoric burials in Cornwall. The sand protects bone from the acidic soil conditions making it one of the few places in Cornwall where unburnt bone will survive,” archaeologist Andy Jones told The Western Morning News. The bones will be radiocarbon dated. “There were no grave goods and the only find was a quartz block,” Jones added.

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Tracking Human Migration With Chicken DNA

March 18, 2014

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—A new analysis of mitochondrial DNA in domestic chicken bones from Polynesian archaeological sites and modern chickens by Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide challenges the idea that a genetic mutation in South American chickens links them to early chickens from Polynesia. “We found instead this quite distinct Pacific genetic signature—with four particular markers—that we only find in the Pacific and seems to be in all of the ancient Polynesian birds,” Cooper told Australia’s ABC Science. He and his colleagues think the genetic link between South American and Polynesian fowl found by archaeologist Alice Storey resulted from the contamination of the ancient Polynesian chicken bones with modern chicken DNA. “In chickens in particular we know that mitochondrial DNA doesn’t tell us anything about the past,” countered Storey.

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Fresco Stolen From Pompeii

March 18, 2014

ROME, ITALY—A small section of a fresco depicting the goddess Artemis has been stolen from the House of Neptune in Pompeii, according to a report in ANSAmed. In the image, Artemis had been seated and shown with her brother, Apollo. “I am very saddened by news of the loss of an ancient fresco at Pompeii. Those responsible for such thoughtless vandalism, or as is more likely, outright theft, should be ashamed of themselves,” said EU Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou. Police add that the fresco was stolen by expert thieves from an area of the ancient city that is off limits to the public.

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Coastal Erosion Threatens Alaska’s Archaeology

March 17, 2014

KOTZEBUE, ALASKA—Erosion caused by rising sea levels, frequent storms, flooding, and thawing permafrost has damaged archaeological sites in the Western Arctic National Parklands, including The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and the Cape Krusenstern National Monument. “These sites are important because they tell the story of people who lived and adapted from up to 5,500 years ago to the present and continue to add to the record,” Michael Holt, chief of cultural resources for the Western Arctic National Parklands, told The Arctic Sounder. The sites at greatest risk of disappearing are being excavated in partnership with Portland State University. Food remains, sled runners, and tools, have been recovered. The joint project endeavors to record the sites before they disappear. 

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New Dates for Little Foot

March 17, 2014

PARIS, FRANCE—A new geological study of the Sterkfontein caves in Gauteng, South Africa, concludes that the nearly complete Australopithecus prometheus skeleton known as Little Foot is at least three million years old. Ron Clarke, Stephen Motsumi, and Nkwane Molefe of the University of Witwatersrand spent 13 years extracting the skeleton from the rock of the cave so that they could understand how it had been encased in the hard, calcified sediment. According to a report in Science Now, the scientists found that the skeleton had been disturbed and broken, and that it would have taken at least one million years to fill in the spaces between the bones with minerals carried by water flowing through the cave. The flowstone itself has been dated to 2.2 million years old. The new, older dates suggest that Little Foot could be a Homo ancestor.

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Ancient Skeleton Marked With Cancer Lesions Found

March 17, 2014

DURHAM, ENGLAND—The 3,200-year-old skeleton of a man aged between 25 and 35 at the time of death shows signs of metastatic carcinoma—a malignant tumor that originated in an unknown soft tissue and spread across the body to his collar bones, shoulder blades, upper arms, vertebrae, ribs, pelvis, and thigh bones. Michaela Binder of Durham University uncovered the wealthy man’s tomb at the site of Amara West in the Sudan last year. “This may help us to understand the almost unknown history of the disease. We have very few examples pre the first millennium A.D.,” she told The Journal.   

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Egyptians May Have Domesticated Cats Earlier Than Thought

March 17, 2014

LEUVEN, BELGIUM—At the ancient Egyptian site of Hierakonopolis, in a cemetery containing the remains of humans, baboons, leopards, and hippopotamuses, archaeologists have found the skeletons of six cats, buried together near the wall of the cemetery, that could push the date of cat domestication in Egypt back to 6,000 years ago. An examination of the cats’ teeth and bones showed that there were two young adults of about a year old, and four kittens from at least two litters, all probably of the species Felis silvestris, a small wildcat found in Africa, Europe, and central Asia. One litter of kittens was only slightly older than the other, suggesting that the natural reproductive cycle had been interrupted, perhaps with food and human care. “The last word on cat domestication (when and where) is not yet said,” bioarchaeologist Wim Van Neer of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and Catholic University, Leuven, told Live Science. “We want to investigate whether there was only one domestication center (in the Levant), or whether Egypt should also be considered as a second, later, domestication center.

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Genetic Data Suggests Convergent Evolution for Milk Digestion

March 14, 2014

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—An international team of scientists led by Alessia Ranciaro and Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania has investigated the genetic origins of lactose tolerance in geographically diverse populations of Africans in Kenya, Tanzania, and Sudan. The scientists collected blood samples from pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, agriculturalists, and hunter-gatherers, who also took a lactose test by fasting overnight, having their blood sugar measured, drinking a sweet beverage containing a high level of lactose, and then having their blood sugar tested at set intervals. The research team found that the geographic patterns in which a genetic variant for milk digestion were present often correlated with historic human migrations and the spread of domestic cattle, camels, and sheep. “Our results are showing different mutations arising in different places that are under selection and rising to high frequencies and then reintroduced by migration to new areas and new populations,” Tishkoff told Science Daily. She suspects that there are other genetic variants for the digestion of milk that have not yet been discovered, and that commensal bacteria in the gut could also help adult humans digest milk.

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Second Skeleton Emerges at Wanapum Dam

March 14, 2014

VANTAGE, WASHINGTON—River guards and Native Americans are struggling to protect the archaeological sites, petroglyphs, and graves that were exposed by the drawdown of the reservoir at the cracked Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River. And, a second set of human remains has been discovered 500 yards downstream from the first skeleton, which has been identified as male and Native American. “We are not going to take pieces of the remains and carbon 14 date them at this point, or anything else,” Allyson Brooks, director of the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, told Northwest Public Radio.

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Vandals Dig, Deface Nevada’s Hidden Cave

March 14, 2014

FALLON, NEVADA—Vandals have struck Hidden Cave, an archaeological site that has yielded thousands of artifacts ranging in age from 5,000 to 800 years old. In addition to evidence of illegal digging, the interior and exterior walls of the cave were painted with graffiti, bullet holes were found in the informational kiosk, and the trail leading to the cave was defaced. Damage was inflicted on the interpretation signs, educational displays, and lighting fixtures in the cave. “This is the first instance of modern vandalism to the sensitive archaeological resources within Hidden Cave,” Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Jason Write told the Nevada Appeal. The site has been closed to visitors.

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10,000-Year-Old Carved Faces Unearthed in Syria

March 13, 2014

PARIS, FRANCE—Archaeologists have announced the discovery of a roughly 10,000-year-old staff carved with two human faces with closed eyes at Tell Qarassa in southern Syria. The wand, made of the rib of an auroch and broken at both ends, was found near a cemetery where 30 people had been buried without their heads. (The heads were found elsewhere in the settlement.) Frank Braemer of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique told Live Science that he thinks the wand may have been used in a funeral ritual by these early farmers, who grew emmer, barley, chickpeas, lentils. “The find is very unusual. It’s unique,” he added.

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Language Study Supports Back-Migration from Beringia to Asia

March 13, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Linguists Mark A. Sicoli of Georgetown University and Gary Holton of the University of Alaska have examined the shared grammatical features of Yeniseian and Na-Dene, thought to have descended from a common language some 12,000 years ago. Yeniseian is a group of mostly extinct languages spoken along the Yenisei River in central Siberia, and Na-Dene, which is spoken in Alaska, western Canada, and is also related to Navajo and Apache. Sicoli and Holton think that this lost mother tongue was spoken in Beringia before the speakers split up: one group would have moved east into North America to become the Na-Dene speakers, while the other group would have migrated back into central Asia and became Yeniseian speakers. “There may have been multiple streams of people moving out of that single source at different times,” Dennis H. O’Rourke of the University of Utah commented to The New York Times.

Categories: Blog

Smuggled Artifacts Will Return to Egypt

March 13, 2014

CAIRO, EGYPT—Reuters reports that after a meeting with Mohammed Ibrahim, Egypt’s Antiquities Minister, the U.S. has agreed to return eight artifacts smuggled out of Egypt in 2011 and seized by Homeland Security officials in New York City. The objects, including 4,000-year-old models of wooden boats, the painted lid of a sarcophagus, and a mummy encased in decorated plaster, “represent ancient Egyptian civilization,” according to Ibrahim. 

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A Look Inside Spain’s Roman and Medieval Bridges

March 12, 2014

VIGO, SPAIN—With the help of mathematical models, ground-penetrating radar, and a laser scanner, researchers from the Applied Geotechnology Group at the University of Vigo evaluated more than 80 Roman and medieval bridges. The technology helped them to identify unknown structural and geometric details that may be covered with stones or buried underground, cracks, engravings, and past restorations. “All this information is of historic interest, but it is also useful to civil engineers so that they can plan conservation, improvement and restoration measures in these types of infrastructures,” Mercedes Solla of the Defense Academy told Science Daily.

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“Peking Man” Could Use Fire

March 12, 2014

BEIJING, CHINA--A new analysis of ash from Zhoukoudian Locality 1, located in northern China, concludes that Homo erectus pekinensis, or Peking Man, could control and use fire some 770,000 years ago. “At present, the key point of the debate over the intentional use of fire by Homo erectus pekinensis at Zhoukoudian is whether or not siliceous aggregate (an insoluble phase of burned ash) is present in ash remains recovered from the site,” Gao Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences told Phys Org. The four samples of ash that Gao’s team collected from the site detected aluminum, potassium, iron, and silicon, all associated with siliceous aggregates, and elemental carbon. All are identified as indicators of in situ fire. “Therefore, the location and quantities of the samples analyzed before might have been insufficient to draw overall conclusions about the site as a whole,” Gao added.

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Coastal Erosion in Wales Reveals Monk’s Leg Bones

March 12, 2014

MONKNASH, WALES—Erosion caused by heavy coastal storms left two human thigh bones poking out of a cliff face in South Wales. During the medieval period, the site was used as a cemetery for Cistercian monks, until the monastery was dissolved in 1535. “I would say they belong to a monk from the 1200s—due to previous archaeological digs in the past, the depth of the bones in the cliff, and the history of the area,” archaeologist Karl-James Langford told The Telegraph. The recent storms took a foot of coastline, he added.

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Weapons Were Likely Crafted Just for China’s Terracotta Army

March 12, 2014

XI’AN, CHINA—The 8,000 terracotta warriors buried near the mausoleum of the first emperor of China were armed with weapons made of wood or bamboo and bronze. Archaeologists Marcos Martinón-Torres of University College London and Xiuzhen Janice Li, formerly of the University College London and now of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, examined more than 200 five-part bronze crossbow triggers and the tips of the bows—all that remain of the ancient weapons—and where the pieces were unearthed in the tomb. The scientists concluded that the pieces show no signs of wear, and so were probably made for burial in the tomb in small batches, since they are mostly uniform and were likely to have been made in nearly identical molds. “The cellular workshop model we postulate for the weapons manufacture in the mausoleum would have also offered useful flexibility for armies on the move,” Martinón-Torres commented to Live Science.

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