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Team Says DNA Results Confirm Identification of Richard III

December 2, 2014

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—“The evidence is overwhelming that these are indeed the remains of Richard III,” geneticist Turi King of the University of Leicester announced at a press conference reported in Live Science. An analysis of the archaeological, genetic, and genealogical evidence produced a 6.7 million to 1, or 99.99 percent chance, that the remains recovered from a parking lot in 2012 belong to the last king of the House of York. Historical records indicate that he was killed in 1485 during the Battle of Bosworth and buried at a monastery in Leicester. The remains show signs of scoliosis and battle wounds, matching accounts of Richard’s appearance and death. Samples of mitochondrial DNA from the skeleton were compared to mitochondrial DNA from two descendants of Richard’s sister, Anne of York. One sample was a perfect match; the other had a one-letter difference. “That is perfectly what we would expect. The mitochondrial DNA has to be copied to be passed down through generations, and you get little typos,” King said. In addition, this particular sequence of mitochondrial DNA, inherited through the female line, seems to be rare. A study of the skeleton’s Y chromosome, which is passed down virtually unchanged through the male line, was compared to samples taken from five living men whose family trees suggest a relationship to Richard III. The researchers found, however, that none of the men shared the same Y chromosome as Richard III, indicating that there had been a “false paternity event.” Richard III’s Y chromosome could eventually be compared to remains of two children, thought to be the nephews the king has been accused of murdering, that were recovered from the Tower of London in the seventeenth century. “We don’t know for sure whether or not those remains are those of the princes. We now have the Y chromosome of Richard III, and that should be identical to both of the princes since they shared the same paternal line,” University of Leicester historian Kevin Schürer explained. To read about the original discovery of the remains, see "The Rehabilitation of Richard III."

Categories: Blog

Team Says DNA Results Confirm Identification of Richard III

December 2, 2014

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—“The evidence is overwhelming that these are indeed the remains of Richard III,” geneticist Turi King of the University of Leicester announced at a press conference reported in Live Science. An analysis of the archaeological, genetic, and genealogical evidence produced a 6.7 million to 1, or 99.99 percent chance, that the remains recovered from a parking lot in 2012 belong to the last king of the House of York. Historical records indicate that he was killed in 1485 during the Battle of Bosworth and buried at a monastery in Leicester. The remains show signs of scoliosis and battle wounds, matching accounts of Richard’s appearance and death. Samples of mitochondrial DNA from the skeleton were compared to mitochondrial DNA from two descendants of Richard’s sister, Anne of York. One sample was a perfect match; the other had a one-letter difference. “That is perfectly what we would expect. The mitochondrial DNA has to be copied to be passed down through generations, and you get little typos,” King said. In addition, this particular sequence of mitochondrial DNA, inherited through the female line, seems to be rare. A study of the skeleton’s Y chromosome, which is passed down virtually unchanged through the male line, was compared to samples taken from five living men whose family trees suggest a relationship to Richard III. The researchers found, however, that none of the men shared the same Y chromosome as Richard III, indicating that there had been a “false paternity event.” Richard III’s Y chromosome could eventually be compared to remains of two children, thought to be the nephews the king has been accused of murdering, that were recovered from the Tower of London in the seventeenth century. “We don’t know for sure whether or not those remains are those of the princes. We now have the Y chromosome of Richard III, and that should be identical to both of the princes since they shared the same paternal line,” University of Leicester historian Kevin Schürer explained. To read about the original discovery of the remains, see "The Rehabilitation of Richard III."

Categories: Blog

Stonehenge Tunnel Proposed

December 1, 2014

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—A new proposal to tunnel under Stonehenge was called “the biggest single investment ever by government in this country’s heritage” by Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage. But archaeologist Kate Fielden, a member of Stonehenge Alliance, says that the current plan to bury the A303, a crucial route to the southwest, will harm the monument’s surroundings. “The short tunnel plan will create serious damage to the landscape on each side, within the world heritage site which the government is ignoring its commitment to protect,” she told The Guardian. The Stonehenge Alliance wants a tunnel at least twice as long as the one proposed by the government. To read more about some of the most recent work at Stonehenge, see "New Discoveries at Stonehenge."

Categories: Blog

Stonehenge Tunnel Proposed

December 1, 2014

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—A new proposal to tunnel under Stonehenge was called “the biggest single investment ever by government in this country’s heritage” by Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage. But archaeologist Kate Fielden, a member of Stonehenge Alliance, says that the current plan to bury the A303, a crucial route to the southwest, will harm the monument’s surroundings. “The short tunnel plan will create serious damage to the landscape on each side, within the world heritage site which the government is ignoring its commitment to protect,” she told The Guardian. The Stonehenge Alliance wants a tunnel at least twice as long as the one proposed by the government. To read more about some of the most recent work at Stonehenge, see "New Discoveries at Stonehenge."

Categories: Blog

New Dates Calculated for Greece’s Antikythera Mechanism

December 1, 2014

TACOMA, WASHINGTON—The Antikythera Mechanism was timed to begin at 205 B.C., making the clock-like device of bronze gears 50 to 100 years older than previously thought, according to a study conducted by James Evans of the University of Puget Sound and Christián Carman of the University of Quilmes in Argentina. The device, which has been called the world’s oldest computer, was recovered from a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901. Evans and Carman studied Babylonian records of eclipses, reconstructed by John Steele of Brown University, and eliminated possible start dates based upon astronomical phenomena. The highly complex machine may have been based on Babylonian arithmetical methods, and not Greek trigonometry, which didn’t exist in 205 B.C. To read about a working model of the Antikythera Mechanism made entirely of Legos, go to "Artifact."

Categories: Blog

New Dates Calculated for Greece’s Antikythera Mechanism

December 1, 2014

TACOMA, WASHINGTON—The Antikythera Mechanism was timed to begin at 205 B.C., making the clock-like device of bronze gears 50 to 100 years older than previously thought, according to a study conducted by James Evans of the University of Puget Sound and Christián Carman of the University of Quilmes in Argentina. The device, which has been called the world’s oldest computer, was recovered from a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901. Evans and Carman studied Babylonian records of eclipses, reconstructed by John Steele of Brown University, and eliminated possible start dates based upon astronomical phenomena. The highly complex machine may have been based on Babylonian arithmetical methods, and not Greek trigonometry, which didn’t exist in 205 B.C. 

Categories: Blog

Dental Calculus Offers Direct Evidence of Milk-Drinking

December 1, 2014

YORK, ENGLAND—An international team of researchers has analyzed ancient human dental calculus in order to look for direct evidence of milk consumption. They were able to identify a milk protein, beta-lactoglobulin, in the calcified plaque, which has also been found in modern plaque samples. And, variants in the milk protein indicate what animal produced the milk. “The study has far-reaching implications for understanding the relationship between human diet and evolution. Dairy products are a very recent, post-Neolithic dietary innovation, and most of the world’s population is unable to digest lactose, often developing the symptoms of lactose intolerance,” lead author Christina Warinner of the University of Oklahoma told Science Daily. Previous investigations have identified dairy products in residues on ancient ceramics. “While pot residues can tell you that people are using dairy products, it can’t tell you which individuals in the group are actually consuming the milk. This study is very exciting, because for the first time, we can link milk consumption to specific skeletons, and figure out who has access to this important nutritional resource,” added team member Camilla Speller of the University of York. To learn about the evolutionary advantages milk drinking offers, go to "Why Do Adults Drink Milk?"

Categories: Blog

Dental Calculus Offers Direct Evidence of Milk-Drinking

December 1, 2014

YORK, ENGLAND—An international team of researchers has analyzed ancient human dental calculus in order to look for direct evidence of milk consumption. They were able to identify a milk protein, beta-lactoglobulin, in the calcified plaque, which has also been found in modern plaque samples. And, variants in the milk protein indicate what animal produced the milk. “The study has far-reaching implications for understanding the relationship between human diet and evolution. Dairy products are a very recent, post-Neolithic dietary innovation, and most of the world’s population is unable to digest lactose, often developing the symptoms of lactose intolerance,” lead author Christina Warinner of the University of Oklahoma told Science Daily. Previous investigations have identified dairy products in residues on ancient ceramics. “While pot residues can tell you that people are using dairy products, it can’t tell you which individuals in the group are actually consuming the milk. This study is very exciting, because for the first time, we can link milk consumption to specific skeletons, and figure out who has access to this important nutritional resource,” added team member Camilla Speller of the University of York.

Categories: Blog

Southeast Asia’s Ancient Rock Art

December 1, 2014

QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—The oldest surviving rock art in Southeast Asia suggests that the earliest inhabitants of the region brought the practice of painting naturalistic images of wild animals and hand stencils with them some 40,000 years ago. “As with the early art of Europe, the oldest Southeast Asian images often incorporated or were placed in relation to natural features of rock surfaces. This shows purposeful engagement with the new places early peoples arrived in for both symbolic and practical reasons,” Paul Taçon of Griffith University told Science Daily. Taçon and international teams of scientists examined paintings in rugged areas from southwest China to Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia. The paintings were often found in rock shelters rather than deep caves, where early artworks are often found in Europe. “This significantly shifts debates about the origins of art-making and supports ideas that this fundamental human behavior began with our most ancient ancestors in Africa rather than Europe,” he explained. To read about prehistoric art in Australia, see "Reading the Rocks."

Categories: Blog

Southeast Asia’s Ancient Rock Art

December 1, 2014

QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—The oldest surviving rock art in Southeast Asia suggests that the earliest inhabitants of the region brought the practice of painting naturalistic images of wild animals and hand stencils with them some 40,000 years ago. “As with the early art of Europe, the oldest Southeast Asian images often incorporated or were placed in relation to natural features of rock surfaces. This shows purposeful engagement with the new places early peoples arrived in for both symbolic and practical reasons,” Paul Taçon of Griffith University told Science Daily. Taçon and international teams of scientists examined paintings in rugged areas from southwest China to Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia. The paintings were often found in rock shelters rather than deep caves, where early artworks are often found in Europe. “This significantly shifts debates about the origins of art-making and supports ideas that this fundamental human behavior began with our most ancient ancestors in Africa rather than Europe,” he explained. To read about prehistoric art in Australia, see "Reading the Rocks."

Categories: Blog

Polish “Vampire” Burials Studied

November 30, 2014

WARSAW, POLAND—Six people buried in a post-medieval cemetery in northwestern Poland with stones under their chins or sickles across their bodies, traditional means to keep reanimated corpses from biting the living, were local residents, and not newcomers to the region. A team led by bioarchaeologist Lesley Gregoricka from the University of South Alabama tested the teeth enamel from the individuals and found their strontium isotope ratios matched those of animals local to the region. These "vampire" burials were among 285 skeletons recently unearthed at the cemetery, and were not concentrated together, suggesting they were not interred at the same time. In the Slavic areas of Eastern Europe, the tradition of vampires, or reanimated corpses, dates to at least the eleventh century A.D. Folklore had it that the first person to die from an infectious disease was likely to become a vampire, and these six may have been the first to have died from repeated cholera epidemics that struck the area in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. "People of the post-medieval period did not understand how disease was spread, and rather than a scientific explanation for these epidemics, cholera and the deaths that resulted from it were explained by the supernatural—in this case, vampires,” Gregoricka told Phys.org. To read more about the archaeology of vampires, see “Plague Vampire Exorcism.” 

Categories: Blog

Polish “Vampire” Burials Studied

November 30, 2014

WARSAW, POLAND—Six people buried in a post-medieval cemetery in northwestern Poland with stones under their chins or sickles across their bodies, traditional means to keep reanimated corpses from biting the living, were local residents, and not newcomers to the region. A team led by bioarchaeologist Lesley Gregoricka from the University of South Alabama tested the teeth enamel from the individuals and found their strontium isotope ratios matched those of animals local to the region. These "vampire" burials were among 285 skeletons recently unearthed at the cemetery, and were not concentrated together, suggesting they were not interred at the same time. In the Slavic areas of Eastern Europe, the tradition of vampires, or reanimated corpses, dates to at least the eleventh century A.D. Folklore had it that the first person to die from an infectious disease was likely to become a vampire, and these six may have been the first to have died from repeated cholera epidemics that struck the area in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. "People of the post-medieval period did not understand how disease was spread, and rather than a scientific explanation for these epidemics, cholera and the deaths that resulted from it were explained by the supernatural—in this case, vampires,” Gregoricka told Phys.org. To read more about the archaeology of vampires, see “Plague Vampire Exorcism.” 

Categories: Blog

Paleolithic Venus Unearthed in France

November 28, 2014

AMIENS, FRANCE—On the second day of fieldwork this summer at the Paleolithic site of Renancourt, archaeologists discovered limestone fragments that seemed to have been worked by humans. "That same night we carefully pieced together the 20-odd fragments and realized it was a female statuette," archaeologist Clement Paris said at a press conference reported by CNews. The 4.7-inch limestone statue the team reassembled is a highly stylized depiction of a voluptuous woman, and resembles other famous Paleolithic "Venus" figurines discovered throughout Europe. “The fact that the sculpture is not totally realistic shows the intent was to produce a symbolic image of a woman linked to fecundity," Paris said. The work probably dates to about 23,000 years ago. To read more about Paleolithic art, see “A New Life for Lion Man.” 

Categories: Blog

Paleolithic Venus Unearthed in France

November 28, 2014

AMIENS, FRANCE—On the second day of fieldwork this summer at the Paleolithic site of Renancourt, archaeologist discovered limestone fragments that seemed to have been worked by humans. "That same night we carefully pieced together the 20-odd fragments and realized it was a female statuette," archaeologist Clement Paris said at a press conference reported by CNews. The 4.7-inch limestone statue the team reassembled is a highly stylized depiction of a voluptuous woman, and resembles other famous Paleolithic "Venus" figurines discovered throughout Europe. “The fact that the sculpture is not totally realistic shows the intent was to produce a symbolic image of a woman linked to fecundity," Paris said. The work probably dates to about 23,000 years ago. To read more about Paleolithic art, see “A New Life for Lion Man.” 

Categories: Blog

Rare Finds Unearthed in Kent

November 28, 2014

AYLESHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists digging ahead of a housing construction project in Kent have unearthed an unusually rich array of artifacts, as well as an Anglo-Saxon skeleton. Among the objects discovered were Bronze Age cremation vessels, as well as Roman domestic artifacts. “The Bronze Age urns are rare, exotic, and wonderful and the ditches were full of very nice Roman domestic property so there was obviously a settlement nearby,” SWAT Archaeology’s Paul Wilkinson told The Dover Express. To read about a royal Anglo-Saxon site discovered in the area, see “The Kings of Kent.”

Categories: Blog

Rare Finds Unearthed in Kent

November 28, 2014

AYLESHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists digging ahead of a housing construction project in Kent have unearthed an unusually rich array of artifacts, as well as an Anglo-Saxon skeleton. Among the objects discovered were Bronze Age cremation vessels, as well as Roman domestic artifacts. “The Bronze Age urns are rare, exotic, and wonderful and the ditches were full of very nice Roman domestic property so there was obviously a settlement nearby,” SWAT Archaeology’s Paul Wilkinson told The Dover Express. To read about a royal Anglo-Saxon site discovered in the area, see “The Kings of Kent.”

Categories: Blog

Lost Village Discovered in England

November 26, 2014

IRONBRIDGE GORGE, ENGLAND—In Shropshire, archaeologists have unearthed the remains of six cottages buried by a slow-moving landslide in 1952. "People were just literally able to see their houses being ripped apart, and there was nothing they could do about it," archaeologist Shane Kelleher of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust told the BBC. Inside one of the homes archaeologists found an ornate mosaic floor, and other cottages are decorated with high-quality tiles, which the area was once famous for producing. The team will rebury the structures after recording them. To read about another recent excavation in England, see "The Scientist's Garden."

Categories: Blog

Lost Village Discovered in England

November 26, 2014

IRONBRIDGE GORGE, ENGLAND—In Shropshire, archaeologists have unearthed the remains of six cottages buried by a slow-moving landslide in 1952. "People were just literally able to see their houses being ripped apart, and there was nothing they could do about it," archaeologist Shane Kelleher of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust told the BBC. Inside one of the homes archaeologists found an ornate mosaic floor, and other cottages are decorated with high-quality tiles, which the area was once famous for producing. The team will rebury the structures after recording them. To read about another recent excavation in England, see "The Scientist's Garden."

Categories: Blog

Neolithic Handax Discovered in Denmark

November 26, 2014

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A Neolithic ax still attached to its wooden handle has been discovered on the Danish island of Lolland. Archaeologists working ahead of the construction of a tunnel unearthed the artifact, which seems to have been ritually deposited on the seabed about 5,500 years ago. "Finding a hafted [handle-bearing] ax as well preserved as this one is quite amazing," Museum of Lolland-Falster archaeologist Soren Anker Sorensen told the BBC. Earlier this year, archaeologists on the project discovered footprints dating to the same period. To read about that discovery, see “Tunnel Reveals Stone Age Footprints.”

Categories: Blog

Neolithic Handax Discovered in Denmark

November 26, 2014

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—A Neolithic ax still attached to its wooden handle has been discovered on the Danish island of Lolland. Archaeologists working ahead of the construction of a tunnel unearthed the artifact, which seems to have been ritually deposited on the seabed about 5,500 years ago. "Finding a hafted [handle-bearing] ax as well preserved as this one is quite amazing," Museum of Lolland-Falster archaeologist Soren Anker Sorensen told the BBC. Earlier this year, archaeologists on the project discovered footprints dating to the same period. To read about that discovery, see “Tunnel Reveals Stone Age Footprints.”

Categories: Blog

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