NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA—The wet lab where the turret from the USS Monitor is being conserved in a 90,000-gallon water tank will close to the public due to budget constraints and a lack of federal funding. “Obviously, we’re not going to let these things fall apart. This is the largest marine metals conservation project in the entire world,” said David Krop, director of USS Monitor Center, an extension of The Mariners’ Museum that opened in 2007. The federal government retains ownership of the historic Civil War-era ironclad ship, including the two guns, a propeller, and a steam engine from the Monitor that are housed in the museum.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Two pots, each containing small bronze tools, a pierced eggshell (one of which was intact), and a coin, have been uncovered on top of the remains of an elite building at Sardis thought to have been destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 17. A new building had been constructed over the rubble and the deposits. Elizabeth Raubolt of the University of Missouri, Columbia, thinks that the assemblages may have been intended to protect the new building from future disasters. The Roman historian Pliny recorded how people would break or pierce eggshells after eating in order to ward off evil spells. In contrast, intact eggs could be buried at someone’s gate in order to put a curse on them, Raubolt explained at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. “You can imagine how nice it smelled after a while,” she added. The two coins date to between A.D. 54 and 68, long after the time the earthquake is thought to have occurred.
DAVIE, FLORIDA—A utility crew discovered the intact remains of a woman who stood about five feet tall and was between 20 and 30 years old at the time of her death some 2,000 years ago. “It’s either Tequesta or a member of a people that predates the Tequesta,” said Bob Carr of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy in Davie. The site, which was once a cluster of islands, was found beneath a road surface that is known to cover human remains and ancient artifacts. The remains will be reburied.
TARAWA, REPUBLIC OF KIRIBATI—Archaeologist Garth Baldwin and History Flight, a nonprofit organization, have found human remains, ammunition, ID bracelets, a canteen, a pocket knife, and dog tags from the American Marines and sailors that were killed during World War II in the Gilbert Islands, at the time a strategically important British protectorate that had been captured by Japanese forces. In 1943, some 35,000 American troops and 100 warships were sent to attack the heavily fortified coral atoll surrounded by shallow water. After 76 hours of fighting, some 6,000 people were buried in shallow graves, many of which were identified by American excavation teams after the war. Baldwin and his team are looking for the nearly 500 Americans who remain missing. The remains of Japanese soldiers are handed over to the Japanese government.
HAMILTON, ONTARIO—A section of preserved human intestine held at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum has yielded the complete genome of the bacterium responsible for the 1849 outbreak of cholera along the Eastern coast of the United States. Hendrik Poinor of McMaster University found that this deadly nineteenth-century strain of Vibrio cholera is distinct from most strains of El Tor cholera that cause outbreaks today. “One of the big questions is, ‘where did classical go?’ he said. Further tests of historic cholera strains are in the works.
TOKAT, TURKEY—Restoration of Niksar Castle, located in the Black Sea region of Turkey, has led to the discovery of two tunnels dating to the Roman period. Tradition holds that the daughters of a Roman king used one of the tunnels to travel to a nearby Roman bath. “One tunnel goes to the stream below the castle. We have also excavated a parallel tunnel used by the king’s daughters. When the works are completed, the two tunnels in the south and north of the Niksar Castle will be completely unearthed. The artistic features of the castle will be revealed,” said the mayor of Niksar, Duran Yadigar.
XI’AN, CHINA—Reports indicate that two beacon towers that were part of a city wall have been uncovered at the 4,000-year-old Shimao Ruins in China’s Shaanxi Province. Discovered in 1976, the Neolithic city was first thought to be a small town. It is now known to have had a central area with inner and outer structures, and a wall surrounding the outer city. Last month, it was announced that the skulls of more than 80 young women who may have been sacrificed at the time the city was founded were discovered in a mass grave. The city is thought to have been occupied for some 300 years.
QUINHAGAK, ALASKA—A grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council will fund research by archaeologists from Scotland’s University of Aberdeen at Nunalleq, a 700-year-old coastal village exposed by erosion and melting ice in central Alaska. “The soil is held together by the ice, so when the ice melts the soil becomes very vulnerable to marine erosion,” explained project leader Rick Knecht. The village was occupied during the Little Ice Age, a period of climate change. “It’s ironic that climate change is bringing about this thaw, which in itself is helping us answer questions about how these people coped with climate change hundreds of years ago and may help us plan for similar conditions in the future,” he added. The site has yielded human hair clippings carrying information about the diet and health of the residents; more than 60 wooden dolls used as toys and for ceremonial purposes; objects made of leather and fur; and a wooden mask.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—A mural at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in central Turkey may depict an eruption of the Hasan Dagi volcano, according to new research by a team led by Axel Schmitt of the University of California Los Angeles. They analyzed and dated rocks taken from the summit and flanks of the volcano, and discovered that the volcano erupted around 6900 B.C., at about the time when the mural is thought to have been painted. “We tested the hypothesis that the Çatalhöyük mural depicts a volcanic eruption and discovered a geological record consistent with this hypothesis. Our work also demonstrates that Hasan Dagi volcano has potential for future eruptions,” Schmitt said.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—According to a review of baboon diets by Gabriele Macho of Oxford University, Paranthropus boisei, a hominid who lived in East Africa between 2.4 million and 1.4 million years ago, probably survived on a diet of grass bulbs, or tiger nuts, supplemented with fruits and invertebrates such as worms and grasshoppers. Paranthropus boisei is nicknamed “Nutcracker Man” for its powerful jaws, but its teeth are better suited for eating soft foods, and show signs of abrasion. In addition, stable isotope analysis indicated that the hominids ate grasses and sedges. Macho suggests that the marks on the teeth of Paranthropus boisei and modern baboons could have been caused by highly abrasive, starchy tiger nuts that require a lot of chewing to digest. “I believe that the theory—that “Nutcracker Man” lived on large amounts of tiger nuts—helps settle the debate about what our early human ancestor ate. …What this research tells us is that hominins were selective about the part of the grass that they ate, choosing the grass bulbs at the base of the grass blade as the mainstay of their diet,” she explained.
DENVER, COLORADO—Thirty statues, some of them estimated to be 100 years old, that have been stored at the Denver Museum of Nature since 1990 will be returned to the National Museums of Kenya. Known as vigango, the statues are carved from wood by the Mijikenda people and erected to honor the dead. Many such statues have been taken and sold in the United States because there are no laws in Kenya or the U.S. to protect them. Monica L. Udvardy of the University of Kentucky has tracked vigango for the past 30 years. Her work led to the repatriation of two vigango—one from the Illinois State Museum and the other from Hampton University Museum in Virginia. To date, these two statues had been the only ones to have been returned by American museums.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Mycenaean elites of the late Bronze Age probably dined on meats cooked on portable grills and bread baked on non-stick griddles. Julie Hruby of Dartmouth College worked with ceramicist Connie Podleski of the Oregon College of Art and Craft to replicate two Mycenaean souvlaki trays and two griddles. Hruby then started cooking, using ingredients listed on ancient tablets as provisions for feasts. As she reported at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, Hruby found that the heavy grill pan worked best when hot coals were placed inside its tray, rather than the tray placed in a cooking fire, suggesting that it was a portable device. Her tests of the griddles, which have a smooth side and a side with holes, showed that bread was probably placed on the side with the holes, since the dough tended to stick when cooked on the smooth side of the pan. “There are cooks mentioned in the Linear B [a Mycenaean syllabic script] record who have that as a profession—that’s their job—so we should envision professional cooks using these,” she added.
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND—A stack of photographic negatives from Ernest Shackleton’s last Antarctic expedition have been recovered and developed by researchers from the Antarctic Heritage Trust in New Zealand. They found the negatives in a box in a hut at Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition base at Cape Evans on Ross Island. Scott had died in 1912 while racing to the South Pole. Three years later, ten stranded men from Shackleton’s expedition took shelter in the hut. Known as the Ross Island Party, the men lived on seal meat and supplies until they were rescued in 1917. The moldy, damaged negatives yielded images of expedition geologist Alexander Stevens, the ship Aurora, icebergs, and the Ross Sea. “It’s an exciting find, and we are delighted to see them exposed after a century. It’s a testament to the dedication and precision of our conservation teams’ efforts to save Scott’s Cape Evans hut,” said Nigel Watson, executive director of the Antarctic Heritage Trust.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—The 5,000-year-old site of Mashabei Sadeh, located in the Negev Desert, consists of some 200 ancient structures near dry riverbeds that flowed during the rainy season. Did the residents use these limited resources to grow crops and keep herds to sustain themselves? Zach Dunseth is excavating Mashabei Sadeh as part of the Negev Highlands Research project, directed by Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University and Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Weizmann Institute. Dunseth looked for coprolites, which would be evidence of animal husbandry and might contain phytoliths of cultivated plants. But no coprolites were found at Mashabei Sadeh. “No animal pens, no faunal remains, no stone tools like sickle blades, and most of all, no dung…. This leads us to believe that this large settlement was probably sustained by some other form of economy,” he said. A smaller settlement nearby did contain some dung, however. “There must be an explanation hidden somewhere in the ground, but at this point what we have are only hints of something greater, of Mashabei Sadeh being part of a far larger economy,” he added.
BEIJING, CHINA—Scientists at Tsinghua University have cleaned and reassembled a collection of 2,500 thin bamboo strips dating to 305 B.C. that had once been held together with string to form 65 ancient texts. Feng Lisheng, a historian of mathematics at the university, explained that one of the texts, written all in numbers on 21 of the bamboo strips, is the world’s oldest example of a multiplication table in base 10. It may have been used to calculate the surface area of land, crop yields, and taxes. “Such an elaborate multiplication matrix is absolutely unique in Chinese history,” he said.
MELBOURNE, FLORIDA—Paleoecologist Crystal McMichael of the Florida Institute of Technology has developed a model to predict where pre-Columbian people may have lived and farmed in the Amazonian rainforest. Poor soil quality had led archaeologists to believe that large-scale farming would have been impossible, but recent discoveries of earthworks and roads suggest that cities did exist. Areas of darker soil containing charcoal and pottery shards, known as terra preta, or “black earth,” suggest that pre-Columbian residents of the rainforest enriched the soil for farming themselves. McMichael and her team analyzed the location and environmental data from some 1,000 terra preta sites and concluded that the worked earth is most likely to be found in central and eastern Amazonia, on bluffs overlooking rivers near the coast. The new model could help researchers discover possible archaeological sites.
RABAT, MOROCCO—An examination of the skeletal remains of 52 sedentary hunter-gatherers who lived in Morocco more than 13,000 years ago has revealed that 49 of them suffered from tooth decay in more than half of their surviving teeth. Scientists blame the sticky, high-carbohydrate and nutty plant foods in the diet consumed at the Grotte des Pigeons complex at Taforalt, which included snails, sweet acorns, pine nuts, and pistachios. “At a certain point, the tooth nerve dies but up until that moment, the pain is very bad and if you get an abscess the pain is excruciating because of the pressure on the jaw. Then, of course, the bone eventually perforates and the abscess drains away, and we see this in a lot of the jaw remains that we studied,” said Louise Humphrey of London’s Natural History Museum.
PHOENIX, ARIZONA—Paleoanthropologist William Kimbel of Arizona State University and his colleagues have examined the base of a partial cranium of Ardipithecus ramidus, the 4.4 million-year-old primate known for its ape-like tiny brain and grasping big toe for climbing, and more human-like small teeth and and upper pelvis capable of bipedal locomotion. Kimbel’s results are in line with earlier studies that show the base of Ardi’s cranium links it to 3.4 million-year-old Australopithecus skulls and those of modern humans. “Given the very tiny size of the Ardi skull, the similarity of its cranial base to a human’s is astonishing,” he said.
CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry has announced that more than 1,500 looted artifacts have been recovered by police during the raid of a house in a Cairo suburb. Statues, amulets, and limestone false doors that are usually found in tombs were recovered. One of the suspects was also in possession of ammunition. “The variety of the seized antiquities indicates that they are the result of illegal digging by armed gangs,” said Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim.
BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—Michael Jacobson of Binghamton University wants to know if there are any archaeological traces of the Battle of Chemung, part of a strategically important offensive that took place in 1779 during the Revolutionary War. The Sullivan-Clinton Expedition of the Continental Army first attacked the village of New Chemung, a base for British loyalists and their Native American allies, and burned it to the ground. Two weeks later, General Sullivan’s troops defeated the British loyalists and the Iroquois at the nearby Battle of Newtown. With the help of historic documents and the official map from the Sullivan expedition, a recent topographical map, and a geographic information system, Jacobson and his team were able to examine the cornfield where they think the Battle of Chemung took place with a magnetometer. Tests should reveal if their finds date to the late eighteenth century. “There was a local push to highlight the fact that Chemung was a separate battle from Newtown, and also to help preserve the landscape,” Jacobson explained.