TBILISI, GEORGIA—Five 1.8-million-year-old skulls have been unearthed in Dmanisi, home of the largest collection of well-preserved human remains in the world. In fact, the fifth skull is being called the most complete hominid skull ever found. Its small braincase, large teeth, and long face are similar to Homo habilis, even though features of its braincase resemble those of Homo erectus. Georgian scientist David Lordkipanidze of the Georgian National Museum says that the five skulls show a lot of variation within a single population, and indicate that Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Homo erectus are all just variations within one species. “When we looked at this variability and compared it with modern humans, you can see this is a normal range of variation,” he explained. But other researchers are reluctant to lump these Homo species together. “They do a very general shape analysis of the cranium which describes the shape of the face and braincase in broad sweeping terms,” commented Fred Spoor of University College London.
BLICK MEAD, ENGLAND—The 8,000-year-old charred bones of a toad have been unearthed at Blick Mead, in Wiltshire, England, about a mile away from the site where Stonehenge was eventually built 5,000 years later. “They would have definitely eaten the leg because it would have been quite big and juicy,” said David Jacques of the University of Buckingham. The people of this Mesolithic settlement also enjoyed aurochs, wild boar, red deer, and hazelnuts. “People are utilizing all these resources to keep going and it is clearly a special place for the amount of different types of food resources to keep them going all year round,” he added.
HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE—Archaeological surveys and geographic mapping of more than 3,000 archaeological sites suggest that the Wari state expanded from the central city of Pikillacta through trade between semiautonomous colonies, rather than through centralized control, according to study leader R. Alan Covey of Dartmouth College. “The identification of limited Wari state power encourages a focus on colonization practices rather than an interpretation of strong provincial rule,” he said. The Wari, an ancestor culture to the Inca, ruled much of what is now Peru from A.D. 600 to 1000.
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—Three sets of human remains uncovered during the construction of a boardwalk at Pilot Bay have been identified as two Maori adults and one child by physical anthropologists from Auckland University. Pilot Bay was first occupied by Polynesian settlers in the late fourteenth century. “Often when they do developments it’s a little slice or piece, but it was nice because the boardwalk was going all the way down so it was good to see all the archaeology, all the way along,” said Rachel Darmody of Historic Places Trust. Archaeologists also recovered Moa bones, fish hooks, and debris from the manufacture of adzes. The human bones have been reburied by tangata whenua, a Maori term meaning the “people of the land.”
SOFIA, BULGARIA—A cellar containing Greek amphorae has been discovered in the Bulgarian coastal town of Nesebar by Aneliya Bozhkova of the National Archaeological Institute and Petya Kiyashkina of the Ancient Nesebar Museum. The 30 amphorae date to the fifth century B.C. and probably held wine and olive oil. Though the house above the cellar was destroyed, the amphorae were largely intact.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that the state must return “Jehoash’s Tablet,” confiscated in 2003, to collector Oded Golan. Golan was acquitted of dealing in forged antiquities in 2012 by the Jerusalem District Court, which ruled that the state had no proof that the tablet and other antiquities, including the “James Ossuary,” were fakes. Both the tablet and the ossuary are of uncertain provenance.
JACKSONVILLE, OREGON—An excavation by archaeologists and students from Southern Oregon University in the nineteenth-century Chinese quarter of the town has yielded seeds that could have originated on lychee trees in Canton, China; pieces of opium pipes; and parts of a fantan gambling game. “That is equivalent to finding part of a whiskey bottle and a deck of cards from the white section,” commented archaeologist Chelsea Rose. The first building of the mining town was constructed in 1850, but most people lived in tents for the first two years of the Gold Rush. In 1888, a fire destroyed the Chinese section of town, which was later filled in with dirt. “But the good thing is the fill has protected the material we are interested in,” said Rose.
ST AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—Native American and European pottery have been found at an eighteenth-century farmstead that was part of the Spanish Pocotalaca mission. The Franciscan mission housed members of the Yamassee group from South Carolina between 1717 and 1752 in some 20 huts made of poles and palm fronds. There was also a small church and a fortress. In a rare discovery of a hut site, archaeologist Carl Halbirt found a post hole and a black smudge where corn cobs had been burned in order to keep away the mosquitoes. Deer bones and teeth, pipe stems, and clam shells have also been uncovered.
YORK, ENGLAND—The foundations of the medieval Church of St John the Baptist, also known as St John’s in the Marsh, have been uncovered in at the Hungate site in central York as part of a construction project. The church was built in the twelfth century, at a time when there were many churches in York, and although it was a poor parish, benefited from the patronage of Richard Russell, a mayor and sheriff of the city. St John’s closed during the Reformation and was demolished in the 1500s. “We are dealing with a part of the site that charts 900 years of the city’s history, in a place where normal, working people would have lived. This is exactly what archaeology is about—learning about the lives of people,” said archaeologist Toby Kendall.
MAINZ, GERMANY--Using more than 350 samples of mitochondrial DNA from prehistoric human bones and teeth found in Germany, an international team of scientists has reconstructed the first detailed genetic history of modern-day Europeans. The samples spanned a period of 4,000 years, from the earliest farmers to the early Bronze Age. “What is intriguing is that the genetic signals can be directly compared with the changes in material culture seen in the archaeological record,” said Kurt Alt of the University of Mainz. Hunter-gatherers were joined by early farmers from the Near East, but the genetic results show that migrations from Western and Eastern Europe also occurred. “It is fascinating to see genetic changes when certain cultures expanded vastly, [such as the Bell Beaker and the Corded Ware cultures] clearly revealing interactions across very large distances,” he added. In addition, a team led by Joachim Burger of the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, compared the bones of early farmers and hunter-gatherers who buried their dead in Germany’s Blätterhöhle cave. They found that the two groups lived side-by-side for more than 2,000 years. The hunter-gatherers maintained a specialized diet that included fish until about 5,000 years ago. Genetic testing shows that the hunter-gatherer women sometimes married into the farming community. “Neither hunter-gatherers nor farmers can be regarded as the sole ancestors of modern-day Central Europeans. European ancestry will reflect a mixture of both populations, and the ongoing question is how and to what extent this admixture happened,” said Adam Powell of Johannes Gutenberg University.
MOHENJODARO, PAKISTAN—Salt is corroding the bricks of Mohenjodaro, the Indus metropolis where as many as 40,000 people are estimated to have lived 5,000 years ago. The World Heritage Site featured a grid system of roads, a drainage system, houses, granaries, and baths built of mud bricks. But hot summers, cold winters, monsoon rains, and humid air leave salt crystals on the bricks, turning them to dust. Just 16 men struggle to shore up and protect the walls with a coating of mud. At least 350 men are needed to complete the job. Earthquakes and floods in Pakistan have diverted meager funding away from the ancient city. “There is no department with expertise, no decisions taken for the last two years. The way things are going, it will survive maybe only another 20 years,” commented Pakistani archaeologist Asma Ibrahim.
NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—A collection of cannon that was first spotted in the 1970s by divers from the Tyneside 114 British Sub Aqua Club off the coast of northeastern England has been rediscovered by divers from English Heritage. The corroded cannon are thought to have been manufactured in Sweden between 1670 and 1710. Records kept at Bamburgh Castle suggest that they could have been carried by a Dutch ship that was carrying 40 weapons when it struck the Farne Islands and sank in 1704. Underwater archaeologists from English Heritage are conducting the survey to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Protection of Wrecks Act.
HAIFA, ISRAEL—Students from Haifa University are looking for evidence of two harbors at Tel Dor. The first harbor, used during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, seems to have been located in Tel Dor’s south bay. There, archaeologists have found stone anchors and pottery. In Tel Dor’s north bay, they have found pottery from the Persian period along with stone anchors, and artifacts from the Roman and Crusader periods.
VERSAILLES, KENTUCKY—Kim McBride of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey is investigating the home and distillery that belonged to Oscar Pepper, who worked with Scotsman James Crow to perfect the technique of making bourbon in the 1830s. She and her team are excavating a structure that once stood to the side of the house. “This was probably a combination kitchen and slave quarters. After 1865, we have the death of Oscar Pepper and the estate is in transition, and with emancipation the structure was probably no longer needed,” she said. A nearby trash pit has yielded animal bones, toy marbles, doll parts, pipes, coins, fasteners, buttons, an inkwell, a salt shaker, broken drinking glasses, pottery, bone-handled forks and knives, and what may have been a pool cue ball. The artifacts may eventually be displayed in the visitors’ center at the current distillery on the property.
TORONTO, ONTARIO—CT scans and 3-D modeling were used by Christopher Woods of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute to examine the interiors of 20 clay balls, known as envelopes, made in Mesopotamia some 5,500 years ago. (Only 150 of the balls are known to have survived.) Each of the balls contains a variety of a total of 14 different kinds of tokens that may have recorded the numbers and types of commodities in economic transactions before writing was invented. Some of the balls also have channels crisscrossing their surfaces. The channels may have been left by fine threads that were tied around the balls to hold wax labels. Other marks on the outsides of the balls, made by seals, could represent the “sellers,” “buyers,” and perhaps even witnesses to the transactions. Woods hopes that with continued study, scientists will be able to “crack the code” by examining how the tokens cluster and vary.
LEUVEN, BELGIUM—A new DNA analysis conducted by Jean-Jacques Cassiman of the Catholic University of Leuven and French historian Philippe Delorme calls into question the authenticity of a cloth thought to have been used to soak up blood from the severed head of the last French king, Louis XVI. Earlier this year, geneticist Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain, matched a small section of DNA from the Y chromosome in the blood to a small amount of Y chromosome taken from the mummified head of Henry IV, a direct ancestor of Louis XVI. However, Cassiman and Delorme say that the section of Y chromosome was so small that the match could be a coincidence. So, they identified three living members of the House of Bourbon and analyzed their Y chromosomes. The “Bourbon Y” did not match the DNA profile obtained from the bloody cloth and mummified head. “We should be cautious with the genealogies claimed by people. These are often less accurate than we may think,” replied Lalueza-Fox.
KING’S LYNN, ENGLAND—Archaeologists uncovered the remains of a wall thought to be part of the summer home of the Burney family. Charles Burney was an eighteenth-century organist, composer, and musical historian; his daughter was author Fanny Burney. “It was exciting to find the wall was still standing and not just rubble,” said Paul Richards, town historian and president of the King’s Lynn Archaeological Society.
ATHENS, GREECE—Two Greek men were charged with trading in illegal antiquities after police intercepted them trying to sell a marble figurine for 3.5 million euros in the Kolonaki neighborhood of central Athens. The Neolithic statuette depicts a woman with her arms clasped to her chest, and is estimated to be some 7,000 years old.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Early hominids routinely recycled the stone and bone objects they used every day, according to the archaeologists gathered at “The Origins of Recycling,” a conference recently held at the University of Tel Aviv. Evidence of the reworking of old flint tools 1.3 million years ago has been found in southern Spain, and Neanderthals refashioned bone tools at a butchering site near Rome some 300,000 years ago. Additional sites have been found in Israel and North Africa. Recycling conserves energy and raw materials, but did early humans decide to conserve resources, or did they just pick up old tools unconsciously when it was time to make something else?
SHIJIAZHUANG, CHINA—A cluster of more than 80 tombs in northern China has so far yielded more than 300 artifacts dating from the West Han Dynasty (206 B.C.24 A.D.) and the Tang Dynasty (618907), including pottery, porcelain, and bronzes. Archaeologist Zhang Xiaozheng, head of the excavation, says that the artifacts reflect the daily lives of ordinary people.