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Medieval Graves Found Under the Uffizi

February 20, 2014

FLORENCE, ITALY—During a construction project to expand Florence’s famed Uffizi Museum, the Telegraph reports that workers have uncovered sixty skeletons dating to the fifth or sixth century A.D. under one of the museum’s libraries. The bones are now being examined to determine the cause of death, which researchers believe may have been plague or infectious disease. The deceased appear to have been buried somewhat carelessly and hastily, perhaps to halt the spread of disease, and do not show signs of traumatic injury. Although Florentia was a wealthy provincial capital during the Roman Empire, little is known about the city’s early medieval period.

 

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Herring Dominated Prehistoric Pacific Fisheries

February 19, 2014

VANCOUVER, CANADA—Archaeologists at Simon Fraser University have studied more than half a million fish bones from 171 sites in the Pacific Northwest, and found that herring was much more important in prehistory than today. The Pacific herring population is dwindling, and the researchers say understanding the ecological and cultural aspects of prehistoric fisheries can help in designing a more sustainable management system for today's erratic herring catch. “By compiling the largest dataset of archaeological fish bones in the Pacific Northwest Coast, we demonstrate the value of using such data to establish an ecological baseline for modern fisheries,” archaeologist Iain McKechnie said in a Simon Fraser University statement.   

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Australia's Mungo Man May Be Repatriated

February 19, 2014

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Discovered in a dry lake bed in southeastern Australia in 1970, the 43,000-year-old skeleton known as Mungo Man is the oldest known Australian. Since being found, his remains have been kept at Australian National University, and they are no longer being studied. Now Aboriginal groups are negotiating with officials for the return of the remains to Lake Mungo National Park, where they would be reunited with the 20,000-year-old skeleton dubbed Mungo Lady who was uncovered not far from Mungo Man. “This discovery changed Australian history, but Mungo Man has spent too long in his cardboard box. He needs to go home,” archaeologist Jim Bowler told The Australian

 

 

 

 

 

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Hellenistic Settlement Uncovered in Israel

February 18, 2014

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced that salvage excavations in advance of work on a natural gas pipeline have revealed a small rural settlement that reached its greatest extent in the third century B.C., when the region was ruled by the Hellenistic Seleucid Dynasty. Like many other rural villages in Israel, the site was abandoned sometime in the first century B.C., when Herod the Great began his reign. "The phenomenon of villages and farms being abandoned at the beginning of Herod the Great's rule is one that we are familiar with from many rural sites in Judea," Jerusalem regional archaeologist Yuval Baruch explained in an IAA statement. "And it may be related to Herod's massive building projects in Jerusalem, particularly the construction of the Temple Mount, and the mass migration of villagers to the capital to work on these projects."

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Long-Lost Fragments of Colossi Found in Luxor

February 18, 2014

LUXOR, EGYPT—Egyptologists have uncovered missing quartzite blocks that once belonged to the Colossi of Memnon, two massive statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III that once stood at the entrance of his mortuary temple in Luxor. The blocks had been missing from the colossi since an earthquake in 27 B.C. devastated the temple. The missing pieces included fragments of the arm, belt, and skirt of one of the colossi, as well as parts of the royal crown and foundation stone for both statues. Aly El-Asfar, head of the Ministry of State for Antiquities' ancient Egyptian section, told Al-Ahram that the discovery will enable archaeologists to reconstruct the colossi. 

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Aztec Dog Burials Discovered

February 18, 2014

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Archaeologists digging beneath an apartment building in Mexico City have discovered the remains of 12 dogs who were buried sometime between 1350 and 1520 A.D. Dogs were considered sacred animals by the Aztecs, who believed they accompanied human souls to the afterlife. While archaeologists have found isolated dog burials at Aztec sites before, this is the first time multiple dogs have been discovered buried together. "This is definitely a special finding because of the number of dogs and because we have found no connection to a building or with the deceased,” archaeologist Rocio Morales Sanchez told the Associated Press. 

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Medieval "Graffiti" Found in Scottish Castle

February 18, 2014

KILCHOAN, SCOTLAND—An archaeological team doing preservation work at the chapel of Mingary Castle on the west coast of Scotland has discovered markings scratched into the plaster walls. Made sometime between 1265 and 1295, the markings are thought to depict a local lighthouse, a ship, and perhaps the first letter of a name. "They've left messages on the wall and we're reading them," local historian Jon Haylett told BBC Radio Scotland. "It's pretty simple stuff, the sort of marks that would have been made by an illiterate man."

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Bronze Age Woman Unearthed in Scotland

February 14, 2014

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—Landscapers working in the Scottish Highlands discovered a stone burial chest, or cist, capped with a small cairn. A rescue excavation conducted by archaeologists from Guard Archaeology revealed the partial remains of a Bronze Age woman suffering from dental disease. Osteoarchaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick told The Scotsman that “Dental disease in the form of periodontal disease and a cyst were present and are probably symptomatic of poor oral hygiene and are probably secondary to the moderate dental wear observed on most of the teeth.” Otherwise, the woman’s bones showed that she was strong and physically active. She had been buried with an undecorated pottery beaker containing seven fragments of flint.

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Human History, Written on Our Genes

February 14, 2014

OXFORD, ENGLAND—A team of scientists sequenced DNA samples from 1,490 modern people from 95 genetically distinct populations, and developed a statistical method to make inferences about which populations had interbred over the past 4,000 years. Evidence of “mixing events” was found in 80 of the populations, and some of those events coincide with historical records, such as the Hazara people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who had an influx of Mongol DNA around the time that the Mongol Empire expanded. Team member Simon Myers of the University of Oxford told Nature News that he would like to expand the model by using larger sample sizes and by adding ancient DNA samples. “That will give us a deeper understanding of human history,” he explained.

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Stolen Bas-Relief Recovered in Canada

February 14, 2014

MONTREAL, QUEBEC—A fragment of a fifth-century B.C. Persian relief that had been stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011 was recovered by police from a home in Edmonton. Security footage shows a suspect in the museum, but the authorities are not sure how he removed the Persian relief, in addition to a Roman first-century B.C. marble sculpture, from their displays and got them out of the building in broad daylight. The Edmonton man, who has been charged with possessing stolen property and possessing the proceeds of a crime, paid $1,400 for the relief while on a trip to Montreal. “I cannot give you details to how it was purchased because the investigation is still ongoing it might interfere with the next steps of the investigation,” Sgt. Joyce Kemp of the Quebec Provincial Police force told CBC News.

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Bronze Age Burial Uncovered in Scottish Playground

February 13, 2014

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A 4,000-year-old skeleton with worn teeth was uncovered in a school playground. Archaeologists had been looking for traces of a medieval harbor in the village of Newhaven when they found the Bronze Age man, who had been about 50 years old when he died. He was buried in a crouching position with a pottery vessel. His teeth were probably worn from a diet of bread made from stone-ground grain. “We have removed the bones—the skull and bones from the upper body and arms, the pelvis and leg bones. Some of the middle is missing after being disturbed, possibly in the medieval period,” Edinburgh City Council’s archaeology officer, John Lawson, told The Edinburgh Evening News.

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Bottle Gourds Floated to the New World

February 13, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—A new genetic study of bottle gourds, which originated in Africa and have been used as lightweight containers all over the world, indicates that pre-Columbian specimens in the Americas are more closely related to African varieties. It had been thought that migrating humans carried gourds from the Asian subspecies with them over the Bering land bridge into North America, but archaeological evidence for the use of bottle gourds has not been found in Siberia, Alaska, or the Pacific Northwest. Logan Kistler of Pennsylvania State University and his team conclude that the gourds could have floated to the West African coast by river, and then drifted to the New World on Atlantic currents, probably landing on the coast of Brazil, where they took root. “Now, it’s really quite clear that [the bottle gourd] reached the New World under its own steam,” team member Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History told Science.

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3,600-Year-Old Wooden Sarcophagus Discovered in Egypt

February 13, 2014

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s antiquities minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced that a joint Spanish-Egyptian team of archaeologists discovered a wooden sarcophagus dating to 1600 B.C. in Luxor, at the Dra Abul-Naga necropolis. Dubbed the “Feathers Sarcophagus,” the lid of the human-shaped coffin is painted with bird feathers and the titles of the deceased, whose well-preserved mummy is thought to have been a high-ranking official. The shaft of the tomb had been blocked with limestone, protecting its contents from looters in antiquity. José Galan, head of the Spanish team, told Ahram Online that the excavation remains in full swing.

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Early British Farmers Preferred Dairy Foods

February 13, 2014

BRISTOL, ENGLAND--A recent analysis of the chemicals in human bones and residues from cooking pots found at archaeological sites across Britain show that in 4600 B.C., early hunters ate venison, wild boar, and seafood. Researchers from the University of Bristol and of Cardiff University found that when domesticated farm animals were brought to the island some 6,000 years ago, however, Britons abandoned wild foods and seafood in preference of milk and animals that produce it for the next 4,000 years. “Whilst we like to think of ourselves as a nation of fish eaters, with fish and chips as our national dish, it seems that early British farmers preferred beef, mutton and milk,” Jacqui Mulville of Cardiff University told The Australian

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Medieval Mass Grave Unearthed in Florence

February 12, 2014

FLORENCE, ITALY—A mass grave dating to the sixth or seventh century A.D. has been unearthed at a building site in Florence. The 60 bodies, perhaps representing victims of an epidemic, had been laid out head-to-toe, which is often done to maximize space. “We will conduct DNA and carbon-14 tests to determine the cause and time of death, as well as information on diet, pathologies, and work-related stresses at the time,” Tuscany Archaeology Superintendent Andrea Pessina told ANSAmed.

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Clovis Child’s DNA Links Native Americans to Early Ancestors

February 12, 2014

WILSALL, MONTANA—In 1968, the only known Clovis burial site was discovered accidentally on the property of the Anzick family in central Montana. The 12,600-year-old grave, the oldest in North America, contained the skeleton of a small child and some 125 artifacts, including Clovis fluted spear points and tools made from rare elk antlers. Now, DNA obtained from the bones indicates that the Clovis people are direct ancestors to some 80 percent of modern Native Americans. The results also suggest that the Clovis people originated in Asia. “I feel like this discovery confirms what tribes never really doubted—that we’ve been here since time immemorial and that all of the artifacts in the ground are remnants of our direct ancestors,” Shane Doyle of Montana State University told Live Science.

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Viking Code Cracked

February 12, 2014

 

OSLO, NORWAY—Runologist K. Jonas Nordby of the University of Oslo has deciphered the ancient Norse jötunvillur code, found on nine known inscriptions. Nordby used a thirteenth-century stick on which two men had carved their names, Sigurd and Lavrans, in standard runes and in the code. The confusing system requires that the reader have a good working knowledge of the runes in order to swap them out with others for sounds in their names. “What if codes were used like a game, playing with a system? With jötunvillur, you had to learn the names of runes, so I think codes were used in teaching, in learning to write and read runes,” he told The Guardian.

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Richard III’s Genome To Be Sequenced

February 12, 2014

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Turi King of the University of Leicester will sequence Richard III’s genome and analyze the DNA of his mitochondria, along with that of one of his living relatives. The information could tell researchers about the king’s hair, eyes, and possible diseases. The comparison of the mitochondrial DNA taken from Richard III and the relative will examine their relationship through the maternal line. “Sequencing the genome of Richard III is a hugely important project that will help to teach us not only about him, but ferment discussion about how our DNA informs our sense of identity, our past and our future,” King told Culture 24.

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New Dates for Atapuerca Cave Site

February 11, 2014

 BURGOS, SPAIN—A study employing new dating methods and techniques by researchers from the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution shows that the sediments at the Gran Dolina site, where the first remains of Homo antecessor were found, are 900,000 years old, or 120,000 years older than previously thought. “The change might sound very small or very large, but the TD6 stratum is known precisely as having been the place of discovery of the Homo antecessor and this further defines its age,” Josep M. Pares, leader of the study, told Science Daily. The team will attempt to date individual fossils, especially teeth, in the next phase of refining the chronology.

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Roman-Era School Found in Egypt

February 11, 2014

AMHEIDA, EGYPT—A school that eventually became part of a larger house has been identified in the ancient town of Trimithis, located in western Egypt’s Dakhla Oasis, according to a report in Live Science. Texts had been written on the 1,700-year-old school’s walls in Greek. One of the texts refers to The Odyssey, and tells of Helen of Troy giving her guests a drug. Another text advises the students to work hard to develop their rhetorical skills. The school’s rooms were furnished with benches that students could sit on to read, or stand on to write on the walls. 

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