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.
BRIDGEVILLE, CALIFORNIA—Scott Bauer of California Fish and Wildlife discovered an ancient village while investigating a marijuana-growing operation. Today’s growers are looking for the same things that Native Americans wanted in a settlement or camp site: southern exposure, warm weather, and water sources. “The activity of the marijuana cultivation out there damaged what had been a pretty large archaeological site. Now, it’s just kind of a big jumbled mess,” he said. Among the artifacts he found were a broken pestle and a broken spear head.
UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA--As many as three-fourths of the hand stencils found in caves in southern France and northern Spain were made by females, according to an analysis of the size of the handprints conducted by Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University. “When scaled against modern hands, stencils from 32 caves in France and Spain tended to fall near the ends of that continuum, suggesting that sexual dimorphism (the difference between male and female) was more pronounced during the Upper Paleolithic,” he said. “It wasn’t just a bunch of guys out there chasing bison around,” Snow added.
SEVILLE, SPAIN—A rare plant that grows along the coast in the eastern Mediterranean has been identified as the maternal ancestor of Reseda odorata, whose flowers were used by the Romans to concoct perfumes. “The location of one of the parts of its origin (the mother species), provides information about the evolutionary mechanisms which produce species which are later useful to humankind,” said Pedro Jiménez Mejías of the Pablo de Olavide University. Jiménez thinks that botanists may find new areas where the plant grows, in addition to Crete, Cyprus, and southern Turkey.
MONTREAL, CANADA—A team of archaeologists and students from the University of Montreal’s Center of Classical Studies and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports is excavating a 2,700-year-old portico at the ancient city of Argilos in northern Greece. “Porticos are well known from the Hellenistic period, from the third to first century B.C., but earlier examples are extremely rare. The one from Argilos is the oldest example to date from northern Greece and is truly unique,” explained Jacques Perreault of the University of Montreal. Argilos was a thriving Greek colony in the fifth century B.C., fed by the gold and silver mines in the valley of the Strymon River. Five of the portico’s rooms have been excavated; the variety of stones and construction techniques used in the building suggest that each shop was built by a different mason. Eventually, the city was deserted in 357 B.C., when Philip II conquered the region and deported the residents to nearby Amphipolis.
ROSTOV OBLAST, RUSSIA—A carved slab discovered in a Bronze Age burial mound in the Ukraine is said to be the oldest sundial of its kind ever found. Larisa Vodolazhskaya of Russia’s Southern Federal University analyzed markings on both sides of the stone and found that the elliptical pattern on one side is consistent with an analemmatic sundial that could keep time in half-hour increments. “The [markings] are made for the geographic latitude at which the sundials were found,” she said. The 3,000-year-old sundial would have been adjusted to the changing position of the sun every day, requiring a sophisticated understanding of geometry by the people of the Srubnaya culture. The other side of the stone is carved with two sundials, one of which would not have kept time.
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—Tooth wear and the age of the individual at the time of death can modify the shape of a hominid’s mandible, according to Ann Margvelashvili of the University of Zurich. She and her team examined four 1.77 million-year-old jaws discovered at the site of Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia, and found that that the high degree of variation among the individuals’ teeth could be attributed to gum disease and the use of toothpicks. “Progressive tooth wear triggers bone remodeling processes that substantially modify the shape of the jaw during an individual’s lifetime. These effects are typically underestimated when attributing fossil hominid jaws to different species,” she explained.
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA—Bolivian and Belgian underwater archaeologists from the Huinaimarca Project recovered more than 2,000 objects from Lake Titicaca. Among the artifacts were 31 gold fragments that were found near the Isla del Sol, where tradition holds that the founders of the Inca Empire emerged from the water. They also found 1,500-year-old stone vessels, incense containers, and figurines, and pots estimated to be between 500 and 800 years old.
HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND—A new analysis of the entire mitochondrial genomes of people from Europe and the Near East suggests that European women were the principal female founders of the Ashkenazim of Central and Eastern Europe. It had been thought that the four major lineages of mitochondrial DNA among the Ashkenazi originated in the Near East, and that communities of Jewish men and women migrated to Europe together. But now it appears that Jewish men traveled from the Near East to Europe and took local wives who then converted to Judaism. “Thus the great majority of Ashkenazi maternal lineages were not brought from the Levant, as commonly supposed,” concluded the team led by Martin B. Richards of the University of Huddersfield.