NOVOSIBIRSK, SIBERIA—A stone bracelet unearthed in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia in 2008 is being called the oldest-known jewelry of its kind. Anatoly Derevyanko, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, and the research team believe that the cave’s Denisovan layers were uncontaminated by human activity from a later period. The soil around the two fragments of the jewelry piece was dated with oxygen isotopic analysis to 40,000 years ago. “In the same layer, where we found a Denisovan bone, were found interesting things; until then it was believed these were the hallmark of the emergence of Homo sapiens. First of all, there were symbolic items, such as jewelry, including the stone bracelet as well as a ring, carved out of marble,” Derevyanko told The Siberian Times. Details of the ring have not been released, but the bracelet, fashioned from imported chlorite, is fragile and thought to have been worn only on special occasions by an elite woman or child. “The ancient master was skilled in techniques previously considered not characteristic for the Palaeolithic era, such as easel speed drilling, boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing with a leather and skins of varying degrees of tanning,” Derevyanko said. Wear near a hole drilled on the outer surface of the bracelet suggests that it may have held a leather strap attached to a heavy charm. This wear also suggests that the bracelet was worn on the right wrist. “The bracelet is stunning—in bright sunlight it reflects the sun’s rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green,” he said. To read more about our recently discovered relatives, see "Denisovan DNA."
ÁLFTAVER, ICELAND—Icelandic and British archaeologists employing geosensing techniques have detected the remains of a large building that may be Iceland’s lost Þykkvabær cloister, which housed Augustinian monks from 1168 to 1550. “I think we’ve just hit the jackpot, because I think we’ve discovered the remains of Þykkvabæjarklaustur. It came as a complete surprise, you can say that much. The remains are not on the site it was assumed the cloisters stood,” Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir told Stöð 2 television and reported in The Iceland Review. It had been thought that the cloister would be found near the present-day Þykkvabæjarkirkja church, where researchers have been looking for it. “It is very big compared to the buildings of the time—as it is from the Middle Ages—and the footprint is around 1,500 square meters.” He added that it is possible that the building was the cloister’s cow shed.
PALERMO, SICILY—Restoration of the buildings in the ancient Greek city of Selinunte is scheduled to be finished within the next few months. The projects within the ancient city “call for interventions with innovative materials of the surfaces seen and an improvement and securing of some of the structural parts,” park director Giovanni Leto Barone told ANSA. Walkways from the Acropolis and the Malophoros Sanctuary have been improved, along with the park’s tourist signs. The museum at the site has received upgrades to its electrical, fire-prevention, and air-conditioning systems. To read about the restoration of ancient sites in Italy, see "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."
LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Ruth Young of the University of Leicester and a team of researchers surveyed Hosn Niha, a second-century Roman temple and Roman-Byzantine village in Lebanon that has been heavily damaged by war. German archaeologists described the site in 1938 as “a picture of complete ransacking,” according to a report in Live Science. Military activity and looting later in the twentieth century also took a toll on the site. Even so, Young and the team were able to find enough surviving features and tomb types to learn about the settlement. “What we were trying to do is show that sites that have been quite badly damaged by conflict shouldn’t just be ignored and forgotten,” she said. The researchers used differential GPS to map architectural fragments and then dated the bulldozed piles of pottery fragments. The study suggests that a central village had been established by A.D. 200, and it diminished by the Islamic period, although it is unclear why. The researchers also think that the inhabitants may have grown grapes for wine. “This might explain why they were able to build such big temples. If they were doing wine, they could do it as a cash crop,” explained team member Paul Newson of the American University of Beirut. To read about urban archaeology in Lebanon, see "Rebuilding Beirut."
SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—An inscribed gravestone at a tomb unearthed near the ancient capital of Xi’an identifies the occupant as Wu Jing, a high-profile Confucian doctor who was in charge of local medical services and educating other doctors. The tomb consists of a passage, a door, and a burial chamber. Iron nails, ashes, and bone residue were found, in addition to pottery, jade items, and other artifacts. “The tomb is an important discovery that will shed light on unknown aspects of medical history and social culture in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368),” Duan Yi of Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology told the Xinhua News Agency. The gravestone records the story that Wu Jing once cut flesh from his own arm to feed his sick mother in an act of filial piety.
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Mostafa Min, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, has reportedly approved an old project to build a replica of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The new lighthouse will be erected near the location of the original, which was damaged by a series of earthquakes, on the island of Pharos. “A severe earthquake in 1303 caused a huge destruction of the monument before the Mamluk Sultan Qaitbay in 1480 reused the monument’s ruins to construct a fortress (currently standing and bearing his name) on the original location of the Pharos northwest of Alexandria,” archaeologist Fathy Khourshid told The Cairo Post. He described the building as having three stages: a lower square section with a central core, a middle octagonal section, and a circular section at the top with a mirror to reflect sunlight during the day. At night, sailors entering the harbor at Alexandria would have been guided by a fire at the top of the tower. To read about the search for Alexander the Great's tomb, see "Alexander the Great: King of Macedon."
TEMPE, ARIZONA—Ben Nelson and Debra Martin of Arizona State University have found evidence that the people who lived at Mexico’s La Quemada archaeological site some 1,500 years ago treated the bones of the dead differently, depending upon whether or not they had been enemies in life. The bones date from A.D. 500 to 900, a period of great upheaval due to rapid change after the collapse of Teotihuacan. Bones found outside the site’s fortress show signs of violence, including cut marks, splintering, and burning, all signs of abuse and cannibalism, according to a report in Phys.org. Some of the skulls even had holes bored in them, which seems to suggest that they were hung for enemies to see. Bones found inside the compound also bear cut marks, but they are shallow indentations usually attributed to defleshing and desiccation, both signs of veneration of the dead. These individuals may have been loved ones or ancestors, rather than enemies. Isotope and DNA analysis of the bones could shed more light on the conflict between the groups of people that lived across the Northern Frontier. For more on Teotihuacan, see "Big Data, Big Cities."
SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Chinese archaeologists are excavating “Pit No. 2” at the mausoleum of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, located in the ancient capital of Xi’an. Based upon previous discoveries in the area, archaeologist Yuan Zhongyi anticipates uncovering 1,400 more terracotta warriors and archers, and 90 horse-drawn chariots. In previous excavations, Pit No. 2 has yielded terracotta warrior statues still bearing traces of paint. “Their colorful paint is also relatively well preserved,” he told News.com.au. The excavation team will now use digital scanning to collect information from the site. For more on terracotta warriors from the archive, see "Warriors of Clay."
MADISON, WISCONSIN—Sediment cores from Horseshoe Lake, located in the Mississippi floodplain near the center of Cahokia, and Grassy Lake, roughly 120 miles downstream, provide clues to the rise and fall of the ancient city, according to geographers Samuel Munoz and Jack Williams of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Radiocarbon dating of plant remains and charcoal within the sediment cores helped to create a timeline that includes evidence frequent floods in the Mississippi River valley between A.D. 300 and 600. Archaeological evidence shows that people moved into the floodplain and began to farm during the arid period after A.D. 600, when Cahokia rose to prominence. But after a major flood event in A.D. 1200, the city began to decline. “We are not arguing against the role of drought in Cahokia’s decline but this presents another piece of information,” Munoz said in a press release. Major flooding after A.D. 1200 could have inundated crops and created agricultural shortfalls. “We see some important changes in the archaeology of the site at this time, including a wooden wall that is built around the central precinct of Cahokia. There are shifts in craft production, house size and shape, and other signals in material production that indicate political, social, and economic changes that may be associated with social unrest,” explained research team member Sissel Schroeder.
SANDY CITY, UTAH—An archaeological technician working with a utilities crew in suburban Salt Lake City recognized an ancient pit house while the crew was replacing a gas line. The site, located in Dimple Dell Canyon, yielded the bones of rabbit, deer, and possibly elk; obsidian cutting tools; and a fire pit. The recovered projectile points suggest that the dwelling is between 500 and 1,500 years old, but further testing is needed. The gas company crews rerouted the pipeline to protect the prehistoric dwelling. “They could have gone straight through. But they jogged this way and that way to avoid it,” Terry Wood, president of the Dimple Dell Advisory Board, told The Salt Lake Tribune. Lori Hunsaker, deputy state historic preservation officer, said that the house faced the winter sun and was probably used during the cold months. The creek would have provided water and attracted game.
YAMAGATA, JAPAN—Researchers from Yamagata University think that the Nazca Lines may have been created by two separate groups of people living in Peru’s desert who may have changed their usage of the images over time. The team, led by Masato Sakai, has uncovered 100 images and analyzed their location, style, and method of construction. Four different styles of geoglyphs that tended to be grouped together along different routes that led to the Cahuachi temple complex were identified. Some of the images were made by removing rocks from the interior of the shapes, and others were made by removing the border. The glyphs found along a route that started near the Ingenio River may have been created by people who lived in the Ingenio Valley. Other images depicting supernatural beings and trophy heads were concentrated near the road to Cahuachi in the Nazca Valley and were probably made by a group of people from that region. A third group of images, perhaps made by both groups, was found on the Nazca Plateau, between the two cultures. Glyphs made up until A.D. 200 were probably intended to be seen from the ritual pathways. After A.D. 450, people may have smashed pots on the ground where lines intersect as part of a ritual. “Even after the collapse of the Cahuachi temple, trapezoids and straight lines continued to be made and used,” Sakai told Live Science. In addition, Kiyohito Koyama, the president of Yamagata University, recently met with Diana Alvarez Calderon, Peru’s Minister of Culture, to sign an agreement on academic cooperation and preservation of the Nazca Lines. To read more about archaeology in the Andes, see "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."
QUEENS, NEW YORK—At the Maya site of Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Petén, Guatemala, archaeologist Timothy Pugh of Queens College has found evidence that the city’s ceremonial and residential areas were laid out on a grid pattern. “It’s a top-down organization. Some sort of really, really, powerful ruler had to put this together,” he told Live Science. The early city was in use from 600 B.C. to 300 B.C., a time when the first Maya cities were under construction. Nixtun-Ch’ich’ had a main route that stretched east-west, along a line that is only three degrees off true east. “You get about 15 buildings in an exact straight line—that’s the main ceremonial area,” he said. At the eastern end of the route, there is a group of pyramids and buildings facing each other on a platform, similar to structures found in other early Maya cities. Many of the buildings face east, perhaps to follow the movement of the sun, and many of the buildings were decorated with shiny white plaster. “Most Mayan cities are nicely spread out. They have roads just like this, but they’re not gridded,” Pugh explained. To read more about high-tech mapping of Maya cities, see "Lasers in the Jungle."
SINAI, EGYPT—Egypt’s Minster of Antiquities, Mamdouh El Damaty, announced the discovery of the eastern gate to Tharu Fortress, the headquarters of the Egyptian army during the New Kingdom period, at Tell Habwa on the east bank of the Suez Canal. The Luxor Times reports that three limestone blocks from the huge gate are inscribed with the name of King Ramses II. The fort was one of a series of forts that sat on the Horus Military Route, which protected Egypt’s eastern front. The Egyptian Mission working at the site also uncovered royal warehouses made of mud brick that belonged to Thutmosis III and Ramses II, and some seals bearing the name of Thutmosis III. A cemetery dating the 26th Dynasty was also found. Its tombs contained bodies marked with battle injuries.
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—People first arrived on the Tongan island of Tongatapu around 2,838 years ago, according to a study by Marshall Weisler of the University of Queensland and David Burley of Simon Fraser University. In a new study, Weisler and his colleagues obtained dates for coral abraders, animal bones, shell tools, and charcoal from ovens from 20 Lapita sites across the Tongan archipelago using uranium- and radiocarbon-dating techniques. “We now have a precise chronology for the settlement of Tonga and the radiating out and occupying the islands of Tonga,” he told ABC Science. “Within one human generation or so the first settlers explored the rest of the archipelago and put down additional daughter communities.” The depletion of resources at the original site, the love of seafaring, and even sibling rivalry could have fueled the rapid settlement, he added.
LOLLAND, DENMARK—A pronged spear with a center bone point was uncovered during the construction of a tunnel that will connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland. “It was found obliquely embedded in the seafloor and must have been lost during fishing at some point in the Neolithic,” Line Marie Olesen of the Museum Lolland-Falster told Discovery News. Known as a leister, this Stone Age spear is the first to have been found with the lateral prongs and the bone point still in place. “It tells us, that in some cases at least, the leisters were equipped with a bone point much like present day eel leisters, which implies that the fishing of eel in that respect has not changed much,” Olesen said. Radiocarbon dates for the leister are in the works.
VIZCAYA, SPAIN—Teresa Fernández-Crespo of the University of the Basque Country suggests that late Neolithic and Chalcolithic societies were starting to become hierarchized, based upon data obtained from five megalithic graves in La Rioja and two in Araba-Álava, which together contained the remains of 248 individuals. “We propose that the people buried were intentionally selected,” she said in a press release. “The demographic composition of the megaliths displays significant anomalies with respect to a natural population of an ancient type. The bias identified, which almost systematically affects children under five, but certain adults as well, above all female ones, could be indicating that access to graves was restricted to those people who enjoyed certain rights and privileges only, against what is usually maintained in the traditional archaeological literature,” she said. Isotope analysis of the remains could shed more light on who was buried in the dolmens. Fernández-Crespo and her colleague, Concepción de la Rua, think that people of lower social status may have been buried in as-yet undiscovered natural caves, sheltered spaces under rocks, or pits.
ODENSE, DENMARK—A rune stick dating to the thirteenth century has been unearthed among market stalls buried beneath I. Vilhelm Werners Square in Odense. “The stick itself had the consistency of cold butter before it was conserved, and some little devil of a root has gouged its way along the inscription on one side, which is a bit upsetting,” Lisbeth Imer of the National Museum of Denmark said in a press release reported in Science Nordic. The fragile, round stick was found in three pieces that had been carved with the words “good health” and “Tomme his servant,” thought to refer to the owner of the stick as a servant of God. The stick may have been worn as a talisman.
GHENT, BELGIUM—Musket balls thought to be from some of the first shots fired in the Battle of Waterloo have been discovered by a team led by Tony Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. “The full team has only been working on site for two days and we have made some very interesting discoveries. In particular, we have started a comprehensive survey, including metal detecting, of the area of the former wood to the south of the Hougoumont buildings and we have already found spent and unfired musket shots at the southern-most tip of the wood, also fragments of firearms and clothing such as uniform buttons,” he said in a press release. The French and Allied armies exchanged fire in these woods during the night before the battle. “Today, we have the technology to scan these lands efficiently in sufficient detail to direct archaeological excavations. The opportunity to do this jointly with veterans from a regiment who played a key role at the battle, the Coldstream Guards, is unique and adds an impressive social dimension to this project,” added Marc Van Meirvenne of Ghent University. To read in-depth about archaeology at Waterloo, see "A Soldier's Story."
POCKLINGTON, ENGLAND—One of 38 square barrows unearthed at an Iron Age cemetery in Yorkshire has yielded the skeleton of a man of the Arras culture who had been buried on his shield. Jewelry and a sword have also been recovered from the site. “Naturally we’re still investigating our findings, so at present we aren’t able to share much more detail—however we’re looking forward to learning more and understanding what these new discoveries mean for the local area,” Paula Ware of MAP Archaeological Practice told The Pocklington Post. The site is being excavated ahead of the construction of a housing development. To read about an Iron Age chariot burial discovered in northern England, see "Riding Into the Afterlife."
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Analysis of the isotope ratios of lead and strontium in tooth enamel from people who lived 4,000 years ago in the Indus Valley shows that they had not been born in Harappa, where they had been buried. This study looked at different tooth types in order to get an idea of where the people were living at different times in their lives, and the chemical signatures of water, fauna, and rocks of the time, and found that they had been born in the hinterland. “Previous work had thought the burial sites represented local, middle-class people. There was no notion that outsiders were welcomed and integrated by locals within the city. It’s not clear why certain young hinterland people were sent to the city,” biological anthropologist John Krigbaum of the University of Florida said in a press release. To read in-depth about a contemporary civilization in Iran, see "The World in Between."