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May 15, 2015

NARA, JAPAN—A tiny amount of pollen from basil plants has been detected at the Makimuku ruins, thought to be the palace of Himiko, the shaman queen of the Yamataikoku kingdom. The pale-colored pollen is more than 1,500 years old and originated in the tropics of Southeast Asia, according to archaeologist Masaaki Kanehara and environmental archaeologist Masako Kanehara of the Nara University of Education. “Basil of Southeast Asian origin could have been brought here as dried medicinal herbs through exchanges with the Chinese,” Masako Kanehara told The Asahi Shimbun. The pollen was recovered from a ditch near a huge burial mound during excavations in 1991. The husband and wife team identified the species of basil by growing about ten different kinds and comparing pollen from the samples to the ancient specimen. Since only a small amount of the pollen was found, basil was probably not cultivated in the area. To read about another pollen study, see "America's Chinatowns: Food."

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May 14, 2015

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA—Nova News Now reports that a section of the nineteenth-century Shubenacadie Canal has been uncovered at the corner of Prince Albert Road and Pleasant Street in Dartmouth. This section of the canal, which linked Halifax to northern Nova Scotia by connecting a series of lakes, carried boats via a pulley powered by a turbine installed in 1862. “It’s very rare,” Terry Gallagher, manager of facility design and construction for the city, said of the surviving piece of machinery. The canal was widely used during the gold rushes of the 1860s but eventually closed in 1871 after a fixed railroad bridge that blocked steamships was built over the canal. The site will be reconstructed and interpreted as part of the Dartmouth Canal Greenway Project. To read more about canals in the Archive, see "The Canal Age."

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May 14, 2015

SISTAN-BALUCHESTAN PROVINCE, IRAN—Archaeologists working in southeastern Iran at the Bronze-Age site known as the Burnt City have uncovered a brick wall standing more than five feet tall. The wall, located at Taleb Khan Mound, dates to the fourth phase of the city, between 2300 and 2100 B.C. Archaeologists also recently recovered intact dishes, bricks bearing fingerprints, and the leg of a small cow figurine made of clay. “This is the most naturalistic artwork from 4,500 years ago. The hoof cleft and the back of the leg have been realistically created and present a unique simulation,” team leader Hossein-Ali Kavosh told Press TV. The 5,200-year-old city was burned three times, but not rebuilt after the last fire. To read in-depth about the Burnt City, see "The World in Between."

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May 14, 2015

REYKJAVÍK, ICELAND—Because of the low population density in Iceland during the Middle Ages, it had been assumed that monks shared parish churches with the people. Last week, British and Icelandic scientists looking for the remains of Þykkvabæjarklaustur in South Iceland found them away from the parish church. Now they are looking for the cloisters at Möðruvellir and MunkaÞverá in North Iceland, and have ruled out possible sites near those parish churches. “I think it is highly unlikely that, when cloisters were established, that churches nearby were used. Because there is so much difference between monastic chapels and parish churches, or home churches. They were the churches of the people, the flock, and not of the cloisters,” archaeologist Steinunn J. Kristjánsdóttir told Iceland Review. It appears that the monks preferred to build their own chapels. To read in-depth about archaeology in Iceland, see "Surviving the Little Ice Age."

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May 14, 2015

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—A new study of a 1,500-year-old skeleton from eastern England confirms that the man, who was probably in his early 20s at the time of death, suffered from leprosy. Changes consistent with the disease can been seen in the narrowing of his toe bones and in damage to his joints. “Not all cases of leprosy can be identified by changes to the skeleton. Some may leave no trace on the bones; other will affect bones in a similar way to other diseases. In these cases the only way to be sure is to use DNA fingerprinting, or other chemical markers characteristic of the leprosy bacillus,” Sonia Zakrzewski of the University of Southampton said in a press release. In this case, the bacterial DNA was in good condition, and the team of scientists, which also included researchers from the University of Leiden and the universities of Birmingham, Surrey, and Swansea, was able to identify the strain of leprosy. It has previously been found in burials from medieval Scandinavia and southern Britain, and is thought to date to the fifth or sixth century A.D. Analysis of isotopes from the man’s teeth show that he probably grew up in northern Europe, so he may have brought the Scandinavian strain of leprosy with him when he came to Britain. “We plan to carry out similar studies on skeletons from different locations to build up a more complete picture of the origins and early spread of this disease,” said team leader Sarah Inskip of the University of Leiden. To read more about the study of diseases in ancient remains, see "Heart Attack of the Mummies."

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May 13, 2015

NANJING, CHINA—Live Science reports that two stone epitaphs recovered from a Ming Dynasty tomb in Nanjing have been translated. The 500-year-old epitaphs tell the story of Lady Mei, whose remains were found in a water-damaged casket, along with gem-encrusted gold bracelets, a fragrance box, and hairpins. Born in 1430, Lady Mei was one of three wives of the Duke of Qian. “Lady Mei was probably a concubine whom he married after he went to guard and rule Yunnan,” researchers led by excavation crew chief Haining Qi wrote in the Chinese journal Wenwu, which has been published in English in Chinese Cultural Relics. She gave birth to a son, who was ten months old when the duke died. The epitaphs say she “was only 21 years of age. She was unwashed and unkempt, and called herself the survivor.” The text praises her for raising the third-generation duke and keeping the household in order. After her son came to power, the well-loved Lady Mei was known as the “Dowager Duchess” until her death in 1474. “On the day of her death, the people of Yunnan, military servicemen or civilians, old and young, all mourned and grieved for her as if their own parents had passed away,” read the epitaphs. To read more about sites in China, see "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."

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May 13, 2015

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Genetic testing of a 40,000-year-old mandible with modern human and Neanderthal traits has revealed that the Oase man’s genome was between five and 11 percent Neanderthal, including large chunks of several chromosomes. Palaeogenomicist Qiaomei Fu of Harvard Medical School and her colleagues analyzed how lengths of DNA inherited from an ancestor shorten with each generation. They estimate that this individual’s Neanderthal ancestor was introduced in the previous four to six generations. The jawbone and one other human bone were discovered among bear remains in a Romanian cave called Peştera cu Oase. Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis has argued that these bones point to inbreeding between humans and Neanderthals. “I guess it’s reassuring at some level that there’s correspondence between what the anatomy is telling us and what the genes are telling us,” he commented in Nature News. And radiocarbon dates suggest that modern humans and Neanderthals may have been in Europe together for up to 5,000 years in some areas. Fu presented her team’s work at the recent Biology of Genomes meeting. To read more about our extinct cousins, see "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

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May 13, 2015

SAN MARCOS, TEXAS—While looking for ships that belonged to Captain Henry Morgan, the notorious English privateer, a team of underwater archaeologists discovered a rare seventeenth-century Spanish shipwreck off the coast of Panama. The Encarnación, built in Veracruz, Mexico, was a ship in Spain’s Tierra Firme fleet, which carried precious metals from the New World to Spain and distributed European goods throughout the Spanish colonies. “These ships were the backbone of the Spanish colonies,” Fritz Hanselmann of Texas State University told National Geographic News. Sixteen such shipwrecks have been found, but the Encarnación is unusual in that it has not been looted and is well preserved. “It is the rise of capitalism, imperialism, rationalism, and the middle classes that are going to buy art and consume literature,” said nautical archaeologist Filipe Castro of Texas A&M University. To read in-depth about the project, see "Pirates of the Original Panamal Canal."

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May 13, 2015

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—An underwater vehicle searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370 has found a shipwreck off the coast of Western Australia in the Indian Ocean. The images taken by the automated underwater vehicle reveal an anchor, a box-shaped object, and black rocks that may be coal scattered across the seabed. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau told The Sydney Morning Herald that the wreck is uncharted. “It’s a fascinating find but it’s not what we’re looking for,” spokesperson Peter Foley said. The information will be passed on to marine archaeologists for further research. To read in-depth about underwater archaeology see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

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May 12, 2015

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—Frank Rühli, director of the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, and his colleagues used body height, which is highly hereditable, to look for possible, non-invasive evidence of incest among 259 Egyptian mummies. Historical sources record the marriages of brothers and sisters, which were believed to preserve the sacred bloodlines of pharaohs descended from the gods. Pharaohs who were married to their sisters, but whose parents were not siblings, were not considered in the study. The team found that the body heights of royals varied less than the body heights of commoners. “Pharaohs varied less in height than men of the common population. This is one indicator of inbreeding,” Rühli told Discovery News. The study showed that pharaohs, overall, were taller than non-royal males from the same time period. Ramses II was the tallest of the pharaohs under investigation. There was little difference in the height of queens and non-royal women, however. The pattern could also reflect the living environment of the wealthy royals. “Average height and height variation reflect very nicely the quality of the environment. So, the very good environment of the royal men might be another reason why their height variation is reduced compared with commoners,” commented Barry Bogin of Loughborough University. He has studied height variation among children from very wealthy families and very poor families.   

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May 12, 2015

HEREFORD, ENGLAND—The remains of a Saxon child estimated to have been between the ages of ten and 12 at the time of death were unearthed at Hereford Cathedral as part of an excavation funded by the Heritage Lottery. At the time of the burial, a Saxon palace is thought to have stood on the site. “We are still investigating it. The child seems to have been a very poorly young person but was buried with dignity,” Andy Boucher of Headland Archaeology told BBC News. The remains of thousands of people buried from the eleventh to the nineteenth centuries were uncovered during the restoration of the church’s grounds. Seven hundred of the better-preserved burials are being studied in more detail, including the remains of a man who may have been a Norman knight. Scientists from Durham University found injuries to his legs consistent with a jousting accident. “The burials provided some fascinating information on the health and stresses of daily life in the middle ages in Hereford,” Boucher added.  To read more about Anglo-Saxon archaeology, see "The Kings of Kent."

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May 12, 2015

LONDON, ENGLAND—An examination of more than 300 rural and urban skeletons from Roman Britain suggests that it was healthier to live in town. “The assumption is always that if you’re living in the countryside it’s healthier. But we found that urban dwellers were more likely to reach old age that their rural counterparts,” Rebecca Redfern of the Museum of London told New Scientist. Redfern and her colleagues studied 150 skeletons from nine rural cemeteries in what is now Dorset in southern England, and found that 29.5 percent of them lived beyond the age of 35. The remainder of the individuals came from urban cemeteries in modern-day Dorchester, or Roman Durnovaria. The bones revealed that 34 percent of the city dwellers lived beyond the age of 35. “The reason they probably lived longer is that small towns like Durnovaria were far less polluted than much larger cities like Rome, and so had relatively small populations and lower housing densities compared with other urban areas in the Roman Empire,” she explained. Children living in town, however, were more likely to die before reaching age ten, and town residents were more likely to suffer from rickets, tuberculosis, and dental disorders—probably due to more wine and preserves in their diets than what was eaten in the country. Many of the country folk were probably serfs and laborers who survived on basic diets. To read more about life in Roman Britain, see "Artifact: Romano-British Brooch."

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