BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—An international team of scientists has identified a set of genetic mutations involved in fat metabolism in nearly 100 percent of the Inuit, whose traditional diet is high in marine animal fat. The mutations are thought to be at least 20,000 years old, and may have helped people adapt to high-meat, high-fat diets. “We think it is a quite old selection that may have helped humans adapt to the environment during the last Ice Age, but the selection is far stronger in the Inuit than anywhere else. It’s fascinating that Greenlanders have a unique genetic makeup that lets them better use their traditional food sources,” Matteo Fumagalli of University College London said in a press release from the University of California, Berkeley. Only two percent of Europeans and 15 percent of Han Chinese carry these mutations. For more about the archaeology of the High Arctic, go to "Cultural Revival."
VIENNA, MARYLAND—Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the Maryland State Highway Administration, notes that the late eighteenth-century merchant ship raised from the Nanticoke River last month may have been built by enslaved workers or indentured servants. “The workmanship isn’t that of professional builders,” she told The Dorchester Banner. “At least three curious or strange carvings have been found. We don’t know what they mean. Usually when you see carvings on a ship, they were put there during the construction process, usually Roman numbers, but these were different. There are two geometric patterns (carvings) that no one in our team of underwater archaeologists and maritime historians had ever seen before,” she said. The small ship may have been used to move tobacco, farm goods, or even livestock from larger ships to plantations and merchants.
FRANKFURT, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that a construction project in Frankfurt has found the remains of 200 French soldiers thought to have died in 1813 after returning from Russia with Napoléon Bonaparte’s Grande Armée. The men may have been killed in battle or may have died in a typhus epidemic. According to Andrea Hampel, director of heritage and historic monuments in Frankfurt, their bodies had been placed in coffins and buried hastily without funeral articles. As many as 15,000 people are thought to have died in battles in the Frankfurt area in October 1813.
SIPPY DOWNS, AUSTRALIA—Geographer Patrick Nunn of the University of the Sunshine Coast and linguist Nick Reid of the University of New England studied Aboriginal stories from 21 different places around the coastline of Australia. The stories described a time when sea levels were significantly lower than they are today, some 7,000 years ago. “These stories talk about a time when the sea started to come in and cover the land, and the changes this brought about to the way people lived—the changes in landscape, the ecosystem, and the disruption this caused to their society,” Nunn said in a press release. “It is important to note that it’s not just one story that describes this process. There are many stories, all consistent in their narrative, across 21 diverse sites around Australia’s coastline.” Nunn thinks that the information survived for so long because it was vital. “I believe these stories endured that long partly due to the harshness of Australia’s natural environment, which meant that each generation had to pass on knowledge to the next in a systematic way to ensure its survival,” he concluded.
KOSTKOWICE, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that fragments from at least six skeletons dating to the fourth century A.D. have been found in Hanged Man Cave in the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland of south-central Poland, also known as the Polish Jura. Pottery, pendants made of silver, gold, and amber, Roman coins, clasps, and silver and amber beads resembling artifacts from the northern coast of the Black Sea were also found in the cave. Three crematory burials from the same time period were found near the cave. These remains and artifacts, including a bronze clasp, metal belt, bronze comb, and pottery, had been placed directly in shallow holes in the ground. The researchers, led by Marcin Rudnicki of Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, speculate that the differences in the burials may reflect the social positions of the deceased. “It is quite a surprising discovery because ties between the Germanic population in the late fourth century to the areas west of the Upper Vistula River have not been considered until now. The nature of these contacts remains a mystery,” added Aleksander Bursche, coordinator of the project for Poland’s National Center for Science. To read more, go to "Pagan Warrior's Tomb Unearthed in Poland."
LIMA, PERU—An intact tomb containing the remains of two high priests has been discovered in the Cajamarca region of Peru by a team of Peruvian and Japanese researchers led by archaeologist Yuji Seki. Daniel Morales, co-director of the project, said that the 2,700-year-old tomb of the Pacopampa culture is being called the Tomb of the Serpent-Jaguar Priests because of a ceramic vessel in the shape of a serpent with a jaguar’s head that was found near one of the bodies. The other individual had been buried with a necklace of 13 oval-shaped gold beads engraved with figure eights. The tomb sits near a large square surrounded by stone walls accessed with two staircases. “Finding these remains in the same place where rituals and feasts were held, we assume they could have been priests in charge of ceremonies during this culture’s peak, between 800 and 500 B.C.,” Morales explained to The Latin American Herald Tribune. To read more, go to "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."
FRANKFURT, GERMANY—A team from Goethe University is excavating a village built on the foundations of a Roman fort near Gernsheim in the Hessian Ried. The cohort of soldiers dismantled the fort, filled in its defensive ditches, and left the site around A.D. 120, when they were transferred from the Rhine to the frontier. “A temporary downturn probably resulted when the troops left—this is something we know from sites which have been studied more thoroughly,” team leader Thomas Maurer said in a press release. The researchers uncovered the foundation of a stone building, fire pits, two wells, and cellars. “We’ve also found real treasures such as rare garment clasps, several pearls, parts of a board game (dice, playing pieces) and a hairpin made from bone and crowned with a female bust,” said Maurer. The town’s residents were probably mostly of Gallic-Germanic origins, but some Roman citizens from other parts of the empire may have lived there as well, since pieces of traditional dress, and coins that were not in circulation in Germania Superior, have been found. One of the coins came from Bithynia, located in northwestern Anatolia, and may have been a souvenir. To read about the rise of Roman power, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."
LONDON, ENGLAND—Sixteen pyramids sitting atop tombs have been unearthed since 1998 in a large cemetery near the ancient town of Gematon in Sudan. The largest was about 35 feet long on each side and would have stood some 43 feet tall. “So far, we’ve excavated six made out of stone and 10 made out of mud brick,” Derek Welsby of the British Museum told Live Science. Other tombs in the 2,000-year-old cemetery were topped with rectangular structures known as mastabas, or piles of rocks called tumuli. Most of the tombs at the site have been looted, but one yielded a royal tin-bronze offering table bearing a scene showing a prince or priest offering incense and libations to the god Osiris, ruler of the underworld. Osiris and the goddess Isis, who is also shown in the image, originated in Egypt, but they were also venerated in Kush. Gematon was eventually abandoned as trade routes changed and the economy of the Roman Empire deteriorated. To read more about Kushite pyramids, go to "Miniature Pyramids of Sudan."
LONDON, ENGLAND—Science reports from the meeting of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution that new dates have been obtained for Siberia’s Denisova Cave, where a tiny finger bone representing a girl from a new human species was discovered. At the time, the dates obtained from animal bones and artifacts from the cave ranged between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago. Geochronologist Tom Higham of the University of Oxford has re-dated the sequence using 20 samples of cut-marked bones and ornaments from the cave. Oxford archaeologist Katerina Douka reported that the finger bone was likely older than 48,000 to 50,000 years, the limit of radiocarbon dating. Nuclear and mitchondrial DNA from several Denisovan molars have also been analyzed by Viviane Slon and her colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The nuclear DNA showed that the inhabitants of the cave were not closely related. Mutations in the mitochondrial DNA were used to estimate when the individuals lived. The oldest Denisovan died in the cave at least 110,000 years ago, and the girl whose pinky finger bone was discovered lived some 65,000 years later. “You can seriously see it’s a valid species,” commented Fred Spoor of University College London. For more, go to "Denisovan DNA."
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND—Early human ancestors started foraging for food on the ground some 400,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to a new study of the teeth of human ancestors and an array of animals from the Afar region of Ethiopia. The research team, led by Naomi E. Levin of Johns Hopkins University, analyzed the morphology of the teeth and their carbon isotopes in order to determine what kinds of foods the creatures were eating. The results for both human ancestors and a now-extinct species of baboon suggest that the switch from foods from trees and shrubs to grass-based foods, including the tissues of animals that ate grasses such as birds and insects, happened about 3.8 million years ago. “The results not only show an earlier start to grass-based food consumption among hominins and baboons but also indicate that form does not always precede function. In the earliest baboons, dietary shift toward grass occurred before its teeth were specialized for grazing,” Levin explained in a press release. The change in diet would have made human ancestors more resilient to habitat change, she added. For more on human ancestors, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."
FRANKFURT, GERMANY—In 1992, archaeologists recovered the remains of two children in a single coffin under Frankfurt Cathedral. A new report on the discovery reveals that the children were approximately four years old at the time of death, which occurred between A.D. 700 and 730. One of the children had been dressed in a tunic and shawl in the style of Merovingian nobility, with gold, silver, bronze, and precious stone jewelry, while the other had been cremated in a bearskin, according to Scandinavian customs of the time. This child had a necklace resembling a Scandinavian amulet. The grave had been placed near a small church, and was still being honored some 100 years later, when a palace chapel was constructed and aligned with it. “We don’t know exactly why they were honored, that’s the real question, Egon Wamers, director of the Frankfurt Archaeological Museum, told The Local, Germany. For more, go to "Dark Age Necropolis Unearthed."
MASZKOWICE, POLAND—Beneath the remains of a Bronze Age settlement, a team from Jagiellonian University, led by Marcin S. Przybyla, has unearthed Poland’s oldest-known stone wall. “In the whole of Central Europe there are only a dozen sites dated so early with more or less well-preserved stone fortifications. At that time, the use of stone as a building material was typical of the Mediterranean areas. In the temperate zone of Europe, until the Middle Ages, fortifications were built with wood and clay,” Przybyla explained in Science & Scholarship in Poland. A figurine from the site resembles statuettes usually found in Mycenaean Greece and the northern Balkans and offers another link to Bronze Age civilizations of the Mediterranean. The structure, which has been dated to between 1750 and 1690 B.C., was built on the top of a hill that had been flattened and expanded. The sandstone walls of the fortress, thought to have been nearly nine feet tall based upon the measurements of fallen rocks, were held together with clay. A deep, narrow trench and a narrow gate were also part of the site’s defense system. To read more about the Bronze Age, go to "The Minoans of Crete."
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND—An international team of anthropologists and earth scientists led by Sally Reynolds of Bournemouth University has made a model of the ancient landscape of the Olorgesailie region of the Kenyan Rift. “By reconstructing the topographic setting in the area and examining the trace nutrients in soils there now and interviewing local Maasai leaders about current animal grazing activities, we were able to build up a picture of animal movements around one million years ago,” Reynolds said in a press release. She and the team of researchers found that the topography provided limited routes for large animals to travel through the grazing areas, and high ground for human ancestors to watch them. The placement of butchered remains and stone tool sites on the landscape suggest that the early humans exploited these limited pathways to practice ambush hunting. “These were fearsome, aggressive animals. From my perspective that tells us that the hominins were organized, they were able to communicate a plan to each other. These are not the sort of animals that you can hunt alone,” she said on a video clip.
PALERMO, SICILY—The skeletons of two men thought to have been buried in the seventh-century A.D. have been unearthed by a team from the University of Palermo near the Temple of Concordia in Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples. The valley is known for its seven well-preserved Greek temples. “The find is important because it shows a human presence in the city during the post-classical age,” Valentina Caminneci, an archaeologist at Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples, told The Local, Italy. Further investigations could reveal if a Christian cemetery was placed in front of the temple after it was converted into a Christian basilica by the archbishop Gregory of Agrigento.
BURGAS, BULGARIA—A bronze medallion decorated with early Christian imagery has been found in the excavation of the sixth-century A.D. Burgos Fortress, located on Cape Foros in the Black Sea city of Burgas. On the obverse, a central cross covered with white enamel is surrounded by seven more crosses surrounded by yellow glass paste. On the reverse of the medallion, archaeologists have found traces of wood, indicating that it had been attached to a wooden object. “There is enough evidence that these kinds of medallions adorned boxes or wooden covers of liturgical books. That is why, at the present stage we assume that the medallion from Foros adorned the cover of a gospel book or a box used for keeping a liturgical item such as a book or a chalice,” the archaeological team from the Burgas Regional Museum of History said at a press conference reported in Archaeology in Bulgaria. The medallion resembles an altar decoration at the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. To read about another example of early Christian imagery, go to "Artifact: Late Roman Amulet."
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Occupation patterns in prehistoric Australia are closely linked to climate trends, according to a study conducted by Alan Williams of Australia National University and Peter Veth of the University of Western Australia. They used radiocarbon dates from more than 1,000 prehistoric campfire sites to track Australia’s ancient population levels. “Demographic models suggest populations may have been quite high before the last ice age,” Veth told Science Network: Western Australia. They then compared these results with the climate change profiles from a recent study of Australia’s palaeoclimate conducted by the OZ-INTIMATE (Australasian INTegration of Ice core, Marine, and TErrestrial records) Project. They found that the population remained steady or perhaps even declined from 25,000 years ago, during the Last Glacial Maximum, when temperatures were about ten degrees cooler. “Then with the restructure in population and possibly lower carrying capacity for large portions of the continent that became more arid, population levels of demography may actually have become more negative,” he explained. When the wet season returned in the north some 13,000 years ago, campfire numbers began to grow again. For more on prehistoric Australia, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."
COLLOONEY, IRELAND—Heavy rains and winds in County Sligo toppled a beech tree and exposed the Christian burial of a teenage boy who lived during the early medieval period, sometime between A.D. 1030 and 1200. “The upper part of the skeleton was raised into the air trapped within the root system. The lower leg bones, however, remained intact in the ground. Effectively as the tree collapsed, it snapped the skeleton in two,” archaeologist Marion Down of Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services said in a statement reported in Discovery News. The teen once stood more than 5’ 10” tall, making him taller than average for the time. He had mild spinal joint disease, probably from a life of physical labor. The skeleton also showed evidence of two stab wounds. “Whether he died in battle or was killed during a personal dispute, we will never know for sure,” Dowd said. No other skeletons have been found in the area. To read about a medieval mass grave found in England, go to "Vengance on the Vikings."
LONDON, ENGLAND—Science reports that paleogeneticist Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has sequenced nuclear DNA from fossils recovered from the Sima de los Huesos, or “Pit of Bones,” in Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains. The 300,000 to 400,000-year-old fossils had been classified as members of Homo heidelbergensis, which resemble primitive Neanderthals, by paleontologist Juan-Luis Arsuaga of the Complutense University of Madrid, but a study of their mitochondrial DNA, inherited through the maternal line, showed that it more closely matched the mitochondrial DNA of Denisovans. Now Meyer and his team have been able to generate enough base pairs from the ancient nuclear DNA to see that the Sima fossils share a close affinity with Neanderthals. “Indeed, the Sima de los Huesos specimens are early Neanderthals or related to early Neanderthals,” Meyer said at the annual meeting of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution. The results also suggest that the lineage that gave rise to Neanderthals split from other archaic humans earlier than had been thought. The Denisovan mitochondrial DNA found in the Simos fossils may thus have been the result of interbreeding between species. To read more about discoveries at Sima de los Huesos, go to "A Place to Hide the Bodies."
CORNWALL, ENGLAND—Geophysical surveys “seem to be showing a very large mass burial pit” on the Cornish coast, archaeologist Jim Parry from the National Trust told BBC News. The pit may hold the remains of 207 sailors who died when HMS Royal Anne sank at Lizard Point in 1721. The ship had been sailing to Barbados when it was caught in a storm and crashed on the rocks. Planned excavations at the site, located in a valley at Pistil Meadow where the shore can be accessed, could reveal “the preservation of skeletal material,” Parry said. To read about maritime archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—WUFT-FM reports that archaeologists from the University of Florida have traveled to St. Augustine, where they relocated a 1677 mission church, first discovered by a Catholic mission priest in 1951. The church is thought to have been part of the Nombre De Dios Mission, which dates to 1587. According to Gifford Waters of the Florida Museum of Natural History, the church was built of coquina stone and tabby foundations, and was one of the largest churches in colonial Spanish Florida. Inside the buildings at the mission, the research team has recovered Spanish artifacts such as nails and pottery, and Native American artifacts. “So we’re looking at the interior of these buildings to get a better idea of the daily activities and what’s going on inside the structure. There’s not much written about the daily lives of the Native Americans that were here,” Waters said in a video clip. To read about another mission in northern Florida, go to "Off the Grid: Mission San Luis."