ATLANTA, GEORGIA—Marks on a pair of 3.4-million-year-old animal bones found at the site of Dikka, Ethiopia, appear to have been caused by butchering with stone tools, argue Jessica Thompson of Emory University and her colleagues in the Journal of Human Evolution. The new study uses statistical analysis of marks on more than 4000 bones found at the same site to refute a claim made by other scientists in 2011 that the marks were caused by incidental trampling. The bones date to long before the emergence of the genus Homo and appear to significantly push back the evidence for the earliest known instance of large animal butchering. "Our analysis shows with statistical certainty that the marks on the two bones in question were not caused by trampling," Thompson said in a press release. "While there is abundant evidence that other bones at the site were damaged by trampling, these two bones are outliers. The marks on them still more closely resemble marks made by butchering." To read about the earliest known stone tools, go to “The First Toolkit.”
BORNHOLM, DENMARK—University of Warsaw archaeologists are joining excavations at the site of Vasagard on the Island of Bornholm. Specialists believe that some 5,500-years ago, a temple complex stood at the site that may have been used for rituals associated with sun worship. Stone disks inscribed with images of sun rays have been discovered there and the complex had an entrance that was aligned in the direction of the solstice sunrise. This summer archaeologists unearthed several ditches at the site, which may have held remains that were taken to burial chambers once they had decomposed. "In the ditches we find large amounts of pottery, animal bones and damaged stone sun discs,” archaeologist Janusz Janowski told Science and Scholarship in Poland. “The function of the latter has not been fully explained yet." To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to "Bronze Age Traveler."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—An international team of scientists has discovered graffiti on the walls of Dayu Cave in central China describing the effect of several periods of drought spanning from 1520 to 1920, according to a press release from the University of Cambridge. An inscription from 1528, for example, reads: "Drought occurred in the 7th year of the Emperor Jiajing period, Ming Dynasty. Gui Jiang and Sishan Jiang came to Da'an town to acknowledge the Dragon Lake inside in Dayu Cave." The researchers also analyzed stable isotopes and trace elements in cave formations such as stalagmites for indications of annual rainfall levels and found that they attested to low rainfall during the periods when droughts were recorded in the cave writings. To read about the mysterious disappearance of a Bronze Age Chinese civilization, go to “Seismic Shift.”
MOSCOW, RUSSIA—The Daily Mail reports that during construction of a new airport near the city of Rostov-on-Don, a team led by the Russian Institute of Archaeology’s Roman Mimohod unearthed a 2,000-year-old unlooted burial of a Sarmatian noblewoman. A nomadic people who occupied the steppes north of the Black Sea from the fifth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D., the Sarmatians were famous in the ancient world for their woman warriors, who are thought to have inspired the Amazons of Greek mythology. More than 100 iron arrowheads were discovered in the grave, along with a gem with a Phoenician or Aramaic inscription, and a number of pieces of gold jewlery, which date from an unusually long period of time, from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D. "It is rather unique, I have not see such a combination before and have not heard about it, “ said Mimohod in a press release. "This can mean that the most ancient things were handed down for a long time and finally were buried with this noble woman." To read about a similar discovery, go to "Scythian Treasure Site Discovered."
MARYPORT, ENGLAND—Archaeologists digging at a Roman settlement in northwestern England have found a rare piece of rock crystal that might have been the centerpiece of a ring, reports BBC Cumbria. Dating to the second or third century A.D., the back of the crystal appears to have been carved with a depiction of a bearded man. It is just one of several important artifacts to have emerged from the site, a civilian settlement that was associated with a fort that was one of the outposts guarding Hadrian’s Wall, which long marked the frontier of Roman Britain. To read about another remarkable artifact unearthed on the Romano-British frontier, go to “Artifact: Roman Birthday Party Invite.”
BUTTE, MONTANA—A team of University of Montana archaeologists is at work in the historic Butte neighborhood known as the Cabbage Patch searching for Prohibition-era artifacts left behind by widows who took on the role of bootleggers. The impoverished village was occupied by lower class mining families, mainly Lebanese immigrants, during the Prohibition Era. Widows who lost their husbands to mining accidents were known to take up the making of moonshine just to get by, often with the tacit approval of law enforcement. Led by archaeologist Kelli Casias, the team plans on excavating three sites in Butte before moving on to Anaconda, another mining town to the northwest. Should they find enough artifacts from the era, “it'll change our perspective on Prohibition," Casias told NBC News Montana. "It will change the whole story completely." For more on the archaeology of immigrant settlements in the West, go to "America's Chinatowns."
LONDON, ENGLAND—Continuing work on the Crossrail high-speed rail line for southern England has kept archaeologists in London busy at Bedlam burial ground, the site of the new Liverpool Street station—more than 3,500 hundred skeletons have been found this year alone. New images and a 360-degree video of the bodies of 30 possible victims of the Great Plague of 1665 uncovered at the burial ground have revealed that all the bodies were likely buried on the same day. “This mass burial is very likely a reaction to a catastrophic event,” project archaeologist Jay Carver told Culture 24, explaining why they grave differs from the individual burials also uncovered in the cemetery. To read about another massive graveyard and what it reveals about conditions in 19th-century London, go to “Haunt of the Resurrection Men.”
ROME, ITALY—Archaeologists have been working on the Palatine Hill in Rome for decades, trying to uncover evidence of the city’s earliest history. This summer’s excavations on the northeast slope have unearthed the foundations of one of those early buildings, a part of a part of a sixth-century B.C. structure, according to a report in the New York Times. While the sixth-century date is impressively early, in fact the sanctuary, called the Curiae Veteres, of which the building was a part likely dates back to the eighth-century B.C., at the very time of Rome’s foundation in 753 B.C. The Curia Veteres was in continuous use for twelve centuries, according to excavation director Clementina Panella, until pagan cults were banned when the Roman Empire became Christianized. To read about new work being in done in the Domus Aurea, the largest palace in ancient Rome, got to “Golden House of an Emperor.”
ESSEX, ENGLAND—A 350-year old gun carriage has been brought to the surface from the wreckage of The London, the warship that in 1660 carried Charles II from the Netherlands to restore him to the throne of England. The ship blew up in 1665 when gunpowder that had been stored on board caught fire. The ship now rests in two parts near Southend Pier in Essex. Historic England and Cotswold Archaeology are recovering what they can of the ship, before it is lost to sea worms and changing currents brought on by climate change. “This 350-year-old gun carriage is in near-perfect condition but is a national treasure at risk. Unless we recover it quickly, it may break up and be lost,” maritime archaeologist Alison James of Historic England said in a press release. To read about two other historic shipwrecks, go to "Mary Rose and Vasa."
FLEMINGSBERG, SWEDEN—The figurehead of a fifteenth-century warship that belonged to Denmark’s King Hans has been lifted from the Baltic Sea by a team from Blekinge Museum and Södertörn University. The creature, carved at the end of an 11-foot-long beam, has lion ears and a crocodile-like mouth holding what appears to be a person. “No similar item from the fifteenth century has ever been found anywhere in the world,” Marcus Sandekjer, head of the Blekinge Museum, told Discovery News. The ship, named Gribshunden, or “Grip Dog,” was anchored in the Swedish town of Ronneby when it sank after a fire in 1495. To read more about the archaeology of ships, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN—The Telegraph reports that skeletal remains believed to have belonged to a woman who lived between the eleventh century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. have been unearthed in southern Kazakhstan. She had been buried with arrows, a small knife placed near her right hand, and a sword near her left hand, suggesting that she was a warrior who may have been a leader in the ancient Kanguy state. She had also been buried with pots and bowls. The find will be put on display in the National Museum of Kazakhstan.
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA—Pottery, a handmade nail, and an aglet from sixteenth-century clothing are evidence of the presence of early English settlers, according to a press conference held by members of the First Colony Foundation reported in The News & Observer. The artifacts were discovered some 60 miles away from Roanoke Island, where the first English settlers landed in 1587. Their leader, John White, left the island for supplies, and when he returned in 1590, he found only the word “Croatoan” carved in a fence post, and the letters “CRO” left on a tree. With the help of new information from a map of the area drawn by White, the team excavated a place they call Site X and found a kind of sixteenth-century pottery known as Border ware, which was probably made in northern England and was used to store fish for sea voyages. They also uncovered other colonial-era artifacts, including a food-storage jar, a hook for stretching fabric or hides, and pieces of early gun flintlocks. The team thinks that the colonists left their settlement in two waves—first a small group of men, followed by a larger group of men, women, and children. “There’s a lot more unknown to be discovered. The future before us is one of still searching, still researching,” said Phil Evans, president of the foundation. For more on colonial-era archaeology, go to "Chilling Discovery at Jamestown."
AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists are excavating the Dreghorn trenches, which were dug by local soldiers as part of their training for battle. The training trenches were shallower than expected, but the dirt from them had been used to build ramparts, which would have provided extra protection. Sloping sides would have helped the troops “going over the top.” According to Tom Lovekin of AOC Archaeology, the trenches have provided some insight into how they were used. The evidence suggests that the Army kept the trenches clean and the troops did not camp out in them overnight. “We did recover a single bullet casing from the fill of one of the trenches, which we believe is from a Lee-Enfield rifle. This was the standard British infantry weapon from 1895 until 1957, which indicates that the trenches cold have been used for training in preparation for both the First and Second World Wars,” Lovekin said in a press release. For more on the archaeology of WWI, go to "Anzac's Next Chapter."
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—The bell from the British battlecruiser HMS Hood has been recovered from the floor of the Denmark Strait by a team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. In May 1941, Hood exploded and sank after it was hit by the German battleship Bismark. Only three of the 1,418 crew members survived. Allen’s team used a remotely operated vehicle to retrieve the bell. Once the restoration is complete, it will become part of a display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy and a memorial to its fallen World War II-era sailors. “For the 1,415 officers and men who lost their lives in HMS Hood on 24 May 1941, the recovery of her bell and its subsequent place of honor in the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth will mean that future generations will be able to gaze upon her bell and remember with gratitude and thanks the heroism, courage, and personal sacrifice of Hood’s ship’s company who died in the service of their country,” Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, president of the HMS Hood Association, said in a statement reported in USNI News. For more, go to "The Archaeology of WWII."
HAIFA, ISRAEL—A wreck discovered in 1976 may be the Baron de Rothschild’s long-lost ship, according to new research conducted by Deborah Cvikel and Micky Holtzman of the University of Haifa. The Baron had three ships that carried raw materials from France to his glass factory on the Mediterranean coast in the late nineteenth century in order to produce bottles for a winery at Zichron Yaacov. “We know that two of the Baron’s three ships were sold, but we have no information concerning the third ship. The ship we have found is structurally consistent with the specifications of the Baron’s ships, carried a similar cargo, and sailed and sank during the right period,” Cvikel and Holtzman said in a press release. Earlier excavations of the wreck found pots and tiles stamped with factory marks that helped the researchers participating in the current project to date the ship. One of the pots also contained traces of a chemical used in the production of glass. “This ship could certainly be one of dozens of similar ships that plied the coasts of Palestine during this period. However, there seem to be more than a few items that connect it with Zichron Yaacov, with the glass factory at Tantura, and with the Baron’s Ships. Perhaps we can now conclude that the third ship was not sold and condemned to obscurity like its sisters, but sank with its cargo still onboard,” they said. For more on underwater archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
TUSCON, ARIZONA—Nicholas Reeves, currently at the University of Arizona, was examining ultra-high resolution images of Tutankhamun’s tomb when he noticed fissures and cracks in two places on its walls. He suggests that the cracks reveal the presence of two passages that were blocked and then plastered and painted over. Reeves thinks that one of the passages probably leads to a storeroom, while the other, which aligns with both sides of the tomb’s entrance chamber, may open to a corridor and a queen’s burial chamber. As he told The Economist, such an arrangement is typical of tombs built for Egyptian queens. Reeves adds that Tutankhamun’s tomb is smaller than other kings’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings, and it seemed to have been put together in a hurry. Could this tomb have been intended for Nefertiti, Tutankhamun’s stepmother? Radar scans could reveal hidden rooms if they exist. “Each piece of evidence on its own is not conclusive, but put it all together and it’s hard to avoid my conclusion. If I’m wrong I’m wrong, but if I’m right this is potentially the biggest archaeological discovery ever made,” he said. For more on the search for Nefertiti's tomb, go to "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."
TURIN, ITALY—Scientists have taken a new high-tech look at the royal architect Kha and his wife Merit—a pair of Egyptian mummies dating to the 18th Dynasty that were discovered in the village of Deir el Medina in 1906. It had been thought that their bodies had been put through a poor mummification process because their internal organs had not been removed and placed in canopic jars, as the organs of royal mummies usually were during this time period, some 3,500 years ago. According to a report in Discovery News, however, the international research team found that all of the internal organs were well preserved. X-ray imaging and chemical microanalyses showed that the mummies were decorated with jewelry. Kha’s wrappings had been treated with animal fat or plant oil and balsam. Merit’s mummy had been treated with fish oil, balsam, resin, and beeswax. “The findings tell us that the lower-level elite, such as Kha and Merit, received a reasonable degree of care. Significant effort was clearly involved in their mummification, even if it did not produce the same high level of bodily preservation as the higher elite and royals at this time,” said Joann Fletcher of the University of York.
BARCELONA, SPAIN—Karen Hardy of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies and her team examined archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological, and anatomical data, and argue in The Quarterly Review of Biology that carbohydrate consumption was critical to the evolution of the human brain over the past million years. Starch-rich plant foods, when cooked, make it easier to digest the glucose needed to fuel the brain and to support human pregnancy and lactation. Early humans may have started off cooking meat, but they could have added tubers, seeds, fruits, and nuts to the fire. People now have an average of six copies of salivary amylase genes, versus only two copies in other primates, which increases their ability to digest starch. Genetic evidence suggests that this increase in salivary amylase genes occurred within the last million years. The increase in the number of genes may have co-evolved with the ability to cook, and further accelerated the growth of brain size. To read more about early humans, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."
HYDERABAD, INDIA—Chinese blue and white pottery dating to the sixteenth century has been unearthed at a Summer Palace discovered in the Qutub Shahi Tombs complex in southern India. “This shows that there were trade relations between the Qutub Shahi Sultanate and China,” KK Muhammed of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture told The Times of India. Hookahs, which were introduced to India by the Portuguese in 1604, were also uncovered. Hundreds of people who worked at the tombs also lived there and participated in group recitations of Quran. “There was a muallim (teacher) with 20 to 25 students. A portion which has a mosque has also been found,” he added. Underground chambers are thought to have offered a cool retreat. For more, go to "The Islamic Stepwells of Gujarat, India."
MANISA, TURKEY—A Bronze Age settlement and fortress have been discovered in Turkey’s Gölmarmara Lake basin by an international team of archaeologists working with the Kaymakçi Archaeology Project. “This area is four times larger than the ancient site of Try in Çanakkale and the largest late Bronze Age settlement that has been found in the Aegean region,” Sinan Ünlüsoy of Yaşar University told Hürriyet Daily News. The site has one of the largest of six citadels in the region that were within a day’s walk of each other. According to Ünlüsoy, this fortress may be one mentioned in texts from the Hittite Empire. To read about a similar Bronze Age site, go to "Temple of the Storm God."