RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL—Researchers from Bar-Ilan University and Harvard University reconstructed the process of preparing wild barley into meal and flour some 12,500 years ago by experimenting with mortars carved into the bedrock at Huzuq Musa, a site in the Jordan Valley where as many as 100 hunter-gatherers once lived. “The conical, human-made hollows, found all over Southeast Asia, were noticed by archaeologists decades ago, but there was no agreement about their function,” Mordechai Kislev of Bar-Ilan University explained in a press release. The team members collected wild barley, separated the grains from the stalks, beat them on a threshing floor with a curved stick, sieved out the grains, and then turned to the ancient mortars. “Filled with a measure of the raw grain and beaten with a wooden pestle, the wider cones were used for hummeling—removal of the bristle that extends from the edge of the seed. The narrower cones came into play during the next stage, when the same wooden pestle was used to remove the grain husk,” added physicist Adiel Karty. Taking the husk off the grain makes it possible to grind it into flour and bake bread.
TARRAGONA, SPAIN—More than 20 spear points once used for hunting by Neanderthals, and the butchered and roasted bones of animals, have been recovered from Teixoneres Cave by scientists from The Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES). The 50,000-year-old weapons show signs of wear from hard surfaces, perhaps the bones of the horses, aurochs, red deer, wild asses, roe deer, goat, chamois, rhinos, and rabbits that have been recovered from the cave. Older layers in the cave show that Neanderthals displaced hyenas and other large carnivores from this cave. To read more about our extinct cousins, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"
BASHKIRIA, RUSSIA—Some 500 giant cave lion bones, ten stone spearheads, and the skull of a cave bear pierced by a spear have been recovered from Imanai Cave in the Ural Mountains. “Such a large quantity of giant cave lion bones at one site is really unique, the only one in the world so far discovered,” Pavel Kosintsev of the Urals Branch of the Russian Academy of Science told The Siberian Times. He says that the bones were found deep in the cave, which is unusual for lions, so the bones may represent the remains of sick or injured animals that were brought into the cave by humans. The spearheads are the only signs of human activity found in the cave so far, however. “The recent findings, from the lower layers, can be older, up to 60,000 years ago. If we will get older data, it could be the world’s most ancient sanctuary of this type. But of course we must wait for the exact data,” he said. To read about Paleolithic art, go to "New Life for Lion Man."
ATHENS, GREECE—Greece’s Ministry of Culture announced that the ongoing excavations at Laconia have uncovered a palace complex dating to the fifteenth or early fourteenth centuries B.C. Ekathimerini.com reports that a fire destroyed several of the buildings, but preserved Linear B tablets and seals, which were found in what is thought to have been the palace’s archive. Records of commercial transactions, sanctuary offerings, male and female names, and names of places were among the documents written on unbaked clay. The site has also yielded a sanctuary containing clay and ivory figurines, decorative objects, and bronze swords. Another building contained fragments of colorful murals. To read more about the Bronze Age, go to "The Minoans of Crete."
CALVERT COUNTY, MARYLAND—Workers removing debris while repairing the US 50 Bridge over the Nanticoke River discovered timbers and alerted archaeologists with the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration. The intact keel, frames, and other timbers from an eighteenth-century vessel were lifted from the river and transferred to the Maryland Archaeology Conservation Laboratory. Researchers found that the ship was held together with wooden pegs and a few iron fasteners, and it had been built with wood from local oak trees. “The inadvertent discovery of this shipwreck is an amazing opportunity to study early maritime history. It reminds us how Marylanders used to move goods and people across the region,” SHA Chief Archaeologist Julie Schablitsky said in a press release. A virtual reconstruction of the vessel will be produced with 3-D laser scans of the timbers. For more on underwater archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
CORTLAND, NEW YORK—Scott Stull of the State University of New York, Cortland, and Michael “Bodhi” Rogers of Ithaca College have used lasers to create a 3-D map of President Lincoln’s Cottage, located on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. The cottage, a 34-room Gothic revival mansion, served as Lincoln’s summer retreat from 1861 until his assassination in 1865, and was where he finished writing the Emancipation Proclamation. “This was a very important place for Lincoln because you could get away from the press of the crowd. And the design of the house was very well situated to get the summer breezes. The whole south side of the house opens up for some accentuated cross breezes from off this long hill,” Stull said in a press release. The house was also used by Presidents James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur. The team will next assist with the mapping of President Ulysses S. Grant’s retreat near Saratoga Springs, New York. “Looking at two presidential cottages is like looking at a very specific aspect of society, but they are one of the manifestations of how the political elite lived,” Stull explained. To read more about laser mapping, go to "The Past in High-Def."
KAMION, POLAND—Human remains have been removed from a World War II-era Soviet plane that crashed into a lake in central Poland after it was hit with German artillery. “For now we have managed to find the instrument panel, the engine, a wheel and a well-preserved radio,” Zdzislaw Leszczynski, director of the Museum of the River Vistula, told Radio Poland. The wreckage was revealed in Bzura Lake as the water level dropped during the recent heatwave and lack of rain. “The plane was so battered that it’s impossible to determine which model it is for the time being,” Leszczynski added.
DUBLIN, IRELAND—The disarticulated remains of victims of the Great Cholera Epidemic of 1832 have been unearthed in northern Dublin during the construction of a new line on the Luas light rail system. According to The Irish Times, most of those who died in Dublin during the outbreak were buried in a cemetery near the seventeenth-century Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, but there was not enough space there to meet the need, and an overflow burial ground was opened. That cemetery, however, was moved in the 1870s when the Midlands Great Western Railway at Broadstone was extended. “I think that is what we are looking at,” said principal archaeologist Maria Fitzgerald. “It’s just all the bones placed in what we think is a trench going down the center of the site. There seems to be quite a few burials; we have come across quite a number of skulls,” she said. Fitzgerald and her team are working with the designers of the new train line to try to preserve the bones where they are now. To read more about archaeology in Ireland, go to "Mystery of the Fulacht Fiadh."
ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen and his team have returned to the site where an image of a man with a large, pointed nose wearing a headdress and carrying an ax on his shoulder was discovered on a six-foot-tall stone in 1978, near the village of Rhynie. They think the area may have been a high-status or royal Pictish site, and that the so-called Rhynie Man’s ax may have been a type that was used for ceremonies and animal sacrifice. “We found many long-distance connections such as pottery from the Mediterranean, glass from France and Anglo-Saxon metal work with evidence to suggest that intricate metalwork was produced on site,” Noble said in a press release. The fifth or sixth-century Rhynie Man stone may have stood at the entrance to a fort. “We want to try and identify exactly where he was standing as this will give us a better idea how he fits into the high status site and what his role may have been,” Noble explained. To read more about Picts, go to "Game of Stones."
QUINHAGAK, ALASKA—This season’s excavation at Nunalleq, or the well-preserved Yup’ik “old village” on the coast of the Bering Sea, has uncovered a mask depicting a half human, half walrus face. “It’s got amazingly lifelike contours with the cheek bones, and the nose, and the forehead and so on,” Rick Knecht of the University of Aberdeen told Alaska Public Media. The team also found a bentwood bowl among other household items, jewelry, and weapons in the 500-year-old sod house, which was burned and abandoned around 1640. “On the bottom of the bentwood bowl is an ownership mark left by the person who carved that and these ownership marks were inherited between families. We have about six or seven ownership marks we see consistently throughout this site, which we believe was a very large sod house divided up into compartments which were domestic spaces for women and children,” he added. The excavation is being conducted with the support of local Yup’ik people to retrieve the artifacts and record the site before it erodes into the sea.
SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeologists excavating in the Early Byzantine city of Missionis have discovered a figurine depicting Mars that they believe was desecrated during an anti-pagan ritual. The figurine had its head deliberately removed, as well as parts of its legs and arms. “This is a way in which the owner of this figurine demonstrated that they had renounced the old pagan gods, and had adopted Christianity,” Targovishte Regional Museum of History archaeologist Angel Konakliev said at a press conference reported by Archaeology in Bulgaria. A number of other artifacts were also unearthed this season, including Early Byzantine bone combs that were likely used for decoration, and a silver coin depicting the thirteenth-century Bulgarian Tsar Georgi I Terter, the only known coin of its type to be discovered. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."
PORT HURON, MICHIGAN—The wreckage of a P-39 fighter plane piloted by one of the Tuskegee Airmen has been found at the bottom of Lake Huron, says The SFGate. On April 11, 1944, a plane piloted by 2nd Lt. Frank Moody crashed into the lake during a training mission. Although Moody’s body was found several months later, his aircraft was not spotted until recently by a helicopter pilot and his son, who alerted archaeologists from the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A seven-person team dove the site and have documented the wreckage, which includes the engine, tail, gauge panel, wings, and a radio. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of fighter and bomber pilots who fought in World War II and were the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces. To see a slideshow of more wrecks found in the Great Lakes, go to “The Wrecks of Thunder Bay.”
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—In the ruins of the great Aztec site of Templo Mayor, archaeologists have unearthed a massive tzompantli, or trophy skull rack, that was built between 1485 and 1502. These racks were used by the Aztecs to display the heads of their enemies, who may have been sacrificed atop nearby pyramids. Paintings and descriptions of the racks from the early colonial period suggest the Aztecs used wooden poles to suspend the skulls between vertical posts. The recently discovered tzompantli differs from others that have been depicted and discovered in that rows of skulls seem to have been mortared to one another and formed a circle in which the skulls were arranged to look at the center. “There are 35 skulls that we can see, but there are many more,” National Institute of Anthropology and History archaeologist Raúl Barrera told The Guardian. “As we continue to dig the number is going to rise a lot.” To read in-depth about the excavations, go to “Under Mexico City.”
HAIFA, ISRAEL—Some of the largest hewn stone artifacts in the ancient Middle East may have been used for a surprising purpose. According to a new study released by the University of Haifa, these large stone boulder mortars—some of which are almost three feet high and weigh as much as 200 pounds—were used to pound food and were also an integral part of funeral rituals of the Natufian culture that inhabited this region between 15,000 and 11,500 years ago. Researchers believe that the sound made by the pounding of the food would have signaled to members of surrounding communities that an important ceremony was underway, and that this was a crucial part of building social and community cohesion and identity. To read more about burial customs in the Natufian period, go to “World Roundup.”
GOSE, JAPAN—Archaeologists have discovered remains of pit houses and ditches that indicated boundaries at a site dating to the fourth century A.D. in Japan’s Nara Prefecture known as the Nakanishi ruins. They believe that the newly discovered site may have been constructed in concert with the nearby Akitsu ruins, and note that the combined site would be one of the largest settlements in Japan known from the period. “The site occupies a prominent area,” said Fumiaki Imao, a senior researcher at the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, told the Asahi Shimbun, adding that the structures discovered may have been used for rituals controlled by the early Yamato imperial court. Little is known of the workings of the court during this period, and the researchers hope their excavation will offer new insights. To read about a figurine discovered in Japan with markings thought to represent tattoos, see “Dogu Figurine.”
SANDOMIERZ, POLAND—An early eleventh-century wooden chamber tomb containing the remains of an elite warrior has been unearthed in southwestern Poland. Science in Poland reports that archaeologists discovered a number of artifacts in the grave, including ceramic vessels, a silver ring, and an iron knife, among other objects. "It should be also noted that the vessels discovered in the grave, which probably contained food and drinks, as well as other objects, clearly indicate that we are dealing with burials of people that either were still pagans, or were formally baptized, but cultivated certain pagan traditions in funeral rituals,” said Maria Curie-Skłodowska University archaeologist Marek Florek, who suspects the warrior was a foreigner. Around the tomb, Florek’s team found a number of smaller, contemporaneous graves containing wooden coffins. In one, the deceased was buried with a bronze Baltic clasp of a type that was popular in Russia between the ninth and eleventh centuries. To read about the early medieval period in the Baltic, go to "The First Vikings."
MADRID, SPAIN—Scientists have discovered a 1.84-million-year-old fossilized hand bone in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge that they believe is the oldest to resemble that of a modern human. The bone is most likely part of the little finger of the left hand of an adult belonging to an unknown species similar to Homo erectus. It measures around 1.4 inches long, comparable to the size of the same bone in the hands of modern humans, which suggests its owner would have been larger than known human relatives living at the same time—probably around five feet nine inches tall. The bone is straight, which suggests that, like modern humans, its owner was adapted to use tools and live on land rather than to climb trees. "A modernlike hand in the past would tell us when humans became fully terrestrial and when and how efficiently our ancestors used tools," Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, a paleoanthropologist at Complutense University of Madrid, told Live Science. To read about the earliest known stone tools, go to “The First Toolkit.”
SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND—A team of specialists from the Naval History and Heritage Command and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently used ROVs to explore the wreck of the USS Macon. A lighter-than-air rigid airship that was the Navy’s last flying aircraft carrier, the Macon crashed off the coast of California eighty years ago. The U.S. Naval Institute News reports that the submersibles were able to make a photomosaic of the wreck, and took 360-degree video of a biplane that was attached to the Macon when it went down. Another task was to take measurements of corroded sections of the biplane's wing. While archaeologists and conservators have a good sense of how older, wooden shipwrecks change in underwater environments, they are still trying to understand how twentieth-century materials such as aluminum react to being submerged for long periods of time. “We haven’t quite figured out as a discipline how to best conserve the material, how those materials react with their environment and with other materials," says Naval History and Heritage Command archaeologist Alexis Catsambis. "And so this is an opportunity to learn through the sample that we collect about the rate of degradation of certain aluminum alloys and hopefully how to best help preserve them.” To read more about underwater archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, PENNSYLVANIA—A team of forensic archaeologists from Mercyhurst University has removed bones from a Pennsylvania highway embankment that may be the remains of people killed in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. The bones were revealed by road construction work in Schuylkill Haven, around 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The site is thought to have been the former home of a poorhouse, which was rumored to have been the site of a mass grave, according to Reuters. The bodies appeared to have been buried without coffins, as was common during the epidemic, which killed tens of millions of people around the world. From the embankment, the Mercyhurst University team collected bones belonging to four different people, which will be subjected to medical examination. “We took only the remains that were exposed on the embankment where the road crew was working, but we saw evidence of much more,” said Alexandra R. Klales of Mercyhurst University in a press release. “It is our impression that the site will require a full archaeological excavation.” To read about a recently discovered mass grave in Paris, go to “A Parisian Plague.”
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Thomas Finan, an archaeologist and history professor at Saint Louis University, has conducted excavations in the northern part of Ireland’s County Roscommon over the last two decades at sites including an ecclesiastical complex, a moated stronghold, and a number of ringforts. In addition to other technologies, he is now using aerial surveys taken by drone aircraft to help locate new dig sites with the potential to illuminate medieval social dynamics in the area. "We have collected an unprecedented amount of digital data," Finan said in a press release. "The 3D landscape data allows us to see minute changes in the topography that can be defined as structures and human occupation. The digital data collected with the geophysics is then wrapped around that 3D data to give us an amazing understanding of what is there without sinking a spade." To read about new ideas on when the Vikings came to Ireland, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”