BIZKAIA, SPAIN—Researchers from the University of the Basque Country have developed a new method for determining if individual flint flakes were produced by right- or left-handed knappers. “We focus on the butt of the flake which is where part of the percussion platform has been preserved. The fractures that appear on the platform are oriented according to the direction of the impact made on it by the percussor. Once the direction of the impact is known, it is possible, with a high degree of reliability, to determine whether it was produced by the left hand or the right hand,” Eder Dominguez-Ballesteros said in a press release. Studying the origins and development of laterality, or the preference for one side of the body over another, helps scientists to understand the evolution of the organization of the human brain. Earlier methods of determining laterality required the study of more than one flake for comparison.
LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Fragments of a human body including a jaw, the first six cervical vertebrae, and two severed hands that had been laid over the face of a skull in opposite directions have been unearthed at Lapa do Santo, a hunter-gatherer rock-shelter site in east-central Brazil. According to a press release from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, v-shaped cut marks were found on the jaw and the sixth cervical vertebra. André Strauss of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and his colleagues believe that the 9,000-year-old remains could represent the oldest case of decapitation in the Americas. Isotopic analysis of the bones and of other human remains at the site indicate that the individual had been a local member of the group, so the decapitation may have been part of a mortuary ritual, rather than a case of trophy-taking during war. To read about what might be the earliest known murder victim, go to "A Place to Hide the Bodies."
CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el-Damaty has approved the use of noninvasive radar technology to search for a tomb behind Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves proposed that Tutankhamun, who died at the age of 19, may have been buried in an outer chamber of a tomb constructed for Queen Nefertiti. Reeves says that the high-resolution images taken of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Factum Arte show lines underneath the plastered and painted surfaces of the walls. The lines could be doorways leading to a hidden chamber. He also suggested that the layout of Tutankhamun’s tomb resembles those built for ancient Egyptian queens. “We’re very excited… It may not be a tomb belonging to Nefertiti, but it could be a tomb belonging to one of the nobles. If it is Nefertiti’s, this would be very massive,” Mouchira Moussa, a media consultant to the Antiquities Minister, told the Associated Press. To read about previous searches for Nefertiti's tomb, go to "Lost Tombs: In Search of History's Lost Rulers."
KAMENOVO, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the 6,500-year-old graves of three adults and one child have been discovered underneath a former school yard in northeast Bulgaria. Earlier this year, the team of archaeologists, led by Yavor Boyadzhiev of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, Dimitar Chernakov of the Ruse Regional Museum of History, and Dilen Dilov of the Razgrad Regional Museum of History, found a flint-tool workshop from the same time period near the newly discovered necropolis. Pottery and flint tools were found in the graves, and the child’s grave contained three beads made from Spondylus shells, which suggest that the residents had a trading relationship with people living near the Mediterranean Sea. Flint bowls painted with black, red, and white were found in one of the adult graves. For more, go to "8,000-Year-Old Village Unearthed in Bulgaria."
LONDON, ENGLAND—The remains of at least 50 people thought to have lived in the late eleventh or early twelfth century have been unearthed at the footings of Westminster Abbey’s south transept. The bodies were probably originally buried in a small cemetery outside the walls of a church that was demolished by Henry III before he began the construction of the abbey in the thirteenth century. The king’s workers stacked the bones in piles, which were found under a layer of stone chips left behind by the masons who built a platform for the massive new church. Some of the bones were damaged by pickaxes, including the skull of a small child. “What the child is doing there is one of the many unanswered questions, but it is a feature of many ecclesiastical sites that you find the remains of women and children in places where you might not quite expect them,” Warwick Rodwell, abbey archaeologist, told The Guardian. A few original graves remain, but they were damaged by water that had leaked from pipes installed during the Victorian era. The Victorians also moved a stone coffin and incorporated it into a new brick wall. To read about another medieval burial, go to "Vengeance on the Vikings."
DUBLIN, IRELAND—The remains of Thomas Kent, one of 16 men executed by the British in 1916 after the Easter Rising, have been identified by archaeologists and geneticists at University College Dublin (UCD) through DNA analysis. Kent’s body, which had been covered with quicklime at the time of burial, was exhumed from a shallow grave at Cork Prison earlier this year. The quicklime is thought to have helped preserve Kent’s DNA, which was compared with samples from his two surviving nieces. “Now we have the three samples. We have Thomas Kent, or Mr. X as we called him, and we have the two nieces. That meant that we had three different tests to sort. The first test was between the two sisters. The second test between Sister 1 and Mr. X, and the third test between Sister 2 and Mr. X. And then we estimated the degree of relatedness between these individuals. By doing that we can be very sure in this case that Thomas Kent has a relatedness to the siblings which is consistent with being an uncle,” Jens Carlsson of the UCD Earth Institute said in a video clip press release. Kent was given a State funeral last week. For more on historical archaeology and DNA, go to "Finding Lost African Homelands."
SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI—A new study of seeds and spores taken from the interior of Monks Mound suggests that the ten-story earthwork, the largest structure at Cahokia, was built more quickly than had been previously thought. Timothy Schilling and Neal Lopinot of Missouri State University collected the soil samples when repairs were conducted on the 1,000-year-old earthworks in 2005. “We were hoping to understand the source for the sediments in the mound,” Schilling told Western Digs. They found that all of the seeds in the 22 samples, except for plants such as elderberry, which were used for food, were annual plants. This suggests that the borrow pits, where the soil was collected, were disturbed frequently. “If there was a substantial time lapse between the use of the borrow pits, we would have a different environmental profile—more well established perennials versus weedy annuals,” Shilling said. The seeds in the samples were also well preserved and unburned, suggesting that they had not been exposed on the surface for very long. Earlier researchers had concluded that it had taken some 250 years to build the mound, but Schilling thinks that a period of about 20 years is more likely. For more, go to "Mississippian Burning."
FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—A team of scientists has found 11,500-year-old chum salmon bones in an ancient cooking hearth at the Upward Sun River site in Interior Alaska. The fragile bones suggest that Ice age Paleoindians were fishing at a time when it had been thought that people living in North America were primarily big-game hunters. “Salmon fishing has deep roots, and now we know that salmon have been consumed by North American humans at least 11,500 years ago,” University of Alaska Fairbanks anthropologist Carrin Halffman said in a press release. Analysis of the bones shows that they were sea-run chum salmon that had migrated upriver from what is now the mouth of the Yukon River. “We have cases where salmon become landlocked and have very different isotopic signatures than marine salmon. Combining genetic and isotopic analyses allow us to confirm the identity as chum salmon, which inhabit the area today, as well as establish their life histories. Both are necessary to understand how humans used these resources,” added UAF anthropologist Ben Potter. For more, go to "America, in the Beginning."
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA—It had been thought that First Nations peoples living on British Columbia’s Galiano Island between 600 and 1,500 years ago traveled to find volcanic rock for tool making, but a new study by archaeologist Colin Grier of Washington State University suggests that the volcanic rock, which kept a better edge than other stones, may have been deposited on the island by a moving glacier some 12,000 years ago. Grier and his team collected tool-making debris from the site at Dionisio Point and stones from the island’s beach. The chemical fingerprint of the stones matched that of volcanic rock from Mount Garibaldi on the British Columbia mainland, more than 60 miles away. “You could go down to the local corner hardware store rather than having to pick up and pack the canoe up and head off to the Super WalMart on the mainland,” Grier quipped to Global News, Canada. Other studies have shown, however, that the First Nations people of Dionisio Point did travel from these winter villages to summer salmon fishing sites. For more on the archaeology of the region, go to "The Edible Seascape."
SAVANNAH, GEORGIA—Marine archaeologists have recovered a second 9,000-pound Dahlgren rifled cannon from the site of the CSS Georgia, an ironclad warship scuttled in the Savannah River in 1864. The cannon had been missed by several high-tech multibeam sonar surveys of the dregs of the river and was an unexpected find. The surveys did reveal the presence of shells for a Dahlgren cannon however, and according to Jim Jobling of Texas A&M University, there was a discrepancy between two manifests from the CSS Georgia. The original listed two Dahlgren cannons, but no Dahlgren cannons were listed on a later manifest, dated October 1864. “I’m very, very pleased,” he said in a press release. The team has also brought leather shoes, wrenches, ceramic bottles, and an anvil to the surface. To read more about maritime archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
ROME, ITALY—Marcella Frangipane of La Sapienza University told Discovery News that she has found the remains of a 5,000-year-old throne room at the site of Aslantepe, located in eastern Turkey. The room is in a monumental structure, opens onto a courtyard, and has an adobe platform reached by three steps. Burned wooden fragments were found on the platform. “The burned wooden fragments are likely the remains of a chair or throne,” she said. She thinks the chief or king used the throne room to meet with the public, gathered in the large courtyard. The people may have approached the ‘king’ and stood on two small, low platforms unearthed in front of the possible location of the throne. “This reception courtyard and building were not a temple complex, they rather appear as the heart of the palace. We do not have religious rites here, but a ceremony showing the power of the ‘king’ and the state,” Frangipane said. The throne room is the first evidence of the change in power from the religious authorities to a state governing system, she added.
NAPLES, ITALY—An intact tomb dating to the fourth century B.C. has been discovered in Pompeii by French archaeologists from the Jean Bèrard Center. The tomb was constructed by the Samnites, who lived in south-central Italy and fought against the Romans. “It is an exceptional find for Pompeii because it throws light on the pre-Roman city about which we know so very little,” archaeological superintendent of Pompeii Massimo Osanna told The Local, Italy. An adult woman had been buried in the tomb with amphora that originated in other regions of Italy. The contents of the jars will be analyzed, but are thought to contain cosmetics, wine, and food. The research team will look for additional tombs in the area, which was heavily shelled during World War II. “It’s a miracle that this has survived,” Osanna said.
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."