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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, February 12

Iron Cannon Recovered from Portsmouth Harbor

HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND—Dredging to widen and deepen Portsmouth Harbor for new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers has recovered an iron cannon. “Cannons are particularly exciting finds because they could indicate the presence of a previously unrecorded shipwreck,” Andrea Hamel of Wessex Archaeology told BBC News. The cannon will be examined at the Mary Rose Museum. “More investigation into the cannon will be needed to determine its significance, but hopefully ongoing research will provide a date range for the cannon and possible provenance,” Hamel added. It is also possible that the cannon may have been used for ballast before it was thrown overboard. To read about other finds in the same area, go to "As American as Sliced Bacon in a Can."

Hatshepsut Artifacts Identified in University Collection

WINNIPEG, CANADA—University of Winnipeg alumnus Luther Sousa identified two objects from the 450 lamps, storage jars, dishware, stone tools, bone game pieces, shabtis, and Osiris figurines in the university’s Hetherington Collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. The first is a miniature wooden hoe, and the other is a set of miniature wooden rockers. Sousa suspects that the items, both marked with hieroglyphs, were found in a foundation deposit at Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahri in the 1880s. “The glyphs strongly suggest that the objects belonged to Queen Hatshepsut from the 18th dynasty of ancient Egyptian kings. The writing includes her cartouche, as well as the name of the location of Hatshepsut’s temple,” Sousa said in a press release. At that time, the temple was being excavated by Henri Edouard Naville on behalf of the Egyptian Exploration Fund. The artifacts in the collection were received in two shipments—one in 1903, and the other after 1925. The shipments were likely through the Egyptian Exploration Society. For more, go to "Hatshepsut Found; Thutmose I Lost."

Neanderthal DNA May Influence Modern Health

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—Researchers from Vanderbilt University used a database of 28,000 anonymous individuals, whose DNA samples were linked to their electronic health records, to look for Neanderthal DNA variants and see if they could be connected to modern health problems. “Our main finding is that Neanderthal DNA does influence clinical traits in modern humans: We discovered associations between Neanderthal DNA and a wide range of traits, including immunological, dermatological, neurological, psychiatric, and reproductive diseases,” evolutionary geneticist John Capra said in a press release. But 40,000 years ago, Neanderthal DNA might have provided modern humans with adaptive advantages as they came into contact with different pathogens and levels of sun exposure in new environments. For example, a Neanderthal variant that increases blood coagulation may have sealed wounds more quickly and prevented infections. Today, people who carry this variant are at an increased risk of stroke, pulmonary embolism, and pregnancy complications. Neanderthal DNA can also increase the risk of nicotine addiction, and influence the risk for depression. “The brain is incredibly complex, so it’s reasonable to expect that introducing changes from a different evolutionary path might have negative consequences,” added graduate student Corinne Simonti. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."


More Headlines
Thursday, February 11

Fossils May Last Longer in Colder Climates

LARAMIE, WYOMING—Statistical analysis shows that more fossils, such as the remains of mammoths, mastodons, camels, horses, and ground sloths, have been lost in the continental United States and South America than in Alaska and areas near the Bering Strait. Todd Surovell and Spencer Pelton of the University of Wyoming compiled radiocarbon dates of bones from animals that died during the Pleistocene era and the rates at which sedimentary deposits were lost over time. “While bone preservation in Arctic regions is aided by cold temperatures and the presence of permafrost, considerably more bone has been lost over time in regions farther south—in fact, at a faster rate than the sediments in which they were deposited have eroded,” Surovell said in a press release. “That means that researchers must adjust for those differences as they estimate the numbers of these animals, many of which are now extinct, across the Americas,” he said. Estimates of populations of large mammals can be used to determine if their extinctions were caused by human hunters. To read about archaeology in the Arctic, go to "Saga of the Northwest Passage."

Research Suggests Horses Can Read Human Emotions

SUSSEX, ENGLAND—Domesticated horses are able to distinguish between angry and happy human facial expressions, according to a study conducted by Amy Smith and Karen McComb of the University of Sussex. When shown angry human faces, the horses looked more with the left eye, which allows the right brain hemisphere to process threatening stimuli. (Dogs have also been shown to have a tendency to use the left eye when viewing negative human facial expressions.) The horses’ heart rates also increased more quickly, and they exhibited more stress-related behaviors, when shown the angry human expressions. “In this context, recognizing angry faces may act as a warning system, allowing horses to anticipate negative human behavior such as rough handling,” Smith said in a press release. “There are several possible explanations for our findings,” added McComb. “Horses may have adapted an ancestral ability for reading emotional cues in other horses to respond appropriately to human facial expressions during their co-evolution. Alternatively, individual horses may have learned to interpret human expressions during their own lifetime,” she explained. For more, go to "The Story of the Horse."

Remains in Roman Necropolis May Represent Migrants

PENSACOLA, FLORIDA—According to a press release, Kristina Killgrove of the University of West Florida and Janet Montgomery of Durham University analyzed isotope ratios in the teeth of 105 skeletons in an effort to determine what these individuals ate over the course of their lifetimes and where they had been born. The skeletons came from two Roman cemeteries dating to the first through third centuries A.D., and their burials suggest that they may have been poor or enslaved. The results of the study, published in PLOS ONE, indicate that as many as eight of these individuals, mostly men and children, may have come from North Africa and the Alps. They probably adapted to the local Roman diet of wheat, legumes, meat, and fish. Further isotope analysis and DNA studies could provide more information. For more, see "The Gladiator Diet."

New Fossils Found in South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—A chamber in South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves has yielded four early hominin fossils that can be associated with stone tools dating to more than two million years ago. Two of these fossils, a finger bone and a tooth, are new to scientists. The finger bone is large and curved, but lacks the strong muscle attachments expected for a hominin living in trees. “The finger is similar in shape to the partial specimen from Olduvai Gorge that has been called Homo habilis, but is much larger. Overall, this specimen is unique in the South African plio-pleistocene fossil hominin record and deserves more studies,” Dominic Stratford of the University of the Witwatersrand said in a press release. The tooth is a relatively small, adult first molar resembling the teeth of Homo habilis and perhaps Homo naledi, discovered in 2013 in Rising Star Cave. “The specimens are exciting not only because they are associated with early stone tools, but also because they possess a mixture of intriguing features that raise many more questions than they give answers,” Stratford said. For more on Homo naledi, go to "A New Human Relative."

Wednesday, February 10

Colchester’s Monumental Roman Arcade Uncovered

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have known about the arcade that had been built at the Temple of Claudius in Colchester for some 60 years, but the demolition of a modern office block has uncovered evidence that the covered walkway was the largest in Roman Britain. The arcade was built in the first or second century A.D., following the destruction of Colchester during Boudicca’s rebellion. “Its closest rival in terms of size stands in what was Gaul, in northern France, and shares some of the architecture we can see in Colchester today,” Philip Crummy, director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, told The Telegraph. “The original arcade and its grand columns are similar to those you see in Bath, at the Roman Baths. It really is an extraordinary find and confirms the grandeur and richness of its Roman culture,” he said. For more on the Roman period in England, go to "What’s in a Name?"

Hoard of Medieval Coins Discovered in Denmark

FOULUM, DENMARK—Three members of the Central Jutland Detector Society discovered a cache of 700-year-old coins in a field near the excavation of an Iron Age building. The poor quality and low silver content of the coins are thought to reflect the civil war in Denmark at the time. “The treasure comes from an unstable period, and it is conceivable that the owner wanted to hide them away until better and more stable times. For some unknown reason, he never returned to collect his coins,” Viborg Museum curator Mikkel Kjeldsen told The Local, Denmark. The coins will be cleaned and displayed at Viborg Museum. For more on archaeology in Jutland, go to "Bronze Age Bride."

Tests Reveal Sources of Rome’s White Marble

MADRID, SPAIN—Mónica Alvarez de Buergo of Madrid’s Geosciences Institute and scientists from the University of Calabria collected 50 samples of white marble from the now-submerged luxury villas in the Underwater Archaeological Park of Baia, located near Naples. The Roman emperors Augustus and Nero owned villas in the city, which thrived between the first century B.C. and the third century A.D. “First, thin layers of the collected marble were observed using a petrographic microscope. Then, the mineral composition of the marble was studied using X-ray diffraction and the manganese content was determined with Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry. Scanning Electron Microscopy was then carried out and various isotopes were analyzed,” Alvarez de Buergo said in a press release. The team compared the test results with the chemical signatures of eight of the best marble quarries of the ancient world, and found matches for all but five of the samples. “The variety and quality of the marble identified highlight the importance held by this area in the past seeing as it yielded the best ornamental marble of that time period, and this helps to determine the trade routes that were used at that point in time during the Roman Empire,” she said. For more on marble in Ancient Rome, go to "A Spin through Augustan Rome."

Greece’s Ancient Silver-Mining Infrastructure Studied

GHENT, BELGIUM—A team of mining archaeologists has investigated a 5,000-year-old silver mine in Thorikos, Greece. The cramped mines were likely to have been worked by slaves, who endured the lack of light, fresh air, and temperatures that hovered around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. “The progress of the underground survey required a constant vigilance in this stuffy space where the rate of oxygen must be permanently watched,” Denis Morin of the University of Lorraine said in a press release. The team members have found tool marks on the walls of the subterranean galleries, graffiti, pottery, oil lamps, stone hammers, and crushing areas. By the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., silver was extracted on a large scale with a sophisticated system from shafts cut through the rock. For more on ancient silver mining, go to "The Environmental Cost of Empire."