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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 30

3-D Model Made of Richard III’s Spinal Column

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—A 3-D model of the spine identified as belonging to Richard III shows strong evidence that the king suffered from scoliosis. His spine curved to the right and twisted to form a somewhat spiral shape, according to a report published in The Lancet by a team from the University of Cambridge, Loughborough University, and the University Hospitals of Leicester. This new analysis suggests that Richard III’s right shoulder would have been higher than his left, and his torso would have been relatively short compared to his arms and legs. His head and neck, however, would have been straight, and he probably did not have a limp. “His leg bones were normal and symmetric,” osteoarchaeologist Jo Appleby of the University of Leicester told Red Orbit. “The arthritis in the spine meant it could only be reconstructed in a specific way, meaning that we can get a very accurate idea of the shape of the curve,” she added. The scientists think that well-designed clothes and armor would have been able to mask the curvature. 

Stone Age Camp Uncovered in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—A flint tool, campfires, animal bones, and a possible fish trap made of two rows of wooden stakes have been found on the construction site of the new U.S. Embassy in London. Kasia Olchowska of the Museum of London Archaeology thinks that the land would have been too wet to have been a permanent settlement, but it would have made a fine hunting or fishing camp. The flint, which was discovered among water-smoothed gravel, was probably swept out of its original context by a river channel. Experts think that it was probably crafted between 100,000 and 12,000 years ago. Other stone tools include scrapers and a plunging blade. Carbon dating suggests that the rest of the site is up to 11,750 years old. “We think that [the fires] are potentially marking a spot that people were coming back to seasonally,” Olchowska told Live Science.   

Dogs May Have Helped Early Mammoth Hunters

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—Were early human hunters responsible for the tens of thousands of bones collected at some 30 spots known as mammoth cemeteries? Evidence of huts made of mammoth bones have been found at some of the locations, and some of the bones bear cut and burn marks. Pat Shipman of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, thinks that people may have ambushed the large animals at these sites, perhaps with the help of dogs. The dogs could have corralled the mammoths and they may have also protected the meat after the kill. “All of that mammoth meat would have brought predators from miles around. In return, the humans may have provided these canines with food and protection. And slowly, a closer relationship may have begun to form,” she told Science Now. Skulls with both wolf- and doglike features have been found among the mammoth bones at several of these cemetery sites, and some of the bones have healed fractures, a possible sign of human care, but more evidence is needed to support Shipman’s hypothesis. 

Bones May Be Remains of a Viking King of Ireland

EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND—Human bones unearthed in Auldhame in 2005 may be the remains of Olaf Guthfrithsson, the King of Dublin and Northumbria from 934 to 941, or a member of his entourage, according to an announcement made by Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. Olaf Guthfrithsson, a Viking king of Ireland, sacked the churches at Auldhame and nearby Tyninghame, which were both part of a complex of churches dedicated to eighth-century St. Balthere, shortly before his death. “Whilst there is no way to prove the identity of the young man buried at Auldhame, the date of the burial and the equipment make it very likely that this death was connected with Olaf’s attack on the locale,” Alex Woolf of the University of St. Andrews and a historical consultant on the project told BBC. “Since we have a single furnished burial in what was probably perceived as St. Balthere’s original foundation, there is a strong likelihood that the king’s followers hoped that by burying him in the saint’s cemetery he might have benefited from some sort of post-mortem penance,” he explained.  

Thursday, May 29

Weak Muscles May Be the Price of Human Cognitive Powers

SHANGHAI, CHINA—A new study of metabolites—small molecules such as sugars, vitamins, amino acids, and neurotransmitters that represent key elements of our physiological functions—suggests that human muscle may be as unique as the human brain. Scientists from the CAS-MPG Partner Institute for Computational Biology and teams from the Max Planck Institutes found that the metabolome of the human brain has evolved four times faster than that of the chimpanzee, and human muscle accumulated metabolic changes ten times faster than chimpanzees. “For a long time we were confused by metabolic changes in human muscle, until we realized that what other primates have in common, in contrast to humans, is their enormous muscle strength,” Josep Call of the Wolfgang Kohler Primate Research Center in Leipzig told Science Daily. The team thinks that humans may have evolved a special energy management system that powers the brain at the expense of muscle strength.

Ireland’s Lia Fail Vandalized

COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—Vandals poured red and green paint over the Lia Fail, a 5,000-year-old standing stone on top of the Hill of Tara. Tradition holds that the stone would “roar” when touched by the rightful king of Tara. “This act of mindless vandalism, on one of our premier archaeological sites, is truly shameful,” Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts and the Gaeltacht, told The Irish Mirror. Police are investigating the crime. The stone was damaged with an ax in 2012.

World War I Training Trenches Found at Camp Dodge

JOHNSTON, IOWA—Trenches dug by American soldiers under the instruction of French military officers at Camp Dodge have been found with aerial photographs, historic maps, and geographic information systems technology. Zig-zag trenches that were used at the front of World War I combat areas, and trenches for communications, supplies, and other purposes were located. Artifacts such as ammunition casings, a practice hand grenade, a suppressor for a machine gun, barbed wire, and a glass medicine bottle were also unearthed. “This is a snapshot of time of what we were doing then as a nation. This is our legacy. You have to understand where you have been to know where you are going. This is a piece of where we have been,” Col. Gregory Hapgood Jr., public affairs officer for the Iowa National Guard, told The Des Moines Register.  

Fisherman Catches Bronze Age Figurine

KEMEROVO, RUSSIA—Nikolay Tarasov was fishing with a net in a river near his home in Tisul, Russia, when he recovered what he thought was an unusual stone, but he realized it was carved with almond-shaped eyes, a large mouth with full lips, and a ferocious expression before he threw it back into the water. “On the reverse side on the head the carver etched plaited hair with wave like lines. Below the plait there are lines looking like fish scales,” he told The Siberian Times. He donated the figurine to the Tisul History Museum, where it was dated to the early Bronze Age. The 4,000-year-old figure was carved in horn that had fossilized. “Quite likely, it shows a pagan god. The only things we have dated approximately to the same age are a stone necklace and two charms in the shapes of a bear and a bird,” said Marina Banschikova, director of the museum. 

Wednesday, May 28

Enhanced Images Reveal Paintings at Angkor Wat

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—Colors that are too faint to be seen with the naked eye have been revealed with digitally enhanced photographs taken of the walls of Angkor Wat, according to a study published in Antiquity. Researchers photographed traces of red and black pigments on the walls with bright flash, and then employed decorrelation stretch analysis, which has also been used to study rock art and images of the Martian landscape. Science Shot reports that the team, consisting of Noel Hidalgo Tan of Australian National University, and Im Sokrithy, Heng Than, and Khieu Chan of the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap, found more than 200 paintings of boats, deities, buildings, and animals drawn on the temple’s walls. Most of the drawings seem to be graffiti left after Angkor Wat was abandoned in 1431, but a group of scenes in one of the temple’s towers may have been painted as part of a restoration program in the sixteenth century, when the complex was converted from a Hindu temple into a Buddhist shrine.    

Rock Art Defaced in Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—A rock art panel in Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon has been defaced with the initials “JMN” and the date, May 25, 2014. The writing appears in the dark patina next to the prehistoric image known as the Pregnant Buffalo. Two local property owners spotted the graffiti and witnessed two people leaving the scene shortly after the panel was inspected by Jerry D. Spangler, executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance. “Each act of vandalism is a selfish disregard of the aesthetic, spiritual and scientific values that constitute our collective past. These sites are non-renewable resources, and damage done can never be completely repaired,” Spangler explained to Deseret News

Possible False Tooth Found in Celtic Woman’s Grave

LE CHENE, FRANCE—A timber burial chamber dating to the third century B.C. has yielded the remains of a woman who had an iron pin in place of an upper incisor tooth. “The skeleton was very badly preserved. But the teeth were in an anatomical position, with the molars, pre-molars, canines and incisors. Then there was this piece of metal. My first reaction was: what is this?” archaeologist Guillaume Seguin said to BBC News. The piece of metal has the same dimensions and shape as the woman’s 31 teeth, and may have been intended as a false tooth. Iron, however, would have corroded inside the body, and the implant may have caused a deadly infection. Seguin and researchers from the University of Bordeaux note in the journal Antiquity that the Celtic Gauls had contact with the Etruscans, who were known for crafting partial dentures, in the third century B.C.

London’s International Fish Trade

LONDON, ENGLAND—Cod bones recovered from excavations around London have been analyzed by David Orton of University College London and James Barrett of the University of Cambridge. They report in the journal Antiquity that the more than 3,000 bones span a period of 800 years. Local fisherman traditionally decapitated cod as part of the preservation process for long-range transport, so head bones were understood to represent fresh fish from local waters. Fish vertebrae, however, could indicate that the fish was caught locally or imported. A sudden change “from head to tails” in the early thirteenth century suggests that much of the fish was imported, and further testing indicates that the fish may have come from Arctic Norway. “What did this mean for the local fishing industry? Until we’ve looked at other fish species and other towns we can’t be sure, but the start of this long-range trade may well be an important message about changes in supply and demand,” Orton told Phys.org.