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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, October 01

Wild Chimpanzees Observed Transmitting Behavior Socially

ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND—The Sonso chimpanzee community living in Uganda’s Budongo Forest has been observed passing a new natural behavior from individual to individual by a team made up of scientists from the University of St. Andrews, the University of Neuchâtel, Anglia Ruskin University, and the Université du Quebec. This is the first time that social transmission has been documented in a wild community. The chimpanzees developed variants of using “leaf-sponges,” which are folded leaves used for drinking water. The variations included adding moss to the leaves to make a drinking device, and reusing a discarded leaf sponge. Science Daily reports that by using a technique called network-based diffusion analysis, the researchers estimated that each time a “naïve” chimpanzee observed moss-sponging, this individual was 15 times more likely to develop the behavior. Thibaud Gruber of the University of Neuchâtel explained that such social learning probably originated in an ancestor common to great apes and humans. “This study tells us that chimpanzee culture changes over time, little by little, by building on previous knowledge found within the community. …In this respect, this is a great example of how studying chimpanzee culture can help us model the evolution of human culture. Nevertheless, something must have subsequently happened in our evolution that caused a qualitative shift in what we could transmit, rendering our culture much more complex than anything found in wild apes. Understanding this qualitative jump in our evolutionary history is what we need to investigate now,” he said. To read more about chimpanzee tool use, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Cultured Cousins?"  

Ancient Earthquake Damage Found in Israel

HAIFA, ISRAEL—A team led by Michael Eisenberg of the University of Haifa has uncovered the northern section of the first-century basilica at Hippos, a center of Greek and Roman culture located near the Sea of Galilee. The roof of the structure collapsed during an earthquake in 363, killing the occupants, whose skeletons were found beneath the rubble. Among the victims was a woman who had been wearing a gold dove pendant. Eisenberg and his team used coins to date the collapse and attribute it to the earthquake. “The latest of those coins dated to 362 A.D. About three feet above the debris of the basilica we found Early Byzantine rooms dated by dozens of coins in the floors themselves to 383 A.D.,” Eisenberg told Discovery News. “It shows that major parts of the city were totally destroyed and neglected for a period of about 20 years.” Hippos was finally destroyed by an earthquake in 749. To read about the dramatic history of a Hellenistic site near the Sea of Galilee, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Excavating Tel Kedesh."  

Remote Sites Yield Evidence of Early South Americans

ORONO, MAINE—New research is focusing on hunter gatherers who colonized South America at the close of the last Ice Age. Kurt Rademaker of the University of Maine has found a rock shelter high in the Andes that was inhabited 12,400 years ago. “The [Pucuncho Basin] has fresh water, camelids, stone for toolmaking, combustible fuel for fires and rock shelters for living in,” he told Nature News. “Basically, everything you need to live is here. This is one of the richest basins I’ve seen, and it probably was then too.” And scientists are carefully examining the stone tools from South America’s Paleo-Indian sites because many of them are made from stone not available in the area where they were found. “What we’re seeing is that 12,000 years ago or more, these groups already had networks, knew the landscape and moved between the coast and the interior,” said César Méndez of the University of Chile. To read more about the earliest sites in the New World, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "America, In the Beginning."   

Students Unearth Sweat Lodge at Cahokia Mounds

SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI—Students from Saint Louis University discovered three partial house basins and the entire basin of a burned sweat lodge during their field school at the Fingerhut Tract of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site this summer. The sweat lodge measures nine feet in diameter and would have had a domed roof. Charcoal within the sweat lodge will be radiocarbon dated. The students also uncovered many microdrills. “This area of Cahokia Mounds may have been involved in craft specialization for the prehistoric chiefdom,” said principal investigator Mary Vermillion. To read about a recent discovery of a ritual burn at Cahokia, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Mississippian Burning."   

Tuesday, September 30

4,000-Year-Old Ritual Site Discovered in Poland

WARSAW, POLAND—A 4,000-year-old ritual site has been unearthed on a hilltop in northeastern Poland. Fragments of decorated cups and bowls made by the Bell Beaker culture were found surrounded by burned bones and a fragment of an amber bead. A second amber object was found nearby. “Amber was an exotic and prestigious material for the Bell Beaker communities, and never before found in Podlasie. These discovered ornaments are among the oldest objects of this type in the region,” archaeologist Dariusz Manasterski of the University of Warsaw told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Stone tools, including an adze, a fragment of a curved blade, and fragments of a dagger were found, along with arrowheads and other blades and knives made of flint. “The entire ritual deposit is an exceptional find in central Europe. It contains one of the richest collections of objects usually found in the elite graves in Western Europe from this period,” he added. Understanding how those artifacts traveled so far east requires further investigation. To read about 4,000-year-old Bronze Age rituals in Eastern Europe, see "Wolf Rites of Winter."  

Canoe & Climate Shed Light on Polynesian Sailing Technology

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—Two new studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shed light on how Polynesian seafarers colonized the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Lead author Dilys Amanda Johns of the University of Auckland described a 600-year-old canoe discovered in 2012 near the Anaweka River on New Zealand’s South Island. The nearly 20-foot long section of a vessel estimated to have been 45 feet long was constructed with wood from trees native to New Zealand, but in a manner similar to a canoe of the same age that was discovered in the Society Islands. There is also a turtle carved in relief on the hull just above the water line, which is a common motif among the Polynesians, but is rare in art from New Zealand. The second study, led by Ian Goodwin of Macquarie University, created a model of the paleoclimate in 20-year increments, in order to evaluate whether or not Polynesian vessels, which were not capable of sailing into the wind at the time of colonization, would have had to travel into the wind to head east. The model suggests that shifting climate conditions would have opened up times when the Polynesians could have traveled with the wind at their backs. “Our reconstructed sailing conditions during the period of East Polynesian colonization would have enabled all of the known colonizing routes, and others,” Goodwin told Science. The window for sailing to New Zealand would have closed before 1300, however. “There is a timing discrepancy,” commented Johns. She thinks the canoe, which has been radiocarbon dated to 1400, may have been built by New Zealanders with techniques handed down from the time of Polynesian contact. To read more about nautical archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."  

Monday, September 29

Vascular Prints Discovered in Egyptian Mummy’s Skull

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Imprints from the blood vessels surrounding the brain have been found inside the skull of a 2,000-year-old mummy from Egypt’s Kom al-Ahmar/Sharuna necropolis. The inside of the man’s skull had been coated with a preservative during the mummification process that captured the extremely fragile structures with “exquisite anatomical details,” Albert Isidro of the Hospital Universitari Sagrat Cor told Live Science. The brain was usually removed by Egyptian embalmers. “The conditions in this case must have been quite extraordinary,” Isidro and his team explained. Their complete report has been published in the journal Cortex. For more on recent research into Egyptian mummies, see ARCHAEOLOGY's news brief "Well Preserved Mummies Found in the Valley of the Kings."  

Medieval Friary Excavated in Scotland

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—A thirteenth-century Dominican friary that was destroyed during the Reformation in 1559 is being excavated by a team from GUARD Archaeology. Animal bones, medieval ceramics, a section of wall, and architectural stones have been unearthed. Garden soils have also been recovered. It is unclear at this time if human remains at the site are from the medieval period or later. “For Stirling, this is the first time that a medieval site has been subject to modern excavation on this scale,” Murray Cook, the archaeologist for Stirling Council, told Culture 24. To read about the excavation of an unusual peasant community in Scotland, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature "Living on the Edge."  

DNA From Marine Forager Sheds Light on Human Origins

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—An international team of scientists has worked together to study the 2,330-year-old skeletal remains discovered by archaeologist Andrew Smith of the University of Cape Town at St. Helena Bay, along Africa’s southernmost coast. Biological anthropologist Alan Morris, also of the University of Cape Town, found a bony growth in the man’s ear canal known as “surfer’s ear,” which suggests that he dove for food in the cold water as a marine hunter-gatherer. Shells dating to the same period were found near the man’s grave. Paleogeneticist Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology extracted samples from a tooth and a rib, and was able to sequence the man’s entire mitochondrial genome. Vanessa Hayes of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, an expert in African genomes, determined that the man’s maternal lineage was different from the pastoralists who migrated to South Africa from Angola 2,000 years ago. “In this study, I believe we may have found an individual from a lineage that broke off early in modern human evolution and remained geographically isolated. That would contribute significantly to refining the human reference genome,” Hayes told Science Daily. “If we want a good reference, we have to go back to our early human origins.” To read more about the role of early migrations in human history, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "New Evidence for Mankind's Earliest Migrations."