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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, January 26

Pirate Healthcare On Board the Queen Anne’s Revenge

BEAUFORT, NORTH CAROLINA—Archaeologist Linda Carnes-McNaughton of the Department of Defense has been studying the practice of medicine on the pirate ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard, captured his flagship, a French slaver, in 1717. Carnes-McNaughton’s research suggests that Blackbeard released most of the French crew at the time, but kept the ship’s three surgeons to treat the illnesses, wounds, amputations, toothaches, and burns suffered by his pirate crew. “Treating the sick and injured of a sea-bound community on shipboard was challenging in the best of times,” Carnes-McNaughton wrote in a paper that she presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology. Among the artifacts recovered from the shipwreck, which was discovered off the coast of North Carolina in 1996, are a urethral syringe that was used for treating syphilis with mercury. “Eventually the mercury kills you,” she explained to Live Science. Other medical equipment from the wreck includes two pump clysters, used to pump fluid into the rectum, and a porringer, which may have been used in bloodletting treatments. A cast brass mortar and pestle, two sets of nesting weights, and pots that may have stored balms and salves were recovered. Scissors and a silver needle that may have been used during surgeries, and two pairs of brass set screws may have been part of a tourniquet for amputations, are among the possible surgical equipment. To read about the excavation of Queen Anne’s Revenge, see "Blackbeard Surfaces."

Ancient Male Lineages Recognized in Modern Asian Populations

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Nature News reports that geneticists Mark Jobling of the University of Leicester and Patricia Balaresque of Paul Sabatier University have found evidence for ten powerful men, in addition to Genghis Khan, who founded y-chromosome lineages in Asia. Jobling’s team analyzed the Y chromosomes of more than 5,000 modern men from 127 populations and identified 11 y-chromosome sequences that were each shared by more than 20 of them. By examining the mutations in the shared sequences, they were able to determine approximately when the founder of each lineage lived. (It was assumed that these founders lived in the regions where their genotypes were the most prevalent and diverse.) Genghis Khan’s lineage, first identified more than ten years ago by Chris Tyler-Smith, now of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, is shared by eight percent of men in 16 populations across Asia. The previously identified line that began in China with the ruler Giocangga, who died in 1582, also stood out in the new study. A third lineage has been dated to around 850 A.D., and further research could identify its founder. These three lineages expanded westward, possibly carried by sons of the founders who traveled along the Silk Road. The other lineages are estimated to date sometime between 2100 B.C. and 700 A.D., when hierarchical, authoritarian societies emerged in Asia. “Lots of men have lots of sons, by chance. But what normally doesn’t happen is the sons have a high probability of having lots of sons themselves. You have to have a reinforcing effect,” Jobling explained. To read about the search for the Mongol Emperor's tomb, see "Genghis Khan, Founder of the Mongol Empire."

The Search for the Remains of Miguel de Cervantes

MADRID, SPAIN—Archaeologists and forensic scientists are looking for the exact location of the remains of the great Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, who was buried in the chapel at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in 1616. The documents that would have recorded Cervantes’ burial place are thought to have been lost when the church was enlarged. The team has found three unidentified and unrecorded graves beneath the floor of the chapel’s crypt while using radar technology, and the scientists explored a wall niche with an endoscope camera. There are four additional areas of the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians that could be searched for the lost grave, if necessary. “Were we to find remains that fulfill the characteristics we are looking for, we could possibly pass to a next stage. That would be to compare DNA similarities with his sister, but that is a very complex step,” Francisco Etxeberria of the University of the Basque Country told the Associated Press. Luisa de Cervantes, the Don Quixote author’s sister, is known to have been buried in a convent in Alcala de Henares in 1623. 

PTSD in the Ancient World

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Soldiers have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder for at least 3,000 years, according to a paper written by Jamie Hacker Hughes, director of Anglia Ruskin University’s Veterans and Family Institute, and psychiatrist Walid Abdul-Hamid of North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. Historians often cite Herodotus’ account of Epizelus, an Athenian spear carrier who experienced psychological problems after the Marathon Wars in 490 B.C., as the first recorded case of PTSD. But texts from Mesopotamia’s Assyrian Dynasty (1300-609 B.C.) record traumas suffered by soldiers who were called upon to fight every third year during their military service. The symptoms were thought to have been caused by the spirits of the enemies whom the patient had killed in battle. “Ancient soldiers facing the risk of injury and death must have been just as terrified of hardened and sharpened swords, showers of sling-stones or iron-hardened tips of arrows and fire arrows. The risk of death and the witnessing of the death of fellow soldiers appears to have been a major source of psychological trauma,” the paper reads. “Moreover, the chance of death from injuries, which can nowadays be surgically treated, must have been much greater in those days. All these factors contributed to post-traumatic or other psychiatric stress disorders resulting from the experience on the ancient battlefield.”  To read about the dramatic consequences of a battle in the Iron Age, see "The Price of Plunder."

Friday, January 23

LEGO Pompeii Excites New Audiences

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Professional LEGO builder Ryan “The Brickman” McNaught has crafted a model of Pompeii at the University of Sydney’s Nicholson Museum, according to The Conversation. The project, which took more than 500 hours to complete and used more than 190,000 blocks, is one of the largest LEGO historical models ever built. The display shows three phases of the ancient city: as it looked in A.D. 79 when Mount Vesuvius erupted; as it appeared when it was rediscovered in the eighteenth century; and as the ruins stand today. Over the past two years, McNaught created a scale model of the Colosseum out of the colorful bricks, and the LEGO Acropolis, now on display at the Acropolis Museum in Athens. To read about the conservation of Pompeii's most famous paintings, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

Buried Pots May Have Been Part of Purification Ritual

RITTO, JAPAN—Archaeologists in Shiga Prefecture have uncovered five pots that had been arranged in a cross shape, with points facing north, south, east, and west, and buried in a hole that also contained earthenware plates in its four corners. The lidded pots each contained five coins that date to 818. One of the pots also contained a peach pit. “They were likely buried in the hope of prosperity for the building owners and others, given that ancient coins bearing such words at ‘tomi’ (wealth) and ‘kotobuki’ (congratulations), as well as a peach seed believed to clear away bad vapors and bring perpetual youth and longevity, are encased,” Towao Sakaehara of the Osaka Museum of History told The Asahi Shimbun. The jars may have been a part of a Buddhist ritual intended to purify the site of a public office or the home of a local leader. This is thought to be the first time that such a discovery has been made in Japan. To read about the possible birthplace of Buddha, go to "Lumbini, Nepal."

Early Human Ancestors Had Tool-Using Hands

KENT, ENGLAND—Matthew Skinner and Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent, and their colleagues from University College London, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and the Vienna University of Technology, have found skeletal evidence that supports the archaeological evidence for tool use by Australopithecus africanus, an early human ancestor. The team members examined the internal spongey bone structure, called trabeculae, of modern human hands, and the trabecular bone structure in the hands of chimpanzees, and they found clear differences between the two. Chimpanzees are not capable of a forceful precision grip with their hands, which is necessary when turning a key, nor are they able to perform squeeze gripping, as when using a hammer. The team members also examined the hand bones of Australopithecus africanus, and found a human-like trabecular bone pattern in the thumb and palm, suggesting that these early human ancestors would have been capable of such tool-using hand postures between two and three million years ago. Neanderthals also have modern human-like trabecular bone structures. To read about Australopithecus africanus' teeth, go to "Toothsome Evidence."

New Technology Finds Additional Tattoos on the Iceman

BOLZANO, ITALY—New tattoos have been found on the ribcage of Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old frozen mummy discovered by hikers in the Alps in 1991. Marco Samadelli, Marcello Melis, Matteo Miccoli, Eduard Vigl, and Albert R. Zink slightly thawed Ötzi’s body before they photographed it with a modified 36 MP digital SLR camera outfitted with filters to capture images in ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths. The images were processed using special software designed to detect color differences in the non-visible spectral range, and they found a group of unrecorded tattoos on the mummy’s lower right rib cage that are invisible to the naked eye. The four parallel lines are “the first tattoo … detected on the Iceman’s frontal part of the torso,” Samadelli told Red Orbit. It had been suggested in previous research that Ötzi’s tattoos may have been medicinal or therapeutic in nature, since most of the marks are said to correspond to classic Chinese acupuncture points. Ötzi is thought to have died at about 45 years of age after he was shot in the back with a stone-tipped arrow and bludgeoned. Research has also revealed that his last meal consisted of grains and ibex meat, and that he suffered from gum disease, gallbladder stones, Lyme disease, parasites, and atherosclerosis. To read more about tattoos in the ancient world, go to "Ancient Tattoos." 

Thursday, January 22

Derry’s Earliest Dated Building Unearthed

LONDONDERRY, NORTHERN IRELAND—An excavation carried out under a license from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has uncovered part of a building that is thought to have burned down in 1608, when the town of Derry was sacked by Cahir O’Doherty, whose lands had been confiscated for colonization during the reign of King James I. The timber walls and slate roof of the building collapsed into its stone cellar. Intact glass bottles were found, along with medieval pottery, musket balls, a small cannon ball, and clay pipes. “The building’s alignment is east-west and has been dated to the early 1600s. The east-west alignment is radically different to our present day Walled City street pattern. This clearly shows the building reflects the earlier street pattern based on the ecclesiastical settlement that pre-existed the plantation town of Londonderry,” Environment Minster Mark Durkan said in U TV. Derry’s city walls, which were constructed between 1613 and 1619, are intact. To read about the threat to one of the most important medieval settlements in the British Isles, go to "Saving Northern Ireland's Noble Bog."

Painted Red Numbers Found on Colosseum’s Walls

ROME, ITALY—Wanted in Rome reports that the restorers who have been carefully removing dirt and smog residue from the surface of the Colosseum have found traces of painted red numbers on its arches. Similar to today’s stadium seating systems, the numbers are thought to have directed visitors to their seats, assigned according to social class. Rossella Rea, director of the monument, says that the paint is an “exceptional discovery,”  since it had been thought that the painted numbers would not have survived. To read about the surprising uses of the Colosseum in the middle ages, go to "Colosseum Condos."

Police Raids Recover More Than 5,000 Artifacts

ROME, ITALY—A Switzerland-based art dealer and his wife have been accused of being part of an antiquities trafficking network involving tomb raiders in southern Italy; dealers; and buyers from Germany, Britain, the United States, Japan, and Australia. The looted works are thought to have been sent to Switzerland where they were restored and sold with counterfeit provenance papers. Italian police have seized more than 5,000 artifacts, including vases, jewelry, frescoes, and bronze statues dating from the eighth century B.C. to the third century A.D. The items are estimated to have been worth $64 million on the black market. “This is by a long shot the biggest recovery in history in terms of the quantity and quality of the archaeological treasures,” Carabineri General Mariano Mossa said at a news conference reported in The Columbian. Documents associated with the case could lead Italian authorities to artifacts now housed in top museums around the world. To read the dramatic story of an earlier effort to fight the illegal looting of Italy's ancient tombs, go to "Raiding the Tomb Raiders."

Arizona’s Jordan Cave Vandalized

SEDONA, ARIZONA—Jordan Cave, which was used as a dwelling by Native Americans some 800 years ago, has been vandalized, according to the U.S. Forest Department. Rocks from the dwelling were tossed over a nearby embankment. “Even just moving rocks around on the surface within the site, even if they don’t leave the site, still destroys that information,” U.S. Forest Service archaeologist Travis Bone told AZ Central. The department has released a photograph of three persons of interest in the case. The site is considered by many to be a sacred space. To read about how ancient farmers in Arizona brought water to the desert, go to "Early Irrigators."