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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, February 14

Bronze Age Woman Unearthed in Scotland

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—Landscapers working in the Scottish Highlands discovered a stone burial chest, or cist, capped with a small cairn. A rescue excavation conducted by archaeologists from Guard Archaeology revealed the partial remains of a Bronze Age woman suffering from dental disease. Osteoarchaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick told The Scotsman that “Dental disease in the form of periodontal disease and a cyst were present and are probably symptomatic of poor oral hygiene and are probably secondary to the moderate dental wear observed on most of the teeth.” Otherwise, the woman’s bones showed that she was strong and physically active. She had been buried with an undecorated pottery beaker containing seven fragments of flint.

Human History, Written on Our Genes

OXFORD, ENGLAND—A team of scientists sequenced DNA samples from 1,490 modern people from 95 genetically distinct populations, and developed a statistical method to make inferences about which populations had interbred over the past 4,000 years. Evidence of “mixing events” was found in 80 of the populations, and some of those events coincide with historical records, such as the Hazara people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who had an influx of Mongol DNA around the time that the Mongol Empire expanded. Team member Simon Myers of the University of Oxford told Nature News that he would like to expand the model by using larger sample sizes and by adding ancient DNA samples. “That will give us a deeper understanding of human history,” he explained.

Stolen Bas-Relief Recovered in Canada

MONTREAL, QUEBEC—A fragment of a fifth-century B.C. Persian relief that had been stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011 was recovered by police from a home in Edmonton. Security footage shows a suspect in the museum, but the authorities are not sure how he removed the Persian relief, in addition to a Roman first-century B.C. marble sculpture, from their displays and got them out of the building in broad daylight. The Edmonton man, who has been charged with possessing stolen property and possessing the proceeds of a crime, paid $1,400 for the relief while on a trip to Montreal. “I cannot give you details to how it was purchased because the investigation is still ongoing it might interfere with the next steps of the investigation,” Sgt. Joyce Kemp of the Quebec Provincial Police force told CBC News.

Thursday, February 13

Bronze Age Burial Uncovered in Scottish Playground

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A 4,000-year-old skeleton with worn teeth was uncovered in a school playground. Archaeologists had been looking for traces of a medieval harbor in the village of Newhaven when they found the Bronze Age man, who had been about 50 years old when he died. He was buried in a crouching position with a pottery vessel. His teeth were probably worn from a diet of bread made from stone-ground grain. “We have removed the bones—the skull and bones from the upper body and arms, the pelvis and leg bones. Some of the middle is missing after being disturbed, possibly in the medieval period,” Edinburgh City Council’s archaeology officer, John Lawson, told The Edinburgh Evening News.

Bottle Gourds Floated to the New World

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—A new genetic study of bottle gourds, which originated in Africa and have been used as lightweight containers all over the world, indicates that pre-Columbian specimens in the Americas are more closely related to African varieties. It had been thought that migrating humans carried gourds from the Asian subspecies with them over the Bering land bridge into North America, but archaeological evidence for the use of bottle gourds has not been found in Siberia, Alaska, or the Pacific Northwest. Logan Kistler of Pennsylvania State University and his team conclude that the gourds could have floated to the West African coast by river, and then drifted to the New World on Atlantic currents, probably landing on the coast of Brazil, where they took root. “Now, it’s really quite clear that [the bottle gourd] reached the New World under its own steam,” team member Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History told Science.

3,600-Year-Old Wooden Sarcophagus Discovered in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s antiquities minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced that a joint Spanish-Egyptian team of archaeologists discovered a wooden sarcophagus dating to 1600 B.C. in Luxor, at the Dra Abul-Naga necropolis. Dubbed the “Feathers Sarcophagus,” the lid of the human-shaped coffin is painted with bird feathers and the titles of the deceased, whose well-preserved mummy is thought to have been a high-ranking official. The shaft of the tomb had been blocked with limestone, protecting its contents from looters in antiquity. José Galan, head of the Spanish team, told Ahram Online that the excavation remains in full swing.

Early British Farmers Preferred Dairy Foods

BRISTOL, ENGLAND--A recent analysis of the chemicals in human bones and residues from cooking pots found at archaeological sites across Britain show that in 4600 B.C., early hunters ate venison, wild boar, and seafood. Researchers from the University of Bristol and of Cardiff University found that when domesticated farm animals were brought to the island some 6,000 years ago, however, Britons abandoned wild foods and seafood in preference of milk and animals that produce it for the next 4,000 years. “Whilst we like to think of ourselves as a nation of fish eaters, with fish and chips as our national dish, it seems that early British farmers preferred beef, mutton and milk,” Jacqui Mulville of Cardiff University told The Australian

Wednesday, February 12

Medieval Mass Grave Unearthed in Florence

FLORENCE, ITALY—A mass grave dating to the sixth or seventh century A.D. has been unearthed at a building site in Florence. The 60 bodies, perhaps representing victims of an epidemic, had been laid out head-to-toe, which is often done to maximize space. “We will conduct DNA and carbon-14 tests to determine the cause and time of death, as well as information on diet, pathologies, and work-related stresses at the time,” Tuscany Archaeology Superintendent Andrea Pessina told ANSAmed.

Clovis Child’s DNA Links Native Americans to Early Ancestors

WILSALL, MONTANA—In 1968, the only known Clovis burial site was discovered accidentally on the property of the Anzick family in central Montana. The 12,600-year-old grave, the oldest in North America, contained the skeleton of a small child and some 125 artifacts, including Clovis fluted spear points and tools made from rare elk antlers. Now, DNA obtained from the bones indicates that the Clovis people are direct ancestors to some 80 percent of modern Native Americans. The results also suggest that the Clovis people originated in Asia. “I feel like this discovery confirms what tribes never really doubted—that we’ve been here since time immemorial and that all of the artifacts in the ground are remnants of our direct ancestors,” Shane Doyle of Montana State University told Live Science.

Viking Code Cracked

  OSLO, NORWAY—Runologist K. Jonas Nordby of the University of Oslo has deciphered the ancient Norse jötunvillur code, found on nine known inscriptions. Nordby used a thirteenth-century stick on which two men had carved their names, Sigurd and Lavrans, in standard runes and in the code. The confusing system requires that the reader have a good working knowledge of the runes in order to swap them out with others for sounds in their names. “What if codes were used like a game, playing with a system? With jötunvillur, you had to learn the names of runes, so I think codes were used in teaching, in learning to write and read runes,” he told The Guardian.

Richard III’s Genome To Be Sequenced

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Turi King of the University of Leicester will sequence Richard III’s genome and analyze the DNA of his mitochondria, along with that of one of his living relatives. The information could tell researchers about the king’s hair, eyes, and possible diseases. The comparison of the mitochondrial DNA taken from Richard III and the relative will examine their relationship through the maternal line. “Sequencing the genome of Richard III is a hugely important project that will help to teach us not only about him, but ferment discussion about how our DNA informs our sense of identity, our past and our future,” King told Culture 24.