COUNTY TYRONE, NORTHERN IRELAND—At the site of Tullaghoge Fort, the hilltop where chieftans of the O’Neill clan were crowned from the 14th to 17th century, archaeologists have uncovered surprising evidence of inhabitants of this area from a much earlier time period when people first settled on the islands, reports the Belfast Telegraph. "We were looking back 700 years and we got 7,000, that would be a good way to put it," archaeologist John O’Keefe told the paper. During excavations in preparation for a new visitors’ center, researchers have unearthed flint tool fragments dating to before 5000 B.C. They also found other evidence at Tullaghoghe Fort that will help to fill in the site’s history before the powerful O’Neills ruled the land, including traces of cereal harvesting there during the 7th to 9th centuries A.D. "We think we have a better understanding of the site as it would have been when the O'Neills were there but now we have found this other layer of history that we didn't expect to find," said O'Keeffe. To read more about a series of puzzling Bronze Age structures in Ireland. Go to "Letter from Ireland: Mystery of the Fulacht Fiadh."
INTERNATIONAL FALLS, MN—A place known for its frigid winter temperatures may soon be attracting visitors in the warmer months to see one of Minnesota’s most impressive ancient attractions. About 15 miles from the city, the site of Grand Mound, a 25-foot-high burial mound that is thought to be the largest prehistoric structure in the Upper Midwest, may once again be open to the public after remaining closed for 8 years, reports the Grand Forks Herald. Though once concerned about using a burial site as a tourist attraction, the Indian Advisory Council now believes that it would be appropriate to open Grand Mound to visitors once again and to continue efforts to ensure the mound’s long-term preservation. Grand Mound is the largest of five burial mounds that make up the site and were built by the Laurel Indians more than 2,000 years ago. To read about massive prehistoric earthen mounds of Georgia, go to “City Beneath the Mounds."
STOKKE, NORWAY—A skeleton found south of Oslo may be the oldest human remains ever found in the country. Dating to perhaps 8,000 years ago, the skeleton, dubbed “Brunstad Man,” is a “sensational discovery in a Norwegian, and indeed even in a north European context,” archaeologist Almut Schülke told The Local. Found in a fetal position, as is common for Mesolithic period (10,000-4000 B.C.) burials, Brunstad Man will be carefully studied at a laboratory in Oslo to determine his age at the time of his death and to search for evidence of his diet. Researchers also hope to learn how he found his way to Scandinavia so many thousands of years ago. To read about the discovery of more than 100 medieval Norwegian burials, go to “Medieval Graves Unearthed in Norway.”
TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA—At the location of a former parking lot in the city of Hobart, a team from the University of Tasmania has uncovered artifacts relating to the site’s past history as a nineteenth-century farmer’s market, reports ABC News. Tokens for free beers or to signify good credit, coins, jewelry, and even parts of a leather saddle and riding boots are among the objects unearthed thus far on the site of what will be a new dormitory for students of the university. The site is one of the oldest parts of the city, with newly excavated remains of buildings dating back to the 1820s. To read about a prison for female convicts in Tasmania, go to “Convict Mothers.”
DIROS, GREECE—DNA tests on two skeletons found in 2013 at the site of Diros in southern Greece have revealed that they belong to a man and a woman buried almost 6,000 years ago, making it the oldest of this kind in the country, lead archaeologist Anastassia Papathanassiou told the Daily News. Although it is not yet clear how the man and woman, who appear to have been in their 20s, died, Papathanassiou says it is “most likely” they died holding each other. To read about another incredible double burial, go to “Eternal Embrace.”
RZEPEDZ, POLAND—At a remote site in the Bieszczady Mountains, beyond the Carpathian Mountains, Polish archaeologists have uncovered a hoard of bronze artifacts including a pickax, and a necklace and bracelet hidden inside a clay vessel. According to Science & Scholarship in Poland, the find was originally made by an amateur who saw the ax sticking out of the ground and immediately alerted the local museum. "For me, as an archaeologist, it is very important that after finding one object the discoverer did not explore the place further himself, but reported the discovery and waited for specialists,” says Sanok Museum archaeologist Piotr Kotowicz, adding, “We do not yet know who and why had hidden the treasure so carefully.” To read more the discovery of a Viking burial in Poland, go to “An Elite Viking.”
COLUMBUS, OHIO—Archaeologists from The Ohio State University and the University of Pisa are excavating a village cemetery surrounding an abandoned church in Tuscany. In the 1850s, victims of a worldwide cholera epidemic were buried there. The bodies were buried quickly and covered in lime, likely to contain the disease’s spread, which had the unintended consequence of preserving the bones, says Ohio State bioarchaeologist Clark Spencer Larsen. “To our knowledge, these are the best preserved remains of cholera victims of this time period ever found,” says Larsen. “We’re very excited about what we may be able to learn.” The lime also may have preserved the DNA of bacteria, and the team is now studying samples of soil trapped near the bones for traces of the bacterium that causes cholera. The cemetery was in use from 1056, so the team might also recover the remains of 14th-century victims of the Black Death, as well as people from other eras. “We have a thousand-year window into the health of this village,” Larsen said. “It is a microcosm of what is happening in Italy and all of Europe during this time frame.” For more, read “Medieval DNA, Modern Medicine.”
TEMPE, ARIZONA—Hair samples taken from 14 mummies discovered in Peru’s Paracas Necropolis of Wari Kayan, and two artifacts made of human hair, have been analyzed by a team made up of Kelly Knudson of Arizona State University, Ann H. Peters of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Elsa Tomasto Cagigao of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. The mummies, each found bound in a seated position and wrapped in a cone-shaped bundle of textiles and finely embroidered garments, were discovered in 1927. The testing has shown that during the last months of their lives, the Paracas individuals ate primarily marine products, and plants such as maize and beans. If they traveled between the inland highlands and the coastal regions, they continued to eat marine products. “By using small samples of hair from these mummies, we can learn what they ate in the months and weeks before they died, which is a very intimate look at the past,” Knudson said. To read about another discovery in the region, see "Tomb of the Wari Queens."
MONTRÉAL, CANADA—Lauriane Bourgeon of the University of Montréal used a stereomicroscope to examine more than 5,000 bone fragments from Cave 2 of the Bluefish Caves site, which is located near the Alaska-Yukon border. The bones were discovered in the late 1970s, and are covered with deep scrapes and sharp gouges usually associated with human tool use, but the samples produced radiocarbon dates as much as 25,000 years old. “The history of the Bluefish Caves has been controversial for a very long time because of the hypothesis that modern humans were occupying the site at around 25,000 years ago,” Bourgeon told Western Digs. She concluded that the majority of the marks on the bones were made by scavenging carnivores, but at least two of the bones have deep, straight, parallel marks indicating that the animals were butchered by humans. “That is typically the mark of a stone tool used to de-flesh or disarticulate a carcass,” she said. The fragmentation of the bones could be a sign of processing by humans as well. “Humans…used hammer stones to break the shaft and extract its marrow. They could also break the epiphysis [the rounded end of a long bone], to boil them extract the grease,” she explained. Bourgeon expects that new radiocarbon dates will place the bones between 10,000 and 14,000 years old, a range of dates similar to those of other well-documented sites in the region. To read about the first people to reach the New World, see "America, in the Beginning."
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a report in Nature News, a study of nuclear DNA from the remains of 69 individuals who lived across Europe between 8,000 and 3,000 years ago, and the genome data of another 25 ancient Europeans, has uncovered evidence of a previously unidentified migration of people into Europe from the east. The research team, led by David Reich of Harvard Medical School, discovered that the DNA of the Yamnaya, 5,000-year-old steppe herders in western Russia, was a close match for 4,500-year-old individuals from Germany’s Corded Ware culture. Contemporary northern Europeans, including Norwegians, Scots, and Lithuanians maintain the strongest genetic link to the Yamnaya, but Reich’s team says it’s possible that the Yamnaya completely replaced populations in what is now Germany. Reich adds that the data supports the idea that at least part of the Indo-European language family was spread by the steppe herders. The domestication of horses and the invention of the wheel would have allowed them to travel long distances. To hear what Proto-Indo-European would have sounded like, see "Telling Tales in Proto-Indo-European."
HEVEL EILOT, ISRAEL—Stone structures, circles, and artifacts that may symbolize death and fertility have been found at some 100 prehistoric sites in Israel’s Eilat Mountains. The stone circles, measuring roughly five to eight feet across, have phallus-shaped installations pointing toward them. There are also 2.6-foot-tall standing stones, stone bowls, human-shaped stone carvings, and stones with vulva-shaped holes cut into them. “The circle is a female symbol, and the elongated cell is a male one,” Uzi Avner of the Arava Institute told Live Science. Burial of the stone objects and setting them upside down is thought to signify death. Bones at the sites suggest that animals may have been sacrificed. The sites may have been places where extended families of several dozen people could gather, although only two small habitations and one small campsite have been found in the region. Avner adds that more than 300 cult sites in the area still need to be surveyed. “Taking in consideration the topography, environmental conditions and the small number of known Neolithic habitations in the general southern Negev, the density of cult sites in this region is phenomenal,” the research team wrote in the Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society. To read about efforts to reconstruct technology dating to this time, see "The Neolithic Toolkit."