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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, February 04

Maori Storage Pits Point to Large Settlement

TAURANGA, NEW ZEALAND—A road-widening project has uncovered more than 20 food storage pits and a pataka, or food storage building, on the Otumoetai peninsula of New Zealand’s North Island. Their size suggest that there was a large Maori settlement in the area between 200 and 400 years ago. “Kumara pits similar to those found on Maxwells Road are apparently found quite frequently in the Bay of Plenty, however we understand none have been found in the area of Tauranga to date,” Marcel Currin, Tauranga City Council communications adviser, told the Bay of Plenty Times. “Artifacts including obsidian (volcanic glass) and fragments of stone adzes have been found in the area,” he added. To read more about prehistoric archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From Hawaii: Inside Kauai's Past."

Early Christian Church Discovered in Cappadocia

NEVŞEHIR, TURKEY—Excavation of an ancient underground city in Turkey’s Cappadocia region has revealed a Christian church that could date to the fifth century A.D. “This place is even bigger than the other historical churches in Cappadocia. It was built underground and has original frescoes that have survived to this day,” the mayor of Nevşehir, Hasan Ünver, told Hürriyet Daily News. Archaeologists say that the church walls collapsed, but they will be slowly dried out and restored. “We have stopped work in order to protect the wall paintings and the church. When the weather gets warmer in the spring, we will wait for humidity to evaporate and then we will start removing the earth,” said archaeologist Ali Aydin. Some of the paintings uncovered so far are said to be unique. “There are exciting depictions like fish falling from the hand of Jesus Christ, him rising up into the sky, and the bad souls being killed. When the church is completely revealed, Cappadocia could become an even bigger pilgrimage center of Orthodoxy,” the mayor added. To read about Roman-era mosaics in Turkey, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

Viking Adaptation Predisposes Descendants to Disease

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—An inherited deficiency in alpha-1-antitrypsin (A1AT) can contribute to the onset of the debilitating illnesses of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. A1AT protects the lungs and liver from enzymes produced by the immune system, but those enzymes, called proteases, are also produced by parasitic worms. Richard Pleass of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and a team of scientists say that deviant forms of A1AT evolved in Viking populations more than 2,000 years ago to combat worm infestations. “Vikings would have eaten contaminated food and parasites would have migrated to various organs, including lungs and liver, where the proteases they released would cause disease,” he said in a press release. “Thus these deviant forms of A1AT would have protected Viking populations, who neither smoked tobacco nor lived long lives, from worms. It is only in the last century that modern medicine has allowed human populations to be treated for disease-causing worms. Consequently these deviant forms of A1AT, that once protected people from parasites, are now at liberty to cause emphysema and COPD,” he explained. To read more about Vikings, go to "Vengeance on the Vikings."

Europe’s First Modern Humans May Have Been Replaced

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—A new genetic study suggests that some 50,000 years ago, all non-Africans dispersed rapidly from a single population, and that around 14,500 years ago, there was a major turnover of the population in Europe. Researchers reconstructed the mitochondrial genomes of 35 hunter-gatherers who lived in Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, the Czech Republic, and Romania between 35,000 and 7,000 years ago. The mitochondrial DNA of three of these individuals, who lived in what is now Belgium and France more than 25,000 years ago, belonged to haplogroup M. Haplogroup M is now very common in Asian, Australasian, and Native American populations, but had not been found in Europe, leading to the argument for multiple migrations. “When the Last Glacial Maximum began around 25,000 years ago, hunter-gatherer populations retreated south to a number of putative refugia, and the consequent genetic bottleneck probably resulted in the loss of this haplogroup,” Cosimo Posth of the University of Tübingen said in a press release. The DNA study also indicates that those who survived the cold of the Last Glacial Maximum were replaced by a population from another source. To read about the art made by the first modern humans in Europe, go to "A New Life for Lion Man."

Wednesday, February 03

New Research Resets the Molecular Clock

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK—The rate at which mutations occur helps evolutionary geneticists estimate when events such as the split between the ancestors of humans and chimpanzees occurred. New estimates of the mutation rate, however, put the split between humans and chimpanzees at odds with the fossil record. Scientists at Columbia University have produced a new model, described in a press release, that takes life history traits, such as puberty and reproduction, into account for the number of mutations that are passed on to offspring. Since these life history traits evolve, the mutation rate should evolve as well. Based upon this model, the rate of mutation has slowed down, and the split between humans and other apes may have occurred as recently as 6.6 million years ago. To read more about human evolution, go to "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"

Cultural Competition May Account for Neanderthal Extinction

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—Phys.org reports that William Gilpin and Marcus Feldman of Stanford University and Kenichi Aoki of Meiji University adapted a computer model that was developed to mimic interspecies competition to investigate the interaction between modern humans and Neanderthals in Europe some 45,000 years ago. The model took cultural and technical abilities into consideration, and, as the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the results suggest that a group that was culturally more advanced may have been able to displace a group that was culturally less advanced, even if that group was initially much larger. In theory, modern humans would have been able to use their cultural and technological advantages to outcompete Neanderthals for natural resources. The researchers add that it is not clear why Neanderthals did not copy the successful culture and technology. To read more about our extinct cousins, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

3,500-Year-Old Egyptian Seal Discovered in Israel

KARNEI HATTIN, ISRAEL—A hiker discovered a 3,500-year-old Egyptian seal in the Lower Galilee on the Horns of Hattin, so-called for the twin peaks of an extinct volcano where a fortified citadel stood in the late Bronze Age. Recent rainstorms may have brought the artifact to the surface. The man handed the seal, carved in the shape of a beetle, over to the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The scarab represents Pharaoh Thutmose III (1481-1425 B.C.) sitting on his throne, and before him is a cartouche—an oval shape that contains symbols representing his name in hieroglyphics,” curator of Egyptian archaeology at the Israel museum Daphna Ben-Tor told Haaretz. “Thutmose ruled for many years during the fifteenth century B.C., and during his reign Egypt set up an administrative system of governance in Canaan. There, he waged many campaigns of conquest, of which the most famous was the battle of Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley—a victory documented in giant tablets on the walls of the Karnak Temple in [Luxor}, Egypt,” she explained. For more about Egyptian influence in the Levant, go to "Egyptian Style in Ancient Canaan." 

Tuesday, February 02

Early Lapita Site Discovered in Fiji

BUA, FIJI—According to a report in Fijivillage.com, Sepeti Matararaba of the Fiji Museum and Patrick Nunn of Australia’s University of the Sunshine Coast discovered a Lapita site dating to between 2,700 and 3,000 years ago on the northern island of Vanua Levu. The oldest-known Lapita site in Fiji was occupied approximately 3,100 years ago on the island of Viti Levu, to the south. To read about the link between tattoos and Lapita pottery, go to "Ancient Tattoos: Lapita Fragment and Engraving."

Hunting Traditions of the San Studied

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—A team of researchers has combined historical and anthropological literature with fieldwork in Namibia to gain a better understanding of how traditional San hunters use beetle arrow poisons. “Arrow-hunting appears in ancient rock-paintings of the San, but it is unclear when poisons might have been adopted. We suspect poisons were adopted very early,” entomologist Caroline Chaboo of the University of Kansas said in a press release. “In general, the beetle larvae are harvested by digging up soil around the host, sifting out the cocoons to take home. Later the cocoons are cracked open and the beetle larvae extracted. Some San hunters squeeze the beetle body fluids out onto the arrowhead, or they make a concoction with other plant juices. The arrow preparer is very careful in handling all the materials and in storing the poisoned arrows and remaining cocoons away from the community,” she explained. The poison slowly paralyzes the prey while the hunter tracks the animal until it falls over. Then the hunter makes the kill. To read more, go to "First Use of Poison."

Cultural Interaction Was Vital to Behavioral Evolution

BERGEN, NORWAY—Researchers from the University of Bergen and University of the Witwatersrand have examined artifacts from Blombos Cave and other sites in in South Africa to try and determine if different groups of people shared technology and engaged in cultural interaction during the Middle Stone Age, as early as 100,000 years ago. “The pattern we are seeing is that when demographics change, people interact more. For example, we have found similar patterns engraved on ostrich eggshells in different sites. This shows that people were probably sharing symbolic material culture, at certain times but not at others,” Karen van Niekerk of the University of Bergen said in a press release. She and Christopher Henshilwood concluded that the more contact the groups had, the stronger their technology and cultures became. “Contact across groups, and population dynamics, makes it possible to adopt and adapt new technologies and culture and is what describes Homo sapiens,” he said. To read more about Blombos Cave, go to "In Style in the Stone Age."  

First-Century Roman Wall Painting Unearthed in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—A complete collapsed wall painting dating to the first century A.D. was discovered face-down during an excavation at 21 Lime Street, London, by a team from the Museum of London Archaeology. The image is likely to have adorned a reception room in the home of a wealthy citizen. It depicts deer nibbling trees, birds, fruit, and a vine woven around a candelabrum. One area of the painting’s red panels had been painted with cinnabar thought to have been imported from Spain. The design has not been seen before in Roman Britain, but resembles a painting in a Roman villa in Cologne, Germany. The home in which it had been painted was probably demolished ahead of the construction of the second Forum Basilica. To read more about Roman frescos, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

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