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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, December 3

Neanderthal Known as “Old Man of La Chapelle” Re-Examined

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—According to a CNN report, researchers led by Martin Häusler of the University of Zurich think the Neanderthal individual known as the “Old Man of La Chapelle” may have suffered from brucellosis in addition to osteoarthritis. The symptoms of brucellosis include fever, muscular pain, and night sweats, and over time, arthritis pain, back pain, infertility, and endocarditis, or inflammation of the heart valves. Häusler thinks the man, who died between the ages of 50 and 60 some 50,000 years ago in central France, had a mild form of the disease since he lived into old age. Today, the disease is usually caused by consuming unpasteurized milk or cheese from infected goats or sheep, direct contact with infected animals, or inhaling airborne organisms. The inflammation observed on the bones of this Neanderthal man may have come from butchering or cooking infected wild sheep or cattle, bison, reindeer, hares, or marmots. Mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses, which were also animals hunted by Neanderthals, are unlikely to have carried the disease, Häusler explained, because it is rarely found in their living relatives today. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Scientific Reports. For more recent research on Neanderthals, go to "Neanderthal Hearing."

Who Made Tanzania's "Laetoli A" Footprints?

ATHENS COUNTY, OHIO—Live Science reports that a new analysis of five consecutive fossilized footprints at the site of Laetoli in northern Tanzania suggests they may have been left behind by an unknown hominin with an unusual cross-stepping gait. These prints, known as “Laetoli A,” had previously been thought to have been made by a bear walking on its hind legs, while other tracks at the site have been attributed to Australopithecus afarensis. Biological anthropologist Ellison McNutt of Ohio University and her colleagues re-excavated the well-preserved prints and measured, photographed, and took 3-D scans of them. The researchers then compared the prints with tracks made by humans, chimpanzees, and semiwild juvenile black bears at a bear rescue and rehabilitation center. They found that although the Laetoli A footprints are unusually wide and short, they look more like hominin prints than those left behind by bears, which are fanlike with tapering heels, McNutt explained. Hominin prints are squared off and feature a prominent big toe and a wide heel. And while thousands of fossils have been found at Laetoli, she added, none of them are from bears. The hominin that left these prints may have shared the landscape with Australopithecus afarensis, McNutt concluded. For more, go to "Proof in the Prints."


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Thursday, December 2

16th-Century Altar Uncovered in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—BBC News reports that an altar and a pot containing human ashes and 13 incense burners have been found some 13 feet below ground level in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi by Mara Becerra of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History and her colleagues. The altar, thought to have been used to mark the cycles of life with rituals, has been dated to sometime between 1521, when the Spanish conquered Tenochtitlan, and 1610. Becerra thinks the altar was placed in a courtyard within the home of a Mexica family in order to hide it from the Spanish. The dwelling had a large room connected by a corridor to five smaller rooms, one of which may have been a kitchen. To read about a golden eagle relief recently uncovered near Tenochtitlan's Templo Mayor, go to "Around the World: Mexico."

Excavation of 3,400-Year-Old Tombs in Cyprus Completed

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN—According to a statement released by the University of Gothenburg, the four-year excavation of two Bronze Age tombs at the site of Hala Sultan Tekke in Cyprus has yielded the remains of more than 150 people and some 500 artifacts, including jewelry and other objects made of gold, silver, bronze, ivory, and gemstones. The tombs are thought to be the burial site for the city’s ruling elite for several generations, explained team leader Peter Fischer. A ceramic bull with a hollow body found in one of the tombs is thought to have held wine during feasts to honor the dead. One child who died at about five years of age was buried wearing a gold necklace, gold earrings, and a gold tiara. The researchers also recovered a hematite cylinder-shaped seal bearing a cuneiform inscription. The text names two kings, who were father and son, and the Mesopotamian god Amurru. Other imported items included carnelian from India, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, and amber from the Baltic Sea region. Scarabs, fish remains, and a gold pendant in the shape of a lotus flower with inlaid gemstones are evidence of intensive trade with Egypt, Fischer added. Similar jewelry, he explained, was worn by Nefertiti in 1350 B.C. To read about artifacts recovered from aristocratic family tombs in Classical-era Cyprus, go to "Living the Good Afterlife."

1,600-Year-Old Settlement Found in Northern India

HARYANA, INDIA—The Indian Express reports that an archaeological site estimated to be 1,600 years old has been discovered over an area of two acres in the Yamunanagar district of northern India's state of Haryana. Banani Bhattacharya of the Haryana Archaeology Department and Dhuman Singh Kirmach of the Haryana Saraswati Heritage Development Board said that more than 30 coins, bricks, pottery, and remains of a statue have been found, along with a possible fort and temple. To read about the development of yoga practice in ancient India, go to "The Pursuit of Wellness: Balance."

Neanderthal Babies May Have Started Teething Early

CANTERBURY, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Kent, Neanderthal infants may have developed faster than modern human babies, based upon the study of a 120,000-year-old Neanderthal milk tooth discovered in what is now Croatia by an international team of researchers led by Patrick Mahoney of the University of Kent. The enamel that covers baby teeth has lines demarcating enamel produced before and after birth, and the space between the lines indicates how much enamel was grown in a single day, according to prior research. Analysis of the lines in this tooth indicates that the tooth erupted from the child’s gum between four and seven months of age. In modern humans, baby teeth usually begin to appear between seven and ten months of age. Similar markings were also found on the three intact teeth in another Neanderthal jawbone. The researchers suggest that Neanderthal children may therefore have begun eating solid foods earlier than modern human children, perhaps to fuel their potentially larger brains. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. To read about a Neanderthal child's tooth uncovered in the Zagros Mountains, go to "World Roundup: Iran."

Wednesday, December 1

Two Bronze Age Hoards Discovered in England

ROYSTON, ENGLAND—An organized group of metal detectorists exploring in southern England have discovered two Bronze Age hoards, according to a BBC News report. The first hoard was found when a 13-year-old girl and her father uncovered what they thought was an ax. The second hoard was soon found nearby, and archaeologists from Cambridgeshire County Council and Oxford Archaeology East were called in to excavate the two sites. The researchers uncovered more than 200 objects in the two hoards, which may have been related. “Included are a variety of incomplete artifacts such as socketed ax heads, winged ax heads, cake ingots, and blade fragments, all of which are made of copper alloy,” said Lorna Dupré, a member of the county council. The objects will be studied at the British Museum. To read about another Bronze Age hoard that was uncovered in East London, go to "Tool Time."

Stalagmites Offer Clues to Demise of Neolithic City in China

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA—Cosmos Magazine reports that an international team of researchers led by geologist Christoph Spötl of the University of Innsbruck turned to nearby caves to look for clues to the demise of the Neolithic city of Liangzhu, a 5,300-year-old site near China’s eastern coast where people built a complex water system to nourish their crops. The city was inhabited for about 1,000 years before it was abruptly abandoned. “A thick layer of clay was found on the preserved ruins, which points to a possible connection between the demise of the advanced civilization and floods of the Yangtze River or floods from the East China Sea,” Spötl explained. No evidence could be found for war or other conflicts, and no clear evidence for flooding was found in the layer of mud, he added. To look for additional evidence, the scientists first dated the stalagmites with uranium-thorium dating, and then determined humidity levels when they were formed through carbon isotope analysis. The test results suggest there were extremely high levels of precipitation between 4,345 and 4,324 years ago, which corresponds with the decline of Liangzhu, Spötl said. He thinks the massive monsoon rains were too much for the Neolithic system of dams and canals to withstand, forcing people to flee the city. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. To read more about Liangzhu, go to "Early Signs of Empire."

Face of Diadem-Wearing Woman Digitally Reconstructed

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Live Science reports that scientific illustrator Joana Bruno collaborated with archaeologists from the Autonomous University of Barcelona to build a virtual reconstruction of the face of a Bronze Age woman whose remains were discovered in southeastern Spain’s site of La Almoloya. The woman died some 3,700 years ago between the ages of 25 and 30, perhaps from tuberculosis. She was missing a neck vertebra and rib, and had a stunted left thumb. She was buried wearing a silver diadem, beaded necklaces, silver rings, bracelets, spiral hairpieces, earplugs with spirals, a silver-rimmed drinking pot, and a silver-handled awl. Her remains were interred in a large ovoid pot with the skeleton of a man thought to have died several years earlier. Laser scanning was used to obtain measurements of the woman’s skull and lower jaw, while the diadem allowed Bruno to estimate the size of the upper portion of the skull, which was not preserved. Laser scans of the jewelry were also added to the image, Bruno explained. When combined with DNA analysis, the process of facial reconstruction may help researchers see similarities of features and kinship among those buried at La Almoloya, Bruno concluded. For more on this burial, go to "Crowning Glory."

More Denisovan Fossils Found in Siberia

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—According to a Live Science report, three Denisovan fossils have been identified in a collection of more than 3,000 bone scraps recovered from a deep layer in Siberia’s Denisova Cave. The fossils were identified through analysis of proteins based on previous studies of Denisovan DNA. Two of the bones, estimated to be 200,000 years old, may have come from one individual or two relatives. Stone artifacts such as scrapers were also found in this layer. “This is the first time we can be sure that Denisovans were the makers of the archaeological remains we found associated with their bone fragments,” said Katerina Douka of the University of Vienna. The bones of deer, gazelle, horse, bison, and woolly rhinoceroses were also identified. “We can infer that Denisovans were well adapted to their environments, utilizing every resource available to them,” Douka added. For more on Denisovans, go to "Denisovans at Altitude," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.