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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, October 30

Study Suggests Some Dogs and Humans Traveled Together

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Science Magazine reports that evolutionary biologist Greger Larson of the University of Oxford, paleogenomicist Pontus Skoglund of the Francis Crick Institute, and their colleagues analyzed the genomes of more than 2,000 dogs who lived in Europe, Siberia, and the Near East as early as 11,000 years ago, and compared them to the genomes of 17 modern humans who lived in the same places at the same times. The researchers found that there were already five distinct domesticated dog lineages some 11,000 years ago. Traces of these lineages can still be found in living dogs, such as the American lineage in Chihuahuas, and the Siberian lineage in Huskies. The study also suggests that wolf genes did not survive in domesticated dogs, even though wolves acquired dog genes. Larson explained that the introduction of wolf DNA into domesticated dogs could have produced poor guard dogs and hunting companions. “If you’re a dog and you have a bit of wolf in you, that’s terrible,” he said. People would not keep such a dog, he explained. As for the comparison of the dog and human genomes, the study shows that some populations migrated with their dogs. For example, farmers from the Near East traveled with their dogs to Sweden, where they lived together some 5,000 years ago. Other migrants adopted local dogs on arrival, however. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science. To read about the Inuits' specialized breed of sled dog, go to "Around the World: Arctic."

Denisovan DNA Dated in China

LANZHOU, CHINA—Science News reports that Dongju Zhang of Lanzhou University and her colleagues have dated Denisovan mitochondrial DNA found in the layers of sediments in Baishiya Karst Cave on the Tibetan Plateau, which is located some 1,700 miles to the northwest of Siberia’s Denisova Cave, where Denisovan remains were first identified. Stone tools and animal bones were also recovered from the layers. Zhang said the presence of Denisovan genetic material in Baishiya Karst Cave suggests that Denisovans lived on the Tibetan Plateau some 100,000 years ago, and then again 60,000 years ago. DNA in layers dated to between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago further suggest that the hominins could have encountered modern humans, who arrived in the region some 40,000 years ago. Interbreeding with Denisovans may have helped modern humans adapt to living at the high altitude of the Tibetan Plateau, although it is not clear if that mixing took place there. Zhang said the study also suggests that Denisovan populations were widespread in eastern Eurasia. For more, go to "Denisovans at Altitude," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.

Early Christian Church Unearthed in Turkey

DENIZLI, TURKEY—A building featuring 20 columned corridors arranged around a courtyard has been discovered next to a theater in southwestern Turkey’s ancient city of Laodicea, according to a Hurriyet Daily News report. Celal Şimşek of Pamukkale University said the structure was used as a home, as a place of business, and as a Christian church. “The hall in the west was organized for men and the one in the east for women and a place of worship was made here in the east hall,” he said. The eastern hall faced north and was decorated with marble coverings on the walls, he added. “We think that the Laodicea Church was built after Christianity was made free, [in the late fourth century A.D.], and the high-ranking clergy there probably lived in this house, but we have not yet made a clear determination regarding this,” Şimşek said. The building could help researchers understand how Christianity spread throughout the region, he explained. To read about a submerged basilica discovered on the shores of Turkey's Lake Iznik, go to "Sunken Byzantine Basilica," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.


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Thursday, October 29

Pet Cemetery Survey Reflects Changes in Human Attitudes

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by Newcastle University, Eric Tourigny examined more than 1,000 animal headstones in pet cemeteries in Newcastle and London in order to study changing attitudes toward pets over a period of 100 years, beginning in 1881, when the first public pet cemetery opened in London. Tourigny found that throughout the study period, mourners compared death to sleep. Yet in the Victorian era, headstone inscriptions referred to pets as companions and friends, while more recent inscriptions called the buried pets family members and expressed the hope that the animals would be reunited with their owners more frequently. After World War II, references to animals as family members rose, a change that coincided with the increase in the use of family surnames on pet gravestones. Some of the earlier references put the surname in parentheses or quotation marks. Tourigny suggests this reluctance to acknowledge pets as full members of the family may reflect a conflict between personal feelings and societal norms. To read about ancient Egyptian animal mummies, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

Iron Age Site Found in Scotland

ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that researchers have discovered traces of 23 structures dated to as early as 800 B.C. on heavily plowed land in eastern Scotland, near the coast of the North Sea, ahead of a construction project. Archaeologist Ali Cameron said that more than 300 samples of charcoal had been recovered for dating purposes. It is not clear yet if the site was used as a domestic settlement or for industrial purposes. “If you get a lot of grain, you might be looking at a domestic site, for example,” she said. The samples could also indicate how individual buildings were used. “The site is higher up and you get this fantastic view over the bay,” she added. “It’s a great location and you can imagine why people wanted to settle there.” To read about new research on the Neolithic-period Maeshowe passage grave on the island of Orkney, go to "Around the World: Scotland."

Possible Slave Quarter Uncovered in Maryland

ST. MARY’S COUNTY, MARYLAND—WTOP News reports that the possible site of a 300-year-old slave quarter has been found near an eighteenth-century brick manor once inhabited by Jesuit missionaries. Julie Schablitsky, chief archaeologist for the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration, and her colleagues have recovered clay pipes, ceramic cups, and nails where the cabins are thought to have stood. Schablitsky explained that although the Jesuits were prolific record keepers, very little information about the enslaved African Americans who worked their fields has survived. Historical documents do indicate that 272 enslaved people from Maryland were sold in 1838 at a site located near the manor. To read about a Union Army camp in Kentucky where enslaved men, women, and children fought to be free, go to "A Path to Freedom."

Wednesday, October 28

World War II Execution Site Investigated in Poland

CHOJNICE, POLAND—Dawid Kobiałka of the Polish Academy of Sciences, with the assistance of an 88-year-old eyewitness, has found personal belongings, bullets, and charred human bone, including fragments of skulls, teeth, femurs, and a vertebra, just under the surface of the ground in an area of northern Poland dubbed “Death Valley,” according to a report by The First News. During World War II, German death squads carried out at least two mass killings at the site, Kobiałka said. In 1945, near the end of the war, an estimated 600 people, thought to have been members of the Polish resistance and Gestapo prisoners from the prison in Bydgoszcz, were shot and killed at the site. “According to historical records, the crime was committed by the Gestapo and members of the German police,” Kobiałka said. “The bullets and shells came from the Walther PPK and P08 Parabellum pistols, suggesting the victims were executed at close range.” The remains were then burned with gasoline-fueled fires, turning most of the bones to ash. “The gasoline barrels that still lie in Death Valley confirm it,” he said. Kobiałka and his colleagues are still combing historical records for information on the site. To read about a tunnel discovered at the Nazi death camp Sobibor, go to "World Roundup: Poland."

Scientists Analyze Ancient Egyptian Ink

GRENOBLE, FRANCE—Cosmos Magazine reports that a team of chemists, physicists, and Egyptologists from the University of Copenhagen and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility used advanced X-ray microscopy equipment to analyze the chemical composition of the ink markings found on papyrus fragments from Egypt’s ancient Tebtunis temple library. The study suggests that as early as A.D. 100, the ancient Egyptians added lead to the ink to help it to dry. The lead is not thought to have been used as a pigment because only one type of lead was detected in the inks. It had been previously thought that this technique was first employed by Renaissance painters in the fifteenth century. Egyptologist Thomas Christiansen of the University of Copenhagen said that the priests in charge of the temple library probably acquired such complex ink from specialists or oversaw its production at a specialized workshop. To read about imaging technology that has helped researchers read erased papyrus texts from St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, go to "Recovering Hidden Texts."