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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, November 15

DNA Study Tracks Ancestry of Today’s Finns

HELSINKI, FINLAND—The University of Helsinki announced that scientists including Sanni Oversti of the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences analyzed mitochondrial DNA samples obtained from the remains of more than 100 individuals who were buried in Finland between the fourth and nineteenth centuries A.D., and detected separate populations in different geographic regions that all contributed to the ancestry of modern Finns. The mitochondrial DNA lineages found in southern and southwestern Finland were typical of those found among Stone Age hunter-gatherers, while the mitochondrial DNA found in eastern Finland and Russia resembled those found in European farmer populations. Genetic material recovered from remains found in western Finland has been associated with modern Sami populations. Oversti noted that in today’s Finns, however, lineages associated with ancient farmers are more common in the east, and hunter-gatherer DNA is found more often in the west. To read about the use of viral DNA to ascertain the origins of over 100 soldiers who died during World War II, go to "A Viral Fingerprint."

Study Links Climate Change to Fall of Neo-Assyrian Empire

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—Scientists led by Ashish Sinha of California State University, Dominguez Hills, analyzed and dated mineral deposits in two stalagmites taken from northern Iraq’s Kuna Ba Cave and determined that the collapse of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the seventh century B.C. coincided with a shift from a wet climate to a dry one, according to a report in The Guardian. Centered in what is now northern Iraq, the ancient empire stretched from modern Iran to Egypt and the Persian Gulf. The empire and its capital city, Nineveh, experienced higher than average levels of rainfall between 850 and 740 B.C., which encouraged the production of plentiful crops and the expansion of the empire. Megadrought conditions between 675 and 550 B.C., however, would have intensified the unrest caused by civil war, overexpansion, and military defeat. Sinha noted that modern droughts are at least as severe as these ancient ones. To read about a cache of cuneiform tablets found in Iraqi Kurdistan, go to "Assyrian Archivists."

German University Returns Ancient Wine Cup to Greece

ATHENS, GREECE—According to a report in The Guardian, the rector of Germany’s University of Münster handed over a sixth-century B.C. Greek wine cup decorated with black-figured athletes on a red clay background to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Discovered in a tomb in central Greece, the cup was awarded to water carrier Spyros Louis, who won the first modern marathon in 1896. Georgios Kivvadias, director of vase collections for the museum, said there is no record of the vase from that time until it appeared in the collection of archaeologist Werner Peek, who was working at the German Archaeological Institute in Athens. Peek, a known Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite, entrusted the collection of artifacts to notorious Nazi leader Hermann Göring when he visited Athens in 1934. Göring smuggled the objects out of the country in diplomatic pouches, and Peek recovered them when he returned to Germany in 1937. Peek eventually sold the artifacts to the University of Münster in the late 1980s. The cup will be transferred to the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games at Olympia sometime next year. To read about the temple of Hera at ancient Olympia, go to "A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics."


More Headlines
Thursday, November 14

Origins of Egypt’s Sacred Ibis Mummies Examined

QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA—According to a Cosmos Magazine report, paleogeneticist Sally Wasef of Griffith University and her colleagues analyzed DNA extracted from the mummified remains of African sacred ibises and found it unlikely that the ancient Egyptians raised the birds in hatcheries or farms. The remains of at least several million Threskiornis aethiopicus, mummified between 600 B.C. and A.D. 250, have been recovered from ancient temples dedicated to Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom. Ibis mummies are thought to have been available for purchase at the temples, where they were put on display as offerings, and then eventually moved into tunnels and storage rooms beneath the temples. The 40 DNA samples in the study were collected from five such catacombs. Wasef and her team members were able to recover mitochondrial genomes from 14 of them, and found that none of these birds were closely related to each other through the maternal line, as they would have been if they had been bred in captivity for generations. She suggests the priests of Thoth captured wild birds or collected their eggs seasonally, then raised the chicks for eventual mummification without trying to breed them. Threskiornis aethiopicus is now extinct in Egypt. To read more about animal mummies, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

World War II Submarine Discovered Near Japan

WASHINGTON, D.C.—WFAA reports that the wreckage of the USS Grayback has been discovered under 1,427 feet of water off the southwest coast of Okinawa, Japan, by members of the Lost 52 Project team, who examined original World War II documents and realized there had been an error in the translation of the vessel’s location. The submarine was sunk by a Japanese bomber on February 26, 1944, about 100 miles from where the wreckage had been thought to be at rest. All 80 people on board, including commanding officer Lieutenant Commander John A. Moore, were lost. To read about the wreckage of a World War II aircraft carrier that was recently discovered in the South Pacific, go to "Understanding Hornet's Fate."

Scientists Analyze Composition of Ancient Egyptian Bones

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—Researchers from the Department of Energy/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announced that they have worked with scholars from the University of Cairo to analyze samples of mummified bone and soil collected at sites in Egypt where human remains were found, in an effort to determine if chemicals in the bone reflected the person’s daily activities, or if the soil chemistry had changed the composition of the bones over time. The analysis was conducted with X-ray and infrared light-based techniques. The mummified bone samples, which range from 2,000 to 4,000 years old, came from the burial ground at Saqqara in northern Egypt, and Aswan, an ancient city located in southern Egypt. Mohamed Kasem of Cairo University said the researchers detected lead, aluminum, and other elements in the bones that they think reflect the toxicity of the ancient Egyptian environment. The aluminum is thought to have come from the potassium alum compound added to drinking water to reduce cloudiness, while the lead in the bones is likely to have come from the lead used to polish pottery. Kasem said the team of researchers is continuing to experiment with different high-tech techniques to sort out the sources of elements found in the ancient bones. To read about the diet of ancient Egyptians living on the Giza Plateau over 4,000 years ago, go to "Let Them Eat Soup."

18th-Century Field Writing Kit Unearthed on Rogers Island

FORT EDWARD, NEW YORK—A brass field writing kit has been unearthed at the site of an eighteenth-century house on an island in the Hudson River, according to a report in The Post Star. The house is thought to have been inhabited by British military officers during the French and Indian War. David Starbuck of Plymouth State University said this is the first time he has uncovered such a writing kit, which includes an inkpot and a long quill holder, at a military site in the region. The word “Barker,” etched on the quill holder, refers to a German company, he added. A metal spit for roasting meat in the fireplace, a lead ingot, an ax head, musket balls, cuff links, brass buttons and buckles, coins, a key, a pewter spoon, tobacco pipes, butchered animal bones, and a bone-handled fork and knife were also recovered from the structure’s dirt floor. For more on the excavations on Rogers Island, go to "Letter from Lake George: Exploring the Great Warpath."

Wednesday, November 13

20th-Century Artifact Found in 15th-Century Estonian Shipwreck

TALLINN, ESTONIA—Estonian Public Broadcasting reports that a road construction project has uncovered a wooden ship near the harbor at Tallinn, which is located on the Baltic Sea coast. Archaeologist Rivo Bernotas explained that the ship was dated to the late fifteenth century by the presence of musket shot at the site, but the researchers also uncovered a can of food with an expiration date of 1972 within the ship’s structure. A modern metal cable was found attached to the ship’s bow as well. Bernotas suggests the ship was moved and reburied in the twentieth century, during the Soviet era, because it was obstructing a shipping lane or construction work. The researchers will create a 3-D model of the site, take samples of wood from the ship to confirm its age and origins, and interview people who worked at the port and may have witnessed the vessel’s relocation. To read about the wreck of a sixteenth-century Dutch ship found during a recent shipping accident, go to "Spring Boards."

High-Status Medieval House Uncovered in Wales

CARDIFF, WALES—BBC News reports that the remains of a high-status building thought to date to about A.D. 1450 were found next to the thirteenth-century ruins of a structure known as the Old Bishop’s Castle during an archaeological investigation ahead of a construction project. Volunteers helped to uncover the building’s surviving walls, which stand about six feet tall and more than three feet thick. In addition the excavators unearthed a fireplace, checkered ceramic floor tiles, animal bones, horse shoes, and a thirteenth-century French counting token, known as a jeton. Archaeologist Tim Young said the fireplace was built with distinctive stone imported from Bath, which had also been used in the construction of the nearby Llandaff Cathedral. To read about a summer drought that exposed the outlines of a medieval castle in Wales, go to "The Marks of Time."

Roman Catacomb Discovered in Egypt

KANAZAWA, JAPAN—Ahram Online reports that a catacomb containing human remains has been discovered at the Saqqara necropolis by a team of archaeologists led by Nozomu Kawai of Kanazawa University. Kawai said the catacomb, which is located in a previously uninvestigated rock escarpment on the North Saqqara plateau, dates to the first or second century A.D. and features a combination of artifacts in Egyptian and Greco-Roman styles. A staircase leads to the entrance of the vaulted mudbrick structure and its limestone chamber. A niche containing a stela depicting the deities Sokar, Thoth, and Anubis was also found. An inscription in Greek on the stela, which Kawai thinks had been reused, may have been a later addition. Terracotta vessels, small figurines of Isis-Aphrodite, and a pair of limestone lion statues standing about 13 inches tall were also found in the catacomb. Outside the structure, the team found burials dating from the Roman to the Coptic periods and a mudbrick mastaba tomb that could be 5,000 years old. To read about the recent discovery of over 30 mummies at the necropolis, go to "Saqqara's Working Stiffs."