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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, January 17

Explorers Find Underwater Route Connecting Maya Cenotes

TULUM, MEXICO—Telesur reports that researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History have discovered a route through underwater limestone caves connecting the Sac Actun cenote and the Dos Ojos cenote. Maya pottery, human bones, and the bones of elephant-like creatures, giant sloths, bears, tigers, and extinct species of horses have been found in the tunnel-like caves, which range in width from 400 feet to just three feet. “This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world,” said Guillermo de Anda, director of the study. It is not yet clear how the Maya artifacts came to rest in the caves. To read about another recent discovery in Mexico's cenotes, go to “Where There’s Coal….”

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Tuesday, January 16

DNA Analysis Reveals Mummies’ Familial Relationship

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—According to a Science News report, a study of mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA obtained from two ancient Egyptian mummies known as the Two Brothers has revealed that they shared a mother, but had different fathers. The 12th-Dynasty mummies were found next to each other in the same tomb in 1907. Inscriptions on their coffins mention Khnum-Aa as the mother of both of the men. The inscriptions also list an unnamed local governor as their father, but it was unclear whether the men were supposed to be full brothers. An earlier analysis of the mummies’ mitochondrial DNA, obtained from liver and intestinal samples, suggested one or both of them did not have Khnum-Aa as a mother. Scholars also noted differences in the mens' features that could indicate that they were not biologically related. So, archaeogeneticist Konstantina Drosou of the University of Manchester and her colleagues obtained more reliable samples from the mummies’ teeth for the new study. The researchers note that the results reflect the importance of the maternal line of descent to the Egyptians. For more, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

Traces of Medieval Castle Uncovered in Ireland

GALWAY, IRELAND—The Irish Times reports that limestone walls uncovered in Galway during the restoration of a fifteenth-century manor house may be part of a castle built in 1232. Called the castle of Bungalvy, the structure was built on the banks of the Corrib River by the De Burgos, an Anglo-Norman family credited with founding the port city. Charcoal deposits at the site could mark the fires that damaged the castle in 1233 and 1247. In the late thirteenth century, stone from the castle is thought to have been used to construct the nearby Red Earl’s house, which acted as a courthouse and was used by the De Burgos to collect taxes and host banquets. The De Burgos are thought to have constructed the castle at the site of a wooden defensive structure that had been built by the Gaelic O’Flaherty clan in 1124. For more, go to “Irish Vikings.”

Possible Cause of Aztec Illness Identified

JENA, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that researchers from the University of Tübingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History have detected evidence of a typhoid-like illness in the remains of Aztecs who died in epidemics between 1545 and 1550, after the arrival of Europeans in the New World. According to the historical record, those who suffered from the illness known as “cocoliztli” in the Aztec Nahuatl language had high fevers, headaches, and bleeding from the eyes, mouth, and nose, and usually died within three or four days. The scientists used a new computational program to screen fragments of bacterial DNA extracted from 29 skeletons unearthed at a cemetery site in Oaxaca, Mexico, and found the Salmonella enterica bacterium, which today causes high fevers, dehydration, and gastro-intestinal complications. This is the first time that S. enterica has been identified in ancient New World remains, they said. The microbe is known to have been present in medieval Europe, and may have traveled to the New World in domesticated animals. “We cannot say with certainty that S. enterica was the cause of the cocoliztli epidemic,” said Kirsten Bos of the Max Planck Institute. “We do believe that it should be considered a strong candidate.” For more, go to “Aztec Warrior Wolf.”

Friday, January 12

Ancient Fortress Investigated in the Scottish Highlands

INVERNESS, SCOTLAND—The Herald reports that a broch, or roundhouse, in Comar Wood has been dated to 2,400 years ago. The stone building is thought to have been the home of a local chief or lord which was taken over by local people who used it intermittently as a defensive structure. Researchers from AOC Archaeology also recovered traces of metalworking and stones for grinding grain. They said the structure had been burned down twice and rebuilt over a period of 600 years before it was finally abandoned. “We don’t know why it was used in the way it appears to have been,” said archaeologist Mary Peteranna. “More excavation would be needed to further investigate the site.” To read about another recent discovery in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

Possible Scythian Tomb Found in Siberia

BERN, SWITZERLAND—Newsweek reports that an undisturbed kurgan thought to hold the tomb of a Scythian prince has been found in southern Siberia by archaeologist Gino Caspari of Bern University. Caspari spotted the kurgan in a remote, swampy area in the Uyuk River Valley with high-resolution satellite imagery. Preliminary excavations, conducted with researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences and the State Hermitage Museum, suggest the burial dates to around 3,000 years ago, or the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. And the scientists are hopeful the tomb is situated below a layer of permafrost. “If it really turns out to be a permafrost tomb, we can hope for an exceptional preservation of objects that are usually not part of the archaeological record,” Caspari said. To read about another recent discovery in Siberia, go to “Squeezing History from a Turnip.”

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