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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, July 24

A History of Citrus Fruit

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Archaeobotanist Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University has traced the spread of citrus fruit from Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean, according to a report in Live Science. She used ancient texts, murals, coins, and other artifacts to study the ancient citrus trade, and she tracked the spread of citrus fruits from Southeast Asia into the Mediterranean through fossil pollen, charcoals, seeds, and other fruit remains. Langgut found that by the third and second centuries B.C., the citron had spread to the western Mediterranean from the Levant, where a 2,500-year-old fruit was found in a Persian-style garden in Jerusalem. The oldest lemon found in Rome dates to sometime between the late first century B.C. and the early first century A.D. She explained that, at first, lemons and citrons were reserved for the Roman elite, who prized them for their healing qualities, pleasant odor, taste, and symbolic use. She thinks sour oranges, limes, and pomelos may have been grown as cash crops more than a millennium later, which made them available to more people. “The Muslims played a crucial role in the dispersal of cultivated citrus in Northern Africa and Southern Europe, as evident also from the common names of many of the citrus types which were derived from Arabic,” Langgut said. For more on the archaeology of food, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

18th-Century Plague Victims Unearthed in Medieval Cemetery

POZNAŃ, POLAND—The remains of three people who may have died during an early eighteenth-century epidemic have been unearthed at the site of a medieval cemetery in west-central Poland, according to a report in Science & Scholarship in Poland. A silver coin helped archaeologists date the burials. “The medieval graves are dug deep beneath the surface of the earth, so it was a surprise to discover three skeletons above them,” said archaeologist Pawel Pawlak. As many as eight or nine thousand people, or 65 percent of the population of Poznań, are thought to have died of the plague in 1709. “The residents of Poznań had to deal with the burials of their loved ones themselves,” Pawlak explained. The bodies are thought to have been buried in a garden near a house. One of the bodies, which appears to have belonged to an elderly woman, had been placed in a pine coffin, and the other two were probably just wrapped in shrouds. Among the medieval burials in the cemetery, Pawlak’s team also found the remains of a man who may have been executed and quartered before he was hastily buried in a pit. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow.”

Small Pot Unearthed at Scotland’s Ness of Brodgar

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a rare small pot with a “waisted” profile has been discovered at the Ness of Brodgar, a 5,000-year-old complex of monumental stone buildings enclosed by thick stone walls. Victorian archaeologists suggested such pots could have held incense, perhaps in ceremonies, according to site director Nick Card. He added that such pots seem to be associated with the burials, but analysis of residues in the pots has been inconclusive. The pots could also have been used to carry embers for cremations, he said. To read in-depth about the Ness of Brodgar, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

Possible Extinct Human Relative Detected in Saliva

BUFFALO, NEW YORK—According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers led by Omer Gokcumen of the University at Buffalo say they detected a “ghost” species of ancient hominin while they were studying a protein that occurs in saliva and its influence on the bacteria in the human mouth. To study the protein, known as MUC7, the researchers examined the MUC7 gene in more than 2,500 modern human genomes. The researchers say a version of the gene found in people living in sub-Saharan Africa was “wildly different” from those found in other modern humans. Gokcumen explained that even the MUC7 genes from Neanderthal and Denisovan samples were closer to those of other modern human populations than the sub-Saharan variant. He thinks the variation may have been introduced to the population by an as-yet-undiscovered hominin that lived as recently as 150,000 years ago, based upon gene mutation rates. For more, go to “Proteins Solve a Hominin Puzzle.”

Friday, July 21

Dog Domestication: The Survival of the Friendliest?

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY—Live Science reports that it may have taken just a few genetic changes to transform wolves into creatures who can communicate and interact with humans. An interdisciplinary team of researchers tested the friendliness of domesticated dogs and human-socialized wolves by measuring how much time the dogs and wolves spent around humans, and if they turned to human companions for help in solving a puzzle box. The researchers then analyzed DNA samples taken from the dogs and wolves, and found the differences in social behavior correlated with variations in three genes. “Some of these structural variants could explain a huge shift in a behavioral profile—that you go from being a wolf-like, aloof creature, to something that’s obsessed with a human,” vonHoldt said. The researchers also looked at those three genes in samples from 201 dogs from 13 different breeds, some known for their friendliness, and found similar patterns in genetic variation and friendly behavior. In humans, missing DNA in the corresponding part of the genome can produce Willilams-Beuren syndrome, which is associated with exceptional gregariousness. To read more about the history of humans and dogs, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."

World War II-Era Secret Road Found in Papua New Guinea

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in The Herald Sun, a team of Australian researchers is exploring an obscure road built by the Japanese army during World War II in Papua New Guinea. Archaeologist Matthew Kelly of Extent Heritage and his colleagues were investigating the battlefield of Etoa, which is located along the Kokoda Track—a 30-mile-long footpath across rugged mountain terrain from Owers Corner in Central Province to the village of Kokoda—when they found the hidden supply road. It ran parallel to the Kokoda Track, but was wider and could have been used by the Japanese army to move supplies on horseback while the Australians and Japanese fought along the Kokoda Track from July to November, 1942. “It would have changed things,” Kelly said of the secret road. “This one would have been unknown to Australian intelligence. They could strafe the Kokoda Track but they couldn’t see the Japanese moving back and forth along this one.” To read more, go to "The Archaeology of WWII."

4,000-Year-Old Tombs Discovered in Romania

CÂRLOMĂNEŞTI, ROMANIA—Romania Insider reports that nine Bronze Age tombs have been found in eastern Romania by researchers from the Buzău County Museums. Some of the tombs have been damaged by farming, but the tombs located deeper underground were found intact. “Each tomb usually has a minimum of three jugs,” said Mihai Constantinescu of the Anthropology Institute of the Bucharest Academy. One of the vessels, shaped like a dove, contained fragments of bone from the feet of pigs. Constantinescu thinks they may have been used as toys. Hair ornaments, bracelets, bronze collars, and spindles were also recovered. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Thursday, July 20

Yorkshire Yields a Glimpse of Britain’s 19th-Century Industry

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that excavations have recently been conducted at two early nineteenth-century steel-making sites in Yorkshire. The region was well suited to industry because iron, coal, and water power were readily available. The excavation at Hollis Croft uncovered an early cementation furnace, which was used to convert iron into blister steel. At the Titanic Works, crucible furnaces, which were developed in Sheffield, have been well preserved in three cellars. “You can see the driving force for Britain’s industrial revolution,” said archaeologist Milica Rajic of Wessex Archaeology. To read more about the archaeology of this period in English history, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Man."

Medieval Graffiti Found in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Graffiti dating to the medieval period was discovered engraved on the walls of a cave in southeastern Egypt, according to a report in Ahram Online. Mohamed Abdellatif of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities said the cave was used as a rest stop by travelers passing through what is known as the Gold Triangle area, marked by the cities of Safaga and Quesseir at the base, and the city of Qena at the top. Some of the carvings have been damaged by erosion, but Mohamed Tuni of the Red Sea Governorate’s Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Department said two of the texts have been read. The first says “There is no God except Allah,” and the second reads, “God has returned the poor slave Youssef Bin Hatem Al-Shati to his family in 755 of Hegira. May God have mercy on him and his parents and all the Muslims. Amen.” The ministry may restore the graffiti and put the cave on the official list of protected heritage sites. To read about religious medieval graffiti in England, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."

Ancient Reservoir Unearthed in Israel

ROSH HA-AYIN, ISRAEL—According to a report in the Times of Israel, a 2,700-year-old reservoir has been unearthed in central Israel. The reservoir measures more than 60 feet long and 12 feet deep, and was found cut into the rock under a large building. Its walls had been decorated with engraved images of human figures, crosses, and vegetation. Archaeologist Gilad Itach of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the reservoir would have been filled with rain water during the winter rainy season. Itach thinks the large structure and its water system may have been an administrative center for the surrounding farmsteads. To read more about archaeology in the region, go to "Expanding the Story."

Volcanic Eruption Could Threaten Tanzania’s Trackways

  ARUSHA, TANZANIA—Two sets of hominin footprints could be lost if the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano erupts, according to a report in New Scientist. Scientists studying tremors in East Africa’s Rift Valley say the volcano, which has a widening crack on its west side, could erupt at any time. A set of 400 human footprints dating back 19,000 years is located just ten miles away from the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano at Engare Sero. The 3.7-million-year-old Laetoli hominin footprints are located a safer 70 miles away. Both sets of prints have been recorded with 3-D scans, but the prints are “not like fossilized bones that we can dig up and walk away with,” explained Kevin Hatala of Chatham Univeristy.  For more on ancient footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”