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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, February 7

Tuberculosis Detected in Neanderthal Remains

SZEGED, HUNGARY—According to a Live Science report, a study including biomolecular analysis and morphological observations of two skeletons bearing both Neanderthal and modern human features reveals that both individuals had tuberculosis (TB). Carbon dating of the bones, found in northern Hungary’s Subalyuk Cave in 1932, revealed that the adult died between about 37,000 and 38,000 years ago, while the three- or four-year-old child died between 33,000 and 34,000 years ago. Researchers led by György Pálfi of the University of Szeged found bony lesions likely brought about by TB infection on the adult’s spine and on the interior of the child’s skull. Bone samples from each of the skeletons also tested positive for Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB. Additionally, the researchers confirmed the diagnosis in the child with spoligotyping, a technique used to identify gene sequences of TB in a sample. The presence of the bacterium was confirmed in both individuals with lipid biomarker analysis, which is used to characterize communities of microbes in a sample. Pálfi and his colleagues think that Neanderthals could have contracted TB from hunting and eating infected animals, such as bison, and that the disease may have contributed to their extinction. To read about the ancient spread of tuberculosis, go to "Across the Atlantic by Flipper."

Medieval Sculptures Recovered in India

KARNATAKA, INDIA—The Hans India reports that bridge construction on the Krishna River near the city of Raichur in southwestern India uncovered two ancient Hindu sculptures carved from green rock. The first depicts an avatar of Lord Krishna, and the second is a lingam representing Lord Shiva. Historian Padmaja Desai thinks the sculptures may have been carved in the eleventh century, during the rule of the Western Chalukya Empire. Archaeologists from the Karnataka Department of Archaeology suggest that the sculptures may have been submerged in the river to protect them during the rise of the Bahamani Sultanate in 1347 or the Adil Shahi Dynasty in 1489. Further study of the sculptures and exploration of the area where they were found is being planned. To read about a third-century B.C. sculpture of an elephant discovered in India's state of Odisha, go to "The Elephant and the Buddha."

2,000-Year-Old Collection of Iron Weapons Found in Poland

HRUBIESZÓW, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, a collection of iron spearheads, battle axes, and a wood-cutting ax were discovered in disturbed earth in a forest in southeastern Poland and taken to archaeologists Bartłomiej Bartecki and Anna Hyrchała of the Hrubieszów Museum. Three of the heavily corroded items have not yet been identified, but Bartecki and Hyrchała think the items may have belonged to warriors from the Przeworsk culture, who lived in the region from about the first century B.C. through the second or third century A.D. The grave of a warrior of the Przeworsk culture had previously been unearthed near the spot where the weapons were found, although there is no evidence that there was once a larger cemetery at the site. The objects could also have been left behind by the Goths, who lived in the region from the second or third century through the fifth century A.D. In either case, it appears that the items had been collected into a bag or another container made of organic materials and then thrown into a swamp, Bartecki explained. Conservation of the artifacts will be undertaken at the Stanisław Staszic Museum, he added. “Only after these procedures will it be possible to properly determine the nature of the discovery in question and its chronological and culture affiliation,” he said. Researchers will also investigate the site where the weapons were found. For more on ancient arms, go to "Weapons of the Ancient World."

Tuesday, February 6

Waterlogged Paleolithic Sites in China Excavated

CHENGDU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that more than 100,000 stone, wood, and bone tools; fossilized animal bones; plant matter; ebony; and traces of fire and toolmaking were recently uncovered at the Mengxihe site, which has been dated to between 50,000 and 70,000 years old. First discovered in 2019, an additional 11 similar waterlogged sites have since been identified along the Mengxi River in southwestern China. Zheng Zhexuan of the Sichuan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said that the animal remains include the bones of elephants, rhinoceros, bears, cattle, deer, macaques, fish, turtles, snakes, frogs, birds, porcupines, and bamboo rats. The plant matter represents more than 30 kinds of trees, fruits, seeds, and herbs that may have been used to treat illnesses, Zheng added. To read about a 13,500-year-old bone sculpture unearthed in Henan, go to "Oldest Chinese Artwork," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2020.

Possible Ancient Game Boards Identified in Kenya

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT—According to a statement released by Yale University, archaeologist Veronica Waweru identified a possible series of game boards at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in the highlands of central Kenya after receiving information from local partners that a prehistoric site there was being looted by tourists. She thinks the rows of shallow pits drilled into the rock may have been used to play a version of the two-player strategy board game now known as Mancala. Some of the pits were deep enough to hold a handful of stones, while others had eroded away over time into shallow pockmarks, Waweru explained. She also noted that 19 burial cairns are situated in the same area as the game boards. So, while herders may have used the boards while their flocks grazed, people who came to visit the burial cairns may have played games, too. Marks consistent with sharpening metal knives, perhaps during the butchering process for ritual feasting, have also been found. To read about an ancient game board found in the ruins of a site in the Qumayrah Valley, go to "Around the World: Oman."

Roman Wooden Bed Unearthed in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, the disassembled pieces of a complete Roman funerary bed have been recovered from waterlogged soil near the underground River Fleet in central London. The well-made oak bed, which has carved feet and was joined with small wooden pegs, came from the grave of a man who died in his late 20s or early 30s. Archaeologist Michael Marshall of the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) explained that there are accounts of Romans being carried on beds like this one in funeral processions, and that they are sometimes found depicted on tombstones. “We didn’t know that people were buried in these kinds of Roman burial beds at all,” he said. “That’s something that there is no previous evidence for from Britain.” Five rare oak coffins were also found in the Roman cemetery. To read about other Roman artifacts uncovered in the city, go to "Roman London Underground."

Ice Age Footprints Discovered in Morocco

MORBIHAN, FRANCE—Two trackways made up of 85 well-preserved footprints were discovered on a rocky platform covered in clay sediments on the coast of Morocco by Mouncef Sedrati of the University of Southern Brittany and his colleagues, according to a Live Science report. The prints are thought to have been left behind by a group of at least five modern humans about 90,000 years ago, based upon optically stimulated luminescence dating of quartz in the sand. Measurements of the length and depth of the footprints suggest that the group contained children, adolescents, and adults, Sedrati said. His team will work quickly to complete their analysis of the trackways because the rocky shore platform holding them may collapse. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Scientific Reports. To read about fossilized Ice Age footprints uncovered in the New Mexico desert, go to "Ghost Tracks of White Sands."

Monday, February 5

Roman-Era Medical Tools From Turkey Identified

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that hundreds of 1,800-year-old artifacts linked to the practice of medicine have been identified among the objects unearthed during rescue excavations at Allianoi, an ancient spa town in western Anatolia that was flooded in 2011 after dam construction. Most of the implements came from two buildings within a larger complex. Sarah Yeomans of St. Mary’s College of Maryland suggests the structure housed dozens of practitioners who conducted relatively sophisticated surgical procedures. Some of the instruments were used to remove hemorrhoids, while others were used to extract bladder or kidney stones, remove cataracts from the eyes, and suture wounds, she concluded. To read about another ancient spa town, go to "The Pursuit of Wellness."

Impact of Industrial Revolution on Children’s Health Investigated

DURHAM, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by Durham University, an examination of the teeth of children who were buried in a Quaker cemetery in northeastern England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has detected evidence of vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D can be consumed in foods such as fish and eggs, and produced by the body through exposure to sunlight. A lack of vitamin D can cause rickets, a condition characterized by weak bones that can cause pain, poor growth, bowing deformities, and fractures. Anne Marie E. Snoddy of the University of Otago, Heidi Shaw of Durham University, and their colleagues found that three quarters of the 25 children examined suffered from lack of vitamin D. The researchers determined that the condition was worse in the winter months, when there are fewer hours of sunlight. The study also suggests that boys were more likely to experience a vitamin D deficiency, perhaps because of as-yet-undetermined work practices. Read the original scholarly article about this research in PLOS ONE. For more on how the Industrial Revolution affected health in nineteenth-century England, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."

When Did Modern Humans Arrive in Northern Europe?

RANIS, GERMANY—A new excavation in an untouched area of Ilsenhöhle, a cave in central Germany, has uncovered the 47,400-year-old bones of modern humans, according to a Cosmos Magazine report. An international team of researchers led by Dorothea Mylopotamitaki, Marcel Weiss, Helen Fewlass, and Elena Irene Zavala of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology identified the modern human bones through genetic and proteomic analysis. It had been previously thought, based upon an excavation conducted in the 1930s, that the cave and surrounding area had been occupied by Neanderthals alone. “It turns out that stone artifacts that were thought to be produced by Neanderthals were in fact part of the early Homo sapiens tool kit,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Collège de France. “This fundamentally changes our previous knowledge about this time period: Homo sapiens reached northwestern Europe long before Neanderthal disappearance in southwestern Europe,” he explained. The bones of other mammals in the cave were also identified, including reindeer, horses, and woolly rhinoceros likely hunted by modern humans, and denning hyenas and hibernating cave bears. Read the original scholarly articles about this research in Nature Communications and Nature Ecology & Evolution. To read about the domestic spaces of Europe's earliest modern humans, go to "Letter from France: Structural Integrity."