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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, October 23

Rapa Nui Genes Suggest Pre-Columbian Voyage

OSLO, NORWAY—Evidence for contact between Polynesians from Easter Island and South Americans sometime before 1500 A.D. has been found in the genomes of 27 living Rapa Nui islanders, according to a report in Science. European and Native American DNA patterns were found in the modern Rapa Nui genomes. The Native American DNA patterns accounted for about eight percent of the Rapa Nui genomes, and they were broken up and scattered, suggesting that genetic recombination had been at work on the material for some time. The relatively intact sections of European genetic patterns were unevenly spread among the population. This suggests that European genes were introduced relatively recently, perhaps when explorers settled on the island in the nineteenth century. “Our studies strongly suggest that Native Americans most probably arrived [on Rapa Nui] shortly after the Polynesians,” said Erik Thorsby of the University of Oslo. But other scientists think that Pacific currents make it more likely that Polynesians sailed to South America, where they obtained sweet potatoes, chickens, and South American women before they returned home. For more on possible contacts between Polynesia and South America, see "Polynesian Chickens in Chile."

Massive 6,000-Year-Old Temple Unearthed in Ukraine

KIEV, UKRAINE—Tech Times reports that the remains of a two-story building surrounded by a galleried courtyard have been found in a prehistoric settlement of more than 1,200 buildings near Nebelivka. The 6,000-year-old building, whose upper floor had been divided into five rooms decorated with red paint, is thought to have been a temple of the Trypillian culture, and contained fragments of human figurines. Eight clay platforms that may have been used as altars were also discovered, including one on the upper floor that contained “numerous burnt bones of lamb, associated with sacrifice,” Nataliya Burdo and Mykhailo Videiko of the Institute of Archaeology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, wrote in a paper that they presented at the European Association of Archaeologists’ annual meeting in Istanbul. Pottery fragments and animal bones were also found in the courtyard. Small ornaments of bone and gold may have been worn in the hair. To hear a prehistoric language that may have been spoken in Ukraine around this time, see "Telling Tales in Proto-Indo-European."

Archaeologists Survey Everglades Site

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA—National Park Service archaeologists are looking for prehistoric artifacts in an area of Everglades National Park that is slated for restoration and a new boardwalk. When the Anhinga Slough was dredged in 1968 after a record drought, park rangers collected hundreds of artifacts, but the site was never excavated. “It’s unique in the sense that it’s a submerged site. We don’t have very many of those in Florida and in this area at all. That’s why it’s special,” Penny Del Bene, chief of cultural resources, told Phys.org. So far scientists have recovered burnt wood, bone fragments, and shells for study.

45,000-Year-Old Genome of Modern Human Sequenced

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—The complete genome of a very ancient modern human has been sequenced by Svante Pääbo and his team at the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “It’s almost twice as old as the next oldest genome that has been sequenced,” Pääbo told NPR. The 45,000-year-old DNA was obtained from cells collected from the center of a femur discovered near the Irtysh River in western Siberia. The analysis shows that the man had long Neanderthal gene sequences, indicating that he’d had Neanderthal ancestors who lived between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago. “They actually mixed with each other and did have children,” Pääbo said. For more on Pääbo's work, see "Neanderthal Genome Decoded."

Wednesday, October 22

World War II Battlefield Found Off the Coast of North Carolina

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries have located the wreckage of the German U-boat 576 and the freighter Bluefields, which sank some 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina on July 15, 1942. All aboard Bluefields were rescued, but the crew of U-576 was lost, making the site a war grave. “We have discovered an important battle site that is part of the Battle of the Atlantic. These two ships rest only a few hundred yards apart and together help us interpret and share their forgotten stories,” announced Joe Hoyt, a NOAA sanctuary scientist. Bluefields was part of a group of 19 merchant ships that was traveling to Key West, Florida, when attacked by the U-576. U.S. Navy Kingfisher aircraft, which provided the convoy’s air cover, bombed the submarine while another merchant ship attacked it with its deck gun. “Most people associate the Battle of the Atlantic with the cold, icy waters of the North Atlantic. But few people realize how close the war actually came to America’s shores. As we learn more about the underwater battlefield, Bluefields and U-576 will provide additional insight into a relatively little-known chapter in American history,” said David Alberg, superintendent of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. 

Early European Farmers Remained Lactose Intolerant

DUBLIN, IRELAND—Nuclear DNA analysis of 13 individuals suggests that early farmers in central Europe remained lactose intolerant for more than 5,000 years after they domesticated animals. “Our findings show progression toward lighter skin pigmentation as hunter and gatherers and non-local farmers intermarried, but surprisingly no presence of increased lactose persistence or tolerance to lactose,” announced Ron Pinhasi of University College Dublin. Early farmers probably relied upon fermented cheese and yogurt from their cows, goats, and sheep, rather than drinking their hard-to-digest raw milk. “Our results also imply that the great changes in prehistoric technology including the adoption of farming, followed by the first use of the hard metals, bronze and then iron, were each associated with the substantial influx of new people,” added Dan Bradley of Trinity College Dublin. The DNA samples were obtained from the inner ear region of the petrous bone in the skull, which is very dense and well protected from contamination and damage. To read more about the prehistoric genetic history of Europe, see "Genetic Study Reveals Third Group of European Ancestors."

Inscription Dedicated to Hadrian Unearthed in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A Latin inscription on a large fragment of a lintel from an arch built to welcome Emperor Hadrian to Jerusalem in 130 A.D. could shed light on the causes of the Bar Kochba rebellion. The stone, erected by Hadrian’s Tenth Roman legion, was discovered in a cistern near Jerusalem’s Old City, where it had been recycled by the Byzantines as a paving stone. “This is another (part in the puzzle) in the historical mystery of what preceded what: the revolt of Bar Kochba or the foundation of the establishment of a city on top of the ruins of Jerusalem named ‘Aelia Capitolina’ and the change of status of Jerusalem to a Roman colony,” archaeologist Rina Avner of the Israel Antiquities Authority told Reuters. The stone places the Tenth Legion in Jerusalem during the period between the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 70 and the Bar Kochba rebellion. The other half of the inscription was unearthed in the nineteenth century by French archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau. “The inscription itself might have set in the top of a free-standing triumphal arch on the city’s northern boundary such as the Arch of Titus in Rome,” Avner explained. To read about a remarkable cache of jewlery dating to the time of the Bar Kochba rebellion, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Top 10 Discoveries of 2012."

Sphinx’s Head Discovered in Amphipolis Tomb

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—The missing head of one of the sphinxes guarding the entrance to the Macedonian tomb at Amphipolis has been found in the structure’s third chamber. The marble head, adorned with curly hair, is intact except for some damage to its nose. Traces of red paint have been found on the hair, which was tied with a white stripe. Fragments of the statue’s wings were also recovered, according to The Greek Reporter. To read about the search for Alexander the Great's tomb, see "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."

Tuesday, October 21

Photographer’s Notebook Found in Melting Antarctic Ice

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND—A notebook belonging to George Murray Levick has been recovered from the melting snow and ice at Captain Scott’s 1910-1913 expedition base at Cape Evans, Antarctica, by New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust. According to The Guardian, Levick used the “Wellcome Photographic Exposure Record and Diary 1910” at Cape Adare in 1911 to list dates, subjects, and exposure details for his photographs. “It’s an exciting find. The notebook is a missing part of the official expedition record. After spending seven years conserving Scott’s last expedition building and collection, we are delighted to still be finding new artifacts,” said Nigel Watson, Antarctic Heritage Trust’s Executive Director. The book’s binding had dissolved, so the pages were separated, conserved, and digitized before the book was sewn back together. The entries in the notebook have been linked to photographs held by the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. For more on photographs from another Antarctic expedition, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Photographs from Shackleton’s Expedition Developed."

England’s Real-Life War Horses

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Local school children and injured service men and women participating in Operation Nightingale are assisting in an excavation on Salisbury Plain that is investigating how England’s horses and mules were cared for during World War I. Documentary evidence indicates that a veterinary hospital at the site, known as Larkhill Camp, quarantined and cared for some of the 500,000 animals that served the army by hauling weaponry, stores, and personnel to and from the front lines. No traces of the hospital buildings survived, but the test pits and metal detection survey did recover horse shoes, farrier’s nails, and other horse trappings. “This project enables researchers, young people, and those effected by the traumas of war to work together. Horses were such an important part of the legacy of World War I and ‘Digging War Horse’ helps people to understand the significance of horses during the war years at home and abroad,” said Philip Rowe in a University of Bristol press release. For more on WWI-era excavations, see "ANZAC's Next Chapter." Click here for images from the Larkhill Camp site excavation. 

17th-C. Dutch Warship Discovered Off the Coast of Tobago

AVERY POINT, CONNECTICUT—A team led by Kroum Batchvarov of the University of Connecticut has discovered the seventeenth-century Dutch ship Huis de Kreuningen, which was lost on March 3, 1677, during a battle against an invading French fleet in the southern Caribbean. The Dutch controlled the island of Tobago and were repelling French forces when the Huis de Kreuningen, the largest ship in the Dutch fleet, was sunk by the better-armed Glorieux. “To find the Huis de Kreuningen—almost by accident, as she was outside the boundaries where we expected to find her—undiscovered and untouched for over 300 years was an exciting moment,” Batchvarov told UCONN Today. Some 2,000 people were killed in the battle, including 250 Dutch women and children and 300 enslaved Africans. The Glorieux also sank during the battle, killing 370 men. “Although we have some written records of the battle itself, we possess no detailed plans of seventeenth-century warships, so our only sources of information about the ships of the day are the wrecks themselves,” Batchvarov said. For more underwater discoveries, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Bone Study Suggests Gladiators Drank Ash Tonic

VIENNA, AUSTRIA—Analysis of the bones of gladiators excavated from tombs at the ancient city of Ephesus show that these warriors, who lived in the second or third century A.D., ate a mostly vegetarian diet of beans and grains, as did many other people living in the city. The amount of strontium in the gladiators’ bones, however, suggests that they had access to minerals and calcium that the rest of the population did not. Contemporary reports refer to gladiators as “hordearii,” or “barley eaters,” and mention a tonic made of ashes that scholars now think probably did exist. “Plant ashes were evidently consumed to fortify the body after physical exertion and to promote better bone healing,” study leader Fabian Kanz of the Medical University of Vienna told Science Daily. “Things were similar then to what we do today—we take magnesium and calcium (in the form of effervescent tablets, for example) following physical exertion.” To read more about gladitorial training, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Gladiator Diet."