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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, March 26

Silver Coins Turn Up in Bulgarian Field

POPOVO, BULGARIA—A man plowing a field in northeastern Bulgaria discovered a pot containing about 90 silver coins dating from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. He did not realize at first that the vessel contained coins, but when he found them, he took the treasure to the police, who took the discovery to the Popovo Museum of History. According to Archaeology in Bulgaria, the Ottoman and European coins all have holes in them, suggesting that they may have been strung as a woman’s necklace. To read about a spectacular recent discovery in Bulgaria, see "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Another False Paternity Found in Richard III’s Family Tree

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—The remains of Richard III were reburied today in Leicester Cathedral. Last year, researchers from the University of Leicester discovered that the fallen king’s Y-chromosome did not match that of a group of living male relatives who descended from Henry Somerset, fifth Duke of Beaufort. That means there was at least one break in the Y-chromosome line, or a case of mistaken paternity, somewhere between Richard III’s great-great-grandfather Edward III and Henry Somerset, fifth Duke of Beaufort. Kevin Schürer and Turi King of the University of Leicester were approached by Patrice de Warren, who can trace his male line through Geoffrey, the Count of Anjou, a common ancestor of both Richard III and Henry Somerset who lived in the twelfth century. However, Patrice de Warren’s Y-chromosome does not match that of Richard III or the Somerset line, indicating another false paternity in the royal family tree. “It hasn’t helped us narrow down where the break is,” King told Live Science. For more on the initial discovery of the monarch's remains, see "The Rehabilitation of Richard III."

How to Farm in the World’s Driest Desert

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO—Five hundred years ago, farmers abandoned their terraced fields and irrigation systems in Chile’s Atacama Desert. “These are systems that were developed about A.D. 1000 when people figured out how to divert water from springs which are recharged by snowmelt from the Andes,” Frances Hayashida of The University of New Mexico said in a press release. The population was conquered by the Incas in the 1400s. “We think they brought in workers to work in the mines. They put in an extensive road system to be able to move ore and personnel back and forth. But then they need to feed everybody, right?” Hayashida asked. An international team of scientists is mapping the fields and canals with drones. They want to know how much water the farmers had to work with, and if the farmers were able to feed the miners. They are also examining stone hoes and looking at plant remains to see if the varieties of maize, quinoa, and potatoes were different from the ones grown in the region today. Grinding stones at the site suggest that maize beer was produced, and perhaps consumed at Inca ritual feasts. “This is something you would normally do with your neighbors, if they were working for you. You provide food and drink. So they just took this practice and did it on an imperial scale.” To read in depth about how the Inca dealt with another conquered population, see "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui."

Gold Lock Rings Unearthed in North Wales

WREXHAM, WALES—ITV News reports that two gold lock rings dating to the late Bronze Age have been unearthed in northeast Wales. The rings may have been used as earrings or may have been worn to gather locks of hair. Similar rings have been found buried at Gaerwen, Anglesey, the Great Orme, Conwy, and Newport, Pembrokeshire. Most of these sites are on the coast, suggesting that trade occurred with other, distant communities in Wales and Ireland. “We think that these complete and prized objects of gold were carefully buried in isolated places as gifts to the gods, perhaps at the end of the lives of their owners,” said Adam Gwilt of the National Museum Wales.  To read about a similar discovery, see "Irish Gold." 

Wednesday, March 25

Extinct Woolly Mammoth Genes Spliced Into Living Cells

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Genes from frozen woolly mammoth remains have been copied and pasted into the genome of an Asian elephant by researchers led by George Church at Harvard University. They spliced the genes for the mammoths’ small ears, subcutaneous fat, and hair length and color into the DNA of elephant skin cells in tissue cultures. Popular Science reports that this is the first time that mammoth genes have been functional since the animals went extinct some 4,000 years ago. “Just making a DNA change isn’t that meaningful. We want to read out the phenotypes,” Church said. So will the team be able to get the mammoth genes to become specialized tissues that behave properly? Artificial wombs could eventually be developed to nurture an elephant/mammoth hybrid embryo, and then an elephant that could survive in colder climates. Perhaps one day the team could try to revive the mammoths by integrating larger amounts of mammoth DNA into the hybrids. To read in-depth about another project being conducted by George Church, see "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

Was the Aztec Empire Really All Powerful?

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—An analysis of obsidian artifacts with X-ray fluorescence has offered clues to geopolitics in central Mexico at the time of the Aztec Empire. Tlaxcallan, an independent city founded in the mid-thirteenth century, obtained its obsidian from a source called El Paredón. “Almost no one else was using El Paredón at the time, and it fell just outside the boundaries of the Aztec Empire. So, one question it raises is why the Aztecs—who were openly hostile to Tlaxcallan—didn’t intervene,” archaeologist John Millhauser said in a North Carolina State University press release. The Aztecs obtained most of their obsidian from a source to the north known as Pachuca, while only 14 percent of the obsidian from Tlaxcallan was from Pachuca. Millhauser suggests that such widely available obsidian may not have been worth fighting over. “The fact that they got so much obsidian so close to the Aztec Empire makes me question the scope of conflict at the time. Tlaxcallan was able to access a source of household and military goods from a source that required it to go right up to the border of enemy territory,” he said. To read in-depth about the Aztec world, see "Under Mexico City."

Slave Trade Recorded in American Genes

OXFORD, ENGLAND—The genetic fingerprints of the slave trade have been detected in the modern populations of North and South America by a team made up of researchers from Oxford University, University College London, and the Universita’ del Sacro Cuore of Rome. They analyzed more than 4,000 DNA samples from 64 different populations in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, and tracked the flow of genes from ‘donor’ African and European populations to ‘recipient’ populations in the Americas. “The majority of African Americans have ancestry similar to the Yoruba people in West Africa, confirming that most African slaves came from this region. In areas of the Americas historically under Spanish rule, populations also have ancestry related to what is now Senegal and Gambia. Records show that around a third of the slaves sent to Spanish America in the seventeenth century came from this region, and we can see the genetic evidence of this in modern Americans really clearly,” Cristian Capelli of Oxford University said in a press release. The study also found evidence of a previously unknown migration in the form of a genetic contribution from the Basques in the modern-day Maya in Mexico. People of the Caribbean islands are more similar to each other and distinct from other populations, probably reflecting a different migration pattern between the Caribbean and mainland America. To read an account of one group of African slaves' harrowing experience on an island in the Indian Ocean, see "Castaways."

4,200-Year-Old Case of Breast Cancer Found in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—A team of Spanish researchers has found evidence of the world’s oldest-known case of breast cancer in the skeleton of a woman found in the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa. “The study of her remains shows the typical destructive damage provoked by the extension of a breast cancer as a metastasis,” Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty said in a statement reported by Reuters. A team led by Alejandro Jiménez from the University of Jaen found the 4,200-year-old remains of the woman, who was a member of the elite in the town of Elephantine during the 6th Dynasty. Anthropologist Miguel Botella of the University of Granada and his team studied the deterioration of the skeleton and made the diagnosis. The woman would have been unable to carry out any kind of labor, and had been taken care of for a long time before her death. Last year, British researchers reported a case of metastatic cancer in a 3,000-year-old skeleton found in modern Sudan. To read about the search for the tomb of one of Egypt's greatest queens, see "Nefertiti, Great Royal Wife and Queen of Egypt."

Tuesday, March 24

First Albertans Are 300 Years Older Than Previously Thought

CALGARY, CANADA—New, more accurate radiocarbon dates have been obtained for a well-preserved hunting site discovered along the St. Mary River in southern Alberta in 1999, during a period of low water levels. The footprints of horses and camels, their butchered bones, and stone tools, are 13,300 years old. “It’s quite awe-inspiring to stand there and know that these are the first Albertans,” Brian Kooyman of the University of Calgary told CTV News. The animals probably came to drink at the kill site, where they were ambushed by hunters. “We can actually see what they were doing. They’re hunting systematically and successfully and more than one animal species. I don’t think there’s anything really like it,” Kooyman added. To read in-depth about prehistoric buffalo hunting in this area, see "The Buffalo Chasers."

Public Buildings or Maya Society—Which Came First?

TUCSON, ARIZONA—Excavations at the Maya site of Ceibal in Guatemala have revealed a public plaza that dates to about 950 B.C., and ceremonial buildings surrounding the plaza that grew to monumental sizes by about 800 B.C. Yet there is little evidence of permanent residential dwellings in the area during the same time period. “Our study presents the first relatively concrete evidence that mobile and sedentary people came together to build a ceremonial center,” Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona said in a press release. Most people at this time were living a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, moving throughout the rainforest. These different groups of people may have come together at Ceibal to construct the buildings and to participate in public ceremonies over a period of several hundred years before making the transition to a fully sedentary society. “This tells us something about the importance of ritual and construction. People tend to think that you have a developed society and then building comes. I think in many cases it’s the other way around,” Inomata explained. To read more in-depth about the ancient Maya, see "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."

Argentina’s “Nazi Hideout” Revisited

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA—An article in The Guardian responds to reports that a Nazi hideout was excavated in northwestern Argentina by archaeologist Daniel Schavelzon, who claimed that the ruins of three stone buildings in the jungles of Teyú Cuaré National Park could have sheltered war criminals on the run after World War II. “There is no documentation, but we found German coins from the war period in the foundations,” Schavelzon told The Guardian. After the war, Argentina’s president Juan Perón did give refuge to Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust, but they lived in suburban homes outside of Buenos Aires. And, many German immigrants arrived in Argentina in the early twentieth century, giving rise to some three million people of German descent who live in the country today. But are the coins proof of a secret Nazi enclave? “That was just speculation on my part. The press picked it up and magnified it,” Schavelzon said.