We may make this a weekly feature. It will depend upon how much news is coming from the archaeological world. Today’s stories come from the following link: http://www.archaeology.org/news?page=2
BARCELONA, SPAIN—According to a report in Laboratory Equipment, a new study of a cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV16) suggests that its variants evolved separately with archaic and modern humans. HPV does not leave any trace of infection in the bones, so it was not possible to extract ancient forms of the virus from human remains. Instead, scientists Ville Pimenoff of the Catalan Institute of Oncology and Ignacio Bravo of the French National Center for Scientific Research sequenced the genome of the HPV16 virus and its five main lineage subtypes, then reconstructed its evolution over thousands of generations with computer algorithms. Their results suggest that variant A evolved with archaic humans, while three other variants evolved with modern humans. Migrating modern humans then may have been infected with viral variant A through sexual contact with Neanderthals and Denisovans. The study suggests that variant A was able to thrive in the modern human population because the modern human immune system had not evolved the mechanisms necessary to keep it in check. The researchers say that this could explain why the HPV16A variant is rarely found in sub-Saharan Africa, while it is the most common variant in the rest of the world. To read in-depth about the study of microbes in the archaeological record, go to “Worlds Within Us.”
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Xinhua reports that thousands of fragments of a 400-year-old of shipment of Chinese porcelain have been discovered by Mexican archaeologists in the Old Quarter of Acapulco. The white and blue rice bowls, cups, plates, and platters are decorated with images from nature, including birds, beetles, swans, ducks, and deer, and date to the reign of the Ming Dynasty emperor Wanli, who ruled from 1572 to 1620. Archaeologist Roberto Junco of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said that the pottery was made in southern China, in the city of Zhangzhou, and in the city of Jingdezhen, known as the “Porcelain Capital.” The luxury goods were probably carried to Mexico by Spanish ships that traveled between the port of Acapulco and Manilla in the Philippines. The cargo may have been destroyed by pirates. For more, go to “Under Mexico City.”
NICE, FRANCE—Live Science reports that researchers led by Nicolas Baldovini of the Institute de Chimie de Nice have identified two molecules responsible for the unique scent of frankincense, often recognized today as “old church” smell. Frankincense comes from the resin of gum trees from the Boswellia genus, and was a key element in perfumes from Mesopotamia and Egypt dating back to the fourth millennium B.C. The chemical structures of the two new compounds, named olibanic acids, are mirror images of each other, and are found in extremely low levels in the essential oil of frankincense. The team was also able to synthesize synthetic versions of the molecules. “We patented the use of these compounds for fragrance formulation,” Baldovini said. For more on the relationship between archaeology and chemistry, go to “Mr. Jefferson’s Laboratory.”
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—The Daily Mail reports that a team of researchers from the Cantor Arts Center’s Art + Science Learning Lab and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory examined a 2,500-year-old Athenian oil flask with a technique called synchrotron X-ray fluorescence. The results of the test produced a chemical map of the paint on the vase, which suggests that an extra step was required to apply a calcium-based additive for the color white. “Under what they thought was a single coat, they found other instances of painting that the naked eye could not see,” said Jody Maxmin of Stanford University. In addition, it had been previously thought that zinc was added to produce black figures during the heating process on Greek vases, but the chemical map failed to show any zinc in the black regions of the pot. For more on Greece, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”
ENGARE SERO, TANZANIA—The Washington Post reports that Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce of Appalachian State University led a team of researchers in the study of some 400 ancient Homo sapiens footprints that were discovered in northern Tanzania, near the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, about 10 years ago. The footprints are thought to have been made by men, women, and children in flood deposits that dried and then were covered with another layer of mud. Minerals in the footprint layers were dated to between 19,000 and 10,000 years ago with the argon-argon dating technique. Once the excavation team exposed the footprints, each one was photographed, 3-D scanned, and mapped. The researchers have found evidence of at least 24 individuals who crossed the mud in two directions. Some of the travelers were walking, and some may have been jogging. A subgroup of the researchers continues to investigate the size and composition of the group that left the footprints. “For people who work in prehistory, it’s incredibly rare to get that kind of snapshot in time,” said paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner of the National Museum of Natural History. For more on ancient footprints, go to “Proof in the Prints.”
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—ABC News Australia reports that the Wurdi Youang stone arrangement in southeast Australia may have been used to track the movements of the sun some 11,000 years ago by early farmers, who, according to Duane Hamacher of Monash University, had a complex understanding of astronomy and the motions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars throughout the year. Traces of villages and evidence of farming terraces and eel traps have been found near the stone circle and a water source. “If you’re going to have a stone arrangement where you mark off the seasons throughout the year with the solstices and equinoxes, it kind of makes sense if you’re at least most of the year in one specific location to do that,” said custodian Reg Abrahams. He added that people may have navigated by the stars and traveled at night to avoid the heat of the day. Plans are being made for archaeological investigation and dating of the site. For more on ancient astronomy, go to “An Eye on Venus.”
NUEVO LEÓN, MEXICO—Prensa Latina reports that archaeologist Araceli Rivera of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has found animal remains that may have been used in rituals some 8,000 years ago. The remains include the teeth, long bones, skulls, ribs, and vertebrae of mammoths, camels, horses, llamas, and prehistoric bison. The bones had been placed in a rock shelter and covered with a rectangular stone that researchers have dubbed La Boveda, or The Vault. The researchers think The Vault may have been illuminated during the winter solstice, at a time when food may have been scarce. For more, go to “Under Mexico City.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Guardian reports that Rina Avner and Kfir Arbib of the Israel Antiquities Authority have found evidence of a 2,000-year-old watchtower and a wall that protected a “new” area of Jerusalem that had developed outside of the city’s two existing defensive walls. The Jewish historian Josephus described Titus’s breach of such a third wall in A.D. 70, when Roman legions invaded, sacked the city, and destroyed the Second Temple. Large stones that the Romans may have fired from catapults at the sentries in the tower have also been uncovered. It is thought that Roman forces used battering rams on the wall while the catapults provided cover. To read about another discovery in Jerusalem, go to “Rubaiyat Pot.”
BORNHOLM, DENMARK—The Copenhagen Post reports that an engraved stone fragment discovered at the Neolithic site of Vasagård on the island of Bornhom could be a map. Archaeologist Flemming Kaul of the National Museum of Denmark said that other stones inscribed with lines and rectangles have been found at the site, and it had been thought that the markings depicted the sun and its rays. This partial stone is now thought to show the details of an area of the island as it appeared between 2700 and 2900 B.C. Some of the markings may even represent ears of corn or plants with leaves. “These are not accidental scratches,” he said. “We see the stones as types of maps showing different kinds of fields.” To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to “Bronze Age Bride.”
MAYVILLE, MICHIGAN—The Detroit News reports that a team from the University of Michigan, assisted by teachers from Tuscola County, has recovered about 60 to 70 percent of the remains of a 30-year-old male mastodon thought to have been processed by human hunters or scavengers between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago. The long limb bones, both shoulder blades, the pelvis, the skull, many vertebrae, and most of the ribs were found. Some sections of the carcass had been separated from other sections. The tusks, lower jaw, and most of the foot bones were missing from the site. Daniel Fisher, director of the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, estimates the likelihood that humans were involved in processing the carcass at 80 percent. He thinks that humans may have stored the sections of mastodon meat in cold, low-oxygen pond sediments to help preserve them. The team will now radiocarbon date the remains and examine them for signs of butchery. The animal’s wisdom teeth will also be analyzed to try to determine in which season it died. To read about another discovery in Michigan, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”
REHOVOT, ISRAEL—According to a report in Live Science, Ruth Shahack-Gross and Mathilde Forget suggest that it may have only taken two to three hours for fire to have destroyed the entire city of Tel Megiddo some 3,000 years ago. A previous study found that mud bricks at the site had reached 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit. While working at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Shahack-Gross and Forget made new mud bricks, and then tried to determine how quickly the bricks would catch on fire by placing them in a hot oven and timing how long it took the bricks’ cores to reach 1,112 degrees. The scientists found that the larger bricks took longer to heat than smaller bricks, and that wood beams, furniture, mats, stored food and oil, and bedding probably helped the fire at Tel Megiddo to spread. Critics point out that in an actual fire, a home’s bricks would probably have been heated only on one side. “We are totally aware of the fact that the experiment, [which was done] in controlled conditions in the lab, does not mimic what happened in the past,” responded Shahack-Gross. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”
IZMIR, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that excavators led by Akin Ersoy of Dokuz Eylül University found Greek words and names carved in a wall of the basilica in the marketplace of ancient Smyrna. The positions of the words and names resemble a modern acrostic. “The same words are written both from top to bottom and left to right in five columns,” he said. “The word ‘logos,’ which is located in the center, is on the third column.” Some scholars have suggested that early Christians communicated in such puzzles, but Ersoy says that this one was carved in an area where there were market stalls and is unlikely to have conveyed a secret message. He thinks it is more likely that the salespeople working in the agora’s booths carved the words to entertain themselves during slow periods. Ersoy added that love poems have also been found written on the walls of the agora. To read about a massive inscription discovered in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.