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Friday, December 14

Pamela Willoughby of the University of Alberta may have uncovered evidence of continuous human occupation of two sites in Tanzania dating back at least 200,000 years. At Mlambalasi, fragments of a human skeleton dating to the late Pleistocene Ice Age were discovered. During this time period, it is thought that human populations dropped to near extinction levels. The other site, Magubike, has a large rock shelter with an overhanging roof. Human teeth, animal bones, shells, and stone tools have been found in its occupation layers dating from the middle Stone Age through the Iron Age. Radiocarbon dating and electron spin resonance are being used to test the archaeological deposits. “What’s important about the whole sequence is that we may have a continuous record of human occupation. If we do—and we can prove it through these special dating techniques—then we have a place people lived in over the bottleneck,” she said.

Part of the mosaic floor of a triclinium, or formal dining room, has been uncovered in the Roman city of Plotinopolis in northern Greece. Ichtyocentaurs, Nereids, and Plotini, the wife of the Roman emperor Traianus, are depicted in the images. “Both creatures are seated on a dolphin, and one of them is holding a scarf over the head like a ‘peplos. … A second panel is coming to light,” said archaeologist Matthaios Koutsoumanis.

The first section of tunnels beneath Rome’s Baths of Caracalla  will soon open to tourists. Slaves used the tunnels to carry wood to the 50 ovens heating water for thousands of bathers a day. “It’s the dimension and the organization that amazes—there is no spa as big as this anywhere in the world today,” said archaeologist Marina Piranomonte. Below the tunnels, sewers carried waste water to the Tiber River, and men gathered and butchered bulls in an underground temple dedicated to Mithras.

CT scans of a 2,400-year-old Egyptian mummy show that her embalmers left a brain-removal tool  in her skull, which had been filled with resin. Scientists used an endoscope to get a closer look at the tool and remove it. “Some parts [of the brain] would be wrapped around this stick and pulled out, and the other parts would be liquefied,” said Mislav Čavka of the University Hospital Dubrava. This is only the second time that such a tool has been found within a mummy.

In the bottom of a box in an archive on the island of Funen, historian Esben Brage discovered a hand-written manuscript identified as a copy of the first fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. “The Tallow Candle” was probably written in the mid-1820s, while Andersen was in his late teens. He had dedicated the story to Madam Bunkeflod, a widowed neighbor. “The fairy tale was a present. A present of thanks to a woman whose home had been very important to him,” said Ejnar Stig Askgaard of the Odense City Museum.

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