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Thursday, December 20
by Jessica E. Saraceni
December 20, 2012

In eastern Germany, archaeologists from the University of Freiburg say they have uncovered the oldest-known wells in Europe. The four wells are approximately 7,000 years old, and had been lined with wood that had been shaped with stone tools. “In reconstructions, houses from this era have probably been underestimated,” said team leader Willy Tegel.

Traces of medieval buildings and a 2,000-year-old Roman settlement have been uncovered at a road construction site in southwest England. The settlement was probably inhabited by local elites who were conquered by the Romans in the first century A.D. “After the army moved north to conquer the rest of the population, the native elite were becoming more Romanized and assimilating into the Roman Empire and economy,” said Devon county archaeologist Bill Horner.

A 2,000-year-old hospital has been discovered in Sri Lanka’s ancient city of Anuradhapura, near the Thuparama Dagoba, which dates to the third century B.C. and is said to contain the right collarbone of the Buddha. The hospital consists of a spa and medical rooms. Grinding stones and knives have been found there, in addition to a latrine system carved from rock.

The remote caves of Carajàs contain some of the earliest evidence of human settlement in the Amazon, but they are threatened by plans to expand a mining operation that extracts iron ore for export. Archaeologists and speleologists are surveying the caves, since at least 24 of them will probably be destroyed. “This is a crucial moment to learn about the human history of the Amazon, and by extension the peopling of the Americas,” said Brazilian caver and historian Genival Crescêncio.

Researchers from the University of Utah have determined that the ability to make a clenched fist offers some protection to the bones of the human hand during a fight, and therefore may have been just as important as the ability to manipulate objects as a shaping force in the evolution of the human hand. “Ultimately, the evolutionary significance of the human hand may lie in its remarkable ability to serve two seemingly incompatible, but intrinsically human, functions,” they wrote in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Apes are not able to form a clenched fist.

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