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Wednesday, October 17

Eight-thousand-year-old carvings in stone have reportedly been destroyed in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains by Salafists, Muslims who strictly prohibit idolatry. The carvings depicted the sun as a divinity. “One of the carvings, called the ‘plaque of the sun,’ predates the arrival of the Phoenicians in Morocco,” said Aboubakr Anghir of the Amazigh League for Human Rights. He reported the damage to the government’s ministry of culture and is waiting for a response.

In the northwest highlands of Scotland, archaeologists have found a pit connected to a channel leading to a nearby stream. The stone-lined structure may have served as a bathing area or sauna, or it may have even been used for brewing during the Bronze Age. “There were no animal bones or anything to suggest its use as a cooking site and its size would have made it well-nigh impossible to bring to boiling point,” said Gordon Sleight of Historic Assynt.

What do we know about Neanderthals?  “It’s increasingly difficult to point to any one thing that Neanderthals did and Homo sapiens didn’t do and vice versa,” said John Shea of Stony Brook University. Neanderthals buried their dead, they cooked grains for food and used pigments, they may have made jewelry, and some made complex tools. The genome of the average human living outside of Africa today is made up of 2.5 percent Neanderthal DNA. Did that DNA come from interbreeding after modern humans left Africa, or could it have come from an earlier, common ancestor of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens? Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology analyzed the length of these segments of Neanderthal DNA and found that the two groups likely interbred, and it most likely occurred between 47,000 and 65,000 years ago. “[Neanderthals] are not just some extinct group of related hominids. They are partially ancestors to people who live today,” he said.

Researchers Andrew Bernhard and Mark Goodacre have combined forces and suggested that the text on the “Jesus’ wife” fragment of papyrus could be a forgery because of similarities between it and an online version of the Coptic “Gospel of Thomas.” There even appears to be a direct copy of a typo from the online document in the “Jesus’ wife” papyrus. New media makes it possible for scholars to compare notes quickly. “Some people are experts in Coptic language, some people who are experts in the literary relationship among ancient texts. It’s a combination of different voices talking to one another—things just move a little bit more quickly now than 30 or 40 years ago,” added Goodacre.

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