Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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From the Trenches Volume 59 Number 5, September/October 2006

The construction of a new Channel Tunnel Rail Link east of London turned up a nine-ton straight-tusked elephant. Scattered around the 400,000-year-old skeleton were scores of flint tools, evidence that early humans in Britain killed and butchered elephants. No hair was preserved from that elephant, but a German study suggests wooly mammoths came in colors. Researchers successfully extracted intact DNA from a 43,000-year-old Siberian mammoth bone. They found a gene that affects hair color in other mammals, including humans and mice. If the gene was not highly active, a mammoth might have been a blond or a redhead.

Another recent DNA study has shown that cheetahs, lions, and tigers have suffered from ulcers for around 200,000 years, and that humans are to blame. Researchers at Germany's Max Planck Institute say that Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that causes ulcers, jumped species from humans to felines when a big cat fed on one of our ancestors. It's likely that fighting between big cats spread the bacteria to other feline species. DNA research is surprising scholars in China, too. An analysis of remains found in a tomb holding the workers who built the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi 2,200 years ago has turned up a DNA signature commonly found in Persians in Iran and Kurds in Turkmenistan. The DNA came from a man who died in his 20s, one of about 120 workers buried in the tomb. Researchers speculate he might have been a nomad who was captured and forced to work on the mausoleum. His presence shows that links between China and what is now Central Asia were active at least a century earlier than previously thought. (See also "Worker from the West," our exclusive interview with University of Pennsylvania's Victor Mair.)

Links between the Getty Museum and Greece are getting a little less frosty. After years of talks, the museum has agreed to return a black stone tombstone of a warrior named Athanias and a marble relief from Thassos. In exchange, the Getty will receive long-term loans of other objects.

If the Getty and Greece can cooperate, why not North and South Korea? In an announcement loaded with political symbolism, South Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration said its archaeologists will join North Koreans in excavating the site of Manwoldae, a few miles north of the DMZ. The site was the royal palace of the Koguryo kingdom from A.D. 919 until it was destroyed by an invading Chinese army four centuries later. It's far from the only dig fraught with political implications these days. Archaeologists in South Africa are searching for a gun buried by Nelson Mandela outside a farmhouse north of Johannesburg. Mandela buried the pistol at the site just before a police raid in 1962 that resulted in his 27-year imprisonment. If found, the weapon would be the centerpiece of a museum dedicated to the African National Congress.

© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America