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Friday, December 15
December 14, 2012

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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Thursday, December 13
December 13, 2012

Chemical analysis of ceramic vessels thought to have been used for making cheese 7,500 years ago  has revealed molecular traces of milk fats. Peter Bogucki of Princeton University thought that the pots, which were found in northern Poland and are covered with holes, served to strain milk collected by early herders, but he needed proof. “This is the first and only evidence of [Neolithic] cheese-making in the archaeological record,” said chemist Richard Evershed, who contributed to the project. Cheese is lower in lactose than fresh milk, and was therefore more digestible for Neolithic people, who were unable to digest lactose past childhood.

Cattle skulls and cauldrons  indicate feasting was an important activity in southern England during the Iron Age. The 13 sturdy, decorative cauldrons are the largest group of such vessels ever to have been found in Europe. They had been buried together in a pit in an open area near a castle and a fort, which would have been an excellent meeting place. “Analysis of the interiors of the cauldrons has even revealed traces of animal fats, a tantalizing suggestion that these objects might have been used in cooking and serving meat-rich stews,” said Julia Farley of the British Museum. DNA testing could reveal what kind of meat had been cooked and served.

Chris Stringer and a team of researchers from London’s National History Museum want to solve the mystery behind the Piltdown Man hoax. Charles Dawson, an amateur fossil hunter, is the prime suspect in the case. He claimed to have found the notorious, human-like skull fragments and the jaw pieces, which probably came from a young orangutan, and dubbed them the “missing link” between humans and apes. Other suspects include a museum curator, a Jesuit priest, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Scientists proved the skull pieces to be fakes in the early 1950s, but Stringer and his team will use modern techniques that may eventually point to a culprit.

In southern central Vietnam, archaeologists have found two walls near one of the Po Tam Towers, constructed by the Cham people in the eighth century. The brick walls are supported by a stone foundation. “Before, we thought the six towers in this area were different from others because their main gates face south instead of east like all the other Cham towers we’ve found in Viet Nam. This discovery led us to conclude that this is the main tower in the site,” said Le Dinh Phung of the Vietnam Archaeology Association.

Human bone fragments and iron coffin handles were unearthed within Sri Lanka’s Galle Fort World Heritage City. Archaeologists think the remains date to the period of Dutch colonial rule. The land had been set aside as a cemetery under Portuguese rule in the sixteenth century and was taken over by the Dutch in the seventeenth century. The excavations should shed light on foreign rule in Sri Lanka.

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