Ancient tooth suggests Neanderthals were more mobile

By Elena Becatoros, Associated Press


ATHENS Analysis of a 40,000-year-old tooth found in southern Greece suggests Neanderthals were more mobile than once believed, paleontologists and the Greek Culture Ministry said Friday.


Analysis of the tooth part of the first and only Neanderthal remains found in Greece showed the ancient human to whom it belonged had spent at least part of its life away from the area where it died.


"Neanderthal mobility is highly controversial," said paleoanthropology Professor Katerina Harvati at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.


Some experts believe Neanderthals roamed over very limited areas, but others say they must have been more mobile, particularly when hunting, Harvati explained.


Ian Tattersall, curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, said the tooth analysis provided a rare piece of hard evidence.


"This is a very interesting finding in the sense that we don't actually know how far Neanderthals tended to move in their lifetime," said Tattersall, who is not connected to the Greek study.


"It is consistent with the picture that is building of Neanderthals leading a fairly mobile life over large tracts of land."


Until now, experts only had indirect evidence, including stone used in tools, Harvati said. "Our analysis is the first that brings evidence from a Neanderthal fossil itself," she said.


Harvati was part of the team that carried out the analysis on the tooth, found in a seaside excavation in Gythio in Greece's southern Peloponnese region in 2002.


The findings were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


The team from the Max Planck Institute, led by Department of Human Evolution professor Mike Richards and Harvati, analyzed tooth enamel for ratios of strontium isotope, a naturally occurring metal found in food and water. Levels of the metal vary in different areas. As it is absorbed by the body, an analysis of its levels can show where a person lived.


Eleni Panagopoulou of the Paleoanthropology-Speleology Department of Southern Greece said the levels of strontium isotope found in the tooth showed that this particular Neanderthal grew up in a different area at least 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) away from its discovery site.


"The analysis results ... will contribute to solving one of the central issues of paleoanthropology, that of the mobility of the Neanderthal," Panagopoulou said.


"Our findings prove that their mobility was significant and that their settlement networks were broader and more organized than we believed," she said.


Given that Neanderthals also coexisted with modern man in some parts of Europe, "one could presume that this mobility would facilitate the contacts of the two populations on a cultural and, perhaps, on a biological level."


Professor Clive Finlayson, an expert on Neanderthal man and director of the Gibraltar Museum, disagreed with the finding's significance.


"The technique is interesting, and if we could repeat this over and over for lots of (individuals) then we might get some kind of picture," he said.


"(But) I would have been surprised if Neanderthals didn't move at least 20 kilometers in their lifetime, or even in a year ... We're talking about humans, not trees."


Associated Press Writer Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this story.



Ancient bones may hold key

By Emily Pykett


Ancient human remains held in Portsmouth's museum archives are set to be DNA-tested for signs of tuberculosis.


Skeletons which have been dug up in the city during developments, some dating back to the Bronze Age, will now form a vital part of new research into TB.


Academics from Durham and Manchester universities have asked permission to remove bits of bone and teeth to analyse as part of their research project into how tuberculosis evolved through the ages.


The remains of two ancient city dwellers, one which is known to have suffered TB and one which did not, will be studied.


It is hoped their discoveries will lead to the formulation of new drugs to combat the disease, which is currently on the increase.


The samples will be removed by an expert using a small circular saw and taken to Manchester University for testing.


The dentine or yellow underpart of the teeth will be taken away, and the teeth returned to the museum service.


The bone samples will be destroyed but it is proposed they will be kept by Manchester University on loan from Portsmouth City Council.


Other councils which own human remains have already agreed for this research to take place and watchdog English Heritage has told Portsmouth City Council it is happy to permit the sampling for this research request.


Jennifer Macey, museums collections assistant at Portsmouth City Council, said: 'The remains will be treated respectfully throughout the sampling process.


'The potential benefits of the research will be a greater understanding of the evolution of tuberculosis in Britain and Europe, possibly being able to identify whether particular strains of TB have always occurred in certain regions or whether this is due to modern factors.'


The council's collection of human remains was examined last year by a student from University College London as part of a dissertation into changes in health in Hampshire during the Anglo-Saxon period.


Samples were also taken during 2002 and 2003 by a researcher for carbon dating.

Hampshire, Winchester, Southampton and Chichester councils all hold human remains in their archaeological collections for research purposes.


Portsmouth City Council is now drawing up a policy for storing human remains in the museum collections which will follow government guidelines on ethics.



Draft law sparks protests in Peru

By Dan Collyns

BBC News, Peru


Thousands of people have brought Peru's tourist capital, Cuzco, to a near standstill in a demonstration against development near Inca monuments.


A proposed law would make it easier for private investors to build near some of Peru's most famous ancient sites.


In the 24-hour protest, main roads were blocked, tours were cancelled and the rail service between Cuzco and Machu Picchu was suspended.


Peru's ancient monuments draw millions of tourists every year.


Cuzco residents marched in opposition to the law, which they say will say will harm the city's heritage.


Major roads in and out of town were blocked and access to the famous Sacred Valley and the city's Inca fortress, Sacsayhuaman, was blocked with rocks and burning tyres.


The proposed law will make it easier for private investors to be awarded concessions for the construction of hotels in areas near archaeological sites and Cuzco's historic centre.


But in Cuzco there is deep suspicion of the central government and many, including the regional authority, argue that such a law would allow foreign investors to grow rich from Cuzco's archaeological and cultural heritage.


In the first of two votes, Peru's Congress rejected the proposed law.


Nevertheless, Cuzco's regional president, Hugo Gonzalez, said the protest, which was timed to coincide with the vote, was necessary to ensure it is rejected a second time.


Cuzco's regional authority, which had strong backing from local businesses and unions, says the proposed legislation would have a negative impact on its income and the preservation of the Inca monuments.


But Peru's Tourism Minister, Mercedes Araoz, said the law was intended to promote investment and the protest was the result of a misunderstanding.



The Romans carried out cataract ops

By Jane Elliott

Health reporter, BBC News


Think of the Roman legacy to Britain and many things spring to mind - straight roads, under-floor heating, aqueducts and public baths.


But they were also pioneers in the health arena - particularly in the area of eye care, with remedies for various eye conditions such as short-sightedness and conjunctivitis.


Perhaps most surprisingly of all is that the Romans - and others from ancient times, including the Chinese, Indians and Greeks - were also able also to carry out cataract operations.


The Romans were almost certainly the first to do this in Britain.


Nowadays the procedure can be carried out with the help of ultrasound, but in Roman times technology was rather more basic - needles were inserted into the eye.


The sharp end of the needle was used for surgery and the blunt end heated to cauterise the wound.


Blows to the head were sometimes used to try and dislodge the cataract.


Dr Nick Summerton, GP and advisor to the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has written a book "Medicine and Health in Roman Britain".


In it, he details how various medical instruments found in Britain indicate that the Romans carried out other advanced procedures, such as head surgery and induced abortions.


"Archaeological finds of eye medicine stamps, representations of eyes together with a sickness report from the Roman fort at Vindolanda suggest that eye diseases were a particular concern within Roman Britain," said Dr Summerton.


"Interestingly the Roman author Celsus described cataract extraction surgery using a specially pointed needle - and possible cataract needles (specilla) have been found in Britain as well as elsewhere in the Roman Empire."


Detailing the procedure Celsus said: "A needle is to be taken, pointed enough to penetrate, yet not too fine, and this is to be inserted straight through the two outer tunics.


"When the (correct) spot is reached, the needle is to be sloped.........and should gently rotate there and little by little."


Dr Summerton explained how eye doctors (oculists) manufactured ointment sticks (collyria) stamped with the ingredients and the name of the eye specialist.


These were used to treat a range of eye problems such as conjunctivitis and other inflammatory or infectious eye condition in addition to short-sightedness.


A large number of the eye remedies contained antiseptics in one form or another.


"The vinegar lotion of Gaius Valerius Amandus (from a stamp found at Biggleswade) or the copper oxide of Aurelius Polychronius (from a stamp found at Kenchester) would have been very effective antiseptics either in treating conjunctivitis or in preventing any scar on the eye becoming infected while it healed."


Dr Summerton has also discovered that religion played an important role in eye care.


"It may be somewhat artificial to seek to rigidly separate out the spiritual from the physical aspects of Romano-British health care," he said.


"At Wroxeter in Shropshire there may have been a particular focus on eye care with the discovery of two collyrium stamps in the names of Tiberius Claudius and Lucillianus together with a case of probable surgical instruments including an eye needle for cataract extraction.


"However, this evidence of 'physical medicine' is complemented by the presence of eye votives (offerings to the Gods).


"In 1967 a piece of sheet-gold in the shape of a pair of eyes was found at the north-west corner of the Baths-Basilica.


"In the same area bronze eyes have been unearthed in addition to numerous eyes carved from wall plaster.


"Wroxeter has also yielded an altar to Apollo who was considered to have a particular association with eyes."


Dr Alex Ionides, eye surgeon at Moorfield eye hospital said an ancient method for treating cataracts was referred to as "couching".


"A cataract is a clouding of the lens, which loses its transparency and becomes misty and foggy and white," he said.


"The lens is held in place within the eye by multiple radial 'strings' called zonules. These become weaker with age and with cataract formation.


"'Couching' breaks these weakened strings so that the lens is no longer suspended in the correct position and falls away from the pupil, dropping into the back of the eye, allowing light into the eye once more.


"There are different ways of performing couching, one is with a blunt stick to 'knock' the eye hard from the outside, thus dislodging the lens from the zonules by shear blunt force.


"Another form of 'couching' was with a sharp metal probe that would be inserted, without anaesthetic through the edge of the iris, into the eye, and wiggled around to dislodge the cataract from the pupil.


"It wasn't until the 18th century that Daviel in France suggested opening up the eye and removing the cataract.


"This technique met with various success and blinded many people including Handel, who as a result of his cataract surgery, was blind for the last few years of his London life."


Cataract surgery is now the commonest operation performed on the NHS with vastly superior techniques and generally excellent visual outcomes - although no surgery is without some risk.



Hope of finding first King's home


Archaeologists believe they could be closer to discovering the site of the palace belonging to the first King of a united Scotland.


The academics at Glasgow University have been studying documents and previous archaeological finds to narrow down the location in Perthshire.


They will return in August to Forteviot in the hope of uncovering evidence of Kenneth MacAlpine's wooden castle.


MacAlpine died at the Palace of Forteviot in 858.


Dr Kenneth Brophy from the University of Glasgow said: "The palace is mentioned in a lot of medieval and later texts as being a stone building, but because it's early medieval it would've been a wooden building.


"It's allegedly in the Foteviot area somewhere and various attempts have been made to find it archaeologically before, but they've not been successful."


The academics have previously carried out work in the surrounding area.


They excavated the entrance of an enclosure they believe would have been used for ritual purposes, and would have been more impressive than Stonehenge.


They also worked on a graveyard, which they suspect could have been the biggest medieval cemetery in Scotland.


About 40 researchers and 10 local people will work in the area in August for three weeks in the hope of finding the royal palace.


Dr Brophy said: "It would be the first archaeological proof that there was a royal centre at Forteviot, which obviously has implications for our understanding of the early Scottish nation.


"My colleagues are very excited about the possibility of actually pinning down this almost legendary building.


"What's now a very small village, was once maybe one of the major centres of royal power in Scotland."



'Super-scope' shines on Mary Rose

By Rebecca Morelle

Science reporter, BBC News


Light rays, 10 billion times brighter than the Sun, are being used to probe the Tudor warship, the Mary Rose.


The research is taking place at the Diamond synchrotron, a beam-generating machine that covers the area of five football pitches.


Scientists are using the facility in a bid to fine-tune the conservation of the historic vessel's timbers.


The Mary Rose, pride of Henry VIII's English fleet, sank in 1545 and lay on the sea bed until being raised in 1982.


The work carried out at Diamond will help conservators understand more about the sulphur compounds buried deep within the ship's timbers.


Researchers aim to find out how stable they are, as these can be converted to sulphuric acid when oxygen is present - threatening preservation efforts.


After sinking in the 16th Century, the Mary Rose lay on the bottom of the Solent for the next 400 years.


Thanks to a protective covering of sea-bed sediment, many of her timbers and artefacts remained intact when she was raised from the salty depths in 1982.


Since then, scientists have been endeavouring to ensure the preservation of the historic vessel, which is housed at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard.


From 1994, her hull timbers have been continuously sprayed with a water-soluble wax called polyethylene glycol.


Dr Mark Jones, from the Mary Rose Trust, who is leading the research project, said: "It prevents the wood from distorting, shrinking, splitting, cracking or collapsing.


"But, in addition to that you have to remove some of the salts that have occurred over the many centuries - chlorides, which are easy to wash out, and the iron and sulphur compounds, which in the presence of oxygen can be converted into sulphuric acid."


The biochemist said that over the last 15 years, researchers had successfully neutralised all of the acids in the wood and had removed the vast majority of the troublesome compounds.


Dr Jones told the BBC News website: "What we are now trying to do using Diamond technology is to investigate any remaining compounds that could present a threat in 20, or 30, or even 500 years time."


The scientists, from the Mary Rose Trust, the National Museum of Scotland, Daresbury Laboratory and the University of Kent, have been placing thin slivers of the ship's timber into the "microfocus beamline" at the Oxfordshire-based synchrotron.


The facility - sometimes described as a super-microscope - works by speeding electrons around a huge doughnut-shaped chamber until they are travelling so fast that they begin to emit light.


These intense rays are then channelled off into beamlines and focused on to samples of material, like the Mary Rose timbers, allowing their fine structure to be analysed.


By observing the wood at the cellular level, the team has been able to look at compounds of sulphur and iron buried deep within the timbers.


Dr Jones said: "Over time, sulphur has bonded with the cell walls in the wood, producing a compound that is extremely stable and impossible to remove because it is so deep in the timber.


"With the help of Diamond and university research, we want to make sure that these compounds will remain stable over long, long periods of time under different display conditions."


He added: "Essentially, what we are trying to do is to fine-tune the conservation process so that it lasts for many, many more centuries."


Charles Barker, managing director of Mary Rose Archaeological Services, added: "It is all about looking at potential problems that might crop up that we don't know about now."



DISCOVERY: Oldest lighthouse at ancient Roman port


The New Anatolian / Ankara

06 February 2008


Turkish archaeologists unearthed a 2000-year-old lighthouse at the ancient Roman port of Patara, near southern town of Kas, Antalya, discovering probably the oldest such structure that managed to remain intact.


The 12-meter-high lighthouse was built under the reign of Emperor Nero who ruled from 54 to 68, Professor Havva Iskan Isik, head of the excavation team reported.


"The oldest known lighthouse is the one in Alexandria but there is nothing left of it. So, the lighthouse at the Patara port is the oldest one that has remained intact," she said.


Isik said there might be a second lighthouse at the other edge of the port under a huge debris of soil, which she said was to be excavated at a later time.