Search for first Americans to plunge underwater

By Allison M. Heinrichs


Tuesday, July 15, 2008


James Adovasio's latest archaeological expedition to find the first Americans will require little digging.


Still, the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute director will have to reach depths of several hundred feet.


Adovasio plans to co-lead a two-week expedition in the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the month to look for evidence of early American Indians along the ancient coast of Florida, now about 300 feet underwater, Mercyhurst College in Erie announced Monday.


"We have these little hints ... that there are potentially early sites off the coast of Florida," said Adovasio, former chairman of the University of Pittsburgh's anthropology department. "That is what makes this so exciting."


Adovasio rose to fame three decades ago while excavating the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Avella in Washington County. Radiocarbon dating showed the creekside outcropping was the site of human campsites as much as 16,000 years ago, five millennia earlier than archaeologists thought.


Before heading inland, paleo-Indians probably hugged the American coastline, congregating around freshwater rivers, Adovasio said. At the time, much of the world's water was locked up in glaciers, causing ocean levels to be lower and exposing more of the continental shelf.


As the earth warmed and water levels rose, evidence of such settlements fell deeper and deeper below water.


"There is no question in almost all archaeological minds that the earliest examples of North American occupation are underwater," said Dave Watters, curator and head of anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. "There's been a lot of discussion, but not a lot of research because you can spend a lot of time looking for something and not ever find it."


Dredging and storms have turned up tantalizing clues -- spearheads, bone tools -- that such sites are just waiting to be found in the Gulf of Mexico, said C. Andrew Hemmings, a University of Texas at Austin archaeologist who is leading the expedition with Adovasio.


"These were probably very mobile hunter-gatherer folks," Hemmings said. "So we're looking for the tools that they made and the refuse of the plants and animals that they ate."


The team hopes to find a freshwater spring that once was part of the Aucilla River, which flows out of Florida's panhandle and into the Gulf. Animals would have gathered near the watering hole, making it a good place for people to find food. It is now 120 to 360 feet underwater.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave $100,000 to the project, which Mercyhurst matched. The University of Texas is providing equipment and staff. The University of South Florida is allowing the team to use its 105-foot research boat, Suncoaster.


Frank Cantelas, maritime archaeologist in NOAA's office of ocean exploration and maritime research, said the project was among the highest-scoring grant proposals.


"It's an area of underwater archaeology that's been little-explored," he said. "That early period of human occupation in North America is not really well understood, so there's been a lot of emphasis on it in recent years."


From July 30 to Aug. 12, the 12-member research crew will survey the seabed, first with tools that use sound waves to map the Gulf's topography and then with a suitcase-sized diving robot fitted with cameras. If something interesting is found in shallower water, scuba divers might be sent to explore it.


But the real work will begin next year, if the team finds enough evidence to convince someone to fund a longer expedition.


"We're going to work for two continuous weeks, as many hours each day as we possibly can," Adovasio said. "If we find something, you better believe we'll go back next year."


Allison M. Heinrichs can be reached at aheinrichs@tribweb.com or 412-380-5607.



Ulcers Discovered in Mummies

By LiveScience Staff

posted: 14 July 2008 07:42 pm ET


Two Mexican mummies had ulcers when they were alive.


Remnants of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori were discovered in gastric tissue from the mummies, human remains believed to predate Columbus' discovery of the New World.


"It is only through the use of the stomach tissue of these incredible mummies that we were able to make this discovery," said researcher Yolanda Lòpez-Vidal. "Infection is established when the micro-organism infiltrates the stomach lining and induces a local inflammatory response. This is unlike colonization, which does not cause such a response and does not occur in the stomach."


This is the first time that H. pylori infection has been shown to occur in native populations, Lòpez-Vidal said. The research is detailed in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Microbiology.


"Our results show that H. pylori infections occurred around 1350 A.D. in the area we now know as Mexico," Lòpez-Vidal said. Her research team included colleagues at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.


Mummification, or the preservation of a body in the process of putrefaction, can take place as a result of environmental effects (such as climate or where the body is left) or as a result of human intervention, as in the case of the mummies found in Egyptian pyramids. In Mexico, mummies are found in dry places such as caves and rock shelters, where rapid dehydration occurs. The internal organs are the last to dehydrate, Lòpez-Vidal wrote.


The mummies for this research were recovered in a funeral cave of La Ventana, in the Chihuahua State desert, and in a cave in the state of Durango.


As well as stomach ulcers, H. pylori causes gastritis, duodenitis and cancer. The helix-shaped bacteria is thought to be transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with fecal matter.


Lòpez-Vidal's team studied the stomach, tongue-soft palate and brains of two naturally mummified corpses — one infant male and one adult male, found in Northern Mexico. The researchers looked for the presence of telltale fragments of H. pylori DNA in the remains after the genetic material was amplified by a common biological technique called polymerase chain reaction.


Although previous research has suggested that H. pylori was present in these communities, this is the first evidence that it caused gastric infections.



Cavemen and their relatives in the same village after 3,000 years

From The Times

July 15, 2008

Roger Boyes in Berlin


The good news for two villagers in the Söse valley of Germany yesterday was that they have discovered their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents — give or take a generation or two.


The bad news is that their long-lost ancestors may have grilled and eaten other members of their clan.


Every family has its skeletons in the cave, though, so Manfred Hucht-hausen, 58, a teacher, and 48-year-old surveyor Uwe Lange remained in celebratory mood. Thanks to DNA testing of remarkably well-preserved Bronze Age bones, they can claim to have the longest proven family tree in the world. “I can trace my family back by name to 1550,” Mr Lange said. “Now I can go back 120 generations.”


Mr Lange comes from the village of Nienstedt, in Lower Saxony, in the foothills of the Harz mountain range. “We used to play in these caves as kids. If I’d known that there were 3,000-year-old relatives buried there I wouldn’t have set foot in the place.”


The cave, the Lichtensteinhöhle, is made up of five interlocked natural chambers. It stayed hidden from view until 1980 and was not researched properly until 1993. The archaeologist Stefan Flindt found 40 skeletons along with what appeared to be cult objects. It was a mystery: Bronze Age man was usually buried in a field. Different theories were considered. Perhaps some of the bodies had been offered as human sacrifice, or one generation had been eaten by another.


Scientists at the University of Göttingen found that the bones had been protected by a thick layer of calcium: water dripping through the roof of the limestone cave had helped to create a sheath around the skeletons.


The analysis showed that all the bones were from the same family and the scientists speculated that it was a living area and a ceremonial burial place.


About 300 locals agreed to giving saliva swabs. Two of the cave family had a very rare genetic pattern – and a match was found.


The skulls have been reconstructed using three-dimensional computer techniques and placed in a museum. “It was really strange to look the man deep in the eyes,” Mr Lange said.


The bones of history


    The oldest human genetic material is thought to have been discovered at the Sterkfontein Caves near Johannesburg in 2001


    Fossilised faeces found in Oregon this year contained DNA dating back 14,000 years, placing people genetically similar to Native Americans in the area 1,000 years earlier than previously thought


    Australian scientists announced in 2001 that they had extracted DNA from the country’s oldest human skeleton, 60,000-year-old Mungo Man, who is distinct from the line that previously suggested all modern humans traced back to Africa



Mosaic mystery

8:50am Wednesday 16th July 2008

By Emma Clark »


FEARS have been raised that parts of the city's old Roman town - which lies beneath Verulamium Park - have disappeared.


Archaeologists say there is a genuine concern that parts of the old town could be missing.


Their concerns came to light on Sunday during a dig.


The experienced team from St Albans District Council dug up part of a second century manor house buried under the park expecting to find a colourful mosaic tiled floor, discovered by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1930s.


But instead they were greeted with remains of the room's foundations.


Simon West, who heads the team, believes Sir Mortimer could have taken the ancient pieces and sold them on for a penny each in the 1930s.


Now he fears that other ruins recorded by him in the area may not be there either.


Mr West, who has been digging with his team since last Monday, said: "It was certainly a surprise to discover that it was no longer there.


"We wanted to dig up this room to take modern records and see if it had changed, so we have fulfilled our brief but unfortunately in a negative way.


"It does make me worry whether this is a one-off or whether other parts of the old Roman town that were recorded by him are also missing.


"We will have to look into making further excavations to find out."


But there could be other reasons for the mystery.


Mr West added: "There could be two other explanations. Mr Wheeler could have taken the pieces to complete another more important mosaic or he could have sent them off for conservation work which was never completed, but you would have expected him to have recorded that.


"This is not a criticism of him if he has taken them and sold them on, there were no controls in those days so he would have been quite free to take them, but it would have been nice if he had told us."


Verulamium Park, named after the Roman town, is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country and is recognised as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.


The site was dug up for the first time in the 1930s by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who was hoping to find a British Pompeii, and recorded all his discoveries.


Two months ago the council was given permission by English Heritage to excavate the small area - the first dig on the site for ten years - and tied in the work with National Archaeology Week.


The public was invited to watch the team - made up mostly of experienced volunteers - and the Young Archaeologist Club at work while the museum offered free activities for children.



Archaeologists find 600-year-old chess piece in northwest Russia

14:51, 18/ 07/ 2008


VELIKY NOVGOROD, July 18 (RIA Novosti) - Archaeologists in northwest Russia have discovered a chess piece dating back to the late 14th century, a spokesman for local archaeologists said on Friday.


"The king, around several centimeters tall, is made of solid wood, possibly of juniper," the spokesman said.


The excavations are being carried out at the site of the Palace of Facets, in the Novgorod Kremlin in Veliky Novgorod. The palace is believed to be the oldest in Russia.


According to the city chronicles, chess as a competitive game emerged in Veliky Novgorod, the foremost historic city in northwest Russia, in the 13th century, but was banned in 1286 by the church.


However, besides the king, archeologists in the region have found a total of 82 chess pieces dating back to at least the 14th century, showing that the game remained popular among the local population despite the church ban.


In late May, archaeologists in the ancient city uncovered a number of medieval baby bottles. Medieval Slavs made feeding bottles by attaching leather bags to the wider part of a cow's horn. The babies drank milk from holes made in the tip of the horns.


The first historical mention of Veliky Novgorod was in 859 AD. City chronicles say that by 862 AD it was already a stop on the trading route between the Baltics and Byzantium.


The city will celebrate its 1150th anniversary in 2009.



Stonehenge centre 'will be ready for Olympics'

Maev Kennedy

Wednesday July 16, 2008



Ambitious plans for a world-class visitor centre for Stonehenge may have dwindled to a world-class prefab, but yesterday both English Heritage and the government pledged it would be built in time for the 2012 Olympics.


After over 20 years of bitter public debate, and an estimated £9m spent on consultants, designs and planning inquiries, the proposed £57m visitor centre collapsed last year when the government abandoned, on cost grounds, the plan to tunnel the A303 where it passes one of the world's most famous prehistoric monuments.


Ordered by culture minister Margaret Hodge to sort the site in time for the expected Olympics tourism bonanza, English Heritage yesterday launched yet another public consultation, this time on a new quick fix solution: a "temporary" building lasting up to 20 years, costing up to £20m, and providing a café, a shop and twice as much parking.


It could be achieved either by drastically upgrading the present site - damned almost 20 years ago by a parliamentary committee as "a national disgrace" - or on one of four other sites scattered across the edge of the world heritage site: some on National Trust land, others on privately owned or Ministry of Defence land.


In most options there would be park and ride schemes leaving visitors to walk the remaining 1.25km to the stones, across a landscape spattered with other monuments completely overlooked by most visitors today. In every case the A344 branch road, which passes within yards of the stones, would be closed and turfed over.


"We have to do this - there is no alternative," said Lord Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of English Heritage. The challenge confounded his predecessors: Sir Jocelyn Stevens promised the new visitor centre in time for the millennium, and Sir Neil Cossons insisted it would open in 2006. Both left without seeing a sod of earth turned.


This time it's the timetable, not the building, which struck many observers yesterday as recklessly ambitious. The consultation closes in October, the results go to the government by the end of the year, and English Heritage will then invite design tenders. They hope to win planning permission next summer, start building in 2010, and finish well before the first starting pistol of the London Olympics.


Between them the people who attended yesterday's launch in Amesbury have fought every single previous proposal: they included villagers concerned with already traffic-choked roads; archaeologists fearful for a precious landscape; those who wanted a tunnel twice as long or a completely new road; and the local residents aghast at the prospect of a large visitor centre and a huge car park literally at the bottom of their gardens.


For the first time there was cautious consensus that now it could just work. "You may not get a perfect solution," Hodge said, "but you will get something which works a million times better than what we've got at present."


Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe, now an English Heritage commissioner, who has been working at Stonehenge since 1974, before the quango was created, said: "This time I really feel success is within our grasp."


Kate Fielden, also an archaeologist and local representative of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "What we need now is to do something gentle, which will allow us to do more and better later."


Richard Crook, a local farmer, a National Farmers' Union representative and an Amesbury councillor, who has been on one Stonehenge committee or another since 1984 (and whose grandfather was the under bidder when the stones were auctioned off in 1915), said: "We might just get it right this time".


Peter Goodhugh, whose magnificent vegetable patch was spared with the collapse of the old scheme, said, "I can now garden in peace and quiet," while Geoff Wainwright, retired chief archaeologist at English Heritage, who recently won rare permission to excavate at the stones, brandished his walking stick and boomed: "Hope springs eternal!"


Some Stonehenge dates




Riddle of Lusitania sinking may finally be solved

American entrepreneur Gregg Bemis finally gets courts go-ahead to explore the wreck off Ireland

The Lusitania

Eithne Shortall


It is the best known shipwreck lying on the Irish seabed, but it is only today that the owner of the Lusitania will finally begin the first extensive visual documentation of the luxury liner that sank 93 years ago.


Gregg Bemis, who bought the remains of the vessel for £1,000 from former partners in a diving business in 1968, has been granted an imaging licence by the Department of the Environment. This allows him to photograph and film the entire structure, and should allow him to produce the first high-resolution pictures of the historic vessel.


The RMS Lusitania sank off the coast of Cork in May 1915 when a German U-boat torpedoed it. An undetermined second explosion is believed to have speeded its sinking, with 1,198 passengers and crew losing their lives.


Bemis is hoping that the week-long filming project, which begins today, will prove his theory that the Lusitania was carrying explosives, and that these were the cause of the mysterious second blast.


“I want to find out where the second explosion took place and why,” he said. “I believe there were explosives on board. I can tell the whole world that, but they’re not going to believe me until we get down there and get proof.”


JWM Productions will film the project for a television series to be shown on the Discovery Channel next year.


The 80-year-old entrepreneur only won the right to explore the wreckage, located off Kinsale’s Old Head, in March 2007. The Supreme Court granted him a five-year forensic licence after it ruled that the then minister for arts and heritage had misconstrued the law when he refused Bemis’s application in 2001.


This licence allows him to explore the wreck and to touch or move whatever is necessary to gain entrance. It relates only to filming for the month of July, and Bemis is the only member of the team that can have contact with the ship. He believes there are valuables on board belonging to passengers.


“When I did my previous dive in 2004, the visibility was 25ft maximum and the ship is 750ft long. I didn’t go very far from my shot line, so there’s much I didn’t see,” the American said.


“For the time being any objects belonging to passengers will remain down there. I own the ship, so if I want to take up parts of the ship for archeological reasons, I can do that. Anything belonging to passengers or being carried on the ship goes to the receiver of wrecks, who has to find the owner.”


Bemis plans to use the data gathered this week to measure the liner’s deterioration and to form a strategy for a forensic examination of the ship. The New Mexico-based entrepreneur estimated that this will cost $5m (€3m).


He has contracted Odyssey Marine Exploration (OME), a Florida-based company, to conduct the survey. Bemis will join the crew on board the MV Odyssey Explorer, the survey vessel, as they collect photographic and video data and assess the condition of the wreck.


The Department of the Environment’s Underwater Archaeology Unit will join the team on the survey to ensure that the research is carried out in a non-invasive manner. The survey team will employ Zeus II, a remotely operated vehicle equipped with the latest high-definition video cameras and underwater lighting. The Lusitania is 300ft below sea level and Zeus can reach 8,200ft.


John Gormley, the minister for the environment, said it is hoped that the survey will lead to a greater understanding of the events leading to the sinking of “one of the most fascinating and tragic vessels in Irish and first world war terms”.