Viewpoint: Has 'one species' idea been put to bed?

30 December 2011 Last updated at 16:57

By Clive Finlayson

Director, Gibraltar Museum


Here, Prof Clive Finlayson looks back at the year's developments in human evolution research and asks whether recent discoveries rule out a well known idea about our ancestors.


Hobbits on Flores, Denisovans in Siberia, Neanderthals across Eurasia and our very own ancestors.


Given this array of human diversity in the Late Pleistocene, we might well be forgiven for thinking that Ernst Mayr's contention that "in spite of much geographical variation, never more than one species of man existed on Earth at any one time" had finally been put to bed.


It now seems that a high degree of diversity was also present in the Middle Pleistocene, revealed in the latest analysis of human teeth from that period.


Mayr, one of the great evolutionary biologists of modern times, proposed his single species idea in a Cold Spring Harbor Symposium, published in 1950.


The idea of a single species of human has received a great deal of criticism since Mayr's day but it has also had its vociferous advocates.


So, can we really conclude that the concept was fundamentally flawed on the basis of all the new - fossil and genetic - evidence? That depends on how we understand and define species.


For biologists, like Mayr, species are entities composed of individuals that, in the wild, reproduce among themselves but not with other species.


But palaeontologists use other definitions of species and these have allowed them to classify fossils that cannot be otherwise categorised on the basis of Mayr's biological species concept.


What the palaeontologists call species are essentially divergent lineages but we cannot know whether these had reached levels of genetic independence or not.


Mayr recognised that there had been "much geographical variation" in humans but he just did not think that such variation had led to new species. So the apparently polarised positions are not really that far apart. Enter genetics.


The Neanderthals have long been the "controls" in the human experiment; those we have chosen to compare and, mainly, contrast with the human model. Drawing distinctions between "them" and us has helped in creating a sense of the uniqueness of our condition and it has been natural that we should regard them as a different species.


But now we know that Neanderthals and our ancestors exchanged genes so, using the biological species definition, they must have been the same species. But they had diverged for over half-a-million years: they were distinct lineages which would make them distinct palaeontological species.


And it seems they were not the only ones to exchange genes with our ancestors. The enigmatic Denisovans (still awaiting scientific nomenclature) also exchanged genes with some of our ancestors and they ranged widely.


So the paradox "one species-many species" depends very much on perspective and there is little, it would seem, that contradicts Mayr's contention of geographical variation in a single biological species.


While all this has been happening, more and more papers are being published that are breaking down the differences between Neanderthals and our ancestors.


Now it seems that Neanderthals beach-combed for molluscs as far back as our own ancestors did (around 150 thousand years ago along the Mediterranean coast of Spain), so a defining feature of our modernity and geographical expansion has been eroded.


Stalwarts have been left with our superior cognition, expressed via symbolism, as the last bastion that separates us from the Neanderthals. But even here recent papers suggest that Neanderthals used coloured pigments and may have even worn raptor feathers!


The historical downgrading of our Neanderthal cousins has gone well beyond the scientific. Neanderthals still remain, in many people's minds, the archetypal brutes. But this popular view is gradually changing as scientists are recognising the need to put new ideas across to a wider public.


A meeting in the Neander Museum, near Dusseldorf in Germany, last October brought together scientists and managers from across Europe in an effort to create a network of sites and museums that tell the story of humans in the Pleistocene of Europe.


The Neander site gave its name to their human namesakes but an earlier skull had been found, in 1848, in Gibraltar and went unrecognised.


Work in Gibraltar, the last known place where Neanderthals survived, has changed our understanding of Neanderthal ecology and a key site on the Rock - Gorham's Cave - has now been included in the United Kingdom's Tentative List for World Heritage nomination.


It is recognition that the human evolution story, and the Neanderthals, are very much part of our global heritage. Gibraltar plans to do more as it pioneers the combination of research with public access.


The recently elected Government included in its manifesto a commitment to commemorate the site of the 1848 discovery and there are also plans to develop a unique thematic "Neanderthal Park", the first of its kind in the world.


And a major conference is planned for September next year when experts from all over the world will meet in Gibraltar to revise our ideas about "the human niche". After decades of bad press we are finally getting round to humanizing the enigmatic Neanderthals.



Divers find clue to ancient civilization

Artifact at Lake Huron's bottom believed used by hunters 10,000 years ago





The recovery of a mysterious wooden pole at the bottom of Lake Huron is fuelling excitement among U.S. and Canadian researchers that they have found more evidence of a "lost world" of North American caribou hunters from nearly 10,000 years ago.


The scientists believe these prehistoric people - who would have been among the earliest inhabitants of the continent - had a "kill site" along a ridge along the present-day U.S.-Canada border that was eventually submerged by rising waters when the glaciers melted at the end of the last Ice Age.


Now drowned under about 35 metres of water in Lake Huron, the Alpena-Amberley Ridge is named for the Michigan and Ontario towns that respectively mark the western and eastern ends of the 160-kilometre-long, 16-km-wide feature.


The theory that the ridge was an ancient hunting ground was first announced in 2009 after the discovery of lake-bottom rock features that appeared to have been arranged by human hands to herd migrating caribou into narrow corridors ideal for spear hunting.


These types of "drive lanes" are still used by some Inuit hunters in Northern Canada to funnel caribou and make hunting them easier.


Other groups of boulders mapped by the Lake Huron researchers are thought to have been "blinds" meant to conceal hunters before they sprang out to attack passing caribou.


The two-metre-long piece of wood, found amid such a rock assemblage during a summer search of Huron's floor for traces of human activity, was later dated to 8,900 years ago, the researchers revealed last month.


"The first thing you notice is that it appears to have been shaped with a rounded base and a pointed tip," University of Michigan anthropologist John O'Shea stated in a summary of the team's research. "There's also a bevel on one side that looks unnatural, like it had to have been created. It looks like it might have been used as a tent pole or a pole to hang meat."


O'Shea's principal research partner, University of Michigan marine engineer Guy Meadows, told Postmedia News last March that the Lake Huron rock formations constituted "promising" - but not definitive - evidence of an ancient human presence, and that the team was keen to gather more compelling proof.


"We really want to produce an arti-fact, and not just these rock structures that look very promising," he said at the time. "But the area is obviously enormous - it's a proverbial needle-in-a-haystack problem."


The large, wooden "needle" found last summer is still undergoing tests to determine precisely how it might have been modified by prehistoric hunters.


Meanwhile, other material gathered from the bottom of the lake is being analyzed by experts, including Canadian researcher Lisa Sonnen-burg, a McMaster University paleo-ecologist who specializes in studying "microdebitage" - stone flakes left at archeological sites by ancient toolmakers.


Meadows and O'Shea have teamed with Wayne State University computer scientist Robert Reynolds to create a three-dimensional, virtual model of the ridge - including animated caribou moving along the corridor - to help identify as many "high-probability" targets as possible for the lake-bottom searches for artifacts.


Based on geological data that give a general picture of the topography along the ridge about 10,000 years ago, the simulation is meant to allow the experts to "step into that world" and visualize the paths caribou would likely have taken during their mass migrations, Reynolds said last year.


The simulation, he said at the time, was designed to help researchers plot the places where ancient hunters would have established staging grounds and positioned themselves around kill sites to maximize their harvesting chances.


During this past summer's field work, deposits of pine pollen and charcoal were identified and sampled at the site where the pole was discovered.


"Slowly, the environmental picture is filling in," O'Shea stated in the research summary.


"There was a marsh close by this site. It seems we're narrowing in on people, but of course forest fires could have created the charcoal as well as cooking fires. So we need to wait for the analyses to be sure about what we've got here."


© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun



Orcadian temple predates Stonehenge by 500 years


Gerry Braiden

Local Government Correspondent


THE discovery of a Stone Age temple on Orkney looks set to rewrite the archeological records of ancient Britain with evidence emerging it was built centuries before Stonehenge.


Archeologists have so far found undisturbed artefacts including wall decorations, pigments and paint pots, which are already increasing their understanding of the Neolithic people.


Experts believe the huge outer wall suggests the site was not domestic, while the layout of the buildings has reinforced the view it might have been a major religious site. Archaeologists think the temple was built 500 years before Stonehenge, regarded as the centre of Stone Age Britain.


However, only 10% of the site at Ness of Brodgar has been excavated and it could be years before the scale and age of the discovery is fully understood.


It sits close to the existing Ring of Brodgar stone circles and the standing stones of Stenness, near to the town of Stromness.


The uncovered wall around the edges of the site was built with 10,000 tonnes of quarried rock and may have been up to 10 ft high.


Thermal technology also indicates the site could cover the same area as five football pitches, with some parts potentially older than Stonehenge, in south-west England, by as much as 800 years.


Charcoal samples from beneath the wall indicate it was built around 3200 BC. A 30mm high figurine with a head, body and two eyes, and called the "Brodgar Boy", was also unearthed in the rubble of one of the structures.


About 18 months ago, a remarkable rock coloured red, orange and yellow was unearthed. This is the first discovery in Britain of evidence that Neolithic peoples used paint to decorate their buildings.


Project manager Nick Card said the discoveries are unparalleled in British prehistory and that the complexity of finds is changing the "whole vision of what the landscape was 5000 years ago." He said it was of "a scale that almost relates to the classical period in the Mediterranean with walled enclosure and precincts".


Mr Card added: "It's a huge discovery; in terms of scale and complexity there really is nothing else quite like it.


"At first we thought it was a settlement but the scale and complexity within the buildings makes you think along the lines of a temple precinct. It's something you would associate with the classical world."


Archeologist Julian Richards, who has written several books on Stonehenge, added: "The indication is that building was taking place when Stonehenge was still, relatively speaking, insignificant. We have tended to think we know how things were in the Neolithic period, then something like this turns that on its head."


http://www.ilmessaggero.it/articolo.php?id=175652 Google Translation

Montalto, 37 Etruscan tombs found:

Wednesday, 4 January 2012 - 20:00 Last update: 22:04


VITERBO - One of the 37 tombs discovered at Montalto di Castro, Viterbo province, might be a prince or high dignitary of the local Etruscan community. This is what archaeologists believe Superintendence of Southern Etruria after the dromos (entrance corridor) have identified the burial of the bones of a horse and a large olla. Only princes and dignitaries, in fact, were buried with their horses and armor. A large necropolis. The cemetery may be more extensive than previously determined, was identified by the operators of a cooperative archaeological site of Florence, appointed by the Superintendent Southern Etruria to make the essays on land in the locality of Two Pines, intended to accommodate industrial development. The decision to make the essays had been taken because there was a strong possibility that the area concealed important archaeological finds, such as the discovery of the graves confirmed. In the coming days, the tombs of the necropolis, some of which were intact, will be cleaned and inspected by archaeologists. It is thought likely to contain important and valuable artifacts.


Two graves have already been explored. One of four rooms, was plundered in ancient times but, according to estimates by archaeologists should still be at the funeral. Another, however, should still be intact. Over the next few days to explore the archaeologists to verify the content.


Near the park of Vulci. The necropolis discovered is a few kilometers away from the archaeological park of Vulci-naturalistic, where, in recent days, has been identified within which a tomb was found a small stone sphinx, made up of a cat with wings and head of condemnation, dated between the fifth and fourth centuries BC, with extraordinary historical value.



Archaeologists Uncovering the Heart of Ancient Aelia Capitolina

December 2011, Daily News

Sun, Jan 01, 2012


Excavation of a major ancient Roman thoroughfare in Jerusalem is shedding new light and raising new questions.


Recent excavations by a team of archaeologists just west of Jerusalem's famous Western Wall and plaza are illuminating scholars while raising new questions about 2nd century C.E. Jerusalem.

Under the directorship of Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, Alexander Onn, Shua Kisilevitz and Brigitte Ouahnouna of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the systematic excavations were conducted between 2005 and 2010 and revealed a major Roman-constructed thoroughfare that sliced through the heart of 2nd century Jerusalem, the period that followed the downfall of the First Jewish Revolt and saw the transformation of the city into a newly Romanized city, renamed Aelia Capitolina.

A detailed article about their discoveries has been published in an article entitled Layers of Ancient Jerusalem in the January/February 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. This article relates the results thus far of excavations that progressed as far down as the underlying 8th century B.C.E. quarry used by stone cutters to produce the well-known limestone building blocks used to construct much of ancient Jerusalem's monumental structures. Just above that quarry, the archaeologists also found part of what has been interpreted as a large "four-room" house laid out in a style typical of Israelite house structures of the First Temple period, featuring three long, parallel rooms and a larger room extending perpendicularly across the ends of the other three (see model example pictured right). Within the structure was found several personal seals (small round or elliptical incised pieces of clay used, for example, to sign and seal ancient correspondence) bearing Hebrew names. Within its dirt fill were hundreds of pottery shards and fragments of clay zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figurines, all dated to the latter part of the First Temple period, between the 8th and 6th centuries B.C.E. The archaeologists suggest the likelihood that the structure was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., along with the rest of the city, but lack of evidence of any fire normally associated with the Babylonian destruction raises other possibilities, such as an earthquake. In any case, the team suggests that the structure represents a house that was inhabited by members of Judah’s social elite, as evidenced by the seals, and that other material found within the house indicate a possible cultural connection to Assyria.

Curiously, they found relatively few artifacts or other finds from the end of the First Temple period in 586 B.C.E. to the beginning of the Late Roman period (early second century C.E.). This, despite the fact that Jerusalem had been greatly expanded during the Hasmonean (167 - 37 B.C.E.) through the Herodian (37 B.C.E. - 70 C.E.) periods. The answer, they suggest, is found perhaps in the evidence that lay on top of the First Temple period house structure -- the remains of the colonnaded street known as the Roman eastern cardo (one of two 2nd century C.E. Jerusalem's main north-south streets). Here, according to the excavators, the Romans destroyed virtually all of the layers that would have contained material from the Second Temple period in order to properly lay the cardo. Constructing the level cardo, in fact, required cutting into Jerusalems's natural slope at that point, creating in effect a steep, vertical cliff on one side.

Features of this cardo uncovered by the excavations consisted of the street itself, which was 26 feet wide and paved with large, limestone slabs or paving stones in a diagonal pattern. The street was flanked by 5-feet-wide raised sidewalks composed of similar paving stones that were laid parallel to the direction of the street. Also on either side of the street and sidewalks was evidence for rows of columns, representing a pedestrian colonnade. Adjacent and parallel to this, on the western side, they uncovered the remains of a row of eight shops that had been hewn from the rocky cliff produced during the cardo construction. The date of the construction of the cardo (early 2nd century) was determined based on the finds discovered just beneath the paving stones, which included, among many other things, a coin dated to 117 - 138 C.E. and an assemblage of clay vessels dated to the late first/early second centuries (c. 70–130 C.E.) This cardo, however, continued to be used almost unchanged well into the Late Roman and Byzantine periods (second to sixth centuries C.E.), according to the archaeological report.

f significance are the questions raised by the layout and direction of this eastern cardo. The excavation co-directors report that the direction of the cardo is aligned in parallel with the Western Wall, which during the Herodian period constituted the western wall of Herod's Temple Mount. Moreover, they have uncovered evidence of two significant side streets that run perpendicularly from the cardo toward the Western Wall, or Temple Mount. What does this say about the Temple Mount area during the early 2nd century C.E. time of Aelia Capitolina? Does it indicate that there was something important standing, or still standing, as the case may be, in the place where the destroyed Second Temple once stood? Some scholars have proposed that there was once a temple to Jupitor (Jupiter Capitolinus) or some other Roman deity or combination of deities that was built at the site of the Second Temple after the city had been transformed into a Roman city. There are some written sources that imply that such was the case, but little or no solid archaeological evidence has been recovered to confirm or support it. 

For more detailed information about these excavations and what they mean, see the online version of the Biblical Archaeology Review article, Layers of Ancient Jerusalem.



Bawdy token used to pay for pleasure

January 4 2012 at 09:31am



London - A Roman coin that was probably used by a lustful legionary has washed up on the banks of the Thames.


Made from bronze and smaller than a ten pence piece, the coin depicts a man and a woman engaged in an intimate act.


Historians believe it is the first example of a Roman brothel token to be found in this country.


It lay hidden in mud for almost 2,000 years until it was unearthed by an amateur archaeologist with a metal detector.


On the reverse of the token is the numeral XIIII, which experts say could indicate the holder handed over 14 small Roman coins called asses to buy it.


This would have been the equivalent of seven loaves of bread or one day’s pay for a labourer in the first century AD.


The holder would then have taken the token to one of the many Londinium brothels and handed it to a sex slave in exchange for the act depicted on the coin.


The token was found by pastry chef Regis Cursan, 37, who used a metal detector to scan the banks of the Thames near Putney Bridge in West London.


He said: “The day I made the find it was a very low, early tide and raining heavily. At first I thought it was a Roman coin, because of the thickness and diameter.


“When I rubbed the sand off the artefact the first thing I saw was the number on one side and what I thought was a goddess on the other. Little did I know at the time it was actually a rare Roman brothel token. To find something like that is a truly exciting find.”


The token has been donated to the Museum of London, where it will be on display for the next three months.


Curator Caroline McDonald said: “This is the only one of its kind ever to be found in Great Britain.


“When it came in, it had to be cleaned up before we could make out what it was.


“When we realised it was a saucy picture, we had a bit of a giggle but there’s also a sad story behind it because these prostitutes were slaves.


“It has resonance with modern-day London because people are still being sold into the sex trade.”


The object, dated to around the first century AD, was protected from corrosion by the mud. Conservationists have spent weeks cleaning and conserving it since it was found in September.


Similar tokens have been found elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but this is the first time one has been unearthed in this country.


Experts say there is a possibility it could also be a gaming token - although it would be the only one in Britain to display such an explicit illustration.


Historians believe that the use of a specific image was necessary because many of the brothel slaves would not have been fluent in Latin so needed a picture to know what service their client required.


It is also thought that tokens were a way of ensuring none of the customers’ money went directly to the prostitutes.


Experts say it was also illegal to take Roman coins into a brothel during the reign of first century emperor Tiberius as they carried his image.


Mr Cursan, who is executive pastry chef at London restaurant Nobu, made his discovery while volunteering with a group of mudlarks.


Such groups are licensed by the Port of London Authority to search for historical objects which have been lost in the river. Little is known about brothels in Roman Britain, but it is thought the prostitutes were both male and female.


Archaeologists have found it hard to pinpoint brothel buildings as they have no distinctive features, although it is thought they existed near Roman baths.


Some historians believe the Romans invented prostitution in the modern sense as they were the founders of the monetary system.


It played a significant part in the empire’s economy - with sex workers required to register with the local authorities and even pay tax. - Daily Mail



Cambodia's "second Angkor" stirs to life

DENIS D. GRAY, Associated Press

Updated 10:26 a.m., Tuesday, January 3, 2012



 It's still entwined in mystery and jungle vines, but one of Cambodia's grandest monuments is slowly awakening after eight centuries of isolated slumber, having attracted a crack archaeological team and a trickle of tourists.


"It takes awhile to unfold this temple — and everywhere there are enticements," says John Sanday, the team leader, as he navigates through tangled undergrowth, past dramatic towers and bas-reliefs and into dark chambers of the haunting monastic complex of Banteay Chhmar.


What drove Jayavarman VII, regarded as the greatest king of the Angkorian Empire, to erect this vast Buddhist temple about 105 miles (170 kilometers) from his capital in Angkor and in one of the most desolate and driest places in Cambodia remains one of its many unsolved riddles.


At its height in the 12th century, the empire extended over much of Southeast Asia, its rulers engaging in a building frenzy which produced some of the world's greatest religious monuments.


Called the "second Angkor Wat," Banteay Chhmar approaches it in size, is more frozen in time than the manicured and made-over superstar, and has so far been spared the blights of mass tourism of recent years at Angkor.


In 2011, an average of 7,000 tourists a day visited Angkor, one of Asia's top tourist draws located near the booming northwestern city of Siem Reap. Banteay Chhmar saw an average of two a day, with no tour buses and bullhorn-wielding guides to disturb the temple's tranquility or traditional life in the surrounding village.


Abandoned for centuries, then cut off from the world by the murderous Khmer Rouge and a civil war, Banteay Chhmar didn't welcome visitors until 2007, when the last mines were cleared and the looting that plagued the defenseless temple in the 1990s was largely halted.


A year later, the California-based Global Heritage Fund began work at the site under the overall control of the country's Ministry of Culture and now spends about $200,000 a year on the project.


Sanday, a veteran British conservation architect, assembled a team of 60 experts and workers, some of whom were with him on an earlier restoration of the Preah Khan temple at Angkor. Others were recruited from the surrounding community and although barely literate, Sanday says they're among the best he's worked with in Asia.


Challenging them are hundreds of thousands of stone blocks from collapsed shrines and galleries scattered helter-skelter within the 4.6-square-mile (12-square-kilometer) archaeological site. Towers teeter, massive tree roots burrow into walls, vegetation chokes a wide moat girding the temple.


Three-quarters of the bas reliefs — rarely found at other Angkorian temples — have fallen or been looted, the most notable being eight panels depicting Avalokiteshvara, an enlightened being embodying Buddhist compassion.


Thieves sheared off four panels with jackhammers, smuggling them into nearby Thailand where two are widely believed to be decorating the garden of a Thai politician. A pair has been recovered and the others are still at the temple, although only two still stand.


"We've been struggling away with this gallery for nearly two years now," says Sanday at another bas-relief, one depicting a figure believed to be Jayavarman VII leading his troops into battle. In vivid detail, the ancient sandstone wall springs to life with charging war elephants, soldiers plunging spears into their enemies and crocodiles gobbling up the dead.


Nature and time have proved the culprits: the vaulting protecting the 98-foot (30-meter-long) relief collapsed, exposing the wall to monsoon torrents, which seeped downwards to wash away the masonry and loosen the foundations. Pressure from the weight above toppled sections of the wall or forced it to lean.


"He's going to have to come down," says the 68-year-old architect of the king's image. A section of the wall is angled dangerously outward, he explains, so it must be dismantled, the foundations reinforced and the sandstone blocks meticulously numbered, charted, then set back into place.

Nearby, two young Cambodian computer whizzes are pioneering a shortcut to the reassembly process through three-dimensional imaging. The work-in-progress is one of the temple's 34 towers recently damaged in a severe storm.

Some 700 stone blocks from the tower have been removed or collected from where they fell and each one will be videographed from every angle. Since like a human fingerprint, no stone is exactly alike, still-to-be-finalized software should be able to fit all the blocks into their original alignment after they are repaired.

"We hope that with one push of the button all the stones will jump into place to solve what we are calling 'John's puzzle,'" says Sanday.

When an original block has gone missing or is beyond repair, either an original stone from elsewhere on the site is used or, as a last resort, a new stone will be inserted.

"My philosophy is to preserve and present the monuments as I found them for future generations without falsifying their history. So often people tend to guess what was there," he says.

The Global Heritage Fund, he says, is also intent on involving the community. "We can't protect Banteay Chhmar. They have to be the protectors. So they must gain some revenue from the temple," Sanday says.

The Community Based Tourism group, which the fund supports, is training locals to become guides and devising ways to derive more income from tourism, part of which is funneled into betterment of the entire village.

Sanday and local organizers, however, hope Banteay Chhmar's remote location will spare it from a mass tourist influx. Thus he is not keen to have it listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, something the Cambodian government is pushing for.

"I often come here in the late afternoons, when the birds come alive and a breeze stirs," Sanday says as fading sun rays, filtered through the green canopy, dapple the gray, weathered stones. "It's peaceful and quiet here, like it used to be at Angkor. This is a real site."




The finding shows that brucellosis has been in Albania since at least the Middle Ages.

Wed Jan 4, 2012 09:16 AM ET

Content provided by AFP



·         Medieval bones found in Albania show traces of brucellosis, a disease associated with eating unpasteurized dairy.

·         The infected skeletons belonged to two teenage males from the 10th to 13th centuries.


US scientists said Tuesday that their study of a set of medieval bones found in Albania has revealed traces of a modern infectious disease that afflicts people who eat unpasteurized dairy products.


The findings, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, are the first to suggest that the disease, known as brucellosis, has been in Albania since at least the Middle Ages.


Primarily an animal disease, brucellosis is common in rural farming parts of the Mediterranean region and is typically transmitted to humans through eating raw sheep and goat cheeses that come from infected animals.


The disease can cause flu-like symptoms, including fever, weakness and weight loss, according to the World Health Organization. It also causes bone damage that, in this case, researchers initially mistook for tuberculosis.


The bones came from the ancient Albanian city of Butrint, once a large Roman colony and outpost of the Byzantine Empire that was abandoned in the Middle Ages due to widespread floods.


Two skeletons, believed to belong to teenage males from the 10th to 13th centuries, showed significant lesions in the vertebrae.


Researchers at Michigan State University took part in an international team of archeologists who are excavating the site, with a particular view to analyzing bones with the latest forensic DNA methods.


They sent samples back to the university's forensic DNA lab in East Lansing, Michigan, but tests for tuberculosis came back negative.


So they devised a new test for brucellosis, based on the theory that both diseases cause similar bone damage, and this time it came back positive.


"In this case it was a combination of inquisitiveness, persistence and of course collaboration," said David Foran, director of MSU's Forensic Science Program, in a statement on the university's website.


"It is amazing to find something brand new in something that is a thousand years old."