Native Americans and Northern Europeans More Closely Related Than Previously Thought

ScienceDaily (Nov. 30, 2012)


Using genetic analyses, scientists have discovered that Northern European populations -- including British, Scandinavians, French, and some Eastern Europeans -- descend from a mixture of two very different ancestral populations, and one of these populations is related to Native Americans. This discovery helps fill gaps in scientific understanding of both Native American and Northern European ancestry, while providing an explanation for some genetic similarities among what would otherwise seem to be very divergent groups.


This research was published in the November 2012 issue of the Genetics Society of America's journal Genetics.


According to Nick Patterson, first author of the report, "There is a genetic link between the paleolithic population of Europe and modern Native Americans. The evidence is that the population that crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia into the Americas more than 15,000 years ago was likely related to the ancient population of Europe."

To make this discovery, Patterson worked with Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics David Reich and other colleagues to study DNA diversity, and found that one of these ancestral populations was the first farming population of Europe, whose DNA lives on today in relatively unmixed form in Sardinians and the people of the Basque Country, and in at least the Druze population in the Middle East. The other ancestral population is likely to have been the initial hunter-gathering population of Europe. These two populations were very different when they met. Today the hunter-gathering ancestral population of Europe appears to have its closest affinity to people in far Northeastern Siberia and Native Americans.

The statistical tools for analyzing population mixture were developed by Patterson and presented in a systematic way in the report. These tools are the same ones used in previous discoveries showing that Indian populations are admixed between two highly diverged ancestral populations and showing that Neanderthals contributed one to four percent of the ancestry of present-day Europeans. In addition, the paper releases a major new dataset that characterizes genetic diversity in 934 samples from 53 diverse worldwide populations.

"The human genome holds numerous secrets. Not only does it unlock important clues to cure human disease, it also reveal clues to our prehistoric past," said Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of the journal GENETICS. "This relationship between humans separated by the Atlantic Ocean reveals surprising features of the migration patterns of our ancestors, and reinforces the truth that all humans are closely related."


Journal Reference:

N. Patterson, P. Moorjani, Y. Luo, S. Mallick, N. Rohland, Y. Zhan, T. Genschoreck, T. Webster, D. Reich. Ancient Admixture in Human History. Genetics, 2012; 192 (3): 1065 DOI: 10.1534/genetics.112.145037



Engraved Stone Dating Back 30,000 Years Found in China

Chinese archaeologists have discovered a stunning 30,000-year-old engraved stone artifact in a collection of stone tools unearthed at the Paleolithic site of Shuidonggou in 1980.


“This engraved stone artifact was a recent accidental discovery during our analysis of the stone tool assemblage unearthed at the Shuidonggou site in 1980,” explained Dr Fei Peng, postdoctoral research fellow at the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and lead author of a paper reporting the discovery in the Chinese Science Bulletin.


“It is the first engraved non-organic artifact from the entire Paleolithic of China. However, it is not just a coincidence. We were aware that when analyzing the materials unearthed from the site during excavations in the 1920s, French archaeologist Henry Breuil observed parallel incisions on the surface of siliceous pebbles. Unfortunately, he did not provide details on those incised pebbles. So during our lithic analysis, we paid special attention to the possible existence of engraved objects,” Dr Peng said.


According to the archaeologists, this artifact is made of siliceous limestone and measures 2.7 x 1.4 x 0.9 inches (68 x 36 x 23 mm).


“One of the cortical faces bears 8 lines, clearly visible to naked eyes, which were engraved into the thick cortex. All the incisions are closely perpendicular to the long axis of the core. Two incisions are crossed and others are parallel lines. With the exception of the rightmost line, these incisions almost extend to the ridge which is constituted by the two cortical surfaces and two of them even extend to the other cortical surface,” the authors described.


Prof Xing Gao of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, co-author of the paper, said: “Shuidonggou site includes 12 localities, ranging in date from Early Late to Late Paleolithic. The engraved stone artifact was found at Locality 1, which is about 30,000 years old.”


Dr Peng added: “we used a digital microscope to observe all the incisions, obtaining many 3D images. After excluding the possibility of natural cracking, trampling and animal-induced damage, and unintentional human by-products, we believe that the incisions were made by intentional behavior. Although we cannot be sure of the function of these incisions, the straight shape of each line shows that it was incised once over a short time interval without repeated cutting, implying the possibility of counting or recording at that time.”


“Furthermore, creation of such an engraved object may indicate the possible existence of complex communicative systems such as language,” he said.


“In addition to the engraved stone artifact, one ostrich egg bead was unearthed from Locality 1. The lithic assemblage of this locality includes blade production and elongated tool blanks. The blade technology was probably introduced from the Altai region of Russian Siberia, according to comparison between lithic assemblages. The flake technology is typical of the Late Paleolithic in north China.”


“So, who created the ostrich beads and incisions? Were they made by the populations who migrated from the west, such as from the Altai region? Or were they the result of acculturation, such that aborigines in north China learned this kind of technology from exogenous populations? Or were they created solely by the local people because of technological renovation or cognitive advancement?”


“At this time, we cannot provide a clear scenario. We need not only more archaeological evidence, but also evidence from anthropological, genetic and other disciplines. Integrating all information from different fields of study is the means to solve the puzzle,” Dr Peng concluded.


Bibliographic information: Fei Peng et al. An engraved artifact from Shuidonggou, an Early Late Paleolithic Site in Northwest China. Chinese Science Bulletin, July 2012; doi: 10.1007/s11434-012-5317-6



China unearths ancient palace ruins

Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 2:53pm

Agence France-Presse in Beijing


China has unearthed the ruins of an ancient palace near the tomb of the country’s first emperor that was already famed for its terracotta soldiers, state media said on Saturday.


The discovery is the latest at the mausoleum, which dates back more than two millennia and became one of the greatest modern archaeological finds after a peasant digging a well stumbled upon the life-size warriors in 1974.


The palace “is the largest complex ever found at the cemetery”, the Xinhua news agency said, citing Sun Weigang, a researcher at the archaeology institute of northern Shaanxi province where the site is located.


Qin Shihuang, a ruler during the Qin dynasty (221-207 BC), presided over China’s unification and declared himself its first emperor.


Based on its foundations, the palace is believed to extend 690 by 250 metres, nearly a quarter of the size of Beijing’s iconic Forbidden City, Xinhua said, citing Sun.


The Forbidden City located at the heart of the capital served as an imperial palace for the Ming and Qing dynasties from the 14th through the early 20th century.


The tomb-side palace “showed emperor Qin Shihuang’s wish to continue to live in imperial grandeur even during his afterlife”, Sun said.


The emperor ordered the building of the terracotta soldiers that surround the mausoleum in the hopes they would follow him into the afterlife.


As many as 6,000 are believed to stand in the largest of three pits at the site, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), which declared the army a World Heritage Site in 1987.


Archaeologists uncovered 110 new warriors in June this year, along with 12 pottery horses, parts of chariots, weapons and tools, in part of a three-year effort.



First ever microbrewery found by archaeologists

29 November 2012


Archaeologists working in western Cyprus are raising a glass to the discovery of a Bronze Age "microbrewery".


The team excavated a two metres x two metres mud-plaster domed structure which it says was used as a kiln to dry malt and make beer 3,500 years ago.


Beers of different flavours would have been brewed from malted barley and fermented with yeasts with an alcoholic content of around 5%. The yeast would have either been wild or produced from fruit such as grape or fig, according to the researchers.


Dr Lindy Crewe, from the University of Manchester, has led the excavation at the Early-Middle Bronze Age settlement of Kissonerga-Skalia, near Paphos, since 2007.


She said: "Archaeologists believe beer drinking was an important part of society from the Neolithic onwards and may have even been the main reason that people began to cultivate grain in the first place.


"But it's extremely rare to find the remains of production preserved from thousands of years ago so we're very excited.


"The excavation of the malting kiln with associated sets of pottery types and tools left in place gives us a fantastic opportunity to look at Bronze Age toolkits and figure out techniques and recipes."


The oven discovered by the archaeologists was positioned at one end of a 50 metre square courtyard with a plastered floor.


They found grinding tools and mortars which may have been used to break down the grain after it was malted, a small hearth and cooking pots made of clay to cook the beer gently.


They also found juglets, which they believe probably contained yeast additives or sweeteners to produce beers of different strengths or flavours. The beers' ingredients were found by the team as carbonised seeds.


Dr Crewe added: "Beer was commonly drunk because it is more nutritious than bread and less likely to contain harmful pathogens than drinking water which can make you ill.


"But alcoholic beverages were also used to oil the wheels of business and pleasure in much the same way as today. Work brought communities together for tasks such as bringing in the harvest or erecting special buildings.


"Instead of payment, participants are rewarded with a special feast, often involving quantities of alcohol which also transformed the work from a chore into a social event.


"The people of the Bronze Age, it seems, were well aware of the relaxing properties of alcohol."


An experimental archaeology team, led by Ian Hill of Harp (Heritage and Archaeological Research Practice) Archaeology, recreated the drying kiln using traditional techniques to test Dr Crewe's theory in August, said the university.


The modern version used hot air to produce a temperature of 65C - perfect conditions for heating and drying grains but still preserving its enzymes and proteins.


Mr Hill said: "After the beers had been strained, we felt they were all pretty drinkable, though some varieties were better than others.


"The grape was less pleasant - a bit too sweet - the outcomes are less reliable when using wild yeasts, compared to brewer's yeast, but the fig beer was definitely the most popular."



Archaeologists bowled over by Fermanagh bog finds

 354 112 2909

By Linda Stewart

Saturday, 1 December 2012


Archaeologists have hit the jackpot with the first crannog to have been dug up in Northern Ireland in 50 years — saying the internationally important find is rewriting our understanding of Ulster’s history.


Normally the approach taken is to avoid disturbing crannogs, but this one at Drumclay on the outskirts of Enniskillen lay in the path of the Cherrymount Link bypass and will eventually vanish beneath the Tarmac.


But since the summer a small army of archaeologists has been busy trying to extract as much information as possible from what is proving to be one of the most significant crannogs ever uncovered in Ireland.


To date the 27 archaeologists on site have uncovered remains of 30 houses while digging down three metres of layers.


The lake settlement in Fermanagh appears to have been continuously occupied for more than 1,000 years, from the sixth century to the 17th century, and may have been settled earlier.


The dig has revealed a treasure trove of almost 4,000 artefacts, revealing a snapshot of life over 1,000 years. So much has been found that archaeologists have likened it to an urban site transported to the Fermanagh lakeland.


Among the most striking finds are a unique wooden bowl carved with a Latin cross, the largest pottery collection ever found in a crannog in Northern Ireland, some exquisite combs made from antler and bone, gaming pieces, leather shoes, bone-handled knives and dress pins.


Archaeologists believe people may have lived there from 600 AD to 1600 AD, and it was probably the home of a noble family, with perhaps four or five houses inhabited at any time. Parents, grandparents, children and servants would all have stayed on the crannog.


It is thought that the same wealthy native Irish farming families probably lived here for many generations in roundhouses and large rectangular houses, often dismantling their homes after only five to 10 years to build new homes on the same spot.


The artefacts uncovered so far date back to 900 AD but there are still a number of layers of settlement yet to be excavated.


Stormont Environment Minister Alex Attwood visited the site on Thursday and announced plans for an open day this Saturday to allow the public to tour the crannog and talk to the archaeologists.


"On my two visits to date, I have found the site, the dig, and the archaeology beyond my imagination, enormously exciting and changing my view of our history and Irish life," he said.


"This is the first substantial scientific excavation of a crannog in Northern Ireland. What has been found has the potential not only to be internationally important but ultimately to lead to a reassessment of life in Ulster in early Christian and medieval times."


The Drumclay Crannog open day this weekend will comprise a series of talks that will take place at the Fermanagh County Museum, followed by a guided tour of the archaeological site. Access to the site for this tour can only be obtained via an official coach. For booking call 028 6632 5000.


Four fascinating discoveries


1. A wooden bowl (top) incised with a Latin cross and with symmetrical perforations on the base. Unique in Ireland, at least 1,000 years old and may have been a wine strainer or implement for communion or baptism. Raises interesting questions about clergy’s control of the crannog.


2. Eighteen combs have been found, including some beautiful examples made of antler with bone rivets including three components. One dates back to 1050 to 1185AD. It was a fashion among the ‘glitterati’ of the day to wear these on thongs round their necks.


3. Numerous stick pins have been found in the hearths of the houses. These would have been used to pin cloaks in place. It’s suggested that one particularly long and ornate pin could have doubled as a stiletto-like weapon. Lords were expected to leave their weapons at the door, but could keep dress pins.


4. A pawn-like gaming piece, suggesting that the families played board games by the fire.


Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/archaeologists-bowled-over-by-fermanagh-bog-finds-16244783.html#ixzz2Dt9TdOTy



Shining a light on the Dark Ages: 1,000-year-old household objects and tools made from iron, bronze and bone found in 'one of most significant digs ever'

·         Experts say it sheds new light on life in medieval Ireland and its connection with the wider world

·         Finds such as leather shoes, decorated dress pins, hailed as 'internationally significant'

·         Parts of log boats wooden vessels and a bowl with a cross carved on its base also unearthed


PUBLISHED: 17:37, 29 November 2012 | UPDATED: 18:56, 29 November 2012


Pieces of a medieval board game and 1,000-year-old combs are among rare artefacts uncovered during an archaeological dig that is set to rewrite the history books.

Experts have hailed the finds in Co Fermanagh as internationally significant, claiming they shed new light on life in medieval Ireland and its connection with the wider world.

Iron, bronze and bone ornaments have been discovered at the crannog just outside Enniskillen, along with the chess-like pieces believed to have been part of the game.

Parts of log boats, leather shoes, knives, decorated dress pins, wooden vessels and a bowl with a cross carved on its base have also been unearthed during the six-month dig.


The style and design of the antler and bone combs suggest influences from northern Europe and indicate that the Fermanagh settlement had international links 1,000 years ago.

The Drumclay Crannog, which is an artificial island built in a lake, is the first of its type to be excavated in the north of Ireland since 1870.

Archaeologists believe people may have lived there from 600 AD to 1600 AD, and it was probably the home of a noble family, with perhaps four or five houses inhabited at any time. Parents, grandparents, children and servants would all have stayed on the crannog.

The artefacts uncovered so far date back to 900 AD but there are still a number of layers of settlement yet to be excavated.

Stormont Environment Minister Alex Attwood visited the site today and announced plans for an open day this Saturday to allow the public to tour the crannog and talk to the archaeologists.

'On my two visits to date, I have found the site, the dig, and the archaeology beyond my imagination, enormously exciting and changing my view of our history and Irish life,' he said.


'This is the first substantial scientific excavation of a crannog in Northern Ireland. What has been found has the potential not only to be internationally important but ultimately to lead to a reassessment of life in Ulster in early Christian and medieval times.'

The site was excavated during the construction of a new road on the outskirts of Enniskillen.

Mr Attwood placed a temporary exclusion zone on the area to facilitate the dig, which is due to finish at the end of December.

Dr John O'Keeffe, principal inspector of historical monuments with the Department of the Environment, explained that the site is right in the middle of the proposed route of the Cherrymount Link Road.

He said all the remains from the dig site would have been removed before construction work advanced.

'By the time the archaeological work is finished the site will not be here anymore,' he said.

Dr O'Keeffe said scientific advances made in the 140 years since the last time a crannog was excavated in the north had facilitated a greater understanding of life in such a settlement.

'It has enabled us to find out much more about diet, economy, agriculture and social structures here,' he said.

The expert said many of the finds had been unexpected and were similar to those unearthed at Viking sites in Dublin and York.



Some of the wooden artefacts have survived 1,000 years or more as a result of being submerged in water.

The settlement at the crannog has provided new evidence of living conditions in medieval Ireland.

It shows people lived in houses that would have been little bigger than a large modern living room, cooking and sleeping in the same space.

The walls were insulated with heather and other plants.

The objects found indicate that people were very sophisticated in their tastes, living as farming families, butchering their own animals and ploughing the land for crops.

They were very skilled at metalworking and woodworking, excelling at carpentry to construct the houses and crafting and decorating wooden containers of all sizes.

They played board games probably around the fire on cold evenings. They wove their own cloth, having spun the wool from their own sheep.

'Archaeology is a fragile and finite resource,' said Mr Attwood.


'Once sites such as this have disappeared, we can never get them back again. Such sites have the ability to teach us a great deal and we owe it to future generations to rescue and to safeguard what we can.

'It will further enrich the fascinating fabric of our history and I am sure bring even more tourists to our shores. Anyone who visits on Saturday will simply have an unprecedented opportunity to see how our forefathers lived and to see history revealed before our very eyes.'

The minister added: 'This is why I felt the need to open this spectacular excavation to the public.

'The Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Fermanagh District Council have been working in partnership to hold this open day between 9.30am and 3pm this Saturday and allow the public this unique opportunity to see the artefacts found, look down on the site of the dig and meet the experts behind this archaeological dig. It is an opportunity not to be missed and one likely not to be experienced in our lifetime again.'

The Drumclay Crannog open day will comprise a series of talks that will take place at the Fermanagh County Museum, followed by a guided tour of the archaeological site.

Access to the site for this tour can only be obtained via an official coach.


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2240467/1-000-household-objects-tools-carved-wood-iron-significant-digs-ever.html#ixzz2DhUHtigC



Anglo-Saxon treasure reveals west Norfolk cremation

26 November 2012 Last updated at 07:54


Fragments of an early Anglo-Saxon silver brooch found in Norfolk have given archaeologists new evidence of a cremation burial in the area.


Experts say the 6th Century brooch, found near West Acre, could possibly have originated in mainland Europe.


The brooch, along with a Medieval copper coin-like medal known as a jetton and a Middle Anglo-Saxon sword belt mount, has been declared treasure.


An expert from the British Museum said the 13th Century jetton was "unusual".


The objects were found by metal detector enthusiasts close to West Acre, Flitcham and Great Dunham.


Erica Darch, from Norfolk Historic Environment Services, said: "The really important thing about these finds is the location.


"Objects can only be used to interpret the archaeology of a particular area or site if we know where they came from.


"The more accurate and detailed the find spot, the more useful the evidence."


The Norfolk Historic Environment Service and Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) records 20,000 non-treasure finds a year from the county.


Objects which may qualify as treasure must be reported to the coroner under the Treasure Act (1996).


"The Middle Anglo-Saxon sword belt mount was probably made in the late 8th or early 9th Century," said Ms Darch.


"Of Carolingian manufacture, it was probably brought to Norfolk by a Viking in the late 9th Century when it was already quite an old object.


"The Medieval copper alloy jetton, which has been converted to a brooch, qualified as treasure because the catch-plate and pin-lug which were added to the reverse are made of silver.


"A brooch made of silver, or a coin converted to make a brooch wouldn't be unusual for the period, but it does seem strange that precious metal was used on the reverse, where it would never be seen."



Greenland's Viking settlers feasted on seals, then left

The Norse society did not die out due to an inability to adapt to the Greenlandic diet. An isotopic analysis of the Viking settlers’ bones shows that they ate plenty of seals.

November 29, 2012 - 06:56

By: Dann Vinther


Greenland's Viking settlers, the Norse, disappeared suddenly and mysteriously from Greenland some 500 years ago.


Natural disasters, climate change and the inability to adapt have all been proposed as theories to explain their disappearance. But now a Danish-Canadian research team has demonstrated that an inability to adapt to the Greenlandic diet is unlikely to have been a major cause for their leaving the great island:


“Our analysis shows that the Norse in Greenland ate lots of food from the sea, especially seals,” says Jan Heinemeier, of Aarhus University’s Institute of Physics and Astronomy, in a press release from Copenhagen University.


“Even though the Norse are traditionally thought of as farmers, they adapted quickly to the Arctic environment and the unique hunting opportunities. During the period they were in Greenland, the Norse ate gradually more seals. By the 14th century, seals made up between 50 and 80 percent of their diet,” says Heinemeier.


The Danish and Canadian researchers are studying the 80 Norse skeletons kept at the University of Copenhagen’s Laboratory of Biological Anthropology in order to determine their dietary habits.


From studying the ratio of the isotopes carbon-13 and carbon-15, the researchers determined that a large proportion of the Greenlandic Norse diet came from the sea, particularly from seals.


Heinemeier measured the levels of carbon isotopes in the skeletons, Erle Nelson of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, analysed the isotopes, while Niels Lynnerup of the University of Copenhagen, examined the skeletons.


“Nothing suggests that the Norse disappeared as a result of a natural disaster. If anything, they might have become bored with eating seals out on the edge of the world,” says Lynnerup.


“The skeletal evidence shows signs that they slowly left Greenland. For example, young women are under-represented in the graves in the period toward the end of the Norse settlement. This indicates that the young in particular were leaving Greenland, and when the numbers of fertile women drops, the population cannot support itself.”


The findings challenge the prevailing view of the Norse as farmers who would have stubbornly stuck to agriculture until they lost the battle with Greenland’s environment. These new findings shake up the traditional view of the Norse as farmers and have given archaeologists reason to rethink those theories.


“The Norse thought of themselves as farmers that cultivated the land and kept animals. But the archaeological evidence shows that they kept fewer and fewer animals, such as goats and sheep,” says Jette Arneborg, archaeologist and curator at the National Museum of Denmark.


“So the farming identity was actually more a mental self-image, held in place by an overclass that maintained power through agriculture and land ownership, than it was a reality for ordinary people who were hardly picky eaters,” she adds.


The skeletal evidence shows signs that they slowly left Greenland. For example, young women are under-represented in the graves in the period toward the end of the Norse settlement. This indicates that the young in particular were leaving Greenland, and when the numbers of fertile women drops, the population cannot support itself. Niels Lynnerup


The first Norse settlers brought agriculture and livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs from Iceland. While they thought of themselves as farmers, they were not unfamiliar with hunting.


They quickly started to catch seals, as seal meat was a necessary supplement to their diet. Toward the end of their stay, they became as accustomed to catching seals as the Inuit, who had travelled to Greenland from Canada around the year 1200 and inhabited the island alongside the Norse.


Seals became more important for Norse survival as the climate began to change over time and it became increasingly difficult to sustain themselves through farming.


“The Norse could adapt, but how much they could adapt without giving up their identity was limited," says Arneborg. "Even though their diet became closer to that of the Inuit, the difference between the two groups was too great for the Norse to become Inuit.”


The isotopic analysis is an interdisciplinary collaboration between Aarhus University, the University of Copenhagen, the National Museum of Denmark and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.


The findings are presented in a series of articles in the Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 3, 2012.



Genome of the Black Death reveals evidence for an Antique Bubonic Plague pandemic

29 November 2012 Universitaet Tübingen


Tübingen University researchers led by Johannes Krause compared medieval and modern plague pathogens


In a comparison of more than 300 contemporary strains of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes bubonic plague, with ancient bacterial DNA isolated from victims of the Black Death (1347 – 1351), a team led by researchers at University of Tuebingen obtained evidence suggestive of a bubonic plague outbreak in the late antique period (8th to 10th centuries AD). The study published online today in PLoS ONE raises strong suspicion that the plague of Justinian, a massive pandemic that is thought to be in part responsible for the collapse of the East Roman Empire, may have been caused by the same bacterium implicated in the Black Death.


After the initial reconstruction of the complete medieval genome of Y.pestis from a Black Death cemetery in London last year, the researchers from the University of Tuebingen used a

published genome wide dataset from more than 300 modern Y.pestis strains to reconstruct the relationship of ancient and modern plague bacteria. Due to the well-established age of the ancient remains they were able to date major radiation events in the history of this pathogen

that are likely linked to major pandemics in the human population.


The comparison of modern and ancient genomes revealed that of the 311 Y.pestis strains analyzed, 275 trace their ancestry back to the medieval Black Death pandemic in the mid of the 14th century, confirming a previous analysis of 21 complete plague genomes by the same authors in 2011. In the new larger dataset, however, the authors identified an additional cluster of 11 contemporary bacterial strains that branch in the Y.pestis phylogeny between the 7th and 10th centuries, thus suggesting a radiation event of Y.pestis bacteria during a major outbreak. This time period roughly coincides with the Justinian plague, which historical sources suggest took place between the 6th and 8th centuries AD.


Historians have long suspected that the plague of Justinian was a pandemic of bubonic plague but until now little empirical evidence existed. The suggestion that this pandemic was likely also caused by bubonic plague was rather unexpected for the researchers as their previous analysis published in

2011 revealed no evidence for major outbreaks of bubonic plague before the Black Death. “Our new analysis implies that bubonic plague may have been a major killer already in the late Roman Empire.” explains Krause, a Juniorprofessor at the University of Tuebingen specializing in Palaeogenetics.

“The plague of Justinian seems like the best candidate for this earlier pandemic”.


The research was funded by the CERC and the Medical faculty at the University of Tuebingen.



Full bibliographic information

Bos KI, Stevens P, Nieselt K, Poinar HN, DeWitte SN, et al. (2012) Yersinia pestis: New Evidence for an Old Infection. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49803. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049803, http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0049803



Archaeologists discover shipwrecks, ancient harbor on coast of Israel

November 28, 2012


A team of archaeologists from the University of Rhode Island, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the University of Louisville have discovered the remains of a fleet of early-19th century ships and ancient harbor structures from the Hellenistic period (third to first century B.C.) at the city of Akko, one of the major ancient ports of the eastern Mediterranean. The findings shed light on a period of history that is little known and point to how and where additional remains may be found.

The discoveries were presented on November 15 and 17 in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research by URI assistant professors Bridget Buxton and William Krieger on behalf of the Israel Coast Exploration project. According to Buxton, three of the four well-preserved shipwrecks found off the coast south of Akko were first detected using a sub-bottom profiler in 2011. Later, storms stripped off several meters of inshore sediments and temporarily revealed the wrecks, as well as an additional large vessel. The wrecks are now reburied. During the brief time the shipwrecks were exposed, the Israel Antiquities Authority investigated one of them: a 32 meter vessel which still preserved its brass gudgeon (rudder socket) and many small artifacts, such as plates, a candlestick, and even a cooking pot with bones in it. Laboratory analyses completed this summer by the IAA revealed that the ship's wood came from Turkey. The team believes these ships may have belonged to the Egyptian navy under Admiral Osman Nurredin Bey, whose ships were severely damaged in his attempt to capture Akko in the Egyptian-Ottoman War of 1831. The town eventually fell to Egyptian land forces under Ibrahim Pasha in 1832. "These ships have occasionally been exposed and buried again by storms since we found them," Buxton said. "We're in a race against time to find other ships in the area and learn from them before storms totally dislodge or destroy them." Although shipwrecks from the 1800s are not the highest priorities in a region where civilization goes back thousands of years, Buxton is excited by the discovery for what it tells her about where much older ships may be found. "Like many underwater archaeologists I'm very interested in finding a well-preserved example of an ancient multi-decked warship from the Hellenistic age," said Buxton. "These ships were incredible pieces of technology, but we don't know much about their design because no hulls have been found. However, a combination of unusual environmental and historical factors leads us to believe we have a chance of finding the remains of one of these ships off the northern coast of Israel."

Buxton believes that the ships they are looking for are likely buried in the coastal sediment, which has built up over the centuries through natural processes. However, time is not on their side. "That protective silt is now being stripped away," she said. "And it's being stripped away a lot faster than it was originally dumped, by a combination of development, environmental changes, and the effects of the Aswan Dam." The Nile River has historically deposited large quantities of silt in the area, but the dam has significantly reduced the flow of silt. The archaeologists found the ships and another early modern vessel within Akko's modern harbor while testing their equipment in preparation for an ongoing survey out in deeper water. The sub-bottom profiler detects anomalies below the sea floor. "It's the gift that keeps on giving," Buxton said. "We found so many targets to explore that we didn't have time to check all of them, but even just having information about where things are helps Koby (Jacob Sharvit, director of the IAA Maritime Antiquities Unit) know where to look after any big storms." One line of buried targets detected off the southern seawall of old Akko is particularly suggestive. Continuing excavations in this area over the summer revealed an alignment between these targets and a newly-discovered slipway and shipshed structure, which continued out under the sea floor 25 meters from the Ottoman city wall. The feature resembles other naval shipsheds found in places such as Athens where they were used to haul up ancient warships. The excavation project was initially undertaken to strengthen the eroding sea wall, but it also revealed Hellenistic masonry, pottery vessels, an ancient mooring stone, and a stone quay 1.3 meters below the modern sea level. The possibility that much more of the Hellenistic port lies well-preserved under the sea floor is exciting for the archaeologists, because it means that shipwrecks from earlier centuries that have so far not been found at Akko may simply be buried deeper down in the sediment. "We've got fragmentary historic records for this area in the Hellenistic period, and now we've found a very important feature from the ancient harbor. Ancient shipwrecks are another piece of the puzzle that will help us to rewrite the story of this region at a critical time in Mediterranean history," she said. Located on the northern coast of Israel, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Akko is one of the few cities in the Mediterranean with more than 5,000 years of maritime history. Also known as Acre, Ake and Ptolemais, its port was an important waypoint for the Phoenicians, Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans and other ancient maritime empires. In the Hellenistic period, it was bitterly fought over by the rival empires of Egypt and Syria. "Understanding the history and archaeology of Akko's port is crucial to understanding the broader issues of maritime connectivity and the great power struggles that defined the history of the Eastern Mediterranean during the Hellenistic Age," Buxton said. Provided by University of Rhode Island


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-11-archaeologists-shipwrecks-ancient-harbor-coast.html#jCp



Swedes in massive buried treasure find

Published: 30 Nov 12 10:30 CET | Double click on a word to get a translation


Archaeologists have uncovered over 1,000 silver coins dating back to the 1600s in a field in southern Sweden, coins believed to have been buried by rich and worried farmers in during the Scanian War.


“This is quite extraordinary,” Bo Friman, archaeologist at the Swedish National Heritage Board (Riksantikvarieämbetet), told Sveriges Television (SVT).


“We were so focused that we forget to stop for food.”


With the help of metal detectors and spades, archaeologists in Helsingborg pulled up a total of 1,150 silver coins - what they consider to be a record haul for the area.


Friman and a colleague were carrying out archaeological research into the site of a former settlement, Todarp.


“There are 70 or so such treasures that were buried in Skåne during the Scanian War. Most are not as big as this one. The usual interpretation is that it was rich farmers who buried them during the war, then died, and couldn’t dig them up again,” said archaeologist Kennet Stark, who was also on the scene.


Musket bullets were also found in the vicinity.


“This shows that there have been soldiers fighting here. Several of the bullets are flattened and you can clearly see they have been fired and have made contact,” Stark told SVT.


The coins come from both Denmark and Sweden, and were most likely buried between 1676-1679 when the Skanian war was fought between the two countries.



Greek Antiquities Found On Mentor Shipwreck

By Christina Flora on November 20, 2012


The underwater shipwreck excavation of the wreck of the ship Mentor, that sank off the island of Kythera in 1802 while carrying goods plundered from the Parthenon by British diplomat Lord Elgin has proved to be a treasure trove of personal items from the passengers and crew.


A greater number of coins were also found, at least two ancient silver coins which were antiquities acquired by Elgin, passengers or the crew,along with two gold coins, used as currency at the time, from the late 1700’s. Other coins were also recovered but require conservation before they can be identified. Some of these may also be ancient.


Finding three ancient coins on the wreck last year created international news, prompting a question about what other antiquities Elgin was transporting, in addition to crates of Parthenon marbles and sculptures. There may be even more questions from this year’s finds, after conservation of currently unidentified coins is completed.


Another pistol was recovered, a fob (pocket) watch, personal seal with a cannon on it and gold chain, a pipe, ring, part of navigation instruments, bottles, musket balls, cannon balls, crockery and ceramics possibly from the galley (kitchen) area. The Mentor was a small Brig, carrying 16 crates of Parthenon sculptures and a marble throne, en-route to Malta and then the United Kingdom.


Diaries from the time reveal that the Parthenon sculptures and marble throne were recovered by sponge divers from Simi and Kalymnos in 1802-1804 but it’s unknown what else remains buried on the bottom of the sea, near Avlemonas.


Dimitris Kourkoumelis, an archaeologist in Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities is going to give a speech on Nov. 26 in the auditorium of the National Archaeological Museum on the Mentor Shipwreck at Kythera, will be held on the occasion of the lecture program organized by the Association of Friends of National Archaeological Museum.


(Sources: Kytheraismos, John Fardoulis)