One of oldest human skeletons in North America is discovered


Contact: Megan Fellman



Northwestern University


Details of "Naia," a teenage girl who went underground to seek water and fell to her death in a large pit named Hoyo Negro ("black hole" in Spanish), will be published May 16 in the journal Science.


"The preservation of all the bones in this deep water-filled cave is amazing -- the bones are beautifully laid out," said Beddows, who has hovered underwater above the skeleton's site and prospected in the area. "The girl's skeleton is exceptionally complete because of the environment in which she died -- she ended up in the right water and in a quiet place without any soil. Her pristine preservation enabled our team to extract enough DNA to determine her shared genetic code with modern Native Americans."


Beddows, a native of Canada fluent in English, Spanish and French, is available to talk to reporters under embargo and can discuss her experience as one of the two cave-diving scientists who have been underwater at the site. She also can share her expertise on the formation of the caves, the distribution and movement of groundwater at Hoyo Negro and sediments at the site and on the skeleton.


Beddows can be reached at office 847-491-7460, cell 224-420-0977 or patricia@earth.northwestern.edu.


Now covered by water, the girl's skeleton is between 13,000 and 12,000 years old and establishes a shared ancestry between the earliest Americans and modern Native Americans. Genetic analysis shows the prehistoric girl and living Native Americans came from the same place during the initial peopling of the Americas. The near-complete human skeleton -- with an intact cranium and preserved DNA -- was discovered lying 130 feet below sea level near a variety of extinct animals, including an elephant-like creature called a gomphothere. These remains helped scientists establish the age of the skeleton.


Led by Pilar Luna of the Mexican government's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and James Chatters of Applied Paleoscience, 15 experts from a wide range of fields have been focused on telling the story of the young woman and Hoyo Negro since the skeleton's discovery in 2011.


Beddows' expertise regarding the Hoyo Negro discovery is focused on three areas:


Cave formation. "Hoyo Negro is a very complex site," Beddows said. "By understanding the formation of the shallow caves and the shaft into which the girl fell, we know that the girl and the animals visited a site that looks almost like it does today, except that the water level was down in the bottom of the shaft."

Hydrogeology. Beddows' studies starting in the mid-1990s have shown how these extensive caves effectively drain groundwater to the coasts and, more specifically, how the water level in the caves matches sea level very closely. "Using this knowledge, we understand how Hoyo Negro has changed over thousands of years," Beddows said.

Recrystalized rock sediments. The rocks and the skeletons in Hoyo Negro have valuable rock crystals lying on them, including a new form of impressive crystal growing on them that Beddows calls "florets," in recognition of their bushy nature and one-inch size. "An impressive aspect of this research is that we have dated the skeleton directly, but we also have supported these dates with additional dates on the florets," Beddows said.

Her research focuses specifically on cave systems that are carved by dissolution of soluble carbonate rocks like limestone and dolomite, and her biggest research concentration is the flooded caves of the Yucatán Peninsula, including Hoyo Negro.


"Research in flooded caves is much like space exploration, with divers similar to astronauts reporting back to 'mission control' -- a much larger scientific team at the surface," Beddows said. "It all has to be done on SCUBA, which is our life support system. Our science team has been supported by a great number of dedicated non-science cave divers who have committed hundreds of hours at very dangerous depths to complete this exploration."


Beddows is assistant chair and assistant professor of instruction in the department of Earth and planetary sciences in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.


The National Geographic Society supported the research. Its embargoed press release is available in the SciPak package or by contacting press officer Claire Jones at (202) 857-7756 or cgjones@ngs.org.



Ancient Roman Military Camp Unearthed in Eastern Germany

13 May 2014 12:45 pm


Archaeologists have confirmed the presence of a long-lost Roman military camp deep in eastern Germany. The 18-hectare site, found near the town of Hachelbich in Thuringia, would have sheltered a Roman legion of up to 5000 troops. Its location in a broad valley with few impediments suggests it was a stopover on the way to invade territory further east.


“People have been searching for evidence of the Romans in this part of Germany for 200 years,” says team leader Mario Kuessner, an archaeologist working for the state of Thuringia. “It took a long time before we realized what we had, and we wanted to be sure.”


After a stinging defeat in 9 C.E., Rome largely abandoned hope of conquering the fractious German tribes north of the Rhine River. Yet written sources suggest that the Romans occasionally campaigned in Germany, probably to punish German tribes for raids on Roman territory. Until recently, the reports have been largely dismissed as braggadocio. The Hachelbich site, along with a battlefield near Hannover uncovered in 2008, show that the reports had more than a kernel of truth to them—and that the Romans were willing to cross their frontier when it suited their political or military needs.


The encampment was discovered in 2010, during routine excavations as part of a road-building project. In the years since, Kuessner and his collaborators have excavated more than 2 hectares and used geomagnetic surveys to analyze disturbances in the soil over an additional 10 hectares to reveal the outlines of the camp.


A rough rectangle with round corners, the camp is standard Roman military issue. No matter where they were, legions on the move set up a minifortress in the wilderness at the end of each day’s march. At Hachelbich, the meter-deep trenches dug around the camp were the easiest feature to spot in the soil. Two perimeter trenches have been found, each more than 400 meters long.


On the camp’s northern edge, the soldiers built a gate protected by another trench that projected out past the perimeter. “It’s typically Roman—no Germans did that sort of thing,” Kuessner says. The trenches were part of a simple, but effective makeshift perimeter defense: A low wall of dirt was thrown up behind the trench, then topped with tall stakes, to create a defensive barrier almost 3 meters wide and 3 meters high. Erosion wiped away the wall long ago, but it left discolorations in the soil where the trench was dug.


Additional evidence of an ancient encampment includes traces of eight makeshift bread ovens not far from the camp perimeter and a handful of artifacts, including four nails from the bottom of Roman boots, a piece of horse tackle, and part of a scabbard. The style of these artifacts—and a few radiocarbon dates—place the camp somewhere in the first 2 centuries C.E., too broad a range to be linked to a known specific event in Roman history.


Michael Meyer, an archaeologist at the Free University of Berlin, who was not part of the team but who attended a press conference about the discovery last week, says that any of the elements by themselves wouldn’t have been convincing, but together the find is compelling. “Now we have the first camp that’s clearly more than a day trip from the edge of the empire,” he says. “It’s no isolated frontier outpost, but something that clearly points to the Elbe River,” hundreds of kilometers deep in German territory.


The site’s exact whereabouts are being kept under wraps, to protect it from metal detector hobbyists who might loot or disturb it. When the fields of wheat and canola that cover it are harvested in the fall, excavations will continue. “The best would be if we could find coins or something with the legion number written on it,” Kuessner says. “That would help us pin down the date.”



Climate change caused empire's fall, tree rings reveal

ByLinda B. Glaser

May 14, 2014


A handful of tree ring samples stored in an old cigar box have shed unexpected light on the ancient world, thanks to research by archaeologist Sturt Manning and collaborators at Cornell, Arizona, Chicago, Oxford and Vienna, forthcoming in the June issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.


The samples were taken from an Egyptian coffin; Manning also examined wood from funeral boats buried near the pyramid of Sesostris III. He used a technique called “dendro radiocarbon wiggle matching,” which calibrates radiocarbon isotopes found in the sample tree rings with patterns known from other places in the world that have already identified chronologies, such as the long European oak chronology or the bristle cone pine trees of North America.


Because the dating was so precise – plus or minus about 10 years – it helps confirm that the “higher” Egyptian chronology for the time period is correct, a question scholars have hotly debated.


But the samples also showed a small, unusual anomaly following the year 2200 B.C. Paleoclimate research has suggested a major short-term arid event about this time.


“This radiocarbon anomaly would be explained by a change in growing season, i.e., climate, dating to exactly this arid period of time,” says Manning. “We’re showing that radiocarbon and these archaeological objects can confirm and in some ways better date a key climate episode.”


That climate episode, says Manning, had major political implications. There was just enough change in the climate to upset food resources and other infrastructure, which is likely what led to the collapse of the Akkadian Empire and affected the Old Kingdom of Egypt and a number of other civilizations, he says.


“The tree rings show the kind of rapid climate change that we and policymakers fear,” says Manning. “This record shows that climate change doesn’t have to be as catastrophic as an Ice Age to wreak havoc. We’re in exactly the same situation as the Akkadians: If something suddenly undid the standard food production model in large areas of the U.S. it would be a disaster.”


Manning is the Goldwin Smith Professor of Classical Archaeology and director of the Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener Laboratory for Aegean and Near Eastern Dendrochronology.


Linda B. Glaser is staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.



Dunragit road works unearth ancient treasure trove


Updated on the 15 May 2014 00:16

Published 14/05/2014 12:16


AN IRON Age village along with a host of ancient artefacts including tools and jewellery have been discovered on a construction site of a new bypass for a Scottish town.


The treasure trove unearthed during the building of the £17 million A75 Dunragit bypass in Wigtownshire sheds new light on land use and settlement in the area over the past 9,000 years.


The discoveries include a rare and complete 130-piece jet bead necklace dating about 2000BC – the first of its kind ever discovered in south-west Scotland.


Other finds include an Iron Age village, a Romano-British brooch, a Bronze Age cemetery complex, cremation urns and pottery fragments.


There are also early Neolithic flint tools, including a flint arrowhead, and more than 13,500 Mesolithic flints.


Archaeologist Rod McCullagh of Historic Scotland said: “An unforeseen wealth of archaeological information has been recovered. The team of archaeologists from Amey and Guard Archaeology Ltd have uncovered the remains of dwellings and burials spanning over 7,000 years of prehistory.


“In addition, numerous smaller sites have been discovered which seem to relate to the use and exploitation of the land both through hunting and farming.


“These are exciting discoveries which offer a much richer understanding of the settlement of south-west Scotland over the past 9,000 years.”


Dr Alison Sheridan, from National Museums Scotland, identified two jet bead necklaces found at the site, considered to be the rarest of the discoveries.


She said the necklaces were made in about 2000BC in Whitby, Yorkshire, some 160 miles from where they were found.


Transport minister Keith Brown marked the early completion of the bypass yesterday by viewing some of the archaeological finds.


He said: “With the A75 Dunragit bypass already improving journey times and providing opportunities for business, leisure and tourism industries on this crucial route between Scotland, the rest of the UK and Europe – it is also helping shine a light on Scotland’s ancient past.


“The finds at Dunragit, which would have remained uncovered had the new bypass not been built, are truly stunning, and underline the importance of the value we place on meeting our environmental obligations as we plan and construct essential new infrastructure.”


The findings are currently being conserved and will undergo further analysis.


A report by Historic Scotland will be produced to describe and explain what has been discovered along the road.


Following on from the report, a decision will be made on where the various collections will be stored or put on display.


The Mesolithic period dates from the end of the last Ice Age.


The period between approximately 9000BC to 4500BC saw human groups spread throughout mainland and island Scotland. They lived by gathering and hunting.


The Neolithic period in Scotland spanned approximately 4500BC to 2000BC and is the period in which settled farming became common in Scotland


The Bronze Age dates from about 2500BC when metal-using and a “package” of other Continental novelties appeared in Scotland – and elsewhere in Britain – to around the 800BC, when iron objects and iron-using probably appeared. The Iron Age then lasted to about 500 AD.



Groundbreaking scan reveals evidence of ritual human sacrifice...in Salford

May 16, 2014 15:40 By Charlotte Cox 1 Comments


Scientists and archaeologists at the University of Manchester have uncovered evidence that our ancestors carried out ritual human sacrifice ... in Salford.


The discovery, captured on camera for an upcoming Channel 5 documentary, was made during a ground-breaking CT scan of the 1,900-year-old remains of ‘Worsley Man’ - whose head was found in a Salford peat bog in 1958.


Worsley Man, now kept at Manchester Museum but thought to have lived around 100AD when Romans occupied Britain, has been X-rayed before - but never with such an advanced scanner.


The 3D scan at the Manchester X-Ray Imaging Facility revealed a sharp, pointed object hidden deep within Worsley Man’s neck.


According to archaeologist Dr Melanie Giles from the University of Manchester this object appears to be a ceremonial spear tip that snapped off when thrust into him.


Forensic analysis has revealed that the Iron Age victim was also smashed over the head with a heavy blade, garrotted and decapitated - in a gruesome group attack.


Dr Giles said: “It’s revealing a completely new injury that hasn’t seen the light of day for nearly two thousand years. To see it on a computer screen is no less exciting than finding it in the soil and uncovering it with your trowel. It’s a modern way of making discoveries and that’s ground-breaking and very exciting.”


Remarkably, this vicious killing in a bog does not appear to be a one-off.


Worsley Man is one of dozens of Iron-Age bodies unearthed in peat bogs throughout Northern Europe that show signs of violent death. Many of these iron-age victims have been incredibly well preserved by the bog.


Cold, airless conditions prevent flesh-eating micro-organisms from destroying soft tissue whilst acid within the bog effectively tans the flesh turning bodies to leather.


Channel 5 documentary Murdered: The Bodies in the Bog follows Dr Melanie Giles as she investigates Worsley Man and the rest of these bizarre human remains in an attempt to understand why they were violently killed and dumped in bogs.


Murdered: The Bodies in the Bog will be broadcast on Channel 5 at 7pm on Friday, May 23.


Directed by Luke McLaughlin, the documentary is a co-production with Group M.



Archaeologists find Roman underfloor heating, buildings and mosaic in south Wales dig

By Ben Miller | 13 May 2014


Archaeologists have discovered more about the Romans in south Wales as part of a team effort in an abandoned village


A Roman underfloor heating system has been found in an abandoned village during a fourth dig at Whitewell Brake, a Roman building complex within a Ministry of Defence training area which once overlooked the walls of the city of Venta Silurum.


Grand buildings, fragments of coloured mosaic and the remains of a small column were found during a fortnight of investigations in Caerwent, where archaeologists are hoping to discover more about the Roman community in Monmouthshire.


The Defence Infrastructure Organisation and the Welsh heritage agency, Cadw, will use the findings to decide how to curate the scheduled ancient remains. Students from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History and injured military personnel took part in the latest excavation as part of the Operation Nightingale programme.



Wreckage Off Haiti May Be Christopher Columbus's Santa Maria

Researchers Plan Additional Diving Missions to Confirm Finding


May 13, 2014 7:18 p.m. ET


More than 500 years after Christopher Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria, sank in the Caribbean, a team of underwater investigators believes it has located the vessel's remains off the northern coast of Haiti—a discovery that, if proved, would be one of the most significant maritime archaeological finds.


"I'm very, very confident that we've found the site," said Barry Clifford, a noted maritime archaeologist and leader of a recent expedition to the wreck. But "I think from an academic point of view, we have to be quite careful and investigate it thoroughly."


Marine archaeologists were giddy at the prospect of having found the ship Columbus used on his maiden voyage to the Americas in 1492.


"It's the ship that really altered the course of human history," Mr. Clifford said.


A diver measures a cannon during a 2003 expedition off Haiti. At the time of the discovery, archaeologists ruled out a connection to Christopher Columbus's ship, the Santa Maria. It wasn't until 2012, after extensive research, that an investigator realized it could be connected. Brandon Clifford

Researchers plan to conduct additional diving missions and likely a full excavation, under the auspices of the Haitian government, to try to establish the wreck's identity.


So far, "the evidence looks very compelling," said Charles Beeker, director of the Office of Underwater Science and Academic Diving at Indiana University Bloomington, who joined Mr. Clifford on the recent expedition.


Researchers from the university will conduct a full investigation of the evidence from the remains, which lie in water roughly 10 feet deep off the coast of Cap-Haïtien, Haiti.


Mr. Clifford said the wreck's distance from a fort that Columbus and his crew built in Haiti—about 5 miles—matches what the explorer described in his diary. The underwater topography of the site also coincides with how he depicted the area where the Santa Maria sank. And the footprint of a ballast pile discovered there corresponds with a ship the size of Columbus's vessel.


Mr. Clifford, who is expected to describe his findings in detail at a news conference in New York on Wednesday, actually found the remains in a 2003 expedition.


But he said his archaeological team's initial assessment of the artifacts, including a cannon, seemed to rule out their belonging to Columbus's ship. Only in 2012, after Mr. Clifford had done extensive research on ordnance, did he realize the cannon was precisely the type on board the Santa Maria.


Several weeks ago, he returned to the wreck with a team of experts, but the cannon and other artifacts had been looted, Mr. Clifford said. As a result, he and others will have to rely on photographic evidence from the 2003 excursion.


Mr. Clifford, 68 years old, has surveyed dozens of historic wrecks around the world over the past four decades. Among his most notable discoveries was the pirate ship Whydah off Cape Cod in Massachusetts in 1984.


In his current investigation of the wreck off Haiti, which is being funded by the History Channel for a planned documentary, he used an array of technology, including magnetometers, sonar devices and GPS.


If researchers confirm the wreck is the Santa Maria, it is unclear how the remains will be handled. Because they lie in Haitian waters, the government there has control over them.


"We are currently evaluating our options," said Salim Succar, special adviser to Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. "It's something for humanity as a whole. It's not something we will take lightly."


Write to Arian Campo-Flores at arian.campo-flores@wsj.com



Divers stage emergency excavation of historic Thames shipwreck

Archaeologists fear climate change could destroy preserved remains of the London, which blew up off Essex coast in 1665

Dalya Alberge

Friday 16 May 2014 15.53 BST


Archaeologists will embark on an emergency excavation of one of Britain's most important shipwrecks on Sunday after discovering it is deteriorating at alarming speed because of the warmer waters caused by climate change.


The once-mighty 17th-century vessel, named the London, has lain in the muddy silt of the Thames estuary off the Essex coast near Southend-on-Sea for 350 years.


Built in 1656, she was in a convoy that transported Charles II from the Netherlands to restore him to his throne after Oliver Cromwell's death in 1658. One of the most illustrious ships of her day, her remains are now a time capsule of the 17th century.


English Heritage, the government advisory body, has commissioned Cotswold Archaeology to carry out a major excavation.


Mark Dunkley, a marine archaeologist at English Heritage, told the Guardian: "It's rare for wooden shipwrecks of this age and older to survive to this extent." The hundreds of surviving wrecks are mostly later iron and steel ships.


Asked why the wreck is deteriorating now after 350 years, he said: "Through human-induced climate change, warmer water is moving northwards. That's allowing the migration of warm-water invasive species." He spoke of the need for action to stop warm-water ship-boring organisms eating away at timber and organic artefacts and prevent loose objects being dispersed.


The London met her end in 1665 when she suffered a mysterious gunpowder explosion. More than 300 lives were lost in a tragedy recorded by Samuel Pepys, the diarist and secretary to the Navy Board: "A little a' this side the buoy of the Nower [Nore], she suddenly blew up.


"About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance."


The diarist John Evelyn also lamented "the poor orphans and widows" left behind.


The archaeologists are collaborating with Steven Ellis, a Thames estuary diver, who has been granted the government licence.


He too spoke of the need for action. During initial test dives, he spotted "loads of shoe soles". When he returned, they had been washed away, he said.


Ellis did, however, find a complete shoe that looked astonishingly modern, in superb condition considering its age. He said: "The Thames has got so much silt. That's why everything is in such good nick."


His other initial finds included personal items such as a bronze signet ring and clay pipes, as well as navigational dividers, buckets, pots and cooking utensils. He retrieved ship's fixtures and fittings such as door latches, an anchor cable and cannonballs.


Parametric sonar data suggest buried deposits beyond the visible remains. Other tests have uncovered extremely unusual female human remains.


The excavation will be complex. Though the wreck is only up to 18 metres deep, visibility is poor. Ellis said: "On a good day, you've got perhaps half a metre."


There are also strong currents and the site is at the edge of a shipping lane. "It makes it a little more hairy than most dives," he said.


The London's final resting place was only confirmed in 2005. She is one of only 49 ships protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act in England, an indication of her importance.


Dunkley said: "Part of the excitement for us, as archaeologists, is to share with those people that can't access the London with a scuba tank."


The wreck offers insights into the navy when England was emerging as a global power, he added. "It allows us to share our understanding of how people lived, fought and died on this class of ship. The London fills a gap in our understanding of ship technology and ship construction."


The vessel was fitted for war when she blew up. The women on board were possibly officers' relatives. Perhaps they would have disembarked as the ship would have been fully prepared for war, Dunkley suggests. "Pepys talks of ladies being on board. We don't know whether they were guests masquerading as crew members, which happened in Admiral Nelson's time. Or whether they were guests of the lower decks."


Although she blew up, the ship seems to be pretty complete, lying in two sections. She was once 37 metres long by 12 metres wide.


Divers will excavate the bow, the hold, the main gun deck and the carpenter's and boatswain's storerooms. Finds recovered from the site will be curated, published and displayed by Southend Museums Service.