Thin Tooth Enamel Found in H. antecessor Individual

Thin Tooth Enamel Found in H. antecessor Individual

The CENIEH participates in a study in which dental remains of Homo antecessor were analyzed using Micro-Computed Tomography: the results indicate that this thin enamel trait was already present in the genus Homo in the European Early Pleistocene around 900,000 years ago.

Three of the seven premolars belonging to Homo antecessor analyzed in this study/Laura Martín-Francés

The Dental Anthropology Group of the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) has participated in a paper published in the American Journal of Biological Anthropology on the dental remains of Homo antecessor, the species recovered from level TD6 of the Gran Dolina site (Atapuerca, Burgos), which reveals new aspects of the biology of this species.

The results of this study, led by the researcher Laura Martín-Francés (UCM-ISCIII and CENIEH), suggest that, although the Neanderthals continue to be the only species whose dentition is characterized by the possession of thin enamel, this trait was already present in the genus Homo in the European Early Pleistocene, around 900,000 years ago.

Until recently, it was thought that the Neanderthals were the sole representatives of the genus Homo to possess thin enamel.

Nevertheless, new analyses, which were mainly conducted on the dental remains from the TD6 level at Gran Dolina, have shown that the thin enamel pattern appeared earlier than the Neanderthals.

Due to its phylogenetic position and its relationship to both Neanderthals and modern humans, the H. antecessor collection represents a unique opportunity to find out when this thin enamel trait appeared in our genus”, says Martín-Frances.

Thin and thick enamel

In this study, the enamel thickness pattern and its distribution (which zones present a thinner or thicker layer) in the crown were characterized in seven premolars belonging to two H. antecessor individuals (TD6-H1 and TD6-H3), and this was compared with other species in the fossil record and modern humans from several sites in Europe, China and Africa.

By using micro-computed tomography (mCT) and high-resolution images from the CENIEH’s Microscopy and Micro-Computed Tomography Laboratory, the authors verified the presence of different patterns in the two individuals studied.

While the individual TD6-H1 has thin enamel, with a clear affinity to the Neanderthal characteristic, TD6-H3 shows a thick-enamel pattern similar to the majority of fossil species and modern humans.

“Among the possible causes that could justify the presence of distinct enamel patterns in these individuals from the same species, we believe that the most plausible is variability within the same population”, adds Martín-Francés.

The study, in which researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing and University College London (UCL) also participated, received financial support from the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación project PID2021-122355NB-C33, funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033, ERDF, EU and the Consejería de Cultura y Turismo of the Junta de Castilla y León; and the project IJC2020-043979-I, funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033 and NextGenerationEU/PRTR.

Authentic 3,000-Year-Old Bronze Age sword put on display at Field Museum

Authentic 3,000-Year-Old Bronze Age sword put on display at Field Museum

Once thought to be a replica, this authentic, ancient sword will be on view as a teaser for First Kings of Europe exhibition.

Authentic 3,000-Year-Old Bronze Age sword put on display at Field Museum
Installation of a Bronze Age Era sword (1080-900 BC) in the Field Museum’s main hall as a preview for an upcoming special exhibition, First Kings of Europe.

Nearly 100 years ago, the Field Museum acquired a bronze sword from Europe, but it was thought to be a well-made replica. But a new analysis of the sword revealed that the sword is the real deal, dating back 3,000 years to the Bronze Age.

While preparing for First Kings of Europe, a special exhibition opening at the Field Museum in March 2023, Hungarian archaeologists working alongside Field Museum scientists asked to see the “replica” sword that had been retrieved from the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary in the 1930s, where it may have been placed in an ancient ritual 3,000 years ago to commemorate lost loved ones or a battle.

The group of Field Museum scientists, including a chemist, and archeologists used an X-ray fluorescence detector, an instrument that looks like a ray gun.

When they compared the sword’s chemical makeup to other known Bronze Age swords in Europe, their content of bronze, copper, and tin were nearly identical.

Bill Parkinson, a curator of anthropology at the Field who helped create the upcoming First Kings of Europe exhibition, says he was surprised by the results.  “Usually this story goes the other way round,” he says– “What we think is an original turns out to be a fake.”

Had this sword been known to be authentic earlier in the planning of the exhibition, it would have been included in the Bronze Age era section of the show, which will showcase items from southeastern Europe, spanning thousands of years. Instead, the newly-authenticated sword will be installed in the Field Museum’s main hall as a preview for the new exhibition.

First Kings of Europe opens on March 31, 2023. More information on the First Kings of Europe can be found here. For more information, contact press@fieldmuseum.org.

Headless Skeletons Unearthed in Eastern England

Headless Skeletons Unearthed in Eastern England

Headless Skeletons Unearthed in Eastern England
The majority of the remains had the head placed at the feet

A number of decapitated skeletons have been uncovered by archaeologists at a Roman burial site.

The discovery, which included evidence of Roman and Iron Age settlements, was made at Wintringham near St Neots, Cambridgeshire.

Dating from 2,500 years ago, the site will feature in the latest series of BBC Two’s Digging for Britain.

Patrick Moan from Oxford Archaeology said the find had “revealed amazing insights into the people” of the area.

The work comes ahead of a development of about 2,800 homes in the village.

Several pieces of Roman pottery were found at the site

Archaeologists uncovered an Iron Age settlement composed of 40 roundhouses and a network of trackways and enclosures related to farming activities.

The Oxford Archaeology team also discovered Roman coins, brooches, a large lead lid or platter, and numerous pottery vessels.

A Roman kiln and a large number of quern and millstones, used to grind grains, were also found.

Stone roundhouses were uncovered by Oxford Archaeology

Experts said the decapitated skeletons dated back to the third century AD, with 11 out of the 17 burials having their heads positioned by the feet.

The individuals were interred carefully, often buried with pottery and in one case, a pottery vessel was found in place of the head, archaeologists said.

Mr Moan, the project manager, said: “These results add greatly to our understanding of the local landscape’s history which we can now share with local communities.”

Specialists will now start analysing the skeletons with the hope of providing more details about the burial rites that were in use in the area.

The discovery will feature on episode three of Digging for Britain on BBC Two at 21:00 GMT on Sunday or on the iPlayer.

3,600-year-old hoards may contain the earliest silver currency in Israel and Gaza

3,600-year-old hoards may contain the earliest silver currency in Israel and Gaza

3,600-year-old hoards may contain the earliest silver currency in Israel and Gaza
A collection of hacksilber from Tel el-Ajjul in Gaza.

A team of Israeli archaeologists has discovered the earliest evidence of silver being used as currency in the Levant, dating back more than 3,600 years, which is 500 years prior to previous estimates.

“This is the earliest evidence of hoarded silver,” the University of Haifa’s Dr. Tzilla Eshel told The Times of Israel.

Uncovered in excavations around Israel and the Gaza Strip, the proto-coinage’s silver dates to the Middle Bronze Age and originated in either ancient Anatolia or in the area of ancient Greece, researchers from the University of Haifa and Hebrew University said on Sunday.

“This means that we are witnessing the first evidence that there was continuous and long-term trade of metals between the Levant and Anatolia, already 1,700 years before the common era,” said Eshel. “We know for sure that in the Iron Age this kind of trade existed, but our findings move the beginning of this type of trade in metals to 500 years earlier,” she said.

The discovery, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, shows that ancient cities in the region had a much more developed long-distance trade relationship and local economy than previously believed.

The silver hoards were found in Israel’s Megiddo, Gezer and Shiloh, as well as Tel el-‘Ajjul in the Gaza Strip. Their different origins were discovered through isotope analysis. The current study also examined previously discovered samples from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Rockefeller Museum, and the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Pieces of hacksilber discovered at Tel Gezer, before cleaning.

“The use of silver [as currency] indicates a society that used scales, and indicates a society that used writing to write down the transactions,” explained Eshel. “It also means you need to have silver flowing into the area constantly, so the volume of trade has to be larger, and you can see something bigger is happening in economic terms.”

People in the Levant didn’t begin using minted coins until almost 1,000 years after these pieces of broken silver were used as currency, said the researchers. For major purchases, these crudely cut pieces of silver acted as currency through the weight of the precious metal.

“Before there were coins there were a kind of proto-coins. In fact, people, before they would make coins, they first used the idea of taking silver, breaking it up into pieces and weighing them on a scale or balance,” then-head of the Israel Antiquities Authority coin department Donald Ariel told The Times of Israel in a video interview in 2020. “They are lumps of broken jewelry,” said Ariel.

The silver hoards are what is called hacksilber, a German term that means silver that has been cut to specific weights. The team of researchers determined that the fact that there were multiple hoards of these hacksilber discovered throughout the Holy Land — sometimes inside pottery or wrapped in fabric — pointed to the fact that they were widely used.

In fact, the biblical currency of the “shekel” was originally a weight measurement. According to the Babylonians, 1 shekel was approximately 16.83 grams.

“This is the way Abraham paid for the Cave of the Patriarchs — he weighed 400 shekels. There were no coins at the time. He weighed pieces of silver,” said Ariel.

Follow the silver brick road

There were no known silver mines in the Levant, so researchers set out to determine where the pieces of silver originated. Using isotopic testing that examines the chemical composition of lead in the silver, the researchers were able to match it to silver mined from an area in Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey. In the excavated hoards, the silver was also accompanied by other objects from Anatolia, such as the head of an ax and a pendant, confirming Anatolia as the likely origin of the silver.

Eshel calls isotopic testing “an amazing and very powerful tool,” which allowed researchers to pinpoint the geographic area where the silver was likely mined based on its unique chemical composition. She noted that the test isn’t always conclusive and there are some academic debates about its implementation. In some cases researchers can pinpoint the exact spot where a silver object was mined, though the current findings confirmed a more general geographic region.

A location where pieces of silver were discovered at Tel Gezer

“Before, archaeologists tracked trade routes using ceramics, but not every trade route has ceramic evidence,” Eshel said. “This is the first time we are doing it for silver in the Bronze Age.”

Silver first reached the Levant in the 4th millennium BCE, used for figurines and jewelry. Only in the Bronze Age, in the 3rd millennium BCE, were pieces of silver used as currency, Eshel said.

“We know that the silver was the main means of value and exchange in Mesopotamia for a long time, even before the Levant,” explained Eshel. “Everything was valued by silver shekel.”

Because silver was so precious, it was only used for large purchases, such as land. Day-to-day currency more likely used grain, pegged to the shekel weight, such as 2 shekels for a bag of grain, noted Eshel. Eshel said she read that a half gram of silver was equal to a day and a half of work.

A silver hoard of pieces used for currency prior to coin minting

Eshel said that hacked silver is often overlooked by archaeologists because it’s fairly ugly. Oftentimes, such as at Tel el-Ajjul in Gaza near the Egyptian border, hacksilber is found with more beautiful or flashier objects that hold more attention. But Eshel said that the irregular lumps of silver can reveal just as much, if not more, about daily life in the ancient Levant.

“This raw material doesn’t have a nice shape and doesn’t look so great in photos,” she said. “But I think it’s beautiful.”

Digital Scans Reveal Secrets of ‘Golden Boy’ Mummy

Digital Scans Reveal Secrets of ‘Golden Boy’ Mummy

The teenage mummy’s body was covered in ferns, amulets and a gilded face mask, earning it the name “Golden Boy.”

Incredibly detailed computed tomography (CT scans) of the so-called “Golden Boy” mummy from ancient Egypt have revealed a hidden trove of 49 amulets, many of which were made of gold.

The young mummy earned its nickname because of the dazzling display of wealth, which included a gilded head mask found in the mummy’s sarcophagus. Researchers think he was about 14 or 15 years old when he died because his wisdom teeth had not yet emerged.

The Golden Boy was originally unearthed in 1916 at a cemetery in southern Egypt and has been stored in the basement of The Egyptian Museum in Cairo ever since. The mummy had been “laid inside two coffins, an outer coffin with a Greek inscription and an inner wooden sarcophagus,” according to a statement.

While analyzing the scans, the researchers found that the dozens of amulets, comprised of 21 different shapes and sizes, were strategically placed on or inside his body. 

Those included “a two-finger amulet next to the [boy’s] uncircumcised penis, a golden heart scarab placed inside the thoracic cavity and a golden tongue inside the mouth,” according to the statement. 

The mummy was also wearing a pair of sandals, and a garland of ferns was draped across his body, according to the statement.

“This mummy is a showcase of Egyptian beliefs about death and the afterlife during the Ptolemaic period,” Sahar Saleem, the study’s lead author and a professor of radiology at the Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University in Egypt, told Live Science in an email.

While researchers aren’t sure of the mummy’s true identity, based on the grave goods alone, they think he was of high socioeconomic status.

The amulets served important roles in the afterlife.

A series of images from the study, including CT scans that “digitally unwrapped” the mummy.

“Ancient Egyptians believed in the power of amulets … and they were used for protection and for providing specific benefits for the living and the dead,” Saleem said. “In modern science, this is explained by energy.

Different materials, shapes and colors (e.g. crystals) provide energy with different wavelengths that could have [an] effect on the body. Amulets were used by ancient Egyptians in their lives. Embalmers placed amulets during mummification to vitalize the dead body.”

For example, the teenage mummy’s tongue was capped in gold “to enable the deceased to speak” and the sandals “were to enable the deceased to walk out of the tomb in the [afterlife],” Saleem said.

However, one amulet in particular stood out to Saleem: the golden heart scarab placed inside the torso cavity. She wound up creating a replica of it using a 3D printer.

“It was really amazing especially after I 3D printed [it] and was able to hold it in my hands,” Saleem said. “There were engraved marks on the back that could represent the inscriptions and spells the priests wrote to protect the boy during his journey. Scarabs symbolize rebirth in ancient Egyptians and [were] in the form of a discoid (disc-shaped) beetle.”

She added that the heart scarab measured about 1.5 inches (4 centimeters) and was inscribed with verses from “The Book of the Dead,” an important ancient Egyptian text that helped guide the deceased in the afterlife. 

“It was very important in the afterlife during judging the deceased and weighing of the heart against the feather of Maat (the goddess of truth),” Saleem said. “The heart scarab silenced the heart [on] judgement day so not to bear witness against the deceased.

A heart scarab was placed inside the torso cavity during mummification to substitute for the heart if the body was ever deprived [of] this important organ for any reason.”

The findings were published Jan. 24 in the journal Frontiers of Medicine.

Mysterious handprint found in 1,000-year-old Jerusalem defensive moat

Mysterious handprint found in 1,000-year-old Jerusalem defensive moat

Mysterious handprint found in 1,000-year-old Jerusalem defensive moat
The mystery handprint was discovered on an ancient moat wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

A mysterious hand imprint was discovered carved into a 1,000-year-old dry moat that surrounded Jerusalem’s Old City during excavations of defensive fortifications, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement Wednesday.

The archaeological work, carried out as part of an infrastructure project along Sultan Suleiman Street, which runs adjacent to the city walls, revealed a deep rock-hewn moat likely dating from the 10th century, or possibly even earlier, the IAA said.

At one point along the moat’s wall was a handprint carved into the stone, leaving archaeologists baffled as to its purpose.

“Does it symbolize something? Does it point to a specific nearby element? Or is it just a local prank? Time may tell,” researchers said in the statement.

The moat, at least 10 meters wide (approximately 33 feet) and two to seven meters deep (6-23 feet), encircled the whole of Jerusalem at the time, explained Zubair Adawi, Israel Antiquities Authority excavation director.

“People are not aware that this busy street is built directly over a huge moat, an enormous rock-hewn channel,” he said. “Its function was to prevent the enemy besieging Jerusalem from approaching the walls and breaking into the city.”

Zubair Adawi, Israel Antiquities Authority excavation director, points to a carved hand imprint discovered in an ancient moat wall around the Old City of Jerusalem.

Unlike moats surrounding many European castles, the Jerusalem moat was left dry, but its depth and breadth would still have slowed down an approaching army.

So strong were the defenses that it took the Crusader army that arrived in June 1099 some five weeks to cross the moat as Jewish and Muslim defenders fought back, said Amit Re’em, Jerusalem regional director at the IAA.

The stone walls of the Old City that are visible today were built in the sixteenth century by Turkish Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent.

However, earlier fortifications around the ancient city were much stronger.

“In the eras of knights’ battles, swords, arrows, and charging cavalry, the fortifications of Jerusalem were formidable and complex, comprising walls and elements to hold off large armies storming the city,” Re’em said. “Armies trying to capture the city in the Middle Ages had to cross the deep moat and behind it two additional thick fortification walls, while the defenders of the city on the walls rained fire and sulfur down on them.”

Burning sulfur, which produces noxious fumes, was used to deter invaders.

The moat also had secret tunnels enabling defenders to rush out and attack the approaching army before slipping back behind the fortifications. Such tunnels have been uncovered in previous excavations.

Excavations along Sultan Suleiman Street in Jerusalem.

“Many dreamed about and fought for Jerusalem, and the city fortifications are a silent testimony,” said IAA director Eli Escuzido.

“The archaeological finds enable us to visualize the dramatic events and the upheavals that the city underwent,” he said.

Escuzido said the IAA will try to make the discoveries available for public viewing.

Roman Road Uncovered in Romania

Roman Road Uncovered in Romania

Archaeologists of the National History Museum of Transylvania in Cluj-Napoca have discovered a Roman road in the city’s central area. Roughly 2,000 years old, the road has been preserved in good condition.

Roman Road Uncovered in Romania

“Several fragments of a Roman road were found, covered with slabs and built of river stones, sometimes glued with mortar, at a depth of about 80 cm.

The orientation of the road is north-south, and it is probably related to the street network of the Roman settlement of Napoca,” archaeologist Cristian Dima from the National History Museum of Transylvania told Agerpres.

According to him, the roads made by the Romans were used for a long time after the fall of the Roman Empire, and some are still used today, at least their route.

In fact, many of today’s roads preserve at least the course of the roads from 2,000 years ago.

“Part of the Roman road networks/routes are still preserved today,” Cristian Dima said, adding that this is especially true in rural areas. “In larger cities, where there are more interventions, these are not kept exactly. Between localities, mostly the same routes are used.

In Transylvania, where the Habsburg and Austro-Hungarian Empires were, they did a lot of construction works, many of them were modified.”

According to the Romanian archaeologist, the roads and other constructions made by the Romans passed the test of time mainly because they were reused and maintained later, but also because the technology used by the Romans, advanced for that time.

“They had quite advanced technology for the time. […] A fairly solid structure was made, with large stones at the base, then with small stones and then large slabs at the top, more or less processed. Feleac tiles, some of them rounded, were used in Cluj.

On a smaller scale, it closely resembles what is preserved today in Pompeii,” Cristian Dima explained.

Scientists discover 43 million-year-old fossil of a four-legged whale

Scientists discover 43 million-year-old fossil of a four-legged whale

Scientists discover 43 million-year-old fossil of a four-legged whale
Whale fossil

Scientists have discovered the 43 million‮-‬year-old‮ ‬fossil of a previously unknown four-legged whale species, which helps trace the transition of whales from land to sea.

The newly discovered amphibious whale was found in Egypt and belongs to the Protocetidae, a group of extinct whales that falls in the middle of that transition, say the team of researchers.

Its fossil was unearthed from the middle Eocene rocks in Egypt’s Western Desert – an area once covered by sea that has provided an array of discoveries showing the evolution of whales. It was then studied at Mansoura University Vertebrate Palaeontology Centre (MUVP).

The whale, named Phiomicetus anubis, had an estimated body length of around three metres and a body mass of about 600 kg, and was likely a top predator. Its partial skeleton revealed it to be the most primitive protocetid whale known in Africa.

“Phiomicetus anubis is a key new whale species, and a critical discovery for Egyptian and African paleontology,” said Abdullah Gohar of MUVP, lead author of the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Despite recent fossil discoveries, the big picture of early whale evolution in Africa has largely remained a mystery, say the researchers. More work in the region has the potential to reveal new details about the evolutionary transition from amphibious to fully aquatic whales.

The new whale has raised questions about ancient ecosystems and pointed research towards questions about the origin and coexistence of ancient whales in Egypt.

A group of scientists have discovered a fossil of a now-extinct whale with four legs. This visual reconstruction shows Phiomicetus anubis preying on a sawfish.

Are whales endangered?

Whales are at the top of the food chain and play an important role in the overall health of our oceans. In particular, they play a significant role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere.

Each whale sequesters a huge amount of CO2 in their lifetime. Because they store tonnes of carbon dioxide in their bodies, they are key to mitigating the climate crisis.

But six out of the 13 great whale species are classified as endangered or vulnerable, according to WWF.

Threats include habitat degradation, contaminants, climate and ecosystem change, disturbance from whale watching activities, noise from industrial activities, illegal whaling, reduced prey abundance due to overfishing, and oil spills.

It is crucial that we continue to have a healthy, dynamic population of these top predators, as if whales are threatened, it’s bad news for us all.

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