Thursday, December 02, 2004

Trepanning update Ancient Skull Fragment Hints at Surgery

A skull fragment found in a 400-year-old trash pit at Jamestown contains evidence of the earliest known surgery - and autopsy - in the English colonies in America, researchers say.

Circular cut marks indicate someone attempted to drill two holes in the skull to relieve pressure on the brain, the researchers said. The patient, a European man, died and was apparently autopsied.

Archaeologists found the 4-inch-by-4 3/4-inch fragment this summer while digging in a bulwark trench on the site of James Fort. Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, was founded in 1607 as a business venture.

Coming up (mostly) empty Head of Falls yields little

Archaeologists digging at Head of Falls have found an old foundation, some broken dishes, a metal pipe and other remnants from former Lebanese and French communities.

But as of Tuesday afternoon they had found no remnants of a Native American culture.

"We don't know that there are burial grounds here or that there ever were, but it's a possibility," said historical archaeologist Peter Morrison, working at the site.

Morrison and Pamela Crane of Crane & Morrison Archaeology, of Freeport, were hired by the city to do a survey of the waterfront. City councilors voted recently to pay the firm up to $25,000 for the work.


Ancient Pompeii, a 150 acre walled city in southern Italy, was destroyed and covered by volcanic material when nearby Mt. Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. A complete city block, once inhabited by patricians, slaves and merchants, is now the focus of research and conservation by the Archaeological Sciences Department of the University of Bradford. This film describes how the recently created Pompeii Trust is attempting to preserve this important piece of history for future generations.

We watched a bit of it. We were going to say check out the links on the video page, but most of them don't seem to work.

Antiquities Market update Antique Arabic tablet stolen a decade ago is returned to Yemen

Federal authorities on Wednesday returned to Yemen an antique Arabic tablet stolen from a museum there a decade ago that ended up at a New York auction house.

At a ceremony in the Manhattan headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security, Yemen's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Alsaidi, unveiled the alabaster plaque depicting a goddess of fertility, dating to about 350 A.D. in Saudi Arabia.

Cool paper alert Maize reveals traces of old breeding project (Subscription only)

The people of Mesoamerica are largely responsible for the golden corn we grow today, having domesticated tough teosinte grass thousands of years ago and bred it into modern maize.

Researchers have now located the gene responsible for some of the traits that the Mesoamericans were selecting. The discovery should help scientists understand how plants develop, and reveals just how strict the ancient breeding regime for maize (Zea mays) must have been.

Robert Schmidt, a maize researcher at the University of California, San Diego, and his colleagues were intrigued by a mutant maize that was found in South America in the 1920s. The mutant is unable to grow branches or flowers, and happens to resemble a particular rice mutant in this respect. Because the sequence of the gene that causes the effect is known for rice, Schmidt and his team were able to pin down the sequence in maize.

Upshot: The researchers discovered a gene with about a dozen variants that produce different branching patterns. Modern maize only contains a single variant, meaning the selective process was rigorous enough to rid the genome of all but one. We wonder if the single variant present today was the one that produced terminal female parts (ears) from a teosinte branch that ordinarily would have terminal male parts, popularized by SJ Gould some time ago.

Maize vs. teosinte:

Now, this is interesting A complex agricultural society in Uruguay's La Plata basin, 4,800-4,200 years ago

A complex farming society developed in Uruguay around 4,800 to 4,200 years ago, much earlier that previously thought, Iriarte and his colleagues report in this week's Nature (December 2). Researchers had assumed that the large rivers system called the La Plata Basin was inhabited by simple groups of hunters and gatherers for much of the pre-Hispanic era.

Iriarte and coauthors excavated an extensive mound complex, called Los Ajos, in the wetlands of southeastern Uruguay. They found evidence of a circular community of households arranged around a central public plaza. Paleobotanical analyses of preserved starch grains and phytoliths –tiny plant fossils- show that Los Ajos' farmers adopted the earliest cultivars known in southern South America, including maize, squash, beans and tubers.

Original paper here. Probably subscriber-only.

More stiffs Human remains found at rail site

Canadian Pacific Railway has stopped work indefinitely on a multimillion-dollar construction project near Pritchard after crews discovered two sets of skeletal remains.

Members of the Skeetchestn Indian Band, who call themselves Secwepemculecw Traditional Peoples Government, were at the site Tuesday afternoon and vowed to remain to ensure no further disturbance.

About 10 people gathered beside a campfire and unfurled a flag stating “unceded Secwepemc land.”

A CPR spokesman said there is no timetable to resume construction. The project is supposed to be complete by summer.

“We’re still doing some other surveying work,” said Ed Greenberg. “Out of respect to the situation we’ve ceased operations in that area.”

Treasure! Gallic war treasure discovered in southern France

French archaeologists said this week they had discovered an exceptional Gallic war treasure in the south of the country, including rare war trumpets and ornate helmets.

The some 470 objects, or fragments of objects, were found at the end of September during a dig at Naves, in the department of Correze in southern France, in a ditch hollowed out of a Gallic-Roman temple, they said.

"The exceptional character of this discovery lies mainly in the presence of five almost complete carnyx," Christophe Maniquet, an archeologist at Inrap, France's national institute for Archeological studies, said.