Archaeology News for the Week of January 26th, 2014

January 28th, 2014

 Scientists Discover Cause of Devastating Plague of Justinian

An international team of scientists has discovered that two of the world’s most devastating plagues – the Plague of Justinian and the Black Death, each responsible for killing as many as half the people in Europe during the time of their outbreak—were caused by distinct strains of the same pathogen, one that faded out on its own, the other leading to worldwide spread and re-emergence in the late 1800s. The findings suggest a new strain of plague could emerge again in humans in the future. (Popular Archaeology)

Portrait of a Mesolithic Period Individual Emerges

Researchers in Spain recovered and studied a genome of a Mesolithic period European hunter-gatherer, and concluded that he had blue eyes and dark skin. Designated La Braña 1, the specimen was unearthed at the La Braña-Arintero site in Valdelugueros (León, Spain), where the remains of at least one other skeleton was uncovered. They were discovered by chance in 2006 and excavated by Julio Manuel Vidal Encinas, an archeologist with the Council of Castilla y León. (Popular Archaeology)

Carmel cavemen used plants in rituals 13,000 years ago, archaeologists find

Cavemen in ancient Israel not only buried their dead with flowers – they also apparently had an advanced culture of plant use, not only for consumption but for ritual as well. The earliest evidence of using flower beds for burial, some 13,700 years ago, was reported in Raqefet Cave in Mt. Carmel last summer. In four different graves from the Natufian period, dating back to 13,700 to 11,700 years ago, dozens of impressions of salvia and other mint species were found under human skeletons. (

Ancient Roman Infanticide Didn’t Spare Either Sex, DNA Suggests

A new look at a cache of baby bones discovered in Britain is altering assumptions about why ancient Romans committed infanticide. Infant girls were apparently not killed more often than baby boys, researchers report in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. (LiveScience)

Evidence Shows Prehistoric Humans Used Fire 300,000 Years Ago

New findings reported in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggest that prehistoric humans were able to control and use fire at their will. A team of Israeli scientists discovered the earliest evidence of unequivocal repeated fire building over a continuous period in the Qesem Cave. This evidence, found at an archaeological site near present-day Rosh Ha’ayin, dates back to around 300,000 years ago. (RedOrbit)

Babylonian tablet shows how Noah’s ark could have been constructed

Noah’s ark was never built, still less crash landed on Mount Ararat, a British Museum expert has declared – despite holding in his hand 3,700-year-old instructions on exactly how to construct one. “I am 107% convinced the ark never existed,” Irving Finkel said. His discoveries, since a member of the public brought a battered clay tablet with 60 lines of neat cuneiform text to Finkel – one of the few people in the world who could read them – are outlined in a new book, The Ark Before Noah. (TheGuardian)

Cardigan Castle: 9,500 artefacts found in archaeological dig

Part of a dolphin skull and a medieval arrowhead are among more than 9,500 artefacts uncovered by an archaeological dig at Cardigan Castle. The 18-month project to uncover the 800-year history of the site has been conducted by NPS Archaeology. Excavation work has also revealed a new part of the original castle which dates back to the 1170s. It is part of an £11m renovation project which aims to re-open part of the site this year. (BBC News)