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Ancient artifacts
September 17, 2016

Scientists have found the oldest known fishhooks in the world on a tiny island in Japan's Okinawa archipelago, the site of a major U.S.-Japan battle in World War II, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

The hooks were discovered in a limestone cave and are believed to be about 23,000 years old. They are carved from sea snail shells and are thought to have been used to catch crabs and freshwater snails from a stream on the island.

This find displaces another set of ancient fishhooks found in East Timor in 2011. The earlier discovery was dated between 16,000 and 23,000 years old, but carbon dating places the new hooks between 22,380 and 22,770 years of age. Bonnie Kristian

August 18, 2016

A math and science teacher digging on his property in Oregon's Willamette Valley was in for quite the surprise when he uncovered 14 ancient tools this past spring. "I dig and I find this black obsidian stone. I thought, that's a neat rock. I kind of tossed it aside, and kept digging," the teacher, referred to only as "David," told Oregon Public Broadcasting. But then David found another strange stone. And another.

Local archaeologist John Pouley identified the artifacts as bifaces, or pieces of obsidian that can easily be made into items like scrapers, spear points, or arrowheads, Archaeology reports. "Then you could also remove little flakes to have a sharp cutting edge to skin an animal that you know were going to eat for dinner," Pouley said.

Pouley believes the artifacts date back between 1,000 and 4,000 years ago, and belonged to the Kalapuya people. The obsidian, though, had come from a quarry in the Cascade Mountains some 80 miles away, and because the bifaces were in an unblemished condition, Pouley said, "It seems like this was part of a trade network and these themselves were commodities."

While excavating the site, archeologists also found a 15th biface on the teacher's property. Exactly why the stones were abandoned by an ancient person or people at the site remains a mystery. Jeva Lange

June 9, 2016

Archaeologists may have finally solved the mystery of where Kublai Khan's legendary Yuan dynasty palace once stood. During underground renovations at the Palace Museum in Beijing, experts found "a 3-meter thick rammed earth and rubble foundation" that indicates part of the palace may have once stood where the museum is now located.

The museum's site has also been found to be the one-time home of both the Ming and Qing dynasty palaces, meaning the Yuan dynasty palace could be just another layer in a long line of construction projects. "From a historical perspective, it gives us evidence that the architectural history runs uninterrupted from the Yuan, to the Ming and Qing dynasties," said Wang Guangyao, the museum's Institute of Archaeology deputy director.

Prior to this discovery, some of the only clues archaeologists had about Khan's palace were from 13th-century Venetian merchant Marco Polo's writings, in which Polo described the imperial home as "the greatest palace there ever was." Polo claimed that the walls were "covered with silver and gold" and that the main hall was so massive it "could easily seat 6,000 people for dinner," South China Morning Post reports.

However, after the Yuan dynasty, which lasted from 1279 to 1368, the palace seemingly disappeared — until, that is, right now. "As archaeologists, we can only define what we have found," Wang said, noting that it was too early to draw any conclusions about connections between the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties from the finding. "But it gives us a direction for future exploration." Becca Stanek

June 1, 2016

Thanks to wooden tablets buried deep underground, we now know what life was like in London some 2,000 years ago. On Wednesday morning — after two years of transcribing and translating — researchers released the texts from Roman writing tablets that were discovered about 400 meters east of St. Paul's Cathedral in the center of London. The documents, all of which were written between 43 A.D. and 80 A.D. — right around the time when the city was founded by Romans — are thought to be the oldest texts ever found in Britain.

The wooden tablets contain everything from the earliest use of the name London to the city's earliest financial document, and have already helped clarify London's history. One text indicates that the city was run directly by the emperor of Rome as opposed to an elected municipal council or local magistrates. Others prove that, even in London's first 40 years in existence, it was already a "major commercial and financial" center, The Independent reports. The manuscripts discuss transport and trading, and about half of the documents concern loans or debts.

The tablets will be on display in the Bloomberg building in London, as the international news organization funded the excavation. A permanent exhibition is set to open in fall 2017.

Read more about the tablets over at The Independent. Becca Stanek

May 2, 2016

A tablet discovered in Turkey on Monday proves that 2,000 years before American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, people believed there was more to winning than, well, winning.

Archaeologists have found ancient horseracing rules written on a slab uncovered in the Beyşehir district of the Central Anatolian province of Konya. The tablet appears to have been part of the Lukuyanus Monument, which honored an ancient Roman jockey. Hittites are thought to have erected such monuments and considered them holy.

But even more intriguingly, the tablet offers insight into a world of unbelievably courteous sportsmanship.

"There are horseracing rules on the tablet. It says that if a horse comes in first place in a race it cannot participate in other races, while another horse of the winning horse's owner also cannot enter another race," Professor Hasan Bahar of Selçuk University told Hurriyet Daily News. "In this way, others were given a chance to win. This was a beautiful rule, showing that unlike races in the modern world, races back then were based on gentlemanly conduct."

Lakers, Packers, and Yankees fans, take note. Jeva Lange

January 25, 2016

The discovery of the remains of "at least six women" at an ancient Peruvian ceremonial site has led archaeologists to surmise that a sacrificial ceremony took place there some 1,000 years ago, The Jerusalem Post reports. All six of the young women's skulls unearthed at the site in Lambayeque, a town 465 miles north of Lima, were found facing east. The eastward placement of the skulls could indicate that the women were part of the Cajamarca culture from countries north of the town.

"We have found six young women sacrifices in this space, in this small space which is part of the temple," archaeologist Edgar Bracamonte said. "Four of them were left in one mass grave one on top of the other. Another was in the corner of the main ramp and the sixth woman was found here in a strange position for the time and this shows us sacredness of the temple."

Archaeologists have also discovered ceramic pots, offering further evidence that the site was one where ceremonies were once held. Excavation of the site is expected to continue throughout 2016, and archaeologists are hopeful they'll unearth more artifacts and possibly more sacrificial remains. Becca Stanek

January 13, 2016

There's now evidence that Chinese royals have been sipping on tea since the middle of the second century. Archaeologists' recent excavation of the tomb of Han Dynasty Emperor Jing Di, who died in 141 BC, has turned up what archaeologists say is the world's oldest known tea. Up until this discovery, the only evidence of tea's existence in China that long ago was a single ancient text that claimed China was exporting tea leaves to Tibet.

Archaeologists found the ancient tea leaves buried in a wooden box with the emperor in his tomb, presumably so he could use them in the next life. Though the site, located in what is now modern-day Xian, was previously excavated in the 1990s, a previous search had not turned up the tea leaves.

The use of mass spectrometry by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences has since confirmed that the leaves are, indeed, tea — but not your average tea. The Independent reports that the tea found is believed to be of "the finest quality" because it contains only tea buds and not "ordinary tea leaves."

"The discovery shows how modern science can reveal important previously unknown details about ancient Chinese culture," Dorian Fuller, Director of the International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology in London, said. "The identification of the tea found in the emperor's tomb complex gives us a rare glimpse into very ancient traditions which shed light on the origins of one of the world's favorite beverages." Becca Stanek

January 7, 2016

After being demolished in 1872, the home of early 19th century murder victim Joe the Quilter will soon be brought back to life. A team of archaeologists led by Beamish Museum in England's County Durham have discovered the remains of the cottage of widower and renowned quilt maker Joseph Hedley, where he was murdered in January 1826. Despite the crime's high profile at the time, the case was never cracked.

Archaeologists have unearthed the remnants of the cottage's fireplace, floor flagstones, pottery, and a "silver groat coin given as Maundy money to the poor." The museum plans to fully recreate the cottage as an example of a "humble working man's habitation," Chronicle Live reports.

"As archaeologists it's extremely rare to be working on a site inhabited by a named individual about whom we know so much," Remaking Beamish project officer John Castling said. "It's even more unusual that the individual isn't a royal or a wealthy landowner. It gives us a poignant and tangible link to the day-to-day life of an ordinary working person in the early 19th century." Becca Stanek

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