Unexploded World War II bombs may still be buried at Pompeii

Unexploded World War II bombs may still be buried at Pompeii

Mt. Vesuvius erupted in March 1944. (credit: American B-25 Mitchell Bombers Flying Past Vesuvius, March 17–21, 1944, Unknown photographer. Gelatin silver print, 4 7/16 x 5 13/16 in (11.3 x 14.7 cm). Archive of Raymond D. Yusi, Army Corps of Engineers)

Every now and again, real-life archaeology sounds a little like an Indiana Jones movie. Allied bombers dropped 165 bombs on the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, and at least seven of them may still lie buried and unexploded amid the ruins. The bombs, scattered over 22 hectares of the site that haven’t been surveyed or excavated, don’t pose a danger to tourists, but they’re a challenge for future excavations.

Bombing the ruins

The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius entombed the city of Pompeii in ash in 79 CE. Fire rained down on the ruined city again in August 1943, when US and British bombers began pounding German encampments and

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Capuchin monkeys have a 3,000-year archaeological record

Capuchin monkeys have a 3,000-year archaeological record

Enlarge (credit: By Tiago Falótico – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60386655)

The archaeological record of human tools use dates back about 2.5 million years, and archaeologists use changes in stone tool technology to trace changes in human evolution, culture, and lifestyles. Now a team of archaeologists in Brazil has excavated capuchin monkey stone tools dating back to 3,000 years ago, and they reveal changes in behavior and diet over thousands of years—just like the early human archaeological record but on a compressed time scale.

Archaeology: Not just for humans

Bearded capuchin monkeys are more versatile tool-users than chimpanzees. They select rocks of the right sizes and shapes for a variety of tasks, from digging to cracking open a range of nuts and seeds (each has its own size and weight specifications for the perfect cracking tool). Female capuchins even flirt with potential mates by throwing rocks at them.

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Ancient Peruvian engineering could help solve modern water shortages

Ancient Peruvian engineering could help solve modern water shortages

Enlarge / Diversion canals channel water into earth-bottomed infiltration canals like this one, where water can begin to soak into the ground on its way to a pond or basin. (credit: Musuq Briceño, CONDESAN, 2012.)

Rain seldom falls on the desert lowlands of coastal Peru, so people in the area have always depended on the water that flows down from the Andes during the rainy season. But streams in this part of the world come and go quickly, so indigenous people built a system of canals and ponds to channel excess rainwater and create groundwater. Now a group of researchers says that a scaled-up version could help improve Peru’s water management.

Ancient engineers (not aliens)

1,400 years ago, Chavin and Wari indigenous communities on the slopes of the Andes Mountains dug systems of stone-lined and earthen canals to channel excess rainwater from streams to areas where the ground could soak

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New study takes a bird’s-eye view of the Nasca Lines

New study takes a bird’s-eye view of the Nasca Lines

Enlarge (credit: Masaki Eda)

At first glance, one of the most famous figures of Peru’s Nasca Lines looks like a fairly generic hummingbird. But the details of the drawing—and those of several other ancient drawings, paintings, and sculptures of animals and plants around the world—reveal a lot of information about the actual species. The bird has three toes, all pointed in the same direction, a long, thin beak, and the feathers at the center of its tail are long and straight.

Those are trademarks of birds called hermits, a genus in the hummingbird family. Other hummingbird species in Peru have forked or fan-shaped tails (which is the kind of detail the Nasca artists likely would have gotten right).

“Until now, the birds in these drawings have been identified based on general impressions or a few morphological traits present in each figure,” said zooarchaeologist Masaki Eda of the Hokkaido University

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This 2,400-year-old bark shield took a beating in an Iron Age fight

This 2,400-year-old bark shield took a beating in an Iron Age fight

Enlarge / This is what the shield looked like after being excavated and conserved. (credit: Michael Bamforth)

When they found the shield, University of York archaeologists Michael Bamforth and his colleagues thought it must have been ceremonial, because surely bark couldn’t hold up against heavy iron-tipped spears and iron axes. After all, every other Iron Age shield archaeologists have found in Europe so far has been made of wood or metal. But it turned out that the tough, springy bark would have been perfectly capable of repelling arrows. Its lightness may even have made an Iron Age warrior more agile on the battlefield.

Welcome to the Iron Age; we’ve got swords and spears

By around 400 BCE, even small villages across Britain surrounded themselves with ditches, embankments, and palisades. At farmsteads scattered between villages, people grew wheat and barley or herded sheep and cattle. Local or regional chiefs ruled

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14,000-year-old footprints record an underground Stone Age family outing

14,000-year-old footprints record an underground Stone Age family outing

Enlarge / The clay-rich mud of Basura Cave preserved these footprints for 14,000 years. (credit: Emily Packer (Marcomms))

There was a lot more to Paleolithic life than hunting, gathering, and leaving well-preserved bones for archaeologists. A 14,000-year-old set of footprints and crawl tracks preserves a snapshot of an ancient family’s exploration of a cave in northern Italy—something they apparently did just for the heck of it. The tracks were left in an ancient layer of clay and record how a small group of hunter-gatherers, carrying makeshift torches, waded through ponds and sometimes crawled on their hands and knees to explore the cave. And they apparently brought their young children with them on the adventure.

“Most likely they were pushed into the cave by simple curiosity and a sense of wonder for unexplored places,” archaeologist Marco Romano of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, told Ars Technica.

A dangerous idea

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We probably don’t descend from Australopithecus sediba

We probably don’t descend from Australopithecus sediba

Enlarge / According to Du and Alemseged, A. sediba is probably not our direct ancestor. (credit: Brett Eloff courtesy Profberger and Wits University)

Sometime around 2 million years ago, a group of bipedal hominins in Eastern Africa gradually evolved into something that looked and acted enough like us to be part of our genus, Homo. This was an important moment in the evolutionary history of our species, but paleoanthropologists aren’t sure yet exactly which species actually gave rise to our branch of the hominin family tree. A new study, however, suggests that we can probably rule out one of the contenders.

Where did we come from?

The top contenders include a species called Australopithecus sediba, known from the fossilized remains of two adults and four children who apparently fell to their deaths in Malapa Cave around 1.9 million years ago. The other top contender is called A.

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Archaeologists find DNA in a 10,000-year-old piece of chewing gum

Archaeologists find DNA in a 10,000-year-old piece of chewing gum

Enlarge (credit: Kashuba et al. 2019)

The people who lived at Huseby-Kiev in western Sweden 10,000 years ago made their living by hunting and fishing. That doesn’t sound surprising until you consider that this was a landscape that had, until recently, been covered by ice sheets 4km (2.5 miles) thick. How they occupied the re-emerging landscape is a bit of a mystery. We don’t know much about who they actually were, where they came from, or how they made their way into Sweden as the ice receded.

In the 1990s, archaeologists recovered a few chewed-up lumps of birch bark pitch, some of which still held fingerprints and tooth marks left behind from millennia ago. Using this ancient chewing gum, archaeologist Natalija Kashuba of Uppsala University recently recovered DNA from two women and one man who had lived, worked, and apparently chewed gum on the shores of ancient Sweden. That

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Mass grave in Poland embodies the violent beginning of the Bronze Age

Mass grave in Poland embodies the violent beginning of the Bronze Age

Enlarge / This is the Late Neolithic mass grave at Koszyce, Poland. (credit: Image courtesy of Piotr Wodarczak)

Sometime between 2880 and 2776 BCE, 15 family members were hastily buried together in a single pit, their shattered skulls telling a story of violent death. Yet someone interred the dead with the pottery, tools, and ornaments typical of a proper burial in their culture, a culture we know today by the name of its most common ceramic artifact: the Globular Amphora. And someone seems to have made the effort to put the closest family members alongside one another in the pit.

Today, the grave near the village of Koszyce in southern Poland is the only record of one particular act of brutal violence during a turbulent time in European prehistory.

Out of the blue

It seems that no one in the seasonal camp of pastoralists was prepared for the raiders. Nearly

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Ancient Bolivian ritual kit contains traces of hallucinogens

Ancient Bolivian ritual kit contains traces of hallucinogens

Enlarge / This is a view of the Cueva del Chileno excavation site. (credit: José Capriles, Penn State)

In a rock shelter in the highlands of southwest Bolivia amid the rubble of an area once set aside for funerary rituals, archaeologists found a leather-wrapped bundle of tools for preparing and inhaling snuff. They radiocarbon-dated the bundle to between 905 and 1170 CE, which is when the Tiwanaku Empire (a predecessor of the Inca and rival of the nearby Wari) was crumbling into smaller regional states. Chemical analysis reveals that the bundle once contained a small assortment of psychoactive plants, including coca leaves and ayahuasca.

Unwrapping a shaman’s bundle

Archaeologists Melanie Miller, José Capriles, and their colleagues used mass spectrometry to identify traces of cocaine, along with four other compounds, inside a hide pouch sewn from the skins of three fox snouts.

One compound, harmine, points to a plant called

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