May 19, 2016
Human Tools From 14,500 Years Ago Found At Florida Sinkhole
By Malcolm Ritter
AP Science Writer
New York (AP) -- Scientists say a stone knife and other artifacts found deep underwater in a Florida sinkhole show people lived in that area some 14,500 years ago.
That makes the ancient sinkhole the earliest well-documented site for human presence in the southeastern U.S., and important for understanding the settling of the Americas, experts said.
The findings confirm claims made more than a decade ago about the site, some 30 miles southeast of Tallahassee. At that time, researchers reported evidence that humans were there some 14,400 years ago. But in an era when such an old date was widely considered impossible, other experts disputed the evidence, said Mike Waters of Texas A&M University in College Station.
The sinkhole was “just politely ignored,” he said.
Waters was among a new team of scientists who excavated there from 2012 to 2014. They report finding the knife and stone flakes in a paper released Friday by the journal Science Advances. The new work offers “far better” evidence for early humans than the earlier research did, he said.
The sinkhole is nearly 200 feet wide. In ancient times, it had a shallow pond at the bottom. That offered fresh water and a gathering point for animals, which “probably would have been easy pickings” for hunters who saw them trapped in the deep depression, Waters said.
Texas A&M's Neil Puckett with mastadon bone found at the site
Today, the sinkhole is filled with about 30 feet of water, and it took divers equipped with head-mounted lights to look for artifacts. It was “as dark as the inside of a cow, literally no light at all,” said Jessi Halligan, the lead diving scientist and an assistant professor of anthropology at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
They found the knife while digging with a trowel. It’s a couple of inches long and about an inch wide, sharpened on both sides.
To determine its age, the researchers used nearby mastodon dung, which contained twigs that could be analyzed. The twigs, and therefore the knife, were found to be about 14,550 years old.
Man-made stone flakes were found to be about the same age. The scientists also examined a mastodon tusk recovered in 1993, and confirmed that its long, deep grooves were made by people, probably as they worked to remove the tusk from a skull.
The first people in North America are thought to have crossed a now-submerged land bridge from Siberia to Alaska. From there, people spread southward. Waters said the age of the sinkhole artifacts adds to evidence that people may have migrated south from Alaska as early as 16,000 years ago by boat along the coast, because inland Canada was blocked by ice sheets until 2,000 years later.
Halligan said the ancient visitors to the sinkhole could have been the Southeast’s first snowbirds, moving south for the winter and north for the summer. They could have followed mastodons, whose remains have been found as far north as Kentucky, she said.
“They were very smart about local plants and local animals and migration patterns,” she said.
In American archaeology, sites showing signs of human presence more than about 13,000 years are called “pre-Clovis,” since they predate the Clovis era of widespread human occupation.
Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History said that he ranked the sinkhole with two locations in Pennsylvania and Virginia as “the best-dated and oldest pre-Clovis sites yet found in North America.”
While the other two sites are older, “the Florida site has a major role to play in learning the story of the peopling of the Americas,” said Stanford, who didn’t participate in the research.
Another expert, James Adovasio of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton agreed, saying it promises to shed light on “early Native American lifestyle in an environment where these lifestyles are very poorly defined.”
Finds At Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre Site Surprise & Puzzle
By Jill Lawless
London (AP) - London’s relentless building boom has dug up another chunk of the city’s history - one with a surprise for scholars of Shakespearean theater.
Archaeologists are excavating the remains of the Curtain, a 16th-century playhouse where some of the Bard’s plays were first staged, before a new apartment tower sprouts on the site. Unexpectedly, the dig has revealed that the venue wasn’t round, like most Elizabethan playhouses. It was rectangular.
That came as a surprise, because the best-known fact about the Curtain is that Shakespeare’s ``Henry V’’ was first staged here - and the play’s prologue refers to the building as ``this wooden O.’’
``This is palpably not a circle,’’ Julian Bowsher, an expert on Elizabethan theaters, said during a tour of the site Tuesday.
The discovery has made Bowsher rethink some of his ideas about Tudor playhouses. He suspects that the Curtain - unlike the more famous Globe and Rose theaters - wasn’t built from scratch, but converted from an existing building.
``Out of the nine playhouses that we know in Tudor London, there are only two that have no reference to any construction,’’ he said - including the Curtain. ``It’s beginning to make sense now.’’
Where does that leave ``Henry V’’? Heather Knight, senior archaeologist at Museum of London Archaeology , said the play may still have premiered at the Curtain in 1599, but without the prologue.
Archaeologists at the Curtain Theatre site
``There’s a school of thought now that says prologues were actually a later addition,’’ she said.
The Curtain’s remains were uncovered in 2011 on a site earmarked for development in Shoreditch, a scruffy-chic, fast-gentrifying area on the edge of London’s financial district.
Archaeologists began excavating intensively last month, before construction of a 37-story luxury apartment tower and office complex named - with a nod to its heritage - The Stage.
They will keep digging until the end of June, and visitors can book tours of the excavations as part of events to mark this year’s 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
The site’s developers have promised to keep the foundations of the historic theater on public view and to build a visitor center to display some of the archaeologists’ finds. These include clay pipes that were used to smoke tobacco - introduced to Britain from North America in the 16th century - and a bird whistle which may have been used as a theatrical special effect. It could have featured in the scene in ``Romeo and Juliet’’ - performed at the Curtain - in which the heroine reassures her lover that ``it was the nightingale, and not the lark’’ that he’d heard.
Knight says the Curtain site ``has probably the best preserved remains of any of the playhouses we’ve looked at.’’
The dig has uncovered the outline of a rectangular venue about 100 feet (30 meters) by 72 feet (22 meters) that could hold about 1,000 people. Workers have uncovered sections of the theater’s gravel yard, where ``groundlings’’ who had bought cheap tickets stood, and segments of wall up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) high.
The new building that will rise on the site - where apartments are being offered starting at 695,000 pounds ($1 million) - is part of a construction boom, fueled by London’s sky-high property prices, that is transforming large tracts of the city. In the process, it is creating something of a golden era for London archaeology.
Nearby, work on the new Crossrail transit line has uncovered everything from 14th-century plague victims to Roman sandals.
Knight says the Curtain dig is filling in the picture of one of the oldest and least-known London playhouses, which served as a base for Shakespeare’s troupe, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, between 1597 and 1599.
``This will give us real insight into these early playing spaces,’’ Knight said. ``It will help us understand the type of building that playwrights were writing for as well as performing in.
``It will also help us understand what type of audience was attending performances in these buildings. And also it’ll fill in those gaps that are missing from the historical record.’’
The Cicadas Are 'Touring' Again In Ohio And West Virginia
By Mitch Stacy
Columbus, OH (AP) - The 17-year cicadas are coming again, millions of them, with their unnerving red eyes, orange wings and cacophonous mating song that can drown out the noise of passing jet planes.
For those who have an aversion to prawn-size, flying bugs, the next six weeks or so will be like a long horror-movie scene in large swaths of Ohio and West Virginia and slivers of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.
In reality, though, cicadas are harmless and actually good for the environment. Their egg-laying in the trees is a natural pruning that results in increased growth, their burrowing aerates the ground, and their decaying bodies add nutrients to the soil.
Some other facts about them, compliments of Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist with the National Pest Management Association, and Gene Kritsky, a cicada expert at Cincinnati’s College of Mount St. Joseph, who’s predicting the insects will start appearing in the next few days:
LIVE LONG AND BURROW
When the soil warms up enough, cicadas emerge from the ground, where they’ve been sucking moisture from tree roots for the past 17 years. They’ll shed their exoskeletons, attach themselves to branches, mate and lay eggs before dying off in about six weeks. The hatched nymphs then will drop off the trees and burrow underground to live for another 17 years.
SONG OF THE CICADA
Amorous males attract mates by rapidly vibrating drumlike tymbals on the sides of their abdomen to produce sound. When millions of them are doing it at once, the din is deafening. Kritsky and other researchers who have measured the decibel level say it can be louder than a rock concert.
Cicada emerging from its exoskeleton (cool, right?)
MMM, HORS D’OEUVRES
The plump creatures make for tasty treats for dogs and cats, ``like Hershey’s Kisses falling from the sky,’’ as Kritsky says. Gobbling them up won’t hurt pets, unless they consume too many. Full of protein, gluten-free, low-fat and low-carb, cicadas were used as a food source by American Indians and are still eaten by humans in many countries, including China, where they are served deep-fried. Kritsky says raw cicadas taste like cold canned asparagus. Whenever he goes on the road to study them, he always brings one back as a snack for his cat, Boudie.
IT’S JUST OUR TURN
There are 15 groups - or broods - of cicadas that are on life cycles of either 13 or 17 years. They appear mostly in the eastern and central parts of the U.S. Last spring, it was a brood in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa that had its coming out. This particular brood, which hasn’t appeared since 1999, will be seen in the eastern half of Ohio, the northern two-thirds of West Virginia, the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, and tiny sections of Virginia and Maryland.
DON’T CALL THEM LOCUSTS
Humans have been tracking cicada appearances for hundreds of years in the United States. English colonists, who thought they were experiencing biblical plagues, started referring to them as locusts, a mischaracterization that has managed to stick around. (Locusts are actually grasshoppers.) One major difference is that cicadas don’t swarm; the males just independently bumble from one place to another looking for sex.
`THEY WON’T CARRY AWAY CHILDREN’
Besides making a bunch of noise, clumsily flying into windshields and littering the land with zillions of their gross little carcasses, cicadas are relatively harmless to living things, although Fredericks warns they could do some damage to very young trees. (To protect saplings, cover them with netting while the cicadas are visiting.) There have been reports of them causing traffic accidents by flying through open car windows and distracting drivers, and they once clogged up the building air conditioning system at a hospital, but usually they don’t leave behind devastating damage.
``They don’t bite, they don’t sting, they won’t carry away children, they’re not poisonous,’’ Kritsky notes. Adds Fredericks: ``It really is just an opportunity to get out and enjoy the show nature is putting on for you.’’
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