The Bones of an Early Jamestown Settler May Soon Be Identified

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The 400-year-old skeleton of one of Jamestown’s earliest settlers was unearthed during an archaeological dig at the former colony site, and scientists think they know who it is, The Washington Post reports. The bones may belong to Sir George Yeardley, an early governor of colonial Virginia.

The remains were found at the site of the Jamestown 1617 church, which archaeologist Mary Anna Richardson described as “one of the most complicated sites that we have ever worked on here at Jamestown,” according to footage from the Smithsonian Channel, which will air a documentary on the results of the dig in 2019. The archaeological site features three churches compressed into one small area.

Researchers from Preservation Virginia, a nonprofit preservation group, have been exploring the historic clues left behind at Jamestown since 1994. In recent years, the group partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to turn its attention to the tiny churches that once dotted America's first permanent European settlement. Many high-profile figures from that time period were interred in the cemeteries attached to these places of worship.

The newly discovered remains belong to a man about 40 years old, according to a preliminary forensic analysis, which is consistent with biographical information about Yeardley. As the head of the first representative legislative assembly in colonial North America, Yeardley played an important role in the formation of early colonial government. Virginia’s assembly was the model for democracy in the U.S., according to American Evolution, a partner of Jamestown Rediscovery. 

Beyond the church find, the Jamestown exploration has yielded some interesting finds over the years. In 2016, archaeologists who studied the bones of a 15-year-old boy at Jamestown determined that he had been struck and killed by an arrowhead in 1607, just a couple of weeks after the settlers arrived. By examining a root canal, scientists were also able to tell that he probably ate a bland diet of mostly grains like oats, wheat, and barley. The New World was no picnic.

[h/t The Washington Post]

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

Advanced CT Scans Reveal Blood Vessels and Skin Layers in a Mummy's Hand

Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Mummies hold some intriguing secrets to their pasts, like the food they ate and the diseases they had when they were alive. Now scientists are using a tool originally designed for medicine to get an even deeper look at the clues mummified bodies carry with them into the present day, Gizmodo reports.

In a proof-of-concept study published in the journal Radiology, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden detail how a new-and-improved CT scanning technique can be used to visualize the interior of mummies on a microscopic level. By creating detailed X-ray images, CT scans allow doctors to see inside their patients without invasive surgery. Archaeologists have been using this technology to study delicate ancient artifacts for years, but the level of detail that can be achieved this way—especially when it comes to looking at interior soft tissue—is limited.

The upgraded version of the tech, called phase-contrast CT scanning, measures the phase shift, or the change in the position of a light wave, that occurs when X-rays pass through solid objects. The images generated this way have a higher contrast level than conventional X-rays, which means they capture more detail.

Cross-section of mummy hand.
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Doctors have been using this 10-year-old technology to examine soft tissues like organs and veins in living patients, but it hadn't been used on a mummy until recently. Working with a mummified human right hand dating back to 400 BCE in Egypt, which they borrowed from the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, the researchers fired up a phase-contrast CT scanner. It produced images with a resolution of 6 to 9 microns, giving a clear picture of the different layers of skin, individual cells in the connective tissue, and the blood vessels in the nail bed—all without damaging the artifact. Previously, researchers looking to study these same tissues in mummies would have needed to use a scalpel.

As Ars Technica reports, a phase-contrast CT scanner is similar in cost to the conventional machine. The study authors hope their work will lead to phase-contrast CT scanning becoming just as common in archaeology as regular CT scanning, potentially creating new research opportunities in mummies that will be discovered in the future and even in artifacts that have already been examined.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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