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Archaeologists Discover Rare Viking Tools in Danish Fortress

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Archaeologists have discovered the contents of an ancient Viking toolbox, buried at a Danish ring fortress called Borgring. According to Science Nordic, the rare iron tools are the first direct piece of evidence that people lived in the fortress. And since Vikings often melted down abandoned tools for scrap metal, very few of them survived the centuries—making these devices some of the only known artifacts of their kind.

Borgring is more than 1000 years old, and was discovered in 2014 near the town of Køge, on the Danish island of Zealand. Previously, experts had believed that only four Viking forts remained in Denmark.

Excavation leader Jens Ulriksen told The Local DK he hoped the new archaeological site—the first of its kind to be discovered in 60 or so years—would “provide new and crucial knowledge of the enigmatic fortresses and the Viking Age.” However, Borgring didn’t immediately provide experts with any new insights. In fact, initial excavations of the fortress only yielded a single glass bead.

Experts didn’t know when or why the fortress was built, or whether anyone lived there—but the newly discovered tools might help answer the latter question. The artifacts are also historically significant, as Viking Age tools are elusive. The roving warriors prized iron, and any discarded metal objects would have been re-purposed into new equipment.

Archaeologist Nanna Holm and her colleagues dug up the tools, buried under Borgring’s east gatehouse, after amateur archaeologists detected them with metal detectors. The gatehouse may once have served as either a workshop or as housing space. Experts theorize that the toolbox’s owner may have abandoned his equipment (and his residence) after the aging structure collapsed.

In all, 14 tools were found. Their placement indicated that they were likely stored in a box that rotted away. Among them, archaeologists discovered spoon drills used to drill holes in wood, and a drawplate used to make wire bracelets. Holm believes the tools may have belonged to a carpenter.

A CT scan provided archaeologists with a more detailed image of the tools, but some of them were too poorly preserved, or contained too little iron, to be fully captured onscreen. Holm hopes to x-ray them, and eventually, the artifacts will be preserved and put on display. Until then, you can watch Science Nordic journalist Charlotte Price Persson help Holm excavate the tools in the video below.

[h/t Archaeology]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
9.7-Million-Year-Old Teeth Discovered in Germany Have Scientists Puzzled
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Scientists in Germany say they've found ape teeth that are surprisingly similar to the teeth of an early human relative dating to millions of years later. As the Independent reports, the team of experts unearthed a pair of 9.7-million-year-old fossilized teeth that, they say, have some of the same features as the teeth of the hominid Australopithecus afarensis.

Scientists from the Natural History Museum in Mainz found the fossils a year ago in nearby Eppelsheim but have waited until now to publish their findings—partly because they weren't sure what to make of the puzzling discovery. Of the two teeth, a canine and a molar, the canine tooth bears a striking resemble to that from "Lucy," one of the first known ancient human relatives to walk upright, who lived in Africa some 3.2 million years ago.

"They are clearly ape teeth," researcher Herbert Lutz told local media in a press conference. "Their characteristics resemble African finds that are four to five million years younger than the fossils excavated in Eppelsheim. This is a tremendous stroke of luck, but also a great mystery."

They dated the fossils using the remains of an extinct horse which was found buried in the same spot. In their paper, the scientists describe the canine’s similarities to other remains found in the lower half of the globe, but they still don't have answers to many of the questions the report raises. They plan to continue examining the teeth for clues. The public will also have a chance to see the teeth for themselves, first at a state exhibition this month, and then at Mainz's Natural History Museum.

[h/t Independent]

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6 Pioneering Facts About Mary Leakey

Fossil bones and the earliest footprints of our human ancestors are just a few of Mary Leakey’s groundbreaking discoveries. Get to know the legendary paleoanthropologist, and learn how her serendipitous finds forever altered scientists’ understanding of human origins.

1. MARY LEAKEY WAS A BORN EXPLORER.

Mary Leakey (1913-1996), née Mary Nicol, was destined to be an explorer: Her father, Erskine Nicol, was a landscape painter, and the family traveled extensively through France, Italy, and Switzerland. While staying in a commune in southern France, 12-year-old Mary became interested in archaeology after meeting Elie Peyrony, a French prehistorian excavating a cave. Mary dug through his tiny finds—which included fine points, scrapers, and flint blades—and sorted them into an amateur classification system.

2. FOSSIL HUNTING WAS IN HER BLOOD ...

Leakey’s parents were artists, but hunting for fossils was part of her heritage: Her maternal great-great-grandfather was John Frere, an 18th-century English government official and antiquarian who’s credited with first recognizing Stone Age flint objects as early weapons and tools.

3. ... BUT SHE WASN'T A GREAT STUDENT.

Leakey was intelligent, but she also had a rebellious streak. As a teen, she was expelled from several Roman Catholic convent schools—once for intentionally creating an explosion in a chemistry lab. Figuring she wasn’t cut out for a classroom, Leakey never finished high school, and decided to pursue independent studies in art, geology, and archaeology at the University of London instead. (“I had never passed a single school exam, and clearly never would,” the scientist later wrote in her 1986 autobiography Disclosing the Past.)

4. LEAKEY WAS AN ARTIST WHEN SHE MET HER FUTURE HUSBAND AND RESEARCH PARTNER, LOUIS LEAKEY.

Mary Leakey—who inherited her father’s artistic skills— ended up working as an illustrator for archaeological digs. An archaeologist introduced her to Cambridge University paleontologist Louis Leakey, who needed an illustrator for his book Adam’s Ancestors (1934). The two became lovers, but their union resulted in scandal, as Leakey was still married at the time. The couple married in 1936, after Leakey divorced his first wife.

5. MARY LEAKEY'S FIRST BIG DISCOVERY WAS PROCONSUL AFRICANUS.

Mary Leakey's first major discovery came in 1948 when she found a fossil skull fragment of Proconsul africanus, an ancestor of apes and humans, which later diverged into two separate species. The fossil was thought to be more than 18 million years old.

6. ANOTHER ONE OF MARY LEAKEY'S FAMOUS FINDS CAME COURTESY OF ELEPHANT POOP.

In 1978, Leakey was on an expedition in Laetoli, in Tanzania, when members of her camp engaged in a spirited elephant dung fight. A scientist fell down, and he noticed strange indentations on the ground that had been recently exposed by erosion. They turned out to be tracks made around 3.7 million years prior, from animals that had walked over damp volcanic ash. Examining these prints took several years, but the team's efforts paid off when Leakey noted that one of the prints seemed to be made by a hominin. This discovery showed that early humans began walking upright long before scientists thought they had.

Additional source: Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings, Virginia Morell

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