National Geographic : 2016 Mar
Ancient Worlds EXPLORE PHOTOS: SOPRINTENDENZA ARCHEOLOGIA DELLA PUGLIA (TOP); CLARA AMIT, ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY STATUE WITH A SECRET A marble dolphin with a fish in its mouth turned up unexpectedly at a site in the Negev. Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority found the 16-inch- tall statue embedded in the floor of a seventh-century building. They believe it was created earlier and recycled as a paving stone. It may once have been part of a statue of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, or a local form of Aphrodite, the goddess born in sea-foam. But it also may have had a hidden message. “A dolphin eating a fish symbolizes the persecution of early Christians,” says Alexander Frai- berg. “That means the source of the statue may be a Byzantine church.” —ARW Members of a caving club made a startling discovery in 1993 while exploring one of the many limestone chambers near Altamura, Italy: a skeleton partly cov- ered with calcite knobs. At the time experts concluded this was an adult male Neanderthal who had likely fallen into the cave and starved to death. Repeated splashes of mineral-rich water created the knobs, called cave popcorn. A new study has determined that the calcite covering began forming about 130,000 years ago, so the victim must have lived—and died—prior to that. DNA extracted from a shoulder bone confirmed the original identification. “This is the oldest Neanderthal whose DNA has been analyzed,” says David Caramelli of the University of Florence. More sophisticated DNA research in the future may reveal how this extinct cousin of early humans is related to others of his kind and where he sits on the larger evolutionary tree. —A. R. Williams A Cave Man’s Tale Bumpy calcite blankets part of an early Neanderthal’s skull and other bones.