BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA—Angry villagers have blocked the removal of 20 megalithic statues from San Agustín Archaeological Park in southern Colombia. Authorities intended to remove the objects for a temporary exhibit in Bogotá marking the 100th anniversay of the site's discovery. But locals, many of whom make their living from tourism at the site, worried that once the statues were taken away they would never be returned. Archaeologists working at the site have excavated some 600 stautes depicting deities and mythological beasts, but many of those have been taken away, including 35 that were shipped to Berlin by San Agustín's original excavator, German Konrad Preuss. Locals blocked roads and prevented workers from loading the statues onto trucks. Museum officials went ahead with the exhibit, opening it with highlighted, empty spaces were the statues would have stood.
COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA—Australian Aborigines were using European glass beads as currency long before sustained contact with Europeans themselves, say Australian National University archaeologists Daryl Wesley and Mirani Litster. They have excavated 30 beads of European manufacture in the Arnhem Land region and think the artifacts were brought to the continent by Maccasans, an Indonesian people known to have traveled to the area to harvest sea cucumbers. The Maccasans could have traded the beads with the Aborigines, probably in return for access to land. While beads have been found at sites in the area before, it was thought they dated to after 1916, when European missionaries would have brought them to Arnhem Land. But the team found the beads in deposits that long predate the arrival of missionaries. Wesley says the discovery has implications for Aboriginal land claims, which in part are based on the idea that they negotiated with the Maccassan for access to their traditional fishing grounds.
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—A limestone sculpture depicting the Roman god Jupiter that was recently excavated from a quarry in central England has been donated to Cambridge University. Dating to between the second and fourth centuries A.D., it was originally part of a larger monument. Two paws are visible on top of the piece, and probably belonged to a sculpted figure of an lion or a gryphon. Archaeologists speculate that the sculptures eyes were once filled with colored paste, and that the monument was likely re-used as a grave marker.
CARLISLE, ENGLAND—Two wooden tridents from the Neolithic era have been discovered in an extinct river channel in northern England and are set to go on display at the Tullie House Musem. Measuring six feet long, the tridents were made with stone tools from a single oak plank. Carbon dating of the artifacts shows they are between 5,900 and 5,400 years old, an era when farming first began to be practiced in the area. The tridents could have had an agricultural use, but might have also been used for hunting or fishing. Only four other wooden tridents have been found in the UK, all of which were discovered in the 19th century.
CAIRO, EGYPT—The remains of dogs have been discovered buried in pots at the southeast corner of Shunet ez Zebib, a mud-brick structure at the archaeological site of Abydos. “Of the many jars that were recovered, only 13 have thus far been properly investigated. Of these, four were empty, three contained ibises, and five were filled with dogs,” said Salima Ikram of The American University in Cairo. Three of the pots held skeletal remains of dogs, but the other two held well-preserved dogs whose fur coats are still largely intact. They may have been mummified through evisceration, dessication, and defatting with natron salt. The bodies were then coated with oil and resin and pushed, hind limbs first, into the pots. “They were probably votive offerings unless they held the position of sacred animals—perhaps the pot burials are indicative of their being Sacred rather than just Votive,” Ikram explained.
YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND—A well-preserved skeleton thought to date to the Roman period has been discovered in a sewer trench in the village of Norton-on-Derwent. The sewer project runs alongside a modern road that follows a route similar to an ancient Roman road. “It was in a crouched or fetal position, possibly mirroring birth and was located within the limits of a Roman cemetery but it has similarities with burials of prehistoric date,” said archaeologist Chris Pole. No grave goods have been recovered. Tests may help determine the person’s age, sex, and perhaps a cause of death.
LUXOR, EGYPT—New excavations and ground-penetrating radar studies in the Valley of the Kings suggest that multiple tombs have yet to be discovered. “The consensus is that there are probably several smaller tombs like the recently found KV63 and 64 yet to be found. But there is still the possibility of finding a royal tomb. The queens of the late Eighteenth Dynasty are missing, as are some pharaohs of the New Kingdom, such as Ramesses VIII,” said archaeologist Afifi Ghonim of the Ministry of State for Antiquities. The team, made up of Egyptian scientists and members of the Glen Dash Foundation for Archaeological Research, has collected so much data that it will take years to analyze it all. In particular, faults in the natural features of the Valley of the Kings can produce false positives in radar instruments. They have already identified a deep channel that the ancient Egyptians used for a short period as a flood control system to protect the tombs from water and debris.
LEIPZIG, GERMANY—It had been thought that the hominins that lived in Spain’s cave of Sima de los Huesos were early Neanderthals or members of Homo heidelbergensis. But a 400,000-year-old femur from the cave has yielded mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only through the female line, and it links the residents more closely to the Denisovans than to Neanderthals or modern humans. “This really raises more questions than it answers,” said Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He thinks that the Sima de los Huesos hominins may have been a founder population that gave rise to both Neanderthals and Denisovans. Pääbo’s team will attempt to extract nuclear DNA, inherited from both parents, from the bone samples. “My hope is, of course, eventually we will not bring turmoil but clarity to this world,” he added.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The remains of a large building from the second century B.C. has been uncovered in a parking lot at the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park. Although pottery and other artifacts from the time have been uncovered, this is the first time that a building from the Hasmonean period has been found in the ancient city. Its thick walls made of rough limestone blocks and coins helped archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority to make the identification. “The Hasmonean city, which is well-known to us from the historical descriptions that appear in the works of Josephus, has suddenly acquired tangible expression,” said archaeologists Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets.
AL-QANTARA EAST, EGYPT—Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Police discovered a limestone relief engraved with four lines of Greek text while pursuing a gang of smugglers along the Suez Canal. The relief, which is topped with a winged sun disk, was part of a poorly preserved tomb containing human skeletal remains and pottery. Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities section of the Ministry of State Antiquities, thinks the now residential area was once a Greco-Roman necropolis.
ROME, ITALY—Scientists from George Mason University and Rome’s Center for Speleoarchaeological Research are using laser 3-D scanning to map sections of the ancient quarry system beneath the city. Carved out of the volcanic tuff, some of the tunnels have been reused as catacombs, for mushroom farming, and as bomb shelters. In antiquity, the Romans were careful to keep the tunnels narrow in order to support the growing city. But erosion and generations of construction have made the tunnels unstable, and modern streets and buildings have collapsed. “What the municipality wants to do is to basically have a map of the risk so at that point they can on their side decide what kind of intervention needs to be done,” explained Giuseppina Kysar Mattietti of George Mason University.
NARA, JAPAN—A team led by Satoshi Yabuuchi of Tokyo University of the Arts has used computer graphics technology to re-create the original appearance of an eighth-century Buddhist statue of the armor-plated deity Shukongojin, which is kept in the Todaiji temple in Nara. Their research of the pigments left on the surface of the sculpture has shown that it was decorated in complicated patterns made up of brilliant colors. Shukongojin, surrounded by peacock feathers and holding a thunderbolt, is credited with guarding the law of Buddhism. The sculpture goes on display once a year.
CAIRO, EGYPT—France has returned five artifacts to Egypt that were smuggled out of the country sometime after 2011. Three of the objects are the head, torso, and arms of a glass statue. All five items were taken from a storage space used by French archaeologists. “The team in charge of monitoring sales of artifacts identified five pieces dating from the Ptolemaic dynasty on Internet websites, two which were being auctioned in the city of Toulouse,” said Ali Ahmed of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities.
ROME, ITALY—Although the European Union-funded project to restore Pompeii is partially underway, heavy rains and wind have caused a wall to collapse on one of the major streets in the ancient city, and plaster has come off a wall at the House of the Small Fountain. Italy’s National Association of Archaeologists is calling for the government to appoint someone to lead the work. “This is an incomprehensible delay. If culture is to be a priority in Italy we must start with Pompeii, now decimated by continuous collapses caused mainly by a lack of routine maintenance,” read a statement released by the group.
DENVER, COLORADO—The excavation of Neanderthal living spaces at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in northwestern Italy, shows that they divided the cave into different areas for different activities, such as butchering game and tool making. A well-placed hearth would have kept the cave warm. “There has been this idea that Neanderthals did not have an organized use of space, something that has always been attributed to humans. But we found that Neanderthals did not just throw their stuff everywhere but in fact were organized and purposeful when it came to domestic space,” said Julien Riel-Salvatore of the University of Colorado, Denver.
HILO, HAWAII—Scientists from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii have found a World War II-era Japanese submarine in deep water off the coast of Oahu. It was one of five Japanese subs that were captured by the U.S. Navy and sent to Hawaii for study after the war. The I-400 and its two sister ships could each carry three folding-wing seaplanes and had been designed to attack the U.S. mainland. In 1946, the I-400 was scuttled to prevent its advanced technology from falling into the hands of the Soviet Union.
HEBEI PROVINCE, CHINA—The Jingxing Ancient Road, constructed through mountainous terrain in the third century B.C., was the main artery connecting Hebei and Shanxi provinces until the 1940s. “In ancient times, this flagging was a national road, bustling and crowded with people and vehicles. Since the distance between carriage wheels were made the same and this particular section of road was very narrow, repeated travel by carriages made grooves into the road. Workers were called on to flatten out the bulges left by wheeled vehicles of the time. As a result, the original was two meters higher than the current road,” explained tourist guide Jiang Chunxia. The road and the villages surrounding it will be preserved and developed for tourism.
LIMA, PERU—Last summer, 35 small, human-shaped sarcophagi were spotted with a powerful zoom lens camera in the Amazonas region of northern Peru. Now archaeologists have climbed the steep cliff where to the cemetery and confirmed the find. They think the small size of the sarcophagi, which face the remains of a town, indicates that they were used to hold the remains of mummified children. “We’re dealing with a discovery that is unique in the world,” said Manuel Cabañas López of the regional Ministry of Exterior Commerce and Tourism.
GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA—A carved limestone panel thought to have been removed from the Maya site of La Corona has been returned to Guatemala. According to Rosa Maria Chan, deputy minister for Cultural and Natural Heritage, the Classic period sculpture was discovered in a private collection in San Francisco in 2001. Guatemalan officials recovered it from an auction house after the collector’s death. Many artifacts were taken from La Corona and other archaeological sites in the Petén region in the nineteenth century, Chan added.
SAVANNAH, GEORGIA—A highway construction project has revealed more than 33,000 artifacts, including a Mexican coin that may have been worn as a pendant, an 1865 penny, pieces of brick, broken dishes and bottles, a cast iron pot, and a brass thimble, from a suspected slave quarters occupied from about 1750 until through the Civil War. Now a wooded area, in the 1850s, the site was a large plantation owned by an attorney named William Miller, who owned 87 slaves. Archaeologist Rita Elliott thinks that the enslaved residents probably lived in windowless wooden houses and stored their belongings in pits in the floors. Military items suggest that the Union Army camped at the site during Sherman’s March in 1864.