RETHYMNO, CRETE—The University of Crete has been excavating the ancient site of Eleutherna, a fortified city which was occupied from 3000 B.C. through the thirteenth century A.D., since 1985. “It overlooks the sea, but is also invisible to enemies approaching by boat. It is only one-and-a-half hours’ walk from its port. It is on a hill that can be reached only through a narrow pass, providing excellent natural protection. No weapons during antiquity could shoot this far,” said chief archaeologist Nicholas Stampolidis, as he explained the long-lasting success of Eleutherna. In addition to natural defenses, the site also had fresh running water, plentiful woodlands, land for farming and grazing, and a quarry. Grave goods show that the people had extensive trade networks from other parts of the Aegean. A museum is being built at the site to hold its artifacts, but the natural surroundings will be preserved. “When I first came here as a young man, I told myself that I would dig up all of Eleutherna before I retired. The hill must have heard me and laughed at my plans. Now that I am older, I am better at hearing what the hill has to say,” Stampolidis added.
PERTHSHIRE, SCOTLAND—While repairing a field wall on a hillside, volunteers with the Scottish Wildlife Trust discovered a stone in the wall that was shaped like a shallow basin. It may be half of a 6,000-year-old quern stone, used by Neolithic people to grind grain into flour. Roundhouses, rock art, and burial mounds have also been found in the area, known as Balnaguard Glen. “We are more than happy to give it a home in the museum, after clearance with Scottish Treasure Trove,” said Mark Mall of the Perth Museum and Art Gallery.
NEGEV DESERT, ISRAEL—Geochronologist Naomi Porat of the Geological Survey of Israel used optical dating to measure the amount of radiation that had been absorbed from the environment by two animal traps thought to have been recently used by Bedouins to protect their flocks. One of the traps turned out to be 5,000 years old, the other 1,600 years old. “They look like a pile of stones, like a cairn, and you need a good eye and also some digging around to realize what it is,” she said. Sheep and goat herders would have attached a piece of meat to the end of a rope to bait the trap. When a carnivore pulled on the bait, the rope closed a slab door, trapping the animal. Predators such as foxes, wolves, hyenas, leopards, and caracals were probably caught this way in the Middle East for thousands of years.
PARIS, FRANCE--The mummy of an Egyptian puppy whose left ear was infested with 61 preserved brown dog ticks has been examined by archaeoentomologist Jean-Bernard Huchet of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. This particular puppy may have been killed by a tick-borne disease. “Although the presence of parasites, as well as ectoparasite-borne diseases in ancient times was already suspected from the writings of the major Greek and Latin scholars, these facts were not archaeologically proven until now,” he said. The dog mummy was one of hundreds of dogs that had been found in tombs at the late third-century A.D. Roman fortress at El Deir. Further study of the animals could provide clues about the spread of parasites and disease.
LAMBAYEQUE, PERU—The 600-year-old tomb of a Chimú noblewoman has been uncovered at the Saltur archaeological complex in northern Peru. She had been buried with the remains of fish and birds, and several intact pottery vessels. Estimated to have been around 30 years old at the time of her death, the woman had been buried with her knees bent. Other tombs at the site have been ravaged by looters.
GALILEE, ISRAEL—Archaeologists digging at Sussita, the ancient city of Antiochia Hippos, had been investigating the pipes that passed underneath the floor of the city’s public bathhouse when they discovered a modern bottlecap in its 2,000-year-old sewer system. Michael Aizenberg, head of the excavation team, says that the bottle cap indicates that the pipes are still functional and can carry rainwater even though the city had been destroyed by an earthquake. The team is still looking for a public toilet and the sewer’s upper opening. Other finds in the sewer system include bronze coins damaged from exposure to urine and ten bone dice. Aizenberg thinks that visitors to the public toilet probably enjoyed gambling.
FLINTSHIRE, WALES—Fragments of burned bone and pieces of pottery have been unearthed near Mold, at the heavily plowed archaeological site famous for the Bronze Age gold cape discovered there in 1833. The 3,700-year-old cape had been crafted from a single sheet of gold, and was found in fragments with a skeleton. The bone and pottery are older than the cape, however. “What we might have is earlier use of the land,” said Mark Lodwick of the National Museum of Wales.
LINCOLN, NEBRASKA—The damaged marble head from a statue of Aphrodite was discovered at the coastal site of Antiochia ad Cragum, where archaeologists have been uncovering the largest Roman mosaic ever found in Turkey. The 1,600-square-foot mosaic, which features geometric designs, covers the floor of a plaza outside a Roman bath. Scholars think the piece of sculpture may have been headed for a lime kiln near the site, where it could have been burned and reused in concrete. It had been thought that southern Turkey was not greatly influenced by Greek and Roman culture, but the presence of a statue of Aphrodite suggests otherwise. “We have niches where statues once were. We just didn’t have any statues. Finally we have the head of a statue. It suggests something of how mainstream these people were who were living here, how much they were a part of the overall Greek and Roman traditions,” said Michael Hoff of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—A third-century well has been excavated on the southern coast of England. Coins, a bronze ring bearing an image of Neptune, and the skeletons of eight dogs have been recovered from the Roman-era well, which was lined with stone from the Isle of Wight. Andy Russel of the Southampton Archaeology Unit thinks that the dogs, which may have been used for fighting because they had wounds that had healed, could have been dropped in the well as a sacrifice to the gods. “I’ve never come across a deposit of dogs down a Roman pit or well before—it’s intriguing,” he said. The ring may have been worn by a Roman sailor, he added.
TURIN, ITALY—An intact, royal Etruscan tomb has been discovered in Tarquinia, some 50 miles northwest of Rome. Jars, vases, and a grater perhaps used in a funeral rite were found in front of the stone slab that sealed the rock-cut tomb some 2,600 years ago. When Alessandro Mandolesi of the University of Turin and his team removed the stone slab, they found the skeleton of an individual and a spear resting on a stone bed in the vaulted chamber. Brooches on his chest indicated that he had been wearing a mantle. A bronze dish containing the remains of a meal and a large bronze basin sat at his feet. Other items in the tomb included a small vase that had been hanging on the wall, and large Greek Corinthian vases on the floor. “It’s a unique discovery, as it is extremely rare to find an inviolate Etruscan tomb of an upper-class individual. It opens up huge study opportunities on the Etruscans,” Mandolesi said.
WARSAW, POLAND—A large house made up of rooms surrounding a paved courtyard on three sides is thought to have belonged to a Roman garrison commander, according to Radoslaw Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski of the University of Warsaw. The house, which is located in the Crimea, was probably only used by the tribune when he visited the outpost. “Discovery of the praetorium in Balaklava suggests that, at least in the beginning of the third century, the quarters of the Roman army commander in Tauris was the fort in Balaklava, and not, as previously thought, in the nearby Chersonesus citadel,” said Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski.
OCALA, FLORIDA—Seven-year-old Koen Ergle told reporters about his discovery of an old can, old bricks, three golf balls, and a dugout canoe while taking a scuba-diving lesson from his grandfather in Owen Lake. “He was on my secondary respirator and I could hear him making noises and pointing to the wood. I started fanning the sand off and still wasn’t quite sure what it was,” added his grandfather, Ken Ergle. Archaeologist Julia Byrd of the Bureau of Archaeological Research, Division of Historical Resources, is documenting the canoe (which was found on privately owned land) and beginning the conservation process while waiting for the results of carbon dating testing. But pottery near the canoe could be 2,000 years old. The canoe will be housed in the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology.
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Flint tools discovered in Kent, along with the remains of a prehistoric elephant dating to around 420,000 years ago, were probably used to butcher the animal, according to Francis Wenban-Smith of the University of Southampton. It may even have been possible for early humans to have killed the very large creature with wooden spears. “Although there is no direct evidence of how this particular animal met its end, the discovery of flint tools close to the carcass confirm butchery for its meat, probably for at least four individuals,” he explained.
OSLO, NORWAY—A new analysis of seven Viking-era skeletons by Elise Naumann of the University of Oslo suggests that elite individuals may have been buried with their sacrificed slaves. The skeletons, which were recovered by a farmer in the 1980s, came from three separate graves, and at least three of the bodies had been buried without their heads. The individuals who had been buried with their heads ate a diet rich in land-based proteins such as milk and beef. Those who had been decapitated, however, ate seafood-based diets, as did a dog who had been buried at the site. And DNA analysis indicates that the people who had been buried together were not closely related. “There were probably a very few people who were the most privileged, and many people who suffered,” Nafumann said.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—The Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts will soon launch its “Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts” campaign. For six weeks, the public will be able to go to PATop10Artifacts.org and contribute to the conservation of ten important historic objects from every region of the state. If the institutions that care for the artifacts meet their fundraising goals, conservators will be able to get to work, and the artifact that wins the most votes will be given The People’s Choice Award. “We’ve created this program to give institutions a new platform through which to share their stories and to give people a chance to show their support by voting as many times as they’d like, sharing their favorite artifacts with friends through social media, and supporting the conservation of these artifacts with online donations,” said Ingrid Bogel, executive director of the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts.
KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE—While excavating a Roman fort with their students at Jordan’s ‘Ayn Gharandal, Robert Darby and Erin Darby of the University of Tennessee discovered a collapsed arch at its gate. A monumental inscription at the gate dedicates the fort to the Roman emperors known as the Tetrarchs--Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius I. Decorated with laurel branches and a wreath, the inscription also reveals that the Second Cohort of Galatians had been stationed at the fort. It had been known that this particular unit was stationed at a place called Arieldela, but scholars had not been able to locate it until now. “Roman military documents from this region suggest that the Cohors II Galatarum was originally brought to Israel to help suppress the Jewish uprising of the second century known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt. The inscription indicates that this garrison remained in the area and was subsequently transferred to the outer frontier of the empire, located in what is now modern Jordan,” explained Robert Darby.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL—A subway expansion project in anticipation of the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro has uncovered a landfill containing debris thought to have come from the imperial palace between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Among the 200,000 objects recovered from the fill are an ivory toothbrush inscribed “His Majesty the Emperor of Brazil,” and a round white porcelain pot reading “to the Queen of Portugal Maria of Saboia.” The pot is thought to have held minty toothpaste concocted for the queen by a chemist with offices in London and Paris. Coins, pipes, a golden ring, and a tie tack have been found, in addition to many intact glass and ceramic bottles. Six of the bottles still contain liquids that will be analyzed and perhaps identified. Other bottles contained water imported from Europe.
FOREST, VIRGINIA—The landscape in front of Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s personal retreat, will be restored to its Jefferson-era appearance. Dozens of English boxwoods and rose shrubs that had been planted by the family that owned the house in the mid-nineteenth century have been removed so that archaeologists can carefully excavate their root systems and look for traces of Jefferson’s designs in the soil. (Archaeologists confirmed that the shrubs were not part of Jefferson’s design when they found a piece of ceramic under the roots of one of the boxwoods. It had been manufactured after 1833, and Jefferson died in 1826.) “It’s not every day that a national historic site, a presidential site, goes through such a transformation in one day,” said Jeffrey Nichols, president of Poplar Forest.
COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—A warrior’s grave containing five spears was discovered at a site soon to be home to a new golf clubhouse. According to Philip Crummy of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, the warrior was a member of the Catuvellauni tribe. The grave dates to the time of the Roman conquest of Britain.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has discovered a building that may have been the home of an elite Jewish family living on Mount Zion 2,000 years ago. The building contains a vaulted bath chamber with a mikveh, or ritual cleansing pool, that resembles a room in a mansion in the nearby Jewish Quarter. The shells of Murex sea snails were also found in the home. Such shells were used to make blue dye for ritual garments. This collection of shells may have been used to identify different grades of color. Mount Zion was abandoned for many years after the Romans pillaged Jerusalem. “The area got submerged. The early Byzantine reconstruction of these two-story Early Roman houses then got buried under rubble and soil fills. Then they established buildings above it. That’s why we found an unusually well-preserved set of stratigraphic levels,” said Gibson.