JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Several pieces of earthenware recovered from the Mediterranean Sea by a fisherman have been handed over to the Israel Antiquities Authority by a relative who inherited them. (Such vessels are sometimes brought to the surface by fishing nets.) Archaeologists determined that the oldest vessel in the collection is about 3,000 years old. Other pots date to the Roman and Byzantine periods. “The only thing we’ve asked of the Antiquities Authority is to tell us where the vessels are going, so that we can visit them with the grandchildren,” said Osnat Lester, who reported the collection to the Authority.
LONDON, ENGLAND—Responding to rumors that a British liquidator is selling off artifacts from the collection of disgraced antiquities dealer Robin Symes, Italian officials are reportedly considering suing for the return of an estimated 700 items from the collection, claiming that the artifacts were removed from the country illegally. The rumors suggest that the objects are being sold in the Middle East to start-up museums in order to recoup taxes owed by Symes’s bankrupt firm to the British government. “It would be good to have official announcements from all the governments concerned about the Symes case, so that everyone can learn the whole truth about the key questions: why are the objects identified by the Italian state not being sent to Italy? Are the other governments concerned claiming any objects too? If so, how many and which are they?” commented archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—The name of the pharaoh Woseribre Senebkay, who lived some 3,650 years ago, has been found inscribed on the wall of his plundered, four-chambered tomb in Abydos. Fragments of his name had been seen on one list of Egyptian kings and queens, but was otherwise previously unknown to Egyptologists. “We discovered an unknown king plus a lost dynasty. It looks likely that all of the 16 kings are all buried there. …We now have the tomb for first or second king of this Abydos dynasty. There should be a whole series of the others,” said Josef Wegner of the University of Pennsylvania. Senebkay’s body had been mummified, but was pulled apart by tomb robbers. Much of his skeleton was recovered from the tomb, which contained reused materials from the adjacent tomb of an earlier pharaoh, Sobekhotep I. “It suggests that the king had economic challenges, which has to do with the period of struggle and fragmentation of kingdom,” Wegner added.
EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND—Scientists have determined that fragments of artifacts recovered from the Broxmouth Iron Age hill fort in the 1970s were forged from high-carbon steel. The objects, which date to between 490 and 375 B.C., may have been tools or weapons. “The process of manufacturing steel requires extensive knowledge, skill and craftsmanship. It is far from straightforward, which is why such an early example of its production tells us so much about the people who once occupied this hill fort,” said Gerry McDonnell of the University of Bradford. The site featured well-preserved roundhouses, hill fort entrances, and an Iron Age cemetery.
LONDON, ENGLAND—A reexamination of 39 skulls discovered 25 years ago near the London Wall has shown that the dead were most likely all victims of violence, even decapitation. “The level of violence here exceeds the level needed to kill someone,” said Rebecca Redfern of the Centre for Human Bioarchaeology at the Museum of London. The heads had been buried in a pit sometime between A.D. 120 and 160 and may have been collected by Roman headhunters who captured and killed Scottish barbarians. The heads may even have belonged to failed gladiators, but so far, no conclusive evidence of gladiatorial combat has ever been found in London.
SAN AGUSTíN, COLOMBIA—Precolumbian statues at the Bosque de las Estatuas archaeological park have reportedly been removed and replaced with cardboard-cutout images. The statues have been placed in a local museum, and will eventually be moved to Bogota for an exhibit in the national museum. “To me, it is a really big fraud,” complained one disappointed tourist.
HONOLULU, HAWAII—The University of Texas at San Antonio will return the skulls of a Native Hawaiian man and woman to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Kia’I Kanawai Compliance Enforcement Office. The skulls were donated to the school by the son of a U.S. Air Force airman who took them from the island of Oahu sometime between 1940 and 1960. The remains ended up in a box in the airman’s garage and were discovered after his death. They will be reburied in Hawaii.
GUILDFORD, ENGLAND—More than 2,400 flints have been discovered in a very fine sand deposit in a fire station yard during a construction project. Many of the flints had been shaped into tools and blades dating to the Mesolithic and Paleolithic periods. “This is quite exceptional. In Europe, there are a handful of sites, not very many. In England, this is one amongst two, maybe three if that,” said archaeologist William Mills. Forty years ago, firefighter Ron Shettle, who had once been an archaeology student, alerted the Surrey Archaeological Society to the presence of the flints on the site. The county council called Shettle to let him know that the excavation was finally taking place. “We are now waiting for Oxford Archaeology to come up with a report, which takes anything from six months to six year. They had better get a move on or I won’t be around to see it, but obviously I was thrilled,” commented the 88-year-old.
CHILLICOTHE, OHIO--Radiocarbon dates obtained from bark and fabric excavated at Ohio’s Adena Mound in 1901 indicate that the site dates to the first century A.D. “It’s hugely important to be able to give a more exact date for this mound and the amazing Adena Effigy Pipe [discovered at the base of the mound]. These dates allow us to place this key mound and artifact more precisely within the sequence of Ohio’s American Indian history,” said archaeologist Brad Lepper of the Ohio Historical Society. The bark dated to A.D. 40, and was recovered from the lining of the mound's Central Grave. The textiles from the grave dated to 140 B.C., and may represent an older garment or shroud that was used in the burial. The Adena culture thrived from 1000 B.C. to 100 A.D.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK--The U.S. has handed over three artifacts stolen from a temple in Rajasthan, including a tenth-century statue of Shiva and Parvati, in a ceremony at the Indian consulate. Interpol had listed the looted objects as among the world’s most valuable stolen works of art. They were recovered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department after a tip from India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence.
NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA—The wet lab where the turret from the USS Monitor is being conserved in a 90,000-gallon water tank will close to the public due to budget constraints and a lack of federal funding. “Obviously, we’re not going to let these things fall apart. This is the largest marine metals conservation project in the entire world,” said David Krop, director of USS Monitor Center, an extension of The Mariners’ Museum that opened in 2007. The federal government retains ownership of the historic Civil War-era ironclad ship, including the two guns, a propeller, and a steam engine from the Monitor that are housed in the museum.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Two pots, each containing small bronze tools, a pierced eggshell (one of which was intact), and a coin, have been uncovered on top of the remains of an elite building at Sardis thought to have been destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 17. A new building had been constructed over the rubble and the deposits. Elizabeth Raubolt of the University of Missouri, Columbia, thinks that the assemblages may have been intended to protect the new building from future disasters. The Roman historian Pliny recorded how people would break or pierce eggshells after eating in order to ward off evil spells. In contrast, intact eggs could be buried at someone’s gate in order to put a curse on them, Raubolt explained at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. “You can imagine how nice it smelled after a while,” she added. The two coins date to between A.D. 54 and 68, long after the time the earthquake is thought to have occurred.
DAVIE, FLORIDA—A utility crew discovered the intact remains of a woman who stood about five feet tall and was between 20 and 30 years old at the time of her death some 2,000 years ago. “It’s either Tequesta or a member of a people that predates the Tequesta,” said Bob Carr of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy in Davie. The site, which was once a cluster of islands, was found beneath a road surface that is known to cover human remains and ancient artifacts. The remains will be reburied.
TARAWA, REPUBLIC OF KIRIBATI—Archaeologist Garth Baldwin and History Flight, a nonprofit organization, have found human remains, ammunition, ID bracelets, a canteen, a pocket knife, and dog tags from the American Marines and sailors that were killed during World War II in the Gilbert Islands, at the time a strategically important British protectorate that had been captured by Japanese forces. In 1943, some 35,000 American troops and 100 warships were sent to attack the heavily fortified coral atoll surrounded by shallow water. After 76 hours of fighting, some 6,000 people were buried in shallow graves, many of which were identified by American excavation teams after the war. Baldwin and his team are looking for the nearly 500 Americans who remain missing. The remains of Japanese soldiers are handed over to the Japanese government.
HAMILTON, ONTARIO—A section of preserved human intestine held at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum has yielded the complete genome of the bacterium responsible for the 1849 outbreak of cholera along the Eastern coast of the United States. Hendrik Poinor of McMaster University found that this deadly nineteenth-century strain of Vibrio cholera is distinct from most strains of El Tor cholera that cause outbreaks today. “One of the big questions is, ‘where did classical go?’ he said. Further tests of historic cholera strains are in the works.
TOKAT, TURKEY—Restoration of Niksar Castle, located in the Black Sea region of Turkey, has led to the discovery of two tunnels dating to the Roman period. Tradition holds that the daughters of a Roman king used one of the tunnels to travel to a nearby Roman bath. “One tunnel goes to the stream below the castle. We have also excavated a parallel tunnel used by the king’s daughters. When the works are completed, the two tunnels in the south and north of the Niksar Castle will be completely unearthed. The artistic features of the castle will be revealed,” said the mayor of Niksar, Duran Yadigar.
XI’AN, CHINA—Reports indicate that two beacon towers that were part of a city wall have been uncovered at the 4,000-year-old Shimao Ruins in China’s Shaanxi Province. Discovered in 1976, the Neolithic city was first thought to be a small town. It is now known to have had a central area with inner and outer structures, and a wall surrounding the outer city. Last month, it was announced that the skulls of more than 80 young women who may have been sacrificed at the time the city was founded were discovered in a mass grave. The city is thought to have been occupied for some 300 years.
QUINHAGAK, ALASKA—A grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council will fund research by archaeologists from Scotland’s University of Aberdeen at Nunalleq, a 700-year-old coastal village exposed by erosion and melting ice in central Alaska. “The soil is held together by the ice, so when the ice melts the soil becomes very vulnerable to marine erosion,” explained project leader Rick Knecht. The village was occupied during the Little Ice Age, a period of climate change. “It’s ironic that climate change is bringing about this thaw, which in itself is helping us answer questions about how these people coped with climate change hundreds of years ago and may help us plan for similar conditions in the future,” he added. The site has yielded human hair clippings carrying information about the diet and health of the residents; more than 60 wooden dolls used as toys and for ceremonial purposes; objects made of leather and fur; and a wooden mask.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—A mural at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in central Turkey may depict an eruption of the Hasan Dagi volcano, according to new research by a team led by Axel Schmitt of the University of California Los Angeles. They analyzed and dated rocks taken from the summit and flanks of the volcano, and discovered that the volcano erupted around 6900 B.C., at about the time when the mural is thought to have been painted. “We tested the hypothesis that the Çatalhöyük mural depicts a volcanic eruption and discovered a geological record consistent with this hypothesis. Our work also demonstrates that Hasan Dagi volcano has potential for future eruptions,” Schmitt said.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—According to a review of baboon diets by Gabriele Macho of Oxford University, Paranthropus boisei, a hominid who lived in East Africa between 2.4 million and 1.4 million years ago, probably survived on a diet of grass bulbs, or tiger nuts, supplemented with fruits and invertebrates such as worms and grasshoppers. Paranthropus boisei is nicknamed “Nutcracker Man” for its powerful jaws, but its teeth are better suited for eating soft foods, and show signs of abrasion. In addition, stable isotope analysis indicated that the hominids ate grasses and sedges. Macho suggests that the marks on the teeth of Paranthropus boisei and modern baboons could have been caused by highly abrasive, starchy tiger nuts that require a lot of chewing to digest. “I believe that the theory—that “Nutcracker Man” lived on large amounts of tiger nuts—helps settle the debate about what our early human ancestor ate. …What this research tells us is that hominins were selective about the part of the grass that they ate, choosing the grass bulbs at the base of the grass blade as the mainstay of their diet,” she explained.