CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Satellite images have allowed scholars to monitor archaeological sites in Syria during the ongoing civil war there. Jesse Casana of the University of Arkansas and the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Damascus Committee has identified moderate to severe war-related damage and looting at ten of the 30 sites that he analyzed. (It is known that six of the sites that showed no damage from space have well-documented war-related damage, however.) He reported his findings at the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, and estimated that as many as half of Syria’s archaeological sites are badly damaged, including the Roman city of Apamea, where a military garrison has taken over a tourist restaurant and more than 4,000 holes have been dug with heavy equipment by treasure hunters.
NEMEA, GREECE—Retired archaeologist Stephen Miller has suggested that the government of Greece allow private companies develop the country’s underdeveloped archaeological sites in exchange for a share of the revenue generated by the tourists. The budget of the Ministry of Culture has been cut by 52 percent since 2010, resulting in fewer guards and services at vulnerable archaeological sites. Under the plan, all sites and artifacts would remain the property of the Greek government. “The Ministry of Culture does some things very well: it does conservation work extremely well, they are very good at setting up exhibitions. They are lousy businessmen,” said Miller, who excavated at the ancient city of Nemea for 40 years. Those opposed to the idea are concerned that less expensive, underqualified individuals could end up in charge of excavations and site interpretation. “Archaeological sites and the country’s monuments belong to the whole of society. The protection, promotion and management of these sites is the duty of the state, as stipulated in the Constitution and laws of this country,” reads a response from The Association of Greek Archaeologists.
LIMA, PERU—Additional Sican tombs have been unearthed at a 1,000-year-old cemetery in Peru’s northern Lambayeque region. The site was first discovered last month during a construction project, when archaeologists were called to the scene. “At the moment, specialists have discovered between 35 and 40 tombs which are undergoing a process of conservation and consolidation. Archaeological material related with these tombs has also been discovered,” said site supervisor Humberto Salini. Other artifacts include ceramics, textiles, and gold-plated copper items that have all been transferred to the Culture Ministry.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—A new analysis of dog and wolf DNA collected from animals in areas of the world thought to be centers of dog domestication suggests that dogs and wolves split from a common ancestor between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago. This date is before the human transition to agricultural societies, indicating that the earliest dogs may have lived with hunter-gatherers. The study also shows that dogs are more closely related to each other than to wolves. Any genetic overlap between modern dogs and wolves is probably the result of later interbreeding. “We also found evidence for genetic exchange between wolves and jackals. The picture emerging from our analyses is that these exchanges may play an important role in shaping the diversification of canid species,” said John Novembre of the University of Chicago.
NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, ENGLAND—The remains of four Anglo-Saxon adults and a pottery bowl dating to the sixth century were discovered near the River Ise during the excavation of a new habitat for fish. “The sixth-century date… suggests we’re looking at settlers—people who have come here to establish a small farmstead on very good agricultural land,” said archaeologist Jim Brown. The discovery of the graves had been kept a secret until they could be reburied with twice as much soil in order to protect them.
WINCHESTER, ENGLAND—A fragment of a pelvis from a man who was between 26 and 45-plus at the time of his death has been found in a box of bones at Winchester’s City Museum. The bones, which have been dated to the ninth century, were discovered in 1999 during a dig at Hyde Abbey, but they were never tested due to a lack of funding. Scientists now think the bone fragment may have belonged to King Alfred the Great, or his son, Edward the Elder. “These are the bones that were found closest to the site of the high altar. As far as we know, from the chronicles and the records, the only individuals close to the site of the high altar who are the right age when they died and the right date when they died would be either Alfred or Edward,” said Katie Tucker of University of Winchester.
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.