DURANGO, COLORADO—Rangers at Mesa Verde National Park are asking the public for ideas to relieve congestion and overcrowding at its most popular sights. “It is no secret Chapin Mesa gets overrun. The plan has always been to redirect visitors and traffic to Wetherill Mesa, but that has not worked out as well as we had hoped,” deputy superintendent Bill Nelligan told The Cortez Journal. For example, visitors may now prefer to walk, bicycle, or take a bus through the park, rather than drive pollution-producing private vehicles through its winding, narrow roadways. Heavy crowds also damage the kivas. “Improving opportunities like trails separate from the road, and more self-guided areas, so visitors have a sense of exploration and discovery is the goal of the plan,” he said.
BAGHDAD, IRAQ—The Islamic militants who have taken over northern Iraq have gained control of the third-century B.C. Temple of Mrn at Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple, dedicated to the god Shamash, had been protected by a squad of 20 Iraqi policemen, but they reportedly fled when the area fell to tribal militants and Isis fighters. “Currently there is no one protecting the temple at all, and it is in control of the rebels. I am concerned about its safety, although I am also worried about government forces doing bombing,” councilor Mohammed Abdallah Khozal told The Telegraph. The site gained notoriety as a location in the opening scene of the 1973 film The Exorcist.
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A medieval floor tile and a circular, stone-lined well have been unearthed at Scotland’s Bridgend Farm. Archaeologists from Rubicon Heritage Services and a team of volunteers are looking for the remains of a sixteenth-century chapel built by Sir Simon Preston. “The excavations unearthed clues which prove there was activity in the area at the time the chapel was constructed and in use,” a spokesperson told Culture 24. The floor tile is from a high-status building. The well and pottery from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are thought to predate the chapel.
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Neanderthals in Europe cooked and ate plants some 50,000 years ago, according to an analysis of fossilized fecal material recovered at the Neanderthal occupation site El Salt in southern Spain. Science reports that Ainara Sistiaga of the University of La Laguna in Tenerife and geobiologist Roger Summons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used technology that detects fecal matter in drinking water to test five locations at El Salt. They found the chemical byproducts created by the digestion of meats, and levels of plant sterols that “unambiguously record the ingestion of plants.” Butchered bones and hunting tools, and analysis of the levels of carbon, nitrogen, and other chemicals in Neanderthal bones, have given scientists clues to the meat in the Neanderthal diet. And recent studies of plaque from Neanderthal teeth found in Iraq and Belgium shows that they ate starchy foods in porridge form. Sistiaga says that this is the first direct evidence that Neanderthals ate and digested plants. Critics would like conclusive evidence that the feces came from Neanderthals, however.
LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Egyptologist Olaf Kaper of Leiden University has deciphered the full list of the titles of Pharaoh Petubastis III carved on ancient temple blocks at Amheida in Egypt’s Dachla Oasis. He realized that they held the answer to the mysterious disappearance of King Cambyses and 50,000 Persian troops in the Egyptian desert ca. 534 B.C.—the Greek historian Herodotus suggested that the army had been swallowed by a sand storm. “Since the nineteenth century, people have been looking for this army: amateurs, but also professional archaeologists. Some expect to find somewhere under the ground an entire army, fully equipped,” he told Science Daily. Kaper thinks that the Persian army was defeated by the Egyptian rebel leader Petubastis III at the Dachla Oasis, and that the Persian King Darius I covered up the defeat when he ended the Egyptian revolt two years later. “The temple blocks indicate that this must have been a stronghold at the start of the Persian period. Once we combined this with the limited information we had about Petubastis III, the excavation site and the story of Herodotus, we were able to reconstruct what happened.”
BASEL, SWITZERLAND—Zurab Makharadze, head of the Center of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, announced the discovery of a timber burial chamber containing two four-wheeled, oxen-pulled chariots at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East at the University of Basel. The burial, which contained the remains of seven individuals, was found in a kurgan in the south Caucasus. “One of them was a chief and others should be the members of his family, sacrificed slaves or servants,” Makharadze told Live Science. Ornamented clay and wooden vessels, flint and obsidian arrowheads, leather and textiles, a wooden armchair, carnelian and amber beads, and 23 gold items were also recovered from the 4,000-year-old burial. “The purpose of the wooden armchair was the indication to power, and it was put in the kurgan as a symbol of power,” Makharadze explained.
LIMA, PERU—Twenty-five well-preserved quipus, made of multiple knotted wool and cotton strings of different colors, were discovered at the archaeological complex of Incahuasi in Peru’s Lunahuana Valley. Quipus, which are thought to have been used for record keeping, are usually found in a funerary context, but this collection was unearthed in warehouses, or kallancas. This is “what makes us believe they were used for administrative purposes,” archaeologist Alejandro Chu, who is in charge of the site, told Peru This Week.
MADRID, SPAIN—Reuters reports that Spain has returned 691 artifacts to Colombia, including 3,000-year-old ceramics, busts, sculptures, and jewelry, which were seized in 2003 in a drug-trafficking, money-laundering case. The items had been held at Madrid’s Museum of America until Colombia petitioned Spain’s High Court for their repatriation. “In addition to economic value, the pieces’ greatest value comes from their roots, which is an expression of history itself, of culture and of every nation’s soul,” Police General Director Ignacio Cosido said at a ceremony at the museum, where the artifacts were handed over to Colombian officials. The remaining three hundred seized artifacts will remain at the museum while Spanish officials determine where they belong.
PIONEER, LOUISIANA—The monumental earthworks at Poverty Point are one of seven sites from around the world that have been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, according to a report from Reuters. The 3,400-year-old Poverty Point complex was a major political, trade, and ceremonial center built by hunter gatherers. It consists of six mounds and six C-shaped ridges surrounding a central plaza. One of the mounds is about 2,000 years older than the others. “The impressive site survives as a testament to Native American culture and heritage,” the U.S. State Department responded to the announcement in a statement.
CHILLICOTHE, OHIO—National Park Service archaeologists excavating in an area known as the Great Circle at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park have found stains of darker soil that they think could be evidence of a woodhenge, or circular enclosure of wooden posts, built between 1,600 and 2,000 years ago. “I am very confident that those represent wooden posts,” team leader Bret Ruby told The Columbus Dispatch. The Great Circle measures 375 feet in diameter and was identified by magnetic testing several years ago. The excavation has also uncovered a six-inch-long stone tool that may have been used for cutting wood or digging.
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—Science Daily reports that England’s National Astronomy Meeting, which is being held this week, will highlight developments in archaeo-astronomy, which some researchers propose to rename “skyscape archaeology.” According to Fabio Silva of University College London, and co-editor of the new Journal for Skyscape Archaeology, “We have much to gain if the fields of astronomy and archaeology come together to a fuller and more balanced understanding of European megaliths and the societies that built them….To understand what alignments meant to prehistoric people and why they decided to incorporate them into their structures, we need to identify patters and interactions between structures, landscape and skyscape.”
WARM SPRINGS, MONTANA—A jawbone, ribs, and other bone fragments thought to be 2,000 years old were discovered by a camper on the side of a road near Warm Springs, Montana. The bones and part of a bow that had been covered by a pile of rocks and were eventually recovered by police. Once it was determined that the bones were not modern, they were handed over to Stan Wilmoth, state archaeologist with the Montana Historical Society. The authorities are examining the burial site to determine if the remains were found on state or federal land. If they were on state land, the bones will be handled by the Montana Burial Preservation Board. If the site was on federal land, the bones will go to the Deer Lodge National Forest’s archaeologist. “We’re just kind of in a holding pattern right now,” Wilmoth told The Montana Standard.
IZMIR, TURKEY—The demolition of 175 buildings in Izmir’s Kadifekale neighborhood has revealed the stage walls and entrance of a Roman-era amphitheater. The theater, which was studied in the early twentieth century by Austrian architects and archaeologists Otto Berg and Otto Walter, is thought to have accommodated 16,000 people. According to Hurriyet Daily News, the municipality of Izmir plans to restore the structure and use it for shows and concerts.
PLYMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS—A team made up of archaeologists and volunteers is looking for traces of the seventeenth-century palisade built by the Pilgrims to protect Plymouth. This original settlement is thought to have sat atop a hill that became a cemetery by the end of the seventeenth century. Ground-penetrating radar has guided the team to an area without graves, where they have found foundations of nineteenth-century structures and artifacts. The researchers think that the nineteenth-century homes may have been built on top of early seventeenth-century homes. “If we could find the remains of the original settlement it would be a huge find…We’re digging here in part because we think we might be close to where one of these [palisade] walls came down from Burial Hill,” archaeologist David B. Landon of the University of Massachusetts Boston told The Boston Globe.
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a Russian team of researchers has recovered guns, pistols, and cannons from Le Patriot, a ship in Napoleon Bonaparte’s fleet in 1798, from wreckage on the northern side of Pharos Island in the city’s eastern harbor. Mohamed Mostafa, director of Egypt’s underwater archaeology department, said that the artifacts will be restored at the Grand Egyptian Museum.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Jerusalem Post reports that archaeologists from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, and Cornell University are conducting the first excavations at Tell Avil al-Qamh, strategically located in northern Israel near the borders of Canaanite, Aramean and Phoenician lands and the road to Damascus. So far, Iron Age structures dating to the twelfth and eleventh centuries B.C. have been uncovered with the help of volunteers, including a feature that may have been a tower overlooking the Huleh Valley to the south. Among the recovered artifacts are a Phoenician ring flask, typically used for holding precious oils or drugs; and a small jug containing pieces of hacksilver, which may have been used as a means of exchange.
BRISTOL, ENGLAND—A wooden box filled with pottery, seeds, and animal bones that may have come from Sir Leonard Woolley’s excavations of Ur in the 1920s and ‘30s has been found in the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, in an area slated for a new state-of-the-art radiocarbon dating facility. The items turned out to be the remains of food offerings left in a royal tomb at least 4,500 years ago. “The remaining mystery is how this material came to be at Bristol in the first place. The environmental remains themselves were published in 1978 in Journal of Archaeological Science. The authors of that study were based at the Institute of Archaeology, London, and at the University of Southampton, and none of them had any known connection to the University of Bristol that might explain how the material came to reside here. If anyone can shed light on this mystery, we’d would love to hear from them,” said archaeologist Tamar Hodos. The artifacts will be housed at the British Museum, one of the sponsors of the original excavation.
ST LOUIS, MISSOURI—Excavations at the Sanyangzhuang site and the Anshang site along China’s lower Yellow River flood plain, and analysis of sedimentary soils deposited along the Yellow River over thousands of years, indicate that people were changing the environment nearly 3,000 years ago. “Human intervention in the Chinese environment is relatively massive, remarkably early, and nowhere more keenly witnessed than in attempts to harness the Yellow River,” archaeologist T.R. Kidder announced at Washington University. The large-scale levees and other flood-control systems, such as those at the Anshang site, are thought to have made periodic flooding much worse, including a catastrophic flood circa A.D. 14-17 that buried the Sanyangzhuang site and may have triggered the collapse of the Western Han Dynasty. “Our evidence suggests that the first levees were built to be about 6-7 feet high, but within a decade the one at Anshang was doubled in height and width. It’s easy to see the trap they fell into: building levees causes sediments to accumulate in the river bed, raising the river higher, and making it more vulnerable to flooding, which requires you to build the levee higher, which causes the sediments to accumulate, and the process repeats itself. The Yellow River has been an engineered river—entirely unnatural—for quite a long time,” Kidder explained.
MADRID, SPAIN—An analysis of 17 skulls from Sima de los Huesos in the Atapuerca Mountains of northern Spain indicates that they have distinct Neanderthal traits, including robust lower jaws, small teeth at the rear of the jaw, and thick brow ridges with a distinctive double arch. Yet they also have relatively small brains and other primitive features. Paleoanthropologist Juan Luis Arsuaga of Complutense University and his colleagues report in Science that the fossils represent the “oldest reliably dated” specimens of proto-Neanderthals, at 430,000 years old. “It is now clear that the full suite of the Neanderthal characteristics did not evolve at the same pace,” he told Phys.org. The discovery also suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans developed their big brains independently.
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—An egg laid by the parasite Schistosoma has been found in the soils of a child’s grave at Tell Zeidan in Syria. This is the first confirmation that the infection existed in Mesopotamia, and is the oldest-known Schistosoma infection, occurring more than 6,000 years ago. Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge and his team collected sediments from the pelvic areas of 26 sets of skeletal remains that had been buried in a cemetery of the Ubaid people, who were farmers. “A lot of different parasites—pinworms, hookworms, tapeworms—cannot infect you if you are moving a lot of time,” Mitchell told Science. These parasites may have been living in freshwater snails, their temporary hosts, in the Ubaid’s innovative irrigation canals.