BUDAPEST, HUNGARY—Researchers from Eötvös Loránd University believe that a piece of a small wooden disc discovered in an eleventh-century convent in Greenland may have been used as a “twilight compass” by the Vikings on their 1,600-mile journey across the North Atlantic from Norway to Greenland. Discovered in 1948 and known as the Uunartoq disc, some scholars originally thought it was a decorative object. But when used with a pair of crystals, or sunstones, to pinpoint the position of the sun below the horizon, and a wooden slab to help determine cardinal direction, the disc would have worked within four degrees of error. “Not the best, maybe, but it would have been a really big help,” Balázs Bernáth told Live Science.
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY—Seven of the 14 pieces of the Sevso Treasure have been purchased by Hungary from unidentified sellers for 15 million euros. The attempted auction of the silver hoard was halted in 1990 due to false documentation on the treasure’s provenance. The fourth-century Roman silver is thought to have been unearthed illegally in the 1970s near Lake Balaton in western Hungary. “Hungary’s family silver is coming home,” Prime Minister Vikto Orbán told the Budapest Business Journal.
CASTLETOWN, ISLE OF MAN—An eighteenth-century vessel named Peggy is being excavated from the cellar of its wealthy owner’s home. It is thought that George Quayle, a politician and bank owner, had built a private dock underneath his home, and that he used Peggy for pleasure cruises and transporting important mail to Liverpool. “To remove the boat we have to move more than 50 tons of nineteenth-century landfill which then fills up with water,” Caroline Raynor of Oxford Archaeology North told BBC News. An eighteenth-century leather pistol holster, boat-building materials, and perfume bottles have also been recovered.
MARANA, ARIZONA—A construction project at the edge of the Santa Cruz River floodplain in southern Arizona has unearthed traces of an ancient village, including an irrigation canal, 37 pit houses, and six burials that could be 4,000 years old. The construction of an outlet center will be delayed while the site is investigated, as required by law. Peter Steere, historic preservation officer for the Tohono O’odham Tribe, told The Arizona Daily Star that he thinks the excavation will uncover additional features and require monitors from the tribe. “We think it likely that significantly more than 18 burials will be identified,” added Mary Ellen Walsh of the State Historic Preservation Office.
SWANSEA, WALES—A recently uncovered carving on the western exterior wall of the Temple of Isis at Shanhur shows the Roman emperor Claudius, dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh, raising the pole of a tent to create a cult chapel for Min, a god of fertility, in what was even then an ancient ritual. Min, in return, is depicted giving Claudius control of southern lands, perhaps the mineral-rich deserts surrounding the Nile River. In another engraving on the temple, Claudius is shown giving an offering of lettuce to Min to ensure Egypt’s continued fertility. “Although we know that Claudius, as most Roman emperors, never visited Egypt, his rule over the land of the Nile and the desert regions was legitimized through cultic means,” Martina Minas-Nerpel of Swansea University and Marleen De Meyer of KU Leuven University wrote in the journal Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde. Because the image is dated, the scholars surmise that such a ritual actually took place, using a stand-in for the emperor and a statue for Min. “What we see depicted on the temple scene is the ideal scenario,” Minas-Nerpel explained in Live Science.
CINCINNATI, OHIO—A document written in Greek on papyrus some 1,600 years ago has been deciphered by Kyle Helms of the University of Cincinnati. The partial document is a labor contract for a guard hired to protect a vineyard in Egypt, which is known to have been a difficult job from other sources that describe thieves who beat watchmen in order to obtain ripe fruit. “I agree that I have made a contract with you on the condition that I guard your property, a vineyard near the village Panoouei, from the present day until vintage and transport, so that there be no negligence, and on the condition that I receive in return pay for all of the aforementioned time…” reads Helms’ translation, according to Live Science. The amount the guard would have been paid is lost, but the contract does include the first mention of the village of Panoouei. Scholars do not know exactly where the village was located.
CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the skeleton of a government official named Nefer has been found in a limestone sarcophagus in his unfinished tomb in Abusir. The tomb was discovered last year by a team of Czech archaeologists led by Mirislav Barta of the Czech Institute of Egyptology. Nefer was priest of the funerary complex of the fifth-dynasty king Nefereer-Ka-Re, and supervisor of the royal document scribes. His head had been set upon a stone head rest.
ALL CANNINGS, ENGLAND—Developer Tim Daw of Wiltshire is building a “Neolithic” long barrow on his farmland and selling space in it for housing urns containing cremated ashes. “It’s turning out so much better than I could possible imagine. A lot of that is down to the stonemason, coming up with the idea of how to build it and insisting on doing it the proper way, using real traditional materials and methods. That’s paying off in spades, with the quality of it and the feel of the place,” Daw told BBC News.
LONDON, ENGLAND—CT scans and the use of infra-red technology on the naturally mummified remains of a woman who lived in in a Christian community in the Sudan 1,300 years ago have revealed a tattoo on her inner thigh. The tattoo is a symbol of the Archangel Michael, assembled from ancient Greek letters. “She is the first evidence of a tattoo from the period. This is a very rare find,” Daniel Antoin, curator of physical anthropology at the British Museum, told The Telegraph. The woman’s remains are part of a special exhibition of eight mummies and what technology has revealed about their lives.
LUXOR, EGYPT—Two additional colossal statues of Amenhotep III were unveiled in Luxor yesterday, along with a carved alabaster head from another Amenhotep III statue. Archaeologists say that the severely damaged statues, carved from red quartzite, are now situated on their original sites at the pharaoh’s funerary temple. The first depicts Amenhotep III in a seated position, wearing a royal pleated kilt held at the waist by a decorated belt. The second shows the king standing and has been placed at the north gate of the temple. “The statues had lain in pieces for centuries in the fields, damaged by destructive forces of nature like earthquakes, and later by irrigation water, salt, encroachment and vandalism,” archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian told the Sydney Morning Herald. The alabaster head shows signs of restoration work.
WARRINGTON, ENGLAND—White crystals have been removed from a 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummy case at the Warrington Museum and Art Gallery by Tracey Seddon of National Museums Liverpool. The wooden coffin had been reused for a man named Pa-ikh-mennu, who worked at the Temple of Amun in Luxor. “The crystals were developing on areas of restoration carried out 30-40 years ago. They were causing the paint to crumble and lift,” Seddon told Culture 24. She secured the loose paint with conservation-grade adhesive, or removed it if it was too crumbled to save. The Egypt Exploration Society donated the artifact to the museum in 1905.
BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Amy Groesbeck has led a multidisciplinary team of researchers from Simon Fraser University and the University of Washington in an investigation of ancient clam gardens in the Pacific Northwest. Constructed by coastal First Nations peoples over the past several thousand years, the gardens consist of a flattened tidal slope enriched with ground clam shell and pebbles that is protected by stone walls. The team also collaborated with indigenous knowledge holders from the Tla’amin First Nationan and Laich-kwil-tach Treaty Society to learn how the gardens were used. They placed baby clams in the clam gardens and in unprotected beaches and found that clam gardens dramatically increase the survival, growth rate, and size of butter clams and littlenecks. “One of the reasons this study is so compelling is that it combines First Nations knowledge with the tools of archaeology and ecology,” archaeologist Dana Lepofsky of Simon Fraser University told SFU News Online.
CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND—Construction work at Cambridge University has uncovered a Roman irrigation system dating between 70 and 120 A.D., in addition to traces of settlements from the later Neolithic period, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. The irrigation system may have watered grapevines or asparagus plants in an inland area that was away from the main river valleys. “There has been evidence of gardens and wells, but the extent to which there are planting beds arranged in parallel and along a slope, connecting directly to a water source, is new territory,” archaeologist Chris Evans told BBC News.
OMAHA, NEBRASKA—Archaeologists John R. Bozell and Gayle F. Carlson of the Nebraska State Historical Society joined David Hill of Metro State University of Denver in the excavation of a village site at Eagle Ridge that was inhabited by either the Oto, or perhaps the Ioway nation in the eighteenth century. Surprisingly, they recovered sherds of European olive jars from underground storage pits. They claim that the sherds could be the first physical evidence of the well-documented 1720 battle between Spanish soldiers, New Mexican settlers, and their Pueblo and Apache allies against the Pawnee and Oto nations, who were perhaps joined by some French traders. The Pawnee and the Oto killed the Spanish commander Don Pedro de Villasur, 35 soldiers, and 10 Pueblo scouts, stopping the eastward expansion of the Spanish conquest. “The olive jar sherds recovered from the Eagle Ridge site are the only physical evidence of the battle, so one or more of the Oto or Ioway village residents of the site may have been participants in the battle against Villasur. The sherds may have been one or more complete vessels and were thus loot from the engagement,” Hill told Western Digs.
PERRANPORTH, ENGLAND—An intact beer bottle dating to the early twentieth century has been recovered from St. Piran’s Oratory, a sixth-century church in Cornwall. Archaeologist James Gossip thinks that the beer, brewed by Walter Hicks & Company, may have been left behind by a worker in 1910, when the ruins of the oratory were encased in a concrete structure to protect them from sand and waves. In the 1980s, the ruins were covered in sand. Now, the church site is being excavated by archaeologists and a team of volunteers. “There are plenty of stories about St. Piran and his fondness of the hop, so it’s sort of appropriate that some quality local ale managed to find its way on to such a hallowed site,” Chris Knight, archivist of St. Austell Brewery, told the Western Morning News. The contents of the bottle will be tested at St. Austell Brewery.
ROME, ITALY—A Canadian teenager reportedly tried to remove a brick from the Colosseum while visiting on a school trip, according to The Local. Another visitor to the ancient monument spotted the 15-year-old placing the brick in her backpack, took a photograph, and alerted the staff. The teen was stopped by police who recovered the artifact.
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA—Human collection of the largest Caribbean fighting conchs (Strombus puglis) from the shallow lagoons of Panama’s Bocas del Toro over the past 1,500 years has resulted in the shellfish reaching maturity at a smaller size, according to a study of subsistence harvesting conducted by a team of ecologists, paleontologists, and archaeologists. Mature shells from 7,000 years ago, before humans settled in the region, held 66 percent more meat than the shells of today’s animals. Shells harvested by humans over time were also recovered from middens for the study. “These are the first evidence that low-intensity harvesting has been sufficient to drive evolution. The reason may be because the conch has been subjected to harvesting for a long period of time,” Aaron O’Dea of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute told Red Orbit.
PERTH, AUSTRALIA—An international team of scientists has conducted a study of the genetic diversity of moa fossils spanning 4,000 years. Their results indicate that the large, flightless birds went extinct in the thirteenth century due to overhunting by humans, and not because a long, natural decline caused by disease and volcanic eruptions, as had been suggested. Mike Bunce from Australia’s Curtin University and Morten Allentoft of the University of Copenhagen found that the population of birds was stable until the arrival of Polynesians in New Zealand, and then they disappeared within 200 years. “You see heaps of the birds’ bones in archaeological sites. If you hunt animals at all their life stages, they will never have a chance,” Allentoft told Science Now.
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The remains of an Iron Age woman and three Roman-period individuals were discovered in West Knoyle by archaeologists investigating the route of a new water main. The Iron Age woman's feet were “reburied alongside her,” and with the bones of at least two sheep or goats “on her head,” archaeologist Peter Cox told BBC News. “We’re unsure why the female skeleton has been found without her feet or why she may have been buried with sheep, but perhaps it was to protect her soul from bad spirits,” Cox added. The Roman remains belonged to a child of about ten years old, and two men who had suffered sword wounds to their hips.
CRANFIELD, ENGLAND—The nineteenth-century remains of four people have been recovered near the naval base on Burrow Island, also known as Rat Island, by a team of wounded soldiers from Operation Nightingale. The rapid-reaction team was called in for rescue excavations when a member of the public spotted the bones, which had been exposed by severe weather conditions. The four individuals are thought to have been French or American citizens held in floating prisons in the harbor. “Post-excavation work in our laboratories should contribute to shedding light on the living conditions of those individuals and the history of Rat Island,” Nicholas Márquez-Grant and Kelly Domoney of the Forensic Institute at Cranfield University told Culture 24.