LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—A 1,700-year-old lead coffin was discovered in a field near the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border by metal detector enthusiasts. The small coffin is thought to contain the remains of a Roman child and be one of the earliest Christian burials in the country. Scientists inserted and endoscope into a gap in the lid, and found that the coffin is full of clay. “It will be taken to our offices in Warwick where we can examine it under laboratory conditions to see what it can tell us about aspects of Roman period life, health, and of course death,” said Stuart Palmer of Archaeology Warwickshire.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Traces of the Hurrian civilization, long thought to have been limited to Asia, have been uncovered on the European continent, in Istanbul’s Küçükçekmece river basin. A team led by Şengül Aydingün of Kocaeli University uncovered 4,000-year-old god and goddess statues crafted from iron; bitumen used to waterproof objects and boats; tin; and ceramics. “The two statues that we have found are from the early Hittite period. The statues of this era were found for the first time in Istanbul. The traces of the Hittites were previously [only] found in Troy and İzmir,” she explained.
LAKE GEORGE, NEW YORK—While preparing to repave the parking lot and access road at Million Dollar Beach, archaeologists uncovered Native American artifacts estimated to be 10,000 years old. The prehistoric site is located at the southern end of Lake George, which is 32 miles long. The region is usually noted for its French and Indian War sites.
CAPE BRETON, NOVA SCOTIA—Archaeologist Bruce Fry says that the construction of a walking trail near the Fortress of Louisbourg by Parks Canada has damaged eighteenth-century house foundations from the early French settlement. “This was a very busy area. There were fishing establishments and taverns all along this coast area,” said Fry, who was a senior archaeologist during the reconstruction of the fort. David Ebert, manager of cultural resources at the Fortress of Louisbourg, replied that an environmental impact assessment was done and that the trail was designed for minimal impact. Some of the new findings will be incorporated into the trail, he added.
BAGAN, MYANMAR—Torrential rains have reportedly damaged several ancient pagodas in the ancient city of Bagan. “It’s due to weak points of the original architectural style. [Erosion] used to occur there every rainy season. But [the affected area] is not very big, just a foot wide in damage,” said an unnamed official from the Bagan Archaeological Research Department about the damage to the red-brick Htilominlo Pagoda, which was constructed in the early thirteenth century.
MANDALAY, MYANMAR—The site of a monastery has been discovered beneath the eighteenth-century tomb of King Uthumphon in the Linzin Hill cemetery. The Siamese king, who was also a Buddhist monk, had been brought to Burma as a prisoner of war after his capital, Ayutthaya, was conquered in 1767. Many other Thais were captured and moved with him. “We can’t say that this monastery belonged to King Uthumphon. Other abbots may have resided there,” said archaeologist Tin Maung Kyi.
JAKARTA, INDONESIA—Herawati Sudoyo of the Eikjman Institute for Molecular Biology announced that she will work with Richard Edward Green of the University of California to look for genetic traces of Denisovans and Homo floresiensis in modern humans living on the Indonesian island of Flores. Herawati adds that genetic study of H. floresiensis could determine if the “Hobbits” are in fact a separate species of hominid. “We can determine it through a wider perspective using ‘genome-wide scanning.’ We can see it from the aspects of metabolism, nutrition, food, including genes related to their susceptibility to diseases,” she explained.
KING’S LYNN, ENGLAND—Volunteers and members of the West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Archaeology Society have conducted an excavation at the site of the eighteenth-century Reffley Temple, home of the Reffley Brethren, a secret Royalist society that was formed after the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Fine porcelain and long clay pipes that were smoked by the members as part of a ritual were uncovered. Members also made a secret, alcoholic punch to toast Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and they feasted on large joints of beef, saddle of mutton, and lobster salad. It is thought that the secret society still meets today.
LIMA, PERU—Four people led by Blanca Alva in Peru’s ministry of culture are responsible for protecting the country’s archaeological sites and artifacts. Her job is complicated by traffickers who are selling fake titles to archaeological sites to squatters looking for somewhere to live in Lima’s tight housing market. “The problem with Peruvian law is that you have to evict people in the first 24 hours. Once the 24 hours are up, you can’t evict; you have to take it to court,” she explained.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—A new, low-cost method for purifying ancient human DNA of contaminants acquired in soil was presented by a team from Stanford University at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. This method produces samples that have a higher resolution and thus can yield more information than samples produced using other techniques. The approach could also be used to study ancient dog DNA and could be used by forensic scientists. “I think it remains to be seen whether the approach will become a practical method for whole genome sequencing of these difficult but important ancient DNA samples, but I think it is exciting that this is even conceivable,” commented geneticist David Reich of Harvard University.
VICOVARO, ITALY—Speleo-archaeologists are using GPS technology, remote control robots, and laser rangefinders to update the maps of Rome’s 11 ancient aqueducts that were compiled between 1906 and 1925 by British archaeologist Thomas Ashby. The carefully engineered aqueducts used gravity to carry clean water into the city. “Water was a fundamental service for hygiene. In a city like Rome, which had a million inhabitants, there were very few epidemics,” said Riccardo Paolucci of the group Underground Rome.
LONDON, ENGLAND—A two-foot-tall Roman statue dating to the first or second century A.D. has been unearthed at a building site near the Tower of London. The limestone sculpture, considered to be the best preserved of its type in the world, depicts an eagle holding a snake in its beak, thought to symbolize the struggle between good and evil and triumph over death. “Funerary sculpture from the city is very rare and this example, perhaps from inside a mausoleum, is a particularly fine example which will help us to understand how the cemeteries and tombs that lined the roads out of the city were furnished and the beliefs of those buried there,” said Michael Marshall of the Museum of London Archaeology.
MINGORA, PAKISTAN—Rock carvings of Buddhist iconography dating from 1,000 to 2,000 years ago in Pakistan's Swat Valley are under threat from neglect, say archaeologists. The reliefs are from the Gandhara civilization, a culture that was important in the spread of Buddhism in the area and which flourished from the A.D. first to 11th centuries in northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. The spectacular carvings are fading due to weather, though vandals in the area have defaced them in various ways, including urinating on the pieces. "We will soon devise a proper mechanism for the protection of all the archaeological sites of the Gandhara civilization in consultation with the archaeological experts and local culture activists," Mahmood Khan, the regions's minister for sports, tourism and archaeology told the UPI.
CARDIFF, WALES—The 18th Century writer Iolo Morganwg called Cardiff, the capital of Wales, "an obscure and inconsiderable place." New finds in a park near the city's famous Cardiff Castle are changing that idea. The discovery of Venetian glass and tools related to tanning, ceramics, and metal industries indicate that, by the 16th century, the city was more of a going concern than Morganwg would later choose to describe it. "We knew it was a reasonably significant early modern town," Amelia Pannet of Archaeology Wales told the BBC. "But these discoveries help to put it into some sort of context."
SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeologists continue to make new discoveries at the spectacular site of Sveshtari, a third-century B.C. tomb complex in northeast Bulgaria built by the ancient Thracian people the Greeks knew as the Getae. First discovered in 1982, the tomb's central chamber features the relief carvings of ten half-human, half plant female figurines. According to archaeologist Diana Gergova, recent discoveries include evidence for animal sacrifice at the site, as well as a golden casket that was laid to rest on a tree in one of the tombs.
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY—Near the modern Woodford Reserve distillery, a team lead by Kim McBride of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey is uncovering the remains of an 1812 log cabin where the settler Elijah Pepper first constructed a still, and where his son, the master distiller Oscar Pepper, was born. "We hoped to find any artifacts or architectural remains that would help fill in the picture of life there at the Pepper house," said McBride. So far the team has discovered stone walls built at the same time as the cabin, and a number of animal bones, as well as a copper condensing coil, toys, cutlery, and what might be a pool cue, among many other artifacts. The team has also uncovered the remains of what might be a kitchen that also doubled as slave quarters.
VALENCIA, SPAIN—Scientists analyzing Neanderthal remains found in Spain's Cova Foradà believe they have found evidence that modern human's closest extinct relative once used toothpicks to clear food from between their chompers, as well as to relieve the pain from periodontal disease. Neanderthal teeth found in the Spanish cave could date as far back as 150,000 years ago showed a lot of wear consistent with tooth decay that would have caused sore gums but no cavities. The research team speculates that something akin to a stiff blade of grass might have been used as a toothpick by the ancient hominins.
LIMA, PERU—Two mummies, an adult and an infant, were found by archaeologists inside a tomb at Huaca Pucllana, which dates to the Wari civilization, more than 1,000 years ago. Both bodies were wrapped in ceremonial fabric, and the child was likely sacrificed on behalf of the adult. The tomb also contained 10 complete artifacts, including jars, and remains of guinea pigs, which were likely also sacrificed.
DMANISI, GEORGIA—Science writer Carl Zimmer writes in the New York Times that, if the analysis of the skull found at the site of Dmanisi in Georgia is correct, the early hominin Homo erectus might have been behaviorally more like a baboon than a chimpanzee, the ape that is the closest genetic relative to humans. If all early hominins of about two million years ago were just variations of Homo erectus, as the Dmanisi skull suggests, then that species had remarkable range, showing up not only in Africa, but in Eurasia and Indonesia, as well. A similar range of adapatability is seen in baboons, who can survive in deserts or forests and interbreed when they encounter another group.
JERUSALEM—Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a 1,700-year-old lead tablet while excavating a collapsed Roman mansion in an area of Jerusalem known as the "City of David." There appears to be a curse written on the tablet in Greek, in which a woman, Kyrilla, condemns a man named Iennys over a legal dispute. Scholars believe that the tablet might have been created by a professional magician.