YEREVAN, ARMENIA—Rainwater has seriously damaged frescoes at the ruins of the twelfth-century monastery of Kobayr in northern Armenia. Depicting Christ and the twelve apostles, the frescoes are the now object of a joint Armenian-Italian mission aimed at renovating the works of art. The ruins are also decorated with elaborate inscriptions in both Armenian and Georgian.
NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists of the Nottingham Caves Survey are attempting to map each of the hundreds of human-made caves that are underneath the town. The team is using a 3-D laser scanner to create highly accurate maps of each chamber, some of which date back to the sixth century A.D., when Saxons settled the area and first began to carve out chambers in the easily excavated sandstone that underlies Nottingham. The chambers served as cisterns, malt kilns, pub cellars, and jails, most famously the one said to have held Robin Hood. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a great number were dug for storage beneath buildings. Though many were lost in the nineteenth century due to development, archaeologists estimate that some 450 survive, including several that served as bomb shelters during air raids in World War II. Gizomodo journalist Geoff Manaugh toured the caves this summer in the company of Nottingham Caves Survey archaeologists and has written a fascinating account of his visit.
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETS—French Egyptologist Alain Zivie believes he may have discovered the tomb of the artist Thutmose, the official sculptor of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s court and the genius who is thought to have created the famed bust of Nefertiti. That iconic sculpture was found in a studio belonging to Thutmose in Akhenaten’s capital of Amarna in 1912. In 1996, Zivie’s team was excavating in a subterranean gallery in the necropolis of Saqqara thought to hold only mummified animals. To their surprise, the archaeologists uncovered a small tomb holding the remains of a man identified as Thutmose and his wife dating to the Amarna period (ca. 1353–1336 B.C.). The rich depictions of Thutmose and his wife together on a double coffin, as well as the discovery of a colorful ivory palette similar to one discovered in Amarna, fueled Zivie’s suspicion that the Thutmose of the Saqqara tomb and the Thutmose of the Amarna studio were one in the same, and that the master was responsible for the exquisite art in his own tomb. Still, Zivie allows that his case is not ironclad, saying “the story is unfinished.”
SPARTA, GREECE—Conservators working under the auspices of Greece’s Central Archaeological Council are studying how to rehabilitate the ruins of Sparta’s ancient theater. Built of local white marble during the Roman period, the late first-century B.C theater was one of the Classical world’s largest. Said to be capable of holding an estimated 16,000 people, it featured a mobile stage and was considered a tourist destination in ancient times. Much of the auditorium was destroyed during the Byzantine period, and the remaining marble and limestone blocks have suffered from erosion.
TARQUINIA, ITALY—Analysis of the skeleton discovered in an untouched Etruscan tomb last month has revealed that its so-called warrior prince is actually a middle-aged woman. The 2,600-year-old tomb contains two funerary beds carved into the rock. The remains of the princess, who was holding a spear, lay on one of the platforms. The other held a partially incinerated skeleton, now identified as that of a man. An aryballos, painted in the Greek-Corinthian style, hung from a nail on the wall. Several pieces of jewelry and a bronze-plated box were also recovered.
JACKSONVILLE, OREGON—A continuing excavation in the nineteenth-century Chinese Quarter of Jacksonville, Oregon, has uncovered preserved pieces of a wooden structure that had been destroyed by fire. “We are literally looking inside the house of a Chinese individual or individuals from 1888….It is a poorly understood population in history, not only in Jacksonville but in the West,” said Chelsea Rose of Southern Oregon University. The house is thought to have been situated behind a laundry. Artifacts from the house include an opium can, a drug used socially and as a pain reliever; a porcelain rice bowl; a cow’s jawbone; a button; Chinese coins; a mini-musket ball; a necklace chain; two bone dice; and the bottom of what may have been a liquor bottle. “There is so much opium paraphernalia coming out of here. But this was not an opium den. This was a house,” she added.
DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have analyzed the bones and teeth of three men whose remains were discovered on a California farm in 1964. The men had been buried some 560 years ago, in a mass grave without grave goods, and each of them had arrow points in his rib cage. Two of the men also had obsidian points in their spines. The chemistry of the bones indicates that the men had grown up in the region, but had moved away as adults. “For us, the interesting thing was that while they lived as adults somewhere else, as children, they were from the area where they were killed. So that opens up a whole set of new questions surrounding the circumstances of their death,” said anthropologist Jelmer Eerkens. Why were the men treated as enemies when they returned to the Sacramento floodplain? According to Eerkens, the next step in the research involves looking at their DNA to see if the men had been related to one another.
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Two rows of wooden pillars thought to date to the fifth century have been unearthed in Old Uppsala, a center of Norse religion where three kings were buried during the Iron Age. The pillars are thought to have stood at least 23 feet tall. Bones in the postholes suggest that animals had been sacrificed as part of the construction process. “It is a completely straight line and they have dug postholes every 20 feet. They have had an idea of exactly where this line is going and where to build it. It is a fairly modern way of thinking and we don’t have many traces of these sorts of constructions from that time,” said archaeologist Lena Beronius-Jorpeland, who was excavating in preparation for the construction of a new rail line. She believes that additional colonnades may be found in the area.
HAIFA, ISRAEL—The Canaanite palace at Tel Kabri was occupied for more than 250 years, from approximately 1850 to 1600 B.C., but the residents of Tel Kabri and other palaces in the Levant do not appear to have used a writing system or a Mesopotamian-style of government to maintain order. (The few inscriptions that have been found in Bronze Age Canaan are from Tel Hazor, which is usually associated with Syrian culture.) Instead, Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa and Eric H. Cline of George Washington University think that the residents of Tel Kabri relied upon a system of obligation. “Through long-lasting contact with other families it managed to accumulate influence, debts, promises, property, and land,” said Yasur-Landau.
JERSEY, CHANNEL ISLANDS—Archaeologists have found preserved geological deposits dating back 250,000 years in La Cotte de St Brelade, a cave containing a late Neanderthal site that was excavated 100 years ago. “In terms of the volume of sediment, archaeological richness and depth of time, there is nothing else like it known in the British Isles. Given that we thought these deposits had been removed entirely by previous researchers, finding that so much still remains is as exciting as discovering a new site,” said Matt Pope of University College London. The sediments were dated using optically stimulated luminesce, revealing that a Neanderthal tooth discovered at the site in 1910 is younger than previously thought, and perhaps belonged to one of the last Neanderthals in northwestern Europe. “We may be able to use this evidence to better understand when Neanderthal populations disappeared from the region and whether they ever shared the landscape with the species which ultimately replaced them, us,” he added.
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—Denisovans are known from the genetic analysis of a finger bone discovered in the Altai Mountains of northern Asia, but little of their DNA has been found in other ancient human specimens or modern populations in mainland Asia. However, Denisovan DNA has been detected in modern human populations in Australia, New Guinea, and surrounding areas. Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide and Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum propose that this pattern can be explained if the Denisovans managed to cross Wallace’s Line, a powerful marine current off the east coast of Borneo that blocked the migration of other creatures. “The key questions now are where and when the ancestors of current humans, who were on their way to colonize New Guinea and Australia around 50,000 years ago, met and interacted with the Denisovans,” Cooper added.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Further investigation of a tomb identified in 2007 as belonging to Herod the Great suggests that it was too modest to have belonged to the king. Archaeologists Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem think that the structure’s awkward layout and its three coffins—two made with local limestone and one with red stone—are at odds with Herod’s style and reputation as a master builder. Patrich thinks the tomb may have been left in place when Herod constructed the Herodium on top of other buildings in the desert outside of Jerusalem. Perhaps the person buried there was a close family member who was “very dear to Herod,” he said.
TBILISI, GEORGIA—Five 1.8-million-year-old skulls have been unearthed in Dmanisi, home of the largest collection of well-preserved human remains in the world. In fact, the fifth skull is being called the most complete hominid skull ever found. Its small braincase, large teeth, and long face are similar to Homo habilis, even though features of its braincase resemble those of Homo erectus. Georgian scientist David Lordkipanidze of the Georgian National Museum says that the five skulls show a lot of variation within a single population, and indicate that Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and Homo erectus are all just variations within one species. “When we looked at this variability and compared it with modern humans, you can see this is a normal range of variation,” he explained. But other researchers are reluctant to lump these Homo species together. “They do a very general shape analysis of the cranium which describes the shape of the face and braincase in broad sweeping terms,” commented Fred Spoor of University College London.
BLICK MEAD, ENGLAND—The 8,000-year-old charred bones of a toad have been unearthed at Blick Mead, in Wiltshire, England, about a mile away from the site where Stonehenge was eventually built 5,000 years later. “They would have definitely eaten the leg because it would have been quite big and juicy,” said David Jacques of the University of Buckingham. The people of this Mesolithic settlement also enjoyed aurochs, wild boar, red deer, and hazelnuts. “People are utilizing all these resources to keep going and it is clearly a special place for the amount of different types of food resources to keep them going all year round,” he added.
HANOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE—Archaeological surveys and geographic mapping of more than 3,000 archaeological sites suggest that the Wari state expanded from the central city of Pikillacta through trade between semiautonomous colonies, rather than through centralized control, according to study leader R. Alan Covey of Dartmouth College. “The identification of limited Wari state power encourages a focus on colonization practices rather than an interpretation of strong provincial rule,” he said. The Wari, an ancestor culture to the Inca, ruled much of what is now Peru from A.D. 600 to 1000.
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—Three sets of human remains uncovered during the construction of a boardwalk at Pilot Bay have been identified as two Maori adults and one child by physical anthropologists from Auckland University. Pilot Bay was first occupied by Polynesian settlers in the late fourteenth century. “Often when they do developments it’s a little slice or piece, but it was nice because the boardwalk was going all the way down so it was good to see all the archaeology, all the way along,” said Rachel Darmody of Historic Places Trust. Archaeologists also recovered Moa bones, fish hooks, and debris from the manufacture of adzes. The human bones have been reburied by tangata whenua, a Maori term meaning the “people of the land.”
SOFIA, BULGARIA—A cellar containing Greek amphorae has been discovered in the Bulgarian coastal town of Nesebar by Aneliya Bozhkova of the National Archaeological Institute and Petya Kiyashkina of the Ancient Nesebar Museum. The 30 amphorae date to the fifth century B.C. and probably held wine and olive oil. Though the house above the cellar was destroyed, the amphorae were largely intact.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that the state must return “Jehoash’s Tablet,” confiscated in 2003, to collector Oded Golan. Golan was acquitted of dealing in forged antiquities in 2012 by the Jerusalem District Court, which ruled that the state had no proof that the tablet and other antiquities, including the “James Ossuary,” were fakes. Both the tablet and the ossuary are of uncertain provenance.
JACKSONVILLE, OREGON—An excavation by archaeologists and students from Southern Oregon University in the nineteenth-century Chinese quarter of the town has yielded seeds that could have originated on lychee trees in Canton, China; pieces of opium pipes; and parts of a fantan gambling game. “That is equivalent to finding part of a whiskey bottle and a deck of cards from the white section,” commented archaeologist Chelsea Rose. The first building of the mining town was constructed in 1850, but most people lived in tents for the first two years of the Gold Rush. In 1888, a fire destroyed the Chinese section of town, which was later filled in with dirt. “But the good thing is the fill has protected the material we are interested in,” said Rose.
ST AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—Native American and European pottery have been found at an eighteenth-century farmstead that was part of the Spanish Pocotalaca mission. The Franciscan mission housed members of the Yamassee group from South Carolina between 1717 and 1752 in some 20 huts made of poles and palm fronds. There was also a small church and a fortress. In a rare discovery of a hut site, archaeologist Carl Halbirt found a post hole and a black smudge where corn cobs had been burned in order to keep away the mosquitoes. Deer bones and teeth, pipe stems, and clam shells have also been uncovered.