ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Francesco D’Andria of the University of Salento announced that he has unearthed the structures of Pluto’s Gate, known as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman tradition, at the World Heritage site of Hierapolis in southwest Turkey. The remains of a temple, a pool, and a series of steps above a cave that emits poisonous gases were found, in addition to an inscription with a dedication to Pluto, ruler of the underworld, and Kore, or Persephone, whom he abducted. Before Hierapolis became a Roman city, the Plutonium’s cave was used in local religious rites by the eunuchs of the goddess Cybele.
REGGIO CALABRIA, ITALY—The restored Riace Bronzes, two full-sized sculptures of nude, bearded warriors discovered off the coast of Calabria in 1972, have been kept in temporary quarters at a regional government office for the past three years while Reggio Calabria’s National Archaeological Museum is under renovation. “I know it’s not nice seeing them horizontal, but we can’t stand them up again until they’re in their final placement in the museum,” said Simonetta Bonomi, Calabria’s archaeology superintendent. The fifth-century B.C. Greek bronzes may have been thrown from a ship traveling from Greece to Rome to lighten the load during a storm.
COLOGNE, GERMANY—For 1,000 years, Cologne was home to a prosperous Jewish community. Recent excavations have uncovered Hebrew-inscribed fragments of slate, ceramics, tools, toys, animal bones, and jewelry. “Excavations show that the Jews in Cologne for a very long time were on good terms with the Christians, that their cohabitation saw long phases of peace and harmony,” said archaeologist Sven Schuette. The community was eventually weakened by a crusader massacre in 1096, and then wiped out in 1349, when Christians blamed the Jews for a bubonic plague epidemic. Schuette would like a new museum to be built to house the 250,000 artifacts from his research, but many are opposed to the idea.
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Fossils of Neanderthal adults and children have been unearthed from Greece’s Kalamakia Cave, along with flint, quartz, and seashell scrapers. The cave is located on the western coast of the Mani Peninsula, and would have had a mild climate during the Ice Age. “Greece lies directly on the most likely route of dispersals of early modern humans and earlier hominins into Europe from Africa via the Near East,” said Katerina Havarti of the University of Tübingen. She thinks further excavation could yield evidence about the last Neanderthals and their possible interactions with modern humans. These are the first Neanderthal remains to be identified in Greece.
KHARTOUM, SUDAN—The ancient kingdoms of Kush and Nubia are yielding discoveries that archaeologists say are critical to the understanding of the history of Africa. “The history of Sudan can play a role for Africa that Greece played for the history of Europe. People have been living here for 5,000 years,” said Claude Rilly of the French Archaeological Unit in Sudan. The Sudanese government has signed an agreement with Qatar to fund additional archaeological missions, renovate the Sudan National Museum, and develop tourist areas. Tourism could become a new, much needed source of income for Sudan, which has been hard hit by the loss of oil revenue since the split with South Sudan.
MONTI LESSINI, ITALY—Silvana Condemi of the University of Ai-Marseille and her colleagues claim that a jaw from the Riparo di Mezzena rock shelter in northern Italy is from the first-known Neanderthal/modern human hybrid. “From the morphology of the lower jaw, the face of the Mezzena individual would have looked somehow intermediate between classic Neanderthals, who had a rather receding lower jaw (no chin), and the modern humans, who present a projecting lower jaw with a strongly developed chin,” she said. Genetic analysis of the bone shows that the individual’s mitochondrial DNA was Neanderthal, indicating a Neanderthal mother. The team speculates that the individual’s father may have been an invading modern-human male that lived between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago.
LOS OSOS, CALIFORNIA—Human remains were discovered last week during the construction of a new sewer line. The project had been designed to avoid as many archaeological sites as possible, but this particular Chumash burial area was in the middle of a roadway, so workers had been using shovels rather than heavy equipment to prevent as much damage as possible. “The site is covered and we are making sure it is protected. There may be additional remains than those found in the trench alignment,” said Mark Hutchinson of the Public Works Department. The Northern Chumash Tribal Council, and the Odom-Tucker family of the Northern Chumash, had been monitoring the project. The two groups have requested that the remains be reinterred as soon as possible, as close to the original cemetery as possible.
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN—New carbon dates taken from charcoal at the only Buddhist monastery in the Taxila Valley suggest that it was built in the third century B.C., or at least 300 years earlier than previously thought. At its height in the third century A.D., 55 monk cells were not enough to house all of the monks that came to study, and so an annex, or “mini monastery,” was added. “When we cleared bushes from the area south of the main monastery, there were visible signs that a structure could be buried underneath,” said Muhammad Ashraf Kahn of the Institute of Asian Civilizations. A stucco figurine of Buddha, iron door knockers, pottery, coins, and a grinding stone were found in the small monastery. Animal bones at the site indicate that the monks kept domesticated animals.
CAIRO, EGYPT—This video footage from Egyptian police shows several illegal tunnels dug by people looking for archaeological treasures near the Great Pyramids of Giza, in Luxor, and in Dahshur. The tunnels have even been found within people’s homes. Reporter Aleem Maqbool from BBC News was able to find a tunnel on his own, in addition to artifacts for sale on the black market. Hosni Hussain, Head of the Tourism and Antiquities Police in Luxor, says that illegal digging has always happened, and although it increased after the revolution, the police are aware of the problem and have recovered all stolen items.
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—Low water levels along Stockholm’s waterfront have revealed the hulls of two historic wrecks, thought to be seventeenth-century Danish warships. “If it had only been one or two beams sticking up, I may not have noticed it. But I saw immediately that it was a shipwreck. You could clearly see the bow and the stern,” said marine archaeologist Jim Hansson of Stockholm’s Maritime Museum. He spotted the wrecks while out for a walk with his girlfriend. Samples of the vessels have been taken for testing.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The renovation of an auditorium uncovered 37 sets of human remains thought to represent slaves or indentured servants buried between 1690 and the 1750s. Only one of the bodies had been buried in a coffin; the rest are thought to have been buried in shrouds. Buttons, coins, ceramics, gun flint, and iron objects were also found in the graves. When the investigation is completed, the Charleston City Council will decide where to reinter the remains.
ABERYSTWYTH, WALES—Low levels of sun and snow cover helped archaeologists to spot some 40 new Bronze Age structures from the air, including a burial mound and a site with a moat. “Snow evens out the colors of the landscape allowing complex earthwork monuments to be seen more clearly and precisely,” said archaeologist Toby Driver of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. His team also mapped and photographed previously recorded sites. “So far well over 5,000 new archaeological sites have been discovered across Wales in 25 years of flying. We can now appreciate that Wales was intensively farmed and settled from the Neolithic era 6,000 years ago,” he added.
BAGHDAD, IRAQ—A satellite image has led British archaeologists to a large palace or temple on the banks of the Euphrates River, about ten miles from the ancient city of Ur. They have uncovered a corner of the structure, which is thought to be 4,000 years old and to consist of rooms with nine-foot-thick walls arranged around a central courtyard. “The size is breathtaking,” said Jane Moon of the University of Manchester. The area has been closed to foreign scholars since the 1950s, when a military air base was constructed nearby.
OSLO, NORWAY—A German submarine has been found off the coast of Norway by Statoil, a Norwegian oil company. The “U-486” broke in two when it was torpedoed in April 1945 by a British submarine. It sank in 820 feet of water with 48 people on board. There were no survivors. “The submarine had a special coating on the hull. It was a synthetic rubber coating designed to significantly reduce its radar signal,” said Arild Maroey Hansen of the Bergen Maritime Museum.
AHIHUD JUNCTION, ISRAEL—Construction of a new railway line in northern Israel has uncovered two settlements, the first from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. These buildings were carved from the bedrock, and some of them had plaster floors. “We found a large number of flint and obsidian arrowheads, polished miniature stone axes, blades and other flint and stone tools. The large amount of tools made of obsidian, a material that is not indigenous to Israel, is indicative of the trade relations that already existed with Turkey, Georgia, and other regions during this period,” said Yizhak Paz and Ya’akov Vardi of the Israel Antiquities Authority. They also found thousands of charred broad bean seeds in a pit, indicating that these early farmers were growing legumes. Later buildings, from the Early Chalcolithic period, were constructed with thick walls of stone and clay and were sometimes covered with plaster. Archaeologists also found pig bones, pottery and flint tools, in addition to a stone phallus figurine and a palette on which an image of female genitals had been etched. The scientists say these symbolic items represented the fertility of the earth.
WINCHESTER, ENGLAND—Human remains thought to be those of Alfred the Great, who died in A.D. 899, have been exhumed from an unmarked grave at St. Bartholomew’s Church. Alfred, the first “king of the English,” had been buried near Winchester Cathedral, but his body was moved to Hyde Abbey in 1110, which was later destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII. Some think his bones were transferred to St. Bartholomew’s in the eighteenth century. Church officials decided to empty the grave in order to protect the bones from curiosity seekers. Nick Edmonds, a church spokesperson, said that no applications have been made to study the bones at this time. “Of course, that would only be granted if the court were satisfied with everything proposed, both legally and ethically. Whatever happens, the remains will stay in the care and protection of the church and the consistory court until they are reinterred,” he added.
DRUMBEG, SCOTLAND—A shipwreck off the coast of Scotland’s northwest Highlands is one of the first to be nominated for the country’s new Historic Marine Protected Area status. Although the ship has not yet been identified in historical records, the three cannons recovered from the site were made in Sweden for use by the Dutch. A white Delft tile decorated with a blue image of a three-masted ship flying the Dutch flag was also found. Personal weapons recovered from the wreckage may have been carried by the crew as protection from privateers. Based upon this evidence, archaeologists think that the vessel may have been owned by the Dutch East India Company, and that it sank sometime between 1650 and 1750. “We have conducted a lot of research on new methods of underwater digital survey and the survey at Drumbeg gave us the perfect opportunity to apply this new technology to an entire wreck site for the first time, and with fantastic results,” said John McCarthy of WA Coastal and Marine, an educational charity.
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Scientists estimate that some 1,000 species of birds were eradicated when humans migrated into the Pacific region. The plump, flightless birds had evolved on the islands without major predators, and probably became an easy food source for humans. Those that weren’t eaten may have lost their habitats to land clearing practices. Conservation ecologist Richard Duncan of the University of Canberra and his team developed a statistical model to estimate the number of undiscovered, extinct, non-perching land birds that may have been lost by comparing the fossil record to species that are still alive today. “The proportion of living birds that we know are missing from the fossil record gives you an idea of how many extinct species are [also] missing,” he said. The team concludes that roughly ten percent of the world’s bird species were lost.
DAHSHUR, EGYPT—Well-organized and well-armed gangs of thieves reportedly continue to plunder Egypt’s archaeological sites, while illegal construction encroaches upon them and sometimes even covers them. “Under Mubarak, (the pyramids) were seen as a revenue stream for tourism, and a point of pride. This government just doesn’t care,” said archaeologist Monica Hanna. Kamal Wahid of Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry says that the reports of damage are exaggerated, and counters that the new government simply lacks the resources to protect archaeological sites because of the steep drop in foreign tourism.
TUSCON, ARIZONA—Researchers led by Barbara Mills of the University of Arizona compiled a database of more than four million ceramic artifacts and 4,800 obsidian artifacts from more than 700 sites in the Southwest. The artifacts all date between A.D. 1200 and 1450. By applying formal social network analysis to the collection, or finding out who was making, using, and discarding similar objects over the course of daily life, they found that a large social network in the southern part of the Southwest grew very large before it collapsed. On the other hand, social networks in the northern part of the Southwest were more fragmented, but they persisted over time. “That really shocked us, this idea that you can have such long distance connections. In the pre-Hispanic Southwest they had no real vehicles, they had no beasts of burden, so they had to share information by walking,” Mills explained.