LUXOR, EGYPT—Egyptologists have uncovered missing quartzite blocks that once belonged to the Colossi of Memnon, two massive statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III that once stood at the entrance of his mortuary temple in Luxor. The blocks had been missing from the colossi since an earthquake in 27 B.C. devastated the temple. The missing pieces included fragments of the arm, belt, and skirt of one of the colossi, as well as parts of the royal crown and foundation stone for both statues. Aly El-Asfar, head of the Ministry of State for Antiquities' ancient Egyptian section, told Al-Ahram that the discovery will enable archaeologists to reconstruct the colossi.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Archaeologists digging beneath an apartment building in Mexico City have discovered the remains of 12 dogs who were buried sometime between 1350 and 1520 A.D. Dogs were considered sacred animals by the Aztecs, who believed they accompanied human souls to the afterlife. While archaeologists have found isolated dog burials at Aztec sites before, this is the first time multiple dogs have been discovered buried together. "This is definitely a special finding because of the number of dogs and because we have found no connection to a building or with the deceased,” archaeologist Rocio Morales Sanchez told the Associated Press.
KILCHOAN, SCOTLAND—An archaeological team doing preservation work at the chapel of Mingary Castle on the west coast of Scotland has discovered markings scratched into the plaster walls. Made sometime between 1265 and 1295, the markings are thought to depict a local lighthouse, a ship, and perhaps the first letter of a name. "They've left messages on the wall and we're reading them," local historian Jon Haylett told BBC Radio Scotland. "It's pretty simple stuff, the sort of marks that would have been made by an illiterate man."
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—Landscapers working in the Scottish Highlands discovered a stone burial chest, or cist, capped with a small cairn. A rescue excavation conducted by archaeologists from Guard Archaeology revealed the partial remains of a Bronze Age woman suffering from dental disease. Osteoarchaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick told The Scotsman that “Dental disease in the form of periodontal disease and a cyst were present and are probably symptomatic of poor oral hygiene and are probably secondary to the moderate dental wear observed on most of the teeth.” Otherwise, the woman’s bones showed that she was strong and physically active. She had been buried with an undecorated pottery beaker containing seven fragments of flint.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—A team of scientists sequenced DNA samples from 1,490 modern people from 95 genetically distinct populations, and developed a statistical method to make inferences about which populations had interbred over the past 4,000 years. Evidence of “mixing events” was found in 80 of the populations, and some of those events coincide with historical records, such as the Hazara people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who had an influx of Mongol DNA around the time that the Mongol Empire expanded. Team member Simon Myers of the University of Oxford told Nature News that he would like to expand the model by using larger sample sizes and by adding ancient DNA samples. “That will give us a deeper understanding of human history,” he explained.
MONTREAL, QUEBEC—A fragment of a fifth-century B.C. Persian relief that had been stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011 was recovered by police from a home in Edmonton. Security footage shows a suspect in the museum, but the authorities are not sure how he removed the Persian relief, in addition to a Roman first-century B.C. marble sculpture, from their displays and got them out of the building in broad daylight. The Edmonton man, who has been charged with possessing stolen property and possessing the proceeds of a crime, paid $1,400 for the relief while on a trip to Montreal. “I cannot give you details to how it was purchased because the investigation is still ongoing it might interfere with the next steps of the investigation,” Sgt. Joyce Kemp of the Quebec Provincial Police force told CBC News.
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A 4,000-year-old skeleton with worn teeth was uncovered in a school playground. Archaeologists had been looking for traces of a medieval harbor in the village of Newhaven when they found the Bronze Age man, who had been about 50 years old when he died. He was buried in a crouching position with a pottery vessel. His teeth were probably worn from a diet of bread made from stone-ground grain. “We have removed the bones—the skull and bones from the upper body and arms, the pelvis and leg bones. Some of the middle is missing after being disturbed, possibly in the medieval period,” Edinburgh City Council’s archaeology officer, John Lawson, told The Edinburgh Evening News.
UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—A new genetic study of bottle gourds, which originated in Africa and have been used as lightweight containers all over the world, indicates that pre-Columbian specimens in the Americas are more closely related to African varieties. It had been thought that migrating humans carried gourds from the Asian subspecies with them over the Bering land bridge into North America, but archaeological evidence for the use of bottle gourds has not been found in Siberia, Alaska, or the Pacific Northwest. Logan Kistler of Pennsylvania State University and his team conclude that the gourds could have floated to the West African coast by river, and then drifted to the New World on Atlantic currents, probably landing on the coast of Brazil, where they took root. “Now, it’s really quite clear that [the bottle gourd] reached the New World under its own steam,” team member Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History told Science.
CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s antiquities minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced that a joint Spanish-Egyptian team of archaeologists discovered a wooden sarcophagus dating to 1600 B.C. in Luxor, at the Dra Abul-Naga necropolis. Dubbed the “Feathers Sarcophagus,” the lid of the human-shaped coffin is painted with bird feathers and the titles of the deceased, whose well-preserved mummy is thought to have been a high-ranking official. The shaft of the tomb had been blocked with limestone, protecting its contents from looters in antiquity. José Galan, head of the Spanish team, told Ahram Online that the excavation remains in full swing.
BRISTOL, ENGLAND--A recent analysis of the chemicals in human bones and residues from cooking pots found at archaeological sites across Britain show that in 4600 B.C., early hunters ate venison, wild boar, and seafood. Researchers from the University of Bristol and of Cardiff University found that when domesticated farm animals were brought to the island some 6,000 years ago, however, Britons abandoned wild foods and seafood in preference of milk and animals that produce it for the next 4,000 years. “Whilst we like to think of ourselves as a nation of fish eaters, with fish and chips as our national dish, it seems that early British farmers preferred beef, mutton and milk,” Jacqui Mulville of Cardiff University told The Australian.
FLORENCE, ITALY—A mass grave dating to the sixth or seventh century A.D. has been unearthed at a building site in Florence. The 60 bodies, perhaps representing victims of an epidemic, had been laid out head-to-toe, which is often done to maximize space. “We will conduct DNA and carbon-14 tests to determine the cause and time of death, as well as information on diet, pathologies, and work-related stresses at the time,” Tuscany Archaeology Superintendent Andrea Pessina told ANSAmed.
WILSALL, MONTANA—In 1968, the only known Clovis burial site was discovered accidentally on the property of the Anzick family in central Montana. The 12,600-year-old grave, the oldest in North America, contained the skeleton of a small child and some 125 artifacts, including Clovis fluted spear points and tools made from rare elk antlers. Now, DNA obtained from the bones indicates that the Clovis people are direct ancestors to some 80 percent of modern Native Americans. The results also suggest that the Clovis people originated in Asia. “I feel like this discovery confirms what tribes never really doubted—that we’ve been here since time immemorial and that all of the artifacts in the ground are remnants of our direct ancestors,” Shane Doyle of Montana State University told Live Science.
OSLO, NORWAY—Runologist K. Jonas Nordby of the University of Oslo has deciphered the ancient Norse jötunvillur code, found on nine known inscriptions. Nordby used a thirteenth-century stick on which two men had carved their names, Sigurd and Lavrans, in standard runes and in the code. The confusing system requires that the reader have a good working knowledge of the runes in order to swap them out with others for sounds in their names. “What if codes were used like a game, playing with a system? With jötunvillur, you had to learn the names of runes, so I think codes were used in teaching, in learning to write and read runes,” he told The Guardian.
LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Turi King of the University of Leicester will sequence Richard III’s genome and analyze the DNA of his mitochondria, along with that of one of his living relatives. The information could tell researchers about the king’s hair, eyes, and possible diseases. The comparison of the mitochondrial DNA taken from Richard III and the relative will examine their relationship through the maternal line. “Sequencing the genome of Richard III is a hugely important project that will help to teach us not only about him, but ferment discussion about how our DNA informs our sense of identity, our past and our future,” King told Culture 24.
BURGOS, SPAIN—A study employing new dating methods and techniques by researchers from the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution shows that the sediments at the Gran Dolina site, where the first remains of Homo antecessor were found, are 900,000 years old, or 120,000 years older than previously thought. “The change might sound very small or very large, but the TD6 stratum is known precisely as having been the place of discovery of the Homo antecessor and this further defines its age,” Josep M. Pares, leader of the study, told Science Daily. The team will attempt to date individual fossils, especially teeth, in the next phase of refining the chronology.
AMHEIDA, EGYPT—A school that eventually became part of a larger house has been identified in the ancient town of Trimithis, located in western Egypt’s Dakhla Oasis, according to a report in Live Science. Texts had been written on the 1,700-year-old school’s walls in Greek. One of the texts refers to The Odyssey, and tells of Helen of Troy giving her guests a drug. Another text advises the students to work hard to develop their rhetorical skills. The school’s rooms were furnished with benches that students could sit on to read, or stand on to write on the walls.
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA—Archaeologist Kaitlin Brown of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her team have analyzed artifacts from the Channel Islands to learn where the proto-Chumash obtained most of their raw petroleum for tool-making. They had two options: malak, or sea-borne bitumen that washes up on shore, and woqo, which is found on the mainland. Woqo was thought to have been the more highly prized resource and would have to have been imported, but the scientists found that the material in the ancient tools was similar to the local tar balls. “We find that native islanders would use asphaltum from locally available sources and did not need to rely on mainland asphaltum exchange for their everyday needs,” Brown told Western Digs.
CARRICKFERGUS, IRELAND—An excavation at Carrickfergus Castle could tell scholars more about the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman structure, which was built on the shores of Belfast Lough by John de Courcy. Its long history includes sieges by King John in 1210 and Edward Bruce in 1315. The castle was used by the British Army until 1928, and during World War II, it served as an air raid shelter. The new work will focus on the Great Hall. “We do not know yet what we will find in the excavations and we want to make sure that any new discoveries become part of the visitor experience at the site,” Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan told The Irish Independent.
DAKAHLIYA, EGYPT—The remains of three more people from the Late Egyptian period have been found in a mastaba tomb at Tel El-Tabila, according to an announcement by Mohamed Ibrahim, Egypt’s Minister of State for Antiquities. Two of them had been mummified, and were found in anthropoid limestone coffins. The first, from the 26th Dynasty, had been damaged by high levels of humidity. Both coffins had been accompanied by wooden boxes filled with ushabti figurines. Ahram Online also reports that all of the bodies were accompanied by amulets, including one depicting Amun, Horus, and Neftis; a heart-shaped scarab; an Alba bird made of bronze; and 12 amulets featuring the Udjat eye of Horus.
GAZA—A young fisherman claims to have pulled an intact bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo from the ocean last August. He says he then carried it in a donkey cart to the Gaza Strip, where two of its fingers were removed to try to determine the value of the metal, before the rare statue appeared for sale on the Internet. Police then seized the statue and are investigating its origins. Archaeologists who have seen photographs of the statue estimate it to be at least 2,000 years old, crafted sometime between the fifth and first centuries B.C. But they question the fisherman’s story. “This wasn’t found on the seashore or in the sea…it is very clean. No, it was [found] inland and dry,” Jean-Michel de Tarragon of the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem told Reuters. “There is a feeling that they could find more and more [items] linked to the statue, more and more artifacts, so this is very sensitive,” he added.