CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—A tourist has discovered Neolithic artwork in a shallow cave in the Egyptian Western Desert that supports the suggestion that ancient Egyptian culture drew on cultural influences from Africa as well as the Near East. Giulio Lucarini of Cambridge University and co-director of the Archaeological Mission in the Farafra Oasis examined the etchings last month. He thinks the images, including a giraffe, a cow-like mammal, two boats, and a human hand, could date to between 6000 and 5,500 B.C. The drawings resemble those from another site in the region known as Wadi el Obeiyid Cave, discovered in 1995. “Our work shows that people living in the Eastern Sahara had a significant and developed culture which fed into the development of the Pharaonic civilization and beyond,” Lucarini announced at the University of Cambridge.
AL-GHAZALI, SUDAN—Polish archaeologists are excavating a large Byzantine-era church made of sandstone blocks in Sudan that was located on a busy trade route. “Along the east wall of the monastery we dug out a row of 15 toilets. However it may sound and look, it is an important discovery. Nowhere else in Nubia has such a large sanitary complex been discovered,” Artur Obluski of the University of Chicago told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The team also conserved the plaster walls of the church, which date to the first half of the seventh century and were decorated with Christian images and the names of the four archangels. “By removing a thick layer of mud, we restored part of the original appearance of the church, which is now glowing white from a distance,” added Cristobal Calaforra-Rzepka, head of the conservation team.
LIMASSOL, CYPRUS—Three burial chambers were discovered when the roof of a cave collapsed during landscaping work in southern Cyprus. The tomb, which dates to the second or first centuries B.C., contained seven sets of skeletal remains, amphorae, and small artifacts. “Archaeologically, it is a very interesting area,” archaeologist Yiannis Violaris of the Antiquities Department told the Cyprus Mail.
DEARBORN, MICHIGAN—Excavations in the British Virgin Islands have uncovered evidence of ritual practices of English plantation residents in the eighteenth century. At the first site, John Chenoweth of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and his team unearthed a cache of grape shot—small iron balls meant to be shot from a cannon—that had been buried in two postholes under a two-room sugar plantation house. Chenoweth thinks the iron grape shot may have served a magical purpose, since it was in short supply and valuable to the English who needed to protect themselves from the Spanish and were concerned about slave uprisings. On another island, the team recovered a whelk shell that had been modified to hold fish bones, pins, and the bones of a Puerto Rican racer snake. It had been placed in the foundation of another two-room plantation house, and resembles a witch’s bottle, found in England and America. Chenoweth told Live Science that witch’s bottles are “seen as an effort to protect the house against bad magic basically, spirits and spells that might seek to harm some of the occupants of the house.”
ÇORUM, TURKEY—A 1,900-year-old sarcophagus that was illegally unearthed from a tumulus in northern Anatolia has been moved to the Çorum Museum. “The two long sides of the tomb cover were broken by smugglers who wanted to enter it. One of the acroteria was also broken. Some pieces of this acroterion were found by experts and attached to their place by the conservator of the museum. Eros, the god of love in Greek mythology, is embroidered on the surface of the tomb. The head of Eros received damage because of smugglers,” museum director Önder İpek told Hurriyet Daily News. Bones thought to have belonged to a woman will be tested. A silver coin, a gold earring, and a ring were also recovered.
ESSEX, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that climate change has brought ship-boring organisms to live in the warmer waters of the Thames, and they are damaging the London, a seventeenth-century vessel that had been well protected in the river’s thick silt. “It’s rare for wooden shipwrecks of this age and older to survive to this extent,” said Mark Dunkley, a marine archaeologist at English Heritage. The wooden ship was part of a convoy that transported Charles II to England from the Netherlands after the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658. A gunpowder explosion sank the London in 1665, an event that killed 300 people. Rescue divers carrying out emergency excavations at the site have recovered leather shoes, a bronze signet ring, clay pipes, navigational dividers, buckets, pots and cooking utensils, door latches, an anchor cable, and cannonballs, despite the poor visibility and strong currents.
HACHELBICH, GERMANY—A Roman military camp that held up to 5,000 troops has been discovered in central Germany. “People have been searching for evidence of the Romans in this part of Germany for 200 years. It took a long time before we realized what we had, and we wanted to be sure,” Mario Kuessner, and archaeologist for the state of Thuringia, told Science Now. The camp, shaped as a rough rectangle with round corners, was surrounded by a trench and had a gate on its northern edge. A low wall of dirt would have been placed behind the trench and topped with tall stakes. “It’s typically Roman—no Germans did that sort of thing,” Kuessner explained. Bread ovens, four nails from Roman boots, a piece of horse tack, and part of a scabbard have also been found. The camp may have been a stopover on the way to invade territory further east. “The best would be if we could find coins or something with the legion number written on it. That would help us pin down the date,” he said.
BOTHELL, WASHINGTON—Analysis of mitochondrial DNA taken from a tooth of a teenaged girl discovered seven years ago in Mexico’s flooded caverns of Hoyo Negro suggests that modern Native Americans are the descendants of the earliest Palaeoamericans, who migrated across the Bering land bridge from Siberia, despite the differences in their skull shapes. The girl, dubbed Naia after the water nymphs of Greek mythology, resembles the fossils of other Paleoamericans in that she had a small, projecting, angular face and pronounced forehead. Carbon dating of her tooth enamel and the ratio of uranium and thorium in the mineral deposits taken from her bones indicate that she died between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago. Naia’s skeleton is the first complete Palaeoamerican skeleton to have been found, but her remains were measured underwater and left in situ because it is impossible to recover them safely from the cave. “Naia, and the other animals, would have slipped through a hidden sink hole and fallen 30 meters into a shallow pool. There would have been no way out,” palaeontologist James Chatters of Applied Paleoscience told Nature News.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that additional nineteenth-century wall paintings depicting images related to the Crusades were revealed during the repair of a broken water line at the Saint Louis French Hospital, located near the New Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City wall. The images were painted by Count Marie Paul Amedee De-Piellat, who established the French area of Jerusalem and saw himself as a “last Crusader” combating the influence of other colonial powers in the city. Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority assisted with the restoration of the artworks, many of which had been covered in paint over the years. The building is currently used as a hospice care facility.
SØBY, DENMARK—A thirteenth-century Christian statue of the Virgin Mary was discovered under the floor of a small church in eastern Jutland by archaeologist Hans Mikkelsen of Denmark’s National Museum, where the statue was cleaned and restored. The Limoges figurine, complete with halo, probably sat atop a crucifix that was used in a church processional. “I could see the colors—the red in the halo and the beautiful blue-green nuances in the clothing. It is absolutely fantastic,” conservator Signe Nygaard told The Copenhagen Post.
ITHACA, NEW YORK—Tree ring samples taken from an ancient Egyptian coffin in 1938 have been tested with “dendro radiocarbon wiggle matching” by Sturt Manning of Cornell University and an international team of scientists, who also examined wood from funeral boats that had been buried near the pyramid of Sesostris III. The technique calibrates radiocarbon isotopes in the tree rings with patterns known from other places in the world with identified chronologies and produces very precise results. The scientists were able to confirm that the “higher” Egyptian chronology for the time period is correct, and they also learned that a dry period occurred following the year 2200 B.C. “This radiocarbon anomaly would be explained by a change in growing season, i.e. climate, dating to exactly this arid period of time,” Manning told the Cornell Chronicle.
WIGTOWNSHIRE, SCOTLAND—Road construction in southwest Scotland has uncovered evidence of human settlement in the area dating back 9,000 years. Among the discoveries are two necklaces made of jet beads that date to 2000 B.C., a brooch dating to the Roman period, a Bronze Age cemetery complex, and an Iron Age village. The necklaces had been made in North Yorkshire and are the first of their kind to have been found in southwest Scotland. “In addition, numerous smaller sites have been discovered which seem to relate to the use and exploitation of the land both through hunting and farming,” Rod McCullagh of Historic Scotland told The Scotsman.
VALPARAISO, MEXICO—An undisturbed shaft tomb in southern Zacatecas has been excavated by a team led by Laura Solar of the National Institute of Anthropology and History. They found the remains of 28 individuals, including two adolescents and eight infants; three snail shells, two of which had been modified to act as trumpets; a shell bracelet; and millions of beads. Some of the dead had been armed for battle. “We don’t know if the other individuals were placed simultaneously. There is a discussion to whether or not the shaft tombs contain the remains of sacrificed people; those who died in a simultaneous event; if they are consecutive burials of people related to each other or people with a similar sociopolitical statues,” Solar told Art Daily. Some of the artifacts suggest that the inhabitants of southern Zacatecas participated in trade along the Pacific coast.
PILBARA, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—Rock art in Murujuga National Park on the Burrup Peninsula has been defaced by vandals who etched the words ‘go and work for a living’ above the ancient images. “What we have here is the largest gallery of rock art anywhere in the world, the oldest gallery of rock art anywhere in the world and the only gallery of rock art anywhere in the world that actually shows the continuing inhabitation of an area and the changes to society over the last 30,000 years,” member of Parliament Robin Chapple told 7 News. “There’s people spray painting their names on rocks around the Burrup,” he added.
VALLADOLID, SPAIN—Elisa Guerra-Doce of the Universidad de Valladolid examined the remains of leaves, fruits, and seeds of psychoactive plants; residues suggestive of alcoholic beverages; psychoactive alkaloids found in artifacts and prehistoric skeletal remains; and artistic depictions of mood-altering plant species and drinking scenes at archaeological sites in Europe. Most of these substances—such as bits of opium poppy in the teeth of an adult male unearthed at a Neolithic site in Spain; charred Cannabis seeds in bowls found in Romania; traces of barley beer in vessels from Iberia; and illustrations of the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the Italian Alps—were found in tombs and ceremonial places. Guerra-Doce contends that these substances aided in communication with the spiritual world and were highly regulated as part of a belief system. “Far from being consumed for hedonistic purposes, drug plants and alcoholic drinks had a sacred role among prehistoric societies,” she told Science Daily.
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OHIO—The James Garfield Monument at Lake View Cemetery was broken into last week, and roughly two dozen demitasse spoons and teaspoons were stolen from a glass case, according to a report by CBS News. Police recovered cigarette butts, a t-shirt, and a whisky bottle from the scene, but no suspects have yet been identified. President Garfield was shot by an assassin and died just 200 days into his term. His casket is on display in the monument.
DALLAS, TEXAS—A team led by David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University has checked the accuracy of the dates obtained for 29 archaeological sites said to provide evidence of a cosmic collision thought to have triggered the Younger Dryas, a 1,300-year-long period of freezing temperatures that began at the end of the last Ice Age, some 12,800 years ago. Meltzer found that the dates for only three of the 29 sites, which include Clovis sites in North America, plant-cultivating hunter-gatherers in Syria, and sites in Greenland, Germany, and Belgium, fall within the onset of the Younger Dryas. “The supposed Younger Dryas impact fails on both theoretical and empirical grounds,” Melzer told Science Now.
MARION, OHIO—What is now the back porch area of President Warren G. Harding’s Ohio home is being excavated as part of a project to restore it to the way it looked in 1920, when Harding conducted his “front-porch campaign” for the White House. “When we did our research, we found evidence [the larger kitchen] was added just prior to the campaign,” Sherry Hall, site manager for the Harding Home and Museum, told the Mansfield News Journal. The larger kitchen was necessary to prepare meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings with Harding’s campaign personnel and visiting dignitaries. The kitchen was returned to its original configuration in 1978, when the whole house was opened to the public. “The Ohio Historical Society has known for a long time that the house should really reflect its most famous year, which was 1920,” Hall added.
EPPS, LOUISIANA—Sediment tests have shown that archaeologist Diana Greenlee has discovered another mound in a remote, wooded area at Poverty Point. “I wasn’t sure it was a mound because archaeologists have been working here for a hundred years, so what were the chances there was really a mound they haven’t found?” she told The News Star. The small mound, called Mound F, was likely to have been built after 1280 B.C. “It was probably one of the last earthwork projects here at the site by the Poverty Point people,” she added.
EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND—A bone from a Great Auk has been unearthed at the Scottish Seabird Centre, along with bones of butchered seals, fish, and other seabirds. The bone from the flightless Great Auk has been dated to the fifth to seventh centuries, when it was a favored food source because it was easy to catch. “The discovery of the Great Auk bone at Kirk Ness is an illuminating find, as we seek to understand and document the importance of the area in the history of wildlife and human habitation in the Middle Ages,” archaeologist Tom Addyman told BBC News. The Great Auk, whose range once extended from the northeastern United States across the Atlantic to Britain, France, and northern Spain, was extinct by the middle of the nineteenth century.