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Updated: 3 hours 23 min ago

Museum Reopens USS Monitor Conservation Lab

May 8, 2014

NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA—After a four-month-long closure due to a lack of federal funding, The Mariners’ Museum has reopened its wet lab, where the turret of the USS Monitor and other artifacts from the iron-hulled steamship are being conserved. Smaller artifacts had been moved to another lab, and a digital corrosion monitoring system was in place to maintain the stability of the larger objects that were left in place. According to The Virginian-Pilot, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has partnered with the museum in the project, has committed $200,000 for the year, with the possibility of additional money.

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5,600-Year-Old Tomb Unearthed in Egypt

May 8, 2014

CAIRO, EGYPT—A 5,600-year-old tomb, built before the rule of Narmer, the founder of the First Dynasty, has been uncovered in the ancient city of Hierakonpolis, the capital of the Kingdom of Upper Egypt. The mummified remains of a young man had been buried with ten ivory combs, tools, blades, arrow heads, and an ivory statue of a bearded man. Egyptologist Renee Friedman, director of the Hierakonpolis Expedition, explained to the AFP that the well-preserved tomb will provide scientists with new information on Predynastic rituals.

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CT Scan Confirms Mummified Remains

May 7, 2014

SWANSEA, WALES—A mummified baby at the museum at Swansea University had been thought to be a nineteenth century forgery of a 26th Dynasty Egyptian artifact because of its meaningless inscriptions and inconclusive results from an x-ray of its cartonnage case in 1998. But a CT scan at the Clinical Imaging College of Medicine by Swansea University’s Paola Griffiths showed a dark area that could be the remains of a fetus and what could be a femur. An amulet and strings of beads or tassels were also spotted. “We can imagine that the probable fetus represents someone’s terrible loss; an occasion of great grief and public morning,” Egypt Center curator Carolyn Graves-Brown told the South Wales Evening Post.

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Burials of China’s Qin Dynasty Tomb Builders Found

May 7, 2014

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Forty-five tombs thought to hold the remains of workers who built the mausoleum for Qin Shihuang, China’s first emperor, have reportedly been uncovered in central China. “The terracotta warriors and horses, as well as the other rare relics unearthed from the funerary pits next to the emperor’s mausoleum, might have been made by the people interred in the 45 tombs,” excavation leader Sun Weigang told China Daily. The bodies had been placed in coffins with the legs twisted, a burial custom typical of the Qin Dynasty, Sun added. Pottery in the burials could help identify the occupants of the tombs. 

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California Museum Will Return Statue to Cambodia

May 7, 2014

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA—Officials from the Norton Simon Museum have agreed to return a tenth-century statue known as the Bhima, or Temple Wrestler, after talks with government officials from Cambodia. The Bhima is one of several statues thought to have been looted from the Koh Ker site during the 1970s. One of them is the Bhima’s twin, the Duryodhana, which had recently been put up for auction, but will also be returned to Cambodia. “These statues were all plundered from Cambodia. They are war loot. They are stolen property,” Tess Davis, a cultural heritage attorney and an affiliate researcher at the University of Glasgow, told the Los Angeles Times. The museum had purchased the statue from an art dealer in New York in 1976.

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Wooden Notebook Discovered in Byzantine Ship

May 7, 2014

ISTANBUL, TURKEY—A wooden object dating to the ninth century has been discovered within one of the 37 ships uncovered in the Yenikapı area of Istanbul, which was known as Theodosius Port during the Byzantine period. “We found something like today’s notebook. It is made of wood and can be opened like a notebook. It has a few pages and you can take notes using was. Also, when you draw its sliding part, there are small weights used as an assay balance,” Ufuk Kocabaş of Istanbul University told Hurriyet Daily News. Sixty percent of the sunken ship was preserved, and a replica of it is being built. The amphoras it had been carrying suggest that its crew had traded from Crimea to Kersonesos.

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Looters Destroy Tomb in Southern Turkey

May 6, 2014

SILIFKE, TURKEY—Treasure hunters have reportedly blown up an ancient tomb carved from rock at the archaeological site of Olba, which is located on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey. Emel Erten of Gazi University blames the closure of a local police station for the destruction. “The ancient city has had a watch guard for the last eight months. But this last event proves that it is not enough. Our fears came true and one of the most precious pieces in the ancient city of Olba was damaged greatly,” she told Hurriyet Daily News. The closest police station is a half-hour away.

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Early Roman Basilica Discovered in Bursa

May 6, 2014

BURSA, TURKEY—A Roman-era basilica has been discovered in the ancient city walls of Bursa, which is located in northwestern Turkey. The rectangular-shaped structure had marble columns and painted walls. “This basilica served both as a court and a religious structure in the early Roman era. It is possibly the oldest structure in the city after the walls,” architect Ibrahim Yilmaz, who is in charge of the restoration of the walls and two of its towers, told Hurriyet Daily News. The basilica was discovered in the lower levels of one of the towers and will be restored.

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Peru’s Geoglyphs Guided Travelers to Celebrations

May 6, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—Geoglyphs created by the Paracas people some 2,000 years ago in Peru’s Chincha Valley probably pointed the way across the desert to gathering places for the winter solstice, according to Charles Stanish of the University of California, Los Angeles. Stanish and his team plotted the geoglyphs and the remains of settlements and ceremonial mounds and found that certain groups of geoglyphs led to particular mounds or settlements. He says that different political or ethnic groups created these signposts, which were visible from great distances, by clearing darker soil away from the white limestone. “They would be unmistakable,” Stanish told Science Now. A second type of geoglyph made of rocks was visible when the travelers approached them. “They’re converting this landscape into a big theater, and the ultimate goal is to bring people together to market, exchange goods, manufacture goods, exchange marriage partners, gossip, do all the things people like doing. And then they’re competing with each other to bring in the most supporters,” he explained. 

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Conservators Stabilize Hovenweep Monuments

May 5, 2014

CORTEZ, COLORADO—Hopi stonemasons led by Herschel Talashoma are working at the Cajon Canyon site at Hovenweep National Monument, as part of a restoration project to stabilize the thirteenth-century ruins affected by erosion and modern visitors. Previous conservation efforts in the 1940s and 1960s used concrete, but an acrylic polymer mixed with earth and mortar are now employed to strengthen the double-stone construction. “There’s always a learning process to stabilization. The terrain, the weather, the exposure: every site and situation is different,” National Park Service archaeologist Noreen Fritz told the Cortez Journal. Talashoma is keeping detailed records of all of the work he and his team have done at Hovenweep. “The work is important so future generations can enjoy these sites,” he explained.

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Did the Vikings Travel to Madeira?

May 5, 2014

MADEIRA, MACARONESIA—Dates for a sample of fossilized bone from a house mouse suggest that the rodents were carried to the island of Madeira by European colonists before A.D. 1036, or 400 earlier than previously thought. (The Portuguese took possession of Madeira in 1419.) “Current populations of house mice on Madeira show similarities in mitochondrial DNA with those in Scandinavia and northern Germany, but not with those in Portugal,” Josep Antoni Alcover of the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies told Phys.org. Could the mice have traveled to the island with the Vikings? Further morphologic and genetic studies of the fossils are needed. “There are no historical references so far about the Vikings traveling to Macaronesia,” Alcover added.

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Historic Taverns Unearthed in New York City

May 5, 2014

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—An excavation in Lower Manhattan has unearthed liquor bottles, plates, and mugs from a nineteenth-century German beer garden that was known as Atlantic Garden, and the colonial-era Bull’s Head Tavern, built in the 1740s by a butcher near New York City’s first slaughterhouse. “The Atlantic Garden was actually a tourist destination in its day—it was known for its German food and beer, and as a place for music and parties. It was built over the Bull’s Head Tavern, a place where travelers, many selling their cattle, stopped in for food, drink, to socialize or spend the night,” Alyssa Loorya, president of Chrysalis Archaeology, told DNAinfo New York. The site is located along The Bowery, which was once the only road in and out of Manhattan. 

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Rock Art Destroyed in Southern Spain

May 2, 2014

QUESADA, SPAIN—A UNESCO-listed rock-art panel estimated to be 5,000 years old was destroyed by thieves who tried to remove it from the wall of Los Escolares Cave, according to a report in The Local. Visitors to the cave, located along the Mediterranean coast, noticed the chip marks and rock fragments on the floor. “A lot of these places are abandoned and need greater supervision. Although there is legislation protecting these sites in theory, there is a lack of political will,” said José Antonio Berrocal, president of the Speleology Federation of Andalusia.

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Wet Sand May Have Helped Egyptians Move Pyramid Stones

May 2, 2014

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS—Egypt’s pyramid-builders may have used water to move massive stone blocks across the desert sands. Physicists at the University of Amsterdam tested the method shown in a wall painting in the tomb of Djehutihotep, which dates to 1900 B.C. In the painting, 172 men haul a statue with ropes attached to a sledge. A person standing on the front of the sledge pours water over the sand—an action that Egyptologists had reportedly labeled a ceremonial act. Tests have shown, however, that the right amount of water helps the sledges to glide across the surface of the sand. “If you use dry sand, it won’t work as well, but if the sand is too wet, it won’t work either. There’s an optimum stiffness,” Daniel Bonn told Live Science.

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Concretions Will Be Removed from Civil War Submarine

May 2, 2014

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The H.L. Hunley, a Civil War-era submarine, will be immersed in a caustic bath that will remove the concretion of sand and shell that accumulated on its 40-foot-long iron hull. The procedure will also extract salt from the hull so that the Hunley can eventually be displayed without immersing it in water. Once the sediment has loosened the scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center will begin to scrape it off. “Under that concretion is the possibility of new information about the attack,” archaeologist Michael Scafuri told The Post and Courier. The submarine sank and disappeared in 1864 after it rammed a torpedo into the USS Housatonic.

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Long-Term Residents Built Stonehenge

May 2, 2014

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The parish of Amesbury has been continuously inhabited in every millennia since 8820 B.C., making it the oldest settlement in Britain, according to carbon dates obtained from the bones of aurochs unearthed at the Mesolithic Blick Mead site. Located just one and a half miles from Stonehenge, “the site blows the lid off the Neolithic revolution in a number of ways. It provides evidence for people staying put, clearing land, building and presumably worshipping monuments,” David Jacques of the University of Buckingham told The Express. The first monuments at Stonehenge consisted of enormous pine posts that were put in place between 8820 and 6590 B.C. Residents of Blick Mead would have traveled the River Avon to the ritual area for feasting, and perhaps for the bright pink flint that wasn’t available anywhere else in the country. Stonehenge was eventually erected after the long-term use of the area in 3000 B.C.

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Interactions With Scavengers “Crucial” to Human Evolution

May 1, 2014

ELCHE, SPAIN—A team of researchers from the University Miguel Hernández concludes that interactions with scavengers, such as vultures, hyenas, and lions, have been crucial to the evolution and welfare of humanity. “At first, the interaction was primarily competitive, but when humans went from eating carrion to generating it, scavengers highly benefited from the relationship,” Marcos Moleón and José Antonio Sánchez Zapata explained in Science Daily. Language, cooperative partnership, and cultural diversity were all probably the result of selective pressures brought on by this competition with scavengers, they argue. 

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Foundation Deposits Found in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings

May 1, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND—Four rare deposits of artifacts have been unearthed in the western valley area of the Valley of the Kings. “Previously discovered foundation deposits in the Valley of the Kings have always been associated with a nearby tomb,” wrote Afifi Ghonim, of the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities, in a report cited by Live Science. According to Ghonim, who presented the discovery at the Current Research in Egyptology conference, foundation deposits are placed in front of a tomb or temple when construction begins, and usually include miniature versions of the tools used in the project, miniature offering vessels, and food offerings. These four offerings had been placed in a box shape, but there is usually a fifth placed on the axis of the tomb. “We found the four deposits that make up the box, but not the fifth. Perhaps it too is there, awaiting discovery in front of the tomb,” Ghonim explained. Precise dates for the deposits could help explain what happened.  

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Did Neanderthals Boil Their Food?

May 1, 2014

AUSTIN, TEXAS—John Speth of the University of Michigan thinks that Neanderthals probably boiled their food. Speth, who recently presented his ideas at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, speculates that Neanderthals boiled their food in skin bags or in trays crafted from twisted birch bark, citing as evidence animal bones at Neanderthal sites that are free of gnawing marks, suggesting that the fat had been removed by cooking, and grains found in the teeth of a Neanderthal from Iraq that show signs of having been cooked. “You can boil in just about anything as long as you take it off the flame pretty quickly,” he told National Geographic Daily News. It is known that Neanderthals made birch tar for hafting spear points by heating birch bark in oxygen-free holes. Evidence of boiling by modern humans dates to some 26,000 years ago, after the demise of the Neanderthals, and consists of stones that had been heated in fire pits and dropped into water.

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Intelligence Not Responsible for Neanderthal Demise

May 1, 2014

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Will Roebroeks of Leiden University and Paola Villa of Boulder’s University of Colorado Museum surveyed the archaeological record for evidence to support the idea that the Neanderthals died out because modern humans were better hunters with better weapons and a broader diet. “The explanations make good stories, but the only problem is that there is no archaeology to back them up,” Roebroeks told The Guardian. Villa adds that it is important to compare Neanderthals to their modern human contemporaries, not their successors. “The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there. What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true,” she said.

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