TEL AVIV, ISRAEL— A crescent-shaped, mud-brick wall that was more than 12 feet wide and 15 feet tall and covered with layers of mud and sand has been unearthed at Ashdod-Yam, an area under Assyrian rule in the eighth century B.C. This massive, Iron-Age fortification may have protected a large artificial harbor. “If so, this would be a discovery of international significance, the first known harbor of this kind in our corner of the Levant,” said Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University. The structure may have been built in connection with a rebellion led by the Philistine king of nearby Ashdod.
SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR—More than 100 sculpture fragments of five or six cat-like creatures and two censers have been uncovered at the site of Cihuatán in central El Salvador. The sculptures may have been of jaguars, but they are lacking spots. “It is estimated that Cihuatán was occupied between 1000 and 1200 A.D., and that its first inhabitants came from central Mexico, where they had abandoned their villages after the Mayan collapse,” said a statement from the office of El Salvador’s Culture Secretariat.
ROME, ITALY—A small hole in the ground hidden by bushes has led scholars to the biggest tunnel yet found beneath Hadrian’s second-century A.D. villa in Tivoli. The intact tunnel, dubbed the “Great Underground Road,” was large enough to allow carts and wagons to pass, so that servants could carry food and firewood from one part of the emperor’s vast palace to another. “The underground network helps us to understand the structures that are above ground,” said archaeologist Vittoria Fresi.
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—Excavations 11 miles east of Rome in the ancient city-state of Gabii by Nicola Terrenato of the University of Michigan and his students have uncovered a well-preserved building complex made up of walls crafted with giant stone blocks, geometrically patterned floors, and two terraces connected by a grand stairway cut into bedrock. The stone blocks “were stacked one on top of each other without any glue binding them together. This is the only technique they had access to, and it must have been the desire for this kind of grand construction that drove them to the invention of mortar about 125 years later,” Terrenato said. The structures date to between 350 and 250 B.C.—a time thought to have been marked by “modest,” and “inconspicuous” culture, as recorded by Cato the Elder and Cicero. The monumental buildings may have served as a public structure, or even as a lavish private residence.
KAVARNA, BULGARIA—A bronze ring featuring a small compartment may have been made to conceal a poison, according to Boni Petrunova of the National Archaeology Institute and Museum in Sofia. Petrunova unearthed the ring at a medieval fortress at Cape Kaliakra, in an area where 30 pieces of jewelry have been found. “I have no doubts that the hole is there on purpose and the ring was worn on the right hand, because the hole was made in such a way so as to be covered by a finger, so that the poison can be dropped at a moment’s notice. Clearly, it was not worn constantly and would have been put on when necessary,” he said.
DURHAM, ENGLAND—New research suggests that the Faroe Islands, located between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, were occupied at least 300 to 500 years earlier than had been thought. Viking invaders in the ninth century probably destroyed the settlements built by these earlier inhabitants, but archaeologists have found patches of burnt peat ash containing grains of barley that had been spread by people to control wind erosion beginning as early as the fourth century. “Although we don’t know who the people were that settled here and where they came from, it is clear that they did prepare peat for use, by cutting, drying, and burning it which indicates they must have stayed here for some time,” said study co-author Símun V Arge from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands.
NORFOLK, ENGLAND—Recent discoveries in Norfolk have been declared treasure at a coroner’s inquest because of their historic value. The first is a small silver disc inscribed, “Antonius, may you live in God,” a Christian formula of blessing. “We have practically no other evidence for any Christians in Norfolk,” said Adrian Marsden of the Norwich Castle Museum. The disc dates to between 312 and 410, and is thought to have been set in a signet ring. A Viking silver ingot that was probably used in trade and four Iron Age silver bars were also declared treasure. “The ingot offers some interesting possibilities for metallurgical analysis, to look at how pure they are and what sort of other metals if any might be alloyed with the silver,” added Marsden. His museum hopes to acquire the artifacts.
PIERRE, SOUTH DAKOTA—Erosion of the banks of the Missouri River uncovers artifacts left behind by people ranging from prehistoric villagers through nineteenth-century fur traders who fueled the beaver hat craze. Evidence of prehistoric trade includes Knife River flint from North Dakota, obsidian from the Yellowstone area, and exotic materials quarried in other parts of South Dakota. Archaeologists also find fishhooks, squash knives, and hoes made from bison bones. “People now gravitate to the same areas for the same reasons that people for millennia have gravitated toward those areas—shade, shelter, resources. It provided a source of food and water,” said archaeologist Richard Harnois of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Omaha District’s Oahe Project Office.
DORSET, ENGLAND—Researchers hope to identify the heavily armed merchantman they have just finished excavating off the coast of southwest England. Known as the Swash Channel Wreck, the ship’s rudder bears a carved face, indicating it was a high-status vessel. More than 1,000 artifacts from the second quarter of the seventeenth century have been recovered, but no cargo remained on board. Tests show that the wood for the ship was cut in 1628 from the coastal region near the Netherlands-Germany border. “We have been working on names, but there is no smoking gun, which is surprising, because it is a big ship and its sinking would have been a big event,” said Dave Parham of Bournemouth University.
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Karen Ruebens of the Center for the Archaeology of Human Origins at the University of Southampton has examined Neanderthal tools from northern Europe, and has recognized two hand-ax traditions—one from southwestern France and Britain, and the other from Germany and areas to the east. The distinct styles indicate that knowledge was passed from generation to generation. She found a transition between the two styles in the central area covering Belgium and the Netherlands. “The transition zone in Belgium and Northern France indicates contact between the different groups of Neanderthals, which is generally difficult to identify but has been much talked about, especially in relation to later contacts with groups of modern humans,” she said.
NARA, JAPAN—A set of 11 smooth stones discovered some 30 years ago in a village dating to the Yayoi Period (300 B.C. to A.D. 300), may have been used as weights for scales, and not as grinding stones as had been thought, according to archaeologist Susumu Morimoto of the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties. The cylindrical stones are 500 years older than the oldest bronze weights from the same period. “It may have been a more advanced era already with measurements and mathematics,” he said.
STAVANGER, NORWAY—A Norwegian conservator at the University of Stavanger's Archaeological Museum has developed a new method to determine whether ancient bones contain DNA. As part of her PhD work, Hege Ingjerd Hollund combined three methods of screening bone—microscopic, ultra-violet light, and chemical analysis—to identify genetic material in 425 bones, including those of the Dodo and the ancient ancestor of cattle. "These methods are not only fast and simple to do, but they also preserve the piece cut or drilled from the bone," says Hollund. "This can therefore be reused in other analyses." Adopting her screening method means searching for ancient DNA in bones could become both considerably less time consuming and less expensive, giving archaeologists and geneticists a chance to make more discoveries in a shorter period of time.
XIAN, CHINA—Scientists in China have analyzed sediments at the Homo erectus site of Shangshazui in northern China, and discovered that members of that extinct human species were living there up to 1.7 million years ago, which is 700,000 years older than previously thought. Paleoanthropologists already knew that H. erectus had migrated to southern China by that time, but the age of the northern site came as a suprise. The discovery means that H. erectus ranged across a much vaster area than anthropologists once believed.
LONDON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists digging sites in London ahead of the construction of a high speed railway continue to find remarkable artifacts. Some of their latest discoveries are three Roman horseshoes that were cast off some 2,000 years ago. They were found in the ruts of an ancient Roman road in the vicinity of the modern-day Liverpool Street station. Made of metal, the horseshoes would have been fastened to the hooves with leather straps.
LIMA, PERU—Archaeologists are using drones to help locate sites in Peru, many of which predate the rise of the Inca civilization in the 15th century. Over the hundreds of years since the pre-Inca societies existed, their adobe brick structures have fallen apart and been obscured by the landscape. Sites dating back 1,300 years and inhabited by people of the Moche culture are currently being identified by drones in a region north of the capital city of Lima. "We can convert the images that the drones provide into topographical and photogrammetry data to build three-dimensional models," says Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, the archaeologist leading the San José de Moro Archaeological Program. "By using the pictures taken by drones we can see walls, patios, the fabric of the city."