TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—An analysis of genetic and archaeological data suggests that Israel’s wild boars are descended from domesticated pigs imported by the Philistines and other seafarers some 3,000 years ago. “Our DNA analysis proves that the wild boars living in Israel today are the descendants of European pigs brought here starting in the Iron Age. Given the concentration of pig bones found at Philistine archaeological sites, the European pigs likely came over in the Philistines’ boats,” said Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University. Additional European pigs may have been brought to Israel by the Romans and the Byzantines, and then by Crusaders. Modern pigs from Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, and Iran, however, share a Near Eastern genetic signature.
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—A team of archaeologists led by Southampton University's Simon Keay are embarking on a massive project to study the interconnections between 31 important Roman ports across the Mediterranean, from Turkey to Spain. Focusing on sites dating to the first two centuries A.D., the team will conduct excavations at eight of the most important surviving ports, and will use satellite imagery and already available archaeological data to study another 23. "By studying these networks we aim to gather a wealth of knowledge about how they operated and why – also helping to set in context how trade was conducted in later historical periods and, indeed, today," says Keay.
BEIJING, CHINA—Moving the massive stones used to build Beijing's Forbidden City in the 15th and 16th centuries required more than sheer manpower. According to medieval Chinese texts, teams of workers moved the stones on sledges in the depths of winter. Now a team of modern engineers says those workers likely dragged monoliths weighing more than 100 tons on ice roads lubricated with water. Princeton engineer and fluid mechanicist Howard Stone Sledges crunched the numbers, and estimates that it would take 1,500 men to drag a sledge carrying a 112-ton monolith over bare ground, while only 50 men would be needed haul it across a road covered in ice and a thin film of water. Though wheeled vehicles were introduced to China in the fourth century B.C., by the 1500s they still could not carry a load weighing more than 86 tons.
ANKARA, TURKEY—Excavations at the Kultepe mound in central Turkey have revealed a large building that could be a royal palace from which rulers administered the Bronze Age city of Kanesh. Though the team of Turkish archaeologists has yet to completely excavate the building, preliminary work suggests its dimensions are enormous. According to a Ankara University archaeologist Fikri Kulakoglu, the 4,500-year-old structure may be larger than any other building known from the period. Further work at Kultepe will not only reveal the extent of the palace, but is expected to yield evidence of Kanesh's role in an extensive international trade network.
WARSAW, POLAND—A team led by archaeologist Marcin Krzepkowski has unearthed a large Late Bronze and Early Iron Age cemetery in northern Poland. At least 150 graves were discovered, and the cemetery contained more than 1,000 urns holding the cremated remains of the dead, who belonged to a farming people scholars call the Lusatian culture. The cemetery also held a number of bronze ornaments and a rectangular ceramic artifact known as a "moon idol," which Krzepkowski says are rare in this part of Poland. Among the graves were a number that held the remains of small children, who were buried with miniature ceramic vessels and clay rattles.
OSLO, NORWAY—More than 100 years ago, when the Oseberg ship was discovered in a burial mound dating to the ninth century, researchers recovered small silk fragments thought to have been looted by the Vikings from churches and monasteries in England and Ireland. But a new investigation by Marianne Vedeler of the University of Oslo suggests that the Vikings maintained trade networks with Persia and the Byzantine Empire by traveling along Russian rivers. She has found evidence of 15 different textiles in the Oseberg ship, many of which feature patterns and motifs from the Persian Empire. The medium-quality silk had been cut into strips for use as trimming on clothing. Other textiles in the collection had been woven locally from imported silk thread.
IOWA CITY, IOWA—An excavation at the site of a new building at the University of Iowa has uncovered a limestone foundation that dates to the 1830s. The foundation is thought to have supported a cabin overlooking the Iowa River. Trading beads were found in an area that was probably a storage area under the cabin’s floor boards. Six brick-lined cisterns dating to the late nineteenth century, two privies, and a well containing trash from the 1850s, including bottles, dishes, buttons, a sheet-music holder, and personal items, were also found at the site.
ITHACA, NEW YORK—Cornell University will return to Iraq a collection of cuneiform tablets that were donated to the school by Jonathan Rosen, a former business partner of antiquities dealer Robert Hecht. The 10,000 Mesopotamian tablets date to the fourth millennium B.C., and may have been looted from Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. Among the tablets, which record details of daily life, temple rituals, agricultural records, and the resettlement of refugees, are the private archive of a Sumerian princess. “We’re not accusing anyone of a crime, but we believe they should be returned,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Miro Lovric.
CAIRO, EGYPT—An Old Kingdom shrine, or naos, carved from limestone has been recovered by Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Police from a home near the archaeological site of Memphis, which was looted in 2011. The shrine features four statues on four bases carved with hieroglyphs. An investigation by the office of Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim will try to find the original location of the shrine and determine if it had been removed from the site illegally.
BELCHERTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS—Three fifth-grade boys looking for colonial-era artifacts on their school’s archaeology day uncovered a loaded Smith & Wesson model 10 .38-caliber revolver. Their teacher, Wendy Robinson, quickly called the police. Rust prevented the police from reading the serial number on the gun, but they estimate the weapon is between ten and 20 years old. Scientists at the state police crime laboratory will try to clean the gun and identify its owner. “It is an odd place to bury a gun. Maybe somebody just wanted to get it out of sight for a little while and had an intention of coming back to get it. It certainly wasn’t buried too far in the ground. It almost seems like somebody hid it in haste,” said Sgt. William Panto.
LIMA, PERU—Walter Alva, director of the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, has announced the discovery of a 3,000-year-old religious center built by the Chavin culture in the Lambayeque region of northern Peru. Two monoliths were found in the central part of the temple, which may have been dedicated to the water and fertility cult. “We’re thinking that it’s an oracle from the Chavin epoch, with subterranean structures, enclosures and spaces reserved for the Chavin priests,” he said.
MADISON, WISCONSIN—A massive flood 1,000 years ago may be responsible for the decline and eventual abandonment of the prehistoric city now known as Cahokia. Samuel E. Munoz of the University of Wisconsin examined cores from nearby Horseshoe Lake and found a thick layer of sediment followed by a decline in pollen from corn cultivation. The high waters probably did not reach Monk’s Mound, at the center of the city, but it may have forced as many as 15,000 people away from residential and agricultural areas. “When we realized we were looking at a flood, and that it fell right at this key time in Cahokia’s history, it was very exciting,” Munoz said.
LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—A 1,700-year-old lead coffin was discovered in a field near the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border by metal detector enthusiasts. The small coffin is thought to contain the remains of a Roman child and be one of the earliest Christian burials in the country. Scientists inserted and endoscope into a gap in the lid, and found that the coffin is full of clay. “It will be taken to our offices in Warwick where we can examine it under laboratory conditions to see what it can tell us about aspects of Roman period life, health, and of course death,” said Stuart Palmer of Archaeology Warwickshire.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Traces of the Hurrian civilization, long thought to have been limited to Asia, have been uncovered on the European continent, in Istanbul’s Küçükçekmece river basin. A team led by Şengül Aydingün of Kocaeli University uncovered 4,000-year-old god and goddess statues crafted from iron; bitumen used to waterproof objects and boats; tin; and ceramics. “The two statues that we have found are from the early Hittite period. The statues of this era were found for the first time in Istanbul. The traces of the Hittites were previously [only] found in Troy and İzmir,” she explained.
LAKE GEORGE, NEW YORK—While preparing to repave the parking lot and access road at Million Dollar Beach, archaeologists uncovered Native American artifacts estimated to be 10,000 years old. The prehistoric site is located at the southern end of Lake George, which is 32 miles long. The region is usually noted for its French and Indian War sites.
CAPE BRETON, NOVA SCOTIA—Archaeologist Bruce Fry says that the construction of a walking trail near the Fortress of Louisbourg by Parks Canada has damaged eighteenth-century house foundations from the early French settlement. “This was a very busy area. There were fishing establishments and taverns all along this coast area,” said Fry, who was a senior archaeologist during the reconstruction of the fort. David Ebert, manager of cultural resources at the Fortress of Louisbourg, replied that an environmental impact assessment was done and that the trail was designed for minimal impact. Some of the new findings will be incorporated into the trail, he added.
BAGAN, MYANMAR—Torrential rains have reportedly damaged several ancient pagodas in the ancient city of Bagan. “It’s due to weak points of the original architectural style. [Erosion] used to occur there every rainy season. But [the affected area] is not very big, just a foot wide in damage,” said an unnamed official from the Bagan Archaeological Research Department about the damage to the red-brick Htilominlo Pagoda, which was constructed in the early thirteenth century.
MANDALAY, MYANMAR—The site of a monastery has been discovered beneath the eighteenth-century tomb of King Uthumphon in the Linzin Hill cemetery. The Siamese king, who was also a Buddhist monk, had been brought to Burma as a prisoner of war after his capital, Ayutthaya, was conquered in 1767. Many other Thais were captured and moved with him. “We can’t say that this monastery belonged to King Uthumphon. Other abbots may have resided there,” said archaeologist Tin Maung Kyi.
JAKARTA, INDONESIA—Herawati Sudoyo of the Eikjman Institute for Molecular Biology announced that she will work with Richard Edward Green of the University of California to look for genetic traces of Denisovans and Homo floresiensis in modern humans living on the Indonesian island of Flores. Herawati adds that genetic study of H. floresiensis could determine if the “Hobbits” are in fact a separate species of hominid. “We can determine it through a wider perspective using ‘genome-wide scanning.’ We can see it from the aspects of metabolism, nutrition, food, including genes related to their susceptibility to diseases,” she explained.
KING’S LYNN, ENGLAND—Volunteers and members of the West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Archaeology Society have conducted an excavation at the site of the eighteenth-century Reffley Temple, home of the Reffley Brethren, a secret Royalist society that was formed after the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Fine porcelain and long clay pipes that were smoked by the members as part of a ritual were uncovered. Members also made a secret, alcoholic punch to toast Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and they feasted on large joints of beef, saddle of mutton, and lobster salad. It is thought that the secret society still meets today.