CAIRO, EGYPT—Antiquities Minister Mohammed Ibrahim announced that a harbor and papyri dating to the third millennium B.C. were discovered at the site of Wadi el-Jarf, located on the Red Sea. A team of Egyptian and French archaeologists uncovered stone anchors, stone cutting tools, homes for the port’s workers, and 30 caves closed up with stone blocks bearing the name of pyramid-builder King Khufu. “The papyri, which provide detailed accounts of daily life and traditions at the time of the Old Kingdom, are considered the oldest ever found,” Ibrahim said.
PARIS, FRANCE—A Paris court ruled that an auction of religious items of the Hopi tribe of Arizona could proceed, despite appeals to suspend the sale from the Hopi tribe, the U.S. government, and actor Robert Redford. One of the 70 masks for sale was purchased by an association that will return it to the Hopi tribe. “The decision is very disappointing since the masks will be sold and dispersed. The Hopi tribe will be extremely saddened by the decision, especially since the judgment recognizes that these masks have a sacred value. The judge considers that the imminent damage (to the masks) is not sufficiently strong,” said Pierre Servan-Schreiber, a lawyer for the Hopi tribe. The Hopi tribe says that the masks were stolen sometime in the early twentieth century. “I am also very concerned about the Hopis’ sadness, but you cannot break property law. These are in (private) collections in Europe: they are no longer sacred,” said Gilles Neret-Minet, of the auction house behind the sale.
JAKARTA, INDONESIA—The 3,000-year-old burials of 66 people, in addition to chicken, dog, and pig bones, have been found in Sumatra’s Harimau Cave by Truman Simanjuntak of Indonesia’s National Research and Development Center for Archaeology. “It means that this cave was occupied intensely by humans and they continued to occupy it for a very, very long time,” he said. The cave also contains the first rock art to be discovered in Sumatra. “Up to now we have encountered up to 50 caves in the area and most of the caves contain archaeological evidence,” Simanjuntak added. Scientists from Australia’s University of Wollongong will join the National Research and Development Center for Archaeology in the continued study of Harimau Cave.
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND—Paleopathologist Frank Ruhli of the University of Zurich used a CT scanner to examine the teeth of Ötzi, the Neolithic man whose frozen mummy was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991. “It’s surprising how bad condition he is in. We have the whole range of disease pathologies you can imagine,” said Ruhli. Ötzi’s diet, rich in milled grains, would have abraded the surface of his teeth and gums, eventually exposing the bone and loosening his teeth. He suffered from severe wear of his tooth enamel, several cavities, and severe gum disease. His right front incisor was also damaged, probably in a fight or an accident.
YORK, ENGLAND—While we often think of Ice Age hunter-gatherers tracking large game and traveling light, a new study of early Jōmon pottery fragments taken from 13 different sites in Japan suggests that people cooked fish, shellfish, and possibly marine mammals in pottery vessels as early as 15,000 years ago. Biomolecular archaeologist Oliver Craig of the University of York and his team of scientists analyzed scrapings of charred bits from 101 ceramic vessels, most of which came from inland sites that had been located near rivers or lakes. Craig thinks that the people may have been traveling to the coast to catch fish, or catching salmon when they came upstream to spawn. “We weren’t expecting to get such conclusive results from charred deposits of this age,” he said.
LONDON, ENGLAND—Archaeologist Mike Pitts and scientists from the University of Southampton used digital imaging technology to record and analyze the carvings on the surface of the Hoa Hakananai’a statue from Easter Island, which is housed at the British Museum. This particular statue is thought to have been created around A.D. 1200 A.D., and then moved to a stone hut and intricately carved with motifs around 1600, at a time when the religious beliefs of the Rapa Nui were shifting to the cult of the birdman. “The Hoa Hakananai’a statue has rarely been studied at first hand by archaeologists, but developments in digital imaging technology have now allowed us to examine it in unprecedented detail,” said Graeme Earl of the university’s Archaeological Computing Research Group.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Road construction in the Kiryat Menachem neighborhood of Jerusalem has uncovered a ritual bath complex dating to the late Second Temple Period. The bath is notable because it was placed in an underground chamber that received rainwater from three collecting basins on the roof. The water was transported to the bath through channels. “It’s interesting to note that the bath conforms to all of the laws of kashrut, like collecting the water in it naturally, without human contact, and ensuring that the water does not seep into the earth, which is why the bath was treated with a special kind of plaster,” said Benyamin Storchan on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The bath was later used as a quarry and a cistern.
TRUJILLO, PERU—A new study of clamshells recovered from Moche graves indicates that frequent cycles of El Niño, followed by flooding and droughts, may have been a factor in the collapse of the Moche’s agricultural society. Cold ocean water is rich in nutrients and carbon, which is taken up by clams as they grow. During an El Niño, warm, nutrient-poor water replaces the cold water. These changes in carbon levels can be tracked in clamshells. “The people adapted but did it in a way that was uncomfortable. They faced a series of challenges and dealt with them in ways that must have been difficult, and unpleasant,” speculated geologist Fred Andrus of the University of Alabama. Scholars think that the resulting social upheaval required so many changes that the culture was eventually “transformed.”
FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE—Workers building a driveway at Eastern Flank Battle Park unearthed a 12-pound cannonball. Emergency personnel were called to the Civil War park, and they determined that the projectile was non-explosive and not dangerous. The cannonball was probably left after the Battle of Franklin, fought on November 30, 1864. “It’s one of those things that come off the property that will lend some credence to the idea that yeah, it really was a battlefield,” said Eric Jacobson of the Battle of Franklin Trust. Archaeologists expect that there are also prehistoric artifacts in the construction area, and sites linked to nearby Carnton Plantation, which served as a field hospital after the battle.
LONDON, ENGLAND—More than 10,000 artifacts have been recovered at a construction site on Queen Victoria Street, where a Temple of Mithras was discovered after World War II. The site, which was in the heart of the Roman city of London, sits along the banks of the buried Walbrook River. The waterlogged conditions preserved timber buildings, fences, clothes, leather items, writing tablets, and even a straw basket. An amber charm, a horse harness complete with ornaments and clappers, pewter bowls and cups, and a large collection of phallus-shaped charms were also found. There are more photographs of the artifacts at BBC News.
LONDON, ONTARIO—In 1845, British explorers led by Sir John Franklin set out for the Arctic in two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, only to become icebound. All 128 men were lost—the graves of some of them were eventually discovered on Beechey Island and King William Island. Chemist Ron Martin of the University of Western Ontario re-examined some of the bones of the Franklin expedition officers and crew. It had been thought that solder on poorly made cans of food, or even the lead water pipes in the ships, contributed to the poor health and confusion of the crew. But Martin says that the lead levels in the bones were too high to blame on the expedition’s stores. “The lead distribution is essentially uniform as might be expected from lifetime lead ingestion. There is no evidence for a sudden massive increase in lead during the latter part of any individual’s life,” he said.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—Chemist Mark Benvenuto of the University of Detroit and his team employed X-ray fluorescence to analyze the contents of patent medicine bottles from the collection at the Henry Ford Museum. They found that a majority of the samples contained calcium, iron, and zinc, but many also contained lead, arsenic, and mercury. “What we’re looking at is a group of people who were getting towards what we now consider modern medicine; they were taking the first steps. I believe some were systematically going about trying to cure some disease or another—but in that mix there was probably a huckster or two,” he said. The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Construction of a new railway station has uncovered three walls from the outer bailey of a twelfth-century castle. “The royal apartments were on a higher level than this. The royals may have walked down here at some point, but they would have spent most of their time up in the main royal areas,” said archaeologist Tim Upson-Smith. Pottery and animal bones, including a dog’s jaw, have also been found in the medieval level at the site. The castle, which had been used as a seat of Parliament, was demolished in 1662 under orders from King Charles II, and the site was cleared in 1859 to build the railway station.
NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have conducted a survey of the site of the Battle of Flodden, which took place on September 9, 1513, between England and Scotland. The English defeat of the invading Scottish army, led by King James IV, culminated in his death and the loss of 15,000 soldiers. On the last day of the project, archaeologists discovered a crown-shaped livery badge thought to have been worn by a messenger from the Scottish army. “Badges such as these showed allegiance on the battlefield and this one would only have been worn by someone directly connected with James IV himself,” said Chris Burgess of the Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—A new analysis of The Gospel of Judas suggests that the Coptic document may have indeed been made in the third century A.D. Microscopist Joseph Barabe of McCrone Associates and a team of researchers tested the chemical composition of the inks and examined how the document was put together. The presence of brown and black inks had led them to suspect that the document was a forgery, but a French study of other third-century Egyptian documents shows that ink technology was changing at that time, in a way consistent with the inks used in The Gospel of Judas. In addition, if someone had been trying to create a new document on an ancient-looking papyrus, the new ink would have gathered in its wrinkles. But, it appears that the ink and papyrus of the document aged together naturally. “There was definitely a point where, all of a sudden, I just kind of relaxed and said, ‘This is probably just fine,” Barabe remembers.
MARY, TURKMENISTAN—Turkmenistan is preparing to receive foreign tourists who are interested in its 354 archaeological monuments. “Many unique discoveries which are like nothing in the world are waiting their moments in the storage departments of Turkmen museums,” said an unnamed employee from Turkmenistan’s national heritage department. For example, the 4,000-year-old fortress town of Gonur-Tepe had been hidden by the sands of the Kara Kum Desert. Recent excavations at Gonur-Tepe have uncovered a rare, early mosaic, silver and gold jewelry, and carved stone and bone. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Merv, a city on the Silk Road, was founded some 2,500 years ago and sacked by the Mongols in 1221. The Sultan Sanjar Mausoleum, built in the twelfth century, is the best preserved structure in Merv.
YORK, PENNSYLVANIA—The Friends of Camp Security is a group of people working to raise enough money to pay off the cost of the site of an intact prisoner-of-war camp, where more than 1,000 English, Scottish, and Canadian soldiers were held during the American Revolutionary War. The site of Camp Security will then be handed over to the local government of Springettsbury Township. “This is an extraordinarily important site, because so few of these camp sites survived,” said Steve Warfel, a retired curator of archaeology at the Pennsylvania State Museum.
TELL MARDIKH, SYRIA—The fortified city of Ebla was first built 5,000 years ago because of the military value of its location. That location makes it attractive to modern fighters as well, but today’s soldiers bring vehicular traffic, construction projects, bunkers, open latrines, graffiti, and firepower, all of which cause damage to fragile ancient remains. Ebla is now used by anti-government fighters to watch for passing government military planes. The men have dug tunnels in previously untouched sections of the mound. Local children look for artifacts and people carry away dirt for building ovens. “A whole civilization belonging to all humanity is being destroyed,” commented Italian archaeologist Paolo Matthiae, who found an archive of 16,000 cuneiform tablets during his excavations of Ebla in the 1960s and 70s.
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—The Belgammel Ram, discovered by British divers off the coast of Libya in 1964, was analyzed by scientists led by Nic Flemming of England’s National Oceanography Centre. The 2,000-year-old bronze battering ram was once attached to the bow of a Greek or Roman warship, and would have been used to ram the sides of enemy ships. X-rays of its internal structure were made and reassembled into a 3-D image. Chemical analysis has shown that the ram was cast as one piece, and that the lead probably came from Greece. “We will never know why the Belgammel Ram was on the seabed near Tobruk. There may have been a battle in the area, a skirmish with pirates. …The fragments of wood inside the ram show signs of fire, and we now know that parts of the bronze had been heated to a high temperature since it was cast which caused the crystal structure to change. The ship may have caught fire and the ram fell into the sea as the flames licked towards it. Some things will always remain a mystery. But we are pleased that we have gleaned so many details from this study that will help future work,” said Flemming.
BAGHDAD, IRAQ—This video from CNN summarizes some of the challenges facing the 4,000-year-old city of Babylon. Archaeologists agree that restoration work under Saddam Hussein in the 1980s inflicted damage on the ancient remains and continues to cause problems. The dictator began to build a replica of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II on top of its ruins, and then, after the Gulf War, added a modern palace adjacent to it. In 2003, U.S. troops occupied the new palace. Visitors can see the basketball hoop they installed inside its walls. Concertina wire that was left behind has been reused to keep tourists away from a 2,500-year-old lion statue. An oil pipeline now runs through the eastern part of the site. “It goes through the outer wall of Babylon,” said tour guide Hussein Al-Ammari. Only two percent of Babylon has been excavated, but local development continues to encroach on the site.