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.
PARIS, FRANCE—The U.S. State and Interior Departments are advising members the Hopi Indians of Arizona in their effort to stop the auction of 70 Katsinam, or sacred masks, next week at the Néret-Minet auction house. Katsinam, or “friends,” are owned communally and are thought to embody divine spirits. Many of the items in the sale are more than 100 years old, and may have been taken from unattended shrines, confiscated by missionaries, or even sold by individual tribe members. “Sacred items like this should not have a commercial value. The bottom line is we believe they were taken illegally,” said Leigh J. Juwanwisiwma of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. The government has agreements with other nations to stop the sale of their antiquities in the U.S., but the U.S. does not have reciprocal agreements to protect American artifacts abroad.
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—A husband and wife and two other men were arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury on allegations that they were involved with smuggling artifacts from Peru to the United States. The four defendants each face one count of smuggling and one count of interstate transport of stolen goods. The investigation by Homeland Security agents revealed that the accused were able to bribe Peruvian officials to get the artifacts, which had false certificates stating that the pieces were replicas, out of the country.
TAMIL NADU, INDIA—A special team of police assigned to solving a rash of temple burglaries arrested four people accused of looting stone and copper statues. The officers were able to recover 26 of the ancient statues that had been stolen from some of the many temples in the town of Kumbakonam when the arrested men confessed the name of their dealer. Artifacts have also been taken from temples in the towns of Swamimalai and Pasupathikoil.
HAMEI YOAV, ISRAEL—A large, 1,500-year-old wine press was found during salvage excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in southern Israel. The archaeologists think that fine wine was made for export at the site, which is located near the road to the port at Ashkelon. From Ashkelon, wine was shipped throughout the Mediterranean. A Byzantine ceramic model of a church decorated with floral motifs and crosses was also unearthed. “An oil lamp inserted into it through the decorated opening illuminated the inside of the model. Since the crosses also served as narrow openings, the light was disseminated via them and shadows of crosses were projected onto the walls of the building where the object was placed,” said excavation director Rina Avner. The wine press will be incorporated into an events garden at a spa.
TRIM, IRELAND—Irish archaeologists and a team of volunteers are excavating a thirteenth-century friary and its cemetery, where Geoffrey de Geneville, a French nobleman and an ancestor of Richard III, was buried. Funding for DNA testing would be needed to try to identify his remains, however. The site will eventually become an archaeological and public park. “Ireland’s greatest asset is its people and its heritage, and what we’ve done is try and put them together,” said archaeologist Steve Mandal.
BEIJING, CHINA—An intact Ming Dynasty tomb decorated with religious murals has been found during construction work in Jiangxi Province. Most of the 600-year-old paintings are in poor condition, although a section on the eastern wall is well preserved. The images depict peonies, lotuses, chrysanthemums, and sticks of bamboo in red, black, blue and yellow. Ming Dynasty murals are rare in southern China.
WEST CORNWALL, ENGLAND—A Bronze Age monument known as Men-an-Tol is being used as a rubbing post by grazing cattle, according to Ian McNeil Cooke of the Save Penwith Moors action group. “I noticed cattle hair on the holed stone with hoof prints in the churned up ground surrounding all three stones,” he said. The cattle have recently been introduced to the land as part of a natural way to keep the grass short. Tradition holds that children passed through the hole in the 4,500-year-old monument would be cured of rickets, and that women will soon become pregnant if they pass through the stone seven times backwards at full moon. “We are working with English Heritage to look into these claims and to ascertain whether there is any need to review grazing management for the area,” said a spokesperson for Natural England.
BASINGSTOKE, ENGLAND—Could a cursed Roman ring have inspired the writing of The Hobbit? It had been thought that JRR Tolkien was inspired by the Niebelung legends, but an exhibition at The Vyne, a sixteenth-century home built for King Henry VIII’s Lord Chamerlain, explores the possible link between a Roman gold ring and author. The name inscribed on the large, precious ring, which is part of the collection of the house, is mentioned on a curse tablet that was found some 100 miles away. “Among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens,” it reads. In 1929, archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler consulted with Tolkien, an Anglo-Saxon scholar, about the ring and the unusual name of the god mentioned in the curse. The Hobbit was published in 1937.
VALENCIA, SPAIN—Spanish researchers have detected the pigment dehydroindigo in Maya Blue, the extremely durable blue paint used by the Maya to decorate their walls, codices, and pottery. The pigment is formed when indigo oxidizes during heating. “Indigo is blue and dehydroindigo is yellow, therefore the presence of both pigments in variable proportions would justify the more or less greenish tone of Maya Blue,” said Antonio Doménech of the University of Valencia. Varying the temperature and the cooking time may have allowed the Maya to control the color of the paint. Clay is another ingredient in Maya Blue that makes it long lasting.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA—Two hundred years ago this week, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Gallatin exploded due to an accident and sank in Charleston Harbor. Three crew members were killed and five were severely injured. The Gallatin had been charged with enforcing maritime regulations and conducting incoming cargo inspections for the Treasury Department, and during the War of 1812, performing combat patrols and seizing enemy ships. Archaeologists will use side-scan sonar to look for the wreckage and the ship’s eight cannons. “The odds are long. If we don’t look, we’ll never know,” said Jim Spirek of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.
BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL—A possible genetic link has been found between the late nineteenth-century Botocudo people of inland, southeastern Brazil and Polynesians, supporting the unlikely suggestion that Pacific Islanders traded with the peoples living on the west coast of South America thousands of years ago. Of the bone samples that were analyzed from 14 Botocudo skulls, mitochondrial DNA from 12 of them matched a Palaeoamerican haplogroup. Mitochondrial DNA from two of the skulls, however, is found in a haplogroup common in Polynesia, Easter Island, and other Pacific Islands. That haplogroup is also found in Madagascar, so it may have come to the Botocudo through the nineteenth-century slave trade. “We currently don’t have enough evidence to definitively reject any of these scenarios,” said molecular geneticist Sérgio Pena of the Federal University of Minas Gerais.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Francesco D’Andria of the University of Salento announced that he has unearthed the structures of Pluto’s Gate, known as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman tradition, at the World Heritage site of Hierapolis in southwest Turkey. The remains of a temple, a pool, and a series of steps above a cave that emits poisonous gases were found, in addition to an inscription with a dedication to Pluto, ruler of the underworld, and Kore, or Persephone, whom he abducted. Before Hierapolis became a Roman city, the Plutonium’s cave was used in local religious rites by the eunuchs of the goddess Cybele.
REGGIO CALABRIA, ITALY—The restored Riace Bronzes, two full-sized sculptures of nude, bearded warriors discovered off the coast of Calabria in 1972, have been kept in temporary quarters at a regional government office for the past three years while Reggio Calabria’s National Archaeological Museum is under renovation. “I know it’s not nice seeing them horizontal, but we can’t stand them up again until they’re in their final placement in the museum,” said Simonetta Bonomi, Calabria’s archaeology superintendent. The fifth-century B.C. Greek bronzes may have been thrown from a ship traveling from Greece to Rome to lighten the load during a storm.
COLOGNE, GERMANY—For 1,000 years, Cologne was home to a prosperous Jewish community. Recent excavations have uncovered Hebrew-inscribed fragments of slate, ceramics, tools, toys, animal bones, and jewelry. “Excavations show that the Jews in Cologne for a very long time were on good terms with the Christians, that their cohabitation saw long phases of peace and harmony,” said archaeologist Sven Schuette. The community was eventually weakened by a crusader massacre in 1096, and then wiped out in 1349, when Christians blamed the Jews for a bubonic plague epidemic. Schuette would like a new museum to be built to house the 250,000 artifacts from his research, but many are opposed to the idea.
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Fossils of Neanderthal adults and children have been unearthed from Greece’s Kalamakia Cave, along with flint, quartz, and seashell scrapers. The cave is located on the western coast of the Mani Peninsula, and would have had a mild climate during the Ice Age. “Greece lies directly on the most likely route of dispersals of early modern humans and earlier hominins into Europe from Africa via the Near East,” said Katerina Havarti of the University of Tübingen. She thinks further excavation could yield evidence about the last Neanderthals and their possible interactions with modern humans. These are the first Neanderthal remains to be identified in Greece.
KHARTOUM, SUDAN—The ancient kingdoms of Kush and Nubia are yielding discoveries that archaeologists say are critical to the understanding of the history of Africa. “The history of Sudan can play a role for Africa that Greece played for the history of Europe. People have been living here for 5,000 years,” said Claude Rilly of the French Archaeological Unit in Sudan. The Sudanese government has signed an agreement with Qatar to fund additional archaeological missions, renovate the Sudan National Museum, and develop tourist areas. Tourism could become a new, much needed source of income for Sudan, which has been hard hit by the loss of oil revenue since the split with South Sudan.
MONTI LESSINI, ITALY—Silvana Condemi of the University of Ai-Marseille and her colleagues claim that a jaw from the Riparo di Mezzena rock shelter in northern Italy is from the first-known Neanderthal/modern human hybrid. “From the morphology of the lower jaw, the face of the Mezzena individual would have looked somehow intermediate between classic Neanderthals, who had a rather receding lower jaw (no chin), and the modern humans, who present a projecting lower jaw with a strongly developed chin,” she said. Genetic analysis of the bone shows that the individual’s mitochondrial DNA was Neanderthal, indicating a Neanderthal mother. The team speculates that the individual’s father may have been an invading modern-human male that lived between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago.
LOS OSOS, CALIFORNIA—Human remains were discovered last week during the construction of a new sewer line. The project had been designed to avoid as many archaeological sites as possible, but this particular Chumash burial area was in the middle of a roadway, so workers had been using shovels rather than heavy equipment to prevent as much damage as possible. “The site is covered and we are making sure it is protected. There may be additional remains than those found in the trench alignment,” said Mark Hutchinson of the Public Works Department. The Northern Chumash Tribal Council, and the Odom-Tucker family of the Northern Chumash, had been monitoring the project. The two groups have requested that the remains be reinterred as soon as possible, as close to the original cemetery as possible.