WASHINGTON, D.C.—In 1493, after his initial voyage, Christopher Columbus wrote a letter to his patrons, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, which was reprinted and distributed to spread information about the New World. According to a report in Live Science, a joint American-Italian investigation team has determined that one of the 80 surviving copies of the letter, donated to the Library of Congress, had been stolen from the Riccardiana Library in Florence, Italy, where a forgery had been left in its place. The forged document, in addition to having mismatched stitching, lacked an original Riccardiana Library stamp. Investigators also found that bleach had been used to remove the Riccardiana Library’s stamp from the letter in the Library of Congress. “We are humbled to return this historic document back to its home country,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware Charles M. Oberly III said in a statement. How the theft took place is still under investigation. To read about a forensic study of a map Columbus is believed to have consulted, go to "Reading the Invisible Ink."
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—According to The Cambodia Daily, Phon Kaseka, director of archaeology at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, is leading the excavation of one of 69 known kiln sites near Cheung Ek Lake that produced water jugs, cooking pots, vases, boxes, and ritual objects. During the wet season, this kiln would have been close to the edge of the lake, where boats could have picked up the pots for distribution throughout the Angkorian Empire. The earliest kilns in the area are thought to date to the fifth century. The kiln currently under excavation may date to between the eighth and thirteenth centuries. After the thirteenth century, local production is thought to have tapered off. Fewer than ten of the 69 kiln sites are intact, but economic development in the area will soon destroy all of them. “What we don’t know about, and what has probably been largely destroyed through development by now, is about inhabitants in the Phnom Penh area during the Angkorian period,” commented Miriam Stark of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. To read more, go to "Letter From Cambodia: Storied Landscape."
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—City archaeologist Kay Hindes says that there were two missions before the Alamo, which was built by Spanish missionaries in 1724. “There were three locations of Mission San Antonio de Valero,” she said in a News 4 San Antonio report. The first site dates to 1718 and was only in use for about a year. Scholars aren’t sure why the mission was moved to the second location, but when a hurricane hit the region in 1724, the mission moved to the current site of the Alamo. Hindes has recovered pottery, beads, and nails at what she thinks was the mission’s first location. “I looked down and started seeing the metal and I literally, really, I just had to sit down on the ground because I was like ‘This is too incredible,’” she said.
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—A genetic study of a sexually transmitted canine cancer, led by Elizabeth Murchison of the University of Cambridge, has offered clues to how dogs may have traveled around the world with their humans. (The disease is believed to have originated in a single dog some 11,000 years ago.) Scientists analyzed the DNA of 449 nine tumors taken from modern dogs in 39 countries. BBC News reports that at least five times over the history of the disease, mitochondrial DNA from the tumor was traded with its host, creating five major ancestral groups for the tumors that exist today. Additional mutations allowed the scientists to trace the tumor’s family tree. “We were able to estimate the time since the mitochondrial transfer events, by counting the number of mutations. And one of them really seems to just track around maritime trade routes, in the last few hundred years. We found it along the coast of West Africa, in the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, South Africa, India, and some parts of southern Europe. You can just imagine those dogs on boats, which must have taken that tumor around with them,” Murchison said. To read about dogs in the archaeological record, go to "More Than Man's Best Friend."
PORT ARTHUR, AUSTRALIA—Excavation of the exercise yard at the Port Arthur penitentiary building, a World Heritage site in Tasmania, has yielded artifacts related to the convicts’ leisure time. “The key thing about this space was keeping the convict population healthy; as if they are healthy then they can work,” Tuffin told ABC News Australia. According to the report, the yards at first had shelters with fireplaces for the men. Then, in the 1860s, toilets and washing areas were added. “You don’t normally get that form of hygiene and treating waste until the 1880s,” Tuffin explained. The 1,600 artifacts recovered from the site include square and circular gambling tokens made of lead, slate, and ceramic; buttons; and clay pipes. Gambling was not allowed in the prison, so the tokens were probably smuggled into the yard. Many of the clay pipe stems bear the teeth marks of their owners. One pipe bowl features images of Napoleon and Wellington and may have been made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. To read more about prisoners on Tasmania, go to "Convict Mothers."
WARSAW, POLAND—A team from the Center of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw is excavating the Church of Raphael, part of a royal complex of buildings at the site of Dongola, the capital of Makuria—a medieval kingdom located in what is now northern Sudan. The church’s pulpit was made with hieroglyph-inscribed granite blocks repurposed from a pharaonic temple. Images of archangels, angels, priests, saints, and officials of the Nubian kingdom were painted on smooth lime wall plaster with expensive pigments. Each person depicted in the paintings was also identified and described. One of the inscriptions records a meeting at the church attended by the bishops of Makuria, the archbishop of Dongola, and the king. “The church was founded by King Joannes. Until now we did not know much about him. The inscription proves that he was an important person in the hierarchy of the church and had considerable political influence,” archaeologist Wlodzimierz Godlewski said in a Science & Scholarship in Poland report.
HEREFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—Experts from Historic Royal Palaces examined a richly embroidered altar cloth kept in a glass case at St. Faith’s Church, Bacton, and determined that it dates to the late sixteenth century. Tradition has associated the cloth with Bacton native Blanche Parry, who erected a monument commemorating her years of loyal service to the Queen at the church. Made from cloth of silver, the fabric has shaped seams at the back that suggest it may have been a skirt panel in a court dress at one time. During the Tudor period, sumptuary law limited the wearing of cloth of silver to the royalty and the highest echelons of the aristocracy. Historians have not found any documentation linking the altar cloth to Elizabeth I, but it is similar to the garment worn by the Queen in the “Rainbow portrait,” and may have been given to Parry as a gift. “This is an incredible find. Items of Tudor dress are exceptionally rare in any case, but to uncover one with such a close personal link to Queen Elizabeth I is almost unheard of,” Tracy Borman, joint chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said in a BBC News report.
BATH, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating rarely seen areas of the Roman Baths under York Street and Swallow Street have found traces of red-painted plaster on the outside wall of the Great Bath. According to a report in The Bath Chronicle, the building may have been painted that color during the Roman period. Samples of the materials have been sent to Bournemouth University for analysis, where specialists will try to determine where the building materials in the different phases of construction originated. The excavation team has also found evidence of the earliest phases of the Roman Baths, a second bath beneath York Street, the footings of the Roman walls of the Great Bath, and Roman floor levels to the south of the Great Bath. The project will create a new learning center and a World Heritage Center. “It’s fascinating to see new finds being unearthed. When the new center opens these spaces will form part of a state-of-the art education center, which will include a digging pit where school groups can uncover replica Roman objects in an authentic setting,” said Councilor Patrick Anketell-Jones. To read more about Roman Britain, go to "Artifact: Eagle Sculpture."
MANOA, HAWAII—Workmen building a water pumping station in the ancient Egyptian city of Thmuis uncovered a nilometer that was probably constructed in the third century B.C., during the reign of the Ptolemies. A nilometer was a device used by the ancient Egyptians to calculate the water level of the Nile River during its annual flood, and therefore predict the success of the harvest and compute the tax rate for the year. Rising water from the river may have flowed through a channel, or from the rising water table, into the nilometer’s circular well, which was accessed by a staircase. One of the large limestone blocks in the nilometer bears a list of Greek names followed by numbers, which suggests that these people may have contributed funds to build it. “We suspect it was originally located within a temple complex. They would’ve thought of the Nile River as a god, and the nilometer was this point of interface between the spiritual and the pragmatic,” archaeologist Jay Silverstein of the University of Hawaii said in a National Geographic report. To read about another recent discovery on the banks of the Nile, go to "Cult of Amun."
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Cribra orbitalia (CO), a condition in which the bone inside the eye sockets becomes porous, can be caused by iron deficiency anemia and is often used by anthropologists to assess the health and diet of prehistoric populations. It had been thought that this condition might have gone extinct, but when anthropologists from North Carolina State University and the University of the Witwatersrand examined 844 modern, historic, and prehistoric human adult and juvenile skulls for the prevalence of CO, they were surprised to find higher rates of CO in modern populations in both North America and South Africa. “We thought we might see some CO, but not to the extent that we did. The high rates may stem from the fact that these remains were part of forensic cases—they were often related to cases of homicide or neglect,” Ross said in a report in India Today. The team suggests that access to adequate nutrition and the presence of intestinal parasites are still problems for disadvantaged socioeconomic groups and parts of the developing world. To read in-depth about the bioarchaeology of disadvantaged people in nineteenth-century London, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."
CORVALLIS, OREGON—Live Science reports on the ongoing study of a 1,300-year-old carved and painted human mandible discovered in a ceremonial area at the Zapotec site of Dainzú-Macuilxó, located in southern Mexico. The jawbone is thought to have been worn as a pendant. The excavation team also recovered thousands of fragments of smashed ceramic whistles and figurines, figurine molds, and a kiln at the ceremonial site. The whistles may have made owl-like sounds, while the figurines may have represented Xipe Totec, a Mesoamerican god associated with human sacrifice and agriculture. But Pink and the researchers think the decorated human bones belonged to ancestors of the site’s residents, who were “probably going into the tombs of their ancestors and bring the remains of their ancestors out,” explained Jeremias Pink of Oregon State University.
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Billy Ó Foghlú of Australian National University says that horns played in southern India today are almost identical to those from Iron-Age Europe. “The musical traditions of south India, with horns such as the kompu, are a great insight into musical cultures in Europe’s prehistory. And, because Indian instruments are usually recycled and not laid down as offerings, the artifacts in Europe are also an important insight into the soundscapes of India’s past,” Ó Foghlú told Laboratory Equipment. Ó Foghlú’s research suggests that the ancient horns were often used as rhythm instruments, not for melody or harmony as modern Westerners might expect. He adds that almost identical instruments that have been unearthed together may be out of tune with each other, but the dissonance may have been intentional. To read more about music in the archaeological record, go to "Artifact: Chimu Funerary Idols."
NAPLES, ITALY—An international team of archaeologists from CNRS, the University of Glasgow, the University of Southampton, and the University of Naples Federico II, tested core samples from a nearly 20-foot deep deposit of sediments in the ancient port of Naples to study the effect of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 on the Aqua Augusta aqueduct and water system. According to a report in Phys.org, they analyzed the amount and type of lead in the layers of sediments, which accumulated in the harbor after passing through the water circulation system in Naples and neighboring towns. The geochemical analysis detected two different lead isotopes, one before and one after the eruption of the volcano. The team says this indicates the system was destroyed by the eruption and that the Romans replaced it over a period of about 15 years with lead from one or more different mines. The study also suggests that the water system had been expanding until about the beginning of fifth century, when the sediments in the harbor became less contaminated. This shrinking of the water system may have been caused by damage from invasions, new eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, or epidemics. To read about excavations in the city, go to "Naples Underground."
ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Archaeologists have excavated “the first and oldest 5,000-year-old kurgan-style tomb that has been discovered and completely unearthed in Turkey,” according to the excavation report from The Istanbul Archaeology Museum quoted in The Hurriyet Daily News. The circular mound sat over an intact burial in the Silivri district of Istanbul. Evidence at the site suggests treasure hunters had attempted to dig it up several times, but had not been able to reach the main burial chamber, where researchers found the remains of a Bronze Age soldier or warrior who had been buried with a spear and two pots. To read about the discovery of a Thracian burial mound, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."
LONDON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology have excavated the well-preserved remains of The Curtain, a sixteenth-century theater where Shakespeare performed as an actor. They found a rectangular building that could have held about 1,000 people, and segments of wall standing about five feet tall. Scholars think that Shakespeare may have staged the first performances of Romeo and Juliet and Henry V at The Curtain, which was assumed to have a circular shape, since the prologue of Henry V mentions a “wooden O.” “It now seems clear that the playhouse was a conversion of an earlier tenement—essentially a block of flats—and was later converted back into a tenement again,” explained archaeologist Julian Bowsher. Artifacts from the site include a lead token, a broken bone comb, a metal mount for cloth purse, and a piece of green pottery thought to be the base of a bird call, perhaps used for stage effects. Bowsher now thinks that the Henry V prologue mentioning the “wooden O” may have been added later, when the play was performed at The Globe. To read more about archaeology in London, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA—CBC Canada reports that researchers from Saint Mary’s University uncovered traces of what could be an eighteenth-century British fort at the site of the Lunenburg Academy. The professors and adult students first conducted a geophysical survey of the area where historical records place the fort in 1753. The subsequent excavation uncovered two rows of stones that may have been part of a fence post or a palisade. The star-shaped fort is thought to have been built of earth and wood and surrounded with a dry ditch, and may have been knocked down after the Seven Years War to make way for residential expansion. To read about the discovery of a similar site, go to "Lake George's Unfinished Fort."
ROME, ITALY—The construction of a subway line through the center of Rome has uncovered barracks for the Praetorian guards dating to the reign of Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D., according to an announcement made by Italy’s Culture Ministry. Archaeologists have reportedly found a long hallway and 39 rooms decorated with mosaic floors and frescoed walls. “It’s exceptional, not only for its good state of conservation but because it is part of a neighborhood which already included four barracks. And therefore, we can characterize this area as a military neighborhood,” Rossella Rea of the Culture Ministry said in an Associated Press report. The site has also yielded 13 skeletons in a collective grave, a bronze coin, and a bronze bracelet. To read more, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Evidence suggesting that humans lived in northwestern Florida more than 14,000 years ago has been re-examined by an international team of scientists, who also conducted an additional excavation. In 1983, stone artifacts and butchered mastodon remains were discovered at the Page-Ladson site, which is thought to have been a watering hole that is now located under 13 feet of sediment at the bottom of the Aucilla River. The sediments were dated to 14,400 years ago, but at the time, critics argued that the artifacts could have been carried to the site and deposited in the ancient sediments by river currents. The new excavation returned to the murky waters of the site and recovered more stone tools and the bones of extinct animals. “Artifacts are associated with the mastodon remains, including a tusk with tool marks. They were sealed in undisturbed geological deposits. Seventy-one new radiocarbon dates show the artifacts date to 14,500 years ago. The Page-Ladson site provides unequivocal evidence of human occupation that predates Clovis by over 1,500 years,” Michael Waters of Texas A&M University told Live Science. The new information also suggests that humans and megafauna coexisted for at least 2,000 years.
CAESAREA, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has announced the discovery of a Late-Roman period shipwreck in the ancient harbor of Caesarea by recreational divers. The ship had been carrying bronze statues, coins, and iron anchors, all thought to have been slated for recycling. Jacob Sharvit, director of the IAA marine archaeology unit, and deputy director Dror Planer, think the ship sank during a storm that buried the objects, including a bronze lamp depicting the Roman sun god Sol, a sculpture of the moon goddess Luna, and fragments of three life-size bronze statues. “The sand protected them. They are in an amazing state of preservation—as though they were cast yesterday rather than 1,600 years ago,” Sharvit told Discovery News. The archaeologists explained that metal statues are rare finds because they were usually melted down. “Because the statues were wrecked together with the ship, they sank in the water and thus were saved from the recycling process.” To read in-depth about underwater discoveries, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."
MILAN, OHIO—An unusual ceremonial site dating to 300 B.C. has been unearthed on a bluff overlooking Ohio's Huron River, reports Fox News. Cleveland Museum of Natural History archaeologist Brian Redmond and his team unearthed an unusual oval ditch that enclosed the two-acre ridge top. They found that the ditch was in turn surrounded by clusters of freestanding poles that may have been as high as 12 feet tall. Excavation also revealed pits filled with charcoal deposits that suggest ceremonial feasting may have occurred at the site, which was built by a people archaeologists know as the Early Woodland culture. Redmond notes that most ceremonial sites in Ohio focus on burial rites or mound building. “To find evidence of life celebrations is an unexpected and exciting discovery,” says Redmond. “It gives us surprising insights about these prehistoric Ohioans that lived nearly 2,300 years ago.” To read about another Woodland site, go to "Off the Grid: Pinson Mounds."