COLUMBIA, MISSOURI—A team led by Robert Benfer, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri, examined a volcano-shaped earthwork in the Nepeña Valley of coastal Peru thought to have been constructed by the Yungas people. Live Science reports that when the researchers dug into the “crater” at the top of the 50-foot mound, known as El Volcán, they found a collapsed stairwell that descended past a layer of adobe bricks to a mud-plaster floor and a fireplace. Charcoal and pieces of shell in the fireplace were radiocarbon dated to between A.D. 1492 and 1602. Benfer thinks the Yungas may have used the earthwork and the fireplace in ceremonies to celebrate four eclipses that occurred in the sixteenth century. The structure itself may have been built much earlier. For more, go to “Letter from Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a report in Live Science, new dates for a stone tower at Gihon Spring indicate that it was built 1,000 years later than had been previously thought. The tower, situated downhill from Jerusalem, guarded the city’s water supply. The original estimated date for the tower’s construction was based upon the Middle Bronze Age style of pottery and other artifacts at the site. Elisabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science and her colleagues examined the base of the tower, and found archaeological layers in the soil beneath its large boulders. Charcoal, seeds, and bones from the middle and lower layers of sediment were radiocarbon dated to about 1700 B.C. But samples in sediments near a large cornerstone yielded dates between 900 and 800 B.C. Boaretto said the new Iron Age date for the massive tower will have repercussions for other attempts to date construction and occupation in ancient Jerusalem. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Autumn of the Master Builder.”
BASEL, SWITZERLAND—According to a report in Swiss Info, researchers from the University of Basel, the University of Zurich, and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo re-examined a 3,000-year-old prosthetic toe discovered in Egypt’s Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna necropolis with modern imaging techniques, including microscopy, X-ray technology, and computed tomography. The prosthesis belonged to the daughter of a priest whose big right toe appears to have been amputated. The wooden toe had been refitted several times. “They often wore sandals, so you can imagine that a well-formed foot was important,” said Andrea Loprieno-Gnirs of the University of Basel. “The wooden toe shows that she had a certain living standard, and also that there were craftsmen capable of making such prosthetics.” For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”
TURIN, ITALY—Live Science reports that an international team of researchers has used computed tomography scanning to reconstruct the face of Nebiri, an Egyptian dignitary who lived during the reign of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Thutmose III (r. 1479‒1425 B.C.) and was buried in the Valley of the Queens. His tomb was plundered in antiquity, and his body destroyed, but Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli recovered his head and canopic jars containing his internal organs in the early twentieth century. The remains are now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Turin. Chemical analysis indicated that Nebiri’s head and brain were carefully packed with linen bandages treated with a mixture of animal fat or plant oil, an aromatic plant, a coniferous resin, and heated Pistacia resin, or mastic. “We were able to add strength to the argument that Nebiri was [a] high elite,” Robert Loynes of the University of Manchester said of the meticulous packing job, which protected the remains from insects and maintained the head’s lifelike appearance. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”
MODIIN-MACCABIM-RE’UT, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that more than 2,500 volunteers and students from the fourth through twelfth grades have assisted the Israel Antiquities Authority with the excavation of a Crusader fortress tower at Givat Tittora, a strategically located hilltop site in central Israel. Excavation director Avraham Tendler said that many pieces of jewelry have been uncovered in the tower’s inner courtyard, where clay ovens, cooking pots, jars, serving dishes, a table, olive pits, grains, charred grape pips, and animal bones were also found. Tendler explained that over a period of hundreds of years, working women probably lost the jewelry, which includes rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and hair pins. The site will eventually become part of a nature park. To read about another discovery in Israel, go to “Byzantine Riches.”
MUNICH, GERMANY—Live Science reports that a 3,400-year-old tomb on Sai Island in northern Sudan has been investigated by a team of scientists with the AcrossBorders archaeological research project. The tomb’s multiple chambers hold the remains of more than a dozen people who may have lived on the island and worked in its gold mines. In addition to the human remains, the team members found scarabs, ceramic vessels, a gold ring, and gold funerary masks. A shabti, or small stone sculpture, discovered in the tomb may have been intended to do the work of the deceased in the afterlife. Inscriptions on the artifacts indicate the tomb had been built for Khnummose, a master gold worker. Julia Budka of Ludwig-Maximillians University said that DNA analysis of the remains in the tomb could reveal any possible relationships between the tomb’s occupants. Tests could also reveal whether the bodies were mummified. Traces of bitumen, a type of petroleum used by the ancient Egyptians in the process of mummification, have been found, but the bodies and coffins are poorly preserved. For more, go to “Miniature Pyramids of Sudan.”
LEUVEN, BELGIUM—Cat domestication is thought to be linked to the beginning of agriculture, when early farmers first stored rodent-attracting grains. According to a report in Seeker, a team led by Claudio Ottoni of the University of Leuven analyzed the DNA of 200 domestic cats who lived over a period spanning 9,000 years in the Near East, Egypt, Europe, north and east Africa, and southwest Asia. The study suggests that all domesticated cats descend from the African wildcat Felis silvestris, and were first tamed in the Near East some 10,000 years ago. The animals traveled with migrating farmers to Europe, and later spread out from Egypt on rodent-infested trade ships. Ottoni explained, however, that it is unclear whether the Egyptian domesticated cat descended from domesticated cats imported from the Near East, or whether a second, separate, domestication took place in Egypt. Most house cats alive today descend from cats that can be traced back to Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The DNA analysis also revealed that the blotched coat pattern did not become common in cats until the medieval period. Until then, most cats were striped. For more on felines in the archaeological record, go to “Baby Bobcat.”
HRUBIESZÓW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a medieval sword was recovered from a peat bog in southeast Poland and donated to the Fr. Stanislaw Staszic Museum. The well-balanced weapon measures almost four feet long and is only missing the padding on its two-handed hilt, which was probably covered with wood, bone, or antler. An isosceles cross in a heraldic shield on the rear bar of the sword may have been the blacksmith’s maker’s mark. Conservators will look for additional marks on the blade. According to museum director Bartlomiej Bartecki, archaeologists will investigate the site where the sword was found to look for possible clues as to how it landed in the bog. Did a knight lose his weapon, or are his remains and the rest of his equipment still in the ground? “This is a unique find in the region,” Bartecki said. “It’s worth pointing out that while there are similar artifacts in museum collections, their place of discovery is often unknown, and that is very important information for historians and archaeologists.” The sword will be conserved in Warsaw and eventually returned to the Fr. Stanislaw Staszic Museum. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”
EXETER, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that traces of a wealthy medieval city, complete with a twelfth-century mosque and Islamic burials and headstones, have been discovered at Harlaa, located in eastern Ethiopia. Pottery, glass vessel fragments, rock crystal, carnelian, glass beads, and cowry shells imported from Madagascar, the Maldives, Yemen, and China have been uncovered, along with bronze and silver Egyptian coins dating to the thirteenth century. Timothy Insoll of the University of Exeter explained that high-quality jewelry was made at the site with silver, bronze, semi-precious stones, and glass beads, using technology usually associated with jewelry made in India at that time. He thinks that jewelers from India may have been among the people who migrated to the cosmopolitan city at Harlaa. And, the mosque at the site resembles those built in Tanzania and Somaliland, which suggests that the people who lived at Harlaa also had contact with other Islamic communities in Africa. Human remains from the site are being analyzed for further information. For more, go to “Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast.”
CANNON BEACH, OREGON—According to a report in The Daily Astorian, a walker discovered a piece of wood on the northern Oregon coast that may have come from a nineteenth-century shipwreck. The piece of wood, cut from old-growth timber, measures about 18 feet long and is marked with notches, square cut-outs, and square nails. “In general shipwrecks are pretty common on the coast, but if it were actually that old it would be a rare situation,” said Christopher Dewey of the Maritime Archaeological Society. A state archaeologist has been asked to evaluate the find. For more on the archaeology of shipwrecks, go to “Is it Esmeralda?”
BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Live Science reports that researchers led by bioarchaeologist Christina Cheung of Simon Fraser University analyzed skeletal remains from the royal cemetery of Yinxu, the capital of Shang Dynasty China from the sixteenth century B.C. to the eleventh century B.C. The cemetery contains royal burials, and more than 2,500 pits holding the remains of sacrificial victims. Oracle bone inscriptions found at the site indicate that many of those who had been sacrificed were captured during wars. Cheung and her colleagues measured the levels of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes in the bones of 68 sacrificial victims found in the pits, and compared them with the remains of 39 people who had been buried in a residential neighborhood of Yinxu. The results of the tests suggest that the locals and the sacrificial victims all ate a subsistence diet based on millet, but the locals also consumed, wheat, rice, and perhaps wild fish and deer. The composition of the victims’ larger bones also indicates that they had not always eaten food from the Yinxu area, and may have only lived there for a few years. Cheung thinks the captives probably spent their time in Yinxu working as enslaved laborers. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a new technique for performing multispectral imaging with readily available, relatively inexpensive materials, has revealed additional writing on a fragment of 3,000-year-old pottery unearthed at Tel Arad, where 91 ostraca were discovered on a floor in a single room in the 1960s. The visible inscriptions recorded lists of supplies and orders from military quartermasters. Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, physicist Eli Piasetzky, and imaging lab and system manager Michael Cordonsky of Tel Aviv University were testing the new imaging system in an effort to improve the clarity of the texts on the ostraca, when Cordonsky flipped a piece of pottery and discovered writing on its opposite side that had been invisible to the naked eye. “It means that every university or archaeological dig can build the camera,” to look for faded inscriptions, explained applied mathematician Arie Shaus. To read about an ancient Egyptian ostracon, go to “Artifact.”
PORT OF DYSNES, ICELAND—Iceland Magazine reports that four Viking-era burials have been discovered at Eyjafjörður fjord in North Iceland. Two of the intact burials, which date to the ninth or tenth centuries, appear to have been placed in a line. They both contain boats, but one of them has been badly damaged by ocean erosion and half of its boat is missing. Archaeologists led by Hildur Gestsdóttir recovered human bones, a Viking sword, and dog teeth from the grave. The second boat burial is also thought to contain the remains of a Viking chief who was buried with his dog and his sword. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”
YEKATERINBURG, RUSSIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, the 11,000-year-old Shigir Idol, a wooden statue discovered in a peat bog in the Ural Mountains in 1890, was carved with stone chisels and the lower jaws of beavers. Mikhail Zhilin of the Institute of Archaeology at the Russian Academy of Sciences said that to create the sculpture, the surface of a larch tree was polished with a fine-grained abrasive, and then carved with at least three chisels of different sizes. The statue’s faces, one on the head at the top of the carving, and several placed along the sculpture, were carved with beaver teeth, held in place in the jaw. “If you sharpen a beaver’s cutter teeth, you will get an excellent tool that is very convenient for carving concave surfaces,” Zhilin explained. Such a beaver-jaw tool has been found at an archaeological site in the Ural Mountains region. For more, go to “Medieval Russian Memo.”
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—The International Business Times reports that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens may have crossed paths some 40,000 years ago in the Moravia region of the Czech Republic. Duncan Wright of Australian National University said that he and his team recovered more than 20,000 artifacts from Pod Hradem Cave. The oldest layers of the cave, dating back to 50,000 years ago, contained artifacts made from local stone, but in the layer dating to about 40,000 years ago, they found a bead made from a mammal bone. Wright said the bead could signal the arrival of modern humans, who are thought to have entered Europe about 45,000 years ago. Some of the artifacts in the cave dated to between 40,000 and 48,000 years ago were made of materials obtained more than 50 miles away. Could they have been crafted by Homo sapiens who had been exploring a new environment? Sediments from the cave will be tested for information about how the climate changed over time and for traces of Neanderthal and modern human DNA. For more on archaeology in the Czech Republic, go to “Off the Grid: Prague.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—The Associated Press reports that the USCGC McCulloch was found under 300 feet of water off the coast of southern California during a remotely operated vehicle training mission. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter, which was based in San Francisco, fought in the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War, enforced fur seal regulations off the coast of Alaska, and served as a floating courtroom in remote areas. The well-known ship sank in 1917 after colliding with a passenger steamship. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identified the shipwreck based upon its torpedo tube, six-pounder guns, helm, steam engine, sounding machine, propeller, and a circular skylight that had collapsed inside the officer’s quarters. To read in-depth about nautical archaeology, go to "Shipwreck Alley."
CORNWALL, ENGLAND—Two 3,000-year-old roundhouses and Iron Age burials have been found at the site of a new housing development on high ground overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in southwestern England. According to The Falmouth Packet, a team of excavators from Costwold Archaeology expected to find some features, based upon an initial radar survey, but they were surprised by the extent of the remains. Additional roundhouses, made of either dry stone walls or wattle and daub, probably stood in what is now a surrounding field. To read in-depth about Iron Age archaeology in Britain, go to "Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age."
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND—According to BBC News, a picture believed to have been painted by British scientist and medical doctor Edward Wilson has been found in a hut in Antarctica. The hut was built by Norwegian explorers at Cape Adare in 1899, and was used by Wilson and the other members of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole in 1912. Concealed in a pile of papers covered in mold and penguin excrement, the painting was discovered by Josefin Bergmark-Jimenez, a paper conservator for the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust. “I got such a fright that I jumped and shut the portfolio again,” she said. “I then took the painting out and couldn’t stop looking at it—the colors, the vibrancy, it is such a beautiful piece of work.” The painting depicts a dead Tree Creeper, a species of bird from the Northern Hemisphere. Bergmark-Jimenez said the distinctive handwriting on the painting, which includes the date, the bird’s species, and the initial “T,” led to her identification of Dr. Wilson as the artist. The conserved painting will be returned to the hut, which is part of an Antarctic Specially Protected Area. To see paintings made during a nineteenth-century expedition to the Arctic, go to "An Arctic Expedition in Watercolor."
CANTERBURY, ENGLAND—Kent News reports that the footings of a fourteenth-century wall have been found on a construction site at the North Holmes campus of Canterbury Christ Church University. The structure is thought to have been a precinct wall of St. Augustine’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in A.D. 598, dissolved during the sixteenth-century English reformation, and dismantled in the nineteenth century. A section of the wall will be preserved under glass in the reception area of the new building. For more, go to “Legends of Glastonbury Abbey.”
CAIRO, EGYPT—The American University in Cairo has handed over a collection of 5,000 artifacts excavated in the 1960s to Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, according to a report in Ahram Online. At the time of the excavation, Egyptian law allowed foreign archaeological missions to divide artifacts with the Egyptian government. Under the Egypt Antiquities Law of 1983, ownership of the artifacts was transferred to the Egyptian government, but the objects remained at the university. University officials recently requested the return of the artifacts, uncovered in the Fustat region of Old Cairo, to the Egyptian state. The collection includes pottery vessels, ushabti figurines, tombstones, Greco-Roman wooden funerary masks, and lamps from the Islamic period. The artifacts will be housed in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”