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.”
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Live Science reports that a cache of 1,000-year-old drawn beads has been found at Igbo-Olokun, an archaeological site within the ancient Yoruba city of Ile-Ife, which is located in southwestern Nigeria. The Yoruba are known for the copper alloy and terracotta heads and figurines found at Ile-Ife. Some of the sculptures, which date to between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries A.D., were decorated with glass beads. Researchers had speculated that the beads had been imported from the Mediterranean or the Middle East, but Abidemi Babalola of Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research has found evidence of local glass production at Igbo-Olokun. The evidence includes glass waste; some 13,000 blue, green, red, yellow, and multicolored glass beads; hundreds of crucible fragments; and ceramic cylinders thought to have been used to handle crucible lids. Babalola and his team also unearthed pieces of clay covered with melted glass, suggesting that glass furnaces may have operated in the area. And, analysis of the minerals in the beads revealed that many of them were made of materials acquired near Igbo-Olokun. To read about beads from another part of Africa, go to “In Style in the Stone Age.”
BARCELONA, SPAIN—Possible evidence for the medieval trade in cat fur has been uncovered at a site in eastern Spain, according to a report in Live Science. Some 900 domestic cat bones were discovered in a pit where crops may have been stored at the farming site of El Bordellet. The bones’ cut marks and fractures are consistent with what has been found in skinning experiments. Most of the bones are from cats between the ages of nine and 20 months at the time of death, likely because the animals would have been large, but their coats still relatively undamaged. Zooarchaeologist Lluis Lloveras of the University of Barcelona said cat fur was widely used during the Middle Ages in northern Europe to make coats, collars, and sleeves. “Some texts also make reference to the healing qualities of cat skin, but also to its possible harmfulness,” he said. Domestic cat fur was less valuable than the fur of wild cats, he added, and was worn by the less wealthy, and austere social groups, such as nuns. Lloveras also notes, however, that a horse skull, a goat horn, and a chicken eggshell were found alongside the cat bones. “All these particular animal remains have been associated with ritual practices in the Middle Ages as well as in later times,” he said. For more on cat remains in the archaeological record, go to “Baby Bobcat.”
SLOUGH, ENGLAND—The Slough Express reports that a team led by Jim Leary of the University of Reading has determined that a 20-foot hill in a town in southern England known as the Montem Mound is a 1,500-year-old Anglo-Saxon burial mound. The structure had been thought to be the remains of a Norman castle earthwork, but samples taken from different parts of the mound indicate that it was built some 500 years earlier. Leary and his team also note that the mound’s size and dimensions, and its proximity to another Saxon barrow, support the new identification. To read in-depth about the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon feasting hall, go to “The Kings of Kent.”
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—According to a report in The International Business Times, researchers from the Czech Institute of Egyptology think that holes drilled in the rocks on the west bank of the Nile River in central Sudan may have been used to hold the wooden poles of Mesolithic structures. The team members took detailed measurements of the holes, which have regular, cylindrical shapes with smooth sides. They then used the information to create hypothetical reconstructions of shelters anchored to the rock. “These shelters would have been anchored to the rocks for solidity and to keep them in the shade throughout all day,” explained team member Lenka Varadzinová, who added that drilling the holes as long as 11,000 years ago, without the use of metal tools, would have been challenging work. For more, go to “Miniature Pyramids of Sudan.”
SAPPORO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that two museums in Australia will repatriate the skeletal remains of Ainu people in their collections. The Ainu people are indigenous to northern Japan, and particularly the island of Hokkaido. Their remains are known to be held in collections in countries including Britain, the United States, and Germany. The three sets of remains known to be held in the two Australian museums are thought to have been shipped overseas between 1911 and 1936. “The repatriation process with Australia will be important in making guidelines for further returns from overseas,” explained Hirofumi Kato of the Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies at Hokkaido University. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”