ATHENS, GREECE—Using X-ray scanning equipment and imaging technology, an international team of scientists has read around a quarter of the explanatory text engraved in tiny letters on the surviving fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism. Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University said that the text does not instruct the reader on the use of the device, but is more like a descriptive label. The artifact, recovered from a first-century B.C. shipwreck off the coast of a Greek island in the early years of the twentieth century, is made up of bronze gears and plates, and was probably encased in wood and operated with a hand crank. It is thought to have functioned as an astronomical instrument to track the position of the sun, the phases of the moon, the positions of the planets, and the timing of eclipses. “It’s like a textbook of astronomy as it was understood then, which connected the movements of the sky and the planets with the lives of the ancient Greeks and their environment,” Alexander Jones of New York University said in an Associated Press report. Investigators have returned to the shipwreck to look for more pieces of the device. For more on archaeology in Greece, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA—Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Christopher Tuttle, executive director of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, spotted a monumental structure at Petra, a 2,500-year-old Nabatean city in southern Jordan, using high-resolution satellite imagery and pictures taken with aerial drones. National Geographic reports that the structure consists of a building measuring roughly 28 feet square, centered on a rectangular, paved platform, surrounded by a larger, 184-by-161-foot, platform. The building faced a row of columns and a staircase to the east. Pottery recovered from the site dates to the mid-second century B.C. Parcak and Tuttle say that the platform’s design is unique in the ancient city, and may have been used for ceremonial purposes in the early days of the settlement. “I’ve worked in Petra for 20 years, and I knew that something was there, but it’s certainly legitimate to call this a discovery,” Tuttle said. For more, go to "Neolithic Community Centers - Wadi Faynan, Jordan."
COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—A lump of waxy “bog butter” thought to be about 2,000 years old was unearthed 12 feet below the surface in Emlagh Bog by a turf cutter last week. Butter, placed in a wooden casket or animal hide, is thought to have been buried in bogs as a way to preserve it, or as a ritual offering. Andy Halpin of the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum says this ancient lump of butter was not covered when it was buried in a place where 11 townlands and three baronies met. “It is at the juncture of three separate kingdoms, and politically it was like a no-man’s land, that is where it all hangs together,” Halpin said in a Belfast Telegraph report. He added that bog butter is theoretically still edible, but he wouldn’t advise tasting it. For more, go to "Oldest Bog Body."
WROCLAW, POLAND—According to a report from Radio Poland, a team of Polish and Mongolian researchers has found stone tools in the southern Gobi Desert. “The highly diversified forms of objects found and the varied techniques of working stone prove that certain locations were repeatedly colonized across history,” said Józef Szykulski of Wroclaw University. The oldest tools date to the Middle Paleolithic, between 200,000 and 40,000 years ago, and were found in an area that once had lakes and abundant wildlife. The team also recovered 11 jasper artifacts, which were dated to about 40,000 years old. To read about archaeology in the Atacama Desert of Chile, go to "Off the Grid."
BARCELONA, SPAIN—A rock shelter in the Sierra de Cantabria mountains in northern Spain was repeatedly used as an animal pen some 5,000 years ago, according to a study conducted by scientists from the University of Barcelona, the University of the Basque Country, and the Spanish National Research Council. Analysis of charcoal, pollen, seeds, and other plant remains recovered during the investigation indicate that Copper Age herders held their goats and/or sheep in the rock shelter intermittently, probably to take advantage of hazelnut and acorn trees that grew in the area. “We also know thanks to the microscopic study of the sediments that every now and again they used to burn the debris that had built up, probably to clean up the space that had been occupied,” archaeologist Ana Polo-Diaz of the University of the Basque Country said in a UPI report. For more on the archaeology of Spain, go to "The Red Lady of El Mirón."