Intact Tomb Dating to Fourth Century B.C. Found in Rome

Archaeology News - June 5, 2018

ROME, ITALY—The New York Times reports that an intact chamber tomb containing the remains of three men and one woman was discovered dug into the volcanic rock in a suburb of Rome during the construction of an aqueduct. The men had lived to be over the age of 35, and all were thought to have belonged to a privileged social class, based on their grave goods. A coin found next to one of the tomb’s occupants helped to date it to between 335 and 312 B.C. On one side, the coin bears an image of Minerva, while the obverse shows a horse head and the word “Romano.” Two bronze strigils, or instruments used to scrape sweat from the skin, and black-glazed bowls and plates decorated with images of a rabbit and a lamb or a goat were also recovered. Paleobotanist Alessandra Celant of the University of Rome La Sapienza collected samples of ancient pollens and plants that will help her to reconstruct the ancient landscape and funerary rituals. To read about the excavation of a Roman temple, go to “A Brief Glimpse into Early Rome.”

Categories: Blog

Seventeenth-Century Cellar Identified at James Fort

Archaeology News - June 5, 2018

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that a cellar has been found under the current church building at James Fort. The building now standing at the site was constructed in 1906, but historic records indicate the first brick church was constructed in 1617. “This [cellar] we assume has to be pretty darn early because it’s already been abandoned and backfilled prior to 1617,” said archaeologist Danny Schmidt of Jamestown Rediscovery. He thinks a different type of building stood on the site, located outside the fort’s original walls, between 1608, when the fort was expanded, and 1617. The fill in the cellar contained the colony’s trash items, such as scrap copper, a dagger hilt, oyster shells, gun parts, eggshells, glass beads, pipe fragments, and a Harington Farthing—a small copper coin. Archaeologists note that the cellar fill had been disturbed by the burials of the dead under the church floor, and by the construction of the current church. The researchers now know that the unusual artifacts described by the archaeologists who investigated the church’s burials in the early 1900s were trash items from the cellar. To read about other recent work at Jamestown, go to “Knight Watch.”

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Egyptian “Hawk Mummy” Evaluated

Archaeology News - June 2, 2018

LONDON, ONTARIO—Live Science reports that high-resolution CT scans of what had been thought to be the 2,100-year-old mummified remains of a hawk are actually the remains of a stillborn human fetus. The fetus, estimated to have been born at a gestational age between 23 and 28 weeks, suffered from anencephaly, a condition in which the brain and skull fail to develop normally. Bioarchaeologist Andrew Nelson of the University of Western Ontario said the identification of the mummy as a hawk votive had been based upon the decoration of the mummy’s cartonnage, which includes depictions of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld, and the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. A bird with a human head is shown flying over Osiris, who is lying on a coffin frame. An Udjat eye, a symbol of protection and good health, is shown at the top of the image. The mummy has been in collections of England’s Maidstone Museum since 1925. Its origins are otherwise unknown. To read in-depth about tomb paintings in Egypt, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

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Icelanders' Genetic Heritage Analyzed

Archaeology News - June 2, 2018

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND—According to a report in Science Magazine, a new genetic study of Icelanders led by S. Sunna Ebenesersdóttir of the University of Iceland suggests the population rapidly shifted from a roughly even mix of Norse and Gaelic ancestry some 1,000 years ago, to mostly Norse ancestry today. The team analyzed genomes obtained from 27 ancient skeletons found across Iceland, and found that these early settlers of the island had genes associated with populations from Norway, Sweden, Ireland, and Scotland. The researchers then used a computer simulation to model the change to predominantly Norse ancestry, and found evidence for genetic drift, or random fluctuations in gene frequencies, which has been seen in isolated populations of animals. The study notes that recent immigration from Scandinavia, and especially from Denmark, also had an impact on Iceland’s gene pool. The scientists note that those settlers with Gaelic ancestry were likely to have been enslaved, giving those with Norse ancestry a reproductive advantage. In addition, the enslaved may have been buried in unmarked graves, possibly leaving them underrepresented in the test sample. To read in-depth about a mysterious site in Iceland, go to “The Blackener’s Cave.”

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New Dates Push Back Use of Olive Oil in Italy

Archaeology News - June 1, 2018

TAMPA, FLORIDA—According to a Live Science report, 4,000-year-old olive oil has been detected in residues obtained from an egg-shaped ceramic pot unearthed at Castelluccio, an archaeological site in Sicily. The jar, which is decorated with rope bands and three vertical handles on each side, was discovered in hundreds of pieces in one of 12 huts on a rocky ridge at the site in the 1990s. The three-foot-tall jar was reconstructed by conservators at the Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum in Syracuse, Italy. Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida and his colleagues said the new dates for the residues suggest olive oil was being systematically produced in Italy about 700 years earlier than previously thought. Two ceramic basins with internal dividers and a large terracotta cooking plate were also found at the site. To read about extensive evidence of olive oil use by Rome, go to “Trash Talk.”

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Archaeologist Examines Possible Waka in New Zealand

Archaeology News - June 1, 2018

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—Stuff reports that a kauri tree unearthed during a road construction project on the North Island is not a partially complete waka, or Maori canoe, as had been previously thought. The 55-foot-long piece of trunk had been modified, however. “There is evidence of stones and rocks wedged into the wood to try to split parts off and there are cut edges, but it’s not consistent with waka carving,” said archaeologist Sarah Phear. Branches and logs had been placed under the trunk as part of the preparations to process it. The log was reburied in the trench where it had been found. To read about another Maori site, go to “World Roundup: New Zealand.”

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Intact Roman Sarcophagus Found in Serbia

Archaeology News - May 31, 2018

KOSTOLAC, SERBIA—According to a Reuters report, an intact sarcophagus containing two skeletons, gold and silver jewelry, a silver mirror, and three glass perfume bottles has been discovered in the ancient Roman city of Viminacium. Founded in the first century A.D., the city was capital of the province of Moesia Superior and home to as many as 40,000 people. Anthropologist Ilija Mikic said the skeletons belonged to a tall, middle-aged man and a younger woman. She was buried wearing gold earrings, a necklace, and hair pins, while he wore a silver belt buckle. Remains of his shoes were also found. “We can conclude that these two people surely belonged to a higher social class,” Mikic said. To read about a Gallo-Roman necropolis discovered in France, go to “Shackled for Eternity.”

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Geoglyphs Discovered in Southern Peru

Archaeology News - May 31, 2018

PALPA, PERU—Reuters reports that an additional 25 geoglyphs, including an image of a killer whale and a dancing woman, have been found in Peru’s coastal desert, near the Nazca Lines, using drones. Archaeologist Johny Isla of Peru’s Ministry of Culture said the geoglyphs are thought to have been etched by the Paracas culture more than 2,000 years ago. The so-called Palpa Lines were carved into hillsides and can be seen from the ground, unlike the Nazca Lines, which are best viewed from above. To read about the only known prehistoric geoglyph in Europe, go to “White Horse of the Sun.”

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Alaska’s Ancient Landscape Reconstructed

Archaeology News - May 31, 2018

BUFFALO, NEW YORK—A new survey of southeastern Alaska conducted by geologist Alia Lesnek of the University at Buffalo suggests a boat route headed southward into the New World would have been mostly free of ice some 17,000 years ago, according to a report in Science Magazine. To determine how long rocks from four islands along the southeastern coast of Alaska had been exposed to air, Lesnek measured the concentration of beryllium-10 in the rocks. Since cosmic rays change individual oxygen-16 atoms in quartz to beryllium-10 atoms, higher levels of beryllium-10 translate to longer exposure. The study also indicates that the early migrants from Beringia would have found plenty of plant and animal life along the Pacific coastline. Lesnek and her colleagues reexamined animal bones recovered from caves, and adjusted their radiocarbon dates for the effects of marine diets. The results suggest that the oldest bones had been left behind by carnivores some 45,000 years ago. The researchers also found a lack of bones dating to between 20,000 and 17,000 years ago, which could suggest the area had been covered in ice in the years before the Beringians took to the sea. To read in-depth about excavations in southwestern Alaska, go to “Cultural Revival.”

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Constantine’s Bronze Finger Found in France

Archaeology News - May 31, 2018

PARIS, FRANCE—According to a report in The Art Newspaper, researcher Aurelia Azema has identified a piece of a bronze sculpture in the collections at the Louvre as a bronze index finger from the colossal bronze statue of Emperor Constantine housed in Rome’s Capitoline Museum. All that survives of the fourth-century statue in Rome is the head, the left forearm, the left hand missing part of its middle finger and most of its index finger, and a sphere that rested in the palm of the statue’s left hand. The missing digit arrived at the Louvre in the 1860s with items from the collection of the Italian Marquis Giampietro Campana. It was eventually cataloged as a toe in 1913. Azema, joined by specialist in ancient metallurgy Benoît Mille and archaeologist Nicolas Melard, created a 3-D model of the finger which they took to Rome earlier this month. The finger turned out to be an exact fit with Constantine’s colossal hand. To read about another Roman statue, go to “Artifact: Roman Dog Statue.”

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Ötzi Receives Cardiovascular Check-Up

Archaeology News - May 31, 2018

BOLZANO, ITALY—Scientists have examined a full-body computed tomography scan of Ötzi the Iceman for evidence of his heart health, according to a report in Live Science. Ötzi is the name given to the man whose naturally mummified, 5,300-year-old remains were discovered frozen in the Alps by hikers in 1991. Previous studies have determined that Ötzi may have suffered from bad teeth and knees, propensity to ulcers, and perhaps even Lyme disease, before he likely died around the age of 46 from a blow to the head and an arrow wound in his shoulder. The new study has revealed three calcifications in the region of his heart. Scientists say these hardened plaques put him at an increased risk of a heart attack. He also had calcifications around his carotid artery, and in the arteries at the base of his skull, which could have increased his risk of stroke. An earlier study had found that Ötzi carried a genetic predisposition for atherosclerosis, or a narrowing of the arteries from fatty deposits. Patrizia Pernter, a radiologist at the Central Hospital in Bozen-Bolzano and a member of the research team, said this was probably the most important factor in Ötzi’s heart disease, since he was fit and didn’t smoke tobacco. For more, go to “Ötzi’s Sartorial Splendor.”

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Possible Early Maori Village Found in New Zealand

Archaeology News - May 31, 2018

EASTLAND PORT, NEW ZEALAND—The Gisborne Herald reports that fourteenth-century artifacts found in northeastern New Zealand suggest a Maori village could be in the area. Moa bones and other food remains, fish hooks made of moa bone, and tools made of obsidian and chert have been recovered. Richard Walter of the University of Otago said Maori canoes, or waka, are thought to have first landed in the region, so an early village site could help fill in gaps in knowledge about the first Maori settlers. The team of researchers also found evidence of trade with the South Island, including artifacts from Cook Strait, the body of water separating New Zealand’s two islands, and Nelson, a city on the South Island’s northern coast. To read about another recent discovery of remains of a Maori village, go to “World Roundup: New Zealand.”

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Pictish Trash Pit Yields Artifacts in Scotland

Archaeology News - May 31, 2018

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that Pictish artifacts have been recovered from the remains of a fort at Burghead, which is located on the coast of northeast Scotland. The fort is thought to have been burned during a tenth-century Viking invasion. The fire preserved a layer of oak planks that had been part of a wall in the fort, which otherwise would not have survived. Excavation of a trash pit has also yielded jewelry, including hair and dress pins, and animal bones, which do not usually survive in Scotland’s acidic soil. Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen said the artifacts will provide more information about the daily lives of the Picts. To read about the study of a Pictish artifact, go to “Game of Stones.”

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Janus Augustus Arch Unearthed in Spain

Archaeology News - May 30, 2018

JAÉN, SPAIN—El País reports that the bases of the Janus Augustus Arch, which marked the beginning of the more than 900-mile-long Hispania Baetica, have been unearthed in southern Spain. “Thanks to this find, you can pinpoint down to the last centimeter where you are on the Via Augusta,” said Juan Pedro Bellón of Jaén University, “the main road through Baetica Hispania that leads to Rome in one direction and to the Atlantic in Cádiz in the other.” Bellón also explained that the monument would have marked the border and served as a symbol of Roman power and influence. He thinks blocks from the arch may have been reused in the thirteenth century to build the Mengibar Tower, which was part of an Arabic fort, but is hopeful that additional pieces from the arch will be found. He is also looking for a possible temple in the area. “So far, we have found ornamental remains and decorative vegetable molds,” he said. For more on Spain's connection with Rome, go to “Spain’s Silver Boom.”

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Greek Helmet Found North of Black Sea

Archaeology News - May 30, 2018

TAMAN PENINSULA, RUSSIA—A grave in southwest Russia dating to the fifth century B.C. has yielded an ancient Corinthian helmet, according to The Greek Reporter. Roman Mimohod of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences said this is the first Greek helmet of its kind to be found north of the Black Sea, in the Greek Kingdom of the Bosporus. The bronze helmet, of a type worn by foot soldiers, has slits for the eyes, and a padded interior that would have covered the entire head and neck. When a warrior died, his helmet was buried next to him. To read about another recent discovery in Russia, go to “Nomadic Chic.”

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Ammonite Fossil Discovered at First Nations Site

Archaeology News - May 30, 2018

SASKATOON, CANADA—The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports that Lauren Rooney, an archaeology student at the University of Saskatchewan, discovered a fossil at the Wolf Willow dig site in Wanuskewin Heritage Park. The ammonite fossil is estimated to be 65 million years old. This fossil had not been carved, but the Blackfoot people are known to have carved ammonite fossils into buffalo figures called Iniskim some 800 years ago for use in medicine bundles and in stories relating to the origin of the bison. “If you use your imagination, it looks like two hind legs, two front legs, and then the fifth one is where the head should be,” explained Ernie Walker of the University of Saskatchewan. He thinks the newly discovered fossil may have been brought to Wanuskewin from southern Alberta, where ammonite fossils and Iniskim are more commonly found. For more on the relationship between native peoples and bison, go to “Bison Bone Mystery.”

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Man Crushed by Fallen Stone Uncovered at Pompeii

Archaeology News - May 30, 2018

NAPLES, ITALY—According to an Associated Press report, the skeleton of a man who was crushed by a fallen stone has been unearthed at Pompeii. The block of stone, thought to have been a doorjamb violently thrown by a pyroclastic cloud during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79, rests on the man’s upper body. Officials said that an infection in the man's tibia may have impeded his ability to walk. This would have made escape difficult for the man, who was at least 30 years old. To read more about life at Pompeii, go to “Food and Wine Gardens: Pompeii, Italy.”

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Hawaiian Artifact Returned to Islands

Archaeology News - May 26, 2018

HONOLULU, HAWAII—KHON2 News reports that a Hawaiian wooden carving thought to date to the eighteenth or nineteenth century will be handed over to the Bishop Museum. Known as a ki’i, or image, the 20-inch-tall carving represents the Hawaiian god Ku, who is depicted as a human figure wearing a headdress and standing in a warrior pose, with knees bent, calves flexed, and hands clenched at the back of the thighs. “It’s representative of the classic Kona style of ki’i that was carved most typically in the Kona region during the reign of Kamehameha I,” said Melanie Ide, president of the Bishop Museum. The ki’i is known to have been in a private collection in Europe since at least 1940. For more, go to “In Search of History's Great Rulers: Kamehameha I, King of Hawaii.”

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Industrial Site Excavated on the Isle of Wight

Archaeology News - May 25, 2018

ISLE OF WIGHT, ENGLAND—Volunteer diggers led by archaeologist Ruth Waller unearthed traces of chamber and bottle kiln floors at the site of the West Medina Mills, according to a report in the Isle of Wight County Press. In 1851, Charles Francis and Sons won the prize medal at the Great Exhibition for the Medina Cement created at the site, which is located near the River Medina on the Isle of Wight, off England’s southern coast. Portland cement was later made there. After 1944, the mill was used for cement storage and distribution. To read about a giant coin hoard discovered on Jersey, across the English Channel from the Isle of Wight, go to “Ka-Ching!

Categories: Blog

3,500-Year-Old Inscriptions Documented in Egypt

Archaeology News - May 25, 2018

WARSAW, POLAND—According to a Science in Poland report, inscriptions on the rocks near the temple of Hathor at Gebelein, located in southern Egypt, have been documented and translated by researchers led by Wojciech Ejsmond of the University of Warsaw. Temples dedicated to Anubis and Sobek have also been located in the region. Many of the hieroglyphs, which were engraved into the rock, or engraved and then painted, are prayers that were written by scribes and, in some cases, signed. “We know Egyptian beliefs primarily from official texts from monumental temples and tombs, made for royals and elite members,” Ejsmond explained. These inscriptions, however, offer a glimpse into the popular religious beliefs of priests and pilgrims. The inscriptions have been difficult to see and study because the shape of the hill where they are located has changed over the years, putting the faded texts out of easy reach. To read in-depth about Egyptian tomb paintings, go to “Emblems for the Afterlife.”

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