900-Year-Old Murals Discovered in Northern China

Archaeology News - January 5, 2017

SHANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Xinhua News reports that a 900-year-old tomb adorned with murals has been found in northern China. The tomb was robbed, and lacks any artifacts or human remains, but archaeologists suspect that the tomb was constructed for aristocrats. The upper part of the murals, which are painted on a white background, depict acts of filial piety, according to Zhang Guanghui of the Shanxi Provincial Archaeological Research Institute. Images of people working and cooking make up the lower parts of the murals. Pictures of herdsmen and cattle were found at the gate of the tomb. Zhang added that all of the murals also have floral, animal, and cloud motifs. “We have seen several tombs with murals from the Jin Dynasty [A.D. 1115–1234], but such well-preserved ones are a rarity,” he said. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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19th-Century Potato Blight Analyzed

Archaeology News - January 4, 2017

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Live Science reports that scientists from North Carolina State University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Museum have conducted a genetic study of Phytophthora infestans, the potato blight that wiped out potato crops in Ireland and Europe in the 1840s. The team of researchers analyzed nuclear genomes and mitochondrial genomes of 183 modern and historic potato blight samples from Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, and the United States, and found that the strain that caused the devastating blight probably originated in South America, and then through potato shipments and the seed trade, traveled to the United States and then on to Europe. The strain, known as FAM-1, remained the dominant strain of potato blight into the early twentieth century. To read about archaeology in Ireland, go to “Samhain Revival.”

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Crushed Murex Shells Unearthed at Ancient Paphos

Archaeology News - January 4, 2017

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—The Famagusta Gazette reports that a team of researchers from the University of Cyprus has unearthed an ancient rampart with two staircases and watchtowers at the ancient city of Paphos. The sixth-century B.C. rampart was found on the plateau of Hadjiabdoulla, where a palace and storage and industrial facilities were in use until the end of the fourth century B.C. Traces of olives, grapes, and wheat have been found in the complex. Additional samples have been taken for micro-morphological studies and the possible identification of additional crops. The team also found a thick layer of crushed murex shells on the floor of one of the storage rooms. Team leader Maria Iacovou noted that this is the first time that archaeological evidence for the production of the highly valued purple dye from murex shells has been found in Cyprus. To read about another archaeological discovery on Cyprus, go to “And They’re Off!

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Rock Art Discovered in Israel

Archaeology News - January 4, 2017

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a group of recreational cavers discovered rock art carved into the limestone walls of an ancient cistern near an unnamed archaeological site located in south-central Israel. The images include a three-footed menorah with seven branches, a cross, and a key. Archaeologist Sa’ar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority examined the patina-covered engravings and thinks the menorah was carved sometime during the Second Temple period, between 530 B.C. and A.D. 70. Niches, carved into walls alongside the cistern, may have been used for raising doves for temple use at this time. The cross is thought to date to the fourth century A.D. Ganor explained that the settlement near the cistern dates to the late Roman and Byzantine periods. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

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“Ancient” Standing Stones May Commemorate Medieval Victory

Archaeology News - December 31, 2016

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—The Herald Scotland reports that archaeologist Murray Cook obtained radiocarbon dates for the foundation of one of two stones that stand near the entrance to the Police Scotland Central Division headquarters. It had been thought that the stones were erected some 3,000 years ago and served as a landmark during the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn. “The date that came up is contemporary with the battle,” Cook said. He now thinks the stones might have been erected to mark the spot where Sir Thomas Randolph, a commander in Robert the Bruce’s army, defeated 300 English cavalry on the first day of the battle for Scottish independence. Randolph’s victory prevented Edward II’s attempt to relieve the siege of English forces holding Stirling Castle. To read more about archaeology in Scotland, go to "Living on the Edge."

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New Thoughts on Japan’s Inariyama Burial Mound

Archaeology News - December 31, 2016

GYODA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that Motoyuki Sato of Tohoku University and researchers from the Museum of the Sakitama Ancient Burial Mounds used radar technology to study the round section of the key-hole shaped Inariyama burial mound. An excavation at the late-fifth-century site in 1968 uncovered a sword blade bearing an inscription that refers to King Wakatakeru in a chamber made of small rocks in the center of the mound. A bronze mirror, military artifacts, and pieces of horse harnesses were also found, but no human remains were recovered. It had been thought that King Wakatakeru, who is mentioned in Japanese histories, owned the sword, and that he had been buried in one of the small chambers found near the weapon. But the new study has detected another chamber, deeper underground, which may be an earlier burial site. The scholars suggest that the individual who had been buried in the newly found chamber may have owned the sword, while the smaller chambers may have been added for later generations. To read more about archaeology in Japan, go to "Kublai Khan Fleet."

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Vietnam’s Kinh Thien Palace Investigated

Archaeology News - December 30, 2016

HANOI, VIETNAM—Vietnamnet reports that archaeologists in northern Vietnam have investigated the site of the Kinh Thien Palace, which is located inside the eleventh-century Thang Long Royal Citadel. The final palace at the site was built in the fifteenth century, and was torn down by the French in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The researchers uncovered traces of several earlier palaces that stood on the site as early has the eighth century A.D. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

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Ground-Penetrating Radar Raises Questions in Southern England

Archaeology News - December 30, 2016

HARPENDEN, ENGLAND—The Herts Advertiser reports that archaeology student Alexander Thomas of Bristol University conducted a ground-penetrating radar survey on farmland scheduled for the construction of a new school building. Thomas says he has found “strong anomalies consistent with a large rectangular building constructed of brick or stone,” and chalk extraction pits. Historical records of the area from the medieval period through the nineteenth century note farm and mill buildings at the site, but not in the same spot as the anomaly, which he thinks could represent a large Roman industrial site and mining activity. Kris Lockyear of University College London points out, however, that no pottery, bricks, or roofing tiles have been found on the surface. “The pits are perfectly ordinary chalk pits which are dotted all over the Hertfordshire countryside used to extract chalk for marling, not for any industrial process,” Lockyear said. Archaeological fieldwork is planned before construction begins. For more, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

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Excavation Reveals Traces of 17th-C. Fortress in Japan

Archaeology News - December 30, 2016

OSAKA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that traces of Sanada Maru fortress have been found at Osaka Castle, located on the southern end of the island of Honshu. The fortress was built by warlord Sanada Nobushige during the Winter Campaign of the Siege of Osaka in 1614, and helped the Toyotomi clan repel the armies of the Tokugawa Shogunate, who eventually brought in artillery and dug under the fort’s walls. The fort was destroyed, and the moat at Osaka Castle was filled in after the Shogunate forces won the battle. Sanada Maru “may have been larger than previously assumed,” said Yoshihiro Senda of Nara University. The topography of the site suggests that the fort was rectangular in shape, and measured 380 by 330 yards. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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Excavation of Magarsus Continues in Turkey

Archaeology News - December 29, 2016

ADANA, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that a team of archaeologists will continue to uncover the theater in the ancient city of Magarsus in south-central Anatolia. The team, made up of researchers from the Adana Museum Directorate, the Provincial Directorate of Culture and Tourism, and Çukurova University has so far uncovered seating for 4,000 people. “The excavations in Magarsus will continue in the orchestra pit of the theater and the stadium of the ancient city,” said Nedim Dervişoğlu, deputy director of the Adana Museum. “Following the stadium excavations, archaeologists will also focus on unearthing the temple.” Restoration and conservation of the theater is scheduled as well. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “Zeugma After the Flood.”

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Ancient Wall Collapsed After Heavy Rains in Northern Israel

Archaeology News - December 29, 2016

GALILEE, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a section of stone wall dating to the First Temple period has collapsed after heavy rains. The wall is located at the Tel Dan archaeological site, which was identified as the ancient city of Dan by the discovery of an inscription in Greek and Aramaic. The wall stood next to an entrance known as Abraham’s Gate, based upon the biblical story of Abraham’s rescue of his nephew Lot from the city of Dan. Five ancient gravestones at the base of the wall were covered with fallen debris. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

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Chinchorro Mummies Receive CT Scans

Archaeology News - December 28, 2016

SANTIAGO, CHILE—The AFP reports that 15 Chinchorro mummies were taken from Chile’s National Museum of Natural History to the Los Condes clinic for computerized tomography scans. “We want to see what they physically looked like, to reconstruct them and bring to life someone who died thousands of years ago,” said chief radiologist Marcelo Galvez. The Chinchorro used wood, plants, and clay to create the mummies, which date back some 7,400 years. The mummies, which are the oldest known in the world, preserved newborns and fetuses, and are thought to have been made by their families. The researchers also collected skin and hair samples from the mummies to try to obtain DNA for study. “We want to better understand their way of life—from their diet to whether we Chileans still carry their genes,” added Veronica Silva of the National Museum of Natural History. For more, go to “Peruvian Woman of Means.”

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Colombia Hands Over Artifacts to Peru’s Ambassador

Archaeology News - December 28, 2016

LIMA, PERU—According to a report in Peru This Week, the government of Colombia handed over eight artifacts from the Nazca, Huari, and Chimú cultures to the Peruvian ambassador, Ignacio Higueras Hare. The artifacts will return to Peru’s Institute of Anthropology and History. Argentina and Germany have also repatriated artifacts to Peru this year. To read about a recent discovery, go to “Blue Collar in Ancient Peru.”

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Ancient Wetland Garden Found in the Pacific Northwest

Archaeology News - December 28, 2016

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Live Science reports that a prehistoric garden has been found on Katzie First Nation territory, located to the east of Vancouver. Archaeologist Tanja Hoffmann of the Katzie Development Limited Partnership and Simon Fraser University led the excavation of the 3,800-year-old waterlogged site. It yielded more than 3,700 whole and fragmented wapato plants, which grow in wetlands and produce starchy roots similar to potatoes. The plants were not domesticated, but Hoffmann said they were grown in a plot set over a pavement of tightly packed, uniformly sized rocks, which would have made it easier to harvest the tubers. Some 150 wooden harvesting tools were also recovered. To read more about archaeology in Canada, go to “A Removable Feast.”

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5,000-Year-Old Rock Art Depicts Parents and Baby

Archaeology News - December 24, 2016

PRATO, ITALY—Seeker reports that geologist Marco Morelli, director of the Museum of Planetary Sciences in Prato, led a team of researchers that found 5,000-year-old rock art on the ceiling of a small cavity in the Egyptian Sahara desert in 2005. The image, drawn in reddish-brown ochre, appears to depict a man and a woman with a baby floating above them. The woman’s head is missing due to damage to the painting. Morelli suggests that the position of the baby could indicate a birth or pregnancy. “As death was associated to Earth in contemporary rock art from the same area,” he said, “it is likely that birth was linked to the sky.” There are two animals in the scene: a headless lion, which has been found in other drawings in the region, and a baboon. There’s also a small circular mark to the side of the figures, which has been likened to a star. For more, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

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16th-Century Turkey Bones Uncovered at English Monastery

Archaeology News - December 24, 2016

CHESHIRE, ENGLAND—According to a report in Runcorn and Widnes World, researchers at the University of Sheffield found turkey bones among the thousands of bone fragments of sheep, pig, and cattle unearthed at Norton Priory between 1970 and 1987. Located in northwest England, Norton Priory was an abbey complex inhabited from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. The turkey is thought to have been introduced to England from the New World in the early sixteenth century, and it became popular with Henry VIII and the wealthy, who until then had dined on swan, goose, peacock, and boar's head. For more on archaeology in England, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

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Interbreeding May Have Helped Modern Humans Adapt to Cold

Archaeology News - December 24, 2016

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—The New York Times reports that an international team of scientists led by Rasmus Nielsen of the University of California, Berkeley, compared the genomes of nearly 200 Inuit living in Greenland with the genomes of living populations around the world, Neanderthals, and the one known Denisovan genome. The team members focused on a region of the Inuit genome that may affect the levels of brown fat in the body, which generates heat, and found that nearly all the Inuit in the study carried the same genetic variants in this region. The same region in Neanderthals and modern populations showed a partial match to the Inuit genome, but the Denisovan genome “was almost a complete match,” according to Nielsen. He suggests that interbreeding with archaic human species may have helped migrating modern humans adapt to new environments some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. “We do see these variants in other populations, like in South America and East Asia, but nowhere do we see the same frequency that we see in Greenland,” Nielsen said. To read in-depth about an excavation near a Yup'ik village in Alaska, go to “Cultural Revival.”

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Fragment of Engraved Stone Bowl Unearthed in Jerusalem

Archaeology News - December 23, 2016

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A fragment of a 2,100-year-old engraved bowl was found in a ritual bathing complex in Jerusalem Walls National Park, according to a report in Jewish Business News. Hyrcanus, the name engraved on the bowl, is thought to have been a common one during the Hasmonean period. Esther Eshel of Bar-Ilan University said the bowl is one of the oldest chalk vessels found in Jerusalem. She and Doron Ben-Ami of the Israel Antiquities Authority explained that stone vessels were often used by Jewish people because they were considered to be vessels that could not become ritually unclean. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

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Unusual Burial Uncovered on Anglo-Saxon Island

Archaeology News - December 23, 2016

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Grimsby Telegraph, a team of researchers from the University of Sheffield is continuing to investigate an Anglo-Saxon site in the village of Little Carlton that may have been an island monastery or trading post. Archaeologist Hugh Willmott said that the team recently found the remains of a person buried face down in a narrow grave. The body is thought to have been placed in the grave after it had started to decompose, since its legs are facing the wrong way. “A great deal of care has been taken in this burial,” Willmott said. “So this could be an individual who perhaps has died away from the site and been brought here to be interred here specially.” Such an individual may have been royalty or a holy person. The site has also yielded writing implements, hundreds of dress pins, a lead tablet bearing a woman’s name, imported glassware, and seventh- and eighth-century coins, and is thought to have been abandoned in the eighth century due to Viking raids. To read in-depth about an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

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Transformed Celtic Harness Fitting Found in Norway

Archaeology News - December 23, 2016

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—Horsetalk reports that a piece of bronze jewelry found by a metal detectorist near the Trondheim Fjord may have been crafted in a Celtic workshop. The ornament, thought to have been made in the eighth or ninth century as a fitting for a horse’s harness, resembles a bird and has fish- or dolphin-shaped patterns on each of its wings. Holes were later placed on the bottom of the ornament. Traces of rust on its back suggest that it had been turned into a brooch with a needle. “A housewife in mid-Norway probably received the fitting as a gift from a family member who took part in one or more Viking raids to Ireland or Great Britain,” said Aina Margrethe Heen Pettersen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. She suggests that items brought back from the dangerous raids would have been treasured status symbols. For more, go to “A True Viking Saga.”

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