Statues of Lioness Goddess Unearthed in Egypt

Archaeology News - December 5, 2017

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that fragments of statues of the lioness goddess Sekhmet have been unearthed at the King Amenhotep III funerary temple by a team led by archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said the tallest of the 27 black-granite statues would have stood more than six feet tall. The surfaces of those that had been deep underground were damaged by water and salt, but the statues closer to the surface are well preserved, in some cases only missing the base and feet. More than 280 statues of Sekhmet have been unearthed in the temple since the excavation began in 1998. The walls and columns of the King Amenhotep III funerary temple were toppled by an earthquake in 1200 B.C. “The sculptures are of a high artistic quality and of the greatest archaeological interest,” Sourouzian said. The statues will be cleaned and desalinated and eventually returned to the temple when it has been restored. To read in-depth about ancient Egypt, go to "The Cult of Amun."

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Rare Greek Document Identified by Religious Scholars

Archaeology News - December 5, 2017

AUSTIN, TEXAS—Newsweek reports that fragments of a rare Christian text dating to the fifth or sixth century have been found in the Nag Hammadi Library, which was discovered in Egypt in 1945 and is now housed at Oxford University. A collection of 13 Gnostic books, or codices, the documents in the Nag Hammadi Library purported to record “secret knowledge” imparted by Jesus to his followers. Most of the documents are translations in the Coptic language, but the newly discovered fragments, from the First Apocalypse of James, were written in Greek, the text’s orginial language. The copy is thought to have been used as a teaching tool because the neatly written words had been broken down into individual syllables with mid-dots, according to Brent Landau of the University of Texas at Austin. “This new discovery is significant in part because it demonstrates that Christians were still reading and studying extra-canonical writings long after Christian leaders deemed them heretical,” explained colleague Geoffrey Smith. To read more about early Christian manuscripts, go to "Artifact: The Fadden More Psalter."

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Medieval Road Uncovered in Southern England

Archaeology News - December 2, 2017

OXFORD, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a stone road dating to the medieval period was found in southern England during work to alleviate flooding problems. The road was made from rounded river pebbles, limestone, and chalk. Ruts made by wheels have been found on some of the stones. Horseshoes have also been found among the cobbles. Scientists will examine the horseshoes with X-rays in order to date them. The excavation team members also uncovered evidence of roundhouses, pottery, and animal bones dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages. For more on the medieval period, go to “Letter from England: Writing on the Church Wall.”

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New Thoughts on Surviving in the Ancient Southwest

Archaeology News - December 2, 2017

CINCINNATI, OHIO—It had been thought that Ancestral Puebloans living in the Grand Canyon region were sustained by corn, like Ancestral Puebloans based in other parts of the Southwest, but little evidence of corn farming had been found there. According to a Laboratory Equipment report, Alan Sullivan of the University of Cincinnati thinks Ancestral Puebloans in the Upper Basin may have set small fires to clear away the grasses and weeds growing under nut and berry-producing pinyon and juniper trees and encourage the growth of nutritious, wild sprouts such as amaranth and goosefoot. In fact, Sullivan said the land was covered with such plants after a recent fire in the Upper Basin. Archaeologists have also found evidence of wild edible plants growing in abundance at the time Ancestral Puebloans lived in the area, and no burn scars, which would suggest big fires, in the rings of ancient trees. For more on Ancestral Pueblo sites, go to “Angry Birds.”

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Medieval Artifacts Discovered in English Market Town

Archaeology News - December 2, 2017

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND—A medieval garbage pit in Newcastle city center has yielded leather, green-glazed pottery, and animal bone, according to a Chronicle Live report. The waterlogged artifacts are thought to date to the twelfth century, when the area was known for its markets. “Particularly interesting finds here were several examples of animal horn neatly cut, presumably for reuse as handles or another function,” said archaeologist Richard Carlton of the Archaeological Practice. The excavation also uncovered a medieval woven wood fence and traces of a dwelling facing the modern street. A pit with layers of burned deposits found inside the building is thought to have been used as an oven. For more, go to “The Curse of a Medieval English Well.”

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7,000-Year-Old City Found Near Abydos

Archaeology News - December 1, 2017

SOHAG PROVINCE, EGYPT—The International Business Times reports that a 7,000-year-old city and cemetery have been found on the west bank of the Nile River, about a quarter mile from Abydos, which is thought to have been a regional capital during the late Predynastic Period. Hany Aboul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Upper Egypt Antiquities, said laborers who constructed royal tombs in Abydos lived in the newly discovered city, where traces of their huts, and stone tools and pottery have been uncovered. Fifteen large tombs featuring mudbrick mastabas have been discovered in the cemetery. The ministry explained that some of the graves are larger than royal graves in Abydos dating back to the First Dynasty, suggesting the high social standing of the people who had been buried there. To read about other recent discoveries in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

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U.S. Archaeological Sites Threatened by Sea Level Rise

Archaeology News - December 1, 2017

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE—David Anderson of the University of Tennessee and a team of researchers analyzed data from the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA) in order to evaluate the possible effect of rising sea levels on archaeological and historical sites, according to a Live Science report. DINAA aggregates archaeological and historical data collected over the past century from numerous sources, including state and federal agencies. “We will lose much of the record of the last several thousand years of human occupation in coastal areas, where a great deal of history and settlement has occurred,” he said. The study found that an estimated rise in sea levels of about three feet in the next century could damage or submerge more than 13,000 archaeological and historical sites located on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the southeastern United States, including the English settlement site at Jamestown, Virginia, and other cultural landmarks in Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Augustine, Florida. Continuing sea level rise in the following centuries could put an estimated 32,000 sites at risk. “When you develop tools showing how much will be lost at regional and continental scales, it shows the scale of the challenge and the need to start seriously planning for it,” Anderson said. For more on archaeology and climate change, go to “Letter from Norway: The Big Melt.”

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Bone Study Highlights Neolithic Women’s Rigorous Labor

Archaeology News - December 1, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, Alison Macintosh of the University of Cambridge and a team of researchers examined the shin bones and upper arm bones of 94 women who lived in central Europe between 5300 B.C. and A.D. 900, and compared them to scans of the bones of 83 living women who were either runners, rowers, footballers, or not athletic. They found that the women who lived during the Neolithic period through the late Iron Age had very strong arms, perhaps developed by the repetitive motions of grinding grain, pottery making, farming, and tending livestock. “We really saw them standing out through that first 5,500 years of farming, just really consistently stronger arm bones than the majority of the living women, including the rowers,” Macintosh said. By the Middle Ages, women’s arm strength had decreased to levels comparable to modern women, perhaps due to innovations in grain-grinding technologies. For more, go to “Europe's First Farmers.”

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Early Twentieth-Century Movie Sphinx Uncovered in California

Archaeology News - November 30, 2017

GUADALUPE, CALIFORNIA—Live Science reports that a large portion of a brightly painted plaster sphinx from the set of The Ten Commandments has been found in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. A total of 21 sphinxes had been created by French artist Paul Iribe for the 1923 movie, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The bright paint was intended to help the sculptures stand out in the silent, black-and-white movie. DeMille had the giant, expensive set buried in the sand when the filming was completed in order to keep it from rival filmmakers. Previous excavations at the site starting in the 1990s uncovered Prohibition-era liquor bottles, makeup, and tobacco tins, in addition to pieces of the set. To read about some of these earlier discoveries, go to “Hollywood Exodus.”

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Roman-Period Egyptian Mummy Analyzed

Archaeology News - November 30, 2017

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS—PBS News Hour reports that an intact Egyptian mummy has been examined with a particle accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory in order to learn about its material composition. The mummy, the remains of a girl who lived in the Faiyum Oasis in the late first century A.D. and died at the age of five, was discovered more than 100 years ago and has been housed at Northwestern University. An earlier CT scan revealed an object wrapped to the girl’s belly, and a bowl-shaped object in her skull. Cell and molecular biologist Stuart Stock of Northwestern University said the particle accelerator's high-energy X-rays indicate the material in the skull could be solidified pitch. The scientists are continuing to analyze the results of the tests. For more, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”

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Paleolithic Camel Image Discovered in Russian Cave

Archaeology News - November 30, 2017

BASHKIRIA, RUSSIA—According to a report in Newsweek, an image of a two-humped camel has been discovered by restorative specialist Eudald Guillamet in the southern Ural Mountains. Guillamet was cleaning graffiti from a rock art panel in Kapova Cave when he found the camel image, painted in red ochre and partially outlined in charcoal. Uranium-thorium dating of calcite deposits suggests the camel was painted between 14,500 and 37,700 years old, at a time when camels did not live in the region. Researchers led by Vladislav Zhitenev of Moscow State University suggest the artist may have traveled a long distance to the cave. Horses, bison, mammoths, and woolly rhinoceroses—animals seen in other European caves—were painted as well. A camel image has also been found in Ignatievskaya Cave, which is located in the same region. For more, go to “New Dates for the Oldest Cave Paintings.”

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Julius Caesar’s Possible Landing Site Found in England

Archaeology News - November 30, 2017

KENT, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester say a defensive ditch found on the southeastern tip of England may have been left behind by Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 54 B.C. The ditch measures about 16 feet wide, and resembles first-century B.C. Roman defenses uncovered in France. The researchers  also uncovered iron weapons, including a Roman javelin, and human bones bearing injuries. The site, located near the open sandy shore of Pegwell Bay, probably included a fort and served to protect Caesar’s 800 Roman ships. “The main purpose of the site is to defend the fleet,” said researcher Andrew Fitzpatrick. Caesar wrote that the ships were drawn onto the beach for repairs after they were damaged during a storm. Scholars had not thought Pegwell Bay a viable land site for the Romans, since it is separated from the mainland. But Fitzpatrick notes that Roman engineers could have overcome the barrier created by Wantsum Channel. “This was the beginning of the permanent Roman occupation of Britain,” explained team member Colin Haselgrove. For more, go to “Caesar’s Diplomatic Breakdown.”

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New Thoughts on Water Sources in the Indus Valley

Archaeology News - November 29, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—A new study suggests that Bronze Age Indus villages may not have relied upon flowing, Himalayan rivers to survive, according to a Live Science report. Sedimentologist Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London says a paleochannel, long thought to have carried water necessary for the survival of Indus villages, was actually dry by the time the villages were at their peak, between 4,800 and 3,900 years ago. Based upon a study of river sediments and samples from the paleochannel, Rajiv Sinha and Ajit Singh of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur determined the Sutlej River, which now flows across the Punjab region, had once flowed through the paleochannel, bringing glacial sediments and seasonal floods to the region. But about 8,000 years ago, the Sutlej changed course, leaving behind groundwater and a fertile river valley that was probably seasonally inundated with monsoon rains. “We think, actually, that these towns and settlements developed here because this was actually a good place for agriculture,” Gupta said. For more, go to “Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk.”

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Peru’s Orca Geoglyph Restored

Archaeology News - November 29, 2017

ICA PROVINCE, PERU—Live Science reports that a geoglyph depicting a killer whale has been cleaned and restored on a hillside in southern Peru’s Palpa region. Johny Isla of Peru’s Ministry of Culture saw a photograph of the geoglyph, which had been studied by German archaeologists in the 1960s, but its location had been poorly documented and then forgotten. He began his search for the orca with Google Earth, and then looked for it on foot on land that is now private property. “Being drawn on a slope, it is easier [for it] to suffer damage than [for] those figures that are in flat areas, such as those of the Nazca Pampa,” Isla explained. The 230-foot-long figure, thought to have been created some 2,000 years ago by the Paracas culture, was formed through the removal of a thin layer of stones from the surface of the ground. Some parts, including the creature’s eyes, were made of piles of stones. The Ministry of Culture is working to secure the geoglyph. To read about another fascinating feature in Peru, go to “An Overlooked Inca Wonder.”

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Possible Medieval Mikveh Identified in France

Archaeology News - November 29, 2017

SAINT-PAUL-TROIS-CHÂTEAUX, FRANCE—A basin in an ancient cellar in southern France may have been used as a mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, during the Middle Ages, according to a Times of Israel report. Researchers led by Claude de Mecquenem of the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research recently re-examined the cellar, which is located in what had been the heart of the Jewish quarter in the town of Saint-Paul-Trois Châteaux in the thirteenth century. “Every time I went down there, there was always water there,” commented Mylène Lert of the Tricastine Museum of Archaeology. “And considering that a Torah ark was discovered in a house next door, the clues suggesting that this is a mikveh are starting to add up,” she said. After King Philip IV expelled Jews from southern France in 1306, they were only allowed in live in guarded ghettos on land owned by the pope. To read about the discovery of another mikveh, go to “Under the Rug.”

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Greek Statue Fragments Found in Southern Turkey

Archaeology News - November 28, 2017

ADANA PROVINCE, TURKEY—According to a report in the Daily Sabah, pieces of a limestone statue of the Greek goddess Hygieia and the god Eros have been found in the ancient city of Anavarza. Nedim Dervişoğlu, director of the Adana Museum, said the statue is thought to date to the third or fourth century B.C. Hygieia, the goddess of hygiene, was one of the six daughters of Asclepius, the god of health. Dervişoğlu explained that Anavarza was known for the development of medicine and the home of Dioskurides, a pharmacologist during the Roman period. Excavators will continue to search for the statue’s missing heads. To read about another discovery in Turkey, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

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Iron Age Cauldrons Uncovered in England

Archaeology News - November 28, 2017

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—An Iron Age ceremonial site in the England's East Midlands has yielded 11 cauldrons, a sword, dress pins, a brooch, and a cast copper-alloy horn cap, which may have been part of a ceremonial staff, according to a report in the Leicester Mercury. John Thomas of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services said that in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., the site is thought to have been a small, open settlement, but by the third century B.C., the evidence suggests later generations enclosed the individual roundhouses. Most of the cauldrons were found in a large, circular enclosure ditch surrounding a building, while others were spread across the settlement. The vessels may have been used during major feasts and large gatherings before they were buried. The excavators lifted the cauldrons from the ground in soil blocks wrapped in strips of plaster, and then examined them with computer tomography equipment before carefully removing the surrounding dirt. Thomas noted the cauldrons came in different sizes, but were comprised of iron rims and upper bands with two iron ring handles, and copper-alloy bowls. For more, go to “Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

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Byzantine Mosaic Unearthed at Ashdod-Yam

Archaeology News - November 28, 2017

ASHDOD, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a mosaic dating to the Byzantine period has been unearthed in the ancient city of Ashdod-Yam, or Azotus in Greek. The mosaic, found on the floor of a 1,500-year-old Christian church, bears a Greek inscription recording when the church was constructed—the year 292, according to the Georgian calendar, or A.D. 539. Archaeologists led by Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University, Angelika Berlejung of Leipzig University, Balbina Bäbler of the University of Göttingen, and Sa’ar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority say the inscription is the earliest-known use of the Georgian calendar in the world, as well as the first time a Georgian church or monastery has been found on Israel’s Mediterranean coastline. The scholars suggest the mosaic supports historical sources that mention the presence of Georgian bishop and philosopher Peter the Iberian in Ashdod-Yam. The church is thought to have been part of a larger complex.

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Medieval Village Unearthed in Denmark

Archaeology News - November 23, 2017

TOLLERUP, DENMARK—Traces of three medieval farm buildings have been unearthed in eastern Denmark, reports Science Nordic. The structures were built between A.D. 1400 and 1600, but the site itself probably dates to at least the eleventh century. King Canute IV deeded a village in the vicinity of the excavations to a local bishop in 1085, and tax records from the period suggest there were six farms and a manor at that site. Archaeologists suspect the newly discovered village is the same one mentioned in the medieval documents. National Museum of Denmark archaeologist Nils Engberg says that merely finding any traces of buildings dating to this period is exceedingly rare. Because of a chronic timber shortage in the Middle Ages, buildings were made from stone, which was often reused in later buildings. “We have lots of excavations from earlier periods” says Engberg. “For example from the Stone Age and Bronze Age. But unfortunately not from the Middle Ages.” To read more about medieval Denmark, go to “Bluetooth’s Fortress.”

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New Research on Viking Army Camp at Repton

Archaeology News - November 23, 2017

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have turned up new evidence about a ninth-century Viking overwintering camp in the Derbyshire village of Repton, according to a report from Yahoo News. The site, which was occupied by a Viking army in the winter of 873-4, was previously excavated starting in the 1970s and was thought to have been limited to a fortified D-shaped enclosure measuring just a few acres. Now, a team from the University of Bristol has found evidence of structures and activities including metalworking and ship repair in the area outside this enclosure. Among the items found there were lead gaming pieces, fragments of battle-axes and arrows, and nails with roves, which are a telltale feature of Viking ship nails. The finds show that the Viking camp was larger and host to a wider range of activities than had been previously known, said Cat Jarman of the University of Bristol. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when the Vikings arrived in Repton in 873, they drove the Mercian king Burghred overseas. The researchers also confirmed that a mass grave at the site containing at least 264 people dates to the time of the overwintering camp and likely holds Viking war dead. For more on the Vikings in England, go to “Vengeance on the Vikings.”

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