SEA OF GALILEE, ISRAEL—A well-preserved basalt relief of a lioness has been uncovered by archaeologists at El-Araj in the Galilee, according to a report from Haaretz. The 1,320-pound relief includes a three-dimensional representation of the head, including mane, fangs, and tongue, and a two-dimensional representation of the body, including a tale hanging down between the legs. The carving dates to the fourth to sixth centuries A.D., said Mordechai Aviam, director of excavations at the Kinneret Academic College in the Galilee. “This relief looks very much like other statues of lions and lionesses discovered in synagogues in the Golan Heights,” he said. However, Aviam believes the site is Julias, a Roman-era town, and the carving could have been featured on a non-Jewish public building. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Conspicuous Consumption.”
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—The Atlantic reports that researchers are using plaque from the teeth of ancient Polynesians to track prehistoric human migrations in the Pacific. University of Adelaide biologists Laura Weyrich and Raphael Eisenhofer collected samples of plaque from the uncleaned teeth of skulls stored in a number of museums. The samples contained the DNA of a number of common mouth bacteria and by studying the mutations in these bacteria’s genes, the team hopes to be able to infer the timing and exact routes of several migration events. “The traditional means of looking at human migrations might be too coarse,” says Eisenhofer. “Hopefully, the rapid rate of evolution in that bacteria will allow us to answer some of the questions.” To read in-depth about ancient microbial DNA, go to “Worlds Within Us.”
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that three Roman shipwrecks and an ancient Egyptian barque dedicated to Osiris were discovered in ancient Alexandria’s eastern harbor in the Mediterranean Sea. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the joint team of researchers, made up of scientists from the ministry’s department of underwater archaeology and the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology, recovered a crystal head thought to represent Marc Antony, and gold coins dating to the reign of Emperor Augustus. Wooden beams and pottery may represent the site of a fourth shipwreck. To read about another discovery in Egypt, go to “World’s Oldest Port.”
JELLING, DENMARK—Science Nordic reports that the heavily damaged bones of a Danish Viking king, Gorm the Old, have been 3-D printed by a team led by archaeologist Adam Bak of the National Museum of Denmark. Gorm the Old died in A.D. 958, and he is thought to have been buried in at least one other location before his remains were deposited under the floor of Jelling Church, where they were recovered in 1978. Computer tomography scans were made of the bones before they were reburied in 2000. The new 3-D model has been adjusted to correct the pressure damage that occurred during the long period of the burial, according to Marie Louise Jørkov of the University of Copenhagen. “We can then re-analyze the skeleton and study the bones to look for any signs of disease, which can’t be seen at the surface,” she said. The reconstruction of the flattened skull revealed a lump on the back of the king’s head, which may have been caused by a load on the muscles and ligaments connected to the protuberance. “It can best be compared to a bunion,” concluded Carsten Reidies Bjarkam of Aarhus University. For more on the Vikings of Denmark, go to “Bluetooth's Fortress.”
BARCELONA, SPAIN—Neanderthals may have survived in parts of Spain for 3,000 years longer than they did in the rest of Western Europe, according to a Newsweek report. An international team of researchers working at three newly discovered Neanderthal sites in southern Iberia recovered stone tools thought to have been used about 37,000 years ago. João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona said Neanderthals are thought to have gone extinct in northern Spain and southern France between 40,000 and 42,000 years ago. He suggests the Ebro River acted as an effective barrier to the migration of modern humans into the region. For more on Neanderthals in Spain, go to “Neanderthal Medicine Chest.”
JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports that archaeologists are analyzing food waste left behind by the James Fort colonists and recovered in 2006 from a ground water well. The bones are thought to reflect the period after the Starving Time, the winter of 1609-1610, until 1617, when the governor’s residence was built on the site. “We know a lot about 1607 through 1610, we know a lot about the 1620s on, but this has been a period that has been largely absent from our record to date,” explained assistant curator Hayden Bassett of Jamestown Rediscovery. A “rough sort” of the tens of thousands of bones suggests the colonists ate horses, rats, and venomous snakes during the Starving Time. Cattle bones were scarce in the years before 1610, when meat was shipped from England in barrels, but became more common after live cattle arrived in Virginia in 1610 or 1611. The fact that the team has found few remains of wild deer could reflect the pressure Native Americans put on the colonists, and their reluctance to leave the safety of the fort. To read more, go to "Jamestown's VIPs."
ZHEJIANG PROVINCE, CHINA—According to a report in Live Science, two 800-year-old tombs have been unearthed at a construction site in eastern China. Inscriptions identify the tomb occupants as Lord Hu Hong of the Southern Song dynasty, and his wife, née Wu, who was known as the Lady of Virtue. Jianming Zheng of the Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said that Hu Hong’s tomb had been robbed, but his wife’s tomb was intact, although the inscription in her tomb was illegible. Hu Hong was remembered as a self-educated man who rose through the ranks of government service. In 1193, he was named the “best county magistrate of the year, and later was described as the “Investigating Censor prosecuting the treacherous and the heretical, with awe-inspiring justice,” at a time when the government cracked down on a religious group who criticized Chinese officials for consuming alcohol and having multiple wives. Hu Hong retired from service in 1200, and died in 1203. His wife died in 1206. In the Lady’s tomb, the excavators found gold jewelry, gold combs, gold and silver hairpins, a crystal disc, and a large amount of mercury which may have been intended to preserve her body. Both tombs contained porcelain jars decorated with elephant designs. To read more about the Song Dynasty, go to "Pirates of the Marine Silk Road."
CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that 14 artifacts illegally smuggled out of Egypt were seized in Cyprus by Interpol agents. The items, thought to have arrived in Cyprus in 1986, include ushabti figurines, an alabaster vase inscribed with the cartouche of Ramses II, and 13 amulets depicting the goddesses Sekhmet, Neith, and Isis, and the Udjat and Djed symbols. The artifacts will be handed over to an antiquities official at the Egyptian Embassy in Cyprus. To read in-depth about ancient Egypt, go to "Egypt's Final Redoubt in Canaan."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Science News reports that 33 skeletons recently unearthed at Qumran could offer clues to the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 11 nearby caves between 1947 and 1956. Anthropologist Yossi Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the bones were radiocarbon dated to 2,200 years ago, or about the same time that the texts were written. Thirty of the newly excavated skeletons have been identified as males, based upon body size and pelvic shape. A sex has not been assigned to the remaining three skeletons, due to lack of evidence. The men were found to be between the ages of 20 and 50 at the time of death, and none of them bore any signs of war-related injuries. Nagar said the information supports the theory that a sect of celibate men, perhaps the Essenes, lived at Qumran. Small samples of bone were taken before the skeletons were reburied. Scientists may try to obtain DNA from the samples. To read in-depth about the archaeology of Qumran, go to "Scroll Search."
WARSAW, POLAND—In 2014, scientists led by Michal Witt of the Institute of Human Genetics at the Polish Academy of Sciences were given access to Polish composer Frédéric Chopin’s heart, which had been removed from his body after his death in Paris in 1849 and taken to Warsaw, where it has remained. According to a report in Live Science, the records of Chopin’s original autopsy have been lost, but the researchers briefly examined the organ, and photographed it, in an effort to determine the cause of his death at age 39. The heart, preserved in a liquid thought to be cognac, was “enlarged and floppy.” Witt said the team concluded Chopin’s immediate cause of death was pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane around the heart, a likely complication of tuberculosis. To read about investigations of ancient cardiovascular health, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a Washington Post report, historian Gojko Barjamovic and an international team of economists created an algorithm to process quantitative trade data recorded on more than 12,000 cuneiform texts written by Assyrian merchants some 4,000 years ago. The texts contained prices, population sizes, and data on cargo shipments among 26 ancient cities. Only the locations of 15 of those cities are known. The other 11 remain lost. Assuming that traders sent goods more often to cities that were closer to home, the researchers were able to estimate the distances between trade partners, and therefore estimate the locations of the 11 lost cities. They then checked their guesses against those of other historians, who had based their work upon descriptions of the landscape, or records of distances and directions. In most of the cases, the researchers concluded, their quantitative estimates were close to the sites suggested by historians. When historians disagreed on a possible location, the researchers found that the mathematical model could offer additional evidence. The team also checked their estimates against the locations of three known ancient cities, and found they were correct just twice. The third city was farther from the center of the Assyrian trade network, making the tool less precise, they explained. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”
LONDON, CANADA—According to a report in The London Free Press, bioarchaeologist Andrea Waters-Rist of the University of Western Ontario led a team of researchers who examined 500 skeletons of nineteenth-century dairy farmers who lived in the village of Middenbeemster in The Netherlands. The scientists found obvious bone lesions called osteochondritis dissecans on 13 percent of the farmers’ feet. Most populations have an occurrence of less than one percent. The lesions resemble craters in the bones, at the joints, as if chunks of bone have just been chiseled away, Waters-Rist explained. Wearing wooden clogs, which are poor shock absorbers, were probably to blame. Waters-Rist thinks people may have used the hard shoes, known as klompen, as hammers or to kick objects into place, injuring their feet. Wearing the clogs during hard physical labor could have also caused micro-injuries, she surmised. To read about a discovery in The Netherlands, go to “Caesar’s Diplomatic Breakdown.”
PULLMAN, WASHINGTON—Agriculture, and the domestication of animals, led to increasing levels of inequality in human societies, according to an NPR report. Timothy Kohler of Washington State University and his colleagues speculate that wealthier individuals probably had bigger homes than their poorer neighbors. So they collected measurements of homes at 63 sites, including those belonging to nomadic groups, people who grew food on a small scale, and those who lived in early Roman cities, all dating between 9000 B.C. and A.D. 1500. The data suggest that the arrival of agriculture in Europe and Asia ushered in a greater disparity between rich and poor than that found in the New World. “This was a total surprise,” Kohler said. He thinks the presence of domesticated cows, oxen, horses, sheep, goats, and pigs in the Old World could have contributed to the difference. Animals like oxen and horses could have helped some farmers gain an edge because they could plow more fields, and thus produce more food, than farmers who did not own animals. To read about a form of animal domestication pursued in the New World, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Ahram Online reports that a German-Egyptian team of researchers and conservators has examined a collection of pieces of embossed gold from Tutankhamun’s tomb. The artifacts were discovered on the floor of the tomb’s antechamber and in the treasury, close to the royal chariots, and were photographed by Howard Carter’s team in 1922. Due to their delicacy, the objects were then packed away and placed in storage at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, where they remained for more than 90 years. Conservators Christian Eckmann and Katja Broschat of the Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseum Mainz reassembled the fragments of gold into pieces they suspect were decorative fittings for quivers and bridles. Archaeologist Julia Bertsch of the University of Tübingen said the embossed decorations include motifs from Egypt and the Middle East. Differences in the composition of the gold in different pieces suggest the artifacts were crafted in different workshops. To read about a recent discovery in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”
JENA, GERMANY—According to a report in Science Magazine, images of dogs thought to have been carved some 8,000 years ago have been found on rock panels in the Arabian Desert. Archaeologist Maria Guagnin of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, working with the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage, has catalogued more than 1,400 rock art panels at Shuwaymis and Jubbah. In all, 156 images of hunting dogs have been recorded at Shuwaymis, and 193 at Jubbah. All of the dogs appear to be domesticated, with pricked up ears, short snouts, and curled tails, and are shown with individualized coat patterns, stances, and genders. Zooarchaeologist Angela Perri of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology said the dogs in the carvings resemble today’s feral Canaan dog, which lives in the deserts of the Middle East. Some of the dogs in the rock art are shown facing wild donkeys, or biting the necks of ibexes and gazelles—animals that would have probably been too fast for human hunters to bring down without canine assistance. Lines, which presumably represent leashes, connect the dogs to the waists of hunters armed with bows and arrows. These animals may have been kept close because they were especially valued, or they may have been new dogs undergoing training. To read in-depth about dogs in the archaeological record, go to “More Than Man's Best Friend.”
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—The Guardian reports that the 40,000-year-old remains of “Mungo Man” and more than 100 other early Australians have been handed over to traditional owners for reburial in southeast Australia. “Mungo Man” was discovered in 1974 at Lake Mungo, now a dry lake bed, by geomorphologist Jim Bowler of Australian National University. Since their discovery, the remains have been in the custody of Australian National University and then the National Museum of Australia. “It is an amazing day and a privilege to be part of,” said Bowler, who is now 88 years old. To read about another recent discovery in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Tests of ancient Egyptian papyri suggest that metal-filled black ink was used across Egypt from roughly 200 B.C. to A.D. 100, according to a report in Cosmos. It had been thought that most writing had been completed with carbon-based ink until the fourth or fifth century A.D. Thomas Christiansen of the University of Copenhagen and his team analyzed inks from papyri printed before 88 B.C., and a second group of papyri dated up to the second century A.D., with radiation-based X-ray microscopy at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility. All four varieties of ink identified on the papyri contained copper, in the form of the minerals cuprite, azurite, and malachite. The researchers think soot and charcoal created during the process of removing copper from ores may have been used in the ink. Christiansen notes the blue pigment used by the ancient Egyptians was produced with copper scraps from the metal workshops attached to temples. For more on the use of Egyptian blue, go to “Hidden Blues.”
FRANKFURT, GERMANY—According to a report in Seeker, recent excavations in northern Iraq led by Dirk Wicke of Goethe University uncovered traces of a loom dating to the fifth or sixth century A.D., and pieces of clay imprinted with images of griffins and horses that may have been seals placed on rolls of fabric. The loom, placed in the corner of a room, would have supported vertical hanging threads pulled straight by clay loom weights. A bench of six mudbricks had been situated in front of the loom, presumably so the weaver could insert the horizontal threads. Below the loom, the excavators found a cylinder seal dated to the Assyrian period, between the ninth and seventh centuries B.C. Two winged genies with a cone and a bucket of liquid thought to have been used during a purifying ritual appear on the seal. “It is difficult to pinpoint an exact meaning to it, but this image was very often depicted in the royal palaces and appears to act as a beneficiary motif used to magically protect the king and inhabitants of the palace or palaces,” Wicke said. The team also uncovered a stone wall dating to the Assyrian period that may have been part of a watchtower. To read about an excavation in Iraqi Kurdistan, go to “Erbil Revealed.”
LYON, FRANCE—The Local reports that a medieval treasure trove has been found near the Cluny Abbey in eastern France. The excavation team, made up of researchers from the University of Lyon II and France’s National Center for Scientific Research, discovered the cache of twelfth-century coins while looking for the corner of the abbey’s infirmary. Most of the 2,200 silver coins were issued by Cluny Abbey. The 21 gold coins, which had been stored in a canvas bag, originated in the Middle East. Additional gold items include a gold signet ring engraved with the word “Avete,” a Latin greeting, and a folded piece of gold leaf. Team member Vincent Borrel said that in their time, the items discovered would have been able to purchase a six-day supply of bread and wine for the abbey. For more, go to “France’s Roman Heritage.”
JINGCHUAN COUNTY, CHINA—An excavation in northwest China has uncovered a 1,000-year-old ceramic box containing cremated human remains said to have belonged to Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, according to a report in Live Science. An inscription on the box explains that two monks, named Yunjiang and Zhiming, of the Mañjuśrī Temple of the Longxing Monastery collected the more than 2,000 pieces of cremated remains, including teeth and bones, over a period of 20 years, and buried them in the temple on June 22, 1013, as a way to practice and promote Buddhism. More than 260 Buddhist statues, and the remains of a building that may have been part of the monastery complex, were also found. Hong Wu of the Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said it was not clear whether the statues, which had been made as early as the fourth century A.D., had been buried at the same time as the cremated remains. Some of the statues, which depict the Buddha, bodhisattvas, arhats, and deities, stood more than six feet tall. Few of the statues had been inscribed, but carved steles were also recovered. For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”