GREENBELT, MARYLAND—Matthias Baeye and Michael Fettweis of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Rory Quinn of Ulster University, and Samuel Deleu of Flemish Hydrography, Agency for Maritime and Coastal Services, have developed a low-cost way to detect shipwrecks close to shore, according to a press release from NASA. They used freely available Landsat satellite data and tidal models to follow sediment plumes extending from four known wreck locations near the Belgium port of Zeebrugge. Those wrecks had been recorded in a detailed multibeam echosounder survey conducted by the Flemish government. They found that exposed parts of two of the shipwrecks collected sediments during slack tides. The sediments were then re-suspended during ebb and flood tides, creating sediment plumes that could be traced when they reached the surface. The researchers suggest that uncharted shipwrecks could be found by mapping sediment plumes and following them upstream to their point of origin.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Operation Hidden Idol, a partnership between the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations New York, has seized two statues from Christie’s auction house. Special agents determined that the two statues were stolen from India and transported to the U.S. by organized crime syndicates. The first is described as a tenth-century sandstone stele of Rishabhanata. It depicts the first Jain Tirthankara in a seated pose, flanked by a pair of standing attendants. The second carving has been dated to the eighth century and depicts the equestrian deity Revanta and his entourage. A piece of this statue is said to have been broken off and sold separately by the smugglers. “With high demand from all corners of the globe, collectors must be certain of provenance before purchasing. I urge dealers and auction houses to take every necessary precaution to avoid facilitating the sale of cultural heritage stolen from other civilizations. If a provenance is in doubt, report it to law enforcement authorities,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said in a press release. To read about preservation efforts in India, go to "Living Heritage at Risk."
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—A large bronze workshop discovered next to the ancient royal palace of Angkor Thom may establish where large sculptures found in the area were produced. The significance of the site was recognized in 2012, and the first comprehensive report on it has now been published. The workshop was discovered by chance when archaeologists were excavating what they thought was a stone workshop. They found partially finished bronze sculptures, large furnaces, metal fragments, and crucibles that could hold a half-gallon of molten bronze. Radiocarbon dating has found that the workshop was in use from the eleventh to twelfth century, the height of Angkor civilization under King Jayavarman VII. “We’ve demonstrated that there is a centralized workshop with very large-scale production,” Martin Polkinghorne of Flinders University told The Phnom Penh Post. The discovery of the large-scale workshop overturns the assumption that bronze sculptures were created in the same locations where they were displayed. In addition, the fact that the workshop is so close to Angkor Thom suggests it was overseen by elites. For more, go to “Remapping the Khmer Empire,” one of ARCHAEOLOGY’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2013.
AURANGABAD, INDIA—A new study shows that the rock-cut temples of India’s Ellora Caves have been preserved in part because of the special properties of a clay plaster covering the interior of the shrines. Botanist Milind M. Sardesai and archaeochemist Rajdeo Singh used a scanning electron microscope to study plaster from the walls and ceiling of a Buddhist temple at the site dating to the sixth century A.D. They discovered that the mixture consisted of at least ten percent cannabis. "The cannabis fiber appears to have a better quality and durability than other fibers," Sardesai told Discovery News. “Moreover, the cannabis’ gum and sticky properties might have helped clay and lime to form a firm binder.” According to the researchers, the cannabis plaster was also insect-resistant and helped regulate humidity in the cave. Nearby cave temples that weren't insulated with cannabis plaster are in a poorer state of preservation than the Ellora Cave shrines. To see images of another spectacular site in India, go to “The Islamic Stepwells of Gujarat."
ROME, ITALY—A newly discovered fragment of a marble map of ancient Rome has been joined with the other existing pieces, according to Discovery News. The map, which originally measured 60 by 43 feet, is known as the Severan Marble Plan and was carved into 150 marble slabs between A.D. 203 and 211. When complete, the map featured every building and street in Rome, but the 1,200 or so fragments that remain cover just 10 percent of its original surface area. The map originally hung on a wall that survives today and is lined with holes where the slabs were once attached with bronze clamps. The new fragment was discovered in the Maffei Marescotti Palace and is thought to have been used in its construction at the end of the sixteenth century. The piece connects to a large section discovered in 1562 and completes the word “Circus Flaminius,” a sporting complex that was built in 220 B.C. to host the Plebeian games. To read about ancient Rome in-depth, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”
DOBROMIRTSI, BULGARIA—A small medieval reliquary has been discovered during a preliminary survey of the ruins of a medieval monastery near Bulgaria’s border with Greece, reports Archaeology in Bulgaria. Archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia discovered the artifact, which may have contained relics attributed to a Christian saint. He also found the arm of a bronze cross decorated with the image of the Virgin Mary, and believes both objects date to to around the eleventh century A.D. Ovcharov was also able to confirm reports of looting at the site when he identified freshly dug pits near the monastery’s surviving walls. He plans to begin scientific excavations at the site in May. To read in-depth about the archaeology of medieval churches in England, go to “Writing on the Church Wall.”
HAMILTON, SCOTLAND—Roadwork in central Scotland has uncovered traces of a medieval site that may be the lost village of Cadzow. “This dig has unearthed two medieval structures, nine medieval coins, gaming pieces, sherds of pottery and lead pistol shot, possibly from the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (1679)—collectively, they provide a rare insight into life in Scotland in the Middle Ages,” Keith Brown, Minister for Infrastructure, Investments and Cities said in a press release. Because the site was in a busy nineteenth-century industrial area, it had been thought that any archaeological evidence had been lost. The site’s two structures are adjacent to a memorial stone which may have been the original home of the 1,000-year-old Netherton Cross, which was moved away from the roadway to Hamilton Old Parish Church in the 1920s. “It’s very unusual to find so many coins in one place. We think it’s possible that people thought it lucky to leave a coin at the religious shrine,” said project director Kevin Mooney. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to "Viking Treasure Trove."
LESBOS, GREECE—Work on a sewer line in the Evergetoula region of the island of Lesbos uncovered an intact burial dating to the eighth century B.C. According to a report in eKathimerini, the Lesbos Department of Antiquities described the woman’s grave as the first from the Geometric Period to be found on the island. It had been lined and covered with slate. Pottery, gold earrings, a large gold bead, a bronze bead, and a bone pin were recovered. To read in-depth about archaeology in Greece, go to "The Minoans of Crete."
NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY—Gail M. Ashley of Rutgers University, Clayton R. Magill of the Geological Institute in Zurich, Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo of Complutense University in Madrid, and Katherine H. Freeman of Pennsylvania State University have reconstructed the landscape at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, some 1.8 million years ago, from a layer of bones and organic matter preserved in volcanic ash. The detailed landscape, which included a freshwater spring, wetlands, woodlands, and grasslands, will help paleoanthropologists to understand how early hominins, including Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis, survived. “We were able to map out what the plants were on the landscape with respect to where the humans and their stone tools were found. That’s never been done before,” Ashley said in a press release. The information could help scientists determine if early humans were hunting or if they scavenged meat left by competing carnivores, such as lions, leopards, and hyenas. “The subject of eating meat is an important questions defining current research on hominins. We know that the increase in the size of the brain, just the evolution of humans, is probably tied to more protein,” she said. For more on the Olduvai Gorge, go to "Zinj and the Leakeys."
PARIS, FRANCE—According to a press release, a team of French archaeologists headed by Guillaume Gernez of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) has discovered a complex made up of two main buildings and several smaller ones at a site in central Oman known as Mudhmar East. In a small room in the larger of the two buildings, the team found a collection of under-sized bronze weapons dating to between 900 and 600 B.C. scattered on the floor. Thought to have been models of actual weapons, the two small quivers, five battle axes, five daggers, arrowheads, and complete bows may have been placed on furniture or shelves, or perhaps hung on the walls. Objects like this have never been found before on the Arabian Peninsula or in the Middle East. Incense burners and small bronze snakes have been found in the other building at the site, suggesting that the weaponry may have served a ceremonial function. To read about a Bronze Age dagger found in Denmark, go to "Artifact."
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—The remains of approximately 150 people that were removed from an eroding beach in the Kodiak Archipelago in the 1960s will be repatriated under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. After the excavation from Chirikof Island, which is federal land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the remains were held at the University of Wisconsin, and later moved to Indiana University in Bloomington. “Many tribes around the country have their ancestors and collections from their land scattered throughout the nation, and so this law was developed to help tribes and also museums to develop procedures so that there’s a process for returning funerary objects, sacred objects, and human remains to tribes,” Marnie Leist, Alutiiq Museum Curator of Collections, told KNBA.org. The repatriation process will be completed by 2018. To read in-depth about archaeology in Alaska, go to "Cultural Revival."
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A new study suggests that slicing, pounding, and eventually cooking meats and vegetables reduced the effort it took to chew them and the number of chews required per day by early humans. “Meat has a lot of nutrients, but it is also very elastic. You can think of it as being like a rubber band,” Katie Zink of Harvard University said in a press release. She gave volunteers raw, sliced, pounded, and cooked goat, and carrots, beets, yams, and other vegetables to chew until they would normally swallow, but then had the volunteers spit out the food. Zink then analyzed the food particles and found that smaller teeth are not adequate for consuming raw meat. “Eating meat and using stone tools to process food apparently made possible key reductions in the jaws, teeth, and chewing muscles that occurred during human evolution,” she explained. To read about Homo erectus, go to "Bon Voyage, Caveman."
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—A team of scientists from the University of Manchester and the College of Charleston have developed and tested a technique to determine if a bone specimen is suitable for use in radiocarbon analysis. The process of radiocarbon dating requires collagen, which may have deteriorated even in an otherwise well-preserved specimen. “Our new method has so far exhibited a 100 percent success rate with regards to successfully categorizing samples as suitable for dating or not, a figure significantly larger than the success rates achieved via previously used techniques,” Mike Bukley, creator of the technique, said in a press release. The team tested the new method, called “ZooMS,” on sub-fossil bone specimens collected from cave deposits in the tropical Cayman Islands. Collagen fingerprints were obtained for all of the sub-fossil bone specimens that yielded radiocarbon dates, while radiocarbon dates could not be obtained from samples that gave poor collagen fingerprints. ZooMS “can reduce time and expense, whilst lowering the risk of unreliable dates, preventing unnecessary sample destruction and providing additional information on species identification,” Buckley explained. To read more, go to "Nondestructive Radiocarbon Dating."
MILAN, ITALY—ANSA.it reports that a tomb dating to the eighth century B.C. has been discovered at the archaeological site of Vulci in northern Lazio. It has yielded an amber necklace, a golden Egyptian scarab, and rare pottery. Scientists think that the occupant of the tomb, whose bones have been found wrapped in cloth, may have been an Etruscan princess. To read about more discoveries at Vulci, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."
TUSCON, ARIZONA—Detailed records of Spanish shipwrecks and tree-ring data have been combined to offer new information on historic hurricanes. The growth of trees is slowed in years with hurricanes, and so the storms leave a mark on annual growth rings. Wood from shipwrecks can be dated, revealing when they had been built. Researchers checked this information against a list of ships lost in Caribbean storms between 1495 and 1825. They found a 75 percent reduction in the number of Caribbean hurricanes between 1645 and 1715, a time of cooler temperatures in the northern hemisphere and little sunspot activity that is known as the Maunder Minimum. “By combining shipwreck data and tree-ring data, we are extending the Caribbean hurricane record back in time and that improves our understanding of hurricane variability,” Valerie Trouet of the University of Arizona said in a press release. This information could help scientists predict future hurricanes in the changing climate. To read in-depth about nautical archaeology, go to "Letter From Bermuda: Secrets of a Civil War Shipwreck."
MOGHALMARI, INDIA—An archaeological excavation in eastern India at the site of a sixth-century Buddhist monastery, or vihara, has recovered a fragment of gold embedded in terracotta. “We were stunned to find the portion of the gold crown," archaeologist Prakash Maity told The Times of India. "We feel it was part of the main Buddha statue of the vihara. Gold ornaments were normally not part of Buddha statues. But the Vajrayana sect of Buddhism worshipped what was known as the Crown Buddha. It seems this gold crown was worn by a Crown Buddha.” Statuettes, pottery, bronze artifacts, and gold coins bearing the name Samachar Deva have also been found recently. “It is possible that the Moghalmari vihara received royal patronage during the pre-Pala times from Samachar Deva, a local satrap who came into prominence in south Bengal after the fall of the Guptas in A.D. 550,” Maity explained. Two seals recovered at the site suggest that the monastery was known as “Sribandaka vihara.” To read more about archaeology in India, go to "India's Village of the Dead."
CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty announced that a collection of historic documents has been found in a Supreme Council of Antiquities storehouse in the Al-Abbassiya district of Cairo. The documents include, maps, architectural diagrams, and letters exchanged between the historic Egyptian Antiquities Organization and early Egyptologists such as Gaston Maspero, Jacques de Morgan, Pierre Lacau, and Howard Carter. There are also papers from the Gabry and Fayyed families who were known to trade in antiquities; a file on the Egyptian Exploration Society; and a file on the French Institute for Oriental Studies. The French Institute at the time had been working at Tanis, Matariya in Heliopolis, and Karnak Temple in Luxor. A committee has been formed to study and archive the collection of documents. “These are the oldest documents found in the history of the Antiquities Ministry,” Hisham El Leithy, director general of the Egyptian Antiquities Registration Center, told Ahram Online. To read more about Egyptology, go to "The Cult of Amun."
AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS—Oyster reefs in New York Harbor provided protection from floods and storm waves, according to Jon Woodruff and Christine Brandon of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While investigating sand deposits left by Hurricane Sandy, Woodruff and Brandon discovered that there was no record of storm deposits prior to the period between 1600 and 1800. “If it were just one site it would have been one thing, but at every site we saw the same: no storm deposits for thousands of years before European settlement and then after colonization, storm waves start to become more and more effective in transporting sand inland to our field sites,” Woodruff said in a press release. “We kept reaching dead ends until we considered one of the largest impacts European settlers had on New York Harbor, the decimation of its natural oyster beds,” he explained. Philip Orton at Stevens Institute of Technology tested the idea with a circulation and wave simulation model. The team also collected core sediment samples dating back about 3,000 years. They found as much as a 200 percent increase in wave energy with the loss of the oyster beds. To read in-depth about prehistoric North Americans relationship to coastal environments, go to "The Edible Landscape."
HAIFA, ISRAEL—Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, Eric Cline of George Washington University, and Andrew Koh of Brandeis University think there may have been a winery during the Middle Bronze Age at the Canaanite palace at Tel Kabri. Analysis of residues from the jars discovered in four storerooms at the site revealed that the wine had been mixed with different flavorings, such as terebinth resin, cedar oil, honey, and other plant extracts. “It seems that some of the new storerooms were used for mixing wines with various flavorings and for storing empty jars for filling with the mixed wine. We are starting to think that the palace did not just have storerooms for finished produce, but also had a winery where wine was prepared for consumption,” Yasur-Landau said in a press release. Tel Kabri has also yielded select parts of sheep and goats, suggesting that the rulers who lived there put on luxurious banquets. “In this period it was not normal practice to mix wine beforehand. Accordingly, in order to provide guests with high-quality wines, the palace itself must have had a winery where they made prestigious wine and served it immediately to guests,” Yasur-Landau explained. To read about another major excavation in Israel, go to "Excavating Tel Kadesh."
KURE BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA—The wreckage of an iron-hulled ship has been discovered by the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology and the Institute of International Maritime Research in the Atlantic Ocean. It was found near the mouth of the Cape Fear River and Fort Caswell, built to defend the port of Wilmington in the early nineteenth century. The vessel may be one of three Confederate blockade runners—the Agnes E. Fry, Spunkie, or Georgianna McCaw—known to have been lost in the area. “A new runner is a really big deal. The state of preservation on this wreck is among the best we’ve ever had,” Billy Ray Morris, Deputy State Archaeologist-Underwater and Director of the Underwater Archaeology branch said in a press release. Union forces cut off this last Confederate supply line in January 1865. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."