Greek-Style Gymnasium Discovered in Egypt’s Faiyum Oasis

Archaeology News - November 7, 2017

MEDINAT WATFA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a center for the education of wealthy, Greek-speaking men has been unearthed at Philoteris, a village founded in the third century B.C. by Ptolemy II. The site, which featured a large meeting hall with statues, a dining hall, and a courtyard in the main building, resembles those found in large cities such as Athens, Pergamon, and Pompeii. The excavation team of German and Egyptian archaeologists also uncovered traces of the gardens that surrounded the school, and a racetrack on the grounds. “Although much smaller, the gymnasium of Watfa clearly shows the impact of Greek life in Egypt, not only in Alexandria, but also in the countryside” explained Cornelia Römer of the German Archaeological Institute. To read about other recent discoveries in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

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Possible Evidence of Cave-Dwelling Farmers Found in China

Archaeology News - November 7, 2017

FUZHOU, CHINA—Some 10,000 grains of carbonized rice have been discovered in a cave in southeast China, according to a Xinhua News Agency report. Caves are usually thought to be the homes of hunter-gatherers, but Zhao Zhijun, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the remains of common farmland weeds found among the rice grains suggest they were grown by the Nanshan cave dwellers between 5,300 and 4,300 years ago. And the people suffered from dental cavities and other oral problems common among agrarian societies, added team member Wang Minghui. “The Nanshan finding offers a new perspective for prehistoric study,” Zhao said. “We must consider more possibilities when talking about where our ancestors lived and what they lived on.” For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

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Artifacts Suggest Pre-Inca Society Lacked Hierarchical Structure

Archaeology News - November 4, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Archaeologist Elizabeth DeMarrais of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues have been investigating the ruins of Borgatta, a city built in the Andes in what is now Argentina in the tenth century A.D. According to a report in the International Business Times, DeMarrais says the society at the site was governed by power sharing and decentralized networks, rather than a system of elite leaders and poorer citizens, which would be reflected in differences in diet and artifacts. But the team did not find any evidence of luxury artifacts. In fact, it appeared that most objects were made at home, in varying styles, with bone and stone tool kits, and not at specialist sites, such as a blacksmith’s shop. The archaeologists also uncovered painted urns in different styles that had been buried under the floors of the houses. These distinctive urns contained the remains of infants, and may have evoked shared emotions among the members of the community and strengthened their ties to each other. To read about another recent discovery in Argentina, go to “Andean Copper Age.”

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Ancient Coins Discovered in English Manor House

Archaeology News - November 4, 2017

KENT, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Guardian, a disintegrating cardboard box containing 186 antique coins has been discovered in the back of a drawer in New Scotney Castle, a Tudor Revival–style house built in the nineteenth century near the original castle, a ruined medieval manor house surrounded by a small lake. Most of the coins are Roman, and are thought to have been collected during the Victorian period by Edward Hussey, who owned the castle at the time, and his son, Edwy. The collection includes a fake coin made in the nineteenth century. Edwy wrote in his diary that he and his father wanted to collect the coins of all of the Roman emperors, and the kings and queens of England. “That collection might still be somewhere in the house too, just waiting for us to find it,” said archaeologist Nathalie Cohen of the National Trust. For more, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.”

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Byzantine Sarcophagus Cover Unearthed in Turkey

Archaeology News - November 4, 2017

GÜMÜŞHANE PROVINCE, TURKEY—The Anadolu Agency reported that a sarcophagus cover dating to A.D. 610 was unearthed by construction workers in northeastern Turkey. Greek characters inscribed on the cover read “Blessed Kandes sleeps here,” according to Gümüşhane museum officials. “The discovery of the full sarcophagus will give us a clue about who it was built for,” said museum director Gamze Demir. Şahin Yildirim of Bartin University added that further excavation could reveal a necropolis and perhaps even a church in the area. To read about another discover in Turkey, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

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Cosmic Rays Used to Detect Void Inside Great Pyramid

Archaeology News - November 3, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—After a two-year investigation, a team of Japanese and French scientists announced that a giant void has been detected within Egypt’s Great Pyramid, constructed during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu between 2509 and 2483 B.C. BBC News reports that the researchers employed three different muography technologies, which record how cosmic rays from space interact with solid objects. When higher numbers of muons reached detectors placed in the pyramid, it suggested the particles had passed through empty space and had not been absorbed by stone. The proposed void measures about one hundred feet long and rests above the pyramid’s Grand Gallery, one of three known interior chambers. Voids may have been incorporated into the building plan to reduce the weight of the structure and avoid collapse. “What we are doing is trying to understand the internal structure of the pyramids and how this pyramid has been built,” explained Hany Helal of Cairo University. For more on Egypt's pyramids, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

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Pregnant Woman’s Ancient Remains Discovered in Israel

Archaeology News - November 3, 2017

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Live Science reports that the remains of a woman who died some 3,200 years ago while in her first trimester of pregnancy have been found in a tumulus near the temple of Hathor in an ancient copper-mining region of the Timna Valley. Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of love, pleasure, and maternity, is thought to have served as protector of the miners. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University said the woman had been buried with beads similar to those found at the Hathor temple, so she may have been a singer there. To read about another recent discovery in the Timna Valley, go to “Conspicuous Consumption.”

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Road Workers Unearth Pictish Carving in Scotland

Archaeology News - November 3, 2017

PERTH, SCOTLAND—Road crews in central Scotland discovered a possible Pictish carving of a fierce warrior, according to a report in The Scotsman. Wear to the stone has obscured some of the image, but the front of the warrior’s scalp appears to have been shaved, and he seems to have a grotesque face, as seen in other Pictish carvings, with a large nose. The warrior appears to be wearing a cloak and shoes, and holding a spear and a club. The image may have signified the presence of a powerful Pictish noble living in the area some 1,500 years ago and served as a warning to travelers entering his territory. No Pictish sites have been found in the area to date, however. Mark Hall of Perth Museum and Art Gallery said the carving is the first of its kind to have been found in the Perth and Kinross area. For more on Pictish carvings, go to “Game of Stones.”

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New Technique Provides Thorough Look at Mummy

Archaeology News - November 2, 2017

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA—A lifelike model of the mummy of a girl thought to have died of dysentery during Egypt’s Roman era has been created by combining computer tomography (CT) scans and 3-D scans of the mummy’s surface, according to a report in Live Science. The CT scans, taken in 2005, provide a look beneath the mummy’s wrappings, while the new surface scans, completed with a handheld 3-D scanner, captured details of its surface in color. The scans were then combined using software developed by the company Volume Graphics. The virtual model will become part of the exhibit at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, where the mummy is housed. Christof Reinhart of Volume Graphics explained that the new technique could help scientists link the features on the surface of an object to associated features on the inside of an object. For more, go to “Heart Attack of the Mummies.”

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New Thoughts on the Extinction of Neanderthals

Archaeology News - November 2, 2017

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—The Washington Post reports that evolutionary biologist Oren Kolodny of Stanford University and his colleague Marc Feldman built a computer model to test how hominin population sizes and migration patterns could have affected the survival of Neanderthals in Europe. “It’s the simplest model that we can build without assuming any hard-to-prove claims, like selection or environmental change,” Kolodny said. The researchers ran the simulation hundreds of thousands of times, and in each one, a species had to go extinct, since two species cannot occupy the same environmental niche at the same time. In most of the simulations, Neanderthals died out within 12,000 years of the arrival of modern humans in Europe. Kolodny thinks that humans' gradual migration could have been enough to wipe out the Neanderthals. For more, go to “Should We Clone Neanderthals?

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Roman-Era Tombs Unearthed in Greece

Archaeology News - November 2, 2017

CORINTH, GREECE—A team of scientists led by Elena Korka of the Greek Ministry of Culture has recovered jewels, coins, and other artifacts from tombs dating to the first through fourth centuries A.D. near the ancient settlement of Tenea, according to a report in Newsweek. Fourteen of the Roman graves had been organized in circles. These burials yielded gold and silver coins, vases, and lamps featuring depictions of the goddess Venus and two cupids. Roman-period builders also repurposed the limestone foundations of earlier, Hellenic structures to build the tombs for wealthy, Roman-era occupants, Korka said. These people were buried with artifacts such as gilded bronze leaves, a golden ring, precious stones, and perfumes, glassware, and pottery. For more, go to “Greece's Biggest Tomb.”

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Horse Bones and Chariots Excavated in China

Archaeology News - November 2, 2017

ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—Xinhua reports that 90 horse skeletons and four chariots have been recovered from a 2,400-year-old pit in central China. The pit was found in a cemetery of more than 3,000 tombs and 18 pits containing chariots and the remains of horses, near a tomb thought to have belonged to a lord of the Zheng State, who lived during the late Spring and Autumn Period, or sometime between 770 and 476 B.C. “As the main tomb has been looted and no written records have been found yet, it is difficult to identify the tomb owner,” said Ma Juncai of the Henan Province cultural heritage and archaeology institute. The largest of the chariots in this pit was equipped with rain and sun protection for the passenger, and was decorated with bronze and bone artifacts. The horses are thought to have been killed, then placed in the pit, and then covered with pieces of a dismantled chariot. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Tomb Couture.”

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Coptic Icon Confiscated at Egyptian Airport

Archaeology News - November 1, 2017

HURGHADA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that antiquities officials confiscated a Coptic icon protected by a 1983 antiquities law at Hurghada International Airport. Naglaa El-Kobrosly, director of the Antiquities Units in Egyptian Airports, said a passenger attempted to smuggle the Christian triptych out of the country in some luggage. Crafted from copper in the eighteenth century, the icon’s three panels are said to reflect the Byzantine style. To read about a similar Byzantine artifact that was recently unearthed, go to "Iconic Discovery."

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X-Rays Reveal Sketch of Mary Queen of Scots

Archaeology News - November 1, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—X-ray imaging has revealed a rare portrait of Mary Queen of Scots underneath a painting of a Scottish nobleman, according to a report in The Independent. The unfinished image is thought to have been started in 1586 by Dutch artist Adrian Vanson in Scotland, while Mary was a prisoner in England, and may have been abandoned when she was executed for her complicity in a plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I later that year. The sketch of Mary’s face, hat, and neck were eventually covered with the image of Sir John Maitland, the Scottish king’s Chancellor, in 1588. Part of Mary’s dress was turned into his doublet, and her right hand was modified to form Maitland’s right hand. “Now that we know from the X-ray images what was going on, it explains why the portrait of the Scottish Chancellor was so awkwardly painted,” said Caroline Rae of the Courtauld Institute of Art. To read about similar work being done on ancient Roman frescoes in Herculaneum, go to "Putting on a New Face."

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Pieces of Silver Thracian Wreath Unearthed in Bulgaria

Archaeology News - October 31, 2017

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that an excavation team from Bulgaria’s National Museum of History has uncovered parts of an ancient silver wreath in a burial mound located near Bulgaria’s Dyadovo Settlement Mound. The region, located in southeast Bulgaria, was inhabited from the end of the seventh millennium B.C. through the twelfth century A.D., and was the site of a Thracian fortress during the Bronze Age. The wreath is thought to have been crafted by the Thracians sometime between the late first century and beginning of the third century A.D., after the region was conquered by the Romans. The pieces, engraved with images of plant leaves and fruit, show signs of having been melted, perhaps because its owner had been cremated. To read more about Thracian grave goods, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

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Face of Eighteenth-Century “Witch” Reconstructed

Archaeology News - October 31, 2017

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in BBC News, forensic artist Christopher Rynn of Dundee University’s Center for Anatomy and Human Identification used twentieth-century photographs of a now missing skull to create a 3-D digital reconstruction of Lilias Adie, a Scottish woman who died in 1704 while imprisoned for the crime of witchcraft. In the nineteenth century, her remains were exhumed from a grave on the Fife coast that had been covered with a large stone, presumably to keep her rising from the grave. Adie was tortured and interrogated in prison in an effort to get her to name other women as witches. But she only pointed the finger at those who had already been named. Adie is thought to have taken her own life. To read about archaeological evidence for witchcraft in the British Isles, go to "The Witches of Cornwall." 

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Paleolithic Beads Discovered in China

Archaeology News - October 31, 2017

YINCHUAN, CHINA—According to a Xinhua News Agency report, archaeologists have found a total of four tiny beads estimated to be between 8,000 and 12,000 years old by sifting and washing tens of thousands of cubic feet of dirt removed from a site in northwest China. The smallest bead, crafted from eggshell, measures just 0.05 inches in diameter. “It is incredible that it can be so well processed with such a small diameter,” said Wang Huimin of the Ningxia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. Researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, and the Qingtongxia’s Cultural Relics Administration, also participated in the project. To read more about Paleolithic beadwork, go to "In Style in the Stone Age." 

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Isla de Mona’s Treasure Trove of Taino Artwork

Archaeology News - October 31, 2017

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—Thousands of Taino drawings and paintings have been discovered on the remote, uninhabited Caribbean island of Mona, according to a report in The St. Kitts & Nevis Observer. Archaeologists from the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico, the University of Leicester, the University of Cambridge, and the British Museum found the drawings spread over 30 of the island’s caves, and there are more than 100 caves still to be investigated. Initial tests suggest most of the rock art, which depicts combinations of animal and human faces, and geometric and curvilinear patterns, dates to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Some of the images were painted with bat guano that had absorbed naturally occurring yellow, brown, and red mineral pigments from the caves’ floors. Plant resin was sometimes added to the mixture to help it adhere to cave walls. Most of the images were created by dragging bare fingers across the layer of corroded calcite on the cave walls to expose the lighter-colored solid rock beneath it. Scholars think the island may have been the site of ceremonial rituals that were perhaps fueled by hallucinogens, as described by a sixteenth-century Spanish observer. To read more about the artwork on Mona Island, go to "Spiritual Meeting Ground."

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Pilgrims’ Homes Excavated in Massachusetts

Archaeology News - October 28, 2017

PLYMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS—The Patriot Ledger reports that archaeologists led by David Landon of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, have uncovered traces of Pilgrim life between the remains of two buildings located within the palisade wall discovered last year. In one pit, they found the bones of a butchered calf that had not been completely processed. Landon thinks hot weather may have been the reason. “We’re filleting it out and it’s laying around for a little while,” he speculated. “Time to get rid of the rest of this into a pit on the side of the house,” he said. The alleyway also yielded samples from a trash pit that will be tested for pollen and parasites, and fish bones in a planting hole, reflecting the Wampanoag practice of fertilizing plants with fish. Other seventeenth-century artifacts uncovered during the excavation include European pottery and stoneware, straight pins, trader’s beads, and a lead seal marked with an image of a thistle, which may have come on a bolt of cloth from England. “It was very emblematic of the time and emblematic of the trade routes,” Landon said. To read more about historical archaeology in Massachusetts, go to "Finding Parker's Revenge."

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Historians Challenge “Earliest Zero” Claim

Archaeology News - October 28, 2017

EDMONTON, CANADA—According to a report in The International Business Times, an international group of historians of Indian mathematics disagrees with a study conducted by Oxford University researchers, which claimed the Bakhshali manuscript dated to 200 B.C., and recorded the earliest-known use of the number zero. The critics argue that the text of the Bakhshali manuscript is a unified treatise on arithmetic that was written all at once, by the same scribe, on birch bark leaves dating to different time periods. They suggest the text therefore dates to the time of the youngest birch bark leaves, in the eighth century A.D., but stress that it does contain important calculations using the concept of zero. To read about the original claim, go to "New Dates Push Back Use of Zero."

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