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Five Shipwrecks Found Near Greece’s Fourni Islands

October 16, 2018

ATHENS, GREECE—The Greek Culture Ministry announced that five additional vessels have been discovered in the ship graveyard off the coast of the Fourni Islands, bringing the total number of ships found there to 58, according to an Associated Press report. The area in the Aegean Sea, at the junction of two main shipping routes, is known for its treacherous waters, and contains wrecks dating from the fourth century B.C. through the nineteenth century A.D. The newly discovered ships rest in shallow waters and show signs of damage from fishing nets and plunderers, but the archaeological team, assisted by local fishermen, found cargoes of amphoras that carried wine, oil, and other foods, and a load of terracotta lamps dating to the second century A.D. The lamps were made in Corinthian workshops, and bear the names of the artisans who crafted them, Octavius and Lucius. To read about a discovery associated with a famous Greek shipwreck, go to “Antikythera Man.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Pompeii’s Last Day

October 16, 2018

NAPLES, ITALY—According to a BBC News report, archaeologists have found an inscription in Pompeii that calls into question the timing of the fatal eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The charcoal scrawl, perhaps made by a construction worker, records a date that corresponds to October 17, A.D. 79, or about two months after August 24—the date settled upon by historians for the natural disaster based upon copies of letters written by Pliny the Younger, a lawyer and author, to Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian, some 20 years after the fact. Alberto Bonisoli, Italy’s minister for cultural heritage and activities, and Massimo Osanna, director general of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, suggest an alternate date of October 24 for the eruption, which would support archaeological evidence uncovered in the ruined city, including the presence of autumnal fruits and heating braziers. For more on recent discoveries in Pompeii, go to “Pompeii Revisited.”

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Viking Ship Burial Discovered in Norway

October 16, 2018

OSLO, NORWAY—The Guardian reports that a buried Viking ship, traces of eight other burial mounds, and five longhouses have been detected in farmland in southeast Norway using high-resolution ground-penetrating radar. Lars Gustavsen of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) said the study suggests the area surrounding the surviving Jelle mound had been a cemetery designed to display the power and influence of Viking leaders. The mound that once covered the newly discovered ship burial was destroyed by plowing, however, and the ship rests under just 20 inches of topsoil. The radar images show the outline of the ship’s keel and floor timbers. Gustavsen and his team plan to continue their investigation of the cemetery with non-invasive methods, but they have not ruled out the possibility of a future excavation. To read in-depth about a Viking ship burial discovered on an Estonian island, go to “The First Vikings.”

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Child’s Grave Unearthed in Italy’s “Cemetery of the Babies”

October 16, 2018

LUGNANO, ITALY—An unusual burial in La Necropoli dei Bambini, a cemetery placed in an abandoned Roman villa that had been thought to have been reserved for the interment of infants and toddlers, contains the remains of a ten-year-old who may have died during a malaria outbreak in the fifth century A.D., according to a report in The Washington Post. Researchers led by David Soren of the University of Arizona say the child had been positioned on his or her side in the tomb, which was fashioned from two large roof tiles propped against a wall. The child had a stone in his or her open mouth, and teeth marks on the stone’s surface indicate it was placed there purposefully. The scientists suggest the stone may have been placed there as a way to incapacitate the child, and keep it from rising from the dead and spreading disease among the living. “I really feel deeply for this community that was dealing with this epidemic when they had no understanding of it,” said bioarchaeologist Jordan Wilson of the University of Arizona. The child’s age also indicates that unexcavated sections of the cemetery may hold the remains of older children. To read about the sixth-century burial of a man in Italy who appears to have worn a prosthetic weapon in place of a missing hand, go to “Late Antique TLC.”

Categories: Blog

Song Dynasty Tomb of “Grand Lady” Excavated in China

October 16, 2018

ANHUI PROVINCE, CHINA—Live Science reports that a 900-year-old tomb holding the well-preserved remains of a woman dubbed the “Grand Lady” has been discovered in eastern China. Archaeologists from the Nanling County Cultural Relics Administration and the Anhui Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said the skeletal remains, complete with fingernails and hair, were found in a coffin that had been placed within a second coffin. A banner on the inner coffin described the occupant as a “Grand Lady.” The researchers are still attempting to make out the rest of her name, which may read “née Jian.” Paintings on the inner coffin show her wearing different outfits. The woman’s grave goods include a model house complete with tiny furniture, ten figurines depicting women playing instruments, a silver pendant shaped as two dragons chasing pearls, silver and gold hairpins and bracelets, bronze coins minted between A.D. 713 and 1100, embroidered shoes, and traces of two sticky rice dumplings under her right hand. To read about another burial site in China, go to “Tomb Couture.”

Categories: Blog

Archaeologist Maps Former Soviet Bases in Poland

October 16, 2018

SZCZECIN, POLAND—Archaeologist Grzegorz Kiarszys of the University of Szczecin investigated the sites of three former Soviet nuclear bases in Poland, according to Science in Poland. The concrete-built weapons depots, established in 1969 and in use into the 1990s, were monumentally sized and dug deep into the ground. Kiarszys found that the bases were not well camouflaged, even though rumors through the years suggested they were perfectly hidden from American spy satellites and protected with anti-aircraft guns. “The main elements of the base, including buildings, access roads, helipads, are perfectly visible on satellite images,” he said, “although for a long time the CIA was not sure whether nuclear weapons were actually stored in the photographed facilities.” Kiarszys also created new maps of the sites with aerial laser scanning, which found no evidence of anti-aircraft guns, but did reveal ditches dug around all three of the bases, well-hidden shelters for the cars that were used to transport the warheads, and traces of the patrol paths used by Soviet guards. “It is clear that soldiers tried to avoid effort and avoided hills and elevations,” Kiarszys said. For more on archaeology of the nuclear age, go to “The Secrets of Sabotage.”

Categories: Blog

Bronze Age Artifacts Uncovered in Greece

October 13, 2018

SANTORINI, GREECE—The continuing excavation of the so-called “House of the Thrania” in the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri has yielded a collection of 3,600-year-old artifacts thought to have been used in rituals, according to The Greek Reporter. The settlement, destroyed during a volcanic eruption on the island in 1600 B.C., was preserved by its ash. In the northwestern corner of the building, a team of archaeologists from the Greek Ministry of Culture uncovered a clay chest containing a marble figurine of a woman. In the southeastern corner, three containers were found. The two smaller ones held vessels made of clay, while the largest box held a marble vial and an alabaster vessel. The artifacts could help researchers understand the region’s prehistoric religion. To read in-depth about the Minoans, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”

Categories: Blog

Study Links Human Evolution to Environmental Record

October 13, 2018

TUSCON, ARIZONA—According to a UPI report, scientists led by Richard Owen of Hong Kong Baptist University examined sediment cores taken from Lake Magadi in East Africa’s Rift Valley, and found that climate change, and periods of drought in particular, may have driven hominin evolution. The study links the beginning of a trend toward “intense aridification” some 575,000 years ago, as reflected in the sediment cores, with the development of more sophisticated and wide-ranging stone tool technologies sometime between 500,000 and 320,000 years ago. Owen explained that as the climate varied, the region’s mammal fauna changed, and the toolkits found in the area’s archaeological record also evolved. Andrew Cohen of the University of Arizona added that the earliest-known modern Homo sapiens fossils, which were unearthed in Morocco, also date back to about 325,000 years ago, at a time when the sediment cores indicate a period of severe drying occurred. For more on the discovery of these fossils in Morocco, go to “Homo sapiens, Earlier Still.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Easter Island’s Water Supply

October 13, 2018

BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—Carl Lipo of the University of Binghamton suggests that the Rapa Nui of Easter Island placed the stone statues known as moai in places where drinking water was available, according to a News.com.au report. Lipo and his team of researchers looked for groundwater around the island, which lacks streams and receives very little rainfall, and found areas on the coast with abundant brackish water. This potable water is formed when rainwater, absorbed by the island’s porous volcanic soils, flows beneath the ground and is discharged where the rock meets the ocean, Lipo said, resulting in a mix of freshwater and saltwater. The moai were placed to mark these coastal drinking water sites, he explained. For more on Easter Island, go to “World Roundup: Chile.”

Categories: Blog

Neolithic Settlement Discovered in Jordan

October 13, 2018

KRAKÓW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that Piotr Kołodziejczyk of Jagiellonian University led a team of researchers who discovered traces of a Neolithic settlement in a remote mountain valley in southern Jordan. The settlement, organized around a central building that may have been a temple or a chief’s dwelling, was surrounded by stone walls. Grinders, grindstones, arrowheads, and ceramics that may have been used to store food were found outside the wall. Kołodziejczyk suggests the early farmers cultivated plants on flat patches of ground among the rocks and kept flocks of animals. To read about “Big Circles,” large manmade features found in Jordan and Syria that may date back as far as the Neolithic, go to “Squaring the Circles.”

Categories: Blog

Possible Ancient Coffin Lid Handed Over to Egypt

October 12, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a wooden coffin lid seized in March at Kuwait International Airport has been handed over to Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. Shaaban Abdel-Gawad of the Antiquities Repatriation Department said the lid, which was found hidden inside a sofa in a shipment of office furniture, will be transferred to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. Abdel-Gawad said the committee of experts who examined the lid found it had been carved in one piece in the shape of the god Osiris, but its hands are not folded in the usual way, and the coffin lacks any hieroglyphic inscriptions. After the calcined dirt and petrified rat dung have been removed from the lid’s surface, the scientists plan to radiocarbon date a sample of the wood and determine whether it is authentic. To read in-depth about the Hyksos, an immigrant group that ruled ancient Egypt for a century, go to “The Rulers of Foreign Lands.”

Categories: Blog

Scientists Examine Human Remains From Herculaneum

October 12, 2018

NAPLES, ITALY—According to a Popular Science report, Pier Paolo Petrone of Federico II University Hospital and his colleagues analyzed the remains of some 300 people who died during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The remains were recovered from boathouses near the Herculaneum waterfront, where the people are thought to have died in a pyroclastic surge measuring between 400 and 900 degrees Fahrenheit and moving at a speed of nearly 180 miles per hour. Spectroscopic analysis of red and black residues on the victims’ bones revealed high concentrations of iron, suggesting their blood had boiled. The resulting steam could have produced enough pressure to burst their skulls, the scientists said, as can be seen in the skeletal remains. However, critics point out that this process could have occurred after death. In the city of Pompeii, which is located farther away from the volcano, victims may have been killed by heat shock, but the temperatures are not thought to have been hot enough to vaporize their flesh and blood. To read about a new technique for examining damaged frescoes at Herculaneum, go to “Putting on a New Face.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Church Uncovered in Northern Bulgaria

October 11, 2018

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a thirteenth-century Christian church and cemetery have been uncovered in the Trapesitsa Fortress in Tarnovgrad, the medieval capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The church is the twenty-third to have been discovered in the fortress. It measured about 12 feet wide and 30 feet long, and was affixed to the inside of the fortress wall, next to a fortress tower or bastion that is still under excavation. Fragments of murals depicting three human figures wearing halos have been recovered, including one of Jesus Christ the Pantocrator—a specific image in Christian iconography. “The frescoes are very beautiful,” said Konstantin Totev of the Veliko Tarnovo Office of the National Institute and Museum. “In terms of quality and artistic value, they surpass those found in churches No. 13 and 2, which have been deemed the most beautiful in the Trapesitsa Fortress so far.” Totev thinks the building may have served as a parish church for merchants and craftsmen who lived nearby. To read about another recent find in Bulgaria dating to medieval times, go to “Iconic Discovery.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on the Settlement of Madagascar

October 11, 2018

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Atholl Anderson of Australian National University and his colleagues examined some 3,000 ancient animal bones unearthed in southwestern Madagascar to look for evidence of butchery by humans, according to a report in Cosmos Magazine. A recent study of elephant bird bones suggested that humans may have arrived on the island some 10,000 years ago, or much earlier than had been previously thought. Anderson found, however, that the only clearly human-made marks on the bones his group studied—those with crisp edges and V-shaped grooves—dated to 1,200 years ago at the earliest. Other marks may have been made by gnawing scavengers, roots and ground movements, and nicks and cuts from the excavation process. Anderson also points out that no butchery tools, pottery, or other artifacts more than 1,500 years old have been found on the island. Genetic evidence and pollen and ash sediments, which record changes in vegetation and fire patterns, also support the arrival of humans on Madagascar between 1,350 and 1,100 years ago, Anderson said. For more on the settlement of Madagascar, go to “World Roundup.”

Categories: Blog

17th-Century Spanish Mission Building Studied in Florida

October 11, 2018

ST AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—According to a report in The St. Augustine Record, a team led by Kathleen Deagan of the University of Florida and Timothy Johnson of Flagler College is investigating a building foundation first uncovered in the 1950s at St. Augustine’s Mission Nombre de Dios by Father Charles Spellman, a Christian priest and archaeologist who recorded his discovery and mapped it, but did not share it with others. He thought the building could be a shrine to Our Lady of La Leche, built in 1677 by the Spanish. “It got covered up and everyone forgot about it,” Deagan explained. Her team rediscovered the foundation in 2011, and Spellman’s records were found in a church archive in 2009. Deagan’s team will now try to determine whether the building served as a church, chapel, or convent, and whether it may have been a pilgrimage destination. The site could also help scholars understand how the first Europeans in St. Augustine interacted with each other and with the region’s indigenous population. To read about another site in Florida with material dating to the Spanish period, go to “Off the Grid: Mission San Luis.”

Categories: Blog

Priest’s Tomb Discovered in Abusir

October 11, 2018

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—Live Science reports that a team of researchers led by Miroslav Bárta of the Czech Institute of Egyptology at Charles University in Prague discovered a looted tomb complex near the pyramid of Neferirkare (r. ca. 2446–2438 B.C) in Abusir. The tomb is thought to have been built for a priest named Kaires, who may have served during the reign of Neferirkare or that of his predecessor, Sahure. An inscription on a statue of Kaires in the tomb identified him as the “sole friend of the king” and “keeper of the secret of the Morning House,” where the pharaoh dressed and ate breakfast. The statue also identified the priest as “overseer of all king’s works” and “foremost of the House of Life,” a library of papyri. The tomb was built in a royal area of the cemetery, and basalt blocks, usually reserved for the tombs of pharaohs, were used to construct the base of the tomb’s chapel. For more on very early Egyptian history, go to “Dawn of Egyptian Writing.”

Categories: Blog

Well-Preserved Murals Discovered in Pompeii

October 10, 2018

ROME, ITALY—ANSA.it reports that a residence with a well-preserved lararium has been discovered in Pompeii. A lararium was a shrine dedicated to the Lares, who were deities believed to protect the Roman home. Massimo Osanna, director of the Pompeii archaeological park, said this lararium was decorated with an “enchanted garden” complete with snakes, a peacock, golden beasts fighting a black wild boar, birds in the sky, a well, a tub, and a part-man, part-dog figure. For more on Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

Categories: Blog

Tools at Maya Saltworks Analyzed

October 10, 2018

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA—Archaeologist Heather McKillop of Louisiana State University and anthropologist Kazuo Aoyama of Ibaraki University suggest salt produced along the coasts by the Maya between A.D. 300 and 900 was widely traded at inland markets, according to an NPR report. McKillop has found more than 100 salt-producing kitchens in Belize. She and Aoyama analyzed stone tools at one of these saltworks, which is now underwater. “I thought findings would be that they cut a lot of wood, but in fact, the majority of the stone tools were used for cutting meat and fish,” she said. No animal or fish bones were preserved in the acidic mangrove peat at the site, but more than 4,000 wooden posts survived in the soil. The posts outline the buildings where the salt was processed, and hardened in pots. The resulting salt cakes and salted fish and meat could have been transported by canoe to inland markets, the researchers added, where it could have provided the Maya population with necessary nutrients. For more, go to “The Maya Sense of Time.”

Categories: Blog

Neanderthal Child’s Finger Bones Identified in Poland

October 10, 2018

KRAKÓW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that two tiny 100,000-year-old finger bones of a Neanderthal child were identified among a collection of animal bones unearthed in deep layers in Ciemna Cave, which is located in southern Poland. Paweł Valde-Nowak of Jagiellonian University and Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis said the poorly preserved finger bones belonged to a child who was probably between the ages of five and seven at the time of death. The porous surface of the bones suggest they may have passed through the digestive tract of a large bird. The only other known Neanderthal remains to have been found in Poland are three molars from Stajnia Cave, estimated to be about 50,000 years old. However, thousands of Neanderthal tools, dating back some 200,000 years, have been recovered from across southern Poland. For more on Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

Categories: Blog

First-Century Inscription Found in Israel Mentions “Jerusalem”

October 10, 2018

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—UPI reports that a 2,000-year-old Aramaic inscription unearthed during roadwork near the Jerusalem International Convention Center mentions Jerusalem, written in Hebrew letters, as it is spelled today. References to the city from the time period usually refer to “Shalem.” The complete inscription, which reads “Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem,” was found on a limestone column drum that was reused in a later Roman structure. Danit Levy of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the area where the column was found had been used for pottery and cooking vessel production in antiquity. To read about another recent discovery in Jerusalem, go to “Front Row Seats.”

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