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Greek-Style Temple Uncovered in Jordan

13 hours 17 min ago

AMMAN, JORDAN—A Greek-style temple has been discovered in Umm Qais, around 75 miles north of Amman, according to a report from The Jordan Times. A team from Yarmouk University led by archaeologist Atef Sheyyab discovered the temple along with a water network. The temple was built during the Hellenistic era (332-63 B.C.) and went on to be reused during the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic eras. The temple consisted of an inner area (a pronaos), a podium, and a holy chamber (a naos). The team discovered a number of Ionic-order columns that once supported the structure’s roof. Broken pottery samples will be used to more precisely date the temple. The water network includes Hellenistic wells and Roman tunnels, which lead to a hot bath outside the town. For more on archaeology in Jordan, go to “Mystery Buildings at Petra.”

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Excavations of Lord Elgin’s Ship Continue

13 hours 46 min ago

KYTHIRA, GREECE—Underwater excavation of Mentor, a ship that sank off the Greek island of Kythira in 1802, has turned up a range of items, including chess pieces, combs, and a toothbrush, according to a report from Greek Reporter. This is the fifth year in a row that excavations of the wreck have been undertaken by the Greek Ephorate of Old Antiquities. Other findings included pieces of furniture, coins, parts of a pulley, ropes, and metal portions of one of the ship’s masts. The ship was carrying antiquities taken from the Parthenon by British diplomat Lord Elgin, and was headed to Malta and then on to England, but instead sank at the entrance to the port of Avlemona on Kythira. Many if not all the sculptures from the Parthenon were salvaged in the years after the wreck and ultimately sold to the British Museum. Previous excavations have recovered various objects used by the ship’s 10-man crew, including cookware, glass, ceramics, porcelain, bottles, guns, bullets, a small cannon shell, and several compasses. For more on excavations of Mentor, go to “What If They Never Arrived?

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Parts of Tudor Palace Unearthed in London

15 hours 26 min ago

LONDON, ENGLAND—Parts of Greenwich Palace, where Henry VIII as well as his daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I were born, have been unearthed, according to The Wharf. Two rooms from the Tudor Palace were discovered during construction of a new visitor center at the Old Royal Naval College in southeast London. The rooms are thought to have been used as kitchens, a brewhouse, or for doing laundry. One of the rooms included a lead-glazed tiled floor, and the other had what are thought to have been “bee boles,” pockets in the wall where beehive baskets could be kept during the colonies’ winter hibernation. In the summer, when the hive baskets were kept outdoors, the cavities may have been used to keep food and drink cool. The palace was built in the fifteenth century and included state apartments, a chapel, courtyards, gardens, and a jousting area, but was demolished in the seventeenth century under the Stuarts and ultimately replaced with Greenwich Hospital, which today houses the Old Royal Naval College. “To find a trace of Greenwich Palace, arguably the most important of all the Tudor palaces, is hugely exciting,” said Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England. For more, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

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Ancient Roman Villa Excavated on Sicily

August 16, 2017

 

TAMPA, FLORIDA—Portions of an ancient Roman villa on the island of Sicily as well as artifacts discovered at the site are offering new insights into life there nearly 2,000 years ago, according to a report from International Business Times. A team from the University of South Florida is excavating a 5,400-square-foot Roman villa called Durruelu, near the coastal town of Realmonte. The uncovering of new walls and floor levels, as well as a staircase and water channel, has established that the structure was consistently occupied from the second to the seventh century and was reconfigured in the fifth century. Cookware, lamps, pottery, and pottery-making equipment discovered at the site show that pottery, bricks, and tiles were produced there at large scale. Parts of the site were excavated decades ago, and the current excavation included 3-D scans of the entire site. To read in-depth about the excavation of another villa, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”

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Anglo-Saxon Cemetery on Lindisfarne Excavated

August 16, 2017

DURHAM, ENGLAND—Two complete skeletons have been discovered in what is thought to be an Anglo-Saxon cemetery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the northeast coast of England, according to a report from Chronicle Live. The cemetery is believed to have been linked to the island’s monastery, and those buried in it may have included those who worked the monastery’s land or pilgrims who traveled to the island. Another dig on the island recently discovered an early church. “They found the church and we have found the congregation,” said Durham University archaeologist David Petts, who led the cemetery excavation. The two complete skeletons will be analyzed for insights into the individuals’ diet, health, and geographic origins. The discovery of seal bones along with the remains of other animals offers an initial clue into what the people on the island were eating. “They are hunting seals and making the most of the resources available to them,” said Petts. A charnel pit containing bones that may have been gathered together after being turned up by plowing was also discovered. To read in-depth about Anglo-Saxon England, go to “Letter From England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

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Ptolemaic-Era Tombs Uncovered in Egypt

August 15, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—Three rock-cut tombs from the Ptolemaic era have been discovered near the town of Samelut in Upper Egypt, according to a report from Ahram Online. The tombs, which were discovered by an Egyptian archaeological mission, contain a number of sarcophagi of varied shapes and sizes in addition to a range of clay fragments. Studies of these fragments suggest they are from the 27th Dynasty and the Greco-Roman era. “This fact suggests that the area was a large cemetery over a long period of time,” said Ayman Ashmawy, head of the Ministry of Antiquities’ Ancient Egyptian Sector. Previous excavations in the area uncovered around 20 tombs built in the catacomb style typical of the period, but the newly discovered tombs have a different architectural design. The two tombs for which excavation has been completed each featured a perpendicular burial shaft—the first leading to a single burial chamber with four sarcophagi and nine burial holes, and the second leading to two burial chambers, one of which contains the remains of two sarcophagi and six burial holes, including one designed for a small child. The bones found in the tombs belonged to men, women, and children, suggesting the tombs were part of a large cemetery that served a large city. For more, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

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Initiation Rites and Rock Art in Namibia

August 15, 2017

WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA—A recent survey of rock art in the Namib Desert is yielding new insights into the cultures of ancient hunter-gatherers, reports the International Business Times. Among the most intriguing rock art panels recorded by the survey is one that depicts a female antelope, or kudu. Dating to perhaps 3,000 years ago, it probably played a role in female initiation rituals, says Quaternary Research Services archaeologist John Kinahan. Such rituals took place in isolated locations in ritual seclusion shelters, which the rock art panel also appears to depict. Nearby, Kinahan identified a stone circle that is likely the remains of one of the shelters. “It is possible that the sociable characteristics of the female kudu were given as example to follow to young girls who prepared to become women,” says Kinahan. “Kudus are docile and sociable, they look after the youngsters all together and collaborate without the males. These characteristics were probably seen as desirable for women to have.” To read more about archaeological discoveries in southern Africa, go to “The First Use of Poison.”

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Early Islamic House Unearthed in Jordan

August 15, 2017

JERASH, JORDAN—Live Science reports that archaeologists have unearthed the remains of an extravagant early Islamic period house in the city of Jerash. The building seems to have been destroyed on January 18, 749, when an earthquake struck the city. The team did not find any objects related to daily life, but they did find troughs filled with thousands of the stone cubes known as tesserae that are used to create mosaics. That suggests that the house was possibly undergoing a remodel at the time of the earthquake. The discovery also allows a rare glimpse into the process of mosaic creation. “What our findings now indicate is that these tesserae were most likely produced on location,” says Aarhus University archaeologist Rubina Raja, the project's co-leader. “You would have the craftsmen or craftswomen who actually carved these tesserae on-site to be used later.” The team also found the skeleton of a young person who appears to have died in the house when the earthquake struck. To read more about early Islamic archaeology, go to “Expanding the Story.”

Categories: Blog

Silver Coins Signal Rome's Rise

August 15, 2017

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—The International Business Times reports that a new geochemical study shows that shortly after the Romans defeated the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War, they began to mint their coins in silver mined on the Iberian Peninsula, which Carthage had controlled up to that point. A team led by Katrin Westner of the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Goethe University, Frankfurt, tested the silver content of 70 Roman coins minted between 310 and 101 B.C. They found that before the second Punic War, Roman coins were made from silver mined in the Aegean. But after Carthage's defeat around 209 B.C., the Romans began to use silver mined in what is now Spain. “This massive influx of Iberian silver significantly changed Rome’s economy, allowing it to become the superpower of its day," says Westner. "We know this from the histories of Livy and Polybius and others, but our work gives contemporary scientific proof of the rise of Rome." To read more about how Rome evolved into a superpower, go to “Rome’s Imperial Port.”

Categories: Blog

106-Year-Old “Edible” Fruitcake Found in Antarctica

August 14, 2017

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND—A fruitcake that predates the outbreak of World War I has been discovered in Antarctica, according to a report from BBC News. The 106-year-old delicacy was found by a team from the New Zealand–based Antarctica Heritage Trust on Cape Adare. It is thought to have belonged to British explorer Robert Falcon Scott. The tin holding the cake was somewhat rusty, but the cake itself was found to be in good condition—and even smelled edible. The cake was uncovered in Antarctica’s oldest building, a hut built in 1899 by a team led by Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink and used by Scott during his 1911 Terra Nova expedition. Scott was known to have been fond of the fruitcake, which was made by the biscuit company Huntley and Palmers. Conservators have uncovered some 1,500 items in the hut, including well-preserved jams and poorly preserved meat and fish. Although Scott and his team reached the South Pole, a Norwegian team got there just over a month ahead of them, and Scott and four of his team members died on their return to the base. For more, go to “The Third Reich’s Arctic Outpost.”

Categories: Blog

Circular Wall Unearthed in Peru

August 14, 2017

CUSCO, PERU—Andina reports that Peruvian archaeologists digging a site in the surburbs of Cusco have unearthed a circular wall that was erected some 3,000 years ago. Built by an ancient people known as the Marcavalle culture, the structure measures 22 feet in diameter and was probably a dwelling that might have also had a ceremonial function. Inside, the team discovered pottery featuring human and animal faces, as well as figurines and dog and other animal bones. A second walled structure, likely a workshop, was also unearthed. To read in-depth about archaeology in Peru, go to “An Overlooked Inca Wonder.”

Categories: Blog

Archaeologists Confirm Viking Fortress

August 12, 2017

AARHUS, DENMARK—Archaeologists in Denmark have used advanced remote-sensing technology to confirm the existence of a tenth-century Viking ring fortress, reports the International Business Times. While the site had been tentatively identified since the 1970s as a fortress of the Trelleborg type (characterized by a telltale circular shape and precise internal structure), only recently has technology such as LiDAR been available that allows researchers to measure subtle differences in the ground of long-overgrown earthworks. There have only been five confirmed Trelleborg fortresses discovered in Denmark to date and, at 500 feet in diameter, the Borgring fortress is the first of its kind to be found in 60 years. The Trelleborg fortresses appear to have been built between 975 and 980 during the reign of King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, who may have sought to centralize a previously factional alliance of Viking leaders in the face of threats from the Holy Roman Empire. To read more about Harald Bluetooth, go to “Bluetooth's Fortress.”

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Medieval Parchment DNA and Proteins Studied

August 12, 2017

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Research on the proteins and DNA held in medieval parchment manuscripts is providing new insights into how the manuscripts were made and used, according to a report from New Scientist. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University of York, and Trinity College Dublin studied manuscripts including the York Gospels, which were written around A.D. 1000. Since conventional methods of extracting DNA from the manuscripts were deemed too invasive, the researchers used rubbings from the parchment that are removed as part of routine cleaning and typically discarded. The proteins found in the rubbings indicated that the York Gospels were primarily made from cattle, while some pages were made from sheepskin. A Gospel of Luke dating to the twelfth century and owned by Cambridge University’s Corpus Christi College was found to have been made with skins of calves, sheep, goat, and two different species of deer. DNA from the rubbings suggests that most of the animals used to make the parchment were female. In addition, pages of manuscripts containing clerical oaths that would have been touched or kissed regularly were found to contain higher levels of human DNA. “You can even see the use to which the text is being put,” said Matthew Collins of the University of Copenhagen, “which is kind of amazing.” For more on manuscripts, go to “Scroll Search.”

Categories: Blog

Excavations Uncover Zanzibar's Colonial History

August 12, 2017

ZANZIBAR TOWN, ZANZIBAR—According to a report in United Arab Emirates-based The National, a team of researchers led by archaeologist Mark Horton from the University of Bristol has uncovered the foundations of two early-17th-century Portuguese churches on the island of Zanzibar, which lies off the coast of Tanzania. Horton and his colleagues, including archaeologists from Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, made the discovery while excavating an 18th-century Arab fort in Stone Town, the oldest quarter of the island's main city, Zanzibar Town. In typical fashion for settlements that have weathered multiple periods of rule by successive colonial powers, the dig at Stone Town has revealed layers of occupation, including that of the Portuguese, who effectively controlled the East African coast between 1500 and 1698, when they ceded Fort Jesus in Mombasa to Omani Arabs. In addition to the church foundations, the team has also found several Christian burials, including that of a woman— possibly a nun—with a sacred heart medallion around her neck. According to Horton, while historians have long held that Stone Town is only a few centuries old, the team has identified archaeological deposits that could extend back a thousand years. To read more about archaeology in East Africa, go to "Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast." 

Categories: Blog

Iron Age Statue Unearthed in Turkey

August 11, 2017

TAYINAT, TURKEY—The International Business Times reports that archaeologists have unearthed a large fragment of an Iron Age statue in eastern Turkey. Discovered near the gate to the citadel of the Neo-Hittite capital of Kunulua, the statue depicts a woman with curls in her hair, and would have once stood between 13 and 16 feet high. The team, led by University of Toronto archaeologist Timothy Harrison, believes that the monument dates to the early ninth century B.C. and probably was erected to honor an important noblewoman. “The discovery of this statue raises the possibility that women played a more prominent role in the political and religious lives of these early Iron Age communities than the existing historical record might suggest,” says Harrison. The team's recovery of smaller fragments of the statue might allow it to reconstruct the face, which could aid in the identification of the woman it depicts. To read more about artifacts from this period, go to “Artifact: Iron Age Figurines.”

Categories: Blog

Scientists Examine England’s Engraved Human Bones

August 11, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—Silvia Bello of London’s Natural History Museum says human remains uncovered in southwestern England’s Gough’s Cave bear signs of cannibalism, such as butchering marks and tooth imprints. The New York Times reports that zigzag patterns cut into the 15,000-year-old bones indicate the practice may have been ritualistic at times. Similar zigzag patterns have been found in France on animal bones dating to the same period. Bello and her colleagues compared the zigzag marks from Gough’s Cave to marks on other human and animal bones in the cave and other archaeological sites. They found that the zigzag cuts were deeper, wider, and more visible than most butchering marks. Such repeated, impractical cuts were usually avoided by butchers who were just interested in a meal, Bello thinks, because they can blunt a stone blade. Bello speculates that cannibalism was practiced as a way to dispose of, or perhaps even honor, the body after a person died from natural causes. For more, go to “Colonial Cannibalism.

Categories: Blog

Chaco Canyon Petroglyph May Depict Solar Eclipse

August 11, 2017

BOULDER, COLORADO—A 900-year-old petroglyph on a free-standing rock in Chaco Canyon could depict the solar eclipse that occurred over New Mexico on July 11, 1097, according to a report in Newsweek. J. McKim Malville of the University of Colorado, Boulder, says the carving is made up of an image that looks like the sun’s outer atmosphere—a circle surrounded by “tangled, looped protrusions” on its edges. Human figures are also shown engaged in different activities. Malville and José Vaquero of Spain’s University of Extremadura examined the amount of carbon in ancient tree rings, ancient observations of sunspots recorded by Chinese astronomers, and historic data on the northern lights compiled by northern Europeans. They determined that at the time of the New Mexico eclipse the sun was in a period of very high solar activity. The loops in the petroglyph could depict coronal mass ejections, or eruptions of tons of fast-moving plasma. Other images on the rock, known as Piedra del Sol, were used to mark the June solstice and probably served other ceremonial functions. To read about another discovery at Chaco Canyon, go to “Early Parrots in the Southwest.”

Categories: Blog

13-Million-Year-Old Skull May Represent Human Ancestor

August 10, 2017

STONY BROOK, NEW YORK—Science Magazine reports that an almost complete skull of an infant Miocene ape has been discovered sticking up out of the ground in Kenya’s Turkana Basin. The baseball-sized skull, which has been dated to 13 million years ago, could help scientists learn more about the last common ancestor of modern apes and humans, which lived an estimated seven million years ago. The team of researchers, led by Isaiah Nengo of Se Anza College and the Turkana Basin Institute, which is affiliated with Stony Brook University, says the infant’s teeth resemble those of other fossil primates from the genus Nyanzapithecus, but its molars are much larger, so it has been classified as a new species, N. alesi, after the Turkana word for “ancestor.” X-ray images produced at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, revealed growth lines on un-erupted adult teeth in the skull. The lines suggest that Alesi, as the creature has been nicknamed, was about 16 months old at the time of death. The X-rays also brought Alesi’s boney ear tubes to light. These structures have helped to classify nyanzapithecines as apes, and as ancestral to modern humans and apes. All previous nyanzapithecines species have only been represented by teeth in the fossil record. For more, go to “No Changeups on the Savannah.”

Categories: Blog

Stone Vessel Workshop Discovered in Galilee

August 10, 2017

REINA, ISRAEL—Arutz Sheva reports that a second workshop where vessels were carved from chalkstone has been discovered in Lower Galilee. Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists say they have uncovered thousands of chalkstone cores and fragments of stone mugs and bowls in the small cave. Excavation director Yonatan Adler explained that according to ancient Jewish ritual law, vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken. Tableware made from stone vessels, however, was not thought to become ritually impure. The discovery of another chalkstone workshop in Galilee suggests that residents observed Jewish purity laws. The excavation could help scholars determine how long these laws continued to be observed among the Jews of Galilee during the Roman period. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

Categories: Blog

Human Tooth Hints at Early Migration Out of Africa

August 10, 2017

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Kira Westaway of Macquarie University and her colleagues have found evidence of the presence of Homo sapiens on the Indonesian island of Sumatra dated to between 63,000 and 73,000 years ago, according to a report in New Scientist. “This is a significant finding because it supports emerging ideas that modern humans left Africa and reached Australia much earlier than we thought,” said Michelle Langley of Griffith University. The evidence came in the form of two teeth, discovered by Dutch archaeologist Eugene Dubois in a cave on Sumatra in the late nineteenth century. The researchers confirmed the teeth belonged to Homo sapiens by comparing them to orangutan fossils found near the cave, and then dated them with electron spin resonance dating. Scientists could now look for traces of early human habitation in the rainforest, such as evidence of cooking and stone tool use. But, Langley notes, “It’s possible they were just passing through.” To read about another major discovery in Indonesia, go to “The First Artists.”

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