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Roman Mosaic Unearthed in Southern France

March 31, 2017

UZES, FRANCE—The International Business Times reports that a team led by Philippe Cayn of the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research has uncovered traces of the Roman city of Ucetia, which dates back to the first century B.C. “Prior to our work, we knew that there had been a Roman city called Ucetia only because its name was mentioned on a stela in Nimes,” said Cayn. “It was probably a secondary town, under the authority of Nimes.” One large, four-roomed building, which stood until the end of the first century A.D., contained a large mosaic floor made up of geometric shapes and animals. Cayn explained that such mosaics usually date to the first and second centuries A.D., but this one is estimated to be about 200 years older. Two other rooms had cement floors and walls decorated with painted plaster. A colonnade suggests the building was a public space. The excavation will continue through this summer. To read about extraordinary wall paintings found at a nearby Roman house, go to "France's Roman Heritage."

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Stolen Islamic-Era Artifacts Recovered by Egyptian Authorities

March 30, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—A door and decorative elements stolen from the Sultan Al-Kamel Al-Ayyubi shrine, one of four shrines in Al-Imam Al-Shafie Dome, have been recovered by Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Police, according to a report in Ahram Online. Imam al-Shafie, one of the four Imams credited with developing the Shafie school of Islamic jurisprudence, died in A.D. 820. The dome was constructed over his grave in A.D. 1211 by the Sultan Al-Kamel Al-Ayyubi, who was buried in one of the shrines. Earlier this month, thieves broke through a lattice door covered in wire mesh in order to enter the sultan’s shrine and take the 27-inch-tall wooden door and the small decorations. Al-Saeed Helmi of the Ministry of Antiquities said that the artifacts had not been harmed. To read about discoveries made at a medieval Islamic castle, go to "Expanding the Story." 

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New Thoughts on the “Neanderthal Aesthetic”

March 30, 2017

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—A fragment raven bone thought to have been carved with ridges by Neanderthals has been unearthed at a rock shelter in Crimea, according to a report in The International Business Times. The bone, which may be between 38,000 and 43,000 years old, is thought to have been carved with six irregular ridges at first. Two additional, shallow ridges may have been added later to improve the regularity of the pattern. The researchers speculate the ridges might have been intended to make the bone easier to grip, or as a mark of ownership. But, “if it was just a mark of ownership or to facilitate grip of object then they were not obliged to make them so clearly equidistant and similar,” explained Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux. The team members tried to replicate the incisions on turkey bones in order to determine how difficult it was to create a regular pattern. “So there is a will to produce something that can be recognized visually as consistent,” d’Errico concluded. “If consistency is an indication of aesthetics, then this supports the idea that Neanderthals did have a sense of the aesthetic.” To read more about our extinct cousins' artistic sensibilities, read "Neanderthal Necklace."

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Viking-Era Toy Boat Discovered in Norway

March 30, 2017

ØRLAND, NORWAY—According to a report in Live Science, a wooden artifact thought to have been a child’s toy some 1,000 years ago has been found in a well at a farming site in central Norway, by a team led by Ingrid Ystgaard of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. As many as seven farms are thought to have clustered in the area during the medieval period. The toy resembles an ocean-going Viking ship, with an uplifted prow and a hole in the center for a mast and sail. Its presence at the site suggests that people in the farming community were familiar with Viking vessels, despite living inland and away from major trade routes, and that the children had time and materials for play. To read about some of the earliest Norse raiders, go to "The First Vikings."

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“Coffin Birth” Identified in Medieval Cemetery

March 30, 2017

GENOA, ITALY—According to a report in Seeker, researchers have identified a rare “coffin birth” in a fourteenth-century cemetery at the hostel of San Nicolao di Pietra Colice in the Northern Apennines. The hostel and its church served as a rest stop for travelers headed to Rome. The woman’s remains, found in a grave with the skeletons of two children, had been placed on her side. “In this case, we have a partial expulsion of a 38- to 40-week-old fetus, which was found to be complete and to lie within the birth canal,” said Deneb Cesana of the University of Genoa. “Coffin birth,” or the expulsion of a fetus after death, is caused by the build-up of gas pressure from the decomposition of a pregnant woman’s body. The study also suggests the woman and the children had all been buried at the same time, directly into the ground, and all of them have tested positive for the antigen to the bacteria that causes the bubonic plague. DNA analysis could determine if the three were related. 

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2,500-Year-Old Chariot Burial Unearthed in England

March 30, 2017

POCKLINGTON, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that the remains of two horses and an Iron Age chariot were discovered at a cemetery site in East Yorkshire by a team from MAP Archaeological Practice. The cemetery’s more than 75 square barrows, built by the Arras Culture, have also yielded human remains, swords, shields, spears, brooches, and pots. Further research could determine if the people buried at the Burnby Lane site were indigenous to northern England or if they had migrated from continental Europe. To read more about the Iron Age in Britain, go to "Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age."

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Assyrian Tomb Discovered in Iraq

March 29, 2017

ERBIL, IRAQ—A vaulted brick tomb dating to between the ninth and seventh centuries B.C. was discovered by construction workers in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, according to a report in Live Science. The tomb was situated near the ancient city of Arbela, where an important temple of Ishtar, the Assyrian goddess of war, was located. Goran M. Amin of the Directorate of Antiquities in Erbil, the modern name for Arbela, said that two skeletons were found in three ceramic sarcophagi within the tomb, while an additional eight skeletons were found on the ground. More than 40 intact jars of different shapes and sizes were also recovered. Similar tombs, built for elites, have been found in other Assyrian cities such as Nimrud. “Sometimes the tombs have been opened several times, when they wanted to bury new dead members of the family,” added Dishad Marf Zamua of Salahaddin University. To read in-depth about excavations in this area, go to “Erbil Revealed.”

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Switzerland Will Return Roman Sarcophagus to Turkey

March 29, 2017

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND—According to an Associated Press report, a private cultural goods importer has agreed to the return of a Roman sarcophagus to Turkey. The marble sarcophagus, found in a customs-office warehouse in Geneva seven years ago, dates to the second century B.C., and is carved with images of the 12 labors of Hercules. It is thought to have been plundered in the 1960s from Antalya’s ancient town of Perga. The sarcophagus will go on display before it is transferred to the Archaeological Museum in Antalya. To read about a recent discovery in Turkey, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

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Cannonballs Uncovered at Pittsburgh Construction Site

March 29, 2017

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a report in The Tribune-Review, at least 20 Civil War–era cannonballs were discovered at a construction site in northeast Pittsburgh, where the Allegheny Arsenal once stood. The first cannonballs were spotted in the bucket of a piece of excavation machinery. “Lo and behold, there were a lot more in the hole,” said Sonya Toler, public safety spokeswoman. She added that there are more cannonballs than can be safely removed at one time, so an officer has been placed on the site to protect it until all of the cannonballs can be removed. “These cannonballs are pretty stable,” Toler explained. “We don’t expect one will be accidentally detonated.” For more on archaeology of the Civil War, go to “Letter from Virginia: Free Before Emancipation.”

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Mice May Have Lived With Humans Long Before Farming

March 28, 2017

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI—Lior Weissbrod of the University of Haifa and Fiona Marshall of Washington University in St. Louis examined 272 mouse molars from 14 archaeological sites in Israel dating to between 200,000 and 10,000 years ago, according to a report in Gizmodo. They identified the long-tailed house mouse (Mus musculus domesticus) and its wild relative the short-tailed Macedonian mouse (Mus macedonicus) among the remains, and compared the size of the populations to those of mice living among today’s mobile Maasai herders. The study suggests that the house mouse first appeared in hunter-gatherer settlements some 15,000 years ago, and their populations rose and fell based upon how often the people moved to new locations. “After the initial pulse of establishment of house mice in sedentary human settlements of the early Natufian period, there is a return of the ‘wild’ mouse with displacement of the house mouse … during a short phase when humans reverted back to mobility,” Weissbrod explained. The researchers added that house mice made up 80 percent of the mouse population at the onset of farming in the Neolithic period. Weissbrod thinks the house mice may have had flexible dietary needs, and may have been more agile, making them better able to cope with the stress of living with humans. For more on hunter-gatherers, go to “The First Casus Belli.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Jewish Graves Unearthed in Rome

March 28, 2017

ROME, ITALY—Haaretz reports that 38 graves were unearthed in a section of a medieval Jewish cemetery labeled on historic maps as the “Field of the Jews.” Located near Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, where Jews first arrived in the second century B.C., the cemetery was used from the mid-fourteenth century to the mid-seventeenth century. Pope Urban VIII decreed in 1625 that Jews should be buried in unmarked graves and ordered pre-existing tombstones to be destroyed. During the recent renovation of a palazzo courtyard, the excavators discovered a fragment of a tombstone with a few letters in Hebrew in a “layer of destruction” above the simple burials that helped make the identification. Archaeologist Daniela Rossi said that two gold rings were found on one woman’s fingers, and part of a scale was recovered from a man’s grave, “perhaps as a reference to his profession, or a sign that he was a just person,” Rossi said. The skeletons also exhibit signs of malnutrition, and a lack of protein in the diet, which may reflect the harsh conditions for Jews living in the medieval city. The remains will be reburied. To read about a Jewish section of Krakow, Poland, go to “Off the Grid.”

Categories: Blog

3,800-Year-Old Intact Tomb Found in Egypt

March 27, 2017

ASWAN, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, an intact tomb dating to the 12th Dynasty has been discovered in the necropolis at Qubbet El-Hawa by the Spanish Archaeological Mission. Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano of the University of Jaen said that the tomb’s mummy, covered with polychrome cartonnage, collars, and a mask, is well preserved. The tomb also contained pottery, wooden models representing funerary boats and scenes of daily life, and an outer and inner coffin, both made of cedar. Inscriptions on the coffins identify the deceased as Shemai, son of Satethotep and Khema, the governor of Elephantine under Amenemhat II. Shemai’s eldest brother, Sarenput II, also served as governor of Elephantine, under the rule of Senwosret II and Senwosret III. The burials of 14 members of this ruling family had previously been found in Qubbet El-Hawa. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

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Neolithic Rock Art Found in Egypt

March 25, 2017

BONN, GERMANY—According to a report in Live Science, an image dating to Egypt’s Neolithic period was found pecked into a rock on Qubbet el-Hawa, a hill along a shallow stretch of the Nile River, during an archaeological survey of the area. Egyptologist Ludwig Morenz of the University of Bonn said that the 6,000-year-old image depicts a hunter with a bow, an ostrich, and a dancer wearing an ostrich mask. He pointed out that scholars were unaware of mask use during Egypt’s Neolithic period, and thinks the mask might have served a ritual purpose. In later Egyptian history, after the pharaohs united the country around 3100 B.C., during which Qubbet el-Hawa eventually became a necropolis for the city of Elephantine, masks were reserved for the dead. “This archaeological area is about a millennium older than we knew before,” Morenz concluded. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

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Seventeenth-Century Ship Identified

March 25, 2017

POOLE, ENGLAND—After ten years of research and excavation, a seventeenth-century ship known as the Swash Channel Wreck has been identified as The Fame, an armed Dutch merchant vessel, by a team of scientists from Bournemouth University. BBC News reports that The Fame’s crew may have planned to stop in Poole on its way from Amsterdam to the West Indies when it foundered and broke up during a storm in 1631. Tree-ring dating of the Swash Channel Wreck’s timbers suggests that the wood in the hull came from trees cut down between 1619 and 1639 in the Netherlands or Germany. Historic records indicate that all 45 people on board The Fame, and its master, John Jacobson Botemaker, were rescued, but the ship became a danger to other ships navigating the channel. Its contents and cannon are thought to have been salvaged, though it is also possible that it had been traveling without any cargo. “Everything fits, although you can never be sure,” explained marine archaeologist Dave Parham. To read about the discovery of a long-lost shipwreck in Canadian waters, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”

Categories: Blog

2,000-Year-Old Egyptian Shroud Rediscovered in Scotland

March 25, 2017

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a full-length mummy shroud has been found wrapped in brown paper in the collections of Scotland’s National Museums by Margaret Maitland, senior curator of ancient Mediterranean collections. It depicts the deceased as the god Osiris, and identifies him as the son of a Roman-era official named Montsuef, and his wife, Tanuat, both of whose deaths were recorded in 9 B.C. A curator’s note, placed in a Second World War service envelope, identified the contents of the parcel as an ancient Egyptian artifact from a tomb that was used for more than 1,000 years in what is now Luxor. Conservators humidified the shroud’s brittle linen fibers before beginning to unfold it, a process that took almost 24 hours. “Before we were able to unfold the textile, tantalizing glimpses of colorful painted details suggested that it might be a mummy shroud,” Maitland said, “but none of us could have imagined the remarkable figure that would greet us when we were finally able to unroll it.” For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on the Barbarian Invasion of Rome

March 24, 2017

CAMBRIDGE, UNIVERSITY—The Washington Post reports that Susanne Hakenbeck of the University of Cambridge analyzed the bones and teeth of some 200 people, buried in five different cemeteries in the Roman frontier region of Pannonia, in order to find out where they had been born and what sort of lifestyle they had led. Her team then compared the results of those fifth-century A.D. populations to populations from central Germany, where farmers are known to have lived, and to nomadic populations in Siberia and Mongolia. In each of the Pannonia cemeteries in the study, some of the people had been farmers, who ate a diet based on grains and other plants, while others were nomads, who ate a distinctive diet of meat, milk, and millet. Some of the nomads settled down later in life, and other settled farmers became nomadic. Hakenbeck suggests the changes in the people’s lives indicate that elite Roman accounts of the invasion of the nomadic Huns were inaccurate. “It wasn’t necessarily just a story of conflict, but more a story of cross-border exchanges, cross-border adaptability,” she said. Farmers living on the edge of the empire may have even the adopted the Huns’ practice of binding and shaping infants’ heads. To read more about Pannonia, go to “Off the Grid: Carnuntum.”

Categories: Blog

Alabaster Statue of Queen Tiye Discovered in Luxor

March 24, 2017

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a well-preserved alabaster statue thought to represent Queen Tiye, wife of King Amenhotep III and grandmother of King Tutankhamun, was discovered by Egyptian and European archaeologists at the Amenhotep III funerary temple in Kom El-Hittan. The archaeologists, working under the umbrella of the German Archaeological Institute, were lifting the lower part of a statue of King Amenhotep III when the Queen Tiye statue appeared by its left leg. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany described the statue as “unique and distinguished,” adding that it is the first alabaster statue of the queen to be unearthed. “All previous statues of her unearthed in the temple were carved of quartzite,” he said. To read about another discovery in Egypt, go to “World’s Oldest Dress.”

Categories: Blog

40-Ton Capstone Unearthed in Southern India

March 23, 2017

HYDERABAD, INDIA—According to report in the Deccan Chronicle, a 40-ton capstone has been unearthed at a megalithic burial site near the village of Neremetta. Such stones are thought to have been used to protect burials from predators. “We can safely say that this is the largest capstone found in South India and one of the largest in the country,” said D. Ramulu Naik, assistant director of the Telangana Archaeology and Museums Department. The stone measures 22 feet long, 13 feet wide, and two feet thick, and is thought to have been placed about 2,700 years ago. Naik also explained that the grave may have been dug near the capstone, and then filled with small stones. The giant stone could then have been rolled over the smaller stones or wooden logs. Or, it is possible that the grave was dug below the capstone. Arm bones and pottery were also found below a nearby menhir, or upright stone. For more on archaeology in India, go to “Letter from India: Living Heritage at RiskLiving Heritage at Risk.”

Categories: Blog

Rare Calusa Artifacts Found in Waterlogged Florida Midden

March 23, 2017

PINELAND, FLORIDA—News-Press reports that University of Florida archaeologists Karen Walker and William Marquardt have excavated a 1,000-year-old midden on southwestern Florida’s Pine Island, where there was a large Calusa town some 1,000 years ago. The midden was formed at a time when the water table was low. “Then it rose pretty quickly,” Marquardt said. “We think it rose quickly enough that it sealed in this deposit, so it created an anaerobic situation and preserved the material.” The team had to pump out the groundwater to retrieve pieces of rope, nets with shell weights, twine, pieces of worked wood, and seeds. The researchers, who were assisted by volunteers, also recovered the tiny shells of truncatella snails that lived along the high-tide line. “Finding these guys here tells us where the shoreline was a thousand years ago,” Marquardt explained. To read more about archaeology in Florida, go to “Letter from Florida: People of the White EarthPeople of the White Earth.”

Categories: Blog

Possible Mesolithic Cannibalism Detected in Spain

March 23, 2017

VALENCIA, SPAIN—Ars Technica reports that evidence of cannibalism has been found in a cave near Spain’s southeastern coast. Anthropologist Juan V. Morales-Pérez of the University of Valencia and his colleagues found some thirty human bones in the cave, including pieces of three skulls, buried in the cave with the bones of ibex, deer, boar, fox, and rabbit. All of the 10,000-year-old bones had butchery marks, and had been burned, and some of them had human gnaw marks. The researchers think the “anthropophagic practices” may reflect the occasional scarcity of other food products, since the human bones appear to have been lightly cooked, butchered, and thrown in a pile with other animal bones. But it is possible that the perceived cannibalism had been part of a ritual, perhaps to honor the dead, and that the remains were given a ceremonial burial. All of the bones could have been washed to the back of the cave over a period of thousands of years. For more, go to “Colonial Cannibalism.”

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