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Ancient Graffiti on Egyptian Tomb Walls Studied

June 24, 2017

WARSAW, POLAND—Adam Łukaszewicz of the University of Warsaw and his team have completed a 3-D record of the walls of the tomb of Ramesses VI, in order to study the graffiti left by tourists some 2,000 years ago, according to a report in Science & Scholarship in Poland. The researchers found more than 1,000 inscriptions in the tomb, which is just one of at least ten of the 60 tombs in the Valley of the Kings marked with ancient travelers’ names and comments. Most of the inscriptions were carved into the rock or made with red paint. “The greatest number of inscriptions come from the Greek-Roman period, that is, from the time of the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great to the division of the Roman Empire in the fourth century,” Łukaszewicz said. Łukaszewicz  notes that most of the visitors, some of whom were high-ranking officials, tried to avoid writing on the Egyptian decorations on the walls. The scientists will use their digital records to continue to study the inscriptions. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

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Stone Floor and Ritual Vessel Uncovered at Machu Picchu

June 23, 2017

CUSCO, PERU—Living in Peru reports that a stone floor and a fragmented vessel that may have been used to make offerings were discovered at Machu Picchu Archaeological Park by archaeologist José Bastante and researchers from Peru’s Ministry of Culture. They found the floor and the vessel in a passage behind the room where the so-called “water mirrors” are located. The water mirrors, circular basins on the floor of the main area, are thought to have been used to observe the reflected night sky. Likewise, light from solstices and equinoxes is thought to have shone through a central window in the passage to the water mirrors next door. Bastante said the vessel probably had a pointed base, may have been burned after the offering was made. The vessel is thought to date to the fifteenth century and will be tested for any residues of its contents. For more, go to “Letter From Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”

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Woven Basket and Wooden Stand Unearthed in Japan

June 23, 2017

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, scientists have discovered a possible use for small wooden frames, shaped like truncated square pyramids, which have been unearthed at archaeological sites around Japan. It had been suggested that the wooden frames could have been used for catching fish or even as funnels. Archaeologists working at a circular tomb site in the city of Kashihara, however, found one of the wooden frames supporting a finely woven, square-bottomed basket. “I imagine it was used to transport or store something precious,” said Yuka Sasaki, a visiting researcher of archaeobotany at the Center for Obsidian and Lithic Studies at Meiji University. Made from four pieces of wood from a chinquapin tree, the stand was held together with plant material. The basket, woven from a kind of bamboo grass, was attached to the stand with strings made from plants. This particular basket and stand are thought to have been made by the Yayoi Pottery Culture sometime in the late second century A.D. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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Ancient Dugout Canoe Found in Louisiana

June 23, 2017

BELCHER, LOUISIANA—KTBS News reports that a woman looking for artifacts along the Red River in northwestern Louisiana spotted a dugout canoe in the mud of the riverbank. Jeffrey Girard of the Louisiana Archaeological Society and Robert Chip of the State Archaeological Division excavated the cypress-wood canoe, which is missing one side. What remains measures about 34 feet long and three feet wide, and is thought to have been constructed by the Caddo people between 800 and 1,000 years ago. The vessel will be studied and conserved at Texas A&M University. A sample has been taken for radiocarbon dating. For more on archaeology in Louisiana, go to “Archaic Engineers Worked on a Deadline.”

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Predynastic Inscriptions Discovered in Egypt

June 23, 2017

LUXOR, EGYPT—Inscriptions estimated to be up to 6,000 years old have been found spread over several rock panels located near the village of El-Khawy by a team of researchers from Yale University and Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, according to a report in Ahram Online. The team members had been mapping road networks because Egyptian rock art is usually found at major crossroads. The images are said to represent formative stages of hieroglyphic script, which appeared in Upper Egypt around 3250 B.C. For example, John Coleman Darnell of Yale University said that one panel is engraved with a bull’s head on a short pole, and two saddle bill storks standing back to back with a bald ibis above them. The images were placed from right to left, in a similar fashion as later Egyptian texts. “These symbols are not phonetic writing, but appear to provide the intellectual background for moving from depictions of the natural world to hieroglyphs that wrote the sounds of the ancient Egyptian language,” Darnell said. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

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Early Twentieth-Century Church Found in Louisiana

June 22, 2017

SHREVEPORT, LOUISIANA—The Shreveport Times reports that the cornerstone, a pillar, and the central aisle of the original St. John’s Church have been uncovered by a team of researchers from the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans and Louisiana State University, Shreveport. Historian Cheryl White compared current and historic city maps and examined old photographs to pinpoint the site of the original church, which was built by the Jesuits in 1902, on what is now private land. “We came within inches of the front door on the first day,” White said. The team also recovered ceramics dating to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, iron hardware, religious items, coins, bottles, and pieces of glass. For more on archaeology in Louisiana, go to “Archaic Engineers Worked on a Deadline.”

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Possible Ritual Landscape Detected at Passage Tomb in Wales

June 22, 2017

ANGLESEY, WALES—Rock art, pottery deposits, flint tools, and a burial cairn were discovered during recent excavations in the area surrounding Bryn Celli Ddu, a 5,000-year-old mound-covered passage tomb in North Wales. According to a report in The Guardian, a ground-penetrating radar survey suggests that the cairn could be part of a larger cemetery located behind the mound. “We know that Bryn Celli Ddu sits in a much more complicated landscape than previously thought,” said archaeologist Seren Griffiths of the University of Central Lancashire. For more, go to “Letter From Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

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Staircase Uncovered at Peru’s El Volcán

June 22, 2017

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI—A team led by Robert Benfer, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri, examined a volcano-shaped earthwork in the Nepeña Valley of coastal Peru thought to have been constructed by the Yungas people. Live Science reports that when the researchers dug into the “crater” at the top of the 50-foot mound, known as El Volcán, they found a collapsed stairwell that descended past a layer of adobe bricks to a mud-plaster floor and a fireplace. Charcoal and pieces of shell in the fireplace were radiocarbon dated to between A.D. 1492 and 1602. Benfer thinks the Yungas may have used the earthwork and the fireplace in ceremonies to celebrate four eclipses that occurred in the sixteenth century. The structure itself may have been built much earlier. For more, go to “Letter from Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”

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New Dates Obtained for Jerusalem Stone Tower

June 22, 2017

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a report in Live Science, new dates for a stone tower at Gihon Spring indicate that it was built 1,000 years later than had been previously thought. The tower, situated downhill from Jerusalem, guarded the city’s water supply. The original estimated date for the tower’s construction was based upon the Middle Bronze Age style of pottery and other artifacts at the site. Elisabetta Boaretto of the Weizmann Institute of Science and her colleagues examined the base of the tower, and found archaeological layers in the soil beneath its large boulders. Charcoal, seeds, and bones from the middle and lower layers of sediment were radiocarbon dated to about 1700 B.C. But samples in sediments near a large cornerstone yielded dates between 900 and 800 B.C. Boaretto said the new Iron Age date for the massive tower will have repercussions for other attempts to date construction and occupation in ancient Jerusalem. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Autumn of the Master Builder.”

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Scientists Re-Examine Ancient Prosthetic Toe

June 21, 2017

BASEL, SWITZERLAND—According to a report in Swiss Info, researchers from the University of Basel, the University of Zurich, and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo re-examined a 3,000-year-old prosthetic toe discovered in Egypt’s Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna necropolis with modern imaging techniques, including microscopy, X-ray technology, and computed tomography. The prosthesis belonged to the daughter of a priest whose big right toe appears to have been amputated. The wooden toe had been refitted several times. “They often wore sandals, so you can imagine that a well-formed foot was important,” said Andrea Loprieno-Gnirs of the University of Basel. “The wooden toe shows that she had a certain living standard, and also that there were craftsmen capable of making such prosthetics.” For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

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18th-Dynasty Egyptian Face Reconstructed

June 21, 2017

TURIN, ITALY—Live Science reports that an international team of researchers has used computed tomography scanning to reconstruct the face of Nebiri, an Egyptian dignitary who lived during the reign of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Thutmose III (r. 1479‒1425 B.C.) and was buried in the Valley of the Queens. His tomb was plundered in antiquity, and his body destroyed, but Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli recovered his head and canopic jars containing his internal organs in the early twentieth century. The remains are now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Turin. Chemical analysis indicated that Nebiri’s head and brain were carefully packed with linen bandages treated with a mixture of animal fat or plant oil, an aromatic plant, a coniferous resin, and heated Pistacia resin, or mastic. “We were able to add strength to the argument that Nebiri was [a] high elite,” Robert Loynes of the University of Manchester said of the meticulous packing job, which protected the remains from insects and maintained the head’s lifelike appearance. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

Categories: Blog

900-Year-Old Jewelry Unearthed in Central Israel

June 20, 2017

MODIIN-MACCABIM-RE’UT, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that more than 2,500 volunteers and students from the fourth through twelfth grades have assisted the Israel Antiquities Authority with the excavation of a Crusader fortress tower at Givat Tittora, a strategically located hilltop site in central Israel. Excavation director Avraham Tendler said that many pieces of jewelry have been uncovered in the tower’s inner courtyard, where clay ovens, cooking pots, jars, serving dishes, a table, olive pits, grains, charred grape pips, and animal bones were also found. Tendler explained that over a period of hundreds of years, working women probably lost the jewelry, which includes rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and hair pins. The site will eventually become part of a nature park. To read about another discovery in Israel, go to “Byzantine Riches.”

Categories: Blog

Gold Worker’s Tomb Excavated in Sudan

June 20, 2017

MUNICH, GERMANY—Live Science reports that a 3,400-year-old tomb on Sai Island in northern Sudan has been investigated by a team of scientists with the AcrossBorders archaeological research project. The tomb’s multiple chambers hold the remains of more than a dozen people who may have lived on the island and worked in its gold mines. In addition to the human remains, the team members found scarabs, ceramic vessels, a gold ring, and gold funerary masks. A shabti, or small stone sculpture, discovered in the tomb may have been intended to do the work of the deceased in the afterlife. Inscriptions on the artifacts indicate the tomb had been built for Khnummose, a master gold worker. Julia Budka of Ludwig-Maximillians University said that DNA analysis of the remains in the tomb could reveal any possible relationships between the tomb’s occupants. Tests could also reveal whether the bodies were mummified. Traces of bitumen, a type of petroleum used by the ancient Egyptians in the process of mummification, have been found, but the bodies and coffins are poorly preserved. For more, go to “Miniature Pyramids of Sudan.”

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DNA Study Reveals Tale of Cat Domestication

June 20, 2017

LEUVEN, BELGIUM—Cat domestication is thought to be linked to the beginning of agriculture, when early farmers first stored rodent-attracting grains. According to a report in Seeker, a team led by Claudio Ottoni of the University of Leuven analyzed the DNA of 200 domestic cats who lived over a period spanning 9,000 years in the Near East, Egypt, Europe, north and east Africa, and southwest Asia. The study suggests that all domesticated cats descend from the African wildcat Felis silvestris, and were first tamed in the Near East some 10,000 years ago. The animals traveled with migrating farmers to Europe, and later spread out from Egypt on rodent-infested trade ships. Ottoni explained, however, that it is unclear whether the Egyptian domesticated cat descended from domesticated cats imported from the Near East, or whether a second, separate, domestication took place in Egypt. Most house cats alive today descend from cats that can be traced back to Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The DNA analysis also revealed that the blotched coat pattern did not become common in cats until the medieval period. Until then, most cats were striped. For more on felines in the archaeological record, go to “Baby Bobcat.”

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Medieval Sword Recovered in Poland

June 19, 2017

HRUBIESZÓW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a medieval sword was recovered from a peat bog in southeast Poland and donated to the Fr. Stanislaw Staszic Museum. The well-balanced weapon measures almost four feet long and is only missing the padding on its two-handed hilt, which was probably covered with wood, bone, or antler. An isosceles cross in a heraldic shield on the rear bar of the sword may have been the blacksmith’s maker’s mark. Conservators will look for additional marks on the blade. According to museum director Bartlomiej Bartecki, archaeologists will investigate the site where the sword was found to look for possible clues as to how it landed in the bog. Did a knight lose his weapon, or are his remains and the rest of his equipment still in the ground? “This is a unique find in the region,” Bartecki said. “It’s worth pointing out that while there are similar artifacts in museum collections, their place of discovery is often unknown, and that is very important information for historians and archaeologists.” The sword will be conserved in Warsaw and eventually returned to the Fr. Stanislaw Staszic Museum. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

Categories: Blog

Islamic Trade Center Uncovered in Ethiopia

June 17, 2017

EXETER, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that traces of a wealthy medieval city, complete with a twelfth-century mosque and Islamic burials and headstones, have been discovered at Harlaa, located in eastern Ethiopia. Pottery, glass vessel fragments, rock crystal, carnelian, glass beads, and cowry shells imported from Madagascar, the Maldives, Yemen, and China have been uncovered, along with bronze and silver Egyptian coins dating to the thirteenth century. Timothy Insoll of the University of Exeter explained that high-quality jewelry was made at the site with silver, bronze, semi-precious stones, and glass beads, using technology usually associated with jewelry made in India at that time. He thinks that jewelers from India may have been among the people who migrated to the cosmopolitan city at Harlaa. And, the mosque at the site resembles those built in Tanzania and Somaliland, which suggests that the people who lived at Harlaa also had contact with other Islamic communities in Africa. Human remains from the site are being analyzed for further information. For more, go to “Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast.”

Categories: Blog

Timber on Oregon Coast May Represent 19th-Century Shipwreck

June 17, 2017

CANNON BEACH, OREGON—According to a report in The Daily Astorian, a walker discovered a piece of wood on the northern Oregon coast that may have come from a nineteenth-century shipwreck. The piece of wood, cut from old-growth timber, measures about 18 feet long and is marked with notches, square cut-outs, and square nails. “In general shipwrecks are pretty common on the coast, but if it were actually that old it would be a rare situation,” said Christopher Dewey of the Maritime Archaeological Society. A state archaeologist has been asked to evaluate the find. For more on the archaeology of shipwrecks, go to “Is it Esmeralda?

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Bones of Shang Dynasty Sacrificial Victims Analyzed

June 16, 2017

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Live Science reports that researchers led by bioarchaeologist Christina Cheung of Simon Fraser University analyzed skeletal remains from the royal cemetery of Yinxu, the capital of Shang Dynasty China from the sixteenth century B.C. to the eleventh century B.C. The cemetery contains royal burials, and more than 2,500 pits holding the remains of sacrificial victims. Oracle bone inscriptions found at the site indicate that many of those who had been sacrificed were captured during wars. Cheung and her colleagues measured the levels of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes in the bones of 68 sacrificial victims found in the pits, and compared them with the remains of 39 people who had been buried in a residential neighborhood of Yinxu. The results of the tests suggest that the locals and the sacrificial victims all ate a subsistence diet based on millet, but the locals also consumed, wheat, rice, and perhaps wild fish and deer. The composition of the victims’ larger bones also indicates that they had not always eaten food from the Yinxu area, and may have only lived there for a few years. Cheung thinks the captives probably spent their time in Yinxu working as enslaved laborers. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Additional Hebrew Inscriptions Found on 3,000-Year-Old Pottery

June 16, 2017

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a new technique for performing multispectral imaging with readily available, relatively inexpensive materials, has revealed additional writing on a fragment of 3,000-year-old pottery unearthed at Tel Arad, where 91 ostraca were discovered on a floor in a single room in the 1960s. The visible inscriptions recorded lists of supplies and orders from military quartermasters. Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, physicist Eli Piasetzky, and imaging lab and system manager Michael Cordonsky of Tel Aviv University were testing the new imaging system in an effort to improve the clarity of the texts on the ostraca, when Cordonsky flipped a piece of pottery and discovered writing on its opposite side that had been invisible to the naked eye. “It means that every university or archaeological dig can build the camera,” to look for faded inscriptions, explained applied mathematician Arie Shaus. To read about an ancient Egyptian ostracon, go to “Artifact.”

Categories: Blog

Viking-Age Burials Discovered in Northern Iceland

June 16, 2017

 

PORT OF DYSNES, ICELAND—Iceland Magazine reports that four Viking-era burials have been discovered at Eyjafjörður fjord in North Iceland. Two of the intact burials, which date to the ninth or tenth centuries, appear to have been placed in a line. They both contain boats, but one of them has been badly damaged by ocean erosion and half of its boat is missing. Archaeologists led by Hildur Gestsdóttir recovered human bones, a Viking sword, and dog teeth from the grave. The second boat burial is also thought to contain the remains of a Viking chief who was buried with his dog and his sword. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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