ENNA, SICILY—Italian police officers who were searching a man’s home for arms and ammunition recovered more than 250 objects thought to be ancient Greek artifacts dating to between the fifth and second centuries B.C. The artifacts may have come from archaeological sites in central and southern Sicily, and some of the objects are encrusted with salt, suggesting that they came from the sea. “It’s likely that they were ready to be put on the black market,” Gabriele Presti, head of the investigation team, said in a report by BBC News. To read in-depth about archaeology in Sicily, go to "The Fight for Ancient Sicily."
WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—An Anglo-Saxon cemetery, Neolithic pits, and what may be two Early Bronze Age round barrows have been found on land used during World War I as a place for re-shoeing warhorses and as a training ground for use of anti-tank weapons during World War II. The land, located in the village of Bulford, is currently being developed as a residential area for army personnel. A team from Wessex Archaeology has recovered spears, knives, jewelry, and bone combs from the well-organized Anglo-Saxon cemetery, dated to between A.D. 660 and 780. “It contained the graves of women, men, and children and was clearly the burial ground for a local community—perhaps that of Bulford’s earliest families. It included a number of re-used graves, a rare occurrence at this time, which may have held members of the same family,” Si Cleggett of Wessex Archaeology said in a report in Culture 24. The Neolithic pits have yielded grooved-ware pottery, stone and flint axes, a disc-shaped flint knife, a chalk bowl, and the bones of deer and extinct cattle. For more, go to "Anglo-Saxon Jewelry Box."
ATHENS, GREECE—Regional archaeological services director Stella Chryssoulaki of the Greek Ministry of Culture announced that archaeologists discovered two mass graves containing the lined-up skeletons of 80 men in an ancient cemetery at a construction site near Athens. The men are thought to have been young and healthy, due to the condition of their teeth. The hands of 36 of the men had been bound with iron. Some of them had been buried on their backs, while others were on their stomachs. Two vases found with the skeletons date to the mid seventh century B.C., “a period of great political turmoil in the region,” according to the Ministry statement reported by the AFP. Greece’s Central Archaeological Council is planning further investigations of the site. For more, go to "Greece's Biggest Tomb," which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.
YORK, ENGLAND—An international team of archaeologists led by Aimée Little of the University of York recreated shamanic headdresses like the ones unearthed at Star Carr, an Early Mesolithic site in North Yorkshire, with ancient tools. But first, they examined the headdresses with 3-D laser scanning to analyze the cut marks made in the red deer crania. They think the first step in producing the headwear involved packing the skull with clay and baking it in embers to remove the skin and make the bone easier to work. Then some of the antler may have been removed to make the headdress lighter. Those antler pieces could then have been used to make barbed points for hunting and fishing. It’s also possible that the antler blanks were removed after the headdress had been worn as a way to recycle them. “This is the only site in Britain where they are found, and there are only a few other headdresses known from Germany. This work into how they might have been made has given us an important glimpse into what life was like 11,000 years ago,” Star Carr excavation co-leader Nicky Milner said in a UPI report on the project. To read about another discovery at Star Carr, go to "Mesolithic Markings."
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—Red Orbit reports that a team from the University of Utah has developed a new scenario for the early human use of fire. The scientists suggest that between two and three million years ago, as the climate became drier and woody plants gave way to grasses, fires naturally occurred more frequently. Fire would have exposed hidden animal holes and tracks, and would have burned seeds and tubers, making them easier to chew and digest, and providing early human ancestors with increased energy. The cleared land would have also made it easier to travel and perhaps colonize new habitats. “Evidence shows that other animals take advantage of fire for foraging, so it seems very likely that our ancestors did as well,” said team member Kristen Hawkes. For more, go to "Catching Fire and Keeping It."
YORK, ENGLAND--Anita Radini and a team of scientists examined Neanderthal teeth from Spain’s El Sidrón Cave and found traces of bark trapped in fossilized plaque, or dental calculus, on some of them. According to a report in Live Science, the researchers say the wood, which had not been charred and was nonedible, may have come from the use of toothpicks or wooden tools held in the mouth as a “third hand.” Previous studies of Neanderthal teeth have found grooves that may have been made by toothpicks, and marks on teeth from El Sidrón, found last year, suggest that these Neanderthals used them as tools. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—While digging foundations for lamp posts near Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, engineers discovered a stone slab thought to cover the tomb of one of the first Catholic priests in Mexico after the Spanish conquest in 1521. The slab, engraved with the name Miguel de Palomares, had been placed in the floor of what archaeologists think was once an Aztec temple. “The Spaniards, Hernán Cortes and his followers, made use of the pre-Hispanic structures, the temples, the foundations, the floors,” Raúl Barrera of the National Institute of Anthropology and History told the Associated Press. Palomares died in 1542 and is known to have been buried inside the city’s first cathedral, near an altar. This structure was torn down in the 1620s, after a larger cathedral had been built next to it. A hole is thought to have been drilled into the slab for a wooden pole or cross hundreds of years later. To read in-depth about archaeology in Mexico, go to "Under Mexico City."
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—As part of a project called The Forgotten Wrecks of World War I, marine archaeologists with England’s Maritime Archaeology Trust used a high-definition video camera attached to a drone to scan two German warships, V44 and V82. After the war, the two ships were beached at the southern tip of Whale Island, located in Portsmouth Harbor, where they were used for target practice by the Royal Navy gunnery school. “Despite a brief mention in the Portsmouth News in 1921, the two destroyers have lain largely forgotten where they were beached—ironically in front of headquarters of today’s Royal Navy,” Lt. Paul Lane said in a report in Navy News. “The attentions of scrap dealers as well as the ravages of time and tide have taken their toll on the vessels, leaving them largely unrecognizable to all but the trained eye,” he added. For more, go to "Archaeology of World War II."
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA—According to a report in The St. Augustine Record, Carl Halbirt, St. Augustine city archaeologist, and volunteers discovered house walls, a hearth, and a well at the site of the Mill Top Tavern, which was built in 1888 and demolished last month. Halbirt says the house stood on the site, located near historic St. George Street, in the early nineteenth century. When the well was no longer used, it was filled in with coquina stone. “This area has transitioned a great deal over time from the colonial era where there may have been small buildings near the ‘clear area’ of the Castillo to the period of early tourism in Florida and St. Augustine leading to construction of the Victorian period home and later ‘Old Mill’ building,” said Jenny Wolfe, the city’s historic preservation and special projects planner.
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Construction work to build a new classroom at a school in the town of Leith, north of Edinburgh, has uncovered human remains. “This seems to be the site of an unknown, unmarked grave dating to the seventeenth century,” City of Edinburgh Council archaeologist John Lawson told BBC News. Lawson thinks the person may have been killed by the plague, but the skeleton will be analyzed for more information. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to "Viking Treasure Trove."
WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA—A 225-foot-long shipwreck discovered off the coast of North Carolina has been tentatively identified as the Agnes E. Fry, a Confederate blockade runner, according to a report in Wired. Deputy State Archaeologist Billy Ray Morris has researched ship records in Bermuda, where many blockade runners loaded supplies for the Confederacy, and found that among the three blockade runners that were missing, only the Agnes E. Fry was more than 200 feet long. The iron-hulled steamer is also missing its engine and paddlewheel, both of which were removed at the time by salvagers. An imaging sonar scan of the ship, which rests in water with extremely poor visibility, is planned for next week.
PARIS, FRANCE—A series of more than 250 radiocarbon dates of rock art samples, animal bones, and charcoal from Chauvet Cave suggests that people used it seasonally for cultural purposes during two distinct periods separated by several thousand years. According to the Los Angeles Times, the first period lasted from 37,000 to 33,500 years ago. The second period of occupation began between 31,000 and 28,000 years ago, and lasted for 2,000 to 3,000 years. Occupation of the cave may have ended due to rockfalls that blocked its entrance. Anita Quiles of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology and Jean-Michel Geneste of the Ministry of Culture and Communication in Paris say that most of the drawings were created during the first period of occupation, while the torch marks were left by the second group of people. Bears left scratch marks on the walls between 48,500 and 33,300 years ago, but probably only used the cave during the winter months to hibernate. “Only the black paintings have been dated,” Quiles and Geneste wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The dating technique for the red paintings has yet to be developed.” For more on cave art, go to "The First Artists."
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Israel Finkelstein, Arie Shaus, and Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin of Tel Aviv University used computer programs to scan and analyze the handwriting on 16 ostracons dating to the seventh century B.C. All of the inscriptions were unearthed at the site of Arad, a frontier fort, and had been made within a span of a few months. The analysis suggests that at least six different people, ranging in rank from the commander of the fort down to the deputy quartermaster, had written these texts. All of the writers used proper spelling and syntax. Similar ostracons have been found at other border forts, suggesting that writing was widespread, at least within the Judahite army. Finkelstein thinks the ancient kingdom of Judah may have had an educational system, since literacy was not limited to the elite. “This is really quite amazing, that in a remote place like this, there was more than one person, several people, who could write,” he told Live Science. Finkelstein also claims that if literacy were widespread at the time, it would support the idea that portions of the Bible could have been compiled before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to "The Gates of Gath."
HOVD, MONGOLIA—The Siberian Times reports that researchers from Mongolia’s Khovd Museum have discovered a Turkik burial in the Altai Mountains. The grave is thought to have belonged to a non-elite woman who was buried with a sacrificed horse, an embroidered saddle and a bridle, a vase, a wooden bowl, a trough, an iron kettle, clothing, pillows, a sheep’s head, an embroidered felt travel bag containing sheep and goat parts, and a cup in a leather bag. “An interesting thing we found is that not only sheep wool was used, but also camel wool. We can date the burial by the things we have found there, also the type of hat. It gives us a preliminary date of around the sixth century A.D.,” said Khovd Museum researcher B. Sukhbaatar. To read about other finds from the Altai Mountains, go to "Iron Age Mummy."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—It had been thought that infectious diseases became more common among human populations some 8,000 years ago, when people became more sedentary and began living with herd animals. But scientists from the University of Cambridge and Oxford Brookes University say that some chronic infectious diseases and their causes, such as tapeworms, tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, and the virus that causes genital herpes, may be thousands of years older than had been previously believed, and that humans may have initially passed those diseases to their livestock. They may have also spread those diseases to Neanderthals, weakening the population. “Humans migrating out of Africa would have been a significant reservoir of tropical diseases. For the Neanderthal population of Eurasia, adapted to that geographical infectious disease environment, exposure to new pathogens carried out of Africa may have been catastrophic,” Charlotte Houldcroft of the University of Cambridge told The Guardian. For more, go to "Decoding Neanderthal Genetics."
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—Wine was produced in the first-century A.D. on an industrial scale at Vagnari, an imperial estate in Italy, according to an excavation conducted by archaeologists from the University of Sheffield. The team, led by Maureen Carroll, uncovered the corner of a wine fermentation and storage room and three buried vats where wine could have been kept cool. “The vats were impossible to move—they were in the ground and stayed there for a long time and were reused year after year. The Roman agricultural writers said it was a good idea round late summer to clean out what was left, give them a good rub, and reline them with pitch,” Carroll told The Yorkshire Post. The scientists plan to analyze residues in the vats to try to determine what kind of wine may have been stored there. For more, go to "France’s Roman Heritage."
HAIFA, ISRAEL—Chemical analysis of glass unearthed at sites in Europe and from shipwrecks suggested that the beach sand and salt used to make the glass originated in Israel. “Now, for the first time, the kilns have been found where the raw material was manufactured that was used to produce this glassware,” Yael Gorin-Rosen of the Israel Antiquities Authority Glass Department told Discovery News. Archaeologists working with the Jezreel Valley Railway Project found fragments of flooring, pieces of vitrified bricks that could be from the walls and ceilings of the 1,600-year-old kilns, and raw glass chips. Gorin-Rosen and her team say raw glass was produced on an industrial scale at the site, sometimes in chunks weighing in excess of ten tons, and sold to workshops in smaller pieces across the Roman Empire, where it would have been melted again in order to produce glassware. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to "Off The Grid: Tel Kabri."
SOFIA, BULGARIA—Silver jewelry dating to the second half of the seventeenth century has been unearthed in northwest Bulgaria by locals who turned it over to the country’s National Museum of History. The treasure, which includes a tiara, two forehead adornments, earrings, ear tabs, and rings, is thought to have been hidden in a leather purse during the Chiprovtsi Uprising, when Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bulgarians rebelled against the Ottoman Empire. The region of Chiprovtsi was known for its silver ore, discovered in the fifteenth century, and metal smiths. Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the insurgents were crushed by Ottoman troops in 1688 near the modern city of Montana, then known as Kutlovitsa, where the treasure was found. “The treasure was probably a family fortune,” according the National Museum of History.
ST. ATHAN, WALES—Construction work on a housing development was suspended after human skeletal remains and cremation pits were discovered by an archaeologist working at the site, located in the Vale of Glamorgan. “The council is advised by Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, its professional advisors in such matters, that the correct procedures are being followed and the investigation is continuing,” a spokesperson for the Vale of Glamorgan council told BBC News.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—At the Ocean Sciences Meeting, marine microbial ecologists Leila Hamdan and Jennifer Salerno of George Mason University and marine archaeologist Melanie Damour of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reported on their investigation into changes in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. According to an article in Live Science, they said that an estimated 30 percent of the oil from the spill was deposited in the deep sea, where there are more than 2,000 shipwrecks. Those wrecks support a variety of ocean life, from microorganisms to bivalves, corals, and fish. So far, their research suggests that certain oil-eating microbes are flourishing, and that such a change in the environment could speed up the corrosion of steel-hulled wrecks. “We are concerned that the degradation of these sites a lot faster than normal will cause the permanent loss of information that we can never get back,” Damour said.