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Ainu Skeletal Remains Repatriated to Japan

August 4, 2017

BERLIN, GERMANY—The Asahi Shimbun reports that an Ainu skull removed from a cemetery by a private academic society in Berlin in the late nineteenth century has been handed over to authorities at the Japanese Embassy in Berlin, at the request of the Japanese government. The skull has since been placed in a charnel house for displaced Ainu remains at Hokkaido University, where more than 1,000 sets of bones are housed. “We will look after the remains with great care, while maintaining dignity, until Ainu people decide its final resting place,” Hokkaido University President Toyoharu Nawa said of the skull. Hokkaido University archaeologist Hirofumi Kato added that at least 16 additional sets of Ainu remains are still in Germany. Ainu skeletons are also known to be housed in Australia, Britain, and the United States, among other places around world. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Categories: Blog

Underwater Archaeologists Explore Inca Lakes

August 4, 2017

WARSAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that scientists from the Center for Precolumbian Studies at the University of Warsaw explored lakes within the Peruvian National Park of Machu Picchu. The remote, high-altitude lakes sit at the foot of the Salkantay Glacier, and are very deep, making it difficult to transport equipment to the sites and to explore them safely. Two of the lakes, Soctacocha and Yanacocha, are located near the Camino Inca, a trail that connected Machu Picchu with other settlements and temples. The researchers found ceremonial stone platforms at both of the lakes. “Sacrificial offerings were probably made from these platforms during rituals,” said archaeologist and diver Maciej Sobczyk. The team members, including underwater archaeologists Mateusz Popek and Przemyslaw Trześniowski, collected samples of the lake sediments and used sonar equipment to create bathymetric maps. Future expeditions will look for possible Inca offerings left in the water and under the ceremonial platforms. For more, go to “Letter From Peru: Connecting Two Realms.”

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DNA Study Traces Greek Ancestry

August 3, 2017

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—Science Magazine reports that researchers led by Iosif Lazaridis of Harvard University and George Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington studied the genomes of ancient Greeks; Mycenaeans, who lived in mainland Greece between 1600 and 1200 B.C.; and Minoans, who lived on the island of Crete between 2600 and 1400 B.C., in order to study the origins of modern Greeks. DNA was extracted from the teeth of ten Minoans, four Mycenaeans, and five people from early farming or Bronze Age sites in Greece and Turkey. The samples were then compared to the genomes of more than 300 ancient people from around the world and 30 modern Greeks. The study suggests that the ancient Minoans and Myceaneans, who were closely related to each other, received most of their DNA from early farmers who lived in Greece and southwestern Anatolia, and some DNA from people from the eastern Caucasus. Mycenaeans also possessed DNA from a second wave of migrants from Eastern Europe or Siberia. But little DNA has been introduced to the Greek population from later migrations, the study concludes. This is “particularly striking given that the Aegean has been a crossroads of civilization for thousands of years,” Stamatoyannopoulos said. For more, go to “A Surprise City in Thessaly.”

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Luxury Roman Homes Found in Southern France

August 3, 2017

VIENNE, FRANCE—Agence France-Presse reports that an entire first-century A.D. Roman neighborhood of luxury homes and public buildings has been found on the banks of the Rhone River in southeastern France. The neighborhood is thought to have been occupied for about 300 years and then abandoned after a series of fires. Fire damaged the first floor, roof, and balcony of one structure, called the Bacchanalian House for its mosaic floor depicting a procession of maenads and satyrs. But other parts of the house, such as balustrades, tiles, gardens, and the water supply system survived. “We will be able to restore this house from the floor to the ceiling,” said archaeologist Benjamin Clement. Another house contained a mosaic depicting the kidnapping of Thalia, patron of comedy, by Pan, the god of the satyrs. A public building, perhaps a school, with a fountain featuring a statue of Hercules, was found in the market area. The 75,000-square-foot site is located near the ancient Roman city of Vienne, which was on the route connecting northern Gaul and the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis to the south. For more, go to “France’s Roman Heritage.”

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Construction Project Reveals Antwerp’s 16th-Century City Walls

August 3, 2017

ANTWERP, BELGIUM—A sixteenth-century fortification wall measuring 20 feet tall and the pillars of a city gate were uncovered during a construction project in Antwerp, according to a Reuters report. Archaeologist Femke Martens explained that the wall also served as a channel for water into the city’s breweries. Parts of the monumental wall will be integrated into the design for the new tramway and plaza that will be built on the site. The rest will be recovered and preserved before a new road is built. For more on archaeology in Belgium, go to “The Blood of the King.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Artwork Uncovered in Coptic Monastery

August 2, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that frescoes and architectural elements of a medieval church have been uncovered at the Monastery of St. Bishoy by restorers who removed a modern layer of mortar from its walls. Coptic inscriptions were found below the paintings of saints and angels, which date to between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. One painting on the western wall of the church depicts a woman named Refka and her five sons, who were martyred. The team also uncovered the church’s ambon, a structure from which Christian scriptures were read. It was made of mud-brick covered with a layer of mortar and decorated with a red cross. Mohamed Abdellatif, deputy antiquities minister for Egypt’s archaeological sites, said a review of historic documents revealed the church had been remodeled in A.D. 840, during the Abbasid era, and again in 1069, during the Fatimid caliphate. For more, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

Categories: Blog

Archaeological Sites Found Near Saudi Arabia’s Ancient Lakes

August 2, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in Live Science, a team led by landscape archaeologist Paul Breeze of King’s College London used high-resolution satellite imagery, aerial imagery, and geological maps to identify 46 archaeological sites beside ancient lakes in Saudi Arabia’s western Nefud Desert. Their research suggests that hominins migrating out of Africa may have traveled further into Arabia than had been previously thought. Breeze and his team traveled to some of the sites, where they took sediment samples of the lake beds, many of which are thought to have been situated in basins between sand dunes. They also found tools dating to the Lower Paleolithic period, between 1.8 million and 250,000 years ago. At that time, the region experienced repeated phases of wetter climate, and therefore supported more vegetation and wildlife than it does today. “Based on the geological record, we would expect some level of greening of Arabia to happen once more in the future,” said Breeze, “although likely not in the near future, and it is unclear how human influence on the climate might affect this.” For more, go to “Fact-Checking Lawrence of Arabia.”

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18th-Century London Burial Thwarted Grave Robbers

August 2, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—Newsweek reports that an excavation team from the Museum of London Archaeology found a sand-filled coffin covered with heavy stones among the 25,000 graves in the New Churchyard, also known as the Bedlam Burial Ground, in the center of London. Archaeologist Robert Hartle explained that the sand and stones may have been intended to thwart body snatchers. The unusual sand-filled coffin dates to between 1720 and 1739—a time when bodies were sold illicitly to anatomy students for dissection. Hartle added that archaeological evidence of body snatching is extremely rare. To read in-depth about the illicit trade in dead bodies, go to “Haunt of the Resurrection Men.”

Categories: Blog

Statue Discovered at Angkor Thom

August 2, 2017

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—According to a report in The Cambodia Daily, archaeologists from the Apsara Authority discovered a sandstone statue of a guard near the northern entrance of the walled city of Angkor Thom. The statue is now missing its feet and parts of its legs, but is thought to have stood more than six feet tall on the grounds of a hospital built by King Jayavarman VII during the twelfth century. “The hospital consisted of wooden buildings and a chapel erected in stones,” said Tan Boun Suy, deputy director-general of the Apsara Authority. “What is left is the chapel…as wooden structures have long disappeared.” The team has also recovered a piece of another statue as well as roof tiles and ceramics. Rethy Chhem of the Cambodia Development Resource Institute added that Jayavarman VII placed hospitals at each of the four cardinal points of Angkor Thom. Each of those hospitals was equipped with two Buddhist shrines. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Categories: Blog

Sealskin Processing Site Investigated in Newfoundland

August 1, 2017

PORT AU CHOIX, NEWFOUNDLAND—Patricia Wells of the Port au Choix Archaeology Project and her team are exploring a now-waterlogged campsite occupied by the Groswater people sometime between 2,800 and 2,000 years ago, according to a report in the Northern Pen. So far they have uncovered stone tools thought to have been used for processing sealskins, and they have taken a sediment core from nearby Bass Pond. “We hope to assess whether the Groswater had any impact on the pond ecology, and look into the long ecological history of the region as a whole,” Wells said. Wells explains that the Groswater people probably did not use the site as a base camp for hunting, however, because there’s no view of the ocean and no place to land game on the shore. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to “Standing Still in Beringia?

Categories: Blog

2,500-Year-Old Sarcophagus Found in Turkey

August 1, 2017

BALIKESIR PROVINCE, TURKEY—A sarcophagus containing the skeletal remains of two people has been found at the ancient Greek city of Antandrus, which is located in northwestern Turkey, according to a report in the Daily Sabah. Gürcan Polat of Ege University said the sarcophagus dates to the fifth century. “The bones probably belonged to people from the same family,” Polat added. The excavation also uncovered an imported bowl, two amphoras, and two strigils, tools used to scrape sweat and dirt from the skin. To read about another recent discovery in Turkey, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

Categories: Blog

16th-Century Crypt Discovered in New World’s First Cathedral

July 31, 2017

SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—According to a report in El País, a brick vault that could hold the remains of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo has been found at the Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the first cathedral built in the Americas. Oviedo wrote Summary of the Natural History of the Indies, the first account of the New World, and served as governor of the fortress of Santo Domingo from 1532 until his death in 1557. “We know that up to middle of the sixteenth century there was an altar dedicated to Santa Lucía built on Oviedo’s instructions, and that right underneath he ordered a vault to be constructed, where he was buried,” said Esteban Prieto Vicioso, head of the conservation project at the cathedral. Christopher Columbus had also been buried at the cathedral for a time, but his body was later moved. Prieto Vicioso explained that there is no documentary evidence that Oviedo’s body was ever exhumed, however. The restoration team plans to open the crypt, which, in addition to Oviedo’s remains, might hold an iron key to the fortress of Santo Domingo. A head injury received during a knife fight could help Prieto Vicioso’s team identify Oviedo’s remains. For more on archaeology in the Caribbean, go to “Finding Lost African Homelands.”

Categories: Blog

Fifth-Century Baptismal Font Found in Bulgaria

July 29, 2017

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that a Christian baptismal font has been found at a basilica site in the ancient city of Philippopolis, which is located in southern Bulgaria. “Some time in the second half or towards the end of the fifth century, there was a Constantinople Patriarch Makedonii, who had been deported and who was sent to our Black Sea in exile,” said archaeologist Zheni Tankova. Tankova thinks this exiled bishop may have given the font as a gift to the basilica. Other architectural elements uncovered in the basilica include mosaic flooring, architraves, and friezes. The team has also uncovered some of the street that led from the bishop’s residence to the basilica. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Categories: Blog

2,300-Year-Old Carpentry Tool Discovered in Japan

July 29, 2017

ISHIKAWA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that an intact carpenter’s tool has been unearthed at the Yokaichijikata site on the island of Honshu. The 2,300-year-old tool is made up of an iron yariganna, or cutting pike plane, measuring about six inches long. The iron is thought to have been imported from overseas, since the tool predates known iron production in Japan. The upper part of the iron bar was inserted into a carved haft, the top of which resembles the handle of a baseball bat, and was affixed with tape made of Japanese cherry bark. The small tool may have been used with just one hand to smooth wooden surfaces. Much larger yariganna would have been used with two hands. The tool could provide information on how iron was traded throughout the Japanese archipelago. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Categories: Blog

18th-Century Cemetery Excavated on Nova Scotia

July 29, 2017

CAPE BRETON ISLAND, CANADA—Students from the University of New Brunswick are assisting with the effort to exhume approximately 1,000 eighteenth-century graves near the Fortress of Louisbourg before they erode into the Atlantic Ocean, according to a report from CBC News. The settlement began in 1713 as a French fishing village, but it grew into a commercial port and was surrounded by fortification walls by 1740. The site changed hands several times with the British over the following tumultuous 30 years. “What we’ll be looking at is overall health patterns,” said Amy Scott of the University of New Brunswick. “We will also be looking at elements of trauma, infectious disease, migration patterns, even potentially ancient DNA,” she said. The remains will be reburied when the project is completed. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to “Discovering Terror.”

Categories: Blog

Medieval Child’s Burial Unearthed in Northern Russia

July 29, 2017

SALEKHARD, RUSSIA—According to a report in The Siberian Times, a medieval burial containing the remains of a young child has been discovered in northern Russia, above the Arctic Circle. Researchers spotted a fragment of a bronze bowl exposed by wind erosion while on an expedition to monitor permafrost on the Gydan Peninsula. The turquoise-colored piece of bronze is thought to have been made in Persia, and was about 200 years old when placed over part of the child’s head some 1,000 years ago. The lone burial could have been left by traders who camped at the site while hunting for walrus, birds, and furs. “He or she was from some wealthy family, judging by the things laid in the grave,” said archaeologist Andrey Gusev of the Arctic Research Center. A ceramic vessel, fragments of fur clothing, a ring, and the decorated handle and sheath of a knife were also recovered. The iron blade itself was not preserved. For more, go to “Siberian William Tell.”

Categories: Blog

Monumental Tomb Discovered Near Pompeii

July 28, 2017

NAPLES, ITALY—A monumental tomb with a long funerary epigraph describing the life of the deceased has been discovered in Porta Stabia, according to a report in ANSAmed. The inscription is missing the man’s name, but it says he was a duoviro, or Pompeii city magistrate, and describes his coming of age, his wedding, and his sponsorship of banquets and games. The inscription also contains information about an armed brawl at a gladiator show in Pompeii in 59 B.C., in which the tomb’s occupant may have been killed. We know from an account left by the Roman historian Tacitus that after a Senate investigation into the brawl, ordered by Emperor Nero, that the residents of Pompeii were forbidden to hold gladiator games for ten years, and those who organized the games and incited the clash were exiled. Pompeii’s general director, Massimo Osanna, said the newly found inscription complements the account left by Tacitus and mentions that some of the city’s magistrates were also exiled. For more on Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

Categories: Blog

New Imaging Technique Reveals Sixth-Century Text

July 28, 2017

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that a sixth-century text has been found hidden in the binding of a sixteenth-century book of poetry. A team led by Emeline Pouyet and Marc Walton of the Northwestern University–Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies developed a technique combining visible hyperspectral imaging and X-ray fluorescence to examine the binding of a 1537 copy of Works and Days, a book written by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod, when they noticed writing beneath the parchment covering the book board. They suspect the sixteenth-century bookbinder tried to remove the text on the board by washing and scraping it, but some of the ink remained and over time, it degraded the parchment placed over it. The new imaging technique revealed the recycled materials had originally been pages of the Roman law code, annotated with references to the church’s canon law in the margins, perhaps by a medieval university student. Pouyet and Walton say the new imaging technique will make it easier to examine delicate, recycled books when the powerful X-rays of a synchrotron are not available. For more on using new technology to read ancient texts, go to “The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum.”

Categories: Blog

Scientists Analyze Ancient Canaanite DNA

July 28, 2017

HINXTON, ENGLAND—According to a report in Science News, researchers led by Marc Haber of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute mapped the genomes of five 3,700-year-old Canaanite skeletons uncovered in Sidon, Lebanon, and compared the results with other ancient and modern populations. Little is known about the Canaanites, who left few written records. Scholars have had to rely upon second-hand accounts written by ancient Hebrew, Egyptian, and Greek sources for historical information on the origins and supposed demise of the Canaanites. The results of the DNA study suggest that the Canaanites descended from early farmers who settled in the Levant some 10,000 years ago, and migrants from Iran who arrived between 6,600 and 3,550 years ago. The spread of the Akkadian Empire between 4,400 and 4,200 years ago could account for the large contribution of migrants from the east to Canaanite ancestry. In fact, a similar mixture of genes has been found in ancient skeletons unearthed in Jordan. The researchers also found that modern Lebanese people received about 93 percent of their DNA from the ancient Canaanites. The remaining seven percent likely came from Eurasians who arrived in the Levant some 3,700 to 2,200 years ago. To read more about ancient Canaan and its time as an Egyptian colony, go to "Egypt's Final Redoubt in Canaan." 

Categories: Blog

Hunters May Have Driven New Zealand’s Swans to Extinction

July 27, 2017

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND—Stuff.co.nz reports that New Zealand’s native black swans were hunted to extinction by Polynesians in the fifteenth century. Nic Rawlence of the University of Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory and his team compared the skeletons of living birds and fossilized swan remains, and examined DNA samples of the birds. The researchers concluded that almost all of the black swans now living in New Zealand are descended from swans brought from Australia in the 1860s. The native swans also arrived from Australia, but between one and two million years ago. They were heavier, and had longer legs and smaller wings, and might have eventually become flightless in another million years, Rawlence said. It had been thought the black swans living in New Zealand now were the same species as those found in the fossil record. Rawlence and his colleagues dubbed the fossil species “pouwa,” after a black bird that lived in the Chatham Islands in a Moriori legend. For more, go to “Angry Birds.”

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