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Cat Print Found on Roman Roof Tile in England

June 2, 2017

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—A cat’s paw print has been found on a piece of Roman roof tile dating to the first century A.D. in the East of England. Lincolnshire Live reports that the tile was uncovered during the excavation of a Roman town in the path of a new highway. Most of the town’s buildings would have been constructed with timber and thatch, but tiles would have been made on site for the construction of the homes of wealthy Romans. A cat, possibly wild or domesticated, must have walked across this tile while it had been drying outside before it was fired in a kiln. Deer and dog prints have also been found on tiles recovered during the new road construction project. To read more about animal prints in Roman Britain, go to "They're Just Like Us."

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Ten Late Period Tombs Discovered in Aswan

June 2, 2017

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that ten rock-hewn tombs have been discovered on Aswan’s west bank by a team of researchers from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities who had been studying the nearby Agha Kahn mausoleum. The tombs, which date to the Late Period (664‒332 B.C.), are similar to each other. They feature sliding steps leading to an entrance, followed by a small burial chamber. Stone sarcophagi, mummies, and funerary artifacts have been found in the tombs' chambers. The scientists will return to the tombs in the fall for further excavation. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

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Grave in Portugal Yields Bony Tumor

June 1, 2017

COIMBRA, PORTUGAL—A calcified ovarian tumor measuring just under two inches wide was found by archaeologists in the abdominal cavity of a woman buried at the historic Church and Convent of Carmo in Lisbon. According to a report in Live Science, the cemetery at the site was in use between the fifteenth century and 1755, when an earthquake destroyed the church. The woman was at least 45 years old at the time of her death. Such ovarian cysts, which grow from cells that would normally become eggs, can produce teeth, hair, and bones, and can grow large enough to cause severe pain. But Sofia Wasterlain of the University of Coimbra said it is not possible to tell how this teratoma impacted the woman’s life. Wasterlain added that she did not find any damage to the woman’s skeleton from the bony growth. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Côa Valley, PortugalCôa Valley, Portugal.”

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Mass Grave Dating to the Thirty Years’ War Excavated

June 1, 2017

SAXONY-ANHALT, GERMANY—Live Science reports that bioarchaeologists have analyzed 47 skeletons of soldiers killed during the Battle of Lützen, fought on November 16, 1632, by Protestant forces led by Swedish King Gustav II Adolf, and the Holy Roman Empire’s army led by General Albrecht von Wallenstein. These soldiers were among the 9,000 killed during the battle and buried in mass graves. This grave was removed from the site in a giant block of soil for excavation in a lab. A team led by Nicole Nicklisch of the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt found that most of the men, who are thought to represent both sides of the battle, went into the fight with prior injuries. Some of the fresh injuries were caused by bladed weapons, but more than half of the soldiers had been wounded by gunfire. Historic records indicate that the imperial cavalry may have been carrying pistols, muskets, and carbines. Unfired lead bullets in the oral cavities of some of the skeletons could reflect the practice of holding bullets in the mouth for quick reloading. The scholars also note that few artifacts were found in the mass grave. They think the local people who were left to bury the dead probably took objects of value from the bodies. For more on archaeology in Germany, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

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Roman Bath Uncovered in Southeast England

June 1, 2017

CHICHESTER, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that the remains of a private Roman bathhouse have been uncovered in Chichester’s Priory Park by a team of archaeologists and volunteers. The outlines of three buildings were first detected by ground-penetrating radar at the site last year. So far, the team has unearthed the hot room and its hypocaust, where heat was produced under the floor of the hot room. Archaeologist James Kenny explained that the suite of bathrooms was probably attached to a house in an affluent area on the edge of the Roman city. “Only someone who was incredibly wealthy could have owned a bath house like this and paid for it to be maintained,” he explained. Kenny thinks the site dates to the third or fourth century A.D. For more on Roman Britain, go to “London’s Earliest Writing.”

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Laser Cleaning Reveals Catacomb’s Frescoes

June 1, 2017

ROME, ITALY—The Telegraph reports that 1,600-year-old frescoes in the Catacomb of St. Domitilla, the oldest and largest catacomb in Rome, have been cleaned with laser technology. The lasers used different wavelengths of light to burn away a thick layer of calcium deposits, algae, and smoke from oil lamps without damaging the colors of the frescoes. “Until recently, we weren’t able to carry out this sort of restoration—if we had done it manually we would have risked destroying the frescoes,” said project leader Barbara Mazzei. The frescoes were painted on the ceilings of two crypts built for wealthy imperial grain merchants. Some of the images record how grain arrived at the Roman port of Ostia, where it was transferred to boats that traveled the Tiber River to warehouses in the capital. Other paintings include pagan symbols for the seasons and the afterlife, and images Christ. For more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”

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Celtic Prince’s Artifacts Analyzed

May 31, 2017

LAVAU, FRANCE—The International Business Times reports that archaeologists from France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeology (INRAP) have analyzed artifacts from the tomb of the Lavau Prince, discovered in eastern France in 2015. The objects from the tomb include a bronze cauldron decorated with a sculpted head of Dionysus, a chariot, and gold jewelry. X-ray radiography has revealed that the prince's unique belt was decorated with Celtic motifs formed with silver threads. Chemical analysis and 3-D photography of a large wine jar in the tomb indicate it was made from Greek-style ceramic, but decorated with golden Etruscan motifs and silver Celtic designs. The researchers explained that the artifacts reflect the cultural and economic interactions between people living in the Celtic and Mediterranean worlds in the fifth century B.C. For more on this discovery, go to “Tomb of a Highborn Celt.”

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Sculptures Dating to Persian Empire Found in Lebanon

May 31, 2017

JIYEH, LEBANON—Live Science reports that four ceramic sculptures have been partially reassembled from fragments found in a trash dump in the ancient town of Porphyreon by a team of researchers from the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology. The sculptures are all in the shape of female heads, and are thought to be about 2,400 years old. The most complete figure stands about nine inches tall and six inches wide, bears traces of red paint, and depicts a woman wearing a Greek headdress known as a stephane. Three small holes near the top of the head suggest it may have been hung as a wall decoration. One of the heads wore an Egyptian wadjet amulet, and another had Phoenician traits. Pottery specialist Urszula Wicenciak determined that the clay came from the area around Tyre, another ancient city in Lebanon. The dump also contained other pieces of pottery, burned animal bones, and traces of grapes, olives, and chickpeas. For more on archaeology in Lebanon, go to “History's Largest Megalith.”

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Genomes of Egyptian Mummies Mapped

May 31, 2017

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—According to a report in Wired UK, an international team of scientists has analyzed ancient Egyptian nuclear DNA obtained from mummies interred at the archaeological site of Abusir el-Meleq, located in Middle Egypt. It had been thought that DNA would be degraded by Egypt’s hot and humid climate and the chemicals used during the mummification process. The samples, taken from bones and tissues after their surfaces had been removed, and from tooth pulp, were collected in a clean room at the University of Tübingen and UV irradiated to reduce contamination. Reliable samples were obtained from 90 individuals, and the entire nuclear genomes of three individuals were mapped. The results suggest that the ancient Egyptians were related to ancient populations in the Near East, and Neolithic populations from Anatolia and Europe. And, when compared with the genomes of modern Egyptian populations, the data suggests there has been an increase in Sub-Saharan African gene flow into Egypt over the past 1,500 years, according to Stephan Schiffels of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. For more on the study of ancient DNA, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

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Ancient Port of Delos Investigated

May 30, 2017

DELOS, GREECE—Underwater excavations conducted by a team from Greece’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities have investigated the area around the breakwater that protected a now sunken port on the island of Delos. According to The Greek Reporter, Delos was located along an ancient maritime trade route linking the eastern and western Mediterranean. The breakwater, which measured around 520 feet long and 130 feet wide, was built of unshaped rocks underwater and large granite blocks above water in order to shield the island’s central port from strong northwestern winds. The team also discovered a fallen colonnade and three shipwrecks, including a Hellenistic ship that had been carrying oil and wine from Italy. Two shipwrecks found during a previous expedition were mapped and photographed. All of these shipwrecks date to the peak of the community’s prosperity, between the end of the second century and the first century B.C. For more on underwater archaeology in Greece, go to “Antikythera Man.”

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Ninth-Century Castle Investigated in Slovakia

May 27, 2017

PEZINOK, SLOVAKIA—Archaeologist Július Vavák of the Malokarpatské Múzeum is investigating the site of a Slavic castle dating to the Great Moravian Empire in the Little Carpathians, according to a report in The Slovak Spectator. During the ninth and tenth centuries, the strategically located castle was a military and manufacturing center connected to the castles and hillforts in Bratislava and Devín, where King Rastislav is known to have stayed. The castle also probably provided protection for valuable trade routes. So far, Vavák has recovered evidence of metalworking, ceramics, glass fragments, a knife, a spear, and a deposit of jewelry, including earrings, a pendant, and a ring. He has also found a selection of coins, including Roman and Celtic varieties, and a late ninth-century silver dirham from the Abbasid caliphate. Vavák claims this is the first Arabic silver coin to have been found in Great Moravia. To read about other discoveries including Arabic silver coins, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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Horse Images Discovered in China’s Xiangshan Mountains

May 27, 2017

YINCHUAN, CHINA—Eight images of horses have been found carved into rocks in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, according to a report by the Xinhua News Agency. The images were found carved into hard bluestone during a survey of known rock art in the Xiangshan Mountains. One of the horses measures more than 1.5 feet long, making it one of China’s largest rock art images. Most of the rock art in the Xiangshan Mountains dates to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

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Evidence of Early Dog Domestication Found in Siberian Arctic

May 27, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA—Science Magazine reports that dogs may have been bred and domesticated in the Arctic some 9,000 years ago. Archaeologist Vladimir Pitulko and archaeozoologist Aleksey Kasparov of the Russian Academy of Sciences analyzed the bones of canines recovered from a hunter-gatherer site on what is now Zhokhov Island. They compared two well-preserved canine skulls from the site with those of wolves and Siberian Huskies from the region. The measurements of the skulls suggest that one was a true dog, while the other was a wolf-dog hybrid. Further study of the canine bones from the site suggest ten of the dogs were about the size of Siberian Huskies, which are able to pull sleds without overheating like a larger dog would. The researchers speculate that dog-assisted transportation could have allowed Stone Age Zhokovians to pursue herds of reindeer. The wolf-dog hybrid was larger, however, and may have been more suitable for hunting polar bears. “They were clearly shaping these animals to do something special,” Pitulko said. For more on archaeology in the area, go to “Squeezing History from a Turnip.”

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England Returns Artifacts to Egypt

May 26, 2017

CAIRO, EGYPT—Officials in London have handed over four artifacts thought to have been smuggled out of Egypt, according to a report in Ahram Online. Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, head of the Antiquities Ministry’s Antiquities Repatriation Department, said the objects include a glass sculpture of a human head, a stone relief thought to have been taken in the 1970s from Hatshepsut’s temple, a wooden ushabti figurine, and a Roman-era object from Minya. All of the objects except for the carving taken from Hatshepsut’s temple are thought to have been stolen from Egyptian galleries in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. For more on Egypt, go to “Recovering Hidden Texts.”

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Middle Stone Age Ochre Use Examined

May 26, 2017

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—Ars Technica reports that evidence for the use of ochre spanning a period of 4,500 years has been uncovered at Ethiopia’s Porc-Epic Cave. Daniela Rosso of the University of Barcelona and the University of Bordeaux and her colleagues examined more than 4,000 pieces of ochre recovered from the cave in order to try and determine how it was processed and used some 40,000 years ago. Microscopy and experimental grinding techniques revealed that the rocks were probably ground into powders for decoration and art, rather than for making adhesives and tanning hides. The techniques used to produce the powders changed slightly over time, as did the color preferences and the range of colors in use. Rosso and her team suggest the symbolic use of ochre in the cave may have been part of a cultural tradition shared by community members. For more on the use of ochre, go to “The Red Lady of El Mirón.”

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Researchers Review George Washington’s Birthplace

May 26, 2017

WESTMORELAND COUNTY, VIRGINIA—Fredricksburg.com reports that researchers are re-evaluating the supposed location of George Washington’s birth in Virginia’s Northern Neck. A structure called Building X was identified as Washington’s birthplace in the early twentieth century. But it now appears that this site likely includes remains of several structures that stood at different times, according to a new review of field notes, photographs, drawings, and artifacts by Philip Levy of the University of South Florida in collaboration with the National Park Service staff at George Washington Birthplace National Monument. “We know much more about Colonial architecture than they did in the 1930s,” Levy said. “There were whole classes of buildings that they didn’t even know existed.” The researchers plan to reexamine the site of Building X with ground-penetrating radar, and to re-excavate its backfill. They suspect the structures were outbuildings used for food preparation by the wealthy Washington family. For more on archaeology of the Founding Fathers, go to “Mr. Jefferson’s Laboratory.”

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Hunter-Gatherers and Farmers Shared Culture and Genes

May 26, 2017

FERRARA, ITALY—Seeker reports that an international team of scientists, led by Gloria Gonzalez-Fortes of the University of Ferrara, studied possible relationships between local hunter-gatherers and early Anatolian farmers who lived side by side in what is now Romania’s Danube River basin. They analyzed the genomes of four individuals who lived in the region between 8,800 and 5,400 years ago, and compared them to other hunter-gatherer genomes recovered in Europe. The results suggest that the farmers, who had migrated from Anatolia, and the local hunter-gatherers did produce children together, and may have lived together, despite cultural differences. The researchers speculate that the farmers may have supplemented their crops with gathered food as they moved across Europe and encountered challenging climatic conditions, perhaps bringing the two groups into contact. Chemical analysis of the bones indicates that the contact between the two groups broadened the diets of all to include cereals, legumes, sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, nuts, plants, fish, shellfish, and even dairy products, even though the individuals in the study were lactose intolerant. For more, go to “Europe's First Farmers.”

Categories: Blog

Ice Age Camp Discovered in Peru

May 26, 2017

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—According to a report in Science, hearths, simple stone tools, the bones of land and marine animals, woven rushes, and plant remains dating back as early as 15,000 years ago have been found deep beneath Huaca Prieta, an earthen mound on the coast of northern Peru, by an excavation team led by Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University. Dillehay thinks the site suggests that people migrating into the New World along the coastline may have settled at the site for several thousand years before the construction of the 100-foot-tall mound of Huaca Prieta is thought to have begun, some 7,800 years ago. During the Ice Age, the earliest residents would have had access to a river valley, shallow wetlands, and coastal lagoons ideal for hunting, collecting shellfish, and trapping marine animals washed in with the tide or storm surges. Dillehay explained that such extensive knowledge of the resources available in the region’s different environments would have taken time to develop. For more, go to “America, in the Beginning.”

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Tiny Metal Bird Unearthed at Bamburgh Castle

May 25, 2017

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—A tiny copper-alloy representation of a bird has been discovered at Bamburgh Castle, according to a report from the Northumberland Gazette. The discovery was made last year during ongoing excavations of the castle, which was the headquarters of the medieval Anglo-Saxon kings of Northumbria. Measuring just an inch by a half-inch, the mount is extremely detailed. Experts believe it dates to the eighth century and that its design may draw on bird-of-prey motifs from the sixth and seventh centuries. According to Graeme Young, Bamburgh research project director, the object was found on a cobbled surface, and it is so far unclear whether it was deposited inside a building or on a yard surface or a path. To read in-depth about excavations at Bamburgh Castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Categories: Blog

Paleolithic Obsidian Transported Long Distances

May 25, 2017

YABROUD, SYRIA— Analysis of an obsidian flake excavated in Syria and dating to between 41,000 and 32,000 years ago shows it was made out of rock that came from an outcropping in Turkey more than 400 miles away. According to a report in Science News, archaeologists Ellery Frahm of Yale University and Thomas Hauck of the University of Cologne used a portable X-ray device to determine the source of the flake, as well as 230 other obsidian samples from throughout the Near East. Previously, scholars had thought the earliest long-distance transport of obsidian in the region happened during the Natufian period, between 14,500 and 11,500 years ago, when hunter-gatherers first began living in permanent settlements. To read more about the technology Frahm pioneered to source obisidian, go to “High-Definition Obsidian.”

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