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17th-Century Artifacts Found Under English Mansion’s Floor

March 3, 2017

WEST SUSSEX, ENGLAND—The Midhurst and Petworth Observer reports that conservationists recovered artifacts dating to the late seventeenth century while repairing marble tiles in Petworth House. The tiles had been laid on a bed made up of layers of sand, gravel, and marble chippings on the floor of the formal entrance to the mansion, which was built by the sixth Duke of Somerset in the 1690s. The floor has not been disturbed since the 1920s, when a few of the tiles were moved to install electricity in the house. The artifacts include a fragment of a seventeenth-century pottery drinking vessel thought to have been imported from Germany; an oyster shell that may have been part of a worker’s lunch; and a piece of a lead window frame that may have been part of the medieval house that stood on the property before Petworth House was built. For more, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.”

Categories: Blog

Ancient Staircase Examined in Cambodia

March 2, 2017

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—According to a report in The Cambodia Daily, researchers led by Im Sokrithy of the Apsara Authority’s Angkor International Center of Research and Documentation and Jean-Baptiste Chevance of the Archaeology & Development Foundation are investigating the nearly 2,000-foot-long stone staircase known as Pleu Cere that climbs the sacred mountain Phnom Kulen. The 50-foot-wide staircase is interspersed with four flat rest areas that offer access to spring water. The archaeologists explained that the lack of carvings and artifacts along the staircase make it difficult to estimate its age, but it is thought to have been constructed sometime between the ninth and thirteenth centuries to reach the ancient city of Mahendraparvata, which has been recently mapped with Lidar technology. Little has been done until now to study the ancient route because it had been mined by Khmer Rouge forces. For more on archaeology in Cambodia, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Categories: Blog

Brick-Lined Tombs Unearthed in Southwest China

March 2, 2017

CHENGDU, CHINA—According to a report in China.org, two connected brick tombs dating to the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960–1279) have been found near a village in southwest China. Inscriptions in the tombs suggest they belonged to an official named He Tan, who had been buried with his wife and parents. The tombs also contained records of ownership of the land, and painted brick figurines. For more on archaeology in China, go to “Zinc Zone.”

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Additional Ingots Recovered Off the Coast of Sicily

March 2, 2017

GELA, SICILY—Seeker reports that an additional 47 ingots of cast metal have been recovered from a 2,600-year-old shipwreck located just 1,000 feet off the coast of southern Sicily, near the ancient port of Gela. Thirty-nine bars of the alloy, made of copper, zinc, and lead, were found on the same wreck in 2015. Underwater archaeologist Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s superintendent of the sea, said that the ship probably sank during a storm. “The finding confirms that about a century after its foundation in 689 B.C., Gela grew to become a wealthy city with artisan workshops specialized in the production of prized artifacts,” Tusa explained. To read about another recent underwater discovery, go to “Antikythera Man.”

Categories: Blog

Image of Confucius Found in Western Han Dynasty Tomb

March 2, 2017

NANCHANG, CHINA—China Daily reports that a polished bronze mirror measuring around three feet tall has been recovered from the tomb of the Marquis of Haihun, who was deposed after a 27-day reign as emperor of China in 74 B.C. The mirror’s wooden cover bears what may be the earliest-known image of the philosopher Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 B.C., and two of his students. Head excavator Yang Jun of the Jiangxi Institute of Cultural Relics said the cover also bears nearly 2,000 Chinese characters written in ink. The text, thought to have been painted by the marquis’ teachers, tells stories of Confucius not recorded in other documents dating to the Western Han Dynasty. The mounted mirror is thought to have been used by the marquis as a folding screen. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Gold Torques of “International Importance” Found in Britain

March 1, 2017

STAFFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that several pieces of Iron Age gold jewelry have been found spread out, just below the surface on farmland in the West Midlands by a pair of metal detectorists. The two men handed the artifacts over to the Portable Antiquities Scheme of Birmingham Museums. Dubbed the “Leekfrith Iron Age Torques,” the hoard consists of three neck torques and a bracelet estimated to be about 2,500 years old. According to Julia Farley of the British Museum, the ornaments may have been crafted in Germany or France, and then carried to England by wealthy and powerful women who married into the local community. For more, go to “Anglo-Saxon Hoard - Staffordshire, England.”

Categories: Blog

Footprints in Wales Date to 7,000 Years Ago

March 1, 2017

CARDIFF, WALES—Radiocarbon dating indicates that footprints seen on the Gower Peninsula at low tide are 3,000 years older than previously thought, according to a report in Wales Online. The footprints, left by a group of adults and children, were discovered in 2014, and at first were thought to date to the Bronze Age. Rhiannon Philp of Cardiff University thinks the 7,000-year-old tracks were made by Mesolithic hunters, since the tracks of deer and wild boar, headed in the same direction, are also preserved at the site. For more, go to “England's Oldest Footprints.”

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Cypress Wood Provides Dates for Iran’s Sasanian Empire Sites

March 1, 2017

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, FRANCE—Live Science reports that paleoecologist Morteza Djamali of the Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Ecology led a team that carbon dated five fragments of cypress wood recovered from palaces, forts, and Zoroastrian fire temples dating to the Sasanian Empire, which ruled Persia from A.D. 224 to 651. All of the sites are located in Persis, in what is now southwestern Iran. The wood of the evergreen cypress tree was prized across the ancient world for its strength and scent, and was sacred to the Zoroastrians. The test results provided precise dates for the Sasanian structures, and suggest that a Zoroastrian fire temple at the Palace of Sarvistan may have been used for several hundred years after the Muslim conquest. For more, go to “Mesopotamian Accounts Receivable.”

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Inscribed Jade Pendant Discovered in Belize

March 1, 2017

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—KPBS reports that a large T-shaped pendant has been discovered at the Maya frontier site of Nim Li Punit by a team of researchers led by Geoffrey Braswell of the University of California San Diego. The jade pendant is inscribed with a historical text consisting of 30 hieroglyphs, including the T-shaped glyph “ik’,” which stands for “wind and breath.” The text is still being analyzed, but it may relate to the arrival of a new royal dynasty at Nim Li Punit, which is located in southern Belize. “We speculate that this piece was given to the first king who wore it in an attempt, perhaps, to form an alliance,” Braswell said. “As other Maya kingdoms were playing out their cold wars and struggles against each other, they sought alliances with minor players in smaller regions.” The pendant was found in an intact collapsed tomb that dates to around A.D. 800, along with a pot that may depict the Maya god of wind. Braswell thinks the pendant may have been buried as an offering to the wind god, who was believed to bring the annual rains, at a time when climate change is thought to have damaged agriculture and Maya civilization. For more, go to “Letter from Guatemala: Maya Metropolis.”

Categories: Blog

Pub Renovations Uncover 17th-Century Details

February 28, 2017

FALMOUTH HARBOR, ENGLAND—Restoration of the St. Austell Brewery Chain Locker pub on the coast of southwestern England has revealed that the building dates to the late seventeenth century, according to a report in Cornwall Live. An original earth and hair plaster-bounded wall, a timber partition wall decorated with hand-painted wallpaper, and a stone fireplace are among the historic features uncovered at the site. The team from the Cornwall Archaeological Unit also discovered that the building had subsided over the years by more than ten inches. “Three extra floors have been put into the building over the years to compensate for the drop,” said site agent Tim Frampton. It had been thought that the historic pub dated to the eighteenth to early nineteenth century. The archaeological discoveries will be included in the final plan for the refurbishment of the historic pub. For more on archaeology in England, go to “Behind the Curtain.”

Categories: Blog

Colorado’s Network of Ancient Routes Studied

February 28, 2017

GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO—The Daily Sentinel reports that Carl Conner and Richard Ott of the Dominguez Archaeological Research Group have been recording Ute habitation sites in Colorado, and are now looking for the trails and routes that connected them through the Ute Trails Project. “We wanted to take more of a landscape approach rather than just a site-by-site look,” Conner said. One of the trails under investigation was mentioned by Father Francisco Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, who wrote of his 1776 travels on a “very wide and well-beaten trail” to the Uncompahgre River Valley with Ute guides and Father Francisco Atanasio Dominguez. Conner and Ott have found that other trails, such as one that may have been used by Utes traveling on horseback between Wyoming and the Piceance Basin in Colorado, had water holes approximately every 25 miles. Many of the ancient footpaths became horseback trails and then wagon roads, and many of the trails through mountain passes are covered with modern highways. “Every mountain pass that’s worth a hill of beans has (an archaeological) site of some sort on it,” commented retired archaeologist John Goodwin. To read more about the Utes, go to “A Western Wiki-pedia.”

Categories: Blog

Neolithic Enclosure Discovered in Denmark

February 28, 2017

STEVNS, DENMARK—Archaeologist Pernille Rohde Sloth of the Museum Southeast Denmark told Seeker that a Neolithic enclosure has been found at a construction site near Copenhagen. The oval-shaped palisade, formed with five rows of posts with irregular openings, covered about 60,000 square feet. Pits containing flint flakes, ax fragments, and pieces of pottery, all thought to be about 4,900 years old, have been unearthed in the structure’s interior area. It is not known whether all five rows of the palisade were built at the same time, or how long the structure was in use. “It has been suggested that the fence rows and their openings form a sort of labyrinth,” said Rohde Sloth. Further investigation could reveal whether the enclosure served a ritual purpose, or whether it was a fortification or fenced settlement. To read about another discovery in Denmark, go to “Bluetooth's Fortress.”

Categories: Blog

Prehistoric Pointillist Images Found in Southwestern France

February 28, 2017

VÉZÈRE VALLEY, FRANCE—According to a report in Live Science, Randall White of New York University and his colleagues have discovered 16 limestone blocks at Abri Cellier that are thought to have been re-shaped and engraved some 38,000 years ago by Europe’s first modern humans. The mammoth and horse images on the blocks were formed with engraved dots and lines, a technique often associated with nineteenth-century pointilist artists. Fifteen of the tablets are thought to have been unearthed when the Aurignacian-period site was first excavated in 1927, but they were set aside and not studied at the time. The sixteenth tablet, which had been broken in half, was recovered during the new excavation, and it provided the date for the find. For more, go to “On the Origins of Art.”

Categories: Blog

Settlements Dating Back 12,000 Years Uncovered in England

February 25, 2017

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Excavations in Lincolnshire associated with the construction of a new roadway have uncovered evidence of inhabitation stretching back to the Mesolithic period, according to a report in The Lincolnite. The finds, made by a team from Network Archaeology, include part of a Bronze Age cemetery, along with a settlement dating from the Iron Age to the Roman Age. Remains of a twelfth-century tower that may have been used as a beacon to warn against threats around the time of the First Battle of Lincoln in 1141 were also found. Additional discoveries include Mesolithic and Neolithic flint tools, field systems, pottery kilns, a possible vineyard, and a medieval monastic grange. “The evidence we’ve seen so far suggests that small communities were already living in this area around 12,000 years ago and that it has been a favored spot for human activity ever since,” said Chris Taylor of Network Archaeology. To read about another recent discovery in England, go to “Something New for Sutton Hoo.”

Categories: Blog

Neanderthal Genes Still Influencing Health Today

February 25, 2017

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—New Scientist reports that a recent genetic study shows that Neanderthal DNA that survives in people of non-African descent is still controlling how some genes work. University of Washington geneticist Joshua Akey led a team that did a comprehensive DNA analysis of 214 Americans of European ancestry, and was able to isolate Neanderthal genes that were active in 52 kinds of tissue. In some cases, individuals had both a human and Neanderthal copy of a gene, and the team could compare the copies and find which variant controlled gene expression. They found that in the case of one gene that is a known risk factor for schizophrenia, the Neanderthal DNA controls the gene in such a way that it reduces the risk of developing the disease. “Strikingly, we find that Neanderthal sequences present in living individuals are not silent remnants of hybridization that occurred over 50,000 years ago, but have ongoing, widespread, and measurable impacts on gene activity,” says Akey. In other genes, such as ones that regulate brain activity, the influence of Neanderthal DNA is much less pronounced. To read more, go to “Should We Clone Neanderthals?

Categories: Blog

Temple to Near Eastern God Found on Corsica

February 25, 2017

 

MARIANA, CORSICA—A team of French archaeologists excavating the Roman city of Mariana on the island of Corsica have discovered a Mithraeum, or a temple dedicated to the Indo-Iranian god Mithras, reports International Business Times. Mithraism was probably spread through the Roman Empire by Near Eastern merchants and soldiers around the same time Christianity was introduced. “This is a very rare and exciting find,” says archaeologist Philippe Chapon, who led the team. “It is the first time we find evidence that Mithraism was practiced in Corsica.” Inside the temple the team found fragments of a marble altar depicting Mithras sacrificing a bull, while a dog and a snake drink its blood. The archaeologists also found oil lamps, bronze bells, as well as the marble head of a woman. Some of the artifacts show signs of being damaged, perhaps after the temple was attacked by Christians, who built a church on the island around A.D. 400. To read more about Near Eastern dieties, go to “How to Pray to a Storm God.”

Categories: Blog

Sally Hemings’ Monticello Living Quarters Excavated

February 25, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—Archaeologists believe they have uncovered the living space of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman with whom Thomas Jefferson is thought to have fathered six children, according to a report from NPR. The excavation is part of a renovation project at Jefferson’s Monticello plantation that aims to illuminate the lives of the enslaved people who lived there. The area where Hemings is thought to have lived was turned into a restroom in 1941. In the area, archaeologists have uncovered a fireplace, the original brick floor, and traces of several shelves. One of the goals of the project is to make the presence of enslaved people at the plantation more apparent to visitors. “There were no remnants of slavery that visitors could encounter,” said Christa Dierksheide, a historian at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. “And we're recreating or restoring spaces where enslaved families would've worked, would've lived, and made it the dynamic place that it was.” For more, go to “Mr. Jefferson’s Laboratory.”

Categories: Blog

Skeletons Buried Hand in Hand Excavated in London

February 24, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—The skeletons of two men who appear to have been interred hand in hand were excavated from a plague burial ground in London during the construction of the Crossrail tunnel, according to a report from The Guardian. The men are thought to have been in their 40s and were buried in the early fifteenth century in a carefully dug double grave. They were placed in identical positions, with their heads angled to the right, and the left hand of one man clasping the right hand of the other. “One possible interpretation is that they were related in some way, for example by blood or marriage,” said archaeologist Sam Pfizenmaier, who led the excavation, noting that the positioning of their hands could be accidental. Both men are thought to have died in an outbreak of bubonic plague and were buried in the cemetery in Smithfield that opened in 1348 and ultimately held more than 50,000 bodies. DNA of several of the skeletons excavated from the cemetery has revealed exposure to Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague. To read about another discovery as part of the Crossrail project, go to “A Tale of Two Railroads.”

Categories: Blog

WWII Bomb Defused in Greek City

February 24, 2017

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—Soldiers recently defused a World War II bomb in Greece’s second-largest city after evacuating tens of thousands of people from the area, according to a report from Agence France-Presse. The bomb was discovered during roadwork near a gas station. It took several hours to defuse the five-foot-long bomb, which was found to contain 375 pounds of explosives. According to Army chief of staff Nikos Phanios, the American-made bomb’s firing mechanism “was still in a very good shape, and this was what had us worried.” The bomb is thought to have been dropped by a British place as part of a campaign of strikes on the city’s railway station and port in 1943. Around 70,000 people were evacuated from a one-mile radius around the site before the bomb was defused. “A bomb of this size has never been found in an area this densely populated” in Greece, said regional security chief Apostolos Tzitzikostas. For more on handling unexploded ordnance from World War II, go to “Letter from the Marshall Islands: Defuzing the Past.”

Categories: Blog

Crouched Medieval Burials Found in Siberia

February 24, 2017

YAMAL PENINSULA, RUSSIA—Unusual burials of three women and a man dating to the eleventh century have been discovered in Russia’s Yamal Peninsula, according to a report from The Siberian Times. All four bodies were found in a crouched position, which archaeologist Andrey Plekhanov said indicates they may have been ritually buried or possibly even sacrificed. All four also suffered from serious diseases or starvation, and the man was set on fire after death, a phenomenon not previously recorded in the area. “We can be sure that he did not die in the fire,” said Plekhanov. “His dead body was set to fire, but not a very strong one. His bones remained almost intact, the fire damage[d] mostly the soft tissues.” Among the artifacts found with the bodies were a bronze bracelet with a bear image, a knife with a bronze handle, a tanning scraper, bronze and silver pendants, a ring, and a facial mask made of animal skin. Fragments of pottery, possibly from the funeral meal, were also found. To read about another recent discovery in the area, go to “Siberian William Tell.”

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