SANDANSKI, BULGARIA—A fragment of a sixth-century marble slab bearing a Christian symbol has been recovered at the so-called Bishop’s Basilica in the ancient city of Parthicopolis in southwestern Bulgaria. The pieces of the image have been unearthed over the past 25 years and assembled by scholars at the Sandanski Museum of Archaeology. “This is a christogram, from the Greek letters chi rho which stand for Jesus Christ. It also features the Greek letters alpha and omega which also appear in the central part of the christogram. It is decorated with geometric elements,” Vladimir Petkov, director of the museum, explained in Archaeology in Bulgaria. The slab also bears an inscription of the name Anthim, who built the church and compared its beauty to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Petkov adds that the carving served as a decoration in a room that may have been a scriptorium or a library.
TRIESTE, ITALY—Discovery News reports that Zvi Ben-Avraham of Tel Aviv University and Emanuele Lodolo of the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Trieste, have discovered a monolith in deep water, resting on a spot that was once an island off the coast of Sicily. The 15-ton stone, broken into two parts, has three holes. Two of the holes are on the sides of the stone, the third passes through the stone at one end. “There are no reasonable known natural processes that may produce these elements,” they wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The island, known as the Pantelleria Vecchia Bank, was submerged some 9,500 years ago. “Most likely the structure was functional to the settlement. These people were used to fishing and trading with the neighboring islands. It could have been some sort of a lighthouse or an anchoring system, for example,” Lodolo said.
FULFORD, ENGLAND—A team of archaeologists and volunteers has found a road at the site of the Battle of Fulford, fought on September 20, 1066. An invading Viking army led by King Harold Hardrada, assisted by Tostig Godwinson, the Earl of Northumbria, defeated Saxon troops from Mercia and Northumbria led by the earls Edwin and Morcar. The English army retreated along this route after suffering heavy losses. “This is clearly the main road heading south from York,” Chas Jones, leader of the Battle of Fulford Project, told Culture 24. “It will take a few months to analyze all of the material but there can be no doubt that this road was the axis for the battle fought at the ford in 1066,” he added. King Harold was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge five days later.
LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Volunteers with the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN), who are trained to record and monitor archaeological sites in danger of eroding away, have discovered a wooden track thought to be 4,000 years old. Such trackways were used to cross boggy ground. This example was discovered on a beach in Cleethorpes, on the east coast of northern England. “It is really difficult to say just how much more is preserved, it’s all down to the survival quality of the wood within a peat layer,” Andy Sherman, a CITiZAN spokesperson, told BBC News.
MURFREESBORO, TENNESSEE—Black Cat Cave, located in central Tennessee, has been secured by a public and private partnership including the City of Murfreesboro and Middle Tennessee State University. Recent excavations have shown that the cave, which served as a speakeasy in the 1920s, is the site of a Native American cemetery dating back 5,000 to 7,500 years. The new gate system will protect the prehistoric cemetery while allowing for water and air exchange in the cave system. “The ultimate goal is to protect this Native American site from future episodes of vandalism and looting, while gaining important archaeological information to better understand the long-term use of the cave by various groups that lived in Rutherford County,” Tanya Peres, now at Florida State University, said in a Middle Tennessee State University press release.
CORTEZ, COLORADO—A new study of a sample of the more than 300 quids, or yucca fiber-wrapped bundles, excavated from a trash midden in Arizona’s Antelope Cave reveals that most of them contained wild tobacco. “As wads of fibers, perhaps they haven’t produced as much excitement as they could have, before we realized ancient folks were actually putting substances inside them,” Karen Adams of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center told Western Digs. It had been thought that Ancestral Puebloans used the quids some 1,200 years ago as “tea bags,” dye bundles, wash pads, and even something to suck on at times when food was scarce. A further DNA study showed that the contents of six of the quids contained a type of tobacco that still grows near the cave. “We believe that yucca-leaf quids containing wild tobacco were sucked and/or chewed primarily for pleasure and the stimulant effect they brought to the individuals who inhabited Antelope Cave over hundreds of years,” the team wrote in the Journal of Field Archaeology.
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—Zanna Clay of the University of Birmingham noticed that the short, high-pitched “peep” calls made by wild bonobos sound similar in a wide range of situations. “It became apparent that because we couldn’t always differentiate between peeps, we needed to understand the context to get to the root of their communication,” she said in a press release. The acoustic structure of the calls showed that their sound did not vary between neutral and positive contexts, such as feeding, traveling, and resting, and in that way they resemble the communications of human infants. It had been thought that primate calls are “functionally fixed,” or tied to certain contexts and emotional states, and that only humans use vocalizations are flexible. This suggests that such vocalizations date back to our last common ancestor, who lived between six and ten million years ago. “We felt that it was premature to conclude that this ability is uniquely human, especially as no one had really looked for it in the great apes. It appears that the more we look the more similarity we find between animals and humans,” Clay added.
CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE—WDEF.com reports that two men were each sentenced to 30 months in federal prison after they pleaded guilty to illegal archaeological excavations on federal land over a period of four years. The men are accused of looting Civil War-era artifacts from Fort McCook at Battle Creek in Tennessee; taking U-rails from public lands in Bridgeport, Alabama, to create a counterfeit artifact; and one of the men reportedly removed rifle bullets and Schenkl artillery shell fragments from Tennessee’s Shiloh National Military Park. To read about the excavation of a Civil War-era prison camp, go to "Life on the Inside."
GALILEE, ISRAEL—A partially preserved mosaic depicting a menorah has been unearthed in the Byzantine-era synagogue at Horvat Kur, according to a press release from the Kinneret Regional Project. The upper part of the image of the lampstand has survived, and shows an oil lamp on each of the seven branches of the menorah. The lamps, which resemble lamps of the Byzantine period, are symmetrically arranged around the central lamp, which has an unusual central wick and flame. The mosaic also records the names El’azar, his father Yudan, and grandfather Susu or Qoso. They may have been influential men in the community who helped pay for the construction of the synagogue. The mosaic was damaged when the synagogue was renovated and a column base inserted on the spot. To read about Roman-era mosaics, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, dating to the first century A.D. was discovered in an underground cave in southern Jerusalem during the construction of a preschool. The walls of the bath were covered in plaster and decorated with images of a boat, palm trees, plants, and a symbol that may be a menorah, and Aramaic inscriptions that had been incised or written with mud or soot. “There is no doubt that this is a very significant discovery. Such a concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period at one archaeological site, and in such a state of preservation, is rare and unique and most intriguing,” Royee Greenwald and Alexander Wiegmann of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a press release. The images were removed and are being conserved in Israel Antiquities Authority laboratories because they are so sensitive that exposure to air damages them. To read about a similar discovery, go to "A Surprising Find Under the Living Room Floor."
VARBITSA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that an unusual figurine has been unearthed at a Neolithic settlement in northeast Bulgaria. The 7,500-year-old figuring has its hands on its waist, and its eyes, nostrils, and mouth are all opened, and may depict a priestess in religious exultation. A pottery fragment from the same site had been decorated with a relief depicting a woman in a praying posture. The vessel had been used for storing grain, and the image may have been connected to a cult for the harvesting and preservation of crops.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—A team led by Mark Grabowski of George Washington University has used the largest sample of individual early hominin fossils available to produce a new set of body mass estimates, species averages, and species averages by sex for fossil hominins. This new analysis suggests that early hominins were smaller than has been thought. “One of our major results is that we found no evidence that the earliest members of our genus differed in body mass from earlier australopiths (some of the earliest species of hominins). In other words, the factors that set our lineage apart from our earlier ancestors were unrelated to an increase in body size, which has been the linchpin of numerous adaptive hypotheses on the origins of our genus,” he said in a press release. The study also revealed that the difference in the size between males and females decreased to modern levels later in our lineage.
RAMAT-GAN, ISRAEL—The tops of fortification walls dating to the Iron Age and a monumental entrance gate have been discovered in Tel Zafit National Park, at the site of a large settlement thought to be the biblical-era city of Gath, known as the home of the Philistine warrior Goliath. The site was found in Tell es-Safi, one of the largest mounds in Israel. “We knew that Philistine Gath in the tenth to ninth century [B.C.] was a large city, perhaps the largest in the land at that time,” archaeologist Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University told Live Science. Buildings, including a Philistine temple and an iron-production facility have also been uncovered. Pottery found near the monumental entrance gate resembles that associated with Philistine culture, but it also shows some influence of Israelite culture. “This mirrors the intense and multifaceted connections that existed between the Philistines and their neighbors,” Maeir added.
NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—A joint Russian and French team is working to date petroglyphs on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains. The images are thought to be between 8,000 and 10,000 years old, but because they were drawn on horizontal planes on a windy plateau, it is difficult to date them because sediments have been blown away. “We cannot use here the classic archaeological methods [for dating] and need to find new and innovative ways,” Lidia Zotkina of Novosibirsk State University told The Siberian Times. The team is using microscopes to look at the images and trying to determine if they were inscribed with metal or stone implements on the glacier-polished rhyolite. “Of course if we established that they used metal implements, all our theories about Paleolithic era would be disproved immediately,” Zotkina explained. The team tried to recreate the drawings, and were able to do so after they removed the crust from the rock, sketched an image on it, and then engraved it. “Sooner or later Paleolithic sites will be found and we will get more information about the people who could engrave these images,” she said. To read about another site in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude."
BEHBAHAN, IRAN—Traces of a 9,000-year-old settlement and evidence of farming have reportedly been found at Mahtaj Hill in southwestern Iran. “The findings mostly include stone tools such as grindstone and its handle which shows that producing and processing of vegetarian food played an important role in the livelihood of Mahtaj Hill inhabitants,” archaeologist Hojjat Darabi told Mehr News. He added that the site predates the use of pottery in the region.
WADI EL-HUDI, EGYPT—Three steles dating to the Middle Kingdom period have been discovered by an American-Egyptian expedition led by Kate Liszka and Bryan Kraemer of Princeton University. The three steles may be linked to a fortified settlement located in an area mined by the ancient Egyptians for semi-precious stones. The inscriptions on the stones are faded, but RTI (reflectance transformation imaging) technology is helping scholars to read them. “The area of Wadi El-Hudi contains a number of amethyst mines and many Egyptian expeditions were sent to bring stones from there at the time of the Middle Kingdom to use for jewelry. Two of the discovered steles mentioned the year 28th of Senusret I’s reign as well as information on the expeditions [that] were sent to the site,” Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Department, told The Luxor Times.
ASWAN, EGYPT—Human remains, pottery, and alabaster jars dating to the Old Kingdom and the Late Period were unearthed in front of the Temple of Horus at Edfu, according to an announcement made by Mamdouh El Damaty, Egypt’s Minister of antiquities. “The discovered pots are in different shapes and sizes. Some of them are pottery and other made of alabaster. Also an Old Kingdom copper mirror was found,” Nasr Salama, general director of Aswan Antiquities, told The Luxor Times. The artifacts were cleaned and restored and transferred to a storage warehouse for safe keeping.
TAKATORI, JAPAN—Kanekatsu Inokuma of Kyoto Tachibana University has uncovered an “o-kabe,” or large-wall structure dating to the late fifth century. The building was constructed using a method from the Korean Peninsula, and may have been part of a Korean settlement where immigrants who served the Japanese Emperor Yuryaku lived. “I believe the structure served as part of a settlement of foreigners, who settled in Japan and introduced document administration and foreign policy” Inokuma told The Asahi Shimbun. This is one of the largest such structures in Japan. Its walls were made from poles set in ditches, covered in mud, and then painted. The building also had a Korean heating system under its floor.
WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—The excavation of the cellar of a building and a well that stood outside of the walls of James Fort has yielded Irish pennies, minted by the English between 1601 and 1602. The coins fell into disuse when the Irish rejected them, however. Mary Outlaw, curator of collections for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, told WYDaily.com that one of the earliest colonists, the son of an official at the Royal Mint, may have brought the coins to the colony, since more Irish pennies have been found on Jamestown Island than anywhere else in the world. The team has also recovered the matchlock firing mechanisms for two muskets. The muskets’ wooden stocks have not survived; the barrels were probably made of a higher-quality metal that was melted down and reused. Conservator Dan Gamble has cleaned a piece of wood decorated with copper tacks. Scholars are still trying to identify what it might be.
CHANGCHUN, CHINA—At the 5,000-year-old settlement site of Hamin Mangha in northeast China, archaeologists have excavated the remains of 97 people whose bodies had been placed in a small dwelling before it burned, according to a report in Live Science. An epidemic or some sort of disaster that prevented the survivors from completing proper burials has been blamed for the deaths. “The skeletons in the northwest are relatively complete, while those in the east often [have] only skulls, with limb bones scarcely remaining. But in the south, limb bones were discovered in a mess, forming two or three layers,” the research team from Jilin University wrote in an article for the Chinese archaeological journal Kaogu, and in English in the journal Chinese Archaeology. The bodies were probably damaged when the building’s roof collapsed during the fire. To read about a mass grave from the Roman period in Macedonia, go to "Mass Grave Mystery."