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Roman Statues Unearthed in Jordan

October 4, 2018

AMMAN, JORDAN—ANSAmed reports that at least 14 sculptures have been discovered in the ancient Roman city of Gerasa, whose ruins are located in Jerash, in northern Jordan, by an international team of archaeologists. Some of the figures are intact, while others were decapitated. The large sculptures include images of Aphrodite and Zeus, known to the Romans as Venus and Jupiter, respectively. Ziyad Ghuneimat of the Jerash Department of Antiquities explained that Zeus was a popular deity in the ancient city. This statue will eventually join other statues of the god in the temple of Zeus at the site. Figures of seven of the nine Muses, who were daughters of Zeus, have also been recovered. Ghuneimat hopes statues of the two remaining Muses will be found. To read about recent discoveries in Jerash dating to the eighth century A.D., go to “World Roundup: Jordan.”

Categories: Blog

Possible Roman Soldiers’ Burials Unearthed in Bulgaria

October 4, 2018

WARSAW, POLAND—A team led by Agnieszka Tomas of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw excavated two graves found near Novae, a Roman legion camp in northern Bulgaria, according to a report in Science in Poland. “The people buried in the graves we discovered were probably associated with the Roman legion—perhaps even soldiers,” she said, based upon the metal parts of military belt buckles and shoe rivets found in the burials. The metal artifacts show signs of having been burned, probably during a cremation ceremony at another location. The bones were then placed in wooden boxes fastened with iron nails for burial. The archaeologists also found pottery jugs containing residue of wine, lamps, and coins bearing images of Roman emperors. “A coin was given for the way to the afterlife, because it was believed that the deceased would have to cross a river and the ferryman would expect payment,” Tomas said. The human remains and the grave offerings were finally covered with large ceramic plates that formed a gabled-roof structure. To read about another recent discovery in Bulgaria dating to the Roman period, go to “Mirror, Mirror.”

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New Technique Detects Opiate Residue in Bronze Age Jug

October 3, 2018

YORK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a team of researchers led by Rachel Smith of the University of York developed a technique to detect traces of an opium alkaloid in a 3,500-year-old base-ring jug held in the collections of the British Museum. Such jugs are shaped like the seed head of the opium poppy, and were widely used in the eastern Mediterranean between 1650 and 1350 B.C. This particular jug had remained sealed, preserving a residue of plant oil. Smith explained that the opiate alkaloids found in the vessel are known to have psychological effects on humans, and are resistant to decay. Other opiates, such as morphine, are less likely to survive over the millennia, she said. Smith and her colleagues do not know whether the opiate was one ingredient in a mixture, or whether the plant oil was stored in the jug after opium had been removed from it. To read about analysis of residue found on ceramic beakers at the Native American site of Cahokia, go to “Artifact.”

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Roman-Era Grave Found During Road Work in Cumbria

October 3, 2018

CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—Roadwork in northwest England has revealed a Roman-era grave, according to a BBC News report. Archaeologist John-James Atkinson said the burial may have been placed along the Roman road, but the excavation team has not found its exact route yet. “The A66 has been a road for at least 2,000 years,” he explained. The grave was carefully investigated, recorded, and preserved in situ. To read about a curious set of burials in England dating to the Roman period, go to “Off with Their Heads.”

Categories: Blog

Thousands of Petroglyphs Uncovered in Western India

October 3, 2018

MAHARASHTRA, INDIA—BBC News reports that thousands of petroglyphs carved into rocky, flat hilltops have been discovered in western India by a group of explorers who wanted to investigate a few known images revered by local people. Most of the newly found carvings, which depict animals, birds, human figures, and geometric designs, had been hidden under layers of soil. The images are similar to artworks found in other areas of the world, and are estimated to be about 12,000 years old, based upon their designs. “We have not found any pictures of farming activities,” said Tejas Garge, director of the Maharashtra state archaeology department. “But the images depict hunted animals and there’s detailing of animal forms.” Some of the pictures show animals such as hippos and rhinoceroses, which do not live in western India, raising questions requiring further study, Garge added. To read about the discovery of chariots dating back 4,000 years, go to “Indian Warrior Class.”

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Iron Age Chariot Unearthed in Northern England

October 3, 2018

POCKLINGTON, ENGLAND—The Yorkshire Post reports that an Iron Age chariot and human and equine skeletal remains were unearthed at a construction site in the north of England. The site also includes more than 100 burials from the Arras Culture, including one of a warrior who was buried along with his sword and with four spears placed in his spine, and one in his groin, possibly an attempt to liberate his spirit. The new chariot discovery comes a year after another Iron Age chariot was found buried with two horses at another building site in Pocklington. To read about an unusual depiction of a horse in southern England, go to “White Horse of the Sun.”

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Archaeologists Examine Graffiti at Aizanoi’s Temple of Zeus

October 3, 2018

KÜTAHYA, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that some 400 drawings were recorded at the Temple of Zeus in the ancient city of Aizanoi, which is located in western Anatolia, by a team of researchers led by Elif Özer of Pamukkale University. The drawings have been attributed to five or six groups of people, ranging from those who lived in the city during the Byzantine era and used the temple as a Christian church, to the Çavdar Turks who lived in the city in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. “For instance, there were warriors and their leaders,” Özer said of the images. “These figures were drawn in larger size with larger horses. There are figures that were made smaller and probably depicted the enemy. There are figures of cavalry and hunters. Inside the temple, there are usually figures about revelry. Here we see komuz players and minstrels.” She also pointed out that the Byzantine-era Christians inscribed hundreds of crosses on the walls of the temple, and converted an altar to Zeus near the temple’s eastern entrance into an oven, where the researchers found a bread seal inscribed with a cross. “This shows that the seals with the sign of the cross were printed on the dough and given to the people of that period,” she said. To read about a recent discovery in Turkey dating to the Roman period, go to “Seals of Approval.”

Categories: Blog

Archaeologists Return to Greek Island of Samothrace

October 2, 2018

ATHENS, GREECE—Tornos News reports that a team of researchers led by Bonna Wescoat of Emory University conducted excavations in the western section of the Sanctuary of Great Gods on the Greek island of Samothrace, which is located in the northern Aegean Sea. The area under investigation included a theater, a 340-foot-long roofed colonnade or stoa, and the perivolos, or court surrounded by a low wall, where the statue known as the Nike of Samothrace once stood. The excavation uncovered some architectural features of the theater first revealed during excavations in 1923, pieces of statue bases made of red rhyolite and white limestone, and fragments of a ceramic pipe that ran under the theater. The researchers also noted that the stoa had been built of limestone from the quarry of Akrotiri. For more on archaeology in Greece, go to “A Surprise City in Thessaly.”

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Engraved Sandstone Discovered in Aswan

October 2, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt Today reports that work to reduce the level of groundwater at the Kom Ombo Temple in Aswan revealed two inscribed pieces of sandstone. Mostafa Waziri, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the first piece of sandstone dates to the 19th Dynasty (1295-1186 B.C.), and depicts King Seti I standing in front of the god Horus and the goddess Sobek. The images are topped with a winged sun, which is a symbol of protection. There are 26 lines of hieroglyphic text below the images. The stone has been broken in two, but its inscriptions are in good condition, Waziri added. The second stone shows King Ptolemy IV, who ruled from 222 to 205 B.C., standing with his wife, Arsinoe III, the god Horus, a winged sun, and 28 lines of text. Waziri said this stone was found broken into several pieces. The discovery of a sandstone sphinx sculpture at the site was announced earlier this month. To read in-depth about the Hyksos, who immigrated to Egypt and ruled it for a century, go to “The Rulers of Foreign Lands.”

Categories: Blog

Arctic Ice Hampered Recent HMS Erebus Expedition

October 2, 2018

OTTAWA, CANADA—HMS Erebus and its sister ship, HMS Terror, were abandoned in 1848 in the Canadian Arctic during Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage. Live Science reports that recent investigation of the wreckage of HMS Erebus by Parks Canada archaeologists yielded nine artifacts, including metal parts of rigging instruments, a piece of tarred felt, a ceramic pitcher, and an artificial horizon—a tool used in navigation with a sextant to determine latitude when the horizon is obscured. The pitcher and artificial horizon were found in an officer’s cabin on the lower deck of Erebus. Bad weather prevented divers from entering Sir John Franklin’s cabin, however, where they hoped to discover the ship’s logs and other documents that could provide information about what happened to the ship. “This proved to be the worst ice conditions we’ve ever seen,” said underwater archaeologist Ryan Harris. “We were only able to cover a day and a half of scientific diving on the site.” To read in-depth about the discovery of Erebus, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”

Categories: Blog

Ancient Cemetery and Neolithic Village Found in Albania

October 2, 2018

KORCA, ALBANIA—The Associated Press reports that an ancient cemetery containing layers of about 1,000 burials dating back to the Iron Age has been found in southeastern Albania, on top of a postholes marking the site of a Neolithic settlement. Archaeologist Iris Pojani of Tirana University said the cemetery was discovered during the construction of a gas pipeline through a region that has long been a prosperous agricultural area. Objects recovered from the different layers of the cemetery included medieval wooden caskets and clothes made with silver thread; jewelry such as rings, bracelets, earrings, and amber and glass beads; gold coins; and weapons such as spears, daggers, knives, and swords. The researchers have not yet located the various settlements associated with the burials. To read in-depth about discoveries made during construction of this gas pipeline, go to “Letter from Albania: A Road Trip Through Time.”

Categories: Blog

1,800-Year-Old Painted Tomb Discovered in Jordan

September 29, 2018

BAYT RAS, JORDAN—According to a CNRS News report, an international team of archaeologists has excavated a tomb dating to the second-century A.D. in Jordan at the ancient site of Capitolias. Its walls are decorated with more than 250 figures of humans, animals, and gods, as well as a large painting illustrating the construction of a rampart along with 60 inscriptions describing what the figures in the painting were doing. In its entirety, the artwork is thought to describe the founding of the city. Jean-Baptiste Yon of the History and Sources of Ancient Worlds Laboratory (HiSoMA) said the captions, written in Aramaic with Greek letters, resemble the speech bubbles in modern comics. “These teeming figures compose a narrative that is arranged on either side of a central painting, which represents a sacrifice offered by an officiant to the tutelary deities of Capitolias and Caesarea Maritima, the provincial capital of Judaea,” said HiSoMA’s Julien Aliquot. The person buried in the tomb may have officiated at a similar sacrifice when the city was founded, explained Pierre-Louis Gatier, also a member of the HiSoMA research team. “His name has not yet been identified, although it could be engraved on the lintel of the door, which has not yet been cleared,” he said. The other images show peasants and oxen gathering fruit and tending grapevines, woodcutters chopping down trees with the help of the gods, and stone cutters and architects transporting materials on camels and donkeys at a construction site. To read about surveys of the Jebel Qurma region of northeast Jordan finding evidence of human habitation dating back 4,300 years, go to “Desert Life.”

Categories: Blog

Lost Medieval Artifacts Mapped Inside Swedish Church

September 29, 2018

OSLO, NORWAY—More than 100,000 coins, as well as an assortment of other objects, have been found beneath the wooden floorboards of medieval Christian churches in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Science Nordic reports that Svein Harald Gullbekk of the University of Oslo and his team looked for patterns in the medieval artifacts, which he thinks were dropped from people’s pockets during services in Sweden’s Bunge Church. “When we investigated where hairpins, pearls, and other objects associated with women were found in Bunge Church in Gotland, we found that more than 95 percent of them were on the north side of the nave,” he said. This corresponds with the historic practice of segregating men and women within the building, placing women to the north. Most of the people in the building would have remained standing through the entire service. Benches were provided along the sides only for the elderly and infirm. To read about caches of coins and other objects discovered buried on Gotland, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Categories: Blog

Lidar Study Reveals Guatemala’s Ancient Maya Civilization

September 28, 2018

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—According to a Washington Post report, a light detection and ranging (lidar) survey of 830 square miles of Guatemala’s forests has revealed more than 60,000 structures, including transportation routes, agricultural areas, residences, and fortifications. “All of us saw things we had walked over and we realized, oh wow, we totally missed that,” Marcello Canuto of Tulane University said of the new lidar maps. The study suggests there could be as many as 2.7 million structures over the entire 36,700 square miles of the Maya lowland region that were built during the Classic Period, between about A.D. 650 and 800. And, archaeologists who visited a few of the sites identified in the survey say they found additional buildings not detected by the laser beams. “There is still much more ground to cover and work to do,” said Mary Jane Acuña, director of the El Tintal Archaeological Project. To read about new work on the layout of a Maya city in Guatemala, go to “The City at the Beginning of the World.”

Categories: Blog

Rescue Excavation Reveals Beehive Tomb in Bulgaria

September 28, 2018

ROZOVO, BULGARIA—A Thracian beehive tomb in central Bulgaria that was looted and damaged in 2010 has been investigated by a team of archaeologists, according to an Archaeology in Bulgaria report. The scientists say this tomb, known as the Rozovo Tomb, is the smallest of the known Thracian brick tombs in the country. Its bricks vary in size and are thought to have been made on the spot to the specifications required by the architect and the builder. “Everything was made to fit together,” said Georgi Nehrizov of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia. He and Meglena Parvin of the Kazanlak Museum of History think the structure dates to the first half of the third century B.C. “This Hellenistic era Thracian brick tomb is the second one after the Kazanlak Tomb to be discovered with a fully preserved dome,” Nehrizov added. Other tombs in the region are not as well preserved, he added, since some of their bricks were reused in later structures. A wooden antechamber in front of the tomb’s main structure had a roof of large, flat tiles and curved tiles, and it had been waterproofed with plaster and river stones. To read about a particularly unusual Thracian tomb, go to “A Final Journey by Horse.”

Categories: Blog

“Unfashionable” Tomb Discovered in Italy

September 27, 2018

NAPLES, ITALY—Haaretz reports that a 2,200-year-old vaulted tomb constructed of volcanic tuff and decorated with well-preserved murals has been excavated in the necropolis of the ancient city of Cumae, a Greek colony located on Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea coast, by a team of archaeologists from France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Most of the other tombs in Cumae during this period had been painted white and red, without figures, said CNRS researcher Priscilla Munzi. The images in this tomb, however, appear to depict a banquet, complete with a nude servant carrying a jug of wine and a vase. “The theme of the banquet (preparation ceremony) is widespread in the oldest tombs,” Munzi explained. “But this is the first tomb of [the] second century B.C. in Campania that documents this motif.” Anthropological study of bones found in the looted tomb has not been completed, Munzi said. There may have been three occupants, since the tomb was equipped with three beds. Alabaster perfume vases, bone and bronze fittings for a wooden box, and game pieces were also recovered. To read about the restoration of frescoes in nearby Pompeii, go to “Saving the Villa of the Mysteries.”

Categories: Blog

Neanderthal Finger Bone Study Examines Dexterity

September 27, 2018

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—According to a New Scientist report, research conducted by Katerina Harvati of the University of Tübingen and her colleagues suggests Neanderthals were capable of precision grips using finger and thumb. It had been thought Neanderthals were limited to full-fisted grips because their hand bones were generally “chunkier” than those of modern humans. Harvati’s team examined 3-D scans of the points on modern human finger bones where the muscles and tendons attach, known as entheses, in people who worked different kinds of jobs, such as bricklaying, tailoring, and painting, and compared the sizes of their entheses with those of six Neanderthals and six early modern humans. The results indicate that all of the Neanderthals spent much of their time using precision grips, while the early modern humans may have employed a division of labor, since only about half of their finger bones bore the mark of continued precision grips, while the others showed signs of repeated power grips. Harvati said this anatomical evidence supports the archaeological evidence for sophisticated cultural behavior among Neanderthals. For more, go to “Decoding Neanderthal Genetics.”

Categories: Blog

Remains of Possible Blackfriar Identified in Scotland

September 27, 2018

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a skeleton has been discovered in the foundation trench of a wall in the remains of a Dominican friary operated by the Blackfriars from A.D. 1233 to 1559. The man’s arms were crossed over his body, which could indicate he was firmly wrapped in a shroud for burial. A bronze buckle and traces of textile found with the bones suggest the man wore a Dominican habit and was therefore a friar himself. Radiocarbon dating suggests the friar lived between A.D. 1271 and 1320, and so may have witnessed local events of the Scottish Wars of Independence, including the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, and the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Bob Will of Guard Archaeology said the site has also yielded shards of window glass, and what may have been the friary’s kitchen, where historic records indicate the Blackfriars ate imported foods such as figs, raisins, and wine. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

Categories: Blog

Australia’s Desert Inhabited Earlier Than Previously Thought

September 26, 2018

CRAWLEY, AUSTRALIA—People are known to have arrived on Australia's northern shore around 65,000 years ago. Now, according to a Science Magazine report, artifacts and traces of ancient campfires suggest that people first migrated to the continent's Western Desert at least 47,000 years ago, about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought. A team led by archaeologists Peter Veth and Jo McDonald of the University of Western Australia found charcoal, thousands of stone tools and other artifacts, and rock paintings of snakes, turtles, and human figures at Karnatukul, a rock shelter in a subregion of the Western Desert known as the Little Sandy Desert. “Fifty thousand years is the limit for radiocarbon dating,” McDonald said, “so we really are at the edge of the barrier, and that’s why it’s possible this site is even older.” Critics of the study, however, say it is hard to know whether the charcoal at the site was made by people. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Categories: Blog

Well-Preserved Roman Road Uncovered in the Netherlands

September 26, 2018

ZUID-HOLLAND, THE NETHERLANDS—Dutch News reports that a stretch of Roman road, a settlement, and a cemetery were discovered during work on a modern highway connecting Katwijk, a seaside resort, with the city of Leiden. Pieces of building materials coated in painted plaster have been recovered in the settlement. Ditches dug along the road surface, thought to date to A.D. 125, were visible, along with traces of wooden poles that had been used to support it. Pottery, pieces of leather shoes, coins, bits of wood, roof tiles, and a fish trap were recovered from the ditches. To read in-depth about archaeology in the Netherlands, go to "Letter from Rotterdam: The City and the Sea." 

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