NEW YORK CITY—The Wall Street Journal reports that a looted sacred Indian statue has been recovered by federal customs agents. The two-foot-tall bronze statue depicts the Tamil poet and saint Manikkavichavakar and dates to the 11th century. It's thought that the statue was taken from a village temple in southeastern India about a decade ago. It was voluntarily surrendered to officials by a collector who purchased it from a dealer who allegedly smuggled it into the U.S. and sold it using a false ownership history. The federal government intends to repatriate the object to India, along with a number of other artifacts the dealer is said to have illegally brought into the country. To read more about threats to medieval heritage in India, go to "Letter from India: Heritage at Risk."
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND—Construction work in downtown Wellington has revealed four 19th-century wells containing artifacts, including several porcelain dolls heads and a china elephant depicted with a small girl riding it. Several schools existed in the area beginning around 1850. “These school buildings could explain the collection of little china dolls’ heads that were found,” said Clough and Associates archaeologist Sarah Phear said in a Wellington City Council press release. “Though we think the larger head might once have been attached to the top of a tea cosy and others are likely to have been from ornaments or figurines, so they could also have been discarded items from people’s homes.” Other artifacts recovered from the wells included a glass inkwell and an early bottle of ginger beer. To read more about historical archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From the Marshall Islands."
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—Construction workers building a rainwater storage facility unexpectedly encountered a trove of historic artifacts beneath Seattle's Magnolia Bridge. Archaeologists believe most of the objects came from an immigrant community known as Finntown that lasted from 1911 to 1941. "It's a really special site because this is one of Seattle's smaller shantytowns," project archaeologist Alicia Valentino told Komo News. "This very diverse community that was living in this spot (was not) mentioned in the historic record, so it really tells us a lot about this group of people that was living there." Among the finds are eyeglasses, children's toys, and alcohol bottles dating to the Prohibition era. A Chinese coin dating to the 1700s was also found, and was probably a keepsake brought to the area by an immigrant. To read more about the archaeology of immigration in the American West, go to "America's Chinatowns."
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—During renovations of their home in the neighborhood of ‘Ein Kerem, a family discovered a ritual bath, or mikveh, under the living room floor, reports Haaretz. Carved out of bedrock and accessed by a stone staircase, the mikveh is 11.5 feet long, more than seven feet wide, and almost six feet deep, and would have been completely covered in plaster in antiquity. Inside the bath, archaeologists found pottery vessels dating to the first century A.D., as well as fragments of stone vessels dating to the same period. According to IAA archaeologist Amit Re’em, archaeological finds from this era are rare in this part of Jerusalem, making the discovery of the mikveh even more of a surprise. To read about the debate surrounding an ancient ossuary also discovered in Jerusalem, go to "The Perils of Interpretation."
SIBUDU CAVE, SOUTH AFRICA—Researchers studying residue on a stone tool found in South Africa's Sibudu Cave have discovered a powdered paint mixture made of milk and ochre that dates to 49,000 years ago. While ochre was being used in what is now South Africa as early as early as 125,000 years ago to produce paint powder, this is the first time milk proteins have been identified in an ochre-based paint. The milk likely came from a bovid such as a buffalo or impala, and the paint might have been used for body decoration or to adorn a stone or wooden object. "Although the use of the paint still remains uncertain, this surprising find establishes the use of milk with ochre well before the introduction of domestic cattle in South Africa," University of Colorado Museum of Natural History curator Paola Villa said in a press release. "Obtaining milk from a lactating wild bovid also suggests that the people may have attributed a special significance and value to that product." To read more about the prehistoric use of ochre, go to "Stone Age Art Supplies."
LOLLAND, DENMARK— A ceramic "funnel beaker" vessel unearthed in Denmark still bears a 5,500-year-old fingerprint, reports Discovery News. Such ritual artifacts were made by members of the early farming peoples known as the Funnel Beaker Culture, which flourished in northern Europe from around 4000 to 2800 B.C. “It is one of three beakers at the site, which originally was deposited whole probably containing some food or liquid presumably as part of some long forgotten ritual,” said Museum Lolland-Falster archaeologist Line Marie Olesen.“The fragile fingerprint, left unintentionally, is an anonymous, yet very personal signature, which somehow brings us a bit closer to the prehistoric people and their actions.” To read in-depth about the technological skills of people living around this time, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."
GLENSHEE, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that archaeologists excavating a Viking longhouse in central Scotland have unearthed an unusual spindle whorl, or a weight used while spinning textiles on a spindle. About five centimeters in diameter, the spindle whorl appears to have been decorated with symbols that could be writing. “Through the ages spindle whorls have often been covered in abstract shapes and the spinning action would bring life to these shapes, much like the old spinning top toy," said Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust archaeologist David Strachan. “While we certainly have abstract shapes on this example, some of the symbols look like they could be writing, perhaps Viking runes or Ogham inscription a form of early medieval Irish script.” To read in-depth about Vikings in the British Isles, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."
VINDOLANDA, ENGLAND—Archaeologists at the site of Vindolanda in northern England have unearthed another piece of evidence of the daily life of the Roman soldiers and their families who lived on Hadrian’s Wall two millennia ago. The Vindolanda Charitable Trust reports that a volunteer has uncovered a tile with the partial imprint of an adolescent’s right foot made, either accidentally or purposely, when they clay was drying. Although excavators have found other footprints belonging to dogs and cats at the site, as well as more than 6,000 shoes, this is the first human footprint to have been found. “This footprint highlights even more that archaeology has the potential to illuminate the lives of otherwise voiceless individuals from antiquity,” says Field School Director archaeologist Elizabeth Greene. To read about how the soldiers at Vindolanda spent their free time, go to "Artifact."
CARDIFF, WALES— Archaeologists have begun excavating at Caerau Hillfort, a large Iron Age site just outside the Welsh capital. Last year, the team made a number of significant discoveries, including five Iron Age roundhouses and Neolithic flint weapons that date to about 3600 B.C., making the site significantly older than previously believed. "Last year some mind-blowing discoveries were made which pushed back the origins of Cardiff deep into time," project co-director Dave Wyatt told Culture24. "But we believe we're still just scratching the surface of this incredible site, so who knows what will be uncovered this year.” To read in-depth about another site that reveals thousands of years of British history, go to "Letter From England."
KOITAS, KAZAKHSTAN—LiveScience reports that researchers studying the remains of a seventh-century B.C. nomad unearthed from a Scythian burial mound in central Kazkahstan have discovered an arrowhead embedded in the man's spine. The bronze point is a little over two inches long, but it appears the man did not die immediately after being wounded. "The found individual was extremely lucky to survive," said Queen's University Belfast bioarchaeologist Svetlana Svyatko. "It's hard to get a vertebral wound without damaging the main blood vessels, which would have resulted in an immediate death." The mound in which the remains were found had been plundered before the archaeologists excavated it, but at almost 75 feet in diameter, its impressive dimensions suggest the man belonged to Scythian nobility. To read about the ancestors of the Scythians, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."
AGANA, GUAM—A team led by University of Guam archaeologist Mike Carson has discovered a prehistoric village near the island's Ritidian Point, reports Pacific Daily News. The settlement was made up of 15 limestone and coral homes, some of which still have stone patios attached to them. The team has found fishing hooks and other artifacts amid the ruins of the houses and is planning a limited excavation at the site. According to Carson, the village probably dates back to the 17th-century, and is mentioned in historical documents as a place where islanders rose up against Spanish rule around 1680. To read more about archaeology in the Pacific, go to "Letter From the Marshall Islands."
LONDON, ENGLAND—The British Museum and the Trust for African Rock Art are partnering to make some 25,000 images of rock art available to the public. The database will contain images of remote and difficult to access sites that are rarely visited and are subject to deterioration. "The Museum wants to make Africa’s rock art available to both scholars and the general public alike," Elizabeth Galvin, curator of the African Rock Art Image Project, told the Independent. "We hope to both protect and share this remarkable history for free with a global audience." The archive will include images from sites raining from Libya to South Africa, and will include art dating from 10,000 B.C. to the early twentieth century. To read in-depth about archaeology in Africa, go to "The Nok of Nigeria."
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—World War I-era trenches have been unearthed outside of the Australian capital of Canberra. Dug in 1916 by officers hoping to simulate battlefield conditions in Europe, the trenches were recorded in military documents, but their exact location was unknown until Australian National University archaeologists used remote sensing to search for them. The team is now unearthing an elaborate system of trenches and tunnels that was used to train soldiers in new tactics before they were shipped to the front. "It's a sobering thought ... when people were here they were probably optimistic about the new trench designs and how they'd go in the field," archaeologist Tim Denham told ABC. "And of course now we know what a terrible time it was for all those who went and unfortunately a lot of people didn't come back." To read in-depth about WW I-era battlefield archaeology, go to "Anzac's Next Chapter."
NORWICH, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating ahead of a new development in Norwich are revealing the remains of a 13th-century Augustinian friary that was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538. The wealth of artifacts and remains discovered at the site, known as Austin Priory, is expected to give researchers a new perspective on a period when several monastic orders established themselves in the city. “Before the friary, this was marshland. They didn’t have a lot of choice but to set up outside what was the Saxon town and were given the land by rich benefactors in return for praying for their soul," Ramboll Group archaeologist Andy Shelly told Eastern Daily Press. “They started off as a reaction to what was seen as the wealth of the church—living in poverty and chastity and taking the message to the people of Norwich, but they soon ended up becoming wealthy themselves.” In addition to oyster shells and animal bones, the archaeologists have discovered several burials that could give the team insight into diet and health of the monks living at the friary. To read about another recent discovery in Norwich, go to "Medieval Leather, Vellum, and Fur."
KIBBUTZ MAGEN, ISRAEL—A marble statuette of a dolphin gripping a fish in its jaws has been unearthed in the northern Negev at the ruins of a late Byzantine and early Islamic site. The statue itself probably dates to the Roman era, but was re-used later as building material for a paved floor. Standing 16 inches high, it was originally part of a larger statue, perhaps one depicting a god. “It’s possible that the [full] statue was of the [Greek] goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, who was born from sea foam,” Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Rina Avner told the Times of Israel. There was a major shrine to the goddess in the nearby city of Ashekelon. Avner also speculates that the larger statue might have been of Poseidon, who was often depicted with dolphins. To read about the discovery of another sculpture dating to the same era, go to "Artifact: Roman Eagle Sculpture."
PETERBOROUGH, ENGLAND—Archaeologists are returning to excavate at Must Farm, a 3,000-year-old Bronze Age site protected by a ring of wooden posts that was destroyed by fire. “We think those living in the settlement were forced to leave everything behind when it caught on fire,” Cambridgeshire County Council archaeologist Kasia Gdaniec told Culture24. Among the previous discoveries at the site were a charred pot filled with food and a partially charred spoon, as well as glass beads and nine log boats. “We anticipate that more of the timber structure, a range of organic remains and fishing equipment and the whole gamut of personal, work and settlement paraphernalia will be found," said Gdaniec. To read about another Bronze Age site, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."
WOOD'S HOLE, MASSACHUSSETS—Excavation of the Antikythera shipwreck will continue for another five years, reports LiveScience. First discovered by sponge divers off the coast of a small Greek island more than a century ago, the ship dates to the first century B.C. and is most famous for carrying the bronze Antikythera mechanism, the ancient world's most sophisticated astrological instrument. The project, a collaboration between the Greek government and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, has so far resulted in a 3-D map of the seafloor around the wreck as well as the discovery of a number of artifacts, including a lead anchor and an oversize bronze spear that may have belonged to a statue. The team also discovered the site actually consists of two separate remains separated by more than 300 feet, indicating the ship either broke in half when it sank or that two distinct shipwrecks rest on the seafloor. To read about a modern recreation of the astrological device discovered at the site, go to "Artifact: Antikythera Mechanism."
PASSO MARINARO, SICILY—Research conducted by archaeologist Carrie Sulosky Weaver of the University of Pittsburgh has shown that the zombie craze is not a new phenomenon, but one with evidence going back more than 2,000 years. According to a report on her work in LiveScience, Sulosky Weaver studied two burials from a necropolis in a Greek settlement on the island of Sicily that she considered “peculiar” because they hold what she believes to be the remains of “revenants,” a zombie-like figure. The ancient Greeks believed that certain dead bodies could reanimate, and that to keep them in their graves, they had to be ritually killed or trapped inside in some way, such as pinning the body down with amphora fragments or large stones, as was done at Passo Marinaro. To read more about another type of ancient undead, go to "Plague Vampire Exorcism."
DUNDEE, SCOTLAND—Forensic experts at the University of Dundee have reconstructed the face of a Saxon man whose skeleton was unearthed at a previously unknown church discovered on the grounds of Lincoln Castle, which was built by William the Conqueror. Radiocarbon dating of the remains showed the man died sometime between A.D. 1035 and 1070, or just before the Norman Conquest. His skeleton, which showed a range of significant degenerative bone diseases suggestive of a strenuous life, was one of eight discovered at the site, and was unusually well preserved. “His grave lay slightly under an important sarcophagus burial, which had resulted in excellent preservation of his skull [that made] it the best candidate among the skeletons for facial reconstruction,” said forensic artist Caroline Erolin in a University of Dundee press release. Osteological examination of the remains shows the man was between 36 and 45 years old when he died, and isotope analysis of his bones and teeth indicate that he was born and bred in eastern England. To read about the excavation of an early Anglo-Saxon site, go to "The Kings of Kent."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Polish police arrested two British teenagers on a school trip to Auschwitz for picking up artifacts from the ground. The 17-year-old boys were spotted in an area where the prisoners’ personal items had been stockpiled in the Nazi-run death camp, where an estimated 1.5 million people, mostly European Jews, were killed during World War II. The police found the boys with a fragment of a razor, part of a spoon, a hair clipper, buttons, and pieces of glass. The Mirror reports that the school said the teens had “picked up the items without thinking.” The boys were fined and given a year’s probation, suspended for three years.