AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS—The Forward reports that construction work in central Amsterdam has uncovered remnants of a seventeenth-century slum on Valkenburger Street, bordering the city’s Jewish quarter. The site is also close to the Portuguese Synagogue, which was built by Sephardic Jews who fled persecution in Portugal and Spain in the 1670s. Municipal archaeologist Jerzy Gawronski told a local television station that the area had originally been used for boat building before cramped housing was built along narrow corridors without infrastructure. “It was damp, no windows and not many people survived here,” he said. Gawronski added that he found a feature at the site that may have served as a mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath. To read about a mikvah discovered in Jerusalem, go to "Under the Rug."
KIEL, GERMANY—Climate change in the sixth century A.D. may have contributed to the circumstances that brought on the Dark Ages, according to a report by Agence France-Presse. The lack of sunlight from a “mystery cloud” in A.D. 536 was recorded by historians in Rome and China, and the poor growing conditions in the Northern Hemisphere have also been noted in tree rings from the period. Matthew Toohey of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research and an international team of scientists developed climate model simulations to reconstruct the possible effects of two volcanoes in the mid-sixth century A.D., whose ash has been detected in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. The team estimated the magnitude of the eruptions, their approximate locations, and the spread of sulfur and ash that may have lowered the average temperature in the Northern Hemisphere up to two degrees Celsius. Where do they think the volcanoes erupted? “Several candidates are being discussed, including volcanoes in Central America, Indonesia, and North America. Future studies will be necessary to show the exact source of the aerosol clouds of 536/540,” Toohey said. To read about the excavation of a site dating to the early medieval period, go to "The Kings of Kent."
HATAY, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports that a mosaic floor was uncovered in a dining room dating to the third century B.C. during construction work near the ancient city of Antioch, located on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey. The mosaic is divided into three scenes, one of which depicts a seated skeleton and the words “be cheerful, live your life,” written in Greek. The skeleton, positioned on a field of black glass tiles, is shown with wine and bread and a drinking cup in hand. The other images are scenes about a young man’s visit to the baths and being late for dinner. “Two things are very important among the elite class in the Roman period in terms of social activities: The first is the bath and the second is dinner,” explained archaeologist Demet Kara of the Hatay Archaeology Museum.
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND—Analysis of the residues on ancient pottery fragments from six archaeological sites in the Swiss Alps detected compounds produced when animal milk is heated, according to a report in Quartz. This suggests that herders were making cheeses at higher altitudes some 3,000 years ago. “Prehistoric herders would have had to have detailed knowledge of the location of alpine pastures, be able to cope with unpredictable weather and have the technological knowledge to transform milk into a nutritious and storable product,” said archaeologist Francesco Carrer of Newcastle University. Herders may have moved into the mountains as the population in the lowlands grew.
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—Researchers led by Eran Elhaik of the University of Sheffield used a DNA analysis tool they developed called the Geographic Population Structure (GPS), which is based on the idea that language, geography, and genetics are all connected. GPS analysis of the genomes of Ashkenazic Jews who are Yiddish speakers and non-Yiddish speakers suggests that the language originated in northeastern Turkey some 1,500 years ago, in four ancient villages named Iskenaz, Eskenaz, Ashanaz, and Ashkuz, all located close to the Silk Road. “Our findings imply that Yiddish was created by Slavo-Iranian Jewish merchants plying the Silk Roads between Germany, North Africa, and China,” Elhaik said in Wired. It had been thought that Yiddish could be an old German dialect.
LIMA, PERU—ANDINA News Service reports that archaeologist Ruth Shady and her team have unearthed the grave of a high-status woman at Aspero, an archaeological site located on the Peruvian coast, near the site of the large ancient city of Caral. The woman is estimated to have been 40 years old at the time of death, some 4,500 years ago. She had been buried with a pot containing traces of vegetables and seeds, a necklace made of shell beads, a pendant made from a Spondylus shell, and four tupus, or bone broaches featuring bird and monkey motifs. “The find shows evidence of gender equality, that is, both women and men were able to play leading roles and attain high social status more than 1,000 years ago,” Shady said. To read about another prehistoric site in Peru, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."
BOLZANO, ITALY—The Local, Austria reports that three replicas of Ötzi, the 5,000-year-old mummy discovered in the Alps 25 years ago, have been created with a 3-D printer using CT scans of the frozen remains. American artist Gary Staab then sculpted and hand-painted the resin replicas. “The reconstruction of the hands was a challenge, since they could not be captured on CT scans,” according to a statement from the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, where the Ötzi is housed. One of the replicas will be part of a travelling exhibition that will tour the United States. The other two will be used for educational purposes at the Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center in New York. To read about the world's oldest tattoos, go to "Ancient Tattoos: Ötzi, the Iceman."
PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND—Marine biologist George Parker Bidder threw some 1,000 bottles into the North Sea in batches more than 100 years ago as part of his research into the patterns of currents. Now, 108 years later, one of those bottles has washed up in Germany, where it was found by a retired postal worker. She and her husband removed the note from the bottle and followed its instructions to fill in the date and where it was found, and then put it in an envelope and mailed it back to the Marine Biological Association. The card promised a one-shilling reward. “We found an old shilling, I think we got it on eBay. We sent it to her with a letter saying thank you,” Guy Baker, communications officer for the Marine Biological Association, told The Guardian. Bidder’s bottles helped him to show that the deep sea current in the North Sea flowed from east to west. To read about the discovery of a WWII-era military courier pigeon, go to "Let Slip the Pigeons of War."
NANCHANG, CHINA—According to China Daily, scientists have opened the 2,000-year-old coffin thought to belong to Liu He, the Marquis of Haihun, in a laboratory. They found another seal bearing the characters for his name, and “a large number of teeth” thought to belong to the deposed emperor. Characters for the name Liu He were also found on a seal, gold coins, and bamboo slips in the tomb, located in a royal cemetery. Yang Jun of the Archaeological Research Institute of Jiangxi Province said that testing of the remains could provide more information about his cause of death.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA—According to a report in Science News, many of the nearly 10,000 human bones, bone fragments, and teeth discovered in Belize’s Midnight Terror Cave are thought to be the remains of children. Bioarchaeologist Michael Prout of California State University, Northridge, said at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists that the ancient Maya may have considered cave areas near water to be sacred spaces, suggesting that the children might have been sacrificed to Chaac—a rain, water, and lighting god. Radiocarbon dating of the remains suggests that bodies were deposited in the cave over a 1,500-year period, beginning some 3,000 years ago. It had been thought that human sacrifices in the region were largely limited to adults, but another site of possible large-scale child-sacrifice by the Maya has been found in an underground cave at Chichén Itzá. “Taken together, however, finds at Chichén Itzá and Midnight Terror Cave suggest that about half of all Maya sacrificial victims were children,” Prout said. To read more about the ancient Maya, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—An excavation at the one-time home of civil rights activist Malcolm X has yielded broken dishes, pieces of jewelry, toys, and a record from the 1940s that may have been thrown into the yard when the house was vandalized in the 1970s. Built in 1874, the house was occupied by an Irish immigrant family in the years before it was owned by Ella Little-Collins, Malcolm X’s half-sister. She took teenaged Malcolm Little in after his father’s death and mother’s hospitalization. Bagley and his team had thought the site had been used as farmland before 1874, but eighteenth-century artifacts suggest that there may have been a house on or near the site during the colonial era. “We’ve come onto a whole layer, roughly two feet down and across the whole site, that’s absolutely filled with stuff from the period,” Boston city archaeologist Joseph Bagley said in an Associated Press report. The excavation will continue next month. To read more about urban archaeology on the East Coast, go to "Letter From Philadelphia: City Garden."
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—A report in the Prague Monitor says that a research team, led by Tomas Chlup, has found a 7,000-year-old well at the site of a large Linear Pottery culture settlement. The team has been working at the site, located in the country’s Central Bohemian Region, since 2006. So far, they have uncovered traces of 19 wooden longhouses that stood on pillars. “We have a rare opportunity to study the everyday life of the first farmers in our country,” Chlup said. To read more about wells dating to this period, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA—The Flagship reports that experts from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) assisted city archaeologist Francine Bromberg with the study of timbers from an eighteenth-century ship unearthed at a construction site in Alexandria late last year. “We are recording each one of the timbers so that we can learn about the ship construction and see if there are any maker’s marks or other indications of specific construction techniques,” said UAB archaeologist George Swartz. He noted that the ship had been built by hand with thousands of trunnels, or wooden pins that connected the timbers and swelled when exposed to moisture to form a watertight seal. Schwarz thinks that parts of the ship were probably reused to make buildings and furniture, while the rest was buried in a landfill to build a port for ocean-going vessels for the growing city of Alexandria in the late eighteenth century. To read about the vessel's original discovery, go to "Ship Underground."
CARIO, EGYPT—A joint Egyptian-German team of archaeologists has recovered an additional 30 blocks from a building on Elephantine Island that dates to the beginning of the reign of Hatshepsut. Researchers say that the images of the queen on the blocks depict her as a woman, whereas in later images, she was shown as a man. The structure was a way-station for a festival barque, or sailing vessel, dedicated to the god Khnum that was dismantled in antiquity. The reused blocks were found in the foundation of Khunum’s temple, constructed by King Nectanebo II. “Although a large amount of blocks from the barque’s way-station building were found along several archaeological seasons, the blocks found this season have clarified the meanings of the other blocks,” team leader Felix Arnold of the German Archaeological Institute told Ahram Online. To read more in-depth about a recent Egyptological discovery, go to "The Cult of Amun."
POTENZA, ITALY—Rosa Lasaponara of the Institute of Methodologies for Environmental Analysis and a team of researchers used satellite images to study puquios, the spiral-shaped holes thought to have been constructed between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 750 by the same people who created the Nazca geoglyphs. The distribution of the holes across the arid region, and their positions near settlements, suggests that they were part of a sophisticated hydraulic system for retrieving water from underground aquifers. Lasaponara thinks that the spiral holes funneled wind into the Nazca aqueduct system to keep the water moving. “What is really impressive is the great efforts, organization, and cooperation required for their construction and regular maintenance,” she said in BBC News. To read in-depth about a mysterious alignment not far from the Nazca geoglyphs, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."
HILDESHEIM, GERMANY—Raffaella Bianucci of the University of Turin led an international team of researchers in the investigation of the preserved lung found in a stone sarcophagus in the Basilica of St. Denis, Paris, in 1959. The lung was accompanied by skeletal remains, a strand of hair, jewelry, fragments of textiles and leather, and an elaborate copper belt, according to a report in Discovery News. An inscription on the ring suggested that the remains belonged to the Merovingian Queen Arnegunde, who lived in the sixth century. Bianucci said in a meeting at the International Conference of Comparative Mummy Studies that scanning electron microscopy on the lung biopsies showed a massive concentration of copper ion on the surface of the tissue. Copper oxide was also found in the lung biopsies. Low levels of benzoic acid and related compounds were also detected. “These substances are widespread in the plant kingdom and similar profiles have been already reported in the balms of Egyptian mummified bodies,” Bianucci said. The researchers think a fluid made of spices and aromatic plants was injected into the queen’s mouth and settled in her lung. Her copper alloy belt is also thought to have contributed to the organ’s preservation.
RUSE, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a section of fortress wall from the ancient Roman site, Sexaginta Prista, or Port of the Sixty Ships, has been found on the Danube River in the city of Ruse in northeastern Bulgaria. The section of wall dates to the fourth century A.D. and stands some 23 feet tall and 65 feet long. Archaeologists Nikola Rusev and Varbin Varbanov of the Ruse Regional Museum of History say the wall suggests that the Sexaginta Prista Fortress was larger than had been previously thought. The fortress was part of the Roman system of fortifications along the frontier known as the Limes Moesiae.
IRVINE, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists examined an area in Irvine, Scotland, ahead of a development project, to look for traces of the medieval royal burgh. They uncovered an oven, wells, and the skeletons of a pony and two cows that had been buried intact. “In each instance the whole articulated skeleton—two cows and a pony—was buried in an individual grave, with no apparent attempt to butcher or otherwise use the body—a practice that would have been common in medieval Scotland,” Claire Williamson of Rathmell Archaeology told Culture 24. The team also found pits lined with timber and stone that may have been used for soaking hides and making leather. The well-preserved wood suggests that water levels may have been higher at the site in the past. Archaeologists will attempt to date the timbers using dendrochronology. Medieval pottery imported from as far away as Germany and Spain dating back to the thirteenth century has also been recovered.
LONDON, ENGLAND—A Roman villa said to be one of the largest in England has been discovered in a private yard in Wiltshire. Workmen were digging a trench for electric cables when they found a red, white, and blue mosaic floor, so the landowner called the local government office. The New York Times reports that experts from the Salisbury Museum and Historic England uncovered coins, jewelry, pottery, a well, heating pipes, and the shells of hundreds of oysters and whelks. The shellfish were probably imported in barrels of salt water from the coast. The main structure is thought to have been a three-story tall building with as many as 25 rooms on its ground floor. The villa’s outbuildings are also expected to be found at the site. “The site has not been touched since its collapse 1,400 years ago, and so it’s of extreme importance,” said archaeologist David Roberts of Historic England.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to a report in LiveScience, the 1903 patent paperwork for the Wright brothers’ “Flying Machine” has been recovered from a special records storage cave in Lenexa, Kansas. The file includes a diagram of the flying machine, the petition for patent approval, the patent registry form, and the brothers’ patent oath. The missing documents had been part of a 1979 exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum, and had been marked returned to the National Archives in 1980, but archivists were unable to locate the file in a vault of precious documents in Washington in 2000. They have been looking for the file ever since. “Unfortunately, with billions of pieces of paper, things sometimes go where they shouldn’t be,” said National Archives and Records Administration Chief Operating Officer William J. Bonsanko said in a report in The Washington Post. The historic documents had been filed with the brothers’ other, less famous patents, and placed in the storage cave. For more on the archaeology of airplanes, go to "Last Flight of a Tuskegee Airman."