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Tiny Statue Revealed in China’s Yungang Grottoes

February 27, 2018

TAIYUAN, CHINA—Xinhua reports that a small, 1,500-year-old statue has been found in a small hole in one of the caves of the Yungang Grottoes. Wang Yanqing of the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute was conducting a survey of the Buddhist temples built in the fifth and sixth centuries into 53 major caves, and more than 50,000 niches, when he found the eroded statue. Measuring about six inches tall, the figure has wide shoulders, a muscular chest and abdomen, and outstretched arms. It had been placed in a small hole nearly 40 feet above the ground. “We guess the statue was carved by the craftsmen who cut the hole,” Wang said. “Due to its stealthy location, it was concealed when the wooden beams of the protective structures of the statue were plugged into the hole.” To read about another excavation in China, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”

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Bronze St. Nicholas Ring Unearthed in Israel

February 27, 2018

MOSHAV HAYOGEV, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a gardener discovered a 700-year-old bronze ring while weeding a planting bed in Lower Galilee. The intact artifact bears an image of St. Nicholas, who is revered in Eastern Christianity as the patron saint of travelers. He is shown as a smiling bald man with a bishop’s crook. Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Yana Tchekhanovetz said the ring dates to sometime between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, and may have been dropped by a pilgrim. “We know that the main Roman road from Legio to Mount Tabor passed next to Moshav Yogev, and the road must have also have been used throughout the centuries by Christian pilgrims on their way to the sites on Mount Tabor, Nazareth, and around the Sea of Galilee,” added IAA archaeologist Yotam Tepper. For more, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

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Aphrodite Sculpture and Mosaics Found in Greece

February 27, 2018

THESSALONIKI, GREECE—According to Greek Reporter, a headless statue of Aphrodite and floor mosaics dating to the fourth century A.D. were uncovered during excavations at the Hagia Sophia station on the Thessaloniki metro. The mosaics, made up of geometric designs, may have been part of a public building or a villa. Partial walls, the remains of a bath, and pieces of glass bottles that might have held oils for the bathers were also found. A total of some 300,000 artifacts have been recovered during the excavation. To read about another recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Monumental Find.”

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26th-Dynasty Cemetery Discovered in Middle Egypt

February 27, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—Kaled el-Enany, Minister of Antiquities, announced the discovery of a 26th-Dynasty (664–525 B.C.) cemetery in Middle Egypt, according to an Ahram Online report. So far, the excavation team has found a tomb belonging to Hersa-Essei, a high priest of the god Thoth. Thirteen burials were found in the tomb, along with around 1,000 faience ushabti figurines. Four alabaster canopic jars holding mummified organs of the deceased were also recovered. The lids of the well-preserved jars depict the faces of the four sons of the god Horus. The names and titles of the deceased were written on the jars. The excavation team also found the mummy of the high priest Djehuty-Irdy-Es, which was decorated with blue and red beads, gilded bronze sheets, a bronze collar depicting the god Nut with outstretched wings, and two eyes made of bronze, ivory, and crystal. Four amulets engraved with hieroglyphic texts and bearing semi-precious stones were also found on the mummy. A total of 40 limestone sarcophagi have been recovered to date. El-Enany said the excavation of the cemetery is expected to last another five years. For more, go to “Tut’s Mesopotamian Side.”

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Early Stone Tools Found in Eastern India

February 24, 2018

ODISHA, INDIA—India Today reports that excavations near the River Jira, which is located in eastern India, recovered stone tools and weapons resembling those found in eastern and southern Africa. “This discovery will help us in understanding migration and subsequent colonization by human beings in this part of India,” said P.K. Behera of Sambalpur University. The artifacts include cores as well as projectile points and a hand ax, which are thought to have been used to hunt large animals. Soil samples from the site will be tested in order to date the artifacts and learn more about environmental conditions at the time the tools were used. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

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Art May Have Helped Shape Human Cognition and Language

February 24, 2018

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a report in The Boston Globe, linguist Shigeru Miyagawa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues think that cave art could offer clues to the evolution of language. Ancient paintings are often found in acoustic “hot spots” in caves, where the artists may have experienced echoes of the sounds they generated. Miyagawa suggests modern humans would have had to use a cognitive process to convert the acoustic signal into a mental representation, and then externalize it as a symbolic drawing. For example, the artists might have recreated the sounds of hoof beats, experienced the echo, and then drawn images of hoofed animals. He notes that cave art has been found all over the world, just like human language. For more, go to “he First Artists.”

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Genetic Study Attempts to Find Origins of Modern Horses

February 23, 2018

PARIS, FRANCE—According to a report in The Independent, a genetic study of 88 ancient and modern horses revealed Mongolia’s Przewalksi’s horse to be descended from horses domesticated by the Botai people on the Central Asian steppes some 5,500 years ago. It had been previously thought that Przewalksi’s horses were truly wild creatures. Modern domestic horses, on the other hand, inherited only about three percent of their DNA from the animals bred by the Botai. “Our findings literally turn current population models of horse origins upside-down,” said molecular archaeologist Ludovic Orlando of the French National Center for Scientific Research. The study also revealed that ancient Botai horses boasted “leopard spots,” a trait caused by a gene that was also associated with night blindness. It was probably weeded out of the feral population that became Przewalksi’s horses by natural selection. For more, go to “The Story of the Horse.”

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Neanderthals May Have Been Capable of Symbolic Thought

February 23, 2018

BORDEAUX, FRANCE—Science News reports that cave art in Spain has been tentatively dated to at least 64,800 years ago through analysis of uranium in the mineral deposits covering the painted areas. Archaeologist Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux and his colleagues say the dates suggests the red horizontal and vertical lines and hand stencils were created by Neanderthals some 20,000 years before the arrival of modern humans in Europe. Possible jewelry made from eagle claws found in Croatia and pigment-stained seashells pierced with holes found in Spain have also been attributed to Neanderthals. “Neanderthal social life was as complex as that of [contemporaneous] humans in Africa,” said João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona. The scientists suggest the capacity for symbolic thinking could therefore have developed in a common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans some 500,000 years ago. For more on Neanderthals, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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Possible Ancient Banquet Hall Uncovered in Central Japan

February 23, 2018

NARA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—A seventh-century banquet hall measuring more than 60 feet long has been unearthed in the historic town of Asuka, according to a report in The Asahi Shimbun. The building was found near the site of the one of the country’s oldest Buddhist temples. The hall is thought to have been part of a complex described in an eighth-century account of banquets and sumo tournaments hosted by the imperial court for dignitaries visiting from the outskirts of the Asuka kingdom. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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Large-Scale Study Examines Spread of Beaker Culture

February 23, 2018

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a report in The Guardian, an international team of more than 100 scientists sampled DNA obtained from more than 400 prehistoric skeletons in order to study the spread of Beaker culture some 4,500 years ago. Archaeologists have long wondered if the telltale bell-shaped pottery marked the spread of culture through trade and imitation, or if the pottery was spread by mass migrations. Ian Armit of the University of Bradford said that on the European continent, the DNA samples the team extracted did not closely match those from Beaker burials, so Beaker culture probably did not travel with Beaker genes. But in Britain, the DNA of the people buried with beakers was different from the DNA obtained from earlier Britons, who may have been dying out before the arrival of the Beaker people. The oldest-known beakers have been found on the Iberian Peninsula, but DNA from burials there did not match the DNA found in Central Europe. “This is the first clear example from ancient DNA that pots do not always go hand-in-hand with people,” said David Reich of Harvard Medical School. For more on the use of DNA in archaeological research, go to “A Viral Fingerprint.”

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Engravings Spotted on Medieval Spindle Whorl

February 22, 2018

RZESZÓW, POLAND—Iwona Florkiewicz of the University of Rzeszów recently examined a spindle whorl unearthed more than 60 years ago in Czermno, a site in southeastern Poland, according to a report in Science in Poland. A spindle whorl adds weight to a spindle, prevents the thread from sliding off, and helps to maintain the spindle’s spin and control its speed. Florkiewicz said this whorl had been made of slate from what is now Ukraine. She also discovered that the whorl had been inscribed with Cyrillic letters. “Archaeologists probably did not expect spindle whorls to have inscriptions, so these objects were not analyzed in this respect,” she said. The letters spell the man’s name Hoten, and may have been a sign of ownership, or possible secondary use as an amulet. “The spindle whorl probably comes from the time when this area was a part of Kievan Rus,” she explained. “Remember that Czermno was a borderland town, where cultural influences from the east and the west mixed.” For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

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Ancient Egyptians May Have Surveyed on the Fall Equinox

February 22, 2018

CAIRO, EGYPT—The Great Pyramid of Khufu and the pyramid of Khafre at Giza, and the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, were all aligned with the cardinal points within one-fifteenth of one degree. According to a report in Live Science, engineer Glen Dash thinks Egyptian engineers may have accomplished this feat by employing a shadow cast by a rod, or gnomon, on the fall equinox, when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night are nearly equal. Dash experimented with this possible technique by surveying with a rod and shadows on the fall equinox in Connecticut, and found that the degree of error was similar to that found in the alignment of the Egyptian pyramids. The sun and stars, or a combination of methods, may also have been used by ancient Egyptian engineers, he notes. To read about Dash's previous research on the pyramids, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

Categories: Blog

Early Roman Mosaic Flooring Uncovered in Bath

February 22, 2018

BATH, ENGLAND—The Bath Echo reports that a small section of mosaic flooring dating to the first century A.D. has been uncovered in the threshold of a room in the Roman bathing complex in Bath. The small, cream-colored tiles were made from local stone. “It shows that right from its inception the Roman Baths was furnished with all the trappings of a very fine establishment,” said Stephen Clews, manager of the Roman Baths. The flooring was discovered during an excavation that will extend the area of the site that is open to the public. For more on Roman England, go to “Tablet Time.”

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Roman Boxing Gloves Discovered at Vindolanda

February 21, 2018

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that two leather boxing gloves have been unearthed at Vindolanda, a Roman fort located in northern England, just south of Hadrian’s Wall. Andrew Birley, director of excavations at Vindolanda, said Roman boxing gloves have been seen on statues and sculptures, but he thinks these gloves may be the only surviving examples from the period. The two gloves are thought to have been used for sparring, but were probably not a matched pair. They are of different sizes, and the smaller one contains a coil of hard, twisted leather, while the larger was filled with natural material that may have served as a kind of shock absorber. Gloves used in Roman boxing competitions are thought to have had metal inserts. For more on discoveries at Vindolanda, go to “Life on the Frontier.”

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Scientists Recover Ancient Taino DNA

February 21, 2018

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—A genetic study suggests at least one modern Caribbean population, on Puerto Rico, could be linked to the Taino, an ancient indigenous Caribbean group, according to a report in Science Magazine. Although oral history has long held that modern island populations are descended from indigenous people, it had previously been believed that all traces of the Taino were wiped out within 30 years of the arrival of Europeans in the Caribbean. Hannes Schroeder of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues were able to extract DNA for the study from a 1,000-year-old tooth recovered from a woman’s skeleton found in a cave on the hot, humid island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Pre-contact artifacts were found at the site as well. Comparison of the woman’s genome with those of other Native American groups revealed she was related to people who lived in northern South America and spoke Arawakan languages. Archaeologists have noted similarities between the ceramics and tools found at Taino sites and those in northern South America. And, the scientists say the archaeological and genetic evidence indicates the Taino traveled among the Caribbean islands frequently. “It looks like an interconnected network of people exchanging goods, services, and genes,” explained bioarchaeologist William Schaffer of Phoenix College. For more on archaeology of the Caribbean, go to “Spiritual Meeting Ground.”

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Ancient Statue Fragments Uncovered in Sudan

February 21, 2018

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in Live Science, additional pieces of a 2,600-year-old statue have been discovered in a temple dedicated to the Egyptian god Amun at the site of Dangeil, which is located along the Nile River in Sudan. Inscriptions written in Egyptian hieroglyphics on the newly uncovered pieces of sculpture have allowed archaeologists to identify the statue as depicting Aspelta, who ruled Kush between 593 and 568 B.C. The inscription describes Aspelta as beloved of the Egyptian sun god, and king of Upper and Lower Egypt, even though one of Aspelta’s predecessors had lost control of the country to the north some 100 years earlier. Julie Anderson, an assistant keeper at the British Museum, said Sudan’s kings may have kept the title of ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt “as general assertions of authority using the traditional titles, and not a claim to Egypt.” Based upon the pieces of Aspelta’s statue that have been found to date, the researchers estimate it stood approximately half life-size. To read in-depth abotu the temple at Dangeil, go to “The Cult of Amun.”

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Early Hominin Footprints May Reveal Children’s Activities

February 17, 2018

POOLE, ENGLAND—The Independent reports that footprints left some 700,000 years ago at Ethiopia’s site of Melka Kunture offer insight into the parenting techniques of Homo heidelbergensis. The footprints suggest a group made up of adults and children had been at the site, where stone tools and the butchered remains of a hippo were also found. “Clearly the adult members of the groups were getting on with normal activities,” said Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University. He says children tagged along with the adult hunting group, and thus learned firsthand about toolmaking, hunting, and butchering from an early age. For more, go to “Our Tangled Ancestry.”

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Gas From Turkey’s Gate to the Underworld Analyzed

February 17, 2018

DUISBURG, GERMANY—Science Magazine reports that volcano biologist Hardy Pfanz of the University of Duisburg-Essen and his colleagues measured the concentration of carbon dioxide emitted from the cave-like grotto at the temple dedicated to Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld, in Hierapolis. The visible mist still pours from deep fissures in the earth under the Plutonium into an open-air arena surrounded by raised stone seating. Pfanz and his team found that the warmth of the sun during the day dissipates the gas, but in the cool of the night, the gas, which is slightly heavier than the air, collects on the floor of the arena. At dawn, the concentration of carbon dioxide on the arena floor would have been strong enough to kill animals and people within a few minutes. Pfanz suggests the temple priests probably led bulls and other animals into “the gates of hell” for sacrifice in the morning, when their heads would not have risen above the layer of gas, while the priests themselves would have been safe. As the animals became dizzy, their heads would have dropped even lower into the carbon dioxide layer until they suffocated. For more, go to “Portals to the Underworld.”

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World War I Belt Buckle Found at Scotland’s Stirling Castle

February 17, 2018

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—The Herald Scotland reports that a belt buckle dating to World War I was unearthed at the site of an eighteenth-century footpath known as the Back Walk near Scotland’s medieval Stirling Castle. The buckle, which bears an image of the double-headed imperial eagle and the Austrian coat of arms, was the type issued to soldiers in the Austrian Army. During World War I, the castle was a working barracks and a military prison. The lost buckle may have been a souvenir collected by a Scottish soldier, or it may have belonged to a prisoner of war. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century clay tobacco pipes, a small knife, and a lead musket ball were also found in the area of the Back Walk. A midden closer to the castle yielded pottery and stoneware dating to the medieval period. To read about another recent discovery in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

Categories: Blog

When Were Rabbits Domesticated?

February 16, 2018

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Archaeologist Evan Irving-Pease is investigating the domestication of rabbits, according to a Science News report. He and his colleagues tried to trace the origins of a tale alleging that Christian monks in Southern France first tamed the creatures in A.D. 600, after Pope Gregory issued a proclamation stating that fetal rabbits, known as laurices, were fish, and could therefore be eaten during Lent, a time when meat consumption is traditionally restricted. Pease says there’s no evidence to back the story, and that DNA evidence suggests that the history of rabbit domestication does not have a distinct beginning. The scientists will turn to ancient rabbit bones for more information. For more, go to “The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán.”

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