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Roman Engineering Revealed in Corinth’s Ancient Harbor

December 15, 2017

ATHENS, GREECE—According to a report in The Guardian, members of the Lechaion Harbor Project are investigating structures built by the Romans in 44 B.C. in Lechaion, the ancient port of Corinth. Foundations of two large structures are visible in the outer harbor, but most of the ancient port is covered with sediment. The researchers suggest that by the first century A.D., large moles and quays had been built in the harbor basins with five-ton stone blocks. Pieces of wooden caissons and pilings used as foundations have also been found under the sediments. These remains can help archaeologists understand the Roman engineering process. An island in the middle of the inner basin may have served as a religious sanctuary, the base of a large statue, or a customs office. Seeds, bones, part of a wooden pulley, anchors, fishhooks, and ceramics from Italy, Tunisia, and Turkey have also been recovered. To read recent underwater excavations at the site of the Antikythera shipwreck in Greece, go to “Bronze Beauty.”

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Artifacts Recovered in Aswan Excavations

December 15, 2017

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that archaeological teams working with Egyptian archaeologists in the Aswan area have unearthed four intact burials of children in Gebel El-Silsila, a cemetery dating to the First Intermediate Period at Kom Ombo, and a statue thought to depict the Greek goddess Artemis in the old town of Aswan. Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that Maria Nilsson and Swedish researchers discovered the children’s tombs, which yielded a mummy in linen wrappings, traces of wooden coffins, and funerary furniture, including amulets and pottery. The tombs date to the 18th Dynasty, between 1550 and 1292 B.C. In Kom Ombo, Austrian researchers uncovered mudbrick tombs, pottery, and other grave goods in a cemetery dating to between 2181 and 2055 B.C. The cemetery had been built on top of an older one, as well as an Old Kingdom town. Abdel Moneim Saeed, general director of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities, added that a mission headed by Swiss Egyptologist Wolfgang Muller found a statue missing its head, feet, and right hand. The figure’s dress resembles that worn by Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, procreation, and virginity, who had been combined with the Egyptian goddesses Isis and Bastet. For more, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

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Ireland’s Genetic Map May Reflect Historic Events

December 14, 2017

DUBLIN, IRELAND—According to a BBC News report, a team of Irish, British, and American researchers identified ten genetic clusters in the modern Irish population that accord roughly with ancient boundaries. The 194 Irish individuals in the sample each had ties to specific regions dating back four generations. And although the differences between the groups were “really subtle,” the clusters seemed to reflect either the borders of Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connacht—the four Irish provinces—or the land's historical kingdoms. Geographical divisions created by mountains may also have played a role. “The likelihood is that it’s a combination of these things—a little bit of geography combined with wars or rivalry generates kinship in each distinct area,” said Gianpiero Cavalleri of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The tests also detected Norwegian-like ancestry in some of the samples, which could reflect the presence of Vikings on the island. Cavalleri noted, however, that if the Vikings carried a large number of Irish individuals back to Norway, it could have reduced the genetic differences between the two groups. For more, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

 

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Blunt-Force Trauma Studied in Neolithic Skulls

December 14, 2017

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Live Science reports that Meaghan Dyer of the University of Edinburgh investigated a possible cause of injuries found on Neolithic skulls unearthed in western and central Europe. Sometimes the head wounds showed signs of healing, while in other instances they had been fatal. A replica wooden club, based upon one discovered in waterlogged soil on the banks of the Thames River in London and radiocarbon dated to around 3500 B.C., was crafted for the experiment. Dyer described the weapon as a “very badly made cricket bat” with a heavy tip. The club was then swung at synthetic skull models by a 30-year-old man in good health, who was instructed to fight as if he were in battle. The fractures he inflicted upon the skull models resemble those seen on the Neolithic remains. One in particular closely matched an injury found on a skull unearthed at a massacre site in Austria dated to 5200 B.C. Dyer concluded the beater “very clearly is lethal.” The study could lead to the re-evaluation of some ancient injuries that had been attributed to falls and accidents. For more, go to 10,000-Year-Old Turf War.

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Archaeological Sites in Afghanistan Found With Satellite Imagery

December 14, 2017

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—According to a report in Science Magazine, researchers are using images taken by commercial and United States government satellites and military drones to look for archaeological sites in areas of Afghanistan that are too dangerous for fieldwork. Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership has tripled the number of recorded archaeological features in Afghanistan to more than 4,500. Among the discoveries, the team members have identified 119 caravanserais dating to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. These vast mudbrick buildings, which each had room to shelter hundreds of travelers and thousands of camels, lined routes linking Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid Empire, located in what is now Iran, and the Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent. It had been thought that land travel declined after the Portuguese developed trade routes across the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century. “But this shows a huge infrastructure investment of the Safavids a century later,” said Kathryn Franklin of the University of Chicago. To read about another recent discovery made using aerial and satellite imagery, go to “Hot Property.”

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Maori Obsidian Use Explored

December 13, 2017

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—The New Zealand Herald reports that Caleb Gemmell of the University of Auckland used data on obsidian artifacts unearthed at pre–European contact Maori sites on the North Island to explore possible ways the Maori traveled throughout New Zealand. Previous testing had determined where the material originated. The study suggests that distinct communities of Maori were obtaining obsidian from different sources, even though they may have been geographically close to each other. “This suggests that simple economic explanations for obtaining obsidian based on the distance of an archaeological site to an obsidian source were not valid, and more interesting social factors were coming into play,” Gemmell said. For more, go to “Obsidian and Empire.”

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Medieval Grave Excavated in Southern Bulgaria

December 13, 2017

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that researchers led by Maya Martinova of the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology found an arrow in the chest area of a skeleton dating to the eleventh or twelfth century A.D. at the site of the Antiquity Odeon, which was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans for theatrical performances. The site was used as a cemetery during the medieval period, when the city of Plovdiv changed hands between the Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire several times. Archaeologists do not know if the arrow killed the person in the grave, or if it was placed there as a funeral gift for a warrior. Scientists from Plovdiv Medical University will try to help answer that question. The researchers will also try to determine the person’s age, gender, and health status at the time of death. The excavation is being conducted prior to the conservation and renovation of the city’s archaeological park. For more on archaeology in Bulgaria, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

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Ritual Vessels Discovered in 3,100-Year-Old Tomb in China

December 13, 2017

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—According to a report in Live Science, a 3,100-year-old tomb in a necropolis in northwest China has yielded a collection of heavily decorated bronze ceremonial vessels. Researchers led by Zhankui Wang of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology think the tomb’s occupant may have been a high-ranking chief or chief’s spouse. The vessels may have been spoils of war, since at the time of the burial, the Zhou people were at war with a rival dynasty. The vessels are thought to have been used to serve food during ceremonies. Among the containers are two wine vessels shaped like deer and a four-handled bronze tureen covered with 192 spikes, engravings of dragons and birds, and images of bovine heads. To read about another recent discovery in China, go to “Tomb Couture.”

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Windmill Doodle Found on Walls of Newton’s English Manor

December 12, 2017

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that conservator Chris Pickup of Nottingham Trent University discovered a doodle on the wall of Woolsthorpe Manor, Sir Isaac Newton’s childhood home. Pickup examined stone walls in the manor with a photographic technique called reflectance transformation imaging, which captured the faded outlines of an image of a windmill. As a boy, Newton may have drawn the windmill after observing one that had been built near the manor, Pickup says. Newton was born at the manor in 1642, and returned there from the University of Cambridge in 1665 during an outbreak of plague. He is known to have sketched and kept notes on the walls of his rooms as he experimented with splitting white light with prisms, and while developing the laws of motion and theory of universal gravitation. His friend William Stukeley wrote that Newton’s home was “full of drawings, which he [Newton] had made with charcoal. There were birds, beasts, men, ships, plants, mathematical figures, circles & triangles.” To read about excavations at the home of the English scientist Edward Jenner, the inventor of the smallpox vaccine, go to "The Scientist's Garden."

Categories: Blog

Early Nineteenth-Century Pub Uncovered in Australia

December 12, 2017

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Traces of one of Australia’s first pubs have been uncovered in Parramatta, now a suburb west of Sydney, by a team of researchers led by archaeologist Ted Higginbotham. According to an ABC News report, the pub, known as the Wheatsheaf Hotel, was built in 1801. The excavation team also found the remains of a wheelwright’s workshop, where carts and wagons were made and fixed, which had been added to an early nineteenth-century convict hut. The hut was demolished for a brick cottage in the 1820s, and the brick cottage was taken down in the 1950s. A well, a baker’s oven, dinner plates, toys, and bottles were also recovered. “The baker’s oven, the wheelwright’s workshop, the later brick cottage could all be matched with the known historical occupants of the site,” Higginbotham explained. The archaeological site has been preserved within a new apartment complex. For more on the archaeology of Australia's colonial period, go to “Final Resting Place of an Outlaw.”

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12,000-Year-Old Fish Hooks Unearthed in Indonesia

December 12, 2017

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—According to a report in The International Business Times, five fishhooks made of sea snail shell have been found in a 12,000-year-old burial on Indonesia’s Alor Island. The hooks—one in the shape of a “J,” and four crescent-shaped—had been placed around the chin and jaw of the deceased, who is thought to have been a woman. Sue O’Connor of the Australian National University explained that the hooks are the oldest known to have been found in a burial, and must have been deemed to be essential for survival in the afterlife. She also notes it had been previously thought that most fishing on the islands at the time had been carried out by men. Older fishhooks have been elsewhere in the world, but they were not associated with burial rites. To read about a pair of 23,000-year-old fishhooks found in Japan, go to “Japan's Early Anglers.”

Categories: Blog

Two New Kingdom Tombs Opened in Luxor

December 12, 2017

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that two tombs dating to the New Kingdom period have been opened in the Draa Abul-Naglaa necropolis. The tombs were discovered in the 1990s by German archaeologist Frederica Kampp. One of the tombs contained fragments of wooden masks, including one that had been part of a coffin, and one that had been gilded. Four wooden chair legs, and the lower part of a coffin decorated with a scene of the goddess Isis were also found. The second tomb contained a mummy. It may have belonged to Djehuty Mes, whose name is inscribed at the entrance to a long hall, where the cartouche of King Thutmose I is inscribed on the ceiling. The names of a scribe, Maati, and his wife, Mehi, were also found on half of the 100 funerary cones in the tomb. A scene of a seated man offering food to four oxen, and five people making funerary furniture, adorns a pillar in the tomb, which also contained painted wooden masks, more than 400 statues made of clay, wood, and faience, and a small box shaped like a coffin that may have been used to store an Ushabti figurine. To read more about archaeology in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

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Possible Mammoth-Tusk Spear Found in Mammoth’s Ribs

December 9, 2017

YAKUTSK, RUSSIA—Newsweek reports that scientists led by Semyon Grigoriev of Russia’s Northeastern Federal University have recovered a 14-inch-long weapon from among the ribs of a woolly mammoth unearthed in northeastern Russia. Grigoriev said the weapon appears to be the end of a spear made by grinding a mammoth tusk with a stone—a technique that dates back about 12,000 years. Testing could help scientists determine the age of the artifact and if it was the weapon that killed the beast. For more, go to “Leftover Mammoth.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on the Spread of Modern Humans

December 9, 2017

MANOA, HAWAII—The “Out of Africa” theory suggests that a wave of modern humans left Africa some 60,000 years ago to spread across Eurasia. But according to an International Business Times report, an international group of researchers suggests that humans may have started leaving Africa as early as 120,000 years ago, based upon a review of DNA evidence, and the analysis of newly discovered fossils from around the world. Among those fossils are Homo sapiens remains dating between 70,000 and 120,000 years ago found in southern and central China, and Homo sapiens remains, dated to more than 60,000 years ago, recovered in Southeast Asia and Australia. The earliest African travelers may have been small groups of foragers, explained Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, who may have eventually mixed with other species in Eurasia, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. For more, go to “Turning Back the Human Clock.”

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Rock Art in Venezuela Mapped With Drones

December 9, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—UPI reports that scientists have used drones to map rock art in the Orinoco River basin in southern Venezuela. Low water levels throughout the river basin exposed more of the engravings, thought to have been carved as early as 2,000 years ago by the Adoles people, than are usually visible. The images may have communicated information about seasonal water levels and other natural resources in the area. Philip Riris of University College London said the images are similar to those found in Brazil, Colombia, and other sites in South America. For more, go to “The First Artists.”

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Hunter-Gatherer Storytelling May Have Promoted Cooperation

December 9, 2017

LONDON, ENGLAND—Tales told by traditional storytellers often promoted cooperation and egalitarian values, according to a study conducted by Andrea Migliano of University College London and her colleagues. According to a Seeker report, Migliano and her team visited the Agta people of Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park in the Philippines, and heard Agta elders tell the tales firsthand. “We then decided to test if camps (within the Agta) with good storytellers had increased levels of cooperation, without really expecting to find anything,” Migliano said. “But the effect was still there. Camps with more storytellers were more cooperative. The stories seem to work.” Among other hunter-gatherer groups, the researchers found that 70 percent of the shared stories emphasized social norms and behaviors, and promoted large-scale cooperation. Migliano suggests such storytelling may have strengthened hunter-gatherer groups before organized religion and the fear of supernatural punishment developed in agricultural societies. For more on hunter-gatherers, go to “10,000-Year-Old Turf War.”

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Looted Tombs Investigated in Eastern Turkey

December 8, 2017

ERZURUM, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that researcher Ömer Faruk Kizilkaya is investigating a heavily looted settlement dating to the Iron Age in eastern Anatolia. Tombs carved into the rock of a cave, a water tunnel, and a temple have been found near the settlement. Kizilkaya thinks the tombs may have been reserved for the elites of the community, such as rulers of the Urartu Kingdom and religious leaders. Haldun Özkan of Atatürk University explained that similar rock tombs have been found in the region. Such tombs were often made with several smooth-walled chambers for use in the afterlife. Kizilkaya has asked Turkey’s Provincial Directorate of Culture and Tourism to protect the site and others in Erzurum. To read about another discovery made in Turkey, go to “Let a Turtle Be Your Psychopomp.”

Categories: Blog

Eighteenth-Century Earthworks Found in Poland

December 8, 2017

WARSAW, POLAND–Science in Poland reports that an eighteenth-century earthworks has been identified in the Bieszczady Mountains, at an altitude of nearly 3,000 feet. Krzysztof Bajrasz and Krzysztof Sojka of the Association Eagles of History conducted a georadar survey of the embankments in order to separate the 200-year-old structures from those built during World War II. The structure is thought to have been built by the Bar Confederation, a group of Polish nobles who joined together to try to disrupt growing Russian power over Poland. “The earthwork is not only the highest situated structure in Poland, it is also one of the largest in Poland,” explained Piotr Sadowski of the Podhale State Higher Vocational School. It has been suggested that several hundred troops led by Prince Martin Lubomirski were stationed at the site in 1769. The researchers plan to investigate the claim. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

Categories: Blog

Natufian Site Excavated in Jordan

December 8, 2017

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—According to a report in Seeker, researchers led by Tobias Richter of the University of Copenhagen have excavated a Natufian site in Jordan known as Shubayqa 1, which was occupied between 14,600 and 12,000 years ago. The early radiocarbon date for the site, obtained through accelerator mass spectrometry, suggests that Natufians lived across the region of the Levant earlier than had been previously thought, and adapted to a wide range of habitats. The site could also offer scientists information on the transition from hunting and gathering to farming. Richter said the people living at Shubayqa 1 domesticated dogs as early as 14,000 years ago, built one of the world’s earliest stone buildings, complete with a stone-paved floor, and produced art in the form of carved bone and stone figures. They also buried their dead. “Some have argued that this is evidence for the presence of ritual specialists—shamans—or some kind of group leaders,” Richter said. “What seems clear is that the Natufians had developed a complex symbolic cosmology and treated their dead with respect.” A stone-lined fire pit, and food remains from birds, gazelle, and tubers, vegetables, and wild cereals and legumes were also uncovered. For more, go to “Europe's First Farmers.”

Categories: Blog

“Little Foot” Revealed in South Africa

December 7, 2017

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—BBC News reports that the fragile Australopithecus skeleton known as “Little Foot” has been unveiled in South Africa after 20 years of excavation, cleaning, analysis, and reconstruction. “We used very small tools, like needles, to excavate it,” said team leader Ron Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand. “That’s why it took so long. It was like excavating a fluffy pastry out of concrete.” Little Foot, named for the initial discovery of her four tiny foot bones, is thought to have been a young girl who fell down a shaft in South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves some 3.67 million years ago. She had shorter arms than an ape and small hands, though she probably slept in trees. For more, go to “Cosmic Rays and Australopithecines.”

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