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1,700-Year-Old Marble Bust Unearthed in Turkey

July 19, 2018

MERSIN PROVINCE, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that a team of archaeologists led by Remzi Yağci of Dokuz Eylül University has unearthed a marble bust depicting a stern-faced bearded man at the site of the ancient city of Soli Pompeiopolis, which is located in southern Turkey. The city, founded in the eighth century B.C., was destroyed in the first century B.C., and was named for Pompey the Great, who rebuilt it. The sculpture is thought to depict a Roman aristocrat or military commander who lived during the end of the second century or beginning of the third century A.D., based upon the style of the carving. The well-preserved city has also yielded statues of gods, a column-lined street, sculpture bases and busts of Roman emperors, a theater, a bath complex, a harbor, and an aqueduct. For more on Roman remains discovered in Turkey, go to “Zeugma After the Flood.”

Categories: Blog

Possible Norman Cemetery Excavated in Sicily

July 18, 2018

WROCLAW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that researchers led by Sławomir Moździoch of the Polish Academy of Sciences have discovered a medieval cemetery in Sicily, near the ruins of the church of San Michele del Golfo. After examining the bones from ten of the graves, the researchers were able to classify just five of the dead as three women and two children. The size and build of the bones suggests they may have been Normans from northern France, who conquered the island in addition to parts of southern Italy. “In the second half of the eleventh century, the island was recaptured from the Arabs by a Norman nobleman, Roger de Hauteville,” Moździoch explained. The church, which resembles those found in Western Europe, is also thought to have been built at this time, at a strategic location on a hill. Coins minted in Champagne and Lucca have been discovered within it. To read about the skeleton of a warrior recently discovered in northern Italy, go to “Late Antique TLC.”

Categories: Blog

Bits of Ancient Bread Unearthed in Jordan

July 18, 2018

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The Guardian reports that archaeologist Amaia Arranz-Otaegui of the University of Copenhagen and colleagues have found charred crumbs of bread baked 14,000 years ago by Natufian hunter-gatherers living in northeast Jordan. It had been previously believed that bread was first produced by early farmers. Among the more than 600 charred, bread-like lumps found in a fireplace, the excavation uncovered small tubers from a wetland plant, legumes, wild wheat and barley, and plants belonging to the cabbage family. Analysis of some of the lumps suggest they were made from barley, einkorn wheat or oats, and sometimes other plants. The flour used to make them may have even be sieved. The dough is thought to have been baked in the fire’s ashes, or on a hot stone, to produce an unleavened flat bread. Team member Tobias Richter said such a bread would have been very labor intensive to produce, and so was probably not a staple in the Natufian diet. This bread may have been consumed as part of a large feast or ritual event—since the fireplace also contained the bones of gazelles, water birds, and hares—or may have been prepared as provisions for a journey. To read about another recent discovery in Jordan, go to “Desert Life.”

Categories: Blog

Fishing May Have Driven Use of Pottery in Ancient Japan

July 18, 2018

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a report in Cosmos Magazine, archaeologist Alex Lucquin of the University of York and colleagues analyzed residues obtained from more than 800 ancient pots recovered from more than 46 sites in Japan, and found traces of seafood in all of the samples—even on the pots found inland. It had been thought that the expansion of forests in southern Japan after the last Ice Age would have shifted people’s diets towards foods obtained from hunting and gathering on land. Instead, it appears that people developed more intensive fishing strategies. The scientists were even able to determine the type of seafood from the charred, fatty deposits. Salmon was the most common fish detected in the oldest pots, which date back about 11,000 years. Other marine and freshwater fish, molluscs, and marine animals were processed and stored in the pots more frequently as the climate warmed. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Categories: Blog

Ancient Papyrus Restored and Translated

July 17, 2018

BASEL, SWITZERLAND—According to a Live Science report, a wad of 2,000-year-old papyrus from the collections of the University of Basel has been restored and translated, revealing a previously unknown composition. An examination of the papyrus with ultraviolet and infrared light revealed the sheets may have been stuck together, possibly to be reused as a bookbinding. Once a restorer separated the wad into individual sheets, the Greek text could be read. Ancient historian Sabine Huebner explained the papyrus bears a medical text that may have been composed by the Roman physician Galen, who lived from A.D. 130 to 210. The text may also comprise a commentary on Galen's work, describing a phenomenon he called “hysterical apnea.” Women afflicted with this so-called condition did not suffer from a “wandering womb,” as was thought by other physicians of the day, Galen is known to have argued, but from “hysterical suffocation,” brought on by a lack of intercourse. “The majority of papyri are documents such as letters, contracts, and receipts,” Huebner said. “This is a literary text, however, and they are vastly more valuable.” To read about a papyrus discovered in Egypt in 1934 and only recently translated, go to “Divine Invitation.”

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5,500-Year-Old Passage Tomb Unearthed in Ireland

July 17, 2018

COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—The Aberdeen Evening Express reports that a Neolithic passage tomb has been discovered in Ireland’s Boyne Valley by researchers from University College Dublin and a private agricultural technology company. A large stone cairn measuring about 130 feet in diameter had been placed over the tomb’s main passage and two burial chambers within the western part of the structure. Six of the stones that had been placed in a ring around the perimeter have also been found. One of them had been decorated with numerous carvings. In addition, two possible satellite tombs have been found nearby. “The spate of archaeological discoveries in Bru na Boinne—Boyne Valley Tombs—in recent weeks highlights what a globally significant place this is,” said Steve Davis of University College Dublin. To read about earlier discoveries in the Boyne Valley, go to “Samhain Revival.”

Categories: Blog

Mummification Workshop Excavated in Egypt

July 17, 2018

GIZA, EGYPT—The Associated Press reports that a 2,500-year-old mummification workshop and a 100-foot-long burial shaft lined with burial chambers carved into the bedrock have been excavated at Saqqara. One of the burials consists of a badly damaged wooden coffin containing a mummy wearing a gilded silver mask, thought to have belonged to the second priest of Mut. “Very few masks of precious metals have been preserved to the present day, because the tombs of most ancient Egyptian dignitaries were looted in ancient times,” said Ramadan Hussein of the German-Egyptian archaeological mission that conducted the excavation. The workshop held embalmer’s tools, including pottery vessels and measuring cups. Traces of oils used in the mummification process during the 26th Dynasty may be found on the jars. “We are in front of a gold mine of information about the chemical composition of these oils,” Hussein explained. Fragments of mummy cartonnages, canopic cylindrical jars, and marl clay and faience cups were also recovered. To read about another recent discovery at Saqqara, go to “Queen of the Old Kingdom.”

Categories: Blog

Iron-Age Wooden Bowl Found in Scotland

July 17, 2018

SOUTH RONALDSAY, SCOTLAND—A 2,000-year-old wooden bowl has been found in a chamber accessed with a series of stone-cut steps beneath Cairns Broch, a round tower at an Iron-Age village site on South Ronaldsay, one of Scotland’s Orkney Islands, according to a report in The Independent. Researchers led by Martin Carruthers of the University of the Highlands and Islands think the bowl may have been placed there before the broch was sealed and abandoned. “In appearance, the bowl is similar in shape to certain of the pottery vessels of the period,” Carruthers said. The bowl’s round base suggests it may have been passed from person to person, similar to the way a traditional alcoholic drink is passed in a wooden vessel at weddings in Orkney today. The excavation of the chamber also uncovered what could be woven plant fibers, and two other wooden objects that look like pegs or stakes.

Categories: Blog

Possible Evidence of War Unearthed at Sardis

July 14, 2018

MANISA, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that possible traces of the war between the Lydians and the Persians in 546 B.C. has been unearthed in what is known as the Palace region at Sardis, the ancient capital of the Lydian kingdom in western Turkey. Previous excavations in this area of the city have uncovered huge terrace walls that could have supported a monumental building, as well as a military shield, ivory from a piece of furniture, and a stone seal. “These pieces make our predictions stronger that this area was the field of a palace,” said lead archaeologist Nicholas Dunlop. Now, nearly 50 arrowheads have been found spread over different areas of the possible palace structure. “We also found pots, cooking bowls, and a piece of floor,” he added. “We found three arrowheads in this floor. These arrowheads might be from the last big war.” Historic records indicate the Lydian kingdom fell to the Persians after the 14-day attack. To read about a ritual deposit discovered at Sardis, go to “How to ward off an earthquake with Roman magic.”

Categories: Blog

Byzantine- and Roman-era Rooms Uncovered in Egypt

July 14, 2018

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that chambers dating to the Roman and Byzantine periods have been unearthed in Alexandria. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said one of the Roman-era chambers has huge stone blocks set at right angles and smooth Doric columns. A large number of Roman coins were also recovered. The walls of the Byzantine-era rooms were crafted from irregular blocks of stones fitted together with weak mortar. Another room had a tiled floor and a decorated column. According to Nadia Kheidr of the Central Department of Antiquities of Lower Egypt, the artifacts uncovered by the excavation team included lamps decorated with crosses and palm leaves, dishes, two large water jars, and other fragments of pottery. To read about a recent discovery in Luxor, Egypt, go to “Honoring Osiris.”

Categories: Blog

Unusual 2,500-Year-Old Skull Found in Burial Cave in Sicily

July 14, 2018

PALERMO, SICILY—According to a Live Science report, archaeologists led by Roberto Miccichè of the University of Palermo were investigating an artificial cave in northern Sicily where more than 50 people were buried some 2,500 years ago, when they found a lone skull that had been placed above the tomb’s main entrance, facing into the cave. The burials were looted at some point, but the researchers think the robbers used a different entrance to the cave and left the skull in its original position. As the researchers explain in a paper in the International Journal of Paleopathology, examination of the skull revealed it had belonged to a woman who died between the ages of 35 and 50. Her cause of death was cancer that the researchers suspect originated in her breasts and then spread to her skull, leaving 14 holes in it. Miccichè suggested that the distinctive markings on her bones may have led to the unusual placement of her skull. The woman’s role in the community during her life may also have been a factor, he added. To read about an unusual burial recently discovered in northern Italy, go to “Late Antique TLC.”

Categories: Blog

Henge Site Spotted in Ireland’s Boyne Valley

July 13, 2018

COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—BBC News reports that a monument or henge has been revealed on private land in eastern Ireland by the current heat wave and drought conditions. Author Anthony Murphy and Ken Williams flew a drone equipped with a camera over the site, located near Newgrange, a 5,000-year-old passage tomb, and other prehistoric monuments built along the River Boyne, to spot the outline of the structure. “There’s more moisture in the field where the features of this site are and that’s why the grass is greener,” Murphy explained. The enclosure measures about 650 feet in diameter, and could date to the Neolithic period or early Bronze Age. “It’s one of a series of large monuments near Newgrange,” commented archaeologist Steve Davis of University College Dublin. “Nowhere else in the world has so many in one spot.” For more on the archaeology of the Boyne Valley, go to “Samhain Revival.”

Categories: Blog

Otzi the Iceman’s Stomach Contents Analyzed

July 13, 2018

BOLZANO, ITALY—Analysis of Otzi the Iceman’s stomach contents indicate his last meal included the fat and meat of ibex and red deer, whole wheat seeds, and fern leaves and spores, according to an Associated Press report. Otzi is the name given to man who died some 5,300 years ago in the Italian Alps and whose frozen, mummified remains were discovered by hikers in 1991. Scientists had previously examined his intestines, but this is the first time that they have reviewed the contents of his stomach, which was found behind his ribcage, having shifted upward after his death, by a radiologist in 2009. Samples of the stomach contents were eventually taken from Otzi’s defrosted body and rehydrated for testing. Microbiologist Frank Maixner of the Institute for Mummy Studies says the contents of the meal make sense, since their proportion of fat would have provided the energy necessary to survive in such a harsh environment. For more, go to “Ötzi’s Sartorial Splendor.”

Categories: Blog

Stone Tools Suggest Early Arrival of Hominins in Asia

July 13, 2018

EXETER, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Atlantic, tools made by human ancestors some 2.1 million years ago have been discovered in northwestern China by an international team of scientists led by archaeologist and climatologist Zhaoyu Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The tools are thought to have been made by Homo erectus or Homo habilis, but no hominin fossils have been found at the site. “Very importantly here, there are no geological processes that could have flaked these stones,” said researcher Robin Dennell of the University of Sheffield. “The Loess Plateau is a stone-free landscape—it is basically an enormous deposit of wind-blown dust, deposited year upon year by the winter monsoonal winds for the last 2.5 million years.” Prior to this discovery, evidence for the earliest known ancient human presence outside of Africa had come from Dmanisi, Georgia, where a 1.85 million-year-old Homo erectus fossil was found. To read about the early presence of Homo sapiens in China, go to An Opportunity for Early Humans in China.

Categories: Blog

900-Year-Old Temple Discovered in South-Central Mexico

July 13, 2018

MORELOS, MEXICO—BBC News reports that a temple has been found in the pyramid at Teopanzolco by archaeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. The scientists, who were evaluating structural damage to the pyramid with radar following an earthquake that struck the region last year, said the temple measured about 20 feet by 13 feet, and had been dedicated to Tláloc, the Aztec rain god, by the Tlahuica people. Most of the structures at Teopanzolco are thought to date to the thirteenth century A.D., so the temple could predate them. To read about a new interpretation of an Aztec stone disk, go to “Sun Storm.”

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Human Evolution

July 12, 2018

JENA, GERMANY—According to a report in The Atlantic, an international team of scientists led by archaeologist Eleanor Scerri of the University of Oxford argues that modern humans arose in different locations in Africa at different times, in a process called “African multiregionalism.” These groups of human ancestors are thought to have developed in isolation from each other, separated by geographical barriers, until climate change restructured the landscape and brought them together, and then eventually pulled them apart again. This model resembles a river braided together by many streams weaving into and out of each other, rather than an evolutionary tree with one trunk and many branches. For example, fossils from South Africa and Ethiopia, dating back 300,000 years, exhibit a complex mix of archaic and modern features. “People back then looked more different to each other than any populations do today,” Scerri explained, “and it’s very hard to answer what an early Homo sapiens looked like. But there was then a continent-wide trend to the modern human form.” Stone tools and other artifacts support this interpretation of the fossil record, she adds. The trend toward more sophisticated tools and other items is found across Africa, beginning about 300,000 years ago, and has not been traced to one region or one time period. To read more about our human ancestors, go to "Decoding Human Genetics."

Categories: Blog

Additional Mosaics Uncovered at Huqoq Synagogue

July 12, 2018

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA—A richly decorated fifth-century A.D. synagogue in northern Israel indicates that its Jewish village continued to thrive under Roman Christian rule, according to a Live Science report. Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina said the mosaic floors of the Huqoq synagogue are colorful and filled with figured scenes, even though it had been previously thought that Jewish art of the period avoided the use of such images. Previously uncovered sections of the floors illustrate biblical stories such as Noah’s ark, the parting of the Red Sea, the Tower of Babel, and Samson and the foxes. Newly discovered this year is a section depicting a tale from the book of Numbers in which Moses sends 12 spies into the land of Canaan to bring back information on the region’s soil, fruit, and people. Depictions of elephants, cupids, and Alexander the Great are also found in the synagogue’s mosaic floor. Magness thinks the pictures may have served to educate viewers, in addition to laying claim to Jewish heritage. “Some of the prayers and songs that were recited would have related to the scenes that were visible in the mosaics,” she explained. To read about Byzantine mosaics recently discovered in Israel, go to “Gods of the Galilee.”

Categories: Blog

Did the Romans Hunt Whales?

July 12, 2018

YORK, ENGLAND—A study of DNA and collagen obtained from whale bones led by Ana Rodrigues of the French National Center for Scientific Research and Camilla Speller of the University of York suggests the Romans may have hunted whales on an industrial scale, according to a BBC News report. The bones were recovered from four archaeological sites around the Strait of Gibraltar and one on the coast of northwest Spain, several of which have been linked to Roman fish-salting and the making of Roman fish sauce. Three of the bones were identified as the bones of grey whales, which disappeared from the North Atlantic in the eighteenth century A.D. and are now only found in the northern Pacific Ocean. As many as three of the bones in the study were identified as North Atlantic right whale bones. Right whales used to breed off the northern coast of Spain, but are now only found in the Western North Atlantic. The study suggests these slower-moving whales may have once traveled the Mediterranean Sea as well, where they would have been easily accessible to the fishermen of the Roman Empire. For more on Roman activity in Spain, go to “Spain’s Silver Boom.”

Categories: Blog

Tarnished Daguerreotypes Yield Their Images

July 11, 2018

LONDON, CANADA—Chemist Madalena Kozachuk of Western University and her colleagues, in a time-consuming process, used a synchrotron to scan tarnished nineteenth-century daguerreotypes to reveal their obscured images, according to a Science News report. By mapping the particles of mercury on the plates, the synchrotron was able to detect places where more light had been reflected during the photographic process, and thus formed the lighter areas of the image. “When the image became apparent, it was jaw-dropping,” Kozachuk said. “I squealed when the first face popped up.” To read about the use of technology to read faded text on pottery sherds, go to “Reading Invisible Messages.”

Categories: Blog

Rock Art Discovered in Tanzania

July 11, 2018

KRAKOW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that archaeologist Maciej Grzelczyk of Jagiellonian University has found hundreds of ancient rock paintings spread out over more than 50 locations in Tanzania’s Swaga Swaga Game Reserve. Grzelczyk said the paintings, made with red or white pigments, resemble those at Kondoa, a nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of them are so faded they can only be seen with special camera filters. “Red paintings are particularly varied: In addition to the images of animals, there are also meteors or comets,” Grzelczyk said. Some of the images may be baobab trees. “Perhaps we are dealing with images related to mythology—according to the local beliefs, baobabs played an important role in the creation of mankind,” he explained. He added that the white paintings are thought to have been made more recently, yet were never placed over the earlier red images, perhaps as a sign of respect. The white paintings often feature giraffes and elephants, and may have played a role in fertility rituals, since the animals are often shown pregnant or during delivery. To read about early hominin footprints found in Tanzania, go to “Proof in the Prints.”

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