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Hellenistic Burials Uncovered in Alexandria

June 10, 2017

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a tomb dating to the Hellenistic period (323‒30 B.C.) has been discovered in the El-Shatby neighborhood of Alexandria by a team from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. Funerary prayers written in Greek and geometric designs are among the decorations in the tomb’s four halls and burial shafts. Some 300 artifacts, including pottery, lamps, and a terracotta statue, were recovered. The researchers plan to study the phrases written on the individual burials. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

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Shipwreck Update From the South Pacific

June 10, 2017

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Live Science reports that divers and archaeologists from the Australian National Maritime Museum and the Silentworld Foundation attempted to visit the wreckage of the Jenny Lind, a sailing ship that sank in 1850 after it struck the Kenn Reefs, a submerged atoll located amid the Coral Sea Islands. The Jenny Lind was found during a survey in 1987, but the researchers could not find a trace of the vessel on this latest expedition. They think the ship, remembered for the spectacular survival story of the 28 people on board, were broken up by powerful tidal currents and tropical weather. The researchers were able to record the positions of cannons, anchors, and ballast stones from four other nineteenth-century wrecks, however, that were probably traveling along the major trade route between Australia and the French and Dutch Pacific colonies. The reef was eventually added to official navigation charts in 1859. For more on underwater archaeology, go to “Shipwreck Alley.”

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Circular Temple and Ball Court Discovered in Mexico City

June 9, 2017

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Reuters reports that the foundations of a circular Aztec temple and a ceremonial ball court have been unearthed in Mexico City, near Zocalo Plaza. The modern capital was built over the Aztec capital, known as Tenochtitlan, which was captured by the Spanish is 1521. The stucco-covered temple, dedicated to the wind god Ehecatl, was erected during the reign of Emperor Ahuizotl, between 1486 and 1502. Archaeologist Eduardo Matos of Mexico’s National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) said the top of the temple probably resembled a coiled snake. Priests would have entered the building through a doorway that looked like the snake’s nose. Archaeologist Raul Barrera, also of INAH, said that 32 severed neck vertebrae were found in a pile near the ball court. “It was an offering associated with the ball game, just off the stairway,” he said. “The vertebrae, or necks, surely came from victims who were sacrificed or decapitated.” For more, go to “Under Mexico City.”

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Green-Glass Spearhead Found on Australia’s Prison Island

June 9, 2017

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA—Students from the University of Western Australia have uncovered a spearhead made of bright green glass on Rottnest Island, according to a report from ABC News. Nearly 4,000 Aboriginal men and boys were imprisoned on the island, also known as Wadjemup, between 1838 and 1931. The prisoners are thought to have made such spearheads from scrap pieces of glass for use in trade, building relationships, and for hunting small nocturnal marsupials called quokkas. The spearhead, which has been estimated to be at least 100 years old, has been reburied on the island. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Alone, but Closely Watched.”

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Wooden Palisades at Avebury Dated to 5,300 Years Ago

June 8, 2017

AVEBURY, ENGLAND—Live Science reports that a monument in Avebury, England, located about 23 miles away from Stonehenge, may be 800 years older than had been previously thought. The monument, which resembled a pair of eyeglasses outlined with tall, wooden posts, was first dated to 2500 B.C., or about the time that Stonehenge was built. Researchers recently employed new radiocarbon-dating techniques on pottery, animal bones, and charred remains of posts found in the monument’s post holes to arrive at the new, older date. “It’s much too large to be a stock enclosure; it’s got to be a ceremonial enclosure,” explained statistical archaeologist Alex Bayliss of Historic England. He thinks one enclosure may have been for men, and the other for women. Both were burned to the ground in what Bayliss called an “amazing spectacle.” Few remains of human occupation from the time have been found in the area, but later, Neolithic housing has been uncovered, suggesting that people returned to the site after the fire. They may even have been involved with the construction of the nearby chalk mound known as Silbury Hill. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

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Human Tooth Recovered From Civil War Submarine

June 8, 2017

CLEMSON, SOUTH CAROLINA—The Post and Courier reports that a human tooth was recovered from a concretion in a crank handle on the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley. Named for her inventor, the 40-foot submarine was lost in Charleston Bay on February 17, 1864, after it rammed a Union blockade ship with a black powder charge. The vessel was discovered in 1995 and raised from the bottom in 2000. The remains of the eight sailors who manned the iron vessel were removed by conservators at Clemson University’s Warren Lasch Conservation Center and reburied in 2004. The tooth was found at crank handle position Number 3, where crewman Frank Collins sat. Archaeologist Michael Scafuri thinks the tooth was lost after Collins died. Bits of cloth and a loose metal sleeve have also been found at some of the crank positions. The coverings may have been intended to reduce blistering and chaffing of the sailors’ hands. To read more about this ship and another Civil War ship, go to “History's Greatest Wrecks: USS Monitor and H.L. Hunley.”

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300,000-Year-Old Fossils Resemble Homo sapiens

June 8, 2017

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that hominin remains resembling Homo sapiens have been discovered at a site known as Jebel Irhoud in Morocco and dated to 300,000 years ago, making them 100,000 years older than the oldest known Homo sapiens remains from East Africa. The fossils were found in a limestone cave whose roof had been damaged by mining operations, among flint tools, gazelle bones, and lumps of charcoal. The fossils include a partial skull, a jawbone, teeth, and limb bones from three adults, a juvenile, and a child of about eight years old. The lower jaw is similar to that of modern humans, but larger, and the braincase is more elongated. “The face of the specimen we found is the face of someone you could meet on the tube in London,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The researchers also note that the tools had been made with flint obtained about 30 miles to the south, and had been resharpened several times. They think the hominins may have traveled to the area to hunt gazelles, and carried their tools with them. For more, go to “Early Man Cave.”

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Open-Air Neanderthal Site Discovered in Israel

June 7, 2017

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—According to a report in The Times of Israel, a Neanderthal upper molar and Neanderthal lower limb bones have been found at a 60,000-year-old open-air site in northern Israel by an international team of scientists led by Ella Been of Ono Academic College and Erella Hovers of Hebrew University. The lower limb bones were found in a layer that also contained flint tools, animal bones, marine shells, pigments, and deer antlers. It had been previously thought that Neanderthals lived primarily in caves, since that is where their remains are usually recovered. But the study suggests that Neanderthals repeatedly visited the open-air site, known as Ein Qashish, and thus had adapted to living in diverse environments by the time Homo sapiens arrived in the Near East. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

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Adolescents’ Cemetery Unearthed in Amarna

June 7, 2017

CARBONDALE, ILLINOIS—According to a report in The Guardian, a team of researchers led by Gretchen Dabbs of Southern Illinois University examined the skeletons of 105 individuals whose remains were recovered from the North Tombs Cemetery at Amarna, the short-lived city built by the so-called heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, who died in 1332 B.C. The entire cemetery, which is located near an ancient stone quarry, could contain thousands of burials. The analysis revealed that more than 90 percent of the deceased in the sample had been between the ages of seven and 25, with most under the age of 15. Adolescents usually experience robust health, but the majority of the teens in the sample showed signs of traumatic injuries and degenerative conditions associated with heavy workloads. The researchers also note that the young people may not been buried by their families, since the graves lacked grave goods, and multiple bodies had been stacked in many of them. The young workers may have been the children of slaves, or captured for the purpose of building the pharaoh’s city. For more, go to “In Search of History's Greatest Rulers: Nefertiti, Great Royal Wife and Queen of Egypt.”

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Paleocoastal Deposits Discovered on Santa Rosa Island

June 7, 2017

SANTA ROSA ISLAND, CALIFORNIA—The Ventura County Star reports that artifacts estimated to be between 8,000 and 13,000 years old have been uncovered in Channel Islands National Park. The site, found under a 150-year-old ranch house that has been lifted up off the ground in order to install a new foundation, has yielded a Channel Islands barbed point and a crescent, both of which are thought to have been used by ancestors of the Chumash people to hunt and fish. “Usually, when we find the two of them together, the site is at least 10,000 years old and could be 12,000 years old or older,” said Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon. For more on early occupants of the West Coast, go to “Coast over Corridor.”

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3,000-Year-Old Copper Mask Found in Argentina

June 6, 2017

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA—A 3,000-year-old mask has been discovered in an ancient cemetery in northwestern Argentina, according to a report in Live Science. The mask rested on a pile of the bones of an estimated 14 people that was exposed in the southern Andes during the rainy season. Made of a piece of rectangular-shaped copper measuring about seven inches long and six inches wide, the mask has holes marking the positions of eyes, nose, and mouth. Small openings at the edges of the mask may have been used to fasten it to a person’s face or to another object. A copper pendant and a stone bead were also found nearby in the burial of a single child. The researchers, led by M. Cristina Scattolin of the Juan B. Ambrosetti Museum of Ethnography, said that deposits of copper have been found within 44 miles of the burial site, which suggests that the copper items could have been produced locally. It had been thought that metalworking in South America at this time was a skill limited to people living in Peru. To read about a mask discovered in a different part of the world, go to “Mask Metamorphosis.”

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Underground City Discovered in Turkey

June 6, 2017

KAYSERI, TURKEY—An ancient underground city consisting of 52 chambers has been discovered in central Turkey, according to a report in the Daily Sabah. Local people who found a cave at the site informed the Kayseri Metropolitan Municipality, Obruk Cave Research Staff, and Kayseri’s Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage (ÇEKÜL). Further investigation of the area revealed the network of chambers, named Belağasi Underground City, which stretches out horizontally and measures more than 260 feet long. Osman Özsoy of ÇEKÜL said the site is thought to have been expanded as the population increased, and could be the first underground city found in Turkey to have more than 50 chambers. Above ground, the team found traces of a church and other structures. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “Zeugma After the Flood.”

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Nineteenth-Century Schoolhouse Found in Rural Australia

June 6, 2017

GOOGONG, AUSTRALIA—A late nineteenth-century schoolhouse has been found in southeastern Australia, according to a report in The Age. Few historic records of the schoolhouse survive, but scholars know the structure was built in the 1880s on private land, where it operated for twenty to thirty years. So far, the team of archaeologists and students from Navin Officer Heritage Consultants and Australian National University has recovered slate pencils and stone walls. Archaeologist Duncan Wright of Australian National University explained that the project could offer clues to what rural life was like in the area. The project will continue with university and primary school student involvement ahead of the development of the site. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

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Cannon Recovered Off the Coast of Rhode Island

June 6, 2017

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND—According to a report by the Associated Press, a cannon has been recovered from a shipwreck believed to be the USS Revenge, a schooner commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry that sank in 1811 after it struck a reef off the coast of Rhode Island. Perry, known as the Hero of Lake Erie, is remembered for his decisive victory over the British navy during the War of 1812. The cannon will be desalinated and conserved at the Washington Navy Yard. Underwater archaeologist George Schwarz of the Naval History and Heritage Command said foundry marks on the cannon could help scholars identify the shipwreck. “There aren’t any other U.S. Navy vessels lost, as far as we know, right in this area, and there aren’t too many other armed vessels, as far as we know, lost here,” he explained. For more on underwater archaeology, go to “Shipwreck Alley.”

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Ancient Temple Discovered in Southwest China

June 5, 2017

CHENGDU, CHINA—Xinhua News Agency reports that archaeologists from the Chengdu Cultural Relic Research Institute have found the site of a famous temple dating from the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317‒420) to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127‒1279), in downtown Chengdu. The building, which could help scholars trace the spread of Buddhism in China, is said to have been named Fugan, or “perceive the blessing,” Temple after a Tang Dynasty (618‒907) monk prayed for rain outside the structure during a drought. “We have only excavated a part of the temple’s area, but already have a glimpse of its past glory,” said team leader Yi Li. So far, the excavators have uncovered the temple’s foundation and traces of the surrounding buildings, wells, roads, and ditches. More than 1,000 tablet fragments inscribed with Buddhist scriptures, more than 500 pieces of sculpture, and inscribed glazed tiles have been found, in addition to some 80 tombs, which date from 1600 to 256 B.C. Damaged by war, Fugan Temple is said to have fallen out of use in the thirteenth century. For more, go to “Buddhism, in the Beginning.”

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10,000-Year-Old Rice Discovered in China

June 3, 2017

SHANGSHAN, CHINA—According to a report in The Atlantic, a team in China has radiocarbon-dated rice phytoliths from the lower reaches of the Yangtze River to nearly 10,000 years ago. Poor preservation at the Shangshan site makes it unclear whether the earliest microscopic pieces of silica came from domesticated, wild, or transitional rice plants, but the grains are thought to have been small, thin, and easily scattered. Archaeologists have also found imprints of rice husks on pieces of pottery, in addition to stone tools that could have been used for milling. The scientists note that the surface patterns on the phytoliths changed over time. The markings on the youngest samples resemble those found on more modern, domesticated rice phytoliths. For more on archaeology in China, go to “World's Oldest Pants.”

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Late Roman Gold Coins Unearthed in The Netherlands

June 3, 2017

NIJMEGEN, THE NETHERLANDS—Dutch News reports that a hoard of gold coins was unearthed in an orchard in the central eastern Netherlands. Some of the coins bear the image of Majorian, one of the last rulers of the Roman Empire. Archaeologist Nico Roymans of Vrije University thinks the coins may have been buried in the second half of the fifth century A.D. by a Frankish military leader who had been paid by the Romans for help with local Germanic tribes. Maps of the area dating to the nineteenth century show a burial mound at the spot where the coins were found. “The burial mound would have been easy to find in the late Roman era and maybe that was the reason for hiding the treasure there,” Roymans said. The coins will go on display at Valkhof Museum. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

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Lost Egyptian Artifact Found in Michigan

June 3, 2017

BERLIN, GERMANY—Live Science reports that an Egyptian artifact lost during World War II has been found in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor by Dutch Egyptologist Nico Staring. The faience-covered carving, which had been purchased from an English collection in 1910, was hidden in a sarcophagus in Berlin’s Neues Museum at the beginning of the war. The museum, however, went on to be heavily damaged by Allied bombers. According to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the artifact was acquired from a private collector in 1945 by Dutch-American physicist Samuel Abraham Goudsmit, who was in charge of investigating Germany’s nuclear weapon program during the war. Goudsmit eventually donated the carving, which depicts Ptahmose, the mayor of Memphis during the reign of Ramesses II, worshipping Osiris and Isis, to the Kelsey Museum. Upon learning the history of the artifact, officials at the Kelsey Museum decided to return it to Berlin, where it will go on display at the Neues Museum, which reopened in 2009. For more on Egypt, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

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Cancer Identified in 700-Year-Old Bones From Panama

June 2, 2017

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA—According to a report in Smithsonian Magazine, bioarchaeologist Nicole Guzmán-Smith of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute found evidence of bone cancer in 700-year-old skeletal remains stored since they were unearthed at a village site in Bocas del Toro more than 40 years ago by archaeologist Olga Linares. At the time, Linares wrote that she had found the remains of a “diseased individual,” who had been discarded in a trash midden. Guzmán-Smith says that radiocarbon dating has shown that the bones belonged to a teenager who had been carefully buried in the midden with ceramic vessels and a shell trumpet after the village had been abandoned. The teen would have had a swollen upper right arm from the sarcoma, but Guzmán-Smith and pediatric oncologist Jeffrey Torestsky of Georgetown University say that it was probably not the cause of his or her death. Guzmán-Smith also explained that the shells in the midden helped to preserve the bones, and the rare evidence of cancer, from the region’s acidic soil. For more on the identification of incidents of cancer in the archaeological record, go to "Ancient Oncology."

Categories: Blog

Cat Print Found on Roman Roof Tile in England

June 2, 2017

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—A cat’s paw print has been found on a piece of Roman roof tile dating to the first century A.D. in the East of England. Lincolnshire Live reports that the tile was uncovered during the excavation of a Roman town in the path of a new highway. Most of the town’s buildings would have been constructed with timber and thatch, but tiles would have been made on site for the construction of the homes of wealthy Romans. A cat, possibly wild or domesticated, must have walked across this tile while it had been drying outside before it was fired in a kiln. Deer and dog prints have also been found on tiles recovered during the new road construction project. To read more about animal prints in Roman Britain, go to "They're Just Like Us."

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