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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, November 24

Jewelry Recovered With Middle Kingdom Mummy

LUXOR, EGYPT—The mummy of a wealthy woman whose sarcophagus had been trapped under a collapsed roof has been recovered from the necropolis below the temple of Pharaoh Thutmosis III (1490-1436 B.C.). “A large boulder, which had fallen down before the tomb was looted, had crushed and buried a previously untouched coffin with all its content,” Myriam Seco Álvarez, director of the Thutmosis III Temple Project, told Discovery News. “She still wore the marvelous jewelry that was attached during the process of mummification.” The jewelry includes a necklace of semiprecious stones and gold plates with a golden shell pendant; two golden arm bangles; and very worn silver ornaments on both ankles.

1,700-Year-Old Tombs Excavated in China

KUCHA, CHINA—A 1,700-year-old cemetery has been excavated along the route of the Silk Road in northwest China, according to a report in Live Science. Seven of the ten excavated tombs were large, brick structures, one of which contained carvings of mythical creatures. Four of the creatures represent different seasons and parts of the heavens, including the White Tiger of the West, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the Black Turtle of the North, and the Azure Dragon of the East. Zhiyong Yu, director of the Xinjiang Archaeological Institute, said that the tombs were probably built for wealthy people, but that they had been looted in antiquity and no identifying materials remain in the burials. Analysis of the skeletal remains suggest that some of the tombs were used multiple times, however. “In ancient times, Kucha was called Qiuci in Chinese literature. It was a powerful city-state in the oasis of the Western Frontiers,” Zhiyong Yu and his team wrote in Chinese Cultural Relics. To read about looting of similar sites in China, see "Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Tourist Receives Hefty Fine for Defacing Colosseum

ROME, ITALY—A 42-year-old Russian tourist has been fined €20,000 and has received a suspended sentence for vandalizing the Colosseum. Italian authorities say that the man was using a sharp stone to carve a ten-inch-tall letter “K” into a ground-floor brick wall when he was apprehended by a guard and arrested. Rome’s archaeology superintendent Mariarosaria Barbera told Wanted in Rome that the damage is “significant” and that it removed part of the surface of the wall, “compromising the conservation and image” of the monument. The man was the fifth foreign tourist caught damaging the Colosseum this year. 

Bone Analysis Shows Gravettian People Ate Mammoth

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Science Daily reports that the analysis of human and animal fossil bones from a prehistoric site in the Czech Republic shows that the people consumed large quantities of mammoth meat, in addition to using their bones to build structures and carve ivory sculptures. Large numbers of dog remains have also been recovered, but the chemical composition of their bones suggest that they ate mostly reindeer meat, even though other carnivores, such as brown bears, wolves, and wolverines, had access to mammoth meat. According to University of Tübingen researcher Hervé Bocherens, traditional populations in northern regions often feed their dogs with food that they do not like. The dogs from Předmostí, which may have served as transportation helpers, were probably restrained to keep them from feasting on tasty mammoth. The other carnivores probably scavenged the carcasses.

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Friday, November 21

A Magic Spell Book from Ancient Egypt

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—A mysterious ancient Egyptian parchment codex that has been in the collection of Macquarie University in Australia for more than three decades has finally been deciphered and found to contain a series of invocations and spells. The book, which likely dates to the seventh or eighth century A.D. and is written in the Egyptian language called Coptic contains a variety of spells—some love spells, some to exorcise evil spirits, and others to treat infections. As to who would have used these spells, lead researcher Malcolm Choat told Livescience, "It is my sense that there were ritual practitioners outside the ranks of the clergy and monks, but exactly who they were is shielded from us by the fact that people didn't really want to belabeled as a "magician.” To read about all kinds of ancient magic, see ARCHAEOLOGY’S “When Spells Worked Magic.”

Roman Gold Mining from the Air

LEON, SPAIN—Researchers from the University of Salamanca have discovered a sophisticated ancient Roman gold mining network in northwestern Spain’s Eria Valley, reports La Ciencia es Noticia. Using airborne lidar that allowed them to see beneath the thick vegetation and cultivated fields, the scholars have located what they consider to be the largest opencast Roman goldmine, as well as the extremely complex and sophisticated hydraulic network used to extract the gold, a technique that the Romans learned from the Egyptians who had employed hydraulic techniques in mining for hundreds of years. To read about the discovery of a hoard of Roman gold, go to ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Hoard of Roman Gold Jewlery Unearthed in Colchester.

How to Thrive on the Roof of the World

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—A new study shows that 3,600 years ago farmers were raising crops and livestock at unprecedented altitudes on the Tibetan Plateau. “Until now, when and how humans started to live and farm at such extraordinary heights has remained an open question," archaeologist Martin Jones said in a University of Cambridge press release. "Our understanding of sustained habitation above 2,000 to 3,000 meters on the Tibetan Plateau has to date been hampered by the scarcity of archaeological data available." To address that gap, Jones and his colleagues studied animal bones and plant remains from 53 archaeological sites in the region. They found that the inhabitants of the Tibetan Plateau adopted a then-novel approach to agriculture and pastoralism, relying on a diversity of crops, including cold-tolerant wheat and barley, as well as sheep, cattle, and pig, to sustain year-round habitation at ever higher altitudes at the same time that the climate was getting colder. Jones thinks that study of such ancient agricultural practices can help modern societies. "The more we learn about the rich ecology of past and present societies, and the wider range of crops they raised in the world’s more challenging environments, the more options we will have for thinking through food security issues in the future.” To read more about early agriculture, see "Can Barley Tell the Tale of Civilization."

Danish Fortress Dated to Viking Age

AARHUS, DENMARK—Radiocarbon dating of logs from the ring fortress that was unearthed in Denmark earlier this year confirm that it dates to the Viking period, sometime around the tenth century, meaning that it could have been built during the reign of King Harald Bluetooth. "We can’t say whether or not it’s Harald Bluetooth’s fortress yet, but now that we’ve dated it to the tenth century, the trail is getting hotter," medieval archaeologist Søren Sindbæk told Aarhus University News. "The things we’ve discovered about the fortress during the excavations all point in the same direction. We already know that there’s a good chance that we’ll find conclusive evidence next year.” Sindbæk notes that Harald Bluetooth oversaw the construction of three known fortresses in Denmark, and that their dimensions and the structure of their ramparts and gates are very similar to those of the newly discovered stronghold. "It’s hard to avoid the sense that the same master builder was responsible,” says Sindbæk. To read more about this era in Scandinavian history, see "The First Vikings."

Thursday, November 20

Early Neanderthal Site Endangered

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—The Baker’s Hole site in Kent is known for its 250,000-year-old Neanderthal remains. Francis Wenban-Smith of the University of Southampton is working to survey it and examine paleo-environmental remains before the site is lost to erosion, animal burrows, and plant roots. “These biological remains can tell us a lot about the environment early Neanderthals lived in. We can tell if the climate was warm or cold, whether the area was wooded or marshland, and other factors that help us to see the context in which they lived. They can also help date the site accurately,” he said. The new information will help to create a management plan that could ensure the site’s survival. To read about research into Neanderthal diet and technology, see "Neanderthal Medicine Chest."

U.S. Returns Looted Artifacts to Thailand

BANGKOK, THAILAND—The U.S. government has returned hundreds of artifacts to Thailand in a ceremony at the country’s National Museum. The artifacts were recovered from a museum in southern California after a five-year, undercover federal investigation. Many of them had been looted from Ban Chiang, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in the 1970s. “Of the artifacts returned to Thailand, we can say that the 554 pieces, most of them are priceless because they are dated to a prehistoric period,” Vira Rojposhanarat, the kingdom’s culture minister, told Voice of America. Rojpochanarat accepted the artifacts from U.S. Charge D’Affaires W. Patrick Murphy, the highest-ranking American diplomat in the country. 

Ancient Rock Art Discovered Near Sydney

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—A rock art site thought to be tens of thousands of years old has been discovered in Sydney’s north shore area. Images of the ancient artwork have been computer-enhanced to make the natural pigments more visible, and to differentiate them from recently painted images. The hand stencils had been hidden behind vegetation and were found when employees of Sydney Water started looking around after finding a traditional fishing hook. “It was found on the top of the midden site, and quite exposed. We wandered down here and found this. We’d really gone to see the water pool,” Yvonne Kaiserglass, a heritage officer at Sydney Water, told ABC News. The site would have offered shelter, and is near a waterhole that could have provided eels and fish for food. Drawings depict eels, a spearhead, and a crescent-shaped moon. “These are hand stencils, and judging from the size of these, they would have been women and children. So you could imagine they’d be here, resting,” said Col. Davison from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. To see more Australian prehistoric art, see "The Rock Art of Malarrak."