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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, September 29

Vascular Prints Discovered in Egyptian Mummy’s Skull

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Imprints from the blood vessels surrounding the brain have been found inside the skull of a 2,000-year-old mummy from Egypt’s Kom al-Ahmar/Sharuna necropolis. The inside of the man’s skull had been coated with a preservative during the mummification process that captured the extremely fragile structures with “exquisite anatomical details,” Albert Isidro of the Hospital Universitari Sagrat Cor told Live Science. The brain was usually removed by Egyptian embalmers. “The conditions in this case must have been quite extraordinary,” Isidro and his team explained. Their complete report has been published in the journal Cortex. For more on recent research into Egyptian mummies, see ARCHAEOLOGY's news brief "Well Preserved Mummies Found in the Valley of the Kings."  

Medieval Friary Excavated in Scotland

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—A thirteenth-century Dominican friary that was destroyed during the Reformation in 1559 is being excavated by a team from GUARD Archaeology. Animal bones, medieval ceramics, a section of wall, and architectural stones have been unearthed. Garden soils have also been recovered. It is unclear at this time if human remains at the site are from the medieval period or later. “For Stirling, this is the first time that a medieval site has been subject to modern excavation on this scale,” Murray Cook, the archaeologist for Stirling Council, told Culture 24. To read about the excavation of an unusual peasant community in Scotland, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature "Living on the Edge."  

DNA From Marine Forager Sheds Light on Human Origins

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—An international team of scientists has worked together to study the 2,330-year-old skeletal remains discovered by archaeologist Andrew Smith of the University of Cape Town at St. Helena Bay, along Africa’s southernmost coast. Biological anthropologist Alan Morris, also of the University of Cape Town, found a bony growth in the man’s ear canal known as “surfer’s ear,” which suggests that he dove for food in the cold water as a marine hunter-gatherer. Shells dating to the same period were found near the man’s grave. Paleogeneticist Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology extracted samples from a tooth and a rib, and was able to sequence the man’s entire mitochondrial genome. Vanessa Hayes of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, an expert in African genomes, determined that the man’s maternal lineage was different from the pastoralists who migrated to South Africa from Angola 2,000 years ago. “In this study, I believe we may have found an individual from a lineage that broke off early in modern human evolution and remained geographically isolated. That would contribute significantly to refining the human reference genome,” Hayes told Science Daily. “If we want a good reference, we have to go back to our early human origins.”

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Friday, September 26

Massive Roman Coin Hoard Unearthed in England

EAST DEVON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists and conservators from the British Museum have announced that an amateur metal detectorist has found one of the largest hoards of coins ever discovered in Britain. The hoard is comprised of no less than 22,000 coins dating to between A.D. 260 and 350 that were in very good condition when they emerged from the ground, Devon County Council archaeologist Bill Horner told The Independent. Since the hoard was found ten months ago—its discovery was kept quiet to avoid looting at the site while archaeologists conducted a proper excavation—the coins have been cleaned, identified, and catalogued. Many bear portraits of the family of the emperor Constantine and of the emperor himself. The Seaton Down Hoard, as it is now called, is thought to be the fifth largest find of Roman coins in Britain and one of the largest in the whole of the Roman Empire. To read more about another remarkable hoard found in Britain, see ARCHAEOLOGY’S “Anglo-Saxon Hoard.”

Stone Tool Technology

STORRS, CONNECTICUT—By analyzing nearly 3,000 stone artifacts excavated at the site of Nor Geghi in Armenia, Paleolithic archaeologists have concluded that ancient stone toolmaking technology may have been invented independently in places other than Africa, where it was thought to have originated. Rather than spreading from a single point of origin as has been thought, toolmakers may have been creating similar tools as much as 325,000 to 335,000 years ago in several parts of the world, including Eurasia and Africa. "Technological innovation was something that our ancestors were very good at," study leader Daniel Adler told livescience. To read more about Stone Age tool technology, see ARCHAEOLOGY’S “Stone Age Artifacts Found in South Africa.”

Living the Life on the Roman Frontier

NOVAE, BULGARIA—The surprisingly luxurious lives of Roman legionnaires on the eastern edges of the empire are being uncovered by a team of archaeologists from the University of Warsaw. Two of the most notable Roman legions were stationed at the fort of Novae—the Eighth Augustan, in the mid-first century A.D., and the First Italic, who replaced the Augustan in A.D. 69. This year’s archaeological campaign has been especially successful, unearthing luxury items such as several dagger handles made of ivory, three finely crafted second-century A.D. bronze figurines, and several bronze lamps. The team also uncovered the fragments of a wooden barracks belonging to the first cohort of the Eighth Augustan Legion, and an impressive home that once was inhabited by the Roman centurion responsible for the First Italic Legion. "The building was very luxuriously equipped,” excavation director Piotr Dyczek told Science and Scholarship in Poland. “Although the area was rebuilt several times over the centuries and then plundered, we found pieces of furniture made of bronze, in the form of applications and legs in the shape of lion's paws, and well-preserved large metal lamp.” To read more about another extraordinary site in Bulgaria, see ARCHAEOLOGY’S “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Ancient Musical Chamber Discovered in Turkey

ISSOS, TURKEY—Archaeologists working at the site of Issos in the province of Hatay, Turkey, a thriving city beginning in about 545 B.C. and lasting several millennia down to the Ottoman period, have discovered an ancient music chamber according to the Hurriyet Daily News. The room is shaped like a small odeon, and likely dates back to the Roman period when Issos was filled with good roads and plentiful shops. Excavators believe that the chamber may have been used at some point as a kind of healing center for treatment of the sick. In their eighth season of digging, the archaeological team from the Hatay Museum also found the remains of an ancient Roman theater, which they are continuing to uncover. Issos is notable for being very close to the location on the Plain of Issos where the Persian king Darius fought Alexander the Great. To read more about a remarkable fourth-century B.C. tomb unearthed in Turkey, go to ARCHAEOLOGY’S “The Tomb of Hecatomnus.” 

Thursday, September 25

First House of Nazareth Discovered

NAZARETH, PAArchaeologists in Nazareth have uncovered the foundations of the First House of Nazareth, which was built in 1740, and was part of the first Moravian settlement in North America, according to a report in The Morning Call. Using historical maps and geophysical research, the archaeological team located the building’s foundations, which they began to expose soon after discovering them. In addition to the stone foundations and pieces of plaster from the building, the archaeologists also unearthed redware pottery, a pipe, buttons, a glass medicine vial, and a brass horse bell, artifacts that tell a small part of the story of the Central European Protestants who came to the Lehigh Valley in the eighteenth century as missionaries. For more about Pennsylvania archaeology, see ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Does the Natural Gas Boom Endanger Archaeology?

Reconstructing London's Temple of Mithras

LONDON, ENGLANDMuseum of London Archaeology (MoLA) researchers have taken a novel approach to restoring the third-century A.D. temple dedicated to the god Mithras that once stood in the center of the city. The temple, which was discovered in 1954, was a major attraction for London’s war-weary residents, says the Guardian, so MoLA archaeologists have taken to asking the public for their memories of the site, memorabilia, and photographs, in order to reconstruct the temple on its original foundations. They are even hoping that an early visitor may have saved a sample of the temple’s original pink mortar, none of which survives in situ. Soon after the temple was discovered it was relocated in preparation for a new office building on the site, which is currently being developed again as the new Bloomberg office building. The new building will incorporate the rebuilt temple, which should be on view by 2017 more than sixty years after it was first discovered. To read more about the intriguing ancient god Mithras, see ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Bull-killer, Sun Lord."

Rare Artifacts Found in Medieval Graves

BURDAG, POLANDNearly 100 cremation burials have been discovered during excavations in Burdąg, Poland by archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Łódź, says a report in Science and Scholarship in Poland. In the graves the team found a surprising number of artifacts both of a more expected sort, such as pottery, as well as some rarer items including tinder and flint with the remains of the fabric they had been wrapped in, a Frankish glass vessel fragment, and several knives with their wooden handles preserved. Team leader Mirosław Rudnicki believes that only 10 percent of the necropolis has been excavated thus far and that the burial site was used by a large population during the sixth and seventh centuries A.D. "The local population probably functioned as part of a tribal structure, distinguished by wealth and extensive contacts. These contacts, evidence of which has also been discovered in Burdąg, included Scandinavian, Frankish, Slavic, and Avar areas,” says Rudnicki. To read about the middle ages in another part of eastern Europe, see ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Insight: Legacy of Medieval Serbia."