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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, September 23

Emperor Augustus’ Frescoes Restored in Rome

ROME, ITALY—A limited number of visitors to the Palatine Hill will now be able to view the restored frescoes in the homes of the Roman Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia. The 2.5 million euro project refreshed the well-preserved frescoes, which depict garlands of flowers on Pompeian red backgrounds, temples, and landscapes. “We had to tackle a host of problems which were all connected, from underground grottos to sewers—and I’m talking about a sewer system stretching over 35 hectares (86 acres),” Mariarosaria Barbera, Rome’s archaeological superintendent, told the AFP. By limiting the number of visitors, conservators will be able to control the amount of dust and humidity at the site. “Looking at the houses, the buildings he had built, we understand he was a man of power, of great strength, who knew what went into making a political man at the head of such a big empire,” said Cinzia Conti, head restorer. To read about the restoration of the frescoes of the famous Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

Scientists Examine Kazakhstan’s Geoglyphs

  ISTANBUL, TURKEY—Irina Shevnina and Andrew Logvin of Kostanay University and colleagues from Vilnius University presented the initial results of their research into the more than 50 geoglyphs that cross northern Kazakhstan at the annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists. They have conducted archaeological investigations and ground-penetrating radar surveys, and they have taken aerial photographs of the geometric structures, which were initially spotted with satellite images. The earthen squares, rings, and crosses may have been used to mark ownership of land. One of the structures is the ancient swastika design fashioned from timber. Hearths and structures at the geoglyphs suggest that they could have been used in ritual activity. “As of today, we can say only one thing—the geoglyphs were built by ancient people. By whom and for what purpose, remains a mystery,” Shevnina and Logvin told Live Science.   

43,500-Year-Old Aurignacian Tools Found at Willendorf

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Stone tools recovered from the site where the 30,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf was discovered in 1908 have been dated to 43,500 years ago, making them the oldest-known artifacts made by modern humans in Europe. Soil analysis at Willendorf indicates that these early inhabitants lived in a cool, steppe-like environment with conifer trees distributed along river valleys. “The remarkably early date of the finds shows that modern humans and Neanderthals overlapped for much longer than we thought and that modern humans coped well with a variety of climates,” announced Philip Nigst of the University of Cambridge. He adds that the changes in the material culture of the last surviving Neanderthals took place at the same time that modern humans were present at Willendorf. “The timing of these events cannot be a coincidence,” he said. 

Did Fireside Tales Aid Social and Cultural Evolution?

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—Polly Wiessner of the University of Utah used notes and recordings of conversations collected in the 1970s to examine the content of daytime and nighttime conversations among the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in northeast Namibia and northwest Botswana. She found that the daytime conversations focused mainly on complaints and criticisms about social relationships, economic concerns, jokes, and included a small percentage of stories. Evening conversations around campfires, however, centered on storytelling. “At night, people really let go, mellow out and seek entertainment. If there have been conflicts in the day, they overcome those and bond. Night conversation has more to do with stories, talking about the characteristics of people who are not present and who are in your broader networks, and thoughts about the spirit world and how it influences the human world. You have singing and dancing, too, which bonds groups,” she told Science Daily. Wiessner suggests that imaginative firelight activities spurred the cultural and social evolution of human ancestors. “We can’t tell about the past from the Bushmen. But these people live from hunting and gathering. For 99 percent of our evolution, this is how our ancestors lived. What transpires during the fire-lit night hours by hunter-gatherers? It helps answer the question of what fire-lit space contributes to human life.” 

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Monday, September 22

Caryatids Fully Revealed in Amphipolis

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—The Greek Ministry of Culture announced that the caryatids flanking the second doorway at the Kasta Hill tomb site have been completely uncovered. Standing more than seven feet tall, their well-preserved feet wear kothornoi, or thick-soled shoes, that bear traces of red and yellow paint. According to a report in Live Science, parts of the statues’ broken hands and arms were recovered from the surrounding soil. The tomb is estimated to be 2,300 years old, and is thought to have been designed by Dinocrates, chief architect to Alexander the Great. It may contain the remains of someone from his inner circle. 

Teutonic Axes Discovered in Northern Poland

WARMIA AND MAZURY, POLAND—Engineers searching the Forest District Wipsowo with metal detectors for World War II artillery shells discovered three Teutonic battle axes dating to the late Middle Ages. The iron ax heads were found together among some tree roots. “It can be assumed that this is a deposit that someone left for better times. Perhaps the person hid the weapons, fled, and never returned to this place,” archaeologist Agata Trzop-Szczypiorska told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The engineers also recovered thousands of unexploded shells. “Probably when the Germans retreated before the Red Army in 1945, they blew up their ammunition storage. The force of the explosion threw the shells around,” head engineer Meciej Gorczyca explained.

Study Suggests Today’s Iberian Pig Resembles Its Ancestors

  BARCELONA, SPAIN—A genetic sample obtained from early sixteenth-century pig remains suggests that today’s Iberian pig is closely related to Spain’s ancient pigs. “Although it is a very fragmented sample, the gene sequence offers very interesting information,” Miguel Perez-Enciso of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona told Science Daily. He and his team of researchers from Pompeu Fabra University and the National Center for Genome Analysis found that the ancient pig was not a white pig, but it did carry a series of markers typical of domesticated pigs, so it may have resembled the black or reddish pigs depicted in artwork from the sixteenth century. This coincides with historic records of pig breeding kept at the Montsoriu Castle in Girona, where the bones were unearthed. There is also genetic evidence suggesting occasional crossbreeding between wild boars and ancient pigs. “This close relation between the Iberian pig, the European boar, and the ancient pig confirms, as stated in previous studies, that crossbreeding between the Asian pig and modern Iberian pigs did not exist or was insignificant,” Perez-Enciso concluded.  

London’s Paddington Station in the Victorian Era

LONDON, ENGLAND—Excavations ahead of the construction of a new underground station, garage, and cement factory near Paddington Station have uncovered Victorian railway foundations laid by civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel is remembered for his Great Western Railway, which ran its first steam trains in 1838 on broad-gauge train tracks. In 1846, Parliament regulated the size of railroad tracks, requiring a switch to the narrower standard gauge tracks throughout the Great Western Railway. This change is reflected in a wrought iron turning circle found within the brick foundations of the site. Dating to 1881-82, it could accommodate both broad and standard gauge engines so that they could enter the 1850s engine shed, whose foundations were also found. “Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway is the most complete early mainline railway in the world. Whenever we expose parts of the original infrastructure it is vital to record these for posterity and the history of rail in this country. Using the latest 3-D scan technology provides a permanent and accurate model of Brunel’s distinctive architectural legacy,” Jay Carver, lead archaeologist for Crossrail, told The Telegraph.

Friday, September 19

Scarab Links Egyptian Pharaoh to Copper Mine in Jordan

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—Scholars from the University of San Diego discovered an Egyptian scarab bearing the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonq I on the surface of the ground at Khirbat Hamra Ifdan, an ancient copper factory in southern Jordan’s Faynan district. “Most of the time, they were amulets, sometimes jewelry, and periodically, they were inscribed for use as personal or administrative seals. We think this is the case with the Sheshonq I scarab we found,” Thomas E. Levy of the University of California, San Diego, told Live Science. The scarab may have been lost during the pharaoh’s legendary military campaign in the region 3,000 years ago, which is mentioned in inscriptions at the Karnak temple complex in Thebes. Sheshonq I may also be represented in the Hebrew Bible as the Egyptian king “Shishak.” Levy and his team had previously identified a disruption in copper production in the Faynan district with the excavation of rock layers in the area of an ancient copper slag mound at Khirbat en-Nahas that were dated with high-precision radiocarbon dates. “The scarab we found that bears Sheshonq I’s name is the first time we can definitively link the disruption to his forces,” Levy announced. To read about an important settlement in Israel that was occupied during the Bronze Age, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Excavating Tel Kedesh."  

Remains of Enslaved African-Americans Found at Nashville Zoo

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—An examination of nine sets of human remains removed from the grounds of the Nashville Zoo suggests that part of the property had once been a cemetery where enslaved African-Americans were buried. Shannon Hodge of Middle Tennessee State University found that all nine were under the age of 50 when they died. Six had arthritis of the knee and/or spine, indicating that they had carried heavy loads, and one young man had a damaged hip that may have been caused by the stress of heavy workloads at an early age. Archaeologist Larry McKee of TRC Companies Inc. found buttons, beads, and other artifacts dating between the 1820s and 1850s when he conducted the original excavation. “I’m thoroughly certain that what we’ve got now is part of the enslaved community using that as a burial ground,” he told The Tennessean. To read about escaped slaves in the Great Dismal Swamp, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "American Refugees."  

Roman-Period Village Excavated in Poland

KROSNO, POLAND—A village dating from the third to fourth centuries A.D. has been discovered in the Carpathian Mountains of southeastern Poland. At the site, archaeologists have uncovered a large kiln. “It stands on a small tip in the Wisloka Valley. Its location shows that the wind blowing from the river was used to maintain the temperature during the firing cycle. Such kilns are extremely rare in the Carpathians,” archaeologist Tomasz Leszczyński of the Subcarpathian Museum told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Fragments of large vessels that were used to store grain were also recovered. To read about people who lived in the Carpathians and Balkans during this period, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Thracian Treasure Chest."  

Satellite Imagery Shows Damage to Syria’s World Heritage Sites

WASHINGTON, D.C.—An analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery by the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) shows that five of Syria’s six World Heritage sites have been severely damaged since 2011, when the civil war began. “Only one of Syria’s six World Heritage sites—the Ancient City of Damascus—appears to remain undamaged,” Susan Wolfinbarger, director of the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project at AAAS, told Science Daily. The buildings of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has suffered extensive damage. The Ancient City of Bosra, the Ancient Site of Palmyra, the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, and the castles Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din have all been damaged by mortar impacts and military activity. “There is hope, and it lies with our Syrian colleagues because they are the stewards and caretakers of these sites, and they see the value in preserving and protecting them for future generations,” said Corine Wegener, cultural heritage preservation officer for the Smithsonian Institution. “What they need from their international colleagues is some help to do that—training, materials, and other support in the international arena for the notion that it is possible to mitigate and prevent damage to cultural heritage, even in the midst of conflicts.” To read more about Syria's rich archaeological heritage, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Temple of the Storm God."