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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, February 10

Colchester’s Monumental Roman Arcade Uncovered

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have known about the arcade that had been built at the Temple of Claudius in Colchester for some 60 years, but the demolition of a modern office block has uncovered evidence that the covered walkway was the largest in Roman Britain. The arcade was built in the first or second century A.D., following the destruction of Colchester during Boudicca’s rebellion. “Its closest rival in terms of size stands in what was Gaul, in northern France, and shares some of the architecture we can see in Colchester today,” Philip Crummy, director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, told The Telegraph. “The original arcade and its grand columns are similar to those you see in Bath, at the Roman Baths. It really is an extraordinary find and confirms the grandeur and richness of its Roman culture,” he said. For more on the Roman period in England, go to "What’s in a Name?"

Hoard of Medieval Coins Discovered in Denmark

FOULUM, DENMARK—Three members of the Central Jutland Detector Society discovered a cache of 700-year-old coins in a field near the excavation of an Iron Age building. The poor quality and low silver content of the coins are thought to reflect the civil war in Denmark at the time. “The treasure comes from an unstable period, and it is conceivable that the owner wanted to hide them away until better and more stable times. For some unknown reason, he never returned to collect his coins,” Viborg Museum curator Mikkel Kjeldsen told The Local, Denmark. The coins will be cleaned and displayed at Viborg Museum. For more on archaeology in Jutland, go to "Bronze Age Bride."

Tests Reveal Sources of Rome’s White Marble

MADRID, SPAIN—Mónica Alvarez de Buergo of Madrid’s Geosciences Institute and scientists from the University of Calabria collected 50 samples of white marble from the now-submerged luxury villas in the Underwater Archaeological Park of Baia, located near Naples. The Roman emperors Augustus and Nero owned villas in the city, which thrived between the first century B.C. and the third century A.D. “First, thin layers of the collected marble were observed using a petrographic microscope. Then, the mineral composition of the marble was studied using X-ray diffraction and the manganese content was determined with Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry. Scanning Electron Microscopy was then carried out and various isotopes were analyzed,” Alvarez de Buergo said in a press release. The team compared the test results with the chemical signatures of eight of the best marble quarries of the ancient world, and found matches for all but five of the samples. “The variety and quality of the marble identified highlight the importance held by this area in the past seeing as it yielded the best ornamental marble of that time period, and this helps to determine the trade routes that were used at that point in time during the Roman Empire,” she said. For more on marble in Ancient Rome, go to "A Spin through Augustan Rome."

Greece’s Ancient Silver-Mining Infrastructure Studied

GHENT, BELGIUM—A team of mining archaeologists has investigated a 5,000-year-old silver mine in Thorikos, Greece. The cramped mines were likely to have been worked by slaves, who endured the lack of light, fresh air, and temperatures that hovered around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. “The progress of the underground survey required a constant vigilance in this stuffy space where the rate of oxygen must be permanently watched,” Denis Morin of the University of Lorraine said in a press release. The team members have found tool marks on the walls of the subterranean galleries, graffiti, pottery, oil lamps, stone hammers, and crushing areas. By the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., silver was extracted on a large scale with a sophisticated system from shafts cut through the rock. For more on ancient silver mining, go to "The Environmental Cost of Empire."


More Headlines
Tuesday, February 09

Unknown Trajan Statue Housed in Bulgaria’s National Museum

SOFIA, BULGARIA—Pieces of a bronze statue of Emperor Trajan, discovered in the 1980s, could be restored by conservators at Bulgaria’s National Museum of History. Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the second-century statue, decorated with images of gods and heroes from ancient mythology, has been stored in the conservation laboratory at the museum, but has never been shown to the public. It was unearthed at the site of Candidiana, a Roman road station and fortress located on the Danube River. The fort was eventually destroyed during the invasions of the Byzantine period. The museum’s conservators just need funding to restore the statue and space to display it when they are finished. For more on Emperor Trajan, go to "Rome's Lost Aqueduct."

Badger Discovers 4,000-Year-Old Archer’s Burial

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—A Bronze Age burial was discovered near Stonehenge after a badger dug up a cremation urn and other pieces of pottery and left them on the surface of the ground. Senior archaeologist Richard Osgood of the Ministry of Defense told BBC News that the burial, which included a bronze saw, an archer’s wrist guard, a copper chisel, shaft straighteners, and cremated human remains, may have belonged to an archer or a person who made archery equipment. The badger’s claw marks can be seen on some of the pottery fragments. “There are badger setts in quite a few scheduled monuments—the actions of burrowing animals is one of the biggest risks to archaeology in Britain—but to bring out items of this quality from one hole is unusual,” he said. For more on animals as excavators, go to "Critter Diggers."

Tree-Ring Data Reveals Little Ice Age 1,500 Years Ago

BIRMENSDORF, SWITZERLAND—Tree-ring data collected in the Altai Mountains of Russia have helped scientists reconstruct summer temperatures in central Asia for the past 2,000 years. “The course temperatures we took in the Altai Mountains correspond remarkably well to what we found in the Alps,” Ulf Büntgen of the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape WSL said in a press release. His multidisciplinary research team detected a period of low temperatures in the sixth century A.D. that they call the “Late Antique Little Ice Age,” or LALIA. The low temperatures were likely the result of three volcanic eruptions in the mid-sixth century that ejected particles into the atmosphere and blocked sunlight. The resulting famine was followed by the pandemic of the Justinian plague and political turmoil that may have led to the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire. To the south, the Arabian Peninsula received more rain than usual and grew more vegetation that may have sustained larger herds of camels used by Arab armies. “The LALIA fits in well with the main transformative events that occurred in Eurasia during that time,” Büntgen explained. For more, go to "Letter from Iceland: Surviving the Little Ice Age." 

Monday, February 08

Spain and Argentina Return Artifacts to Ecuador

QUITO, ECUADOR—Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s Minister of Culture and Heritage, announced that the governments of Spain and Argentina returned a total of more than 500 artifacts between December and January. The objects include artworks from the colonial era, maps, and archaeological artifacts. “The protection of the heritage goods is a pressing need, because they are unique and irreplaceable,” Luis García, Cultural Counselor of the Spanish Embassy in Ecuador, told The Art Newspaper. To read more about archaeology in Ecuador, go to "The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui." 

Archaeologists Say Security a Concern in Egypt’s Giza Plateau

CAIRO, EGYPT—Hussein Bassir, director of the Giza Plateau, responded to world-wide concern about videos that show pieces of the Menkaure Pyramid for sale. “The blocks shown in the video are authentic, but have fallen from the pyramid complex across the span of time and have not been broken off by thieves,” Bassir told Ahram Online. “The criminals seen in the video were arrested and detained for four days on charges of vandalism, trading in antiquities, and fraud,” he added. Salah Al-Hadi, coordinator of the Archaeologists’ Syndicate, says that security should be tightened at all of the country’s archaeological sites, especially at the Giza Plateau and the Saqqara Necropolis. For more, go to "How to Build a Pyramid."

Scientists Simulate Biting Ability of Australopithecus sediba

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—An international team of scientists has used biomedical methods and engineering tools to analyze the facial skeleton of Australopithecus sediba. “Most australopiths had amazing adaptations in their jaws, teeth and faces that allowed them to process foods that were difficult to chew or crack open. Among other things, they were able to efficiently bite down on foods at very high forces,” David Strait of Washington University in St. Louis explained in a press release. But the new tests indicate that Australopithecus sediba may have been able to eat some hard foods, but it did not possess a powerful bite. “If it had bitten as hard as possible on its molar teeth using the full force of its chewing muscles, it would have dislocated its jaw,” explained Justin Ledogar of Australia’s University of New England. “Humans also have this limitation on biting forcefully and we suspect that early Homo had it as well,” added Ledogar. So while some australopiths evolved to bite powerfully, others did not. “Diet is likely to have played a key role in the origin of Homo,” Strait said. For more on Australopithecus sediba, go to "The Human Mosaic."

Tons of Preserved Fish Found at Prehistoric Site in Sweden

LUND, SWEDEN—The excavation of a settlement in southern Sweden has uncovered evidence of the large-scale preservation of fish more than 9,000 years ago. Osteologist Adam Boethius of Lund University found tens of thousands of fragile fish bones, bark, and an oblong pit surrounded by pole holes and smaller pin holes at the site, which had been located at a lake near the outlet of the Baltic Sea. The fish are thought to have been acidified with pine bark and seal fat, wrapped in seal and wild boar skins, and buried in a pit covered with muddy soil. This complex form of preservation would have worked in the region’s cold climate. “These findings indicate a different time line, with Nordic foragers settling much earlier and starting to take advantage of the lakes and sea to harvest and process fish. From a global perspective, the development in the Nordic region could correspond to that of the Middle East at the time,” Boethius said in a press release. For more about the archaeology of fishing, go to "Off With Their Heads."