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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
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." 

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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."

Friday, February 05

Argentina Returns Artifacts to Peru

LIMA, PERU—Andina, Peru’s news agencyreports that more than 4,000 artifacts recovered in Argentina were returned to Peru last week, when the two countries signed an Agreement for the Protection, Conservation, Recovery and Return of Stolen or Illegally Exported or Transferred Cultural, Archaeological, Artistic and Historical Property. Most of the objects were seized by the government of Argentina from art collectors and traffickers in 2000. The artifacts cover a range of historic periods and include items made from metal, textiles, wood, pottery, organic fibers, and human remains. This is the largest group of artifacts repatriated to Peru to date. To read more about archaeology in Peru, go to "A Wari Matriarchy?

Britain’s “Lost” Roman Roads Found With Lidar

LONDON, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have used Lidar images produced by Britain’s Environment Agency for flood modeling and monitoring coastlines to look for roads that the Romans built in the first century during the conquest of northern England. David Ratledge has been looking for Roman roads in Lancashire for the past 45 years. Using Lidar data, he’s found a road that stretches from Ribchester to Lancaster, a distance of more than ten miles. “Previously in Lancashire we only had aerial photographs from the 1940s and 1960s to go on, but with photographs features only show up after a drought and we don’t get many of those! With Lidar, once you know what to look for, it’s blindingly obvious—you just know you’ve found a road,” he said in a press release. Four more Roman roads have been found by Hugh Toller and Bryn Gethin, including a missing part of the “Maiden Way” in Cumbria that connects the fort at Low Borrowbridge to a cavalry camp at Kirkby Thore, before it continues on to Whitely Castle and Carvoran Roman Fort, near Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria. “These were the county’s most important Roman sites so good communications between them must have been essential,” said Ratledge. To read more about LiDAR, go to "Lasers in the Jungle."

Roman Pottery Examined With High-Tech Tools

FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS—Rachel Opitz of the University of Arkansas’ Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) is working with Rome’s Capitoline Museum and the University of Missouri to study ancient ceramics of unknown provenance. The objects, which range in age from 2,000 to 2,400 years old, have been stored at the museum for more than a century. Neutron activation analysis at the Missouri University Research Reactor will help scholars identify the clay in the ceramic vessels and perhaps pinpoint where they originated. Opitz was called in by the team to scan the vessels with high-resolution structured-light technology. The 3-D images can show traces of wear that are invisible to the naked eye and distinguish between marks made from regular usage in the past and more recent scratches. “The production of a bowl or plate is interesting, but how it is used day to day, how it is lifted, washed, cooked in, chipped, and eventually thrown out is just as important,” Opitz said in a press release. To read more about Roman archaeology, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."

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