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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, August 23

Civil War Sub’s Crew Probably Killed by Explosion’s Shockwave

CLEMSON, SOUTH CAROLINA—According to a report in Nature News, Rachel Lance of Duke University suggests the sailors on board H.L. Hunley, the Confederate combat submarine which rammed USS Housatonic in Charleston Harbor with a torpedo affixed to a spar, were killed by the shockwave of the explosion. The remains of the eight men were found at their hand-crank stations within the 40-foot-long vessel, and none of them had suffered broken bones. Lance and her team simulated explosive forces on a one-sixth scale model of the submarine submerged in a pond, and measured the pressure inside the vessel. They also tested the effect of authentic weapons on iron plate, the transmission of blast energy, and calculated rates of human respiration. The researchers concluded the force of the blast would have damaged the sailors’ lungs and brains, and either killed them or knocked them unconscious, leaving the submarine to drift out on the tide and slowly fill with water. For more, go to “History's Greatest Wrecks: USS Monitor and H.L. Hunley.”

Two Sarcophagi Unearthed in Rome

ROME, ITALY—Construction work has revealed two small marble sarcophagi on the northwest slope of Monte Mario, a hill outside the boundary of ancient Rome. ANSAmed reports the sarcophagi are thought to date to the third or fourth century A.D., and may have belonged to children of well-to-do Romans. One of the sarcophagi had been decorated with carvings. Both of them will be studied and restored by researchers from Rome’s archaeological superintendency. For more, go to “Piecing Together a Plan of Ancient Rome.”

Five Roman-Era Tombs Discovered in Egypt

DAKHLA OASIS, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that five Roman-era tombs were discovered at the Beir Al-Shaghala necropolis in Egypt’s Western Desert. All of the tombs were constructed of mud-brick, but in different architectural styles, according to Ayma Ashmawi of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities department. The first tomb has two burial chambers accessed by a rectangular hall. The second has a vaulted ceiling. The upper part of a third, pyramid-shaped tomb has been uncovered. The fourth and fifth tombs also have vaulted ceilings and share an entrance. A funerary mask, pottery, an incense burner, and a small sandstone sphinx have been recovered from the tombs, in addition to two ostracons, or inscribed pieces of pottery. One of the texts was written in hieroglyphs, the other in hieratic, a cursive form of hieroglyphs often used by priests. For more on the Roman era in Egypt, go to “Hidden Blues.”

Byzantine Mosaic Contains Rare Greek Inscription

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A 1,500-year-old mosaic floor in what may have been a Christian pilgrim hostel has been unearthed in an area heavily damaged by infrastructure groundwork on the road to Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, according to a report in The Times of Israel. The nearly intact mosaic contains six lines of Greek text, written in black on a white background. Leah Di Segni of Hebrew University translated the text, which reads, “In the time of our most pious emperor Flavius Justinian, also this entire building Constantine the most God-loving priest and abbot, established and raised, in the 14th indiction.” The inscription may commemorate the construction of the building by a priest named Constantine, who was abbot of the Nea Church, founded by Justinian. De Segni also noted that the word “indiction” refers to an ancient method of keeping track of time for taxation purposes. “This new inscription helps us understand Justinian’s building projects in Jerusalem, especially the Nea Church,” Di Segni explained. Archaeologist David Gellman of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the salvage excavation team also found traces of the building’s walls, pieces of pottery, and coins dating to the sixth century A.D. For more, go to “Byzantine Riches.”


More Headlines
Tuesday, August 22

8th-Century Settlement Discovered Southwest of Dublin

SALLINS, IRELAND—Archaeologists working at a bypass construction site near the village of Sallins in County Kildare have made a host of discoveries dating back over 1,000 years, according to a report in the Leinster Leader. Excavations have revealed layers of the area's history from post-medieval roads to prehistoric cremations, including evidence of an 8th-century settlement on the banks of the River Liffey. According to Noel Dunne, an archaeologist with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the enclosure complex is marked by a series of roughly six-and-a-half-foot-deep ditches and has produced artifacts such as rings, pins, a book clasp with a design similar to the St. Brigid's cross, and the remains of a very large guard dog. To read more about the archaeology of early medieval Ireland, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”

Egyptian Solar Boat Beam Damaged During Excavation

CAIRO, EGYPT—Archaeologists and restorers traveled to the Giza Plateau to investigate the condition of one of the beams of a solar boat buried along with the pharaoh Khufu, which was damaged during an excavation, according to a report from Ahram Online. A Japanese-Egyptian team has been working since 2010 to lift, restore, and reconstruct the boat, which was buried around 4,500 years ago as part of Khufu’s burial rites. In all, 745 out of 1,264 pieces of the boat have been removed so far from the excavation pit. One of the boat’s beams was damaged by a malfunctioning crane. According to Ayman Ashmawi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Department at the Ministry of Antiquities, the damage appears to be easily reparable. The boat will ultimately be reconstructed and put on display alongside a previously excavated Khufu boat. Both boats were part of the pharaoh’s extensive grave goods, intended for use in the afterlife. To read about another discovery dating to the reign of Khufu, go to “World’s Oldest Port.”

Ritual Canaanite Artifacts Unearthed in Israel

TEL BURNA, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that archaeologists digging at the ancient Canaanite city of Libnah have unearthed artifacts that they say demonstrate a large building served as a temple there some 3,200 years ago. Led by Ariel University archaeologist Itzhaq Shai, the team first unearthed the fifty-foot-long building in 2009 and speculated at the time that it might have had a ritual role. This summer, during further excavation of the structure, the team discovered a ritual stone pillar, ceramic masks, and cultic vessels that have bolstered their initial interpretation, says Shai. In addition to goblets and zoomorphic vessels, the team also unearthed ceramic vessels from Cyprus, including two pithoi, or massive ceramic storage jars. “Since the pithoi were discovered in the same context as the cultic vessels, we assume these were also part of this activity,” said Shai. To read more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

Monday, August 21

Wreckage of USS Indianapolis Discovered in Philippine Sea

PHILIPPINE SEA, NORTH PACIFIC OCEAN—The Indianapolis Star reports that a group sponsored by the billionaire Paul Allen has succeeded in discovering the wreckage of USS Indianapolis, which sank following a Japanese torpedo attack on July 30, 1945. The 13-person team working from Allen's 250-foot research ship, R/V Petrel, said the wreckage was found at a depth of more than 18,000 feet. Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser carrying 1,197 sailors and Marines, was sailing back to the Philippines after delivering components for "Little Boy," the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in Japan on August 6, 1945. While 900 crewmen appear to have made it through the initial sinking, only 316 survived to be rescued when help arrived five days later on Aug. 2, 1945. The find comes after a recent break in the search, in July of 2016, when the Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division reported that a sailor had confirmed that a tank landing ship, LST-779, had passed the Indianapolis 11 hours before the torpedo struck. That account was confirmed by deck logs and narrowed the search area to just 600 square miles of open sea. According to the report, Allen’s team is still surveying the site of the wreckage and plans to conduct a live tour of the wreckage in the next few weeks. The crew is also working with the Navy on plans to honor the remaining 22 USS Indianapolis crew members and families of crew members. To read more about underwater recovery efforts, go to "Naval Mystery Solved.

220-Year-Old Refugee Camp Found Near Galway

GALWAY, IRELAND—Accoring to a report in the Irish Times, archaeologists working in southeast Galway’s Slieve Aughty Mountains have discovered the remains of a refugee camp dating to the 1790s, when a group of Catholics from the island's northern Ulster province, the majority of which remains a part of the United Kingdom, were forced south during a sectarian war within the linen industry. Galway community archaeologist Christy Cunniffe believes a series of circular ditches dug around hut foundations on land owned by a local farmer, which researchers initially thought might date back to the Bronze age, are evidence of temporary camps built by Ultachs, Catholics who fled persecution by a group of violent Protestant agitators known as the "Peep-O-Boys" or "Peep o' Day Boys." According to Cunniffe, as many as 7,000 Catholics, mostly from County Armagh, are believed to have been discplaced after intense competition in the linen industry exploded across sectarian lines, resulting in one of the largest internal migrations in recent Irish history. For more on the archaeology in Ireland, go to "Samhain Revival."

Ancient Trade Network Identified in Vietnam

MEKONG DELTA, VIETNAM—Archaeologists excavating a site in southern Vietnam have discovered evidence for a previously unknown 4,500-year-old trading network, reports VnExpress. Led by Australian National University archaeologist Catherine Frieman, the team discovered stone axes at a site in the region of Rach Nui, which has no stone resources of its own. “We knew some artifacts were being moved around, but this shows evidence for a major trade network that also included specialist tool-makers and technological knowledge,” said Friema. “This isn't a case of people producing a couple of extra items on top of what they need. It's a major operation.” For more on archaeology in Southwest Asia, go to “Letter from Laos: A Singular Landscape.”

Portrait of Young Woman Revealed in Herculaneum

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A previously unstudied portrait of a Roman woman in Herculaneum, which was destroyed in A.D. 79 by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, has been revealed using a portable X-ray fluorescence machine, according to a report from Seeker. Excavations in the nineteenth century uncovered much of Herculaneum, including the “House of the Mosaic Atrium,” where the portrait was found. Analysis by Eleonora Del Federico, a chemistry professor at Pratt Institute, showed that a young woman was sketched with an iron-based pigment and then her eyes were highlighted using a lead-based pigment. High levels of potassium detected in the woman’s cheeks suggest a green earth-based pigment was used to help create a flesh-toned color. “We were very surprised at the complexity and sophistication of the painting technique, the use of color, mixture of pigments and layering,” Del Federico said. For more, go to “The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum.”