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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, December 26

Possible Roman-Era Synagogue Unearthed in Israel

MAGDALA, ISRAEL—Excavations on the shore of the Sea of Galilee have revealed a large public structure outfitted with elaborate columns that suggest it could have been a synagogue dating to the Roman period. "So far, we have not found another use that could have been made of the structure besides a synagogue," Bar-Ilan University archaeologist Michael Osband told Y Net News. "The structure joins a very limited list of rural synagogues dated to the Roman period that have been uncovered so far." Abandoned sometime after the middle of the fourth century A.D., the building is still being excavated. Osband and his team hope further digging at the site will shed light on when it was occupied. To read about a spectacular discovery at another synagogue in Israel, see “Mosaics of Huqoq.” 

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Thursday, December 25

Geologist Speculates on Disappearance of Sanxingdui

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—Niannian Fan, a river sciences researcher at Tsinghua University in Chengdu, China, presented new thoughts on the disappearance of the Sanxingdui culture from a walled city on the banks of China’s Minjiang River some 3,000 years ago, at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “The current explanations for why it disappeared are war and flood, but both are not very convincing,” Fan told Live Science. In the 1980s, scientists found two pits of broken Bronze Age jades, elephant tusks, and bronze sculptures. Similar artifacts have been found nearby at another ancient city known as Jinsha. Did the people of Sanxingdui relocate to Jinsha? Fan thinks that the epicenter of an earthquake recorded to have occurred in 1099 B.C. some 250 miles away may have actually been close to Sanxingdui. Geological clues in the mountains suggest that a major earthquake triggered a landslide that dammed the river, reduced the water to Sanxingdui, and rerouted its flow to Jinsha. Later documents tell of floods that support the idea that the flow was rerouted. To read about efforts to save China's sites from looters, see "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Imported Weapon Fragments Unearthed in Wales

CARDIFF, WALES—Archaeologists at the National Museum Wales have dated a hoard made up of two blade fragments, a scabbard fitting, a multi-edged knife, and six copper ingot fragments to between 2,800 and 3,000 years ago. The sword blade fragments, scabbard, and knife are not typical of the region, while similar ingot fragments have been found in hoards in Pembrokeshire and Cornwall. “The combination of objects found in this hoard hints at the long-distance sea travel of finished objects during the Late Bronze Age, from southern England and northern France to west Wales,” Adam Gwilt, Principal Curator for Prehistory at National Museum Wales, told Culture 24. The objects were discovered by a metal detectorist last year in a well-plowed field. To read about an extraordinary Roman-period hoard discovered this year, see "Top 10 Discovery: Seaton Down Hoard."

Wednesday, December 24

Early Bronze Age Village Found in Northern Vietnam

HANOI, VIETNAM—Traces of a village estimated to be between 3,500 and 4,000 years old have been discovered on the banks of the Pho Day River in northern Vietnam, according to Trinh Nang Chung of the Institute of Archaeology. Tuoi Tre News reports that more than 400 artifacts, including pottery and stone tools from the Phung Nguyen Culture, were unearthed. The artifacts could help scholars shed additional light on Phung Nguyen Culture and the establishment of Vietnam. 

Artifacts and Apologies Arrive in Pompeii

POMPEII, ITALY—Fragments of tiles, painted plaster, bricks, and stone stolen from Pompeii are being returned by the hundreds, often with a letter of apology. “People write expressing regret, having realized they have made a terrible mistake and that they would never do it again and for this reason they are sending the stolen pieces back,” Massimo Osanna, director of the World Heritage site, told The Local. In particular, the return of one fragment has been crucial to the restoration of the Casa del Futteto, or house of the orchard keeper. The piece was taken in the 1980s and sent back last spring. Alessandro Pintucci, president of the Italian Confederation of Archaeologists, recommends additional security for cultural sites all over Italy. To read in-depth about the restoration of one of Pompeii's most dramatic structures, see "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."