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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, January 23

Bones Offer Clues to Health of Ancient Egypt’s Children

WARSAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a team of scientists from the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw examined the bones of 29 children whose remains were recovered from shallow graves in the sand at the Saqqara necropolis. Most of them were three to five years of age, and had probably been weaned from breast milk. “Some of the children buried at Saqqara could have died from diseases and infections, to which they were more susceptible because of lower resistance after changing diet,” said bioarchaeologist Iwona Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin of the University of Manchester. Analysis of the bones revealed the children suffered from deficiencies of iron and B vitamins; parasitic diseases, including malaria; tooth decay, due to a diet rich in carbohydrates; inhibited growth from a diet low in nutrients; and sinusitis, brought on by dust and desert sand. But most of the children’s remains did not show any signs of disease. Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin explained that it takes time to develop lesions on bones. “It could mean that due to a weak immune system [the child] succumbed to disease very quickly,” she said. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Revolutionary War Artifacts Recovered in Virginia

GLOUCESTER POINT, VIRGINIA—The Daily Press reports that artifacts dating to the Revolutionary War were found in a cellar at the site of Gloucester Point, an affluent colonial-era town located in southeastern Virginia, across the York River from Yorktown. Among the recovered artifacts is a brass plate engraved with the name “Lt. Dickson, 80th Regt. of Foot,” referring to an officer of the Royal Edinburgh Volunteers, who eventually surrendered Gloucester Town to American and French forces in 1781 during the Siege of Yorktown. Other artifacts include French infantry buttons, an English half-penny dated 1773, a silver piece of eight, two matching shoe buckles, and pieces of brass hardware. “We think they were all deposited during some sort of post-Revolution cleanup,” said archaeologist Anna Rhodes of DATA Investigations. The site has also yielded more than 600 features, including defensive ditches from the time of the Revolution and the Civil War. For more on the archaeology of the American Revolution, go to “Finding Parker’s Revenge.”

Ancient Goddess Sculpture Discovered Off Turkish Coast

IZMIR, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports that a 2,700-year-old terracotta statue has been discovered at a shipwreck site under more than 140 feet of water off the coast of southwestern Turkey. The statue, discovered by a team of archaeologists from Dokuz Eylul University, is of the lower half of a woman’s body, and is thought to represent a Cypriot goddess. The statue and other cargo items, including ceramic plates and amphoras, had been covered with sand. “When we cleaned its surroundings, we saw the toes of the sculpture,” said team leader Harun Özdaş. “Then we uncovered the lower part of the body. The goddess sculpture had a dress on it. We know that such sculptures were made of two pieces. This is why we believe that the upper part of the sculpture is in the same place.” The team will return to the site, with the permission of Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry and the support of the Development Ministry, to look for the rest of the goddess later this year. To read about another discovery in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

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Friday, January 20

Study Suggests Pompeii’s Artifacts Were Well Worn

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—USA Today reports that a team of researchers including Theodore Peña of the University of California, Berkeley, is analyzing street trash and storage containers preserved at Pompeii, a Roman city destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Peña said that in a farmhouse near Pompeii the team found beat-up kitchen gear on the shelves, including a dented bronze bucket, pots with broken rims, and a cracked casserole dish. The stove was full of ashes, suggesting that the people “just basically didn’t take out the garbage.” The researchers also found that the amphoras at a wine-bottling facility had been patched before reuse. And the lack of pieces of glass and ceramic in street trash suggests that the material was being repaired and recycled. “We’re actually starting to see evidence of people’s choices and how they dealt with their objects,” said graduate student Caroline Cheung. To read in-depth about the archaeology of Roman refuse, go to “Trash Talk.”

Sediment Core Offers Clues to Fate of Australia’s Megafauna

VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA—The International Business Times reports that scientists led by Sander van der Kaars of Monash University and Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado Boulder collected a sediment core in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southwest Australia. The core contained layers of dust, pollen, ash, and spores from a fungus that grew on the dung of plant-eating mammals that had blown or washed into the ocean. The scientists used this information to construct a model of the climate and ecosystems in southwest Australia over the past 150,000 years. The number of fungus spores in the layers of the core suggest the herbivores were plentiful in the region between 150,000 and 45,000 years ago. But then the megafauna population collapsed over a period of just a few thousand years, even though the climate remained relatively stable. Miller explained that if modern human hunters had killed even one juvenile male per year, it could have limited the ability of the species to reproduce and led to extinction in just a few hundred years. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Burials at Medieval Monastery in Sudan Analyzed

ONTARIO, CANADA—Live Science reports that the remains of more than 120 individuals exhumed from four 1,000-year-old cemeteries at the medieval site of the al-Ghazali Christian monastery in Sudan have been analyzed. In one of the cemeteries, almost all of the skeletons belonged to males, who may have been monks from the monastery. People who lived in nearby settlements are thought to have been buried in two of the other cemeteries. The most recently discovered cemetery contained only 15 burials. Robert Stark of McMaster University explained that stone structures and tombstones found in all of the cemeteries were engraved in Greek or Coptic with prayers and information about the people buried in them. Some of the burials contained well-preserved burial shrouds that had been placed over the skulls of the deceased. Post-mortem cut marks were found on the bones of two of the individuals. Another person seems to have been placed in a grave in a haphazard way, even though the grave itself was neatly dug and a stone structure was placed on top of it. For more on archaeology in Sudan, go to “The Cult of Amun.”

Viking Manor House Discovered in Sweden's Oldest Town

KORSHAMN, SWEDEN—The Local Sweden reports that Johan Runer of the Stockholm County Museum, Sven Kalmring of the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology, and Andreas Viberg of Stockholm University used ground-penetrating radar to conduct geophysical surveys at the site of the ancient Viking trade center of Birka, located on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren. They think they have found a Viking manor hall that may have belonged to the king’s royal bailiff. The hall measured more than 130 feet long and dates to the period after A.D. 810. The research team also found a fenced area connected to the hall that may have been used for religious activities, including the first known Christian mission to Sweden, in the early ninth century, by Saint Ansgar, archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Thursday, January 19

British Woman Returns Souvenir Jug to Turkey

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Daily Sabah reports that a British citizen who purchased an ancient artifact at the site of the ancient city of Ephesus in the 1960s has returned it to Turkey. The artifact, a jug thought to have been produced by the Yortan culture some 4,500 years ago in western Turkey, will be handed over to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

Possible Seat of “Lost” Dark Age Kingdom Found in Scotland

GALLOWAY, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists Ronan Toolis and Christopher Bowles of Guard Archaeology began excavating the Trusty’s Hill Fort site in southern Scotland to investigate Pictish carvings they found there, according to a report in BBC News. But instead of uncovering evidence of Picts, the team found traces of a royal stronghold thought to have been built by local Britons around A.D. 600. The hill was fortified with a high-status timber-laced stone rampart, and enclosures on lower-lying slopes. In the citadel, there was king’s hall and a smith’s shop for working gold, silver, bronze, and iron. The inhabitants of the citadel ate a diet rich in beef, oats, and barley grown in the surrounding countryside. Toolis and Bowles think this stronghold may have been the royal seat of the kingdom of Rheged, which had been thought to have been located further to the south, in the Cumbria region of northwestern England. They now think the rock carvings may have been adopted from the Picts as symbols of royalty. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

Bones of Medieval Horse Recovered at Roman Colosseum

ROME, ITALY—The Local, Italy, reports that the remains of a horse dating to between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was unearthed near the steps to the basement of the Colosseum. Francesco Prosperetti, Rome’s superintendent for archaeology, said that tests will be conducted on the bones to try to determine how old the horse was at the time of death and the state of its health. That information could help archaeologists figure out what it was doing at the ancient site. For more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”

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