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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, August 18

Maori Settlement Discovered During Roadwork

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—Extensive remains of a Maori village were unearthed during road construction in Papamoa, according to a report from the New Zealand Herald. Archaeologists Ken Phillips and Cameron McCaffrey were called in when the first evidence of the settlement was uncovered, and their excavation uncovered more than 300 archaeological features. These included large postholes, cooking pits, and sweet potato pits. The settlement appears to have been home to a large number of people and to date to between 1600 and 1800, though more precise information will be provided by radiocarbon dating. Several of the cooking pits had evidence of fire reddening at the bottom and sides, as well as concentrated deposits of charcoal and fire-cracked rocks. In addition, pieces of obsidian, all apparently from an island known as Tuhua, were found, providing evidence that tool manufacturing took place on the site. For more on archaeology in the region, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

Fifth-Century Monks’ Complex Uncovered in Egypt

  CAIRO, EGYPT—An excavation in Minya has turned up an ancient settlement that may have been a monks’ complex, according to a report from Ahram Online. The complex features a residential area measuring 320 by 425 feet that includes a mud-brick house once inhabited by a monk. Also discovered was a collection of burial chambers measuring 165 by 230 feet in all, as well as the lower part of a monk’s tombstone and a collection of metal coins and clay pots. Previous discoveries at the site have included the remains of a fifth-century mud-brick church, a shrine, a prayer hall, and chambers with walls on which Coptic hymns were written. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

Dutch Shipwreck Excavated off English Coast

KENT, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that archaeologists from Historic England and the Netherland’s Cultural Heritage Agency have returned to the site of the 18th-century Dutch East India ship Rooswijk. The ship sank off the coast of Kent in January 1740, and all 250 aboard perished. So far this season, the team has recovered artifacts that include a sailor's shoe, glass bottles, an onion jar, and Mexican silver dollars, as well as pieces of eight. The first scientifically excavated Dutch East India ship, Rooswijk was excavated in 2005, and a quantity of silver was discovered and returned to the Netherlands. But much about the wreck remains mysterious. “We have many questions,” said Dutch maritime expert Martijn Martens. “We do not even know what this ship really looked like.” To read more about nautical archaeology, go to “History’s 10 Greatest Wrecks.”

Poisonous Chemical Found in Pompeii Water Pipe

POMPEII, ITALY—Researchers have analyzed a fragment of a lead water pipe from Pompeii and found that it contained toxic levels of the chemical element antimony, reports the International Business Times. Previously, scholars had suggested that widespread lead poisoning contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire. “They used it for work pipes, for sweetening the wine, for filling out small holes in aqueducts,” said University of Southern Denmark archaeochemist Kaare Lund. “There was a lot of lead in the Roman Empire.” But Lund and his team are proposing that lead by itself didn’t pose much of a health risk, since most pipes were lined with chalky deposits that would have kept significant amounts of lead from leaking into water. But Lund notes that antimony is much more toxic than lead, and if even trace amounts of it leached into the water supply it would have had disastrous consequences, leading to kidney and liver damage and even contributing to heart attacks. The team hopes to test more Roman lead in the future to determine how common the use of antimony-laced pipes was. To read more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”


More Headlines
Thursday, August 17

Remains of Great Synagogue of Vilna Unearthed

  VILNIUS, LITHUANIA—Archaeologists have unearthed remains of underground ritual baths at the Great Synagogue of Vilna, according to a report from Haaretz. The synagogue was completed in 1633 and, since it was not allowed to be taller than the city’s churches, it rose only three floors aboveground, but extended another two stories underground. The Nazis occupied Lithuania in June 1941, and burned and ransacked the synagogue later that year. The Russians razed the building in 1965 as part of an effort to erase all vestiges of the Jewish people from the city. The excavation, led by Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, followed a late nineteenth-century architectural plan for restoring the ancient bathhouse. The archaeologists found just two ritual baths, known as mikvehs, and are unsure whether more remain. To read about another recent discovery in Vilnius, go to “The Grand Army Diet.”

Ancient Japanese Capital Discovered

YAO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that archaeologists in Japan have unearthed the remains of Yugeno-miya, a capital that was built on the orders of the Empress Shotoku, who ruled from A.D. 767 to 770. According to historical accounts, after the empress's death construction ceased and the city remained unfinished. The archaeologists found pits arranged on a grid that would have held massive pillars, as well as the remains of a canal that stretched almost a half mile and was probably used in order the transport building materials. Earlier this year, the foundation of a pagoda said to have been built by a Buddhist monk favored by Empress Shotoku was found nearby. To read more about archaeology in Japan, go to “Khubilai Khan Fleet.”

Wednesday, August 16

Hellenistic Temple Uncovered in Jordan

AMMAN, JORDAN—A Hellenistic temple has been discovered in Umm Qais, around 75 miles north of Amman, according to a report from The Jordan Times. A team from Yarmouk University led by archaeologist Atef Sheyyab discovered the temple along with a water network. The temple was built during the Hellenistic era (332-63 B.C.) and went on to be reused during the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic eras. The temple consisted of an inner area (a pronaos), a podium, and a holy chamber (a naos). The team discovered a number of Ionic-order columns that once supported the structure’s roof. Broken pottery samples will be used to more precisely date the temple. The water network includes Hellenistic wells and Roman tunnels, which lead to a hot bath outside the town. For more on archaeology in Jordan, go to “Mystery Buildings at Petra.”

Excavations of Lord Elgin’s Ship Continue

KYTHIRA, GREECE—Underwater excavation of Mentor, a ship that sank off the Greek island of Kythira in 1802, has turned up a range of items, including chess pieces, combs, and a toothbrush, according to a report from Greek Reporter. This is the fifth year in a row that excavations of the wreck have been undertaken by the Greek Ephorate of Old Antiquities. Other findings included pieces of furniture, coins, parts of a pulley, ropes, and metal portions of one of the ship’s masts. The ship was carrying antiquities taken from the Parthenon by British diplomat Lord Elgin, and was headed to Malta and then on to England, but instead sank at the entrance to the port of Avlemona on Kythira. Many if not all the sculptures from the Parthenon were salvaged in the years after the wreck and ultimately sold to the British Museum. Previous excavations have recovered various objects used by the ship’s 10-man crew, including cookware, glass, ceramics, porcelain, bottles, guns, bullets, a small cannon shell, and several compasses. For more on excavations of Mentor, go to “What If They Never Arrived?

Parts of Tudor Palace Unearthed in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—Parts of Greenwich Palace, where Henry VIII as well as his daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I were born, have been unearthed, according to The Wharf. Two rooms from the Tudor Palace were discovered during construction of a new visitor center at the Old Royal Naval College in southeast London. The rooms are thought to have been used as kitchens, a brewhouse, or for doing laundry. One of the rooms included a lead-glazed tiled floor, and the other had what are thought to have been “bee boles,” pockets in the wall where beehive baskets could be kept during the colonies’ winter hibernation. In the summer, when the hive baskets were kept outdoors, the cavities may have been used to keep food and drink cool. The palace was built in the fifteenth century and included state apartments, a chapel, courtyards, gardens, and a jousting area, but was demolished in the seventeenth century under the Stuarts and ultimately replaced with Greenwich Hospital, which today houses the Old Royal Naval College. “To find a trace of Greenwich Palace, arguably the most important of all the Tudor palaces, is hugely exciting,” said Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England. For more, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Ancient Roman Villa Excavated on Sicily

  TAMPA, FLORIDA—Portions of an ancient Roman villa on the island of Sicily as well as artifacts discovered at the site are offering new insights into life there nearly 2,000 years ago, according to a report from International Business Times. A team from the University of South Florida is excavating a 5,400-square-foot Roman villa called Durruelu, near the coastal town of Realmonte. The uncovering of new walls and floor levels, as well as a staircase and water channel, has established that the structure was consistently occupied from the second to the seventh century and was reconfigured in the fifth century. Cookware, lamps, pottery, and pottery-making equipment discovered at the site show that pottery, bricks, and tiles were produced there at large scale. Parts of the site were excavated decades ago, and the current excavation included 3-D scans of the entire site. To read in-depth about the excavation of another villa, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”