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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, October 31

The Big Circles of the Middle East

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—Jordan’s “Big Circles” were first spotted from airplanes in the 1920s, but little has been learned about them since then. The low walls, often made from uncut stones, would not have kept animals in or enemies out. New aerial images of the structures, which generally measure more than 1,300 feet in diameter, have been taken by David Kennedy of the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan Project and the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME), located at the University of Western Australia. “Most are crude circles, but many are clearly intended to be geometrically precise, although often slightly distorted,” he told the Daily Mail. Kennedy hopes the photographs will bring attention to the rings. Excavation could tell scientists more about their construction and purpose.

Preserved Grains & Trade Goods Unearthed in Indonesia

YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA—Rice and maize grains dating to sometime between the eighth and tenth centuries have been found in a bamboo basket on the slope of Mount Sindoro in Central Java. Joko Siswanto, head of the Yogyakarta Archaeology Agency, says that the maize and other imported artifacts such as Chinese vases from the Tang Dynasty suggest that Indonesia was part of an international trade network at this time. “The finding is also crucial to help us trace the history of food cultivation and technology in Indonesia, especially in Java,” he told The Jakarta Post

Second Leaf of Marble Door Uncovered in Amphipolis

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—The Amphipolis Tomb website reports that a second leaf of the marble door has been found in the tomb's third chamber, along with a sand-filled trench. The marble door is estimated to weigh one and a half tons. Tracks carved in stone on the floor to guide the pivoting doors have also been uncovered.   

17th-Century Luxury Goods Discovered in Irish Castle

DUBLIN, IRELAND—The Irish Times reports that workers installing an elevator shaft at Rathfarnham Castle found a cache of seventeenth-century artifacts sealed between two stone floors at the bottom of one of the castle towers. The damp environment yielded well preserved objects, including a foldable toothbrush, clay pipes, jewelry, porcelain, coins, chamber pots, an intact drinking glass and early wine bottles, ointment jars, and a stoppered perfume bottle. “Most of the material here was imported. The family had a lot of contacts with the royal courts in England so they would have gone to London, seen the fashion, and brought it all back to show off to all of their neighbors and friends,” said Alva MacGowan, find supervisor with Archaeology Plan. Food remains indicate that the family, the descendants of Lord Adam Loftus, who built the cast in 1583, enjoyed shellfish, cherries, apricots, peaches, and tea leaves. “Tea was only introduced in England in 1650. They correspond with the porcelain tea sets imported from China. The family were importing high luxury goods from all over the world, which shows Ireland wasn’t as cut off and unfashionable as we might think,” MacGowan added.

More Headlines
Thursday, October 30

Three Egyptian Mummies Receive High-Tech Treatment

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Experts from the Washington University School of Medicine, the Saint Louis Art Museum, and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University teamed up to examine three Egyptian mummies with a state-of-the-art computerized tomography (CT) scanner. One of the mummies, Henut-Wedjebu, or “singer of Amun and lady of the house,” was discovered near Thebes and dates to the reign of Amenhotep III. The recent scans reveal that she had been mummified with her brain and lungs. Small objects had been placed around her head that may be a headdress or embellishments on her shroud. “The technical sophistication of all three mummies suggests that these were well-off individuals. We would expect to see that reflected in the condition of their teeth and skeletons. The CT scan helps us to better understand their lifestyles,” Lisa Çakmak of the Saint Louis Art Museum announced at Washington University. To read about the in-depth study of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Priestess of Amun." 

Bullets Point to the Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits

COUNTY FERMANAGH, NORTHERN IRELAND—In 1594, a force loyal to Queen Elizabeth I was traveling to Enniskillen Castle when it was intercepted by Irish chieftain Hugh Maguire at the Arney River. It had been thought that the ensuing Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits, named for the lost English rations that floated down the river, took place at the Drumane Bridge crossing. Local people, however, remembered that this first battle of the Nine Years War took place further upstream. Archaeologists conducted a metal detector survey at the proposed meadow and found sixteenth-century armor-piercing bullets. “Up until right now, for hundreds of years, the battle was meant to be behind us about a mile and a half at Drumane and that’s what I believed as well.…But when we’ve looked at the landscape a bit better, there’s a big massive line of bog for miles along here and there’s one crossing point across that bog if you want to have dry feet, and it leads right to this little ford. What we’ve found are little bullets that are special little bullets that show us the cavalry were here, armored men,” archaeologist Paul Logue told BBC News

Teotihuacan’s “Powder-Glittered Tunnel” Revealed

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Project director Sergio Gomez of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History announced that his team has completed the excavation of a 340-foot-long tunnel beneath the Temple of the Plumed Serpent at Teotihuacan. The tunnel, sealed some 1,800 years ago, contained seeds, pottery, sculptures, jewelry, shells, and animal bones. Its walls had been covered with a powder made from ground metallic minerals that, when lit by a torch, created a glittering effect reminiscent of the night sky. “Because this is one of the most sacred places in all Teotihuacan, we believe that it could have been used for the rulers to acquire divine endowment allowing them to rule on the surface,” Gomez told The Telegraph. His team will now excavate the chambers at the end of the tunnel, which may hold the remains of the city’s rulers. To read about recent Mesoamerican discoveries, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Under Mexico City." 

Seven Arrested in Egypt for Excavating Ancient Temple

GIZA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that seven men have been arrested for digging up an ancient temple that they discovered beneath their home. The temple dates to the reign of the New Kingdom pharaoh Tuthmose III. Police have recovered a seated colossal statue, seven carved limestone blocks, and two marble columns. The area has been declared a protected archaeological site and the recovered objects have been taken to Saqqara for restoration and further study.

Wednesday, October 29

Did Cave Acoustics Inspire Prehistoric Artists?

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA—The field of acoustic archaeology is growing as scientists consider the importance of sound to prehistoric cultures and their rituals. Steven Waller of Rock Art Acoustics thinks that ancient people were inspired to decorate cave walls and canyons with images of herds of animals because of the thundering echoes the formations produced. He has found that European caves with higher levels of reverberation are more likely to be decorated, and in North America, there is a correlation between places in canyons with echoes and the placement of prehistoric art. “It’s a trivial little sound, but it can have a huge emotional impact if you don’t expect it, if you can’t explain it,” he told Live Science. Waller is presenting his research at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. To read more about one of the world's great cave art sites, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "A Chauvet Primer."

Unusual Sacrifices Unearthed in Peru

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—Peruvian archaeologist Gabriel Prieto and John Verano of Tulane University have expanded the excavation of a site where the sacrificed remains of 42 children and 76 young llamas were found in 2011. “This is unusual, and not what we’ve seen before, especially on the coast of Peru,” Verano told Phys.org. The site is close to the beach, in an area that was dominated by the Chimú state from 1100 to 1470 A.D., when it was conquered by the Inca Empire. “It’s not a place where you’d think to look,” he added. For more on the site and Chimú-era rituals, see "A Society's Sacrifice."

Roman Sculptures Discovered in Northern England

PAPCASTLE, ENGLAND—A fertility genius thought to represent a local deity has been unearthed in a village in Cumbria. He holds a cornucopia and a patera, which are symbols of fertility. The site has also yielded the carved heads of male and female gods. The male statue wears a Phrygian cap, and may represent the god Mithras, or perhaps the god Attis, the consort of the goddess Cybele. If Attis, then the female head may represent his counterpart. The base of an amphora that contained a few coins, a stag figurine, and a Roman oil lamp have also been uncovered. According to a report in Culture 24, extensive flood deposits have been making it difficult for the archaeologists from Wardell Armstrong Archaeology to identify the site’s features. For more on Roman-era sculpture from Britain, see ARCHAEOLOGY's piece on a limestone depiction of an eagle carrying a snake.

Aluminum Debris Identified as Amelia Earhart Artifact

OXFORD, PENNSYLVANIA—A piece of aluminum recovered from Nikumaroro, an uninhabited atoll in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, has been identified to a high degree of certainty as a patch that had been applied to Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra on a stop during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe. The repair can been seen in a photograph published in the Miami Herald on June 1, 1937. The aluminum debris was discovered on the island in 1991 by researchers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). They compared the patch’s dimensions and features with the window of a Lockheed Electra being restored at Wichita Air Services in Newton, Kansas. “Its complex fingerprint of dimensions, proportions, materials and rivet patterns was as unique to Earhart’s Electra as a fingerprint is to an individual,” Rick Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News. He adds that the piece of the plane provides strong circumstantial evidence that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, landed on Nikumaroro’s coral reef and eventually died there as castaways. TIGHAR will continue to look for wreckage of the lost aircraft, thought to have washed into the ocean, next summer, beginning at a possible site 600 feet underwater. For more on the TIGHAR's work, see "Has Amelia Earhart's Plane Been Found?"