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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, August 30

Ancient Egyptian Woman’s Face Reconstruction

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—Live Science reports that a team of researchers, including an imaging specialist, a forensic Egyptologist, and a sculptor, reconstructed the face of an Egyptian mummy whose head was discovered in the collections of the University of Melbourne. The wrappings and style of embalming suggest that the person lived at least 2,000 years ago. A computed tomography (CT) scan of the embalmed head revealed that the mummy’s skull was intact, and that the individual suffered from two tooth abscesses. The scans also allowed the scientists to measure the skull. Its size suggests it belonged to a woman who was probably not more than 25 years old when she died. “We noticed that the top of her skull is very thin. It is extremely porous,” added biological anthropologist Varsha Pilbrow of the University of Melbourne. This condition may have been brought on by malaria or a flatworm infection. The researchers think the mummy’s head came to the university in the early twentieth century among the collections of archaeologist Frederic Wood Jones. To read about a recently discovered tomb containing a mummy, go to "Tomb of the Chantress."

Israel’s Early Farmers May Have Irrigated Olive Crops

HAIFA, ISRAEL—The Jerusalem Post reports that archaeologists led by researchers from the University of Haifa and the German Archaeological Institute have recovered a large number of 7,000-year-old olive pits in northern Israel. The early famers in the Tel Beit She’an Valley also grew wheat, barley, buckwheat, lentils, and peas, and they raised goats, sheep, cattle, and pigs. But the olive trees may have required an artificial irrigation system. “The existence of an ancient agricultural system that relies on artificial irrigation will require a significant change in how we perceive their agricultural sophistication,” said project leader Daniel Rosenberg. To read more about the period, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit."

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Monday, August 29

Earthquake Clean-Up Underway at Bagan

MANDALAY, MYANMAR—Volunteers, including travel and tour groups, Buddhist monks, and firefighters are being trained by UNESCO experts and members of Bagan’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum, and Library to assess the damage sustained by Bagan’s pagodas and temples in last week’s earthquake. According to a report in The Irrawaddy, volunteers will also be asked to help collect and clean up the debris. “Since these pagodas are valuable to our country’s history and culture, we need to be extremely careful when collecting debris. If we rush, we won’t have another chance to conserve these precious broken pieces,” explained Aung Aung Kyaw, director of the department. Under current estimates, nearly 400 structures were damaged. The area is under tight security to protect the structures from further damage and looters. To read about another threatened temple in Southwest Asia, go to "The Battle Over Preah Vihear." 

12th-Century Coin Cache Unearthed in Azerbaijan

JALILABAD, AZERBAIJAN—A jar containing a collection of 273 copper coins has been discovered in southern Azerbaijan. Azernews reports that the coins were cleaned and studied by a team from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography at the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, including chemist Rauf Guliyev and archaeologist Ali Rajabli. Inscriptions on the twelfth-century coins indicate that they were minted during the rule of Arslan Shah, a Seljuk sultan of the Eldiguzids dynasty. To read about an Islamic coins discovered in a Viking shield, go to "Viking Trading or Raiding?

Romans Reused Bricks for Flood Defense

GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND—Gloucestershire Live reports that archaeologists digging ahead of a development project in southwest England have found Roman bricks dating to the third and fourth centuries. The bricks are thought to have been used to construct buildings in the ancient city of Glevum, and then reused to reinforce the banks of the River Twyver when those buildings were demolished. “It was clear from this dig that flooding has always been an issue Gloucester has had to deal with,” says city archaeologist Andrew Armstrong. Evidence uncovered during the investigation also suggests that during the medieval period, the area along the riverbank was a meadow or marshland that was still prone to flooding. The team has been looking for evidence of White Friars, a medieval monastery, but they now think this area would have been too boggy and therefore unsuitable. To read about another recent Roman discovery in England, go to "A Villa under the Garden."

Is It Possible to Know How Lucy Died?

AUSTIN, TEXAS—Researchers led by John Kappelman of the University of Texas at Austin suggest that Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis female, died 3.2 million years ago from a fall from a tree. The Guardian reports that Kappelman and his team, which includes orthopedic surgeon Stephen Pearce, used high-resolution x-ray scans to examine cracks in the Lucy fossils, which represent about 40 percent of her body. They say some of the damage resembles compressive fractures sustained in a fall—injuries to the right ankle, left knee and pelvis, first rib, and right humerus. “I think the injuries were so severe that she probably died very rapidly after the fall,” Kappelman said. But other scientists disagree, including Donald Johanson of Arizona State University. He and a student discovered Lucy’s remains in Ethiopia in 1974. Johanson says the cracks in Lucy’s bones are seen in all types of fossils. “We don’t know how long the fossilization process takes, but the enormous set of forces placed on the bones during the build-up of sediments covering the bones is a significant factor in promoting damage and breakage,” he explained. To read more about A. afarensis, go to "Proof in the Prints."

Friday, August 26

Flooding Damages Rock Art in China

YINCHUAN, CHINA—China.org.cn reports that rare flooding in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of northwest China has damaged some of the thousands of prehistoric carvings on the cliffs of Helan Mountain. The images are thought to have been created by nomads who lived in the area between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago. Some of the images were damaged by mud and silt, and about a dozen images that had been carved on individual rocks were carried away by the flood waters. Other pictures were lost when layers of mountain rock peeled off or cracked in the heavy rains. Hu Zhiping, deputy director of the Helan Mountain Cliff Painting Administration, said that the extent of the damage is still being assessed. To read more about archaelogy in China, go to "Tomb from a Lost Tribe."

Bronze-Age Toy Unearthed in Anatolia

AKSARAY, TURKEY—Archaeologist Aliye Öztan announced in the Daily Sabah that a 4,200-year-old toy was discovered at the Acemhöyük site in central Turkey. Öztan described the toy as a bag-shaped rattle fashioned from terracotta and pebbles. He added that it probably had a handle at one time. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to "In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone."

New Thoughts on the Roman Invasion of Scotland

DUMFRIESSHIRE, SCOTLAND—Archaeologist Andrew Nicholson thinks flat-topped Burnswark Hill may have been the site of the first battle of the Roman invasion of Scotland around A.D. 140, according to a report in BBC News. Traces of a native hill fort have been found on the top of the hill, and two Roman camps that could have housed more than 6,000 soldiers have been found on its northern and southern slopes. It had been suggested that the Romans trained their troops at the abandoned fort, or that the Romans laid siege to the fort while it was being used by local tribespeople. But the current excavation, led by Andrew Nicholson, has uncovered “massive amounts” of lead shot that had been slung at the fort. And documentary evidence indicates that Roman general Lollius Urbicus had been sent to Scotland from the Middle East, where he had conquered one Jewish hill fort after another. “This literally is a site where people suffered an attrition to the very end and I would suspect that probably nobody survived this and the Roman army moved on into the rest of Scotland,” John Reid of the Trimontium Trust explained. For more, go to "Lead Sling Bullets May Have 'Whistled' During Battle." 

Scholars Find Name of Goddess in Etruscan Inscription

DALLAS, TEXAS—Discovery News reports that scholars have completed a preliminary reading of the text inscribed on a sandstone stele unearthed at an Etruscan sanctuary in Italy’s Mugello Valley. The 2,500-year-old stele measures about four feet tall by two feet wide, and was found in the foundation of a temple at the site of Poggio Colla. The text, made up of more than 120 characters, has been damaged. “Cleaning at a restoration center in Florence has allowed better visibility of the inscribed signs, making it possible to identify a larger sequence of letters and words,” said researcher Adriano Maggiani. Among the words is the name of the goddess Uni, consort of the Etruscan supreme deity, Tinia. The team members of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project think the sanctuary where the stele was found may have been dedicated to Uni. They have also recovered weaving tools, pottery, and gold jewelry that point to the worship of a fertility goddess. For more on the Etruscans, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."

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