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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, September 15

Scientists Consider the Role of Water in Human Evolution

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Freshwater springs fed with groundwater may have been key to the survival and evolution of human ancestors, according to a new study of geological evidence from the Olduvai Basin in northern Tanzania. “A major unknown connected with human evolution in this climatically turbulent environment is the availability of resources, particularly fresh water,” Mark Cuthbert of the University of New South Wales and the University of Birmingham told Science Daily. Geologic evidence suggests that the springs in the region were active some 1.8 million years ago, a critical period in human evolution, and a period when climate fluctuations could have dried up rivers and lakes. “As surface water sources became more scarce during a given climate cycle, the only species to survive may have been those with adaptations for sufficient mobility to discover a new and more persistent groundwater source, or those already settled within home range of such a resource,” added Gail Ashley of Rutgers University.   

Roman Fort Uncovered at Strategic Location in Germany

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—Archaeologists from Frankfurt University have discovered a first-century Roman fort in southern Germany, on the east bank of the Rhine River. When the 500 soldiers of the fort's cohort abandoned the site, they dismantled it and filled in its two V-shaped ditches, leaving behind a lot of well-preserved waste. “We filled box after box with shards of fine, coarse and transport ceramics; dating them will allow us to determine when the fort was abandoned with greater accuracy than was possible before,” Hans-Markus von Kaenel of the Goethe University Institute of Archaeology told Science Daily. The team also uncovered the post holes of a wooden defensive tower. Roman finds in the area suggested that there had been a Roman settlement in Gernsheim from the first to the third centuries. “We really hit the jackpot with this excavation campaign. The results are a milestone in reconstructing the history of the Hessian state during Roman times,” he added. To read about the discovery of a Roman military camp in Germany dating to Julius Caesar's time, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Caesar’s Gallic Outpost."  

Massive Stone Monument Stands Alone in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Ido Wachtel of Hebrew University says that the giant crescent-shaped structure located eight miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee isn’t a city wall, as had been previously thought, but a lone monument. Instead, he suggests that the monument may be linked to the ancient town known as Bet Yerah, which is located about 18 miles or a day’s walk away. That is too far for the wall to have served as an effective fortification, but perhaps the monument served another purpose. “The proposed interpretation for the site is that it constituted a prominent landmark in its natural landscape, serving to mark possession and to assert authority and rights over natural resources by a local rural or pastoral population,” Wachtel explained to Live Science. The 5,000-year-old structure is approximately 492 feet long, and survives to a height of 23 feet. Two other megalithic structures in the area may also be linked to Bet Yerah. One has been found at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee; the other, located to the east of the Sea of Galilee, consists of four circles with a cairn at the center. To read about the excavation of an enormous double mound in Israel's Upper Galilee region, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature "Excavating Tel Kedesh."    

More Headlines
Friday, September 12

Tomb of First Emperor’s Grandmother Unearthed in China

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—A tomb complex said to be the second largest in China was uncovered during the expansion of the Xi’an University of Finance and Economics. International Business Times reports that inscribed pottery and artifacts of jade, gold, and silver suggest that the tomb was built by the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, for his grandmother, although a sarcophagus has not been found yet. The tomb also contained two carriages and the skeletons of 12 horses. Such carriages, pulled by six horses, were a symbol of royal rank. 

Do You Have Snippets of the Star-Spangled Banner?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Smithsonian Institution is collecting the missing bits of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the huge American flag that was raised over Fort McHenry after the retreat of the British in 1814. (The flag is best known as the inspiration for the poem by Francis Scott Key that became the national anthem.) The pieces were snipped off the flag by its various keepers and given away as keepsakes until about 20 percent of the flag was missing by the 1880s. “It was such a monumental moment in time that people felt they wanted to hold a piece of that history,” Jennifer Jones of the National Museum of American History explained to The Associated Press. So far, 17 pieces have been recovered and analyzed to see if their weaves, stains, and soils match the original. There are no plans to attempt to reassemble the flag, but some of the pieces may be loaned to other museums. Unless, of course, the missing 15th star is recovered. “We’d love to have that back. That one I might put back on,” said Suzanne Thomassen-Krauss, the flag’s chief conservator. 

3,000-Year-Old Short Sword Found in China

NANJING, CHINA—Eleven-year-old Yang Junxi was playing near the Laozhoulin River in east China’s Jiangsu Province when he found a bronze sword in the sediments. His father contacted the Gaoyou Cultural Relics Bureau where it was identified as a 3,000-year-old artifact from the time of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. “The short sword seems a status symbol of a civil official. It has both decorative and practical functions, but is not in the shape of a sword for military officers,” Lyu Zhiwei, head of the bureau, told Xinhua News. The river had been recently dredged, which may have brought the artifact to the surface. Archaeological investigation of the river and surrounding area is planned.

Bodies of Caryatids From the Amphipolis Tomb Revealed

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—Ekathimerini reports that archaeologists have removed the dirt from the bodies of the two caryatids discovered at the entrance to one of the chambers in the vast Amphipolis tomb. Greece’s Culture Ministry announced that the 2,300-year-old statues are of “exceptional artistic quality.” The life-sized statues depict women with thick hair dressed in semi-transparent robes. Less than half of the barrel-vaulted tomb has been unearthed so far. To read more about the sculptures, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Caryatids Uncovered in Amphipolis Tomb."  

Thursday, September 11

Mediterranean Shipwreck May Be 4,000 Years Old

LIMANTEPE, TURKEY—A Mediterranean shipwreck thought to be 4,000 years old is being called one of the oldest in the world by scholars from Ankara University’s Research Center for Maritime Archaeology. “If we confirm that the sunken ship is 4,000 years old, it will be a very important milestone for archaeology,” Hayat Erkanal, head of excavations, told Hurriyet Daily News. Turkey’s Urla Port and the coastal town of Klozemenai date back to the seventh century B.C. The city was destroyed and inundated by an earthquake in the eighth century. The wreck and its artifacts are being conserved and studied at the new Mustafa Vehbi Koç Maritime Archaeology Research Center and Archaeopark. To read about two Bronze Age shipwrecks discovered off the Turkish coast, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "History's Top 10 Shipwrecks."    

Gate May Mark Site of 17th Century Home Destroyed by Royalists

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND—Pipeline work along the River Trent in the East Midlands uncovered two stone walls, positioned adjacent to the Kelham Road, that are angled to lead away from it. The structures may have been part of a gateway to a large house that was possibly demolished sometime between 1644 and 1666. “The theory is that the house was demolished by Royalists during the Civil War to remove any cover for attacking forces,” Karen Nichols of Wessex Archaeology told Culture 24. The house and its gate do not appear on any eighteenth century maps. The team also recovered pottery, tiles, and tobacco pipe fragments dating to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, and a Neolithic arrowhead.   

Google Offers Street Views of Egypt’s Monuments

CAIRO, EGYPT—Google Street View now offers images of archaeological attractions in Egypt, including the pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, the pyramids of Saqqara, Saladin’s citadel, and the ancient city of Abu Mena. The Street View team usually collects images with a camera attached to a car, but that plan would not work in the bumpy terrain surrounding Egypt’s ancient monuments. Instead, the Google team members set out on foot with the 360-degree panoramic cameras on their backs. “It was a unique experience for us as well, because the equipment really got tested in the heat,” program manager Amita Khattri told Time. To read about the construction of the pyramids, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "How to Build a Pyramid."