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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, December 29

Roman-Period Altar in Turkey Features Mythical Battle Scene

IZMIR, TURKEY—According to a report in Live Science, villagers discovered an altar dating to the second century A.D. near Turkey’s Akçay River. Hasan Malay of Ege University and Funda Ertugrul of the Aydin Museum wrote in the journal Epigraphica Anatolica that the Greek inscription at the top of the altar says Flavius Ouliades dedicated it to the river god Harpasos. They think the image on the altar—a nude warrior wearing a helmet—may represent Hercules’ son Bargasos battling a many-headed serpent monster with a dagger and a shield. The “scene on our altar may be a representation of a local myth telling about Bargasos’ fight against the ravaging river with many arms,” Malay and Ertugrul wrote. After Bargasos defeated the monster, “the river turned into a beneficial deity, the recipient of our dedication,” they concluded. To read about the ancient world's most massive inscription, which was discovered in Turkey, go to "In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone."

Polynesian Migration Examined With Vanuatu Skulls

NANTERRE, FRANCE—A study of the few skulls found among the mostly headless skeletons discovered in 68 graves in a 3,000-year-old Lapita cemetery in Vanuatu suggests that the first Polynesians migrated from Southeast Asia and into Polynesia with little mixing with others. Frédérique Valentin of France’s National Center for Scientific Research, and Matthew Spriggs of Australian National University, led a team that compared the skulls from the Teouma cemetery with skulls from Asia and other places in the South Pacific. “What we’re able to show is that in fact, for places like Vanuatu and New Caledonia and Fiji, they do arrive before there’s anybody else here,” Spriggs told Australia's ABC News. Melanesians came to Vanuatu at a later period. “People in the New Guinea and Solomons area [are] also jumping on these Lapita canoes and getting excited by the culture and travelling to new parts. Over time, and this is just over the first couple of hundreds of years in Vanuatu, the appearance of people changes from looking like Polynesian people look today, to looking like Melanesian people today,” he said. DNA from the Vanuatu skeletons could shed further light on the ancestry of the Polynesians. To read more about Polynesia, go to "Inside Kauai's Past."

Genetic Study Traces the Origins of the Irish

DUBLIN, IRELAND—Geneticists from Trinity College Dublin and archaeologists from Queen’s University Belfast sequenced the genomes of a Neolithic woman who lived near Belfast some 5,200 years ago, and three men who lived during the Bronze Age, some 4,000 years ago, on Rathlin Island. The team found that the early farmer had black hair and brown eyes, and her ancestors had originated in the Middle East. They probably brought agriculture with them across Europe to Ireland. The Bronze Age men had blue eye alleles, the most common Irish Y chromosome type, and the most important variant for the genetic disease haemochromatosis, which is now frequent in people of Irish descent and sometimes thought of as a Celtic disease. About a third of the ancestors of the Bronze Age men came from the northern shores of the Black Sea. “There was a great wave of genome change that swept into Europe from above the Black Sea into Bronze Age Europe and we now know it washed all the way to the shores of its most westerly island,” study leader Dan Bradley of Trinity College Dublin said in a press release. To read more about Bronze Age Ireland, go to "Bronze Age Ireland’s Taste in Gold."

Monday, December 28

Fishermen Report Medieval Shipwreck Off Italy’s Southern Coast

PUGLIA, ITALY—The remains of an 800-year-old wooden ship have been found in the Porto Cesareo Marine Protected Area, located near the tip of Italy’s “boot.” The shipwreck, which measures nearly 60 feet long, could “explain significant aspects of the coastline in medieval times and contribute to the historical reconstruction of the area,” underwater archaeologist Cristiano Alfonso of Salento University told The Local, Italy. Porto Cesareo was a fishing village during the medieval period. To read more about the archaeology of shipwrecks, go to "Shipwreck Alley."

Six Rock-Cut Figures Found in Aswan

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that two niches containing carved figures have been found in two New Kingdom chapels at Gebel Al-Silsila by a team from Sweden’s Lund University. It had been thought that the 32 chapels at the site, located in an area known for its quarries on both sides of the Nile River, were destroyed by an earthquake in antiquity. The first niche, in Chapel 30, contains the seated figures of the chapel’s owner, a man wearing a wig with his arms crossed in the Osirian posture, and his wife, who has her left arm on her husband’s shoulder and her right hand on her chest. The second niche, in Chapel 31, has four figures: Neferkhewe, the “Overseer of Foreign Lands” during the reign of Thuthmose III, his wife Ruwisti, and their son and daughter. To read about another recent discovery at Gebel Al-Silsila, go to "'T' Marks the Spot."

Marble Ram Statue Discovered in Caesarea

CAESAREA, ISRAEL—Last week, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority were digging near a Byzantine-era church in Caesarea Harbor National Park when they discovered a marble statue of a ram. In Christian art, rams could represent Christians or Jesus himself; in Roman art, rams appeared with the Greek gods Hermes and Mercury. In Egyptian art, rams were used to represent the god Amun. The statue “might have been part of the decoration of a Byzantine church from the sixth or seventh centuries A.D. at Caesarea. By the same token it could also be earlier, from the Roman period, and was incorporated in secondary use in the church structure,” excavation directors Peter Gendelman and Mohammad Hater explained in a press release. To read about a ritual bath discovered underneath a home in Jerusalem, go to "Under the Rug."

Iron-Age Settlement Excavated in Norway

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—A large excavation conducted by a team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on Norway’s Ørland peninsula has uncovered a 1,500-year-old settlement. “It was a sheltered area along the Norwegian coastal route from southern Norway to the northern coasts. And it was at the mouth of Trondheim Fjord, which was a vital link to Sweden and the inner regions of mid-Norway,” project manager Ingrid Ystgaard said in a press release. So far, the team has found traces of two parallel longhouses connected by a smaller building. Several fire pits, at least one of which was used for cooking, were found in one of the longhouses. Ground-up seashells in middens at the site helped to preserve the bones of animals and fish, including salmon, cod, and seabirds, that usually don’t survive in Norway’s acidic soil. “Nothing like this has been examined anywhere in Norway before,” Ystgaard explained. Her team has also recovered a blue glass bead, several amber beads, and a piece of a green drinking glass that was probably imported from Germany’s Rhine Valley. “It says something that people had enough wealth to trade for glass,” she said. To read about a Viking sword excavated in Norway, go to "Artifact."

Wednesday, December 23

Tudor Decorations May Have Survived Lost Hat

LONDON, ENGLAND—Tiny decorative objects recovered from the same area on the banks of the Thames River by eight different metal detectorists may have all come from the same Tudor-era hat or garment, according to archaeologist Kate Sumnall of the Museum of London. The early sixteenth-century artifacts are made from gold, enamel, and glass, and may have adorned furs or velvets. “These artifacts have been reported to me one at a time over the last couple of years. Individually they are all wonderful finds but as a group they are even more important. To find them from just one area suggests a lost ornate hat or other item of clothing. The fabric has not survived and all that remains are these gold decorative elements that hint at the fashion of the time,” she told The Guardian. To read more about London-based archaeology, go to "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."

Corduroy Road Uncovered in Virginia

FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA—Workers building a new road shoulder and sidewalk along Ox Road found a section of a log road that may have been installed in 1862 to replace the high-traffic dirt road that connected the county courthouse to Fairfax Station. “They’re in amazing shape considering how old they are,” Christopher Sperling, senior archaeologist with the Fairfax County Park Authority, told The Washington Post. He and his team surveyed the road surface with 3-D technology, and then numbered the logs so that the road could be reassembled once a water pipe had been installed below it and the trench was filled. When combined with topographical information and other resources, Sperling and his team could create a virtual depiction of the area at the time of the Civil War. To read about a Civil War–era prison, go to "Life on the Inside."

Corinth’s Ancient Harbor Excavated

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Researchers from Greece’s Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, the University of Copenhagen, and the Danish Institute at Athens are surveying and excavating the harbor at Lechaion, one of Corinth’s two harbor towns. “According to ancient sources, most of the city’s wealth derived from the maritime trade that passed through her two harbors, eventually earning her the nickname ‘Wealthy Corinth,’” archaeologist Bjorn Loven of the University of Copenhagen, and co-director of the Lechaion Harbor Project (LHP), said in a press release. The team has uncovered two monumental piers, a smaller pier, two areas of wooden caissons, a breakwater, and an entrance canal that leads into three inner harbor basins. The wooden caissons, which have never been found before in Greece, have been dated to the middle of the fifth century A.D. It had been thought that the major construction of the harbor facilities were concluded in the Greek and Roman period, but these dates suggest that construction work beyond maintenance and repairs continued into the Byzantine period. The town of Lechaion and its harbor were destroyed by an earthquake in the late sixth or early seventh century A.D. To read more about underwater archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks..."