Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, June 15

Agents Raid Jerusalem Souvenir Store

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) agents confiscated bronze arrowheads, 2,000-year-old coins, perfume vessels, and other ancient artifacts during the raid of a souvenir store in an upscale Jerusalem mall that was lacking a proper license. The Times of Israel reports that earlier this year, the IAA mandated licensed dealers of antiquities use a digitized inventory system and upload detailed descriptions of their items for sale into an IAA database. According to the IAA, the new system should prevent licensed dealers from “laundering” artifacts acquired illegally and manipulating inventories. Eitan Klein, deputy head of the IAA's theft prevention unit, said that before the new regulations were implemented “it was abundantly clear that in order to supply the merchandise antiquities sites in Israel and around the world were being plundered and history was sold to the highest bidder.” For more on archaeology in Israel, go to "Autumn of the Master Builder."

Who Was Buried in Egypt’s KV55?

LUXOR, EGYPT—Funded with a grant from the American Research Center in Egypt Endowment Fund, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities will begin the second phase of a study to identify a sarcophagus found in tomb KV55 in the Valley of the Kings in 1906. The results of the first phase of the study suggested that a box of 500 gold sheets, found in a storage room at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir, may belong to the KV55 sarcophagus. Ahram Online reports that the remains of a skull and a note written in French were found along with the box. Elham Salah, head of the ministry’s Museums Department, says the note is dated to the time of the discovery of tomb KV55, and it states that the gold sheets were discovered with a sarcophagus. For more, go to "Egypt’s Immigrant Elite."

Family Burial Plot Unearthed in Indiana Roadway

AMITY, INDIANA—The remains of two women, a man, and four children have been recovered from a family plot in the middle of a road in rural central Indiana. The Associated Press reports that a team of archaeologists from the University of Indianapolis were investigating the area ahead of the expansion of the road when they found the graves. All but one of them were thought to have been moved in the early 1900s when the road was constructed. Nancy Kerlin Barnett’s grandson is said to have defended her 1831 grave with a shotgun. “As it stands right now, it looks at least in the immediate area by where we feel like where the Nancy Kerlin Barnett grave was, nothing was removed,” said archaeologist Christopher Schmidt. The road remains closed while the investigation continues. For more on archaeology in the Midwest, go to "Mississippian Burning."

Rare Skara Brae Figurine Rediscovered in Scotland

STROMNESS, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Orcadian, a figurine unearthed on the largest of the Orkney Islands in the 1860s has been rediscovered in a box at Stromness Museum. Dubbed the “Skara Brae Buddo,” the figurine had been packed away among artifacts from Skaill House, a historic manor overlooking the Neolithic site of Skara Brae, since the 1930s. The 5,000-year-old figurine, carved from a piece of whalebone, was originally found in the remains of a house in the Neolithic village. Modern scholars only knew of the sculpture, which has eyes and a mouth cut in its face and a navel in its body, from a sketch in the nineteenth-century notebooks kept by antiquarian George Petrie. Researchers think the holes in the carving may have been used to suspend it. For more, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."

Tuesday, June 14

SS Coast Trader Identified in Canadian Waters

VANCOUVER, CANADA—A team of researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, and Ocean Exploration Trust has confirmed that a well-preserved shipwreck in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is the SS Coast Trader, a World War II–era merchant marine vessel. The 324-foot supply ship exploded and sank off the coast of Vancouver Island in June 1942. At the time, reports indicated that an “internal explosion” caused the ship to sink. The survey, reported in The Lookout, revealed that the ship had been struck with a torpedo. “This finding brings an important part of [the Second World War] right to our doorstep and proves the fears of a full-scale attack were very real and the [Japanese] submarines were right here operating on Canada’s west coast,” said Ken Burton, executive director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The 56 people on board the freighter were rescued by the Royal Canadian Navy after 40 hours at sea. One of the sailors eventually died from injuries and exposure. To read about another underwater discovery, go to "Canada Finds Erebus."

Flint Tools From Spain May Be One Million Years Old

BARCELONA, SPAIN—An excavation led by scientists from the Catalan Institute of Human Paleo-Ecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) in the La Mina area at Barranc de la Boella has uncovered 50 flint tools estimated to be between 800,000 and one million years old. Well-preserved remains of deer, horses, cattle, rhinoceros, and hyenas were also found, in addition to hyena coprolites. IPHES researcher Josep Vallverdú told the Catalan News Agency that the site “contains the oldest files on human evolution in Catalonia and on the Iberian Peninsula." Plans are being made for the continued excavation of the site, which is located in the Francolí River Basin. 

Belgium Returns Marble Head to Italy

ROME, ITALY—Reuters reports that the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels has repatriated a sculpture of Rome’s first emperor that it purchased in 1975 from an antiquities dealer in Zurich. Art historians say the veiled head resembles another in the town of Nepi's museum, and was probably part of a statue of a young man wearing a toga. Now known as the “Augusto di Nepi,” the sculpture is thought to depict the young Octavius before he became emperor of Rome around 27 B.C. “After more than 40 years of exile in Europe, he’s finally home. Welcome back Augustus,” said Nepi mayor Pietro Soldatelli. For more on the archaeology of ancient Rome, go to "Trash Talk."

Roman Silver Hoard Discovered in Scotland

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Researchers led by Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen returned to a farmer’s field in northeastern Scotland where a hand pin, chain, and spiral bangle all made of silver in the fourth or fifth centuries A.D. had been found more than 170 years ago. According to a report in Live Science, on the second day of the investigation, the team, which had the assistance of metal detectorists, found three Roman silver coins, a silver strap end, a piece of a silver bracelet, and pieces of hack silver. Over a period of 18 months, they gathered a total of 100 artifacts, now known as the Gaulcross Hoard. The pieces are thought to have been high-status objects imported from the Roman world. The research team suggests that the items in the hoard had been collect by non-Romans, such as the Picts, through looting, trade, bribes, or as military pay. Noble adds that the chunks of silver may even have served as currency. For more, go to "Seaton Down Hoard."

Monday, June 13

Solar Boat Timbers Removed from Giza Plateau Pit

CAIRO, EGYPT—Conservators are restoring a second solar boat discovered in 1954 in a pit beside the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The first boat was found dismantled but arranged to resemble a boat, and was reconstructed. A Japanese-Egyptian team began the restoration of the second boat in 2009. So far, they say they have documented and removed 700 of the 1,200 pieces of the boat from the pit’s 13 levels. Eissa Zidan, supervisor of the restoration work, told Ahram Online that the solar boats each had two shrines—one for the pharaoh at the rear of the boat, and one for the captain, at the front of the boat. Timbers removed from the pit recently may be the floors to the captain’s shrine. “This is a great step forward in the conservation of Khufu’s second boat,” Zidan said. For more, go to "Egypt’s Immigrant Elite."

An Update From Cambodia’s Lidar Campaign

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—According to a report in The Guardian, analysis of data collected last year with lidar (light detection and ranging) technology over a 734-square-mile area reveals the extent of multiple cities, iron smelting sites, and a system of waterways that surrounded Angkor Wat and other medieval temple complexes built by the Khmer Empire. The results of the study, led by Australian archaeologist Damian Evans of the École Française d’Extrême-Orient and the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative, suggest that Mahendraparvata, discovered in 2012 beneath Mount Kulen, was larger than had been previously thought. Evans’ team also discovered a city surrounding the archaeological site of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay. In addition, the researchers expect that the lidar information will help them understand what has been thought of as the collapse of Angkor. “There’s an idea that somehow the Thais invaded and everyone fled down south—that didn’t happen, there are no cities [revealed by the aerial survey] that they fled to. It calls into question the whole notion of an Angkorian collapse,” Evans said. For more, go to "Letter From Cambodia: Storied Landscape."

Ship Sheds of Ancient Naval Bases Found in Greece

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Haaretz reports that the Zea Harbor Project mapped the remains of ancient Greek naval bases in Mounichia Harbor and Zea Harbor between 2001 and 2012. The team of archaeologists, working on land and under water, has found massive fortifications and a total of 15 structures that were used to house ships when they were pulled ashore. “It is an enticing thought that some of the Athenian triremes that fought against the Persians at Salamis in 480 B.C. were most probably housed in these ship-sheds,” said project director Bjørn Lovén of the Danish Institute at Athens. The foundations for the sheds measured more than four feet wide and stood more than 160 feet long and 20 feet tall. For more, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."

Lead Sling Bullets May Have “Whistled” During Battle

DUMFRIESSHIRE, SCOTLAND—Cast-lead sling bullets recently unearthed in southwestern Scotland are thought to have been used by Roman auxiliary troops during an attack of a fort on Burnswark Hill some 1,800 years ago. Such sling bullets range in size from an acorn to a lemon. About 20 percent of the sling bullets recovered from the site had been drilled with a small hole. Similar sling bullets have been found at ancient battle sites in Greece, and at first, researchers thought the small holes might have contained poison. Now archaeologist John Reid of the Trimontium Trust thinks the projectiles with holes might have produced a whistling sound intended to terrify opponents, since his brother pointed out that lead weights used for casting fishing lines can produce a whistle in flight. “We think it was an all-out assault on the hilltop, to demonstrate to the natives what would happen to them if they resisted,” Reid said in a Live Science report. His team thinks the small bullets, shot in groups of three or four from a pouch attached to two long cords, were used for close-range fighting. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."