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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
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."

Friday, June 10

East Africa’s Vegetation Changes Detected in Marine Sediments

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Climate change and the appearance of grasslands coincided with the evolution of the first hominins, according to a study led by Kevin Uno of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He and his team collected sediment cores dating back 24 million years from the bottom of the Red Sea and the western Indian Ocean. Analysis of the chemicals in the sediments suggests that plants that grew in East Africa, where the first hominins are thought to have evolved, blew out to sea and sank. More than ten million years ago, those plants came from dense forests. Chemicals linked to grasses slowly began to appear in later layers of sediment. “This now gives us a timeline for the development of those grasses, and tells us they were part of our evolution from the very beginning,” Uno said in a UPI report. For more, go to "A New Human Relative."

Scientists Unearth Macaque “Tools” in Thailand

OXFORD, ENGLAND—The wild macaques of coastal Thailand have been using stones as tools for generations, according to a UPI report. Scientists led by Michael Haslam of the University of Oxford observed the monkeys searching for good stones and using them to process oysters, snails, nuts, and crabs. When particular stones worked well, the monkeys placed them near the boulders where they preferred to eat. The researchers then examined the marks on the stones and excavated the area to look for similar ones. They found identical marks on stones in a layer with oyster shells that were carbon-dated to between ten and 50 years ago. “As we build up a fuller picture of their evolutionary history, we will start to identify the similarities and differences in human behavior and that of other primates,” Haslam explained. For more on Southeast Asia, go to "Letter From Cambodia: Storied Landscape."

Researchers Decipher Antikythera Mechanism Text

ATHENS, GREECE—Using X-ray scanning equipment and imaging technology, an international team of scientists has read most of the explanatory text engraved in tiny letters on the known surviving fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism. Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University said that the text does not instruct the reader on the use of the device, but is more like a descriptive label. The artifact, recovered from a first-century B.C. shipwreck off the coast of a Greek island in the early years of the twentieth century, is made up of bronze gears and plates, and was probably encased in wood and operated with a hand crank. It is thought to have functioned as an astronomical instrument to  track the position of the sun, the phases of the moon, the positions of the planets, and the timing of eclipses. “It’s like a textbook of astronomy as it was understood then, which connected the movements of the sky and the planets with the lives of the ancient Greeks and their environment,” Alexander Jones of New York University said in an Associated Press report. Investigators have returned to the shipwreck to look for more pieces of the device. For more on archaeology in Greece, go to "The Acropolis of Athens."

Thursday, June 09

Monumental Structure Found at Petra with Satellite Images

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA—Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Christopher Tuttle, executive director of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, spotted a monumental structure at Petra, a 2,500-year-old Nabataean city in southern Jordan, using high-resolution satellite imagery and pictures taken with aerial drones. National Geographic reports that the structure consists of a building measuring roughly 28 feet square, centered on a rectangular, paved platform, surrounded by a larger, 184-by-161-foot, platform. The building faced a row of columns and a staircase to the east. Pottery recovered from the site dates to the mid-second century B.C. Parcak and Tuttle say that the platform’s design is unique in the ancient city, and may have been used for ceremonial purposes in the early days of the settlement. “I’ve worked in Petra for 20 years, and I knew that something was there, but it’s certainly legitimate to call this a discovery,” Tuttle said. For more, go to "Neolithic Community Centers - Wadi Faynan, Jordan."

“Bog Butter” Unearthed in Ireland’s County Meath

COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—A lump of waxy “bog butter” thought to be about 2,000 years old was unearthed 12 feet below the surface in Emlagh Bog by a turf cutter last week. Butter, placed in a wooden casket or animal hide, is thought to have been buried in bogs as a way to preserve it, or as a ritual offering. Andy Halpin of the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum says this ancient lump of butter was not covered when it was buried in a place where 11 townlands and three baronies met. “It is at the juncture of three separate kingdoms, and politically it was like a no-man’s land, that is where it all hangs together,” Halpin said in a Belfast Telegraph report. He added that bog butter is theoretically still edible, but he wouldn’t advise tasting it. For more, go to "Oldest Bog Body."

Stone Tools Discovered in Gobi Desert

WROCLAW, POLAND—According to a report from Radio Poland, a team of Polish and Mongolian researchers has found stone tools in the southern Gobi Desert. “The highly diversified forms of objects found and the varied techniques of working stone prove that certain locations were repeatedly colonized across history,” said Józef Szykulski of Wroclaw University. The oldest tools date to the Middle Paleolithic, between 200,000 and 40,000 years ago, and were found in an area that once had lakes and abundant wildlife. The team also recovered 11 jasper artifacts, which were dated to about 40,000 years old. To read about archaeology in the Atacama Desert of Chile, go to "Off the Grid."

5,000-Year-Old Livestock Pen Examined in Spain

BARCELONA, SPAIN—A rock shelter in the Sierra de Cantabria mountains in northern Spain was repeatedly used as an animal pen some 5,000 years ago, according to a study conducted by scientists from the University of Barcelona, the University of the Basque Country, and the Spanish National Research Council. Analysis of charcoal, pollen, seeds, and other plant remains recovered during the investigation indicate that Copper Age herders held their goats and/or sheep in the rock shelter intermittently, probably to take advantage of hazelnut and acorn trees that grew in the area. “We also know thanks to the microscopic study of the sediments that every now and again they used to burn the debris that had built up, probably to clean up the space that had been occupied,” archaeologist Ana Polo-Diaz of the University of the Basque Country said in a UPI report. For more on the archaeology of Spain, go to "The Red Lady of El Mirón."