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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, June 18

Dog Catacomb at Saqqara Surveyed

SAQQARA, EGYPT—Researchers led by Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University conducted a new survey of the dog catacomb near the temple of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of death, at Saqqara. The catacomb is thought to have been dug in the fourth century B.C. “It’s a very long series of dark tunnels. There is no natural light once you’ve gone into the forepart of the catacomb, and beyond that everything has to be lit with flashlights. It’s really quite a spectacular thing,” Nicholson told Live Science. More than 90 percent of the millions of mummies in the catacomb were of dogs, as expected, but the team also found the mummies of jackals, foxes, falcons, cats, and mongoose. Many of the dogs were very young puppies that were likely bred for the cult and separated from their mothers shortly after birth. “It would have been a busy place. A permanent community of people living there supported by the animal cults,” Nicholson explained. To read more about animal mummies in ancient Egypt, go to "Messengers to the Gods."

Pigs Were the Focus of Iron Age Feasting in South Wales

CARDIFF, WALES—Analysis of more than 70,000 fragments of animal bone from a midden at a prehistoric feasting site in Llanmaes, Vale of Glamorgan, reveals an usual preference for imported pork. “Surprisingly, nearly 80 percent of the animal remains at Llanmaes were from pigs, at a time when sheep and cattle were the main food animals and pork was not a favored meat. What is perhaps more remarkable is that the majority of the pig bones were just one quarter of the animal—the right forequarter. It might be that each household had to donate the same cut of meat to be included in the feast—that way everyone would have to slaughter a pig in honor of the feast,” osteoarchaeologist Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University said in a press release. To read about a recent Bronze Age discovery in Wales, see "Artifact: Gold Lock-Rings." 

Excavation Continues at Maryport Roman Temples

CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—The Maryport Roman Temples Project has entered its final year of excavation. “By the end of the season we hope to have a detailed understanding of one of the most important Roman cult complexes ever to have been explored in Britain,” archaeologist Ian Haynes of Newcastle University told Culture 24. The team has uncovered a second-century A.D. building that had red sandstone walls, yellow sandstone decorations, a grey slate roof, and a columned entrance. This temple stood near the area where a collection of Roman altars was unearthed in 1870. “We believe that we have located the general area where the altars once stood, now we will close in on the part of the site where we think that they were originally erected,” he said. Earlier excavations revealed that the altars had been reused in the foundation of a Roman timber building, and had not been ritually buried, as had been thought. The team also found another complete altar, inscribed by T Attius Tutor, commander of the Maryport garrison. The altars are housed at the Senhouse Roman Museum. To read about an intriguing Roman discovery made in northern England, go to "Artifact: Roman Party Invitation." 

Team Seeks Building Foundation at Enfield Shaker Museum

ENFIELD, NEW HAMPSHIRE—A team from Plymouth State University is conducting an excavation in front of the Great Stone Dwelling at the Enfield Shaker Museum, where a Shaker religious community settled in 1793 and lived for more than 100 years. “I am standing in what we believe is the cellar of the Shakers’ trustees office. The trustees were the business leaders of the community. They conducted business transactions with the outside world,” Michael O’Conner, the curator of the Shaker Museum, told The team is working to uncover the building’s foundation. “From an architectural standpoint, from a religious history, from a communal studies standpoint—yes, this site and this group are of great relevance to our society,” O’Connor added. There had once been 100 structures on the 3,000-acre property. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "The Hidden History of New York Harbor."

Wednesday, June 17

Ireland Recovers Artifacts From Exposed Spanish Armada Ship

COUNTY SLIGO, IRELAND—Recent stormy weather off the coast of Ireland has exposed a ship from the Spanish Armada that sank near Sligo while attempting to invade England in 1588. Some ship timbers had washed ashore, so divers from Ireland’s Ministry of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht’s Underwater Archaeology Unit conducted surveys and have begun to recover artifacts, including a cannon, to be conserved by the National Museum of Ireland. “We have uncovered a wealth of fascinating and highly significant material, which is more than 425 years old. The National Monuments Service believes that all of the material has come from La Juliana, one of the three Armada ships wrecked off this coastline in 1588. On current evidence, the other two wreck sites remain buried beneath a protective layer of sand, but the wreck of La Juliana is now partly exposed on the seabed along with some of its guns and other wreck material,” Heather Humphreys, Ireland’s Minister for the Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, told UTV Ireland. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks." 

Fire Damages Artifacts From Israel’s Tel Kishon

MOUNT TABOR, GALILEE—The Israel Antiquities Authority announced that arsonists had destroyed two storerooms filled with artifacts from the salvage excavation at Tel Kishon in northern Israel. Among the artifacts were Bronze Age pottery and weapons from the late fourth millennium and early third millennium B.C. Tel Kishon had been excavated ahead of road construction. “It’s significant and serious damage to the study of historical objects [belonging to] everyone,” archaeologist Amir Golani told The Times of Israel. The police are investigating the incident. To read about a recent discovery in Israel, go to "Egyptian Artifacts Found in Southern Israel."

Team Reconstructs Face of Tehran’s 7,000-Year-Old Woman

TEHRAN, IRAN—Mohammad Reza Rokni of the Archaeology Research Center and his team have created a 3-D reconstruction of the 7,000-year-old remains of a woman unearthed in Tehran. “The model was developed drawing upon the supine position of the skeleton to represent its true position when interred; to reconstruct the face we added a digital version of missing parts mounted on the 3-D model; the prepared model was pinpointed in 11 points on the face, on eyes, nose, ears, cheeks, lips, and chin, and then the digital texturing filled these pinpoints to give us a clear image of the face,” he told Mehr News Agency. The team based the woman’s hair upon images from pottery from Cheshmeh Ali, a late Neolithic and Chalcolithic village in northern Iran. To read about a 5,000-year-old civilization in what is now Iran, go to "The World in Between." 

Air Pollution Detected in 400,000-Year-Old Dental Plaque

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Potential respiratory irritants have been found in the dental calculus on 400,000-year-old teeth from Israel’s Qesem Cave. The irritants, including traces of charcoal, are thought to have come from smoke inhaled from cooking fires in the cave. “Human teeth of this age have never been studied before for dental calculus, and we had very low expectations because of the age of the plaque. However, our international collaborators, using a combination of methods, found many materials entrapped within the calculus. Because the cave was sealed for 200,000 years, everything, including the teeth and its calculus, were preserved exceedingly well,” Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University (TAU) said in a press release on The hardened plaque also contained traces of essential fatty acids, possibly from nuts or seeds, particles of starch, and fibers that may have been used for teeth cleaning. “Now we have direct evidence of a tiny piece of the plant-based part of their diet also, in addition to the animal meat and fat they consumed,” added Ran Barkai of TAU. To read about another finding based on the analysis of dental plaque, go to "Dental Calculus Offers Direct Evidence of Milk-Drinking."

Tuesday, June 16

Tool Use Is “Innate” in Chimpanzees

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Kathelijne Koops of the University of Cambridge and colleagues from Kyoto University tracked wild chimpanzees and bonobos in Uganda and Congo and recorded their tool use, the surrounding environmental conditions, and social time. They also observed the young apes when manipulating objects, and whether or not those objects were deployed as tools. The researchers found that bonobos had similar access to as many tools and the opportunities to use them as the chimpanzees, but the bonobos rarely used tools, and never used them to forage for food. Immature chimpanzees were also observed playing with objects more frequently, and with more objects. “Chimpanzees are object-oriented, in a way that bonobos are not,” Koops said in a press release. “Given the close evolutionary relationship between these two species and humans, insights into the tool use difference between chimpanzees and bonobos can help us identify the conditions that drove the evolution of human technology. Our findings suggest that an innate predisposition, or intrinsic motivation, to manipulate objects was likely also selected for in the hominin lineage and played a key role in the evolution of technology in our own lineage,” she explained. For more, go to "Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use."

Palenque Tomb Was “The House of the Nine Sharpened Spears”

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO—Guillermo Bernal of the National Autonomous University of Mexico has translated hieroglyphs on the tomb of the Maya king K’inich Janaab’ Pakal in the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque as “The House of the Nine Sharpened Spears.” Bernal’s study of the jaguar, an animal sacred to the Maya, connected a hieroglyph that looks like a jaguar molar and has been interpreted to mean “edge,” with an inscription in the tomb. “This is a name linked with war and an aspect which was not previously known as the hieroglyphic (could not be) deciphered until now,” Bernal said in a press conference reported by NBC News. To read more about the ancient Maya, go to "Tomb of the Vulture Lord."

Excavation Begins at England’s Marden Henge

READING, ENGLAND—A team led by archaeologists from the University of Reading has just begun an excavation of a Neolithic building at Marden Henge in the Vale of Pewsey. Constructed in 2400 B.C., the earthworks is the largest henge in England, yet very little is known about it. The people who used the building may have even participated in the construction of Stonehenge. “Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out,” archaeologist Jim Leary said in a press release. The Vale of Pewsey was also inhabited during the Roman and medieval periods. “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there—a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved—from prehistory to history,” he said. To read more about recent discoveries in the area, go to "Under Stonehenge."

3,000-Year-Old Canaanite Name Found Inscribed on Jar

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The name Eshba’al Ben Bada’, written in Canaanite script, has been found on a 3,000-year-old jar from the site of Khirbet Qeiyafain in the Valley of Elah by a team led by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “This is the first time that the name Eshba’al has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country. Eshba’al Ben Shaul, who ruled over Israel at the same time as David, is known from the Bible. Eshba’al was murdered by assassins and decapitated and his head was brought to David in Hebron (II Samuel, Chapters 3-4),” the researchers said in a press release. They also note that the name Eshba’al appears in the Bible and in the archaeological record only during the first half of the tenth century B.C., and was probably a common name during this period. However, “the name Beda’ is unique and does not occur in ancient inscriptions or in the biblical tradition,” they add. The name on the jar suggests that Eshba’al Ben Bada’ owned an agricultural estate and that its produce was packed and shipped in jars inscribed with his name. To read more about this period, go to "Egyptian Style in Ancient Canaan."