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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, November 28

New Dates Suggested for Plovdiv’s Ancient Theater

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that a Greek inscription found in a stairwell at the theater in the ancient city of Philippopolis suggests it was built earlier than had been previously thought. The theater was believed to date to A.D. 116, and the rule of Emperor Trajan, but the inscription, found on the base of a first-century statue, indicates that the construction of the theater began about three decades earlier, during the reign of Emperor Domitian. According to Nikolai Sharankov of Sofia University, the text of the inscription refers to Titus Flavius Cotis, a descendant of the Thracian kings who was the first priest of the imperial cult in Thrace. Sharankov explained that Titus Flavius Cotis erected many of the city’s buildings. “He wanted to give from his wealth for the public benefit and thus enhance his reputation among the citizenry,” he said. For more, go to “Thracian Treasure Chest.”

Pembroke Castle Survey Reveals Possible Medieval Buildings

PEMBROKE, WALES—According to a report from BBC News, a team from Dyfed Archaeology Trust has conducted a geophysical survey at Pembroke Castle, which was built in the eleventh century, to look for structures destroyed at the end of the medieval period. Parch marks on the ground, seen in aerial photographs taken in 2013, suggested possible outlines for the buildings. The new survey, funded by Castle Studies Trust, revealed the outlines of several buildings and a well in the castle’s outer ward, as well as the outlines of another three buildings in the inner ward. Researchers suggest that King Henry VII, who was born at the castle in 1457, might have been born in one of the buildings in the outer ward. To read in-depth about another castle, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Animals in Tomb of China’s First Emperor Analyzed

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—Scientists are analyzing the many animal remains and animal sculptures unearthed in Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum, which dates to the Qin Dynasty (221–206 B.C.) and is known for its army of terracotta warriors. China Daily reports that most of the animal figurines in the tomb are images of horses that were crafted with pottery, copper, and horse bones. Other figurines include representations of cranes, swans, and geese. The analysis of the many bones of deer, muntjac deer, sheep, chicken, fish, and turtles continues. And, according to head engineer Zhou Tie of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum Site Museum, recent excavations at the tomb site investigated its general structure. More than 400 pits were uncovered in the tomb, and many small pits and tombs were found around it. Stone carvings of helmets and armor were also found in the area surrounding the mausoleum. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Wednesday, November 23

Canonized Viking King Reburial Site Located

OSLO, NORWAY—A shrine to a Viking king who was sainted has been discovered in Trondheim, according to a report in Live Science. Researchers from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage believe they have unearthed the stone foundations of a wooden church where the body of King Olaf Haraldsson was taken in 1031 shortly after he was declared a saint. Now known as St. Olaf, the king ruled Norway starting in 1016 but was challenged by Canute I of Denmark and died in battle in 1030. Olaf was initially buried elsewhere in Trondheim, but based on reports of posthumous miracles he was dug up and reinterred in St. Clement’s Church. In addition to the church’s foundations, the researchers have found a small rock platform at the structure’s east end that they believe was the base of the church’s altar—which may have been built over St. Olaf’s new grave. His remains were later moved again to a larger church in Trondheim, where Nidaros Cathedral was then built. Also found at the St. Clement’s Church site was a small well that may have been seen as holy. For more, go to “A True Viking Saga.”

Large Mud-Brick Tombs Discovered in Abydos

ABYDOS, EGYPT—A cemetery and residential area dating to around the time of Egypt's First Dynasty (late fourth millennium B.C.) has been discovered in Abydos, according to a report in Egypt Independent. Both are thought to have been used by senior officials tasked with planning tombs for the ancient Egyptian royal family along with the workers who actually built the tombs. Archaeologists found remains of huts, pottery, and stone tools at the site. Hany Aboul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Upper Egypt, said that 15 large mud-brick tombs had been uncovered, and that their large size underscores the importance of those buried in them. The tombs date to around the time of the establishment of Egypt’s First Dynasty, when Abydos is thought to have been the country’s capital. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “‘T’ Marks the Spot.”

“Thinker” Statuette Uncovered in Israel

YEHUD, ISRAEL—A seven-inch-tall clay figurine of a pensive man attached to a Middle Bronze Age pot was unearthed in the central Israel town of Yehud, The Times of Israel reports. The 3,800-year-old was discovered during the excavation of a future construction site carried out by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Association along with a group of high school students. “It seems they first prepared a pot characteristic of the period, and afterwards they added the unique statue, the likes of which have never before been discovered in previous research,” said archaeologist Gilad Itach, who led the excavation. Also found at the site were other ceramic vessels, daggers, arrowheads, an ax head, and animal bones, all of which Itach believes may have been funerary objects for an important member of the Canaanite community. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

Plymouth Settlement Excavated

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe is part of the original settlement of the Pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth in 1620, The Boston Globe reports. A team from the University of Massachusetts Boston excavated a seventeenth-century trash pit at Burial Hill, the location of a cemetery dating back hundreds of years. The site had long been thought to be part of the Pilgrims’ first settlement, but archaeological work had been delayed due to concerns that it would disturb graves. Taking care not to do so, the team found discolored soil indicative of a post hole, and calf’s bones under a layer of discarded items dating to before 1650. The Pilgrims raised domesticated cattle, while Native Americans in the area did not, so the findings suggest the remains were part of the original settlement. “People have never found part of the seventeenth-century settlement in downtown Plymouth,” said David Landon, a University of Massachusetts Boston archaeologist who led the dig. “For the first time, we found part of the built environment.” The team also found a stone-tool workshop, pottery, and other artifacts indicating that Native Americans used Burial Hill before the Pilgrims’ arrival. For more on the archaeology of colonial America, go to “Jamestown’s VIPs.”

Tuesday, November 22

1,500-Year-Old Remains of Domesticated Turkeys Found in Mexico

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—Live Science reports that the remains of domesticated adult and juvenile turkeys; whole, unhatched eggs; and eggshell fragments have been found in two residential structures dating to between A.D. 300 and 1200 at a Zapotec site known as Mitla Fortress in Oaxaca, Mexico. Researchers from Chicago’s Field Museum and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say the turkeys were used for food and in domestic rituals. Archaeologist Heather Lapham of the University of North Carolina uncovered five intact eggs alongside the remains of seven turkey hatchlings that are thought to have been left as an offering. The remains of adult turkeys were found nearby. In addition to the two houses, the team unearthed a grave containing three turkey skeletons, and two obsidian blades that may have been used to slaughter them. Turkey bones were also used to make tools and jewelry. Today, the Zapotec people prepare meat from animals introduced by the Spanish, such as chickens, cows, and pigs, but they prepare turkeys for special events such as birthdays, baptisms, weddings, and religious festivals. For more, go to “Zapotec Power Rites.”

Bronze Age Burnt Mound Excavated in Scotland

INVERNESS, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that road construction in Inverness has uncovered burned mounds dating to the Bronze Age. The mounds, made up of piles of burned waste, ash, and stones shattered by heat, were formed by repeated burning. Researchers from AOC Archaeology Group explained that the mounds are usually horseshoe shaped and found close to streams. The heated stones are thought to have been placed in pits filled with water in order to to heat it for cooking, washing wool, or as saunas. The excavation team also uncovered kilns that were used to dry grain, as well as Neolithic pottery fragments. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Lost and Found (Again).”

Neolithic Ceremonial Site Uncovered Near Stonehenge

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Salisbury Journal reports that a ceremonial site dating to 3650 B.C. has been found at Larkhill, about one and one-half miles north of Stonehenge. The causewayed enclosure measured about 220 yards in diameter, and was surrounded by ditches. Pottery, worked flint, animal bones, and human skull fragments have been found in the ditches. Excavators also uncovered a stone saddle quern used for grinding grain. The site is thought to have been used as a temporary settlement, where animals and goods could be exchanged, and for feasting, ritual activity, and disposal of the dead. The site is thought to be about 700 years older than Stonehenge, and to have been built by the ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge. The discoveries have the potential to transform our understanding of prehistoric Wiltshire and the Stonehenge area specifically, according to Martin Brown, principal archaeologist for WYG, the firm in charge of archaeological work at the site. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

Possible Trade Center Unearthed in Northern China

BEIJING, CHINA—The reports that the remains of a 20-foot-wide road flanked by traces of 1,000-year-old buildings have been unearthed at the site of Haifeng Town in China’s northern Hebei province. Lei Jianhong of the Hebei Cultural Relics Institute said that the excavation team has unearthed a hearth, fire pits, wall footings, bricks, tiles, and pieces of porcelain thought to date to the Jin (A.D. 960–1276) and Yuan (A.D. 1271–1368) dynasties. The town is thought to have been a port located at the mouth of a river, at the northern tip of the Maritime Silk Road, and may have been a trade center for porcelain and salt. Further excavations are being planned. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”