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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 11

Mud-Brick Study Illuminates Fire at Tel Megiddo

REHOVOT, ISRAEL—According to a report in Live Science, Ruth Shahack-Gross and Mathilde Forget suggest that it may have only taken two to three hours for fire to have destroyed the entire city of Tel Megiddo some 3,000 years ago. A previous study found that mud bricks at the site had reached 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit. While working at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Shahack-Gross and Forget made new mud bricks, and then tried to determine how quickly the bricks would catch on fire by placing them in a hot oven and timing how long it took the bricks’ cores to reach 1,112 degrees. The scientists found that the larger bricks took longer to heat than smaller bricks, and that wood beams, furniture, mats, stored food and oil, and bedding probably helped the fire at Tel Megiddo to spread. Critics point out that in an actual fire, a home’s bricks would probably have been heated only on one side. “We are totally aware of the fact that the experiment, [which was done] in controlled conditions in the lab, does not mimic what happened in the past,” responded Shahack-Gross. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

Vindolanda Roman Fort Yields Hundreds of Shoes

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Chronicle Live reports that more than 400 shoes sized for men, women, and children, were recovered at the Roman fort of Vindolanda over the summer, bringing the total of shoes from the site to more than 7,000. The 1,800-year-old shoes included ones made solely for indoor wear, boots, sandals, and bath clogs. The footwear was found in a defensive ditch, along with pottery and the remains of cats and dogs. Andrew Birley, director of Vindolanda’s excavations, thinks the contents of the ditches may have been discarded when the garrison withdrew from the fort in A.D. 212, when the war between northern British tribes and Roman forces ended. “They may have had to walk hundreds of miles and perhaps longer and had to leave anything they couldn’t carry,” he said. All of the shoes will be conserved. “The volume of footwear has presented some challenges for our lab but with the help of dedicated volunteers we have created a specific space for the shoe conservation and the process is now well underway,” explained trust curator Barbara Birley. To read about a writing tablet found at Vindolanda, go to “Artifact.”

Word Puzzle Found on Agora Walls in Smyrna

IZMIR, TURKEY—The Daily Sabah reports that excavators led by Akin Ersoy of Dokuz Eylül University found Greek words and names carved in a wall of the basilica in the marketplace of ancient Smyrna. The positions of the words and names resemble a modern acrostic. “The same words are written both from top to bottom and left to right in five columns,” he said. “The word ‘logos,’ which is located in the center, is on the third column.” Some scholars have suggested that early Christians communicated in such puzzles, but Ersoy says that this one was carved in an area where there were market stalls and is unlikely to have conveyed a secret message. He thinks it is more likely that the salespeople working in the agora’s booths carved the words to entertain themselves during slow periods. Ersoy added that love poems have also been found written on the walls of the agora. To read about a massive inscription discovered in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”

Mass Graves Exhumed in Central Spain

VALLADOLID, SPAIN—Reuters reports that Valladolid’s city council has authorized the exhumation of mass graves that could hold the remains of more than 1,000 people killed between 1936 and 1939, during the country’s civil war, and during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco that followed. So far, three graves have been excavated, and the bones of 185 individuals have been sent to a forensic archaeologist for analysis. “This is a question of national dignity and human rights rather than opening the wounds of the past,” said Oscar Puente, the mayor of Valladolid. There may be as many as ten mass graves in the cemetery. For more on archaeology in Spain, go to “The Red Lady of El Mirón.”

Friday, October 07

Did Human Ancestors Possess Theory of Mind?

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA—Science reports that a study conducted by Christopher Krupenye of Duke University and Fumihiro Kano of Kyoto University suggests that chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans know when someone else holds a false belief—a trait thought to be limited to modern humans. The researchers created video dramas featuring two modern humans, one of whom was wearing a “generic apelike” suit. In one of the dramas, the apelike figure steals a rock from the man, places it in one of two boxes, scares the man away, and then moves the rock to another location. The man then returns to retrieve the rock. Would the apes expect him to look for it in the first box? The scientists used infrared eye-tracking technology to record what the chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans watched during the film when the man returned to the scene, and found that 22 of the 30 individuals looked at the boxes, while 17 watched the first box. “It suggests that the capacity to track others’ perspectives and beliefs is not unique to humans,” commented developmental psychologist Victoria Southgate of the University of London. It also suggests that the last common ancestor of great apes and humans may have possessed theory of mind. For more, go to “Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?

Backyard Birdbath Identified as Roman Pottery

REDDITCH, ENGLAND—The Redditch Standard reports that a Roman mortarium has been identified in Alcester, a town that grew from a Roman military camp in the first century A.D. The pottery bowl dates to the second or third century and would have been used to grind herbs, spices, and other ingredients for sauces. An Alcester resident discovered the bowl in his yard, and used it as a bird bath until his daughter realized it resembled pottery she’d seen on display during the town’s Roman Festival. The family donated the bowl, thought to have been made at a mortaria production site about 40 miles away, to the Warwickshire Museum. For more on Roman artifacts found in England, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

Blick Mead Yields 7,000-Year-Old Dog’s Tooth

BUCKINGHAM, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a large domesticated dog’s tooth has been found at the oldest-known settlement in the area surrounding Stonehenge. Called Blick Mead, the site is known for its warm spring, good hunting, and rare stones. Previous excavations at Blick Mead have turned up stone tools from Wales, the Midlands, and the West of England, but archaeologist David Jacques of the University of Buckingham explained that isotope analysis of the 7,000-year-old tooth indicates that the dog came from the Vale of York, and so may have traveled with a Mesolithic hunter some 250 miles to arrive at the site. Information from the tooth also suggests the dog would have been roughly the size, shape, and possible color of an Alsatian. Jacques thinks Mesolithic hunter-gatherers traveled such long distances to feast and exchange ideas, technologies, and even genes at this special location some 2,000 years before Stonehenge was built. “It is very hazy and this evidence just makes the glass slightly less dark, it is a significant movement forwards,” he said. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

Thursday, October 06

An Update From Earthquake-Stricken Bagan

YANGON, MYANMAR—According to a report in The Irrawaddy, experts from UNESCO and Myanmar’s National Museum and Library are conducting detailed assessments of the 449 out of more than 3,000 temples and pagodas in Bagan that were damaged by a powerful earthquake in August. The temples in the ancient capital were built between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. Among the damaged structures are the well-known Sulamani, Ananda, Htilominlo, Myazedi, Shwesandaw, Lawkananda, and Dhamma Yazaka, as well as the murals at Ananda Oakkyaung. “Detailed assessment takes time,” said U Aung Aung Kyaw, director of Bagan’s Archaeological Department. “It will assist technical experts in planning restoration works for individual damaged temples more effectively.” So far, the team has evaluated about 30 temples. UNESCO has pledged to support the restoration of the damaged temples. For more, go to “The World's First Temple.”

Police Break Up Alleged Antiquities Smuggling Ring in Greece

PATRAS, GREECE—The Associated Press reports that police in western Greece broke up an alleged antiquities smuggling ring after a 14-month investigation, arresting 26 people and recovering more than 2,000 artifacts and fake provenance documents. Most of the artifacts were ancient coins, but gold jewelry, bronze figurines, glassware, and stone and marble statues were also recovered. The oldest of the objects date to the sixth century B.C. The police department says that the artifacts were looted from archaeological sites across Greece and sold to auction houses and private buyers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The investigators also found metal detectors, guns, counterfeit license plates, and currency such as euros, U.S. dollars, and Kuwaiti dinars. The suspects reportedly kept extensive records that will help authorities track down artifacts that have already been sold. “For very many of the coins we have full documentation, starting from when they were discovered in the earth to the auction at which they were sold,” said police spokesperson Haralambos Sfetsos. To read more about Greece, go to “A New View of the Birthplace of the Olympics.”

Viking Rune Stone Unearthed in Sweden

UPPSALA, SWEDEN—The Local, Sweden, reports that a Viking-era rune stone has been found near the site of Hagby Church, where it had been part of a threshold leading to the church’s porch in the medieval period. The stone, which measures about six feet by four feet, was thought to have been lost when the church was torn down in the 1830s. One piece is missing from the otherwise well-preserved stone. Archaeologist Emelie Sunding of the Uppland Museum said the runestone resembles other signed stones carved by a runemaster named Fot in the mid-eleventh century. “This one isn’t signed, but we can tell from the style and the ornaments that this is Fot,” Sunding said. To read more, go to “A True Viking Saga.”