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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, June 08

CERN’s Cultural Significance Studied

YORK, ENGLAND—Nuclear physicist David Jenkins and archaeologist John Schofield of the University of York traveled to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the site of the Large Hadron Collider, and investigated it as if it was an archaeological site. “It is hard to think of anywhere more significant for all of humanity,” they said in a press release. The complex was established in 1954 on the Franco-Swiss border to promote peaceful cooperation between nations, and it became the place where the existence of the Higgs Boson was established in 2012, and the World Wide Web was created in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. “This is a landscape where events ranging from the ordinary to the iconic have become heritage over a short space of time. But this is not to imply the site has in any way reached the end of its useful life—far from it. Here scientists just get on with it, as they have done to spectacular effect for the last 60 years,” said Jenkins, who is himself a CERN researcher. To read about a very ancient type of technology that also changed the world, go to "The First Toolkit." 

Traces of First Farmers Found in Jordan

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—Tobias Richter of the University of Copenhagen and his team have found the 14,000-year-old bones of a child and an adult and evidence of early farming in Jordan’s Black Desert. “It’s really startling new evidence that we didn’t expect to find in this particular part of southwest Asia. And it changes the way in which we think about these hunter-gatherer communities at the end of the last Ice Age, who were on the brink of developing these new technologies of agriculture, these new ways of life that are influencing us still today,” he told Euro News. At that time, the region received enough rain to sustain the growth of an early human settlement. “We can then identify different species of plants, which in turn will tell us what sorts of things were growing out here. It’s hard to imagine right now because it’s all desert, but back many, many years ago, it was actually really nice and very, very green, and we can tell that from these plant remains,” explained finds co-ordinator Erin Estrup. To read about a mysterious structure in Jordan that made a Top 10 Discoveries list, go to "Neolithic Community Centers."

2,000-Year-Old Roman Artifacts Unearthed in Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA—Eleven graves in the ancient city of Aksum have yielded what British archaeologist Louise Schofield called “extraordinary” 2,000-year-old artifacts in The Ethiopia Observer and The Guardian. Some of the graves contained the remains of male warriors who had been buried wearing large iron bangles, and one of them contained the remains of a woman Schofield dubbed “Sleeping Beauty.” The high-status woman had been wearing a necklace of thousands of beads and a beaded belt, and had been buried with two Roman glass drinking beakers and a glass flask for catching tears. “She was curled up on her side, with her chin resting on her hand, wearing a beautiful bronze ring. She was buried gazing into an extraordinary Roman bronze mirror. She had next to her a beautiful and incredibly ornate bronze cosmetics spoon with a lump of kohl eyeliner,” Schofield said. Analysis of pottery from the grave could reveal what food and drink had been provided for the woman in the afterlife. The Roman artifacts in the graves indicate that the Aksumite kingdom had been trading with Rome hundreds of years earlier than had previously been thought. In return, the Romans obtained ivory tusks, frankincense, and metals from Ethiopia. To read about the extraordinary monuments left behind in Ehtiopia by one of the ancient world's great empires, go to "Of Obelisks and Empire."

Late Period Tombs Discovered in Aswan’s Ancient Cemetery

CAIRO, EGYPT—The Cairo Post reports that six tombs dating to Egypt’s Late Period (664–332 B.C.) have been discovered in the ancient cemetery west of Aswan. Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el-Damaty announced in a press conference that mummies had been found within stone and wooden coffins, along with statues of the god Horus, his four sons, and amulets. “This discovery is extremely unique because it is the first Late Period discovery at the ancient cemetery in Aswan. The previously discovered tombs at this area date back to the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms,” Damaty said. The new tombs were accessed through a flight of steps that lead to a main entrance. “Each tomb is divided into three to four rooms with no inscriptions as the technique used in digging the newly discovered tombs is completely different from the tombs of the same area,” added Nasr Salama, director of the Aswan and Nubia archaeological areas. To read about the tomb of a famous ancient Egyptian singer, go to "Tomb of the Chantress." 

Friday, June 05

Looters Attack Thracian Mound in Bulgaria

TATAREVO, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that looters have struck an ancient Thracian burial mound in southern Bulgaria. There are three Thracian tumuli, known as the Tatarevo Mounds, at the site. Archaeologists led by Kostadin Kisyov from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology had been making plans for emergency excavations of the Great Tatarevo Mound, which is the largest tumulus in the region. Two lines of smaller mounds appear to radiate from it. To read about the discovery of a rich Thracian burial, go to "Royal Thracian Tomb."

Aboriginal Artifacts Unearthed in Australian Park

PARRAMATTA, AUSTRALIA—Excavations ahead of the construction of a new playground at a park in suburban Sydney uncovered Aboriginal spear barbs, back blades, and flakes left over from tool making. The site, once home to the Burramatta clan, is also thought to have been a spot where clans came together for trading. “It was important in that it was a great food area. They kept this land open with fire stick farming, because kangaroos liked open land,” archaeologist Jillian Comber told The Daily Telegraph. In all, more than 400 artifacts were recovered. To watch a video about the remarkable art of the Aborigines, go to "Aboriginal Rock Art."

“Exotic” Gold Preferred in Ireland’s Prehistory

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—Scientists from the University of Southampton and the University of Bristol measured the chemical composition of some of Ireland’s earliest gold artifacts with laser ablation mass spectrometry and compared the results with the composition of gold deposits in Ireland and in a variety of other locations. They found that the objects, including basket ornaments, discs, and necklaces, had been made with imported gold—most likely gold that originated in southern England. “Perhaps what is most interesting is that during this time, compared to Ireland, there appears to be much less gold circulating in Cornwall and southern Britain. This implies gold was leaving the region because those who found it felt it was of more value to trade it in for other ‘desirable’ goods—rather than keep it,” Chris Standish of the University of Southampton said in a press release. Standish and team member Alistair Pike, also of the University of Southampton, think that the value of gold may have varied from region to region. “Prehistoric economies were driven by factors more complex than the trade of commodities—belief systems clearly played a major role,” Pike said. To read more about the recovery of several rare prehistoric gold artifacts, go to "Irish Gold."

Thursday, June 04

New Dates Push Back the Occupation of Mid-West Australia

CRAWLEY, AUSTRALIA—Dates obtained from charcoal associated with stone artifacts at the Yalibirri Mindi rock shelter in the Mid-West region of Western Australia indicate that the ancestors of the Wajarri Traditional Owners and other cultural groups have lived in the area for 30,000 years. “The history of Aboriginal occupation to the north in the Pilbara, south at places like Devil’s Lair and to the east in the Western Desert has been well established for many years but the handful of excavated sites in the Mid-West are all relatively young,” Viviene Brown of The University of Western Australia said in a press release. “This new date from Yalibirri Mindi rock shelter pushes regional occupation by 20,000 years and is enormously important for the archaeological community,” she added. For more on Australian archaeology, see "The Rock Art of Djulirri." 

Sealed Lead Coffin Contained French Noblewoman

RENNES, FRANCE—The well-preserved remains of Louise de Quengo and the heart of her husband, Toussaint de Perrien, Knight of Brefeillac, were found in a sealed lead coffin in a stone tomb at a convent chapel in western France. The noblewoman, who died in 1656 and was identified through inscriptions on the reliquary containing the heart, is thought to have entered the convent after the death of her spouse in 1649. “We saw at once there was not just a well-preserved corpse but a mass of material that was still supple and humid, and shoes. Because the coffin was completely sealed it had kept everything preserved. But we had to move quickly because once the coffin was opened it sets off the decomposition process again after 350 years. We had 72 hours to bring the body down to four degrees to preserve everything,” Rozenn Colleter of the Institute National Recherches Archaeologiques Préventive (INRAP) told The Guardian. Medical tests showed that De Quengo suffered from kidney stones and that she had lung adhesions. She will be reburied later this year, but her clothing, made up of simple religious vestments, will be preserved. To read about a purported relic of the French Revolution, see "French Revolution Forgeries?"

Jamaica’s Port Royal Mapped With 3-D Images

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Preliminary high-resolution images of Port Royal have been made by an international marine robotics team at the invitation of Jamaica’s National Heritage Trust. Port Royal, now off the coast of Jamaica, was submerged 300 years ago after an earthquake. “In the seventeenth century, Port Royal was the English mercantile capital of the New World—a bustling sea port that was a haven for privateers and pirates due to its excellent geographic location in the middle of the Caribbean,” Andrew Durrant of the University of Sydney said in a press release. The team will create a detailed map of the site, which has intact buildings and streets, while developing new practices for marine archaeological survey. “The city remains are widely dispersed, often covered in soft sediments and re-deposited coral, conditions which have challenged existing approaches to mapping the sunken area,” Durrant explained. The new survey will be part of Jamaica’s application to have Port Royal included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. To read more about underwater archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."

Amphora Fragments Reveal Rome’s Trade Secrets

ROME, ITALY—Archaeologists are examining the inscriptions on some of the millions of shards of broken amphoras that compose Monte Testaccio, an artificial hill that accumulated over about three centuries as amphoras that could no longer be used for the transport of wine, olive oil, and garum were smashed and stacked on the top of the pile. The huge amphorae weighed more than 60 pounds when empty, and more than 200 pounds when full of oil or wine. They could no longer be used when oil had seeped into the clay. “The inscriptions are like a sort of ancient Roman bar code. They tell us the year in which the shipment arrived in Rome, the import duty that was paid, and where the product came from,” Francesco Pacetti of Rome’s cultural heritage department told The Telegraph. Officials known as “curatores” supervised the process and sprinkled lime over the top of new deposits to reduce the smell of rancid oil. “It is helping us understand how Roman trade evolved. Important discoveries are being made,” Pacetti said. To read more in-depth about Monte Testaccio, go to "Trash Talk."