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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, September 04

Stone Age Boat Discovered Off the Coast of Denmark

ROSKILDE, DENMARK—A submerged Stone Age settlement and a boat were discovered off the coast of Denmark’s Askø Island. The vessel shows signs of repairs. “It split 6,500 years ago and they tried to fix the crack by putting a bark strip over it and drilling holes on both sides of it. The most exciting thing is that there is sealing mass in the holes. We have found sealing mass before—such as bits of resin that children have chewed on and made flexible,” Jørgen Dencker of the Viking Ship Museum told The Copenhagen Post. Dencker and his team will look for additional artifacts made of organic materials in the submerged Stone Age settlement.

Papyrus Fragment Bears Early Christian Prayers

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND—A fragment of a 1,500-year-old papyrus charm from Egypt in the John Rylands Library at Manchester University is “the first ever found to refer to the Last Supper and use magic in the Christian context,” according to Roberta Mazza of the new John Rylands Research Institute. She says that the papyrus shows that early Christians had adopted the ancient Egyptian practice of writing charms on pieces of papyrus to be worn as amulets of protection against dangers. The words from the Christian Bible had been written on the reverse side of a receipt for the payment of grain tax in the village of Tertembuthis, near the city of Hermoupolis, then folded up and placed in a locket or a pendant. “We can say this is an incredibly rare example of Christianity and the Bible becoming meaningful to ordinary people—not just priests and the elite,” she told BBC News. The document has been in the library since 1901. To read about another early Christian text, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Egyptian Text Describes Jesus Changing His Shape."  

Tiwanaku Drug Paraphernalia Found in Bolivia

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA—Artifacts such as “snuffing tablets,” a wooden snuffing tube, and spatulas uncovered at the site of Cueva del Chileno, located near Lake Titicaca, suggest that the people of Tiwanaku used hallucinogens. “Snuffing tablets in the Andes were primarily used by ritual specialists, such as shamans. Psychotropic substances, once extracted from plants, were spread and mixed on the tablets. Inhalation tubes were then used to introduce the substances through the nose into the system,” Juan Albarracin-Jordan of the Fundación Bartolomé de Las Casas told Discovery News. Shamans who were under the influence acted as “mediators between the natural and the supernatural. They were also conflict brokers between the living and the dead,” Albarracin-Jordan explained. Cups used for drinking the alcoholic beverage known as chicha were also found, and although drug use declined with the Tiwanaku state around A.D. 1100, the drinking of the fermented corn beverage persisted.   

Hoard of Roman Jewelry Unearthed in Colchester

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND—A collection of Roman jewelry, including three gold armlets, a silver chain necklace, two silver bracelets, a silver armlet, four finger rings, a box containing two pairs of gold earrings, and a bag of coins, was discovered during the renovation of a department store in Colchester, Britain’s oldest recorded town. The cache of jewelry had been buried in the floor of a house that had been burned to the ground at the time of the Boudiccan Revolt of A.D. 61, marked by a thick red and black layer of debris over much of the modern city. “Our team removed the find undisturbed along with its surrounding soil, so that the individual items could be carefully uncovered and recorded under controlled conditions off site,” Philip Crummy, director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, told EADT 24. In addition, a piece of a human jaw and a shin bone that had been cut with a heavy, sharp weapon were recovered. “We also discovered food that was never eaten on the floor of the room in which the jewelry was found, including dates, figs, wheat, peas, and grain,” Crummy said. The food was probably stored in the room, and was carbonized and preserved by the fire. To read about the search for the tomb of the warrior queen Boudicca, who commanded the army that destroyed Colchester, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni."  

Wednesday, September 03

3,000-Year-Old Royal Chariot Discovered in China

PEKING, CHINA—China Daily reports that a royal bronze chariot discovered in a village in northwest China has been partially excavated. The 3,000-year-old vehicle sported a thick layer of bronze on its wheel rims. “The wheels of chariots from the Western Zhou Dynasty that have been found previously were made of wood covered with a one centimeter layer of bronze,” announced a team from the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology. The wheels on this chariot, however, are 15 centimeters thick. Skeletal remains of three or four horses have been found in front of the chariot, along with bronze ornamental items. “One point that supports the preliminary conclusion that it is a ceremonial chariot is that we did not discovery any weapons,” added Lei Xingshan of Peking University. 

Red Sea Vessel Unearthed in Berenike

BERENIKE, EGYPT—Iwona Zych of the University of Warsaw and Steven E. Sidebotham of the University of Delaware unearthed part of a ship’s hull dating to the Roman period while digging at the site of Berenike, a port on the Red Sea founded in the third-century B.C. They think that the ship had been dismantled and stored in a warehouse. “This will be the first time that we know the actual size and construction of a Red Sea vessel, because no ancient vessels, or even wrecks have survived to this day,” Zych told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Near the port, the scientists found a large cemetery for small animals that had been buried in damaged clay vessels or covered with pieces of pottery. Most of the 60 animals were cats, but dogs, two vervets—one of which had been wearing a metal collar—and a baboon were also recovered. Archaeozoologist Marta Osypinska thinks the animals may have died of a plague brought to the port from another location, or that they may have been used in rituals performed before a journey. The team also mapped the site’s streets, an administrative center, and a tetrapylon, or gate with four entries. To read about another vessel uncovered recently in Egypt, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Oldest Egyptian Funerary Boat."  

Parched Grass Reveals Complete Circle at Stonehenge

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—Dry spots in the grass that appeared during last year’s summer drought suggest that the outer circle of sarsen stones at Stonehenge was once complete. “I was standing on the public path looking at the grass near the stones and thinking that we needed to find a longer hosepipe to get the parched patches to green up," Tim Daw, who cares for the site, told BBC News. "[There was a] sudden light bulb moment in my head, and I remembered that the marks were where archaeologists had looked without success for signs that there had been stone holes, and that parch marks can signify them.” Archaeologists had conducted a high-resolution geophysical survey few years ago that failed to find evidence of stones that would have completed the circle. “It’s great that people who know the site really well and look at it every day were able to spot these parch marks and recognize them for what they were….If we’d had a longer hosepipe we might not have been able to see them,” added Susan Greaney of English Heritage. To read about the suprising similarities between Stonehenge and monuments in Madagascar, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Conversation: Sacred Stones."  

Tuesday, September 02

Silk Relics Cleaned and Studied in Milan

BONN, GERMANY—Archaeologist Sabine Schrenk of the University of Bonn, and Cologne textile restorer Ulrike Reichert, are working together to clean silk tunics housed at the Basilica of Sant-Ambrogio in Milan. Most recently, the garments had been kept between heavy glass plates that contributed to their deterioration, and a careful cleaning is required to preserve them. The tunics are ascribed to St. Ambrose, a fourth century bishop of the emperor’s residence of Milan, who is honored as a doctor of the Christian church. According to Schrenk, the tunics have not been proven to date to the fourth century, but she doesn’t think that they could have been made much later. One of the tunics is decorated with intricate depictions of hunting scenes with trees and leopards. “These pieces were revered as the tunics of St. Ambrose probably by the eleventh century,” she told Science Daily. Schrenk thinks that such silks may have been produced in Milan in the fourth century with thread from China. “Milan at the time, being the emperor’s residence, had access to ample patronage, and used silk in grand fashion. I would be very surprised if there had not been silk workshops there at the time,” she added.   

Are Marks in Gorham Cave Neanderthal Art?

GIBRALTAR—A team led by Clive Finlayson, director of the heritage division of the Gibraltar Museum, claims that etchings discovered on a table-like rock outcropping in Gorham’s Cave were scratched by Neanderthals more than 39,000 years ago. The marks, which were covered with sediments that contained stone tools typical of those made by Neanderthals between 30,000 and 39,000 years ago, are up to a few millimeters deep and cover an area about the size of a Frisbee. Testing revealed that carving the engravings would have taken purposeful, repeated motions with Neanderthal tools. “Is it art? I don’t know. I can’t get into the minds of these people. It looks geometric. It looks like criss-cross patterning. What is clear is that it’s abstract, it’s deliberate, and it speaks to their cognition in a way that brings Neanderthals, once again, closer to us,” Finlayson told Nature. To read about paintings in Spain some scholars consider the work of Neanderthals, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Neanderthal?"  

Spain Returns Smuggled Artifacts to Colombia

MADRID, SPAIN—Colombia has received nearly 700 artifacts, including pre-Columbian pottery, funeral urns, ocarinas, necklaces, and stamps that were seized by Spanish police 11 years ago and placed in the Museum of America in Madrid, where they were cataloged and identified. The objects had been smuggled out of South America by a man accused of laundering money for the drug cartels. “We have repatriated a museum which was abroad and which returns to Colombia to strengthen the historic identity of the country,” Jorge Fernando Perdomo, Colombia’s deputy attorney general, told Hispanic Business. He also thanked the Spanish government for the police work involved in the case. 

UPDATE: Unusual Floor Uncovered in Amphipolis Tomb

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—Removal of loose sand from the antechamber directly behind the wall with two sphinxes at the tomb at Amphipolis has revealed a floor section made of irregular pieces of white marble on a red background. This room also has traces of a fresco with blue coloring on the wall behind the sphinxes. Archaeologists told The Greek Reporter that all three chambers of the unusual tomb had been filled with sand when the structure was sealed. They think that the inner walls may have been installed to hold back the sand, and that gaps in the walls may have been part of the sealing process. The team is also working to protect the excavation from rain, and shore up the tomb against the pressure exerted by the earth in the next chamber. To read about the search for Alexander the Great's lost tomb, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."