Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, January 25

Early Twentieth-Century Mosque Lamps Recovered

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that six historic lamps stolen from the El-Refai Mosque last month have been recovered by Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Police. The authorities suspect that the lamps were taken during a film shoot at the mosque. The lamps date to 1910, and are part of a set of 15 that hang from the ceilings of the mausoleums of King Fouad, the last king of Egypt, and Princess Ferial, his half-sister. Each of the glass lamps bears a verse of the Koran in raised script. Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities credits the swift recovery of the artifacts to the quick reporting of the theft. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

17th-Century Shopping List Discovered at English Country House

KENT, ENGLAND—Kent Live reports that a seventeenth-century shopping list was found under the floorboards at Knole, one of the largest historic country houses in England. The shopping list was written in 1633 by Robert Draper, who asked his friend Mr. Bilby to bring a fire shovel, pewter spoons, a frying pan, and “greenfish,” which refers to cod before it has been salted or cured, to Copt Hall. Draper also asked for the prices of these items. Scholars think that the quality of the handwriting suggests Draper was a high-ranking servant. But how did the letter get from Copt Hall to Knole House? In 1637, the daughter of the Earl of Middlesex, who owned Copt Hall, married the Earl of Dorset, who owned Knole House, and the contents of Copt Hall were eventually moved to Knole. “It’s extremely rare to uncover letters dating back to the seventeenth century, let alone those that give us an insight into the management of the households of the wealthy, and the movement of items from one place to another,” said Nathalie Cohen, regional archaeologist for England’s National Trust. To read in-depth about Knole House, go to “The Many Lives of an English Manor House.”

Tuesday, January 24

Operation Pandora Recovers Thousands of Artifacts

THE HAGUE, THE NETHERLANDS—NBC News reports that an international operation led by Cypriot and Spanish police has resulted in the recovery of more than 3,500 stolen cultural objects—almost half of which were archaeological artifacts—and the arrest of 75 people suspected of activity in criminal networks. Dubbed “Operation Pandora,” the coordinated effort focused on “cultural spoliation,” or the act of taking goods by force, and the illicit trafficking of cultural goods, particularly from countries at war. The police and other authorities from a total of 18 countries, in cooperation with UNESCO, Interpol, and Europol, initiated more than 90 investigations, and conducted thousands of inspections and searches of people, vehicles, and ships during October and November of 2016. More than 400 coins, an Ottoman tombstone, and a post-Byzantine icon depicting Saint George are among the recovered items. For more, go to “Sunken Byzantine Basilica.”

Bronze Age Jewelry Workshop Found in Kuwait

MOESGAARD, DENMARK—According to a report in The Copenhagen Post, archaeologists from the Moesgaard Museum have found a 3,500-year-old jewelry workshop from the Dilmun culture on the tiny island of Failaka, which is located off the coast of Kuwait. The Dilmun culture, centered in Failaka, Bahrain, and possibly Qatar, was known as a Bronze Age trade hub for the major cities of Mesopotamia. But the trade network is thought to have collapsed around 1700 B.C., when its temples and cities were abandoned. “We have found the remains of a jewelry workshop in buildings from the period between 1700 and 1600 B.C.,” explained senior scientist Flemming Højland. “We found bits and pieces of semi-precious stones that do not exist naturally on the island of Failaka, but were imported—probably from India and Pakistan.” The jewelry suggests that the people living on Failaka resumed trade with people living to the east after the collapse of the established trade routes. To read in-depth about Failaka, go to “Archaeology Island.”

Flat Stone Found in the Mouth of a Roman-Period Skeleton

  NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that researchers from Historic England recently examined bones removed from a Roman-period cemetery in a soil block in 1991 and determined they were the remains of a man who had been buried face down with a flat stone in his mouth. Marks on the bones around the mouth suggest that he suffered from an infection, perhaps from the removal of his tongue. “The fact that he’s buried face down in the grave is consistent with somebody whose behavior marked them out as odd or threatening within a community,” said skeletal biologist Simon Mays. The man may have suffered from mental health issues and severed his own tongue, or it may have been cut out as a form of punishment, but no records of such a punishment have been found in Roman Britain. Other burials in Roman Britain have contained stones or objects in place of missing body parts, however. “It could be an attempt to complete an incomplete body,” Mays said. “Or it could be an attempt to replace part of a body with something obviously inanimate, like a stone or a pot, to prevent the corpse from being complete.” For more on archaeology of Roman Britain, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

Precise Chronology Helps Scientists Study Maya Collapse

TUCSON, ARIZONA—The International Business Times reports that Ceibal-Petexbatun Archaeological Project scientists, led by Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona, are studying possible processes behind the two collapses of Maya civilization at Guatemala’s Maya site of Ceibal, which was occupied for about 2,000 years, between approximately 1000 B.C. and A.D. 950. The researchers obtained more than 150 radiocarbon dates from charcoal samples, and conducted a detailed study of ceramics from the site, in order to assemble a precise chronology of events. Population sizes over time were determined through carefully controlled excavations. The researchers found similar patterns preceding the collapse of Maya civilization during the Preclassic period, sometime between A.D. 150 and 300, and during the Classic Period, around A.D. 800 to 950, including violent warfare, social unrest, and political crises in multiple cities in the Maya lowlands. They also found that smaller waves of collapse were followed by major collapse and the abandonment of Maya population centers. For more, go to “Letter from Guatemala: Maya Metropolis.”

Monday, January 23

Bones Offer Clues to Health of Ancient Egypt’s Children

WARSAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a team of scientists from the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw examined the bones of 29 children whose remains were recovered from shallow graves in the sand at the Saqqara necropolis. Most of them were three to five years of age, and had probably been weaned from breast milk. “Some of the children buried at Saqqara could have died from diseases and infections, to which they were more susceptible because of lower resistance after changing diet,” said bioarchaeologist Iwona Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin of the University of Manchester. Analysis of the bones revealed the children suffered from deficiencies of iron and B vitamins; parasitic diseases, including malaria; tooth decay, due to a diet rich in carbohydrates; inhibited growth from a diet low in nutrients; and sinusitis, brought on by dust and desert sand. But most of the children’s remains did not show any signs of disease. Kozieradzka-Ogunmakin explained that it takes time to develop lesions on bones. “It could mean that due to a weak immune system [the child] succumbed to disease very quickly,” she said. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “A Pharaoh’s Last Fleet.”

Revolutionary War Artifacts Recovered in Virginia

GLOUCESTER POINT, VIRGINIA—The Daily Press reports that artifacts dating to the Revolutionary War were found in a cellar at the site of Gloucester Point, an affluent Colonial-era town located in southeastern Virginia, across the York River from Yorktown. Among the recovered artifacts is a brass plate engraved with the name “Lt. Dickson, 80th Regt. of Foot,” referring to an officer of the Royal Edinburgh Volunteers, who eventually surrendered Gloucester Town to American and French forces in 1781 during the Siege of Yorktown. Other artifacts include French infantry buttons, an English half-penny dated 1773, a silver piece of eight, two matching shoe buckles, and pieces of brass hardware. “We think they were all deposited during some sort of post-Revolution cleanup,” said archaeologist Anna Rhodes of DATA Investigations. The site has also yielded more than 600 features, including defensive ditches from the time of the Revolution and the Civil War. For more on the archaeology of the American Revolution, go to “Finding Parker’s Revenge.”

Ancient Goddess Sculpture Discovered Off Turkish Coast

IZMIR, TURKEY—Hürriyet Daily News reports that a 2,700-year-old terracotta statue has been discovered at a shipwreck site under more than 140 feet of water off the coast of southwestern Turkey. The statue, discovered by a team of archaeologists from Dokuz Eylul University, is of the lower half of a woman’s body, and is thought to represent a Cypriot goddess. The statue and other cargo items, including ceramic plates and amphoras, had been covered with sand. “When we cleaned its surroundings, we saw the toes of the sculpture,” said team leader Harun Özdaş. “Then we uncovered the lower part of the body. The goddess sculpture had a dress on it. We know that such sculptures were made of two pieces. This is why we believe that the upper part of the sculpture is in the same place.” The team will return to the site, with the permission of Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry and the support of the Development Ministry, to look for the rest of the goddess later this year. To read about another discovery in Turkey, go to “In Search of a Philosopher’s Stone.”