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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, February 18

Hellenistic Settlement Uncovered in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced that salvage excavations in advance of work on a natural gas pipeline have revealed a small rural settlement that reached its greatest extent in the third century B.C., when the region was ruled by the Hellenistic Seleucid Dynasty. Like many other rural villages in Israel, the site was abandoned sometime in the first century B.C., when Herod the Great began his reign. "The phenomenon of villages and farms being abandoned at the beginning of Herod the Great's rule is one that we are familiar with from many rural sites in Judea," Jerusalem regional archaeologist Yuval Baruch explained in an IAA statement. "And it may be related to Herod's massive building projects in Jerusalem, particularly the construction of the Temple Mount, and the mass migration of villagers to the capital to work on these projects."

Long-Lost Fragments of Colossi Found in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Egyptologists have uncovered missing quartzite blocks that once belonged to the Colossi of Memnon, two massive statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III that once stood at the entrance of his mortuary temple in Luxor. The blocks had been missing from the colossi since an earthquake in 27 B.C. devastated the temple. The missing pieces included fragments of the arm, belt, and skirt of one of the colossi, as well as parts of the royal crown and foundation stone for both statues. Aly El-Asfar, head of the Ministry of State for Antiquities' ancient Egyptian section, told Al-Ahram that the discovery will enable archaeologists to reconstruct the colossi. 

Aztec Dog Burials Discovered

MEXICO CITY, MEXICOArchaeologists digging beneath an apartment building in Mexico City have discovered the remains of 12 dogs who were buried sometime between 1350 and 1520 A.D. Dogs were considered sacred animals by the Aztecs, who believed they accompanied human souls to the afterlife. While archaeologists have found isolated dog burials at Aztec sites before, this is the first time multiple dogs have been discovered buried together. "This is definitely a special finding because of the number of dogs and because we have found no connection to a building or with the deceased,” archaeologist Rocio Morales Sanchez told the Associated Press. 

Medieval "Graffiti" Found in Scottish Castle

KILCHOAN, SCOTLANDAn archaeological team doing preservation work at the chapel of Mingary Castle on the west coast of Scotland has discovered markings scratched into the plaster walls. Made sometime between 1265 and 1295, the markings are thought to depict a local lighthouse, a ship, and perhaps the first letter of a name. "They've left messages on the wall and we're reading them," local historian Jon Haylett told BBC Radio Scotland. "It's pretty simple stuff, the sort of marks that would have been made by an illiterate man."

Friday, February 14

Bronze Age Woman Unearthed in Scotland

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—Landscapers working in the Scottish Highlands discovered a stone burial chest, or cist, capped with a small cairn. A rescue excavation conducted by archaeologists from Guard Archaeology revealed the partial remains of a Bronze Age woman suffering from dental disease. Osteoarchaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick told The Scotsman that “Dental disease in the form of periodontal disease and a cyst were present and are probably symptomatic of poor oral hygiene and are probably secondary to the moderate dental wear observed on most of the teeth.” Otherwise, the woman’s bones showed that she was strong and physically active. She had been buried with an undecorated pottery beaker containing seven fragments of flint.

Human History, Written on Our Genes

OXFORD, ENGLAND—A team of scientists sequenced DNA samples from 1,490 modern people from 95 genetically distinct populations, and developed a statistical method to make inferences about which populations had interbred over the past 4,000 years. Evidence of “mixing events” was found in 80 of the populations, and some of those events coincide with historical records, such as the Hazara people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who had an influx of Mongol DNA around the time that the Mongol Empire expanded. Team member Simon Myers of the University of Oxford told Nature News that he would like to expand the model by using larger sample sizes and by adding ancient DNA samples. “That will give us a deeper understanding of human history,” he explained.

Stolen Bas-Relief Recovered in Canada

MONTREAL, QUEBEC—A fragment of a fifth-century B.C. Persian relief that had been stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011 was recovered by police from a home in Edmonton. Security footage shows a suspect in the museum, but the authorities are not sure how he removed the Persian relief, in addition to a Roman first-century B.C. marble sculpture, from their displays and got them out of the building in broad daylight. The Edmonton man, who has been charged with possessing stolen property and possessing the proceeds of a crime, paid $1,400 for the relief while on a trip to Montreal. “I cannot give you details to how it was purchased because the investigation is still ongoing it might interfere with the next steps of the investigation,” Sgt. Joyce Kemp of the Quebec Provincial Police force told CBC News.

Thursday, February 13

Bronze Age Burial Uncovered in Scottish Playground

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A 4,000-year-old skeleton with worn teeth was uncovered in a school playground. Archaeologists had been looking for traces of a medieval harbor in the village of Newhaven when they found the Bronze Age man, who had been about 50 years old when he died. He was buried in a crouching position with a pottery vessel. His teeth were probably worn from a diet of bread made from stone-ground grain. “We have removed the bones—the skull and bones from the upper body and arms, the pelvis and leg bones. Some of the middle is missing after being disturbed, possibly in the medieval period,” Edinburgh City Council’s archaeology officer, John Lawson, told The Edinburgh Evening News.

Bottle Gourds Floated to the New World

UNIVERSITY PARK, PENNSYLVANIA—A new genetic study of bottle gourds, which originated in Africa and have been used as lightweight containers all over the world, indicates that pre-Columbian specimens in the Americas are more closely related to African varieties. It had been thought that migrating humans carried gourds from the Asian subspecies with them over the Bering land bridge into North America, but archaeological evidence for the use of bottle gourds has not been found in Siberia, Alaska, or the Pacific Northwest. Logan Kistler of Pennsylvania State University and his team conclude that the gourds could have floated to the West African coast by river, and then drifted to the New World on Atlantic currents, probably landing on the coast of Brazil, where they took root. “Now, it’s really quite clear that [the bottle gourd] reached the New World under its own steam,” team member Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History told Science.

3,600-Year-Old Wooden Sarcophagus Discovered in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s antiquities minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced that a joint Spanish-Egyptian team of archaeologists discovered a wooden sarcophagus dating to 1600 B.C. in Luxor, at the Dra Abul-Naga necropolis. Dubbed the “Feathers Sarcophagus,” the lid of the human-shaped coffin is painted with bird feathers and the titles of the deceased, whose well-preserved mummy is thought to have been a high-ranking official. The shaft of the tomb had been blocked with limestone, protecting its contents from looters in antiquity. José Galan, head of the Spanish team, told Ahram Online that the excavation remains in full swing.

Early British Farmers Preferred Dairy Foods

BRISTOL, ENGLAND--A recent analysis of the chemicals in human bones and residues from cooking pots found at archaeological sites across Britain show that in 4600 B.C., early hunters ate venison, wild boar, and seafood. Researchers from the University of Bristol and of Cardiff University found that when domesticated farm animals were brought to the island some 6,000 years ago, however, Britons abandoned wild foods and seafood in preference of milk and animals that produce it for the next 4,000 years. “Whilst we like to think of ourselves as a nation of fish eaters, with fish and chips as our national dish, it seems that early British farmers preferred beef, mutton and milk,” Jacqui Mulville of Cardiff University told The Australian