A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, February 24

Document of Early Christian History Rediscovered in Iowa

DECORAH, IOWA—Luther College student Brittany Anderson discovered nine papyri while taking an inventory of the papers of the late Orlando W. Qualley, who had been a professor at the school and a member of a University of Michigan excavation at Karanis in the 1920s. The fragments date to the first to fifth centuries A.D. Several of them are accounting documents, but according to Graham Claytor of the University of Michigan, one is a libellus, or a document given to a Roman citizen to confirm that a sacrifice had been made to the gods as ordered by the emperor in the year 250. Christians who refused to perform the sacrifice were subject to arrest, torture, and execution. “As soon as they are properly preserved, we hope to display all the papyri in our library for everyone to see. They provide a great opportunity for our students to examine a genuine piece of the ancient world,” Philip Freeman, Qualley Chair of Ancient Languages at Luther College, told The Decorah Newspapers.

German Authorities Recover Looted Roman Treasure

SPEYER, GERMANY—Germany’s state archaeology authority seized a trove of gold and silver artifacts estimated to be 1,500 years old from a treasure hunter who may have sold some of the pieces on the black market. The recovered items, perhaps buried by a Roman ruler fleeing the Germanic Teutons, include a solid silver bowl set, and a set of gold and silver-plated statuettes that were part of a military commander’s portable folding chair. The chair had been ‘brutally torn out of the earth and destroyed,” chief archaeologist Axel von Berg told The Local. Leaf-shaped gold brooches, thought to have decorated a Roman officer’s coat, were also found.

Dental Plaque Offers a Window to the Past

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA—An international team of scientists, led by Christina Warinner of the University of Oklahoma, has analyzed the 1,000-year-old dental plaque found on the teeth of medieval Germans. They found evidence of the health and diets of the individuals, and the same kind of bacteria that causes periodontal disease in people today. “Through protein sequencing, we can reconstruct infection and immune processes. It is like excavating a battlefield archaeological site, just at a molecular scale,” researcher Enrico Cappellini of the University of Copenhagen told the International Business Times.

Friday, February 21

Earthquake-Ravaged Ancient Turkish City Restored

TRALLEIS, TURKEY—A large-scale restoration project has begun at Tralleis in western Turkey, according to Hurriet Daily. Archaeologists aim to restore parts of the city, which was once an important center in the trade routes crossing the ancient Mediterranean, after millennia of earthquakes have damaged the site. In antiquity, Tralleis was inhabited from at least the fourth century B.C. through the Roman period, and survived until the 13th century. “The city has features showing the activities and social life of many eras,” says Culture and Tourism Director Nuri Aktakka, who is supporting the scientific research at the site in an effort to bring tourists to this little-known ancient city.

Rare Statue of Shiva Discovered in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, INDIA—A rare ninth-century A.D. sculpture of the Hindu god Shiva has been discovered in southern Kashmir, reports the Kashmir Dispatch. The sculpture was accidentally unearthed during sand extraction from a river bed, and was then reported to Kashmiri heritage officials. Wearing a crown with three peaks, the sculpture depicts the god with a third eye in his forehead. 

Medieval Murder Victim Identified in Scotland

EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND—Analysis of a 900-year-old skeleton of a young man buried at the site of the modern Scottish Seabird Centre shows he was stabbed multiple times in the back, left shoulder, and ribs. The BBC reports that after analyzing the murder victim's injuries, archaeologists say he was likely killed with a lozenge-shaped dagger almost three inches long, a type which was commonly carried by soldiers of the time. The accuracy of the wounds suggests the murder was not spur of the moment, but was planned and carried out with some professionalism. Wear on the shoulder of the man suggests he may have been an archer.

Ancient Silver Jewelry Discovered in Israel

ABEL BETH MACCAH, ISRAEL—After months of conservation, a seemingly nondescript ball of silver found in simple jar at the site of the ancient biblical city of Abel Beth Maccah in northern Israel has turned out to be five ancient silver hoop earrings, as well as other pieces of silver that may have been used as a kind of money, Live Science reports. The archaeologists, who found the jar leaning against a wall in a very large ancient building, are unclear as to why the vessel and its valuable contents were left behind, but will return next season to investigate the city’s puzzling history.

Thursday, February 20

Saxon Burial Ground Uncovered

HADDENHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating the parking lot of a village pub have discovered nine burials that are believed to date to the early Saxon era, around the sixth century A.D. Though early Saxons were pagan, the burials are oriented east to west, which was a Christian practice. Among the grave goods unearthed were a spear, knife, and a shield found with a male burial. “Projects such as these prove how even the smallest developments can yield a wealth of archaeological information and details not only of how people lived but also of their treatment toward the dead more than 1,400 years ago," archaeologist Jonathan House told the Cambs Times.

Excavations at the Site of Buddha's First Sermon

VARANASI, INDIA—The Archaeological Survey of India is beginning new excavations at Sarnath, a sacred site where Buddha is thought to have delivered his first sermon. Previous excavations there unearthed artifacts and remains dating back to the third century B.C, when the emperor Ahoska the Great erected a large pillar at the site. But the early history of Sarnath is still murky. Archaeologist Ajay Srivastava told the Times of India that the team hopes to use new scientific methods to understand the chronology of Sarnath. "We hope to unearth useful finds to throw light on the past of this important Buddhist site," said Srivastava. 

Medieval Graves Found Under the Uffizi

FLORENCE, ITALY—During a construction project to expand Florence’s famed Uffizi Museum, the Telegraph reports that workers have uncovered sixty skeletons dating to the fifth or sixth century A.D. under one of the museum’s libraries. The bones are now being examined to determine the cause of death, which researchers believe may have been plague or infectious disease. The deceased appear to have been buried somewhat carelessly and hastily, perhaps to halt the spread of disease, and do not show signs of traumatic injury. Although Florentia was a wealthy provincial capital during the Roman Empire, little is known about the city’s early medieval period.