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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, August 04

Neolithic Figurine Unearthed in Bulgaria

VARBITSA, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that an unusual figurine has been unearthed at a Neolithic settlement in northeast Bulgaria. The 7,500-year-old figurine has its hands on its waist, and its eyes, nostrils, and mouth are all opened, and may depict a priestess in religious exultation. A pottery fragment from the same site had been decorated with a relief depicting a woman in a praying posture. The vessel had been used for storing grain, and the image may have been connected to a cult for the harvesting and preservation of crops. To read more about this period in Europe, go to "The Neolithic Toolkit." 

Early Humans May Not Have Been Larger Than Their Ancestors

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A team led by Mark Grabowski of George Washington University has used the largest sample of individual early hominin fossils available to produce a new set of body mass estimates, species averages, and species averages by sex for fossil hominins. This new analysis suggests that early hominins were smaller than has been thought. “One of our major results is that we found no evidence that the earliest members of our genus differed in body mass from earlier australopiths (some of the earliest species of hominins). In other words, the factors that set our lineage apart from our earlier ancestors were unrelated to an increase in body size, which has been the linchpin of numerous adaptive hypotheses on the origins of our genus,” he said in a press releaseThe study also revealed that the difference in the size between males and females decreased to modern levels later in our lineage. For more, go to "Homo erectus Stands Alone." 

Monumental Gate Discovered in Philistine City

RAMAT-GAN, ISRAEL—The tops of fortification walls dating to the Iron Age and a monumental entrance gate have been discovered in Tel Zafit National Park, at the site of a large settlement thought to be the biblical-era city of Gath, known as the home of the Philistine warrior Goliath. The site was found in Tell es-Safi, one of the largest mounds in Israel. “We knew that Philistine Gath in the tenth to ninth century [B.C.] was a large city, perhaps the largest in the land at that time,” archaeologist Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University told Live Science. Buildings, including a Philistine temple and an iron-production facility have also been uncovered. Pottery found near the monumental entrance gate resembles that associated with Philistine culture, but it also shows some influence of Israelite culture. “This mirrors the intense and multifaceted connections that existed between the Philistines and their neighbors,” Maeir added. To read more about the Philistines, go to "Temple of the Storm God." 

Monday, August 03

Rock Art May Be the Oldest in Siberia

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—A joint Russian and French team is working to date petroglyphs on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains. The images are thought to be between 8,000 and 10,000 years old, but because they were drawn on horizontal planes on a windy plateau, it is difficult to date them because sediments have been blown away. “We cannot use here the classic archaeological methods [for dating] and need to find new and innovative ways,” Lidia Zotkina of Novosibirsk State University told The Siberian Times. The team is using microscopes to look at the images and trying to determine if they were inscribed with metal or stone implements on the glacier-polished rhyolite. “Of course if we established that they used metal implements, all our theories about Paleolithic era would be disproved immediately,” Zotkina explained. The team tried to recreate the drawings, and were able to do so after they removed the crust from the rock, sketched an image on it, and then engraved it. “Sooner or later Paleolithic sites will be found and we will get more information about the people who could engrave these images,” she said. To read about another site in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude." 

Early Evidence of Farming Found in Southwestern Iran

BEHBAHAN, IRAN—Traces of a 9,000-year-old settlement and evidence of farming have reportedly been found at Mahtaj Hill in southwestern Iran. “The findings mostly include stone tools such as grindstone and its handle which shows that producing and processing of vegetarian food played an important role in the livelihood of Mahtaj Hill inhabitants,” archaeologist Hojjat Darabi told Mehr News. He added that the site predates the use of pottery in the region. To read about Bronze Age civilizations in Iran, go to "The World in Between."  

Steles Unearthed at Ancient Egyptian Mining Site

WADI EL-HUDI, EGYPT—Three steles dating to the Middle Kingdom period have been discovered by an American-Egyptian expedition led by Kate Liszka and Bryan Kraemer of Princeton University. The three steles may be linked to a fortified settlement located in an area mined by the ancient Egyptians for semi-precious stones. The inscriptions on the stones are faded, but RTI (reflectance transformation imaging) technology is helping scholars to read them. “The area of Wadi El-Hudi contains a number of amethyst mines and many Egyptian expeditions were sent to bring stones from there at the time of the Middle Kingdom to use for jewelry. Two of the discovered steles mentioned the year 28th of Senusret I’s reign as well as information on the expeditions [that] were sent to the site,” Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Department, told The Luxor Times. To read about another discovery in Eygpt, go to "Tomb of the Chantress." 

Old Kingdom Jars Discovered in Edfu

ASWAN, EGYPT—Human remains, pottery, and alabaster jars dating to the Old Kingdom and the Late Period were unearthed in front of the Temple of Horus at Edfu, according to an announcement made by Mamdouh El Damaty, Egypt’s Minister of antiquities. “The discovered pots are in different shapes and sizes. Some of them are pottery and other made of alabaster. Also an Old Kingdom copper mirror was found,” Nasr Salama, general director of Aswan Antiquities, told The Luxor Times. The artifacts were cleaned and restored and transferred to a storage warehouse for safe keeping. To read about recent excavations at another ancient Egyptian temple, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Friday, July 31

Fifth-Century Building Unearthed in Japan

TAKATORI, JAPAN—Kanekatsu Inokuma of Kyoto Tachibana University has uncovered an “o-kabe,” or large-wall structure dating to the late fifth century A.D. The building was constructed using a method from the Korean Peninsula, and may have been part of a Korean settlement where immigrants who served the Japanese Emperor Yuryaku lived. “I believe the structure served as part of a settlement of foreigners, who settled in Japan and introduced document administration and foreign policy” Inokuma told The Asahi Shimbun. This is one of the largest such structures in Japan. Its walls were made from poles set in ditches, covered in mud, and then painted. The building also had a Korean heating system under its floor. To read more about the legend of the kamikaze wind in Japanese history, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."

Artifact Update from Virginia’s James Fort

WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA—The excavation of the cellar of a building and a well that stood outside of the walls of James Fort has yielded Irish pennies, minted by the English between 1601 and 1602. The coins fell into disuse when the Irish rejected them, however. Mary Outlaw, curator of collections for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, told that one of the earliest colonists, the son of an official at the Royal Mint, may have brought the coins to the colony, since more Irish pennies have been found on Jamestown Island than anywhere else in the world. The team has also recovered the matchlock firing mechanisms for two muskets. The muskets’ wooden stocks have not survived; the barrels were probably made of a higher-quality metal that was melted down and reused. Conservator Dan Gamble has cleaned a piece of wood decorated with copper tacks. Scholars are still trying to identify what it might be. To read about how archaeologists helped solved a 17th-century Jamestown mystery, go to "Jamestown Murder Solved."

Prehistoric Mass Grave Excavated in China

CHANGCHUN, CHINA—At the 5,000-year-old settlement site of Hamin Mangha in northeast China, archaeologists have excavated the remains of 97 people whose bodies had been placed in a small dwelling before it burned, according to a report in Live Science. An epidemic or some sort of disaster that prevented the survivors from completing proper burials has been blamed for the deaths. “The skeletons in the northwest are relatively complete, while those in the east often [have] only skulls, with limb bones scarcely remaining. But in the south, limb bones were discovered in a mess, forming two or three layers,” the research team from Jilin University wrote in an article for the Chinese archaeological journal Kaogu, and in English in the journal Chinese Archaeology. The bodies were probably damaged when the building’s roof collapsed during the fire. To read about a mass grave from the Roman period in Macedonia, go to "Mass Grave Mystery."