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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, December 29

Belize’s Blue Hole Yields Evidence of Drought in Maya World

HOUSTON, TEXAS—New evidence from Belize’s Great Blue Hole strengthens the case that drought contributed to the collapse of Maya civilization. Earth scientist André Droxler of Rice University and his team drilled cores from the sediments of the Great Blue Hole, located near the center of Lighthouse Reef. “It’s like a big bucket. It’s a sediment trap,” Droxler told Live Science. The team also collected samples from Romboid Reef and analyzed their chemical composition, especially the ratio of titanium to aluminum. When rain is plentiful, titanium from volcanic rocks in the region is swept into streams and carried to the ocean. Low levels of titanium to aluminum suggest a period with less rainfall. Droxler’s team found that between A.D. 800 and 1000, when Maya civilization collapsed, there were only one or two tropical cyclones every two decades, rather than the usual five or six big storms. According to the new results, another major drought struck between 1000 and 1100, about the time of the fall of Chichen Itza. “When you have major droughts, you start to get famines and unrest,” Droxler explained. To read about a similar study, see "Long-Term Drought May Have Led to Fall of Harappan Civilization."

Poor Sanitary Conditions Found at Celtic Site

BASEL, SWITZERLAND—The eggs of roundworms, whipworms, and liver flukes have been identified in coprolite samples from the Basel-Gasfabrik site, a Celtic settlement in Central Europe that dates to 100 B.C., using new geoarchaeological methods. Micromorphological thin sections, which enable the parasite eggs to be captured directly in their original settings, were prepared from soil samples embedded in synthetic resin, rather than by wet sieving of the soil samples. The researchers from the University of Basel found that some individuals had more than one parasite. They were also able to determine that human and animal waste may have been used as a fertilizer, and that humans and animals lived in close contact. For a similar discovery, see "6,000-Year-Old Human Parasite Egg Discovered in Syria."

Friday, December 26

Possible Roman-Era Synagogue Unearthed in Israel

MAGDALA, ISRAEL—Excavations on the shore of the Sea of Galilee have revealed a large public structure outfitted with elaborate columns that suggest it could have been a synagogue dating to the Roman period. "So far, we have not found another use that could have been made of the structure besides a synagogue," Bar-Ilan University archaeologist Michael Osband told Y Net News. "The structure joins a very limited list of rural synagogues dated to the Roman period that have been uncovered so far." Abandoned sometime after the middle of the fourth century A.D., the building is still being excavated. Osband and his team hope further digging at the site will shed light on when it was occupied. To read about a spectacular discovery at another synagogue in Israel, see “Mosaics of Huqoq.” 

Thursday, December 25

Geologist Speculates on Disappearance of Sanxingdui

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—Niannian Fan, a river sciences researcher at Tsinghua University in Chengdu, China, presented new thoughts on the disappearance of the Sanxingdui culture from a walled city on the banks of China’s Minjiang River some 3,000 years ago, at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “The current explanations for why it disappeared are war and flood, but both are not very convincing,” Fan told Live Science. In the 1980s, scientists found two pits of broken Bronze Age jades, elephant tusks, and bronze sculptures. Similar artifacts have been found nearby at another ancient city known as Jinsha. Did the people of Sanxingdui relocate to Jinsha? Fan thinks that the epicenter of an earthquake recorded to have occurred in 1099 B.C. some 250 miles away may have actually been close to Sanxingdui. Geological clues in the mountains suggest that a major earthquake triggered a landslide that dammed the river, reduced the water to Sanxingdui, and rerouted its flow to Jinsha. Later documents tell of floods that support the idea that the flow was rerouted. To read about efforts to save China's sites from looters, see "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."

Imported Weapon Fragments Unearthed in Wales

CARDIFF, WALES—Archaeologists at the National Museum Wales have dated a hoard made up of two blade fragments, a scabbard fitting, a multi-edged knife, and six copper ingot fragments to between 2,800 and 3,000 years ago. The sword blade fragments, scabbard, and knife are not typical of the region, while similar ingot fragments have been found in hoards in Pembrokeshire and Cornwall. “The combination of objects found in this hoard hints at the long-distance sea travel of finished objects during the Late Bronze Age, from southern England and northern France to west Wales,” Adam Gwilt, Principal Curator for Prehistory at National Museum Wales, told Culture 24. The objects were discovered by a metal detectorist last year in a well-plowed field. To read about an extraordinary Roman-period hoard discovered this year, see "Top 10 Discovery: Seaton Down Hoard."