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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, September 27

Bath Discovered in Roman Barracks in Bulgaria

WARSAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a team of archaeologists from the Center for the Study of Antiquity of Southeastern Europe at the University of Warsaw excavated a Roman barracks at the site of Novae in Bulgaria. Although the buildings had been constructed with wood, the floor of one large room had been made from hydraulic mortar, suggesting that the room had been used as a bath. “Until now, throughout the empire only two baths in wooden buildings have been discovered, but never and nowhere in the barracks of legionnaires,” said archaeologist Piotr Dyczek. The team also uncovered terracotta and lead pipes, water channels lined with stone and bricks, and a collection of 48 coins dating from the beginning of the second century A.D. to the mid-third century A.D. Dyczek thinks the coins may have been hidden during the invasion of the Goths. To read more about archaeology in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Archaeologists Confirm Shipwreck is Franklin’s HMS Terror

NUNAVUT, CANADA—Radio Canada International reports that Parks Canada underwater archaeologists have confirmed that the shipwreck discovered earlier this month by a team from the Arctic Research Foundation is the HMS Terror. The team conducted a side-scan sonar survey of the site and dove three times on the wreckage, which features three masts, iron bow sheathings, and a double-wheeled helm. “The dives took place during difficult weather conditions and through poor visibility,” said Marc-André Bernier, head of Underwater Archaeology at Parks Canada. “The wreck’s upper deck is heavily covered in silt and marine life.” The ship was found in uncharted waters in Terror Bay about 60 miles north of the site where the HMS Erebus was discovered in 2014. The two ships were abandoned in sea ice in 1848 by the polar explorers of Sir John Franklin’s Expedition. All 129 crew members were lost along with the ships. To read in-depth about the discovery of Erebus, go to "Franklin’s Last Voyage."

Engraved Blocks May Be From Ramses II Temple

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the Egyptian-German Archaeological Mission has found a group of large blocks at the site of Matariya in northern Cairo, where the ancient city of Heliopolis was located. The blocks are thought to have been part of a temple built by Ramses II. Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, said that the engravings on the blocks show Ramses II anointing a divinity. According to Aymen Ashmawi, co-director of the mission, the blocks would have come from the temple’s innermost rooms. “It confirms the hypothesis that Ramses II showed special interest in Heliopolis in the later decades of his long reign of almost 70 years,” Ashmawi said. For more on ancient Egypt, go to "The Great Parallelogram."

Could Neanderthals Hear & Speak Like Modern Humans?

MUNICH, GERMANY—The Christian Science Monitor reports that scientists led by Alexander Stoessel of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology examined the tiny bones of the Neanderthal middle ear. They found that although the bones look very different from the ossicles of modern humans, they amplified the vibrations received from the eardrum in a way similar to the modern human ear. This suggests that Neanderthals were capable of hearing the same range of frequencies as modern humans, and probably heard speech as modern humans did. Previous research has found that Neanderthals and modern humans also had similar hyoid bones, a horseshoe-shaped structure that supports the tongue and the ability to speak. Unfortunately, a larynx, or voice box, which is formed from soft tissue, has not been found in the Neanderthal fossil record. “As humans, we always try to point out the differences between modern humans and Neanderthals to show that these are the different ones,” Stoessel said. “But now our research shows actually how similar they were to us.” For more on Neanderthals' abilities, go to "Gimme Middle Paleolithic Shelter."

Monday, September 26

Scholars Say Ancient Structure May Have Been a Dining Hall

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that Joseph Patrich of Hebrew University and Shlomit Wexler-Bedolah of the Israel Antiquities Authority believe that two rooms found near the Western Wall Plaza five years ago served as Jerusalem’s city council triclinium in the first century B.C. The rooms, connected by a water feature with a decorative fountain, are thought to have been part of a large, opulent building. Indentations on the walls may have been left by sofa seating, where guests could have rested and dined. The structure is thought to have been destroyed in an earthquake around A.D. 30. It was previously believed that the rooms served as a public fountain. To read more about archaeology in Israel, go to "Artifact: Roman Coins in Israel."

Roman Coins Unearthed at Medieval Castle in Japan

URUMA, JAPAN—The Japan Times reports that Roman coins dating to the third and fourth centuries A.D. have been found at the ruins of Katsuren Castle in southern Japan. The castle dates to the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, when trade with China and Southeast Asia could have transported the four copper coins to Okinawa. X-ray analysis of the worn coins suggests that they bear an image of Constantine I and a soldier holding a spear. The castle site also yielded a coin from the Ottoman Empire. For more on Roman coin finds, go to "Seaton Down Hoard."

New Thoughts on the Death of Ötzi the Iceman

BALZANO, ITALY—Seeker reports that Angelika Fleckinger, the director of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, requested that chief inspector Alexander Horn of Munich’s Criminal Investigation Department research a possible scenario for the death of the 5,300-year-old frozen mummy known as Ötzi the Iceman. Horn evaluated information from the forensic medical examinations conducted on the mummy’s remains, and used behavioral investigative analysis to analyze records of the ancient “crime scene.” He suggests that Ötzi was resting in the mountains, where he had eaten a hearty meal of wild goat, when he was taken by surprise and shot in the shoulder with an arrow. Another injury, to his right hand, may have been inflicted a few days prior to his murder. “Since no other injuries could be found, we believe he came out as a winner from that hostile encounter,” Horn said. The loser, however, may have carried a grudge and pursued Ötzi. And, since Ötzi's mummy was found with his valuable copper ax, made with materials from southern Tuscany, theft was an unlikely motive for the murder. “A personal conflict is more likely,” Horn said. “We are talking of a behavioral pattern that is also prevalent today in most murder cases. It starts with little things and it grows to the extreme.” To read more, go to "Ancient Tattoos: Ötzi the Iceman."  

What Killed the Crew of the Franklin Expedition?

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—The reports that researchers from the University of Glasgow think that accidents, and not illnesses such as tuberculosis, scurvy, and lead poisoning, may have been responsible for the loss of many of the Franklin Expedition’s 129 crew members. No log books from the Franklin Expedition have ever been found, so team leader Keith Millar and colleagues evaluated the “sick books” of nine Royal Navy ships that searched for the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition. Those ships were similarly equipped to the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. The researchers found that the crews of the later ships suffered some symptoms of scurvy and lead poisoning, but not on a large scale. Millar suggests that accidents that occurred while hunting for wild game on foot in a harsh climate and over difficult terrain could be to blame for the Franklin Expedition’s heavy losses. Robert Park of the University of Waterloo, who was on the team that discovered HMS Erebus in 2014, disagrees with Millar, noting that 15 Franklin Expedition officers were dead by 1848, three years into the expedition. “I can’t imagine a catastrophic accident that would kill so many officers,” he said. For more, go to "Franklin’s Last Voyage."

Forensic Anthropologists Reconstruct Lord of Sipan’s Face

  LIMA, PERU—Andina reports that forensic anthropologists have reconstructed the face of the Lord of Sipan, a Mochica ruler whose third-century grave was discovered in Lambayeque in 1987 by archaeologist Walter Alva. Researchers from Inca Garcilaso de la Vega University, and Cícero Moraes and Paulo Miamoto of the Brazilian NGO Team of Forensic Anthropology and Odontology, used computer software to reassemble the Lord of Sipan’s skull, which had been severely damaged by the weight of his burial. The team also determined that the ruler stood about five feet, four inches tall, had arthritis in his spine, healthy teeth, and was between 45 and 55 years old when he died. “He was quite tall for that time period. He had a slightly strong muscle tone, which means he did not do any physical work, as befits his high rank,” Alva said. A replica of the reconstruction will be 3-D printed for display in the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan. To read more about archaeology in Peru, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder." 

Friday, September 23

Rare Roman-Era Coffin May Have Been Reused

DORSET, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a limestone sarcophagus holding the remains of a Roman man was uncovered in a quarry in southwest England by a team from Thames Valley Archaeologist Services. The researchers said that the burial was unusual because the man’s feet had been bent backwards so that his body would fit in the coffin. “In the Roman period, burial in a sarcophagus was moderately common in Italy but very unusual in Britain, where even wooden coffins seem to have been rare,” said archaeologist Steve Ford. He thinks the sarcophagus, which would have been a prestigious item, may have been reused. An initial examination of the bones did not reveal any signs of disease. Further investigation into the cause of death are underway. For more on Roman Britain, go to "Artifact: Roman Eagle Sculpture."

Geoglyphs Mapped in Southern Peru

TORONTO, CANADA—Live Science reports that dozens of circular geoglyphs of varying sizes have been recorded in southern Peru, near the ancient town of Quilcapampa. Many of the images, dated to between A.D. 1050 and 1400, were created by removing stones from the surface of the ground. Justin Jennings of the Royal Ontario Museum and his colleagues mapped the intertwined rings with satellite imagery, aerial drones, and ground surveys, and found that they had been placed near trade routes. The researchers suggest that the circular images may reflect the continuous movement of people, goods, and food along the route linking the coast and the highland. Some of the geoglyphs are accompanied by cairns, or rock piles, as part of the design. To read about another massive site in Peru, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."

Possible Iron Age Broch Discovered in Scotland

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Shetland News reports that Michael Stratigos of the University of Aberdeen and underwater archaeologist Sally Evans think they may have found the remains of an Iron Age broch—a type of hollow-walled stone roundhouse found only in Scotland on an islet in the Loch of Strom. The site consists of a large mound with a small, circular depression in its center. Possible stone piers have also been found. “If it’s not a broch and is an Iron Age house, then it’s still significant because we don’t have many large Iron Age houses, and we should have more,” commented archaeologist Val Turner of the Shetland Amenity Trust. Stratigos said that part of the broch may have already been lost to erosion. “It is difficult to say how well preserved the site is without taking back some or all of the vegetation, something that would undoubtedly speed up the decay of the site,” he explained. To read more, go to "Hillforts of the Iron Age." 

Cambodia’s Forestry Officials Foil Suspected Looters

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—The Cambodia Daily reports that forestry official Mom Bun Lim, chief of the Banteay Srei division, seized two tenth-century sandstone sculptures after pursuing a car on rural roads for several hours. He noted that the vehicle seemed overloaded, and suspected the two occupants were carrying a load of illegal timber. He called for reinforcements to cut the driver off when he neared a populated area. The illegal cargo turned out to be two ancient sandstone sculptures that may have been stolen from the remote site of the Koh Ker temple in Preah Vihear province, which is located about 75 miles away, since the region around the Angkor Archaeological Park is well guarded. Anthropologist Ang Choulean of the Royal University of Fine Arts said that antiquities thefts were “a pretty frequent occurrence in the 1990s, but it’s been years since we’ve heard talk of thieves.” To read more, go to "The Battle Over Preah Vihear."