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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, September 18

Byzantine Monastery Unearthed in Israel

JERUSALEM—A walled compound dating to the Byzantine period has been discovered west of Jerusalem, in the neighborhood of Bet Shemesh. The compound, which has residential and large-scale industrial areas, may have been used as a monastery. “The finds indicate the local residents were engaged in wine and olive oil production for their livelihood,” excavation director Irene Zilberbod of the Israel Antiquities Authority told the Xinhua News Agency. Several colorful mosaics were found in the residential areas—one featured a cluster of grapes surrounded by flowers and set in a geometric frame. Two ovens were also uncovered. “The magnificent mosaic floors, windows, and roof tile artifacts, as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound, are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries,” Zilberbod said. To read about a recent, similar discovery, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Byzantine Mosaics Discovered in Israel."  

Bronze Age Fulacht Fiadh Excavated in County Sligo

COUNTY SLIGO, IRELAND—Part of a fulacht fiadh, or 4,000-year-old box-like structure, is being studied on Ireland’s Coney Island. Eamonn Kelly, director of Irish antiquities at the National Museum, thinks it may have been used for bathing or cooking during the Bronze Age, when the stone-lined pit would have been filled with water and heated with hot stones. “It tells us that people walked the beach here 3,000 or 4,000 years ago, searched for large stone slabs, and carefully built this structure. Many other archaeological sites probably await discovery on Coney,” Ciran Davis, an archaeology student who alerted researchers, told The Irish Times. Radiocarbon dating should offer the team more information. “It makes us wonder why they would have wanted to heat saltwater,” added Marion Dowd of the Institute of Technology Sligo. To read more about fulachtaí fia, read ARCHAEOLOGY's "Letter From Ireland: Mystery of the Fulacht Fiadh."   

Prehistoric Goldsmiths May Have Been Children

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—Researchers think children may have been responsible for embellishing the finely decorated weapons and jewelry discovered in the early nineteenth century at the Bush Barrow burial mound near Stonehenge, since sharp eyesight would have been required to cover a wooden dagger handle with 140,000 tiny gold pins. “Only children and teenagers, and those adults who had become myopic naturally or due to the nature of their work as children, would have been able to create and manufacture such tiny objects,” eye expert Ronald Rabbetts told The Guardian. The largest concentration of such decorated daggers has been found in northwestern France, where the children may have lived and worked. Rabbetts thinks that the gold workers would have eventually been disabled by their task. To read more about discoveries at Stonehenge, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Henge Builders."  

Genetic Study Reveals Third Group of European Ancestors

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—A new genetic study by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Tübingen suggests that early farmers from the Near East and indigenous hunter-gatherers were joined by a group known as Ancient North Eurasians as the ancestors of modern Europeans. The team analyzed the DNA of more than 2,300 modern people from around the world, and the DNA of eight ancient hunter-gatherers and one early farmer whose remains were recovered in Sweden, Luxembourg, and Germany. Previously gathered genetic sequences of humans from the same time period, including Otzi the Iceman, were also used in the study. “There was a sharp genetic transition between the hunter-gatherers and the farmers, reflecting a major movement of new people into Europe from the Near East,” David Reich of Harvard Medical School told Science Daily. The DNA of the two known Ancient North Eurasians, whose remains were discovered in Siberia, wasn’t found in either the hunter-gatherers or the early farmers, but nearly all Europeans have ancestors from all three groups. “The Ancient North Eurasian ancestry is proportionally the smallest component everywhere in Europe, never more than 20 percent, but we find in in nearly every European group we’ve studied and also in populations from the Caucasus and Near East,” he explained. (The same Ancient North Eurasian group has been linked to the ancestry of Native Americans.) An even older lineage called the Basal Eurasians, the ancestors of the ancient Near Eastern farmers, was discovered as well. “This deep lineage of non-African ancestry branched off before all the other non-Africans branched off from one another. Before Australian Aborigines and New Guineans and South Indians and Native Americans and other indigenous hunter-gatherers split, they split from Basal Eurasians,” Reich said. To read more on genetic lineages of Europeans, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Seeds of Europe's Family Tree."  

Wednesday, September 17

Shipwrecks Tell Story of California’s Past

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—Members of a NOAA research team used remote-controlled cameras and sensing equipment to investigate the shipwrecks in the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the adjacent Golden Gate National Recreation Area. They were able to identify the SS Selja, which sank after a fatal collision in 1910. The resulting legal case was ultimately argued before the U.S. Supreme Court over a key aspect of maritime law, the “rule of the road.” The Gold-Rush era clipper ship Noonday was also found beneath mud and silt on the ocean floor. An early steam tugboat has yet to be identified. “These wrecks tell the powerful story of the people who helped build California and opened America to the Pacific for nearly two centuries. Finding the remains of these ships links the past to the present,” James Delgado, director of Maritime Heritage for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, told Phys.org. To read more about Delgado's work, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Letter From Bermuda: Secrets of a Civil War Shipwreck."  

Hairstyles from Akhenaten’s Ancient Egyptian City

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Archaeologist Jolanda Bos of the Armana Project has analyzed a selection of 100 recently excavated skulls from the Armana cemetery. Twenty-eight of those skulls still had hair, including that of one woman who had “a very complex coiffure with approximately 70 extensions fastened in different layers and heights on the head,” Bos wrote in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. She thinks that the hair was probably styled after death, but such elaborate styles, held together with some kind of fat, were also likely a part of daily life. The skulls had hair ranging from very curly black to middle brown straight, which was often styled in rings or coils around the ears. Braided styles were simple, narrow, and made from three strands, and an orange-red color, possibly from henna, was found on one woman’s graying hair. “At present we are analyzing the hairs in order to find out whether or not some kind of coloring was used. On other sites dyed hair was found from ancient Egypt,” Bos told Live Science. To read about the search for Nefertiti's tomb at Amarna, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "In Search of History's Greatest Rulers."  

Richard III’s Injuries Suggest He’d Removed His Helmet

LEICESTER, ENGLAND—A new study published in The Lancet concludes that Richard III suffered 11 wounds—nine of them to the skull—at the time of his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The team of forensic scientists from the University of Leicester used whole body CT scans and micro-CT imaging of injured bones to see which of the wounds might have been fatal, and to determine which weapons had caused the injuries. “Richard’s injuries represent a sustained attack or an attack by several assailants with weapons from the later medieval period. The wounds to the skull suggest that he was not wearing a helmet, and the absence of defensive wounds on his arms and hands indicate that he was otherwise still armored at the time of his death,” professor of materials engineering Sarah Hainsworth explained to Science Daily. Two of the blows to the head, one with a sword or staff weapon, and a second made with the tip of an edged weapon, were probably lethal. An injury to the pelvis may have been inflicted after death, according to archaeologist Jo Appleby, because the king would have been wearing protective armor if he’d still been alive. Guy Rutty of the East Midlands Pathology Unit adds that the “head injuries are consistent with some near-contemporary accounts of the battle, which suggest that Richard abandoned his horse after it became stuck in a mire and was killed while fighting his enemies.” To read more about the discovery of Richard III remains, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "The Rehabilitation of Richard III."  

Gas Chamber Found at Sobibór Death Camp

WARSAW, POLAND—Holocaust researchers from Israel’s Yad Vashem and Poland’s Majdanek State Museum announced that they have found the exact location of the building that housed the gas chambers at Sobibór, a Nazi death camp in occupied Poland that killed an estimated 250,000 Jewish people between April 1942 and October 1943. The Germans dismantled the camp during the war, after a prisoner revolt in which several German officers and guards were killed. There were very few survivors. “Any small piece of information we can add to our knowledge is a great thing,” Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi told The Associated Press. To read more about excavations at WWII-era internment camps, see "The Archaeology of Internment."  

Tuesday, September 16

Survey of Gallipoli Battlefield Continues

GALLIPOLI, TURKEY—Archaeologists from Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand are wrapping up a five-year project to survey the World War I battlefield site on the Gallipoli Peninsula. For eight months, Turkish soldiers of the Ottoman Empire and the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) engaged in trench warfare. “We are trying to find out what’s still there and what we can learn from it,” retired Rear Admiral and Australia’s team leader Simon Harrington told The Age. They have found latrines, bomb shelters, command posts, and trenches from the battle lines. “An individual find doesn’t tell us much. But we look at patterns—and what those patterns tell us about human behavior. Home-made bricks show us where the Ottoman trenches were. Barbed wire shows us the front line. Bully beef cans on the ANZAC side show us where they ate, brick ovens on the Turkish side show us where they cooked,” said Tony Sagona of the University of Melbourne. Ian McGibbon of New Zealand’s Ministry for Culture and Heritage is searching for the trench set up by the Maori contingent at Gallipoli. The “Maori Pah” is marked by a tiki carved into the rock face of their position. “It would be just sensational,” he said. For an in-depth report on this project, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Letter From Turkey: Anzac's Next Chapter."   

Bog Body Uncovered in Ireland’s County Meath

COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—Utility workers discovered the lower leg bones of an adult in Rossan Bog. “The exact date of the remains is not known at this time but we will be conducting research in the coming months,” archaeologist Maeve Sikora of the National Museum of Ireland told The Irish Examiner. Two years ago, the remains of another adult, dubbed Moydrum Man, were found nearby. Those remains dated to between 700 and 400 B.C. “Every new find helps to bring us closer to understanding the lives and belief systems of our ancestors,” said Raghnall Ó Floinn, director of the National Museum of Ireland. For more on these amazing burials, see ARCHAEOLOGY's special feature "Bog Bodies Rediscovered."  

Cirencester’s Bronze Cockerel

CIRENCESTER, ENGLAND—Cotswold Archaeology announced that the Cirencester cockerel—a colorful, enameled bronze figurine of a young rooster discovered in a child’s grave in 2011—will go on display at Corinium Museum this month. Such figurines are thought to have been crafted in Britain and exported across the Roman empire, but only eight of them have survived. The Cirencester cockerel is unique among the eight because it still has its openwork tail, and it is the only one from Britain to have been found in a grave. The two- or three-year-old child had been buried in a wooden coffin wearing hobnail shoes, accompanied by the cockerel and a pottery feeding cup called a “tettine.” In the Roman world, cockerels were linked to the cult of Mercury, a messenger to the gods who accompanied the souls of the recently deceased to the afterlife. The figurine may have been placed in the child’s coffin to ensure a safe journey. To read about the discovery of a Roman figurine depicting a child charioteer, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Statuette of an Auriga (Charioteer)."  

Pulque Detected in Pottery from Teotihuacan

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Scientists ground up more than 300 pottery sherds from Mexico’s ancient city of Teotihuacan, then scanned the resulting powder for traces of food or drink that the unglazed ceramic might have absorbed. In particular, they looked for the alcohol-making bacterium Zymomonas mobilis, which is necessary for the creation of pulque, a milky drink made from the sap of the agave plant. Pulque could have provided the people of Teotihuacan with needed calories, essential nutrients, and probiotic bacteria during times of drought. The researchers found direct chemical evidence for the making of pulque on 14 of the sherds. “This project pushed the detection limits of absorbed organic residue analysis,” archaeological chemist Marisol Correa-Ascencio of the University of Bristol told Live Science. To read about recent discoveries at Teotihuacan, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Under the Pyramid of the Sun."