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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, May 19

Neolithic Artwork Found in Northern Africa

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—A tourist has discovered Neolithic artwork in a shallow cave in the Egyptian Western Desert that supports the suggestion that ancient Egyptian culture drew on cultural influences from Africa as well as the Near East. Giulio Lucarini of Cambridge University and co-director of the Archaeological Mission in the Farafra Oasis examined the etchings last month. He thinks the images, including a giraffe, a cow-like mammal, two boats, and a human hand, could date to between 6000 and 5,500 B.C. The drawings resemble those from another site in the region known as Wadi el Obeiyid Cave, discovered in 1995. “Our work shows that people living in the Eastern Sahara had a significant and developed culture which fed into the development of the Pharaonic civilization and beyond,” Lucarini announced at the University of Cambridge

Medieval Monastery Excavated in Sudan

AL-GHAZALI, SUDAN—Polish archaeologists are excavating a large Byzantine-era church made of sandstone blocks in Sudan that was located on a busy trade route. “Along the east wall of the monastery we dug out a row of 15 toilets. However it may sound and look, it is an important discovery. Nowhere else in Nubia has such a large sanitary complex been discovered,” Artur Obluski of the University of Chicago told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The team also conserved the plaster walls of the church, which date to the first half of the seventh century and were decorated with Christian images and the names of the four archangels. “By removing a thick layer of mud, we restored part of the original appearance of the church, which is now glowing white from a distance,” added Cristobal Calaforra-Rzepka, head of the conservation team. 

Three Burial Chambers Discovered in Cyprus

LIMASSOL, CYPRUS—Three burial chambers were discovered when the roof of a cave collapsed during landscaping work in southern Cyprus. The tomb, which dates to the second or first centuries B.C., contained seven sets of skeletal remains, amphorae, and small artifacts. “Archaeologically, it is a very interesting area,” archaeologist Yiannis Violaris of the Antiquities Department told the Cyprus Mail

18th-Century Deposits May Have Had a Magical Purpose

DEARBORN, MICHIGAN—Excavations in the British Virgin Islands have uncovered evidence of ritual practices of English plantation residents in the eighteenth century. At the first site, John Chenoweth of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and his team unearthed a cache of grape shot—small iron balls meant to be shot from a cannon—that had been buried in two postholes under a two-room sugar plantation house. Chenoweth thinks the iron grape shot may have served a magical purpose, since it was in short supply and valuable to the English who needed to protect themselves from the Spanish and were concerned about slave uprisings. On another island, the team recovered a whelk shell that had been modified to hold fish bones, pins, and the bones of a Puerto Rican racer snake. It had been placed in the foundation of another two-room plantation house, and resembles a witch’s bottle, found in England and America. Chenoweth told Live Science that witch’s bottles are “seen as an effort to protect the house against bad magic basically, spirits and spells that might seek to harm some of the occupants of the house.”

Friday, May 16

First-Century Sarcophagus Recovered in Turkey

ÇORUM, TURKEY—A 1,900-year-old sarcophagus that was illegally unearthed from a tumulus in northern Anatolia has been moved to the Çorum Museum. “The two long sides of the tomb cover were broken by smugglers who wanted to enter it. One of the acroteria was also broken. Some pieces of this acroterion were found by experts and attached to their place by the conservator of the museum. Eros, the god of love in Greek mythology, is embroidered on the surface of the tomb. The head of Eros received damage because of smugglers,” museum director Önder İpek told Hurriyet Daily News. Bones thought to have belonged to a woman will be tested. A silver coin, a gold earring, and a ring were also recovered.

Emergency Excavation of London Shipwreck

ESSEX, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that climate change has brought ship-boring organisms to live in the warmer waters of the Thames, and they are damaging the London, a seventeenth-century vessel that had been well protected in the river’s thick silt. “It’s rare for wooden shipwrecks of this age and older to survive to this extent,” said Mark Dunkley, a marine archaeologist at English Heritage. The wooden ship was part of a convoy that transported Charles II to England from the Netherlands after the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658. A gunpowder explosion sank the London in 1665, an event that killed 300 people. Rescue divers carrying out emergency excavations at the site have recovered leather shoes, a bronze signet ring, clay pipes, navigational dividers, buckets, pots and cooking utensils, door latches, an anchor cable, and cannonballs, despite the poor visibility and strong currents.  

Roman Military Camp Unearthed in Germany

HACHELBICH, GERMANY—A Roman military camp that held up to 5,000 troops has been discovered in central Germany. “People have been searching for evidence of the Romans in this part of Germany for 200 years. It took a long time before we realized what we had, and we wanted to be sure,” Mario Kuessner, and archaeologist for the state of Thuringia, told Science Now. The camp, shaped as a rough rectangle with round corners, was surrounded by a trench and had a gate on its northern edge. A low wall of dirt would have been placed behind the trench and topped with tall stakes. “It’s typically Roman—no Germans did that sort of thing,” Kuessner explained. Bread ovens, four nails from Roman boots, a piece of horse tack, and part of a scabbard have also been found. The camp may have been a stopover on the way to invade territory further east. “The best would be if we could find coins or something with the legion number written on it. That would help us pin down the date,” he said.

“Naia” Shares Genetic Signatures with Modern Native Americans

BOTHELL, WASHINGTON—Analysis of mitochondrial DNA taken from a tooth of a teenaged girl discovered seven years ago in Mexico’s flooded caverns of Hoyo Negro suggests that modern Native Americans are the descendants of the earliest Palaeoamericans, who migrated across the Bering land bridge from Siberia, despite the differences in their skull shapes. The girl, dubbed Naia after the water nymphs of Greek mythology, resembles the fossils of other Paleoamericans in that she had a small, projecting, angular face and pronounced forehead. Carbon dating of her tooth enamel and the ratio of uranium and thorium in the mineral deposits taken from her bones indicate that she died between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago. Naia’s skeleton is the first complete Palaeoamerican skeleton to have been found, but her remains were measured underwater and left in situ because it is impossible to recover them safely from the cave. “Naia, and the other animals, would have slipped through a hidden sink hole and fallen 30 meters into a shallow pool. There would have been no way out,” palaeontologist James Chatters of Applied Paleoscience told Nature News

Thursday, May 15

French Wall Paintings Revealed in Jerusalem Hospital

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that additional nineteenth-century wall paintings depicting images related to the Crusades were revealed during the repair of a broken water line at the Saint Louis French Hospital, located near the New Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City wall. The images were painted by Count Marie Paul Amedee De-Piellat, who established the French area of Jerusalem and saw himself as a “last Crusader” combating the influence of other colonial powers in the city. Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority assisted with the restoration of the artworks, many of which had been covered in paint over the years. The building is currently used as a hospice care facility.  

French Enameled Statue Unearthed in Denmark

SØBY, DENMARK—A thirteenth-century Christian statue of the Virgin Mary was discovered under the floor of a small church in eastern Jutland by archaeologist Hans Mikkelsen of Denmark’s National Museum, where the statue was cleaned and restored. The Limoges figurine, complete with halo, probably sat atop a crucifix that was used in a church processional. “I could see the colors—the red in the halo and the beautiful blue-green nuances in the clothing. It is absolutely fantastic,” conservator Signe Nygaard told The Copenhagen Post. 

Ancient Egyptian Tree Rings Support Chronology

ITHACA, NEW YORK—Tree ring samples taken from an ancient Egyptian coffin in 1938 have been tested with “dendro radiocarbon wiggle matching” by Sturt Manning of Cornell University and an international team of scientists, who also examined wood from funeral boats that had been buried near the pyramid of Sesostris III. The technique calibrates radiocarbon isotopes in the tree rings with patterns known from other places in the world with identified chronologies and produces very precise results. The scientists were able to confirm that the “higher” Egyptian chronology for the time period is correct, and they also learned that a dry period occurred following the year 2200 B.C. “This radiocarbon anomaly would be explained by a change in growing season, i.e. climate, dating to exactly this arid period of time,” Manning told the Cornell Chronicle