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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, September 22

Caryatids Fully Revealed in Amphipolis

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—The Greek Ministry of Culture announced that the caryatids flanking the second doorway at the Kasta Hill tomb site have been completely uncovered. Standing more than seven feet tall, their well-preserved feet wear kothornoi, or thick-soled shoes, that bear traces of red and yellow paint. According to a report in Live Science, parts of the statues’ broken hands and arms were recovered from the surrounding soil. The tomb is estimated to be 2,300 years old, and is thought to have been designed by Dinocrates, chief architect to Alexander the Great. It may contain the remains of someone from his inner circle. 

Teutonic Axes Discovered in Northern Poland

WARMIA AND MAZURY, POLAND—Engineers searching the Forest District Wipsowo with metal detectors for World War II artillery shells discovered three Teutonic battle axes dating to the late Middle Ages. The iron ax heads were found together among some tree roots. “It can be assumed that this is a deposit that someone left for better times. Perhaps the person hid the weapons, fled, and never returned to this place,” archaeologist Agata Trzop-Szczypiorska told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The engineers also recovered thousands of unexploded shells. “Probably when the Germans retreated before the Red Army in 1945, they blew up their ammunition storage. The force of the explosion threw the shells around,” head engineer Maciej Gorczyca explained. For more on World War II, see ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Archaeology of World War Two."  

Study Suggests Today’s Iberian Pig Resembles Its Ancestors

BARCELONA, SPAIN—A genetic sample obtained from early sixteenth-century pig remains suggests that today’s Iberian pig is closely related to Spain’s ancient pigs. “Although it is a very fragmented sample, the gene sequence offers very interesting information,” Miguel Perez-Enciso of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona told Science Daily. He and his team of researchers from Pompeu Fabra University and the National Center for Genome Analysis found that the ancient pig was not a white pig, but it did carry a series of markers typical of domesticated pigs, so it may have resembled the black or reddish pigs depicted in artwork from the sixteenth century. This coincides with historic records of pig breeding kept at the Montsoriu Castle in Girona, where the bones were unearthed. There is also genetic evidence suggesting occasional crossbreeding between wild boars and ancient pigs. “This close relation between the Iberian pig, the European boar, and the ancient pig confirms, as stated in previous studies, that crossbreeding between the Asian pig and modern Iberian pigs did not exist or was insignificant,” Perez-Enciso concluded. To read about other ancient pig tales, see ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Israel's Wild Boars Are Descended From European Pigs."   

London’s Paddington Station in the Victorian Era

LONDON, ENGLAND—Excavations ahead of the construction of a new underground station, garage, and cement factory near Paddington Station have uncovered Victorian railway foundations laid by civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel is remembered for his Great Western Railway, which ran its first steam trains in 1838 on broad-gauge train tracks. In 1846, Parliament regulated the size of railroad tracks, requiring a switch to the narrower standard gauge tracks throughout the Great Western Railway. This change is reflected in a wrought iron turning circle found within the brick foundations of the site. Dating to 1881-82, it could accommodate both broad and standard gauge engines so that they could enter the 1850s engine shed, whose foundations were also found. “Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway is the most complete early mainline railway in the world. Whenever we expose parts of the original infrastructure it is vital to record these for posterity and the history of rail in this country. Using the latest 3-D scan technology provides a permanent and accurate model of Brunel’s distinctive architectural legacy,” Jay Carver, lead archaeologist for Crossrail, told The Telegraph. To read more about the history of trains in Victorian England, see ARCHAEOLOGY'S "Trains in the Round."  

Friday, September 19

Scarab Links Egyptian Pharaoh to Copper Mine in Jordan

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA—Scholars from the University of San Diego discovered an Egyptian scarab bearing the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonq I on the surface of the ground at Khirbat Hamra Ifdan, an ancient copper factory in southern Jordan’s Faynan district. “Most of the time, they were amulets, sometimes jewelry, and periodically, they were inscribed for use as personal or administrative seals. We think this is the case with the Sheshonq I scarab we found,” Thomas E. Levy of the University of California, San Diego, told Live Science. The scarab may have been lost during the pharaoh’s legendary military campaign in the region 3,000 years ago, which is mentioned in inscriptions at the Karnak temple complex in Thebes. Sheshonq I may also be represented in the Hebrew Bible as the Egyptian king “Shishak.” Levy and his team had previously identified a disruption in copper production in the Faynan district with the excavation of rock layers in the area of an ancient copper slag mound at Khirbat en-Nahas that were dated with high-precision radiocarbon dates. “The scarab we found that bears Sheshonq I’s name is the first time we can definitively link the disruption to his forces,” Levy announced. To read about an important settlement in Israel that was occupied during the Bronze Age, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Excavating Tel Kedesh."  

Remains of Enslaved African-Americans Found at Nashville Zoo

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE—An examination of nine sets of human remains removed from the grounds of the Nashville Zoo suggests that part of the property had once been a cemetery where enslaved African-Americans were buried. Shannon Hodge of Middle Tennessee State University found that all nine were under the age of 50 when they died. Six had arthritis of the knee and/or spine, indicating that they had carried heavy loads, and one young man had a damaged hip that may have been caused by the stress of heavy workloads at an early age. Archaeologist Larry McKee of TRC Companies Inc. found buttons, beads, and other artifacts dating between the 1820s and 1850s when he conducted the original excavation. “I’m thoroughly certain that what we’ve got now is part of the enslaved community using that as a burial ground,” he told The Tennessean. To read about escaped slaves in the Great Dismal Swamp, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "American Refugees."  

Roman-Period Village Excavated in Poland

KROSNO, POLAND—A village dating from the third to fourth centuries A.D. has been discovered in the Carpathian Mountains of southeastern Poland. At the site, archaeologists have uncovered a large kiln. “It stands on a small tip in the Wisloka Valley. Its location shows that the wind blowing from the river was used to maintain the temperature during the firing cycle. Such kilns are extremely rare in the Carpathians,” archaeologist Tomasz Leszczyński of the Subcarpathian Museum told Science & Scholarship in Poland. Fragments of large vessels that were used to store grain were also recovered. To read about people who lived in the Carpathians and Balkans during this period, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Thracian Treasure Chest."  

Satellite Imagery Shows Damage to Syria’s World Heritage Sites

WASHINGTON, D.C.—An analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery by the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) shows that five of Syria’s six World Heritage sites have been severely damaged since 2011, when the civil war began. “Only one of Syria’s six World Heritage sites—the Ancient City of Damascus—appears to remain undamaged,” Susan Wolfinbarger, director of the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project at AAAS, told Science Daily. The buildings of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has suffered extensive damage. The Ancient City of Bosra, the Ancient Site of Palmyra, the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, and the castles Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din have all been damaged by mortar impacts and military activity. “There is hope, and it lies with our Syrian colleagues because they are the stewards and caretakers of these sites, and they see the value in preserving and protecting them for future generations,” said Corine Wegener, cultural heritage preservation officer for the Smithsonian Institution. “What they need from their international colleagues is some help to do that—training, materials, and other support in the international arena for the notion that it is possible to mitigate and prevent damage to cultural heritage, even in the midst of conflicts.” To read more about Syria's rich archaeological heritage, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Temple of the Storm God."  

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."