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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, August 15

The Western Wall's Wear Patterns

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, geologists investigating the Western Wall have revealed that they think they know why some parts of the structure are eroding faster than others, a major concern for the wall’s long-term stability. By using lasers to scan the wall to create a 3-D model, they discovered that the wall is made of different kinds of limestone with different erosion patterns. They then collected stones from quarries thought to have supplied at least some of the ancient building material, and subjected it to tests intended to simulate the effect of erosion over the past 2,000 years since the wall was built. The team learned that while limestone with large crystals were more resistant to erosion, that made up of smaller crystals eroded much more quickly. The scientists’ results could have important lessons for the conservation of Western Wall, as well as ancient structures around the globe, says lead researcher Simon Emanuel. 

A 200-Year-Old Bottle's Surprising Contents

POLAND, BALTIC SEA—According to a report in Livescience, a 200-year-old stoneware bottle excavated from a shipwreck off the Polish coast contains an alcohol distillate, perhaps vodka or a type of gin called jenever. And, say the researchers, the spirit is still drinkable even after two centuries at the bottom of the sea. Originally the archaeologists thought the bottle contained a popular type of mineral water called “Selters” whose name is engraved on the outside, and which is still sold in the area. But once they popped the cork and analyzed the vessel’s contents, they discovered its true contents. The shipwreck also yielded ceramic bowls, and dinnerware, though project head Tomasz Bednarz says the bottle of booze “is our most valuable find.”

More Evidence of Fourth-Century Earthquake in Cyprus

KOURION, CYPRUS—More evidence of the massive earthquake that devastated this part of Cyprus in the fourth century A.D. has been found, says Cyprus Mail. During excavations this summer, a team led by Thomas W. Davis of the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, uncovered the remains of two adults, a young child, and an infant, possibly an entire family lying close together trying to shelter under a building that may have been their home. The structure likely collapsed during the quake, burying its residents. In addition to the family’s remains, in the house the team also uncovered luxury goods including a yellow and green glass plate imported from Egypt. The city of Kourion was well known and written about frequently in antiquity, including by such authors as Ptolemy and Pliny, and has a long and rich history from at least the fourth century B.C. through the Christian eras.   

Neanderthals Were Excellent Butchers

QUINCEAUX, FRANCE—A Middle Paleolithic site in southwestern France has produced hundreds of bones belonging mostly to large animals, as well as flints, evidence of prehistoric butchering by the area’s Neanderthal inhabitants some 35,000 to 55,000 years ago, reports horsetalk. According to the researchers, the bones of horses were particularly numerous—although there were also wooly rhinoceros, bison, reindeer, mammoth, bear, and even a few wolf bones—and are a result of Neanderthal hunting and scavenging. In many cases, the animals’ long bones are missing, perhaps evidence that the meatier parts were butchered and then taken away, and the carcasses left behind. The excavation, which was originally scheduled to end soon so road construction can begin at the site, has been determined to be of such significance that the archaeologists have been given extra time to investigate.

Thursday, August 14

"Lover's Walk" Uncovered in Australia

DARWIN, AUSTRALIA—ABC News reports that a rare nineteenth-century stairway has been exposed in Darwin, a city with only five intact structures surviving from the Victorian era. Archaeologist Karen Martin-Stone was called in to investigate the site after workers building a fence discovered the edge of the steps. "The original staircase was quite decorative, and was capped with beautiful concrete," says Martin-Stone. "There is a moulded cavity in the concrete wall at the middle of the stairs, which may have been for the base of a lamp post." She also notes that metal railway sleepers and rail track were incoporated into the stairway's construction. Known as "Lover's Walk," the pathway was closed in 1918, apparently much to the dismay of some of the town's then tiny population, which stood at around 3,600 in 1911. "We very rarely see nineteenth century remains," says heritage official Michael Wells. His office is considering doing more digging around the site to locate a lime kiln that is known to have been somewhere near the staircase.

Mummification in Egypt Much Older Than Previously Thought

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Egyptologist Jana Jones and her colleagues have discovered that mummification was practiced in Egypt more than 6,000 years ago, or some 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. Experts had assumed that before about 2200 B.C. all mummification in Egypt was due to natural dessication. But when Jones and her colleagues studied funerary wrappings from late Neolithic cemeteries in Upper Egypt that had been scientifically excavated, they found traces of traditional Egyptian embalming agents like pine resin, plant gum, and natural petroleum. They also occured in similar proportions to ingredients that were used 3,000 years later during the heyday of Pharaonic mummification. “The antibacterial properties of some of these ingredients and the localised soft-tissue preservation that they would have afforded lead us to conclude that these represent the very beginnings of experimentation that would evolve into the mummification practice of the Pharaonic period,” said University of York researcher Stephen Buckley, the study's co-leader, in a Macquarie University press release

Pyramid-Shaped Tomb Revealed in Japan

ASUKA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that archaeologists excavating a sixth-century A.D. tomb mound in Japan's Nara Prefecture believe it was shaped like a step pyramid. The tomb, which stands more than fifteen feet at its highest, once probably held the remains of the powerful clan leader Soga no Iname, who was the grandfather of three emperors. Previous digs at the site had done little to clarify the construction of the tomb, but Kansai University Archaeological Research Institute researchers were able to expose stone-lined steps that would have given the monument an unusual pyramid-like appearance. “Archaeologists and experts checked to see if there are any similarly structured tombs in Japan, but there is nothing like it," an Asuka municipal official told the Wall Street Journal. "The tomb is unique.” The archaeologists were also able to determine the tomb had a stone-lined moat.

Wednesday, August 13

Neolithic Battlefield Unearthed in Wales

CARDIFF, WALES—While excavating Roman and Iron Age deposits at a hillfort outside Cardiff, archaeologists were surprised to discover ditches that contained Neolithic-period tools and weapons dating to around 3600 B.C. "Quite frankly, we were amazed,” Cardiff archaeologist Dave Wyatt, the excavation co-director, told Culture 24. "No-one realized the site had been occupied as far back as the Neolithic—predating the construction of the Iron Age hillfort by several thousand years." The number of broken flint arrowheads the team unearthed suggests that the site was a battleground at some point during the Neolithic. But according to team archaeologist Oliver Davis, events at the site were typically more peaceful. “The location and number of Neolithic finds indicate that we have discovered a causewayed enclosure – a special place where small communities gathered together at certain important times of the year to celebrate, feast, exchange things and possibly find marriage partners,”

Henge Discovered in England

SITTINGBOURNE, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating an area slated for development in North Kent have uncovered a 6,000-year-old Neolithic henge, reports the Canterbury Times. Consisting of two circular ditches, with the outermost reaching about 100 feet in diameter and featuring an entrance that faces northeast, the site was likely a ceremonial gathering place similar to Stonehenge. SWAT Archaeology's Paul Wilkinson, who led the project, believes the outer ring was made in the Neolithic, and the inner ring was added later, in the Bronze Age, when the henge became a funeral monument. A second, smaller ring discovered nearby may have also been used as a cemetery during the Bronze Age. There are signs that the monuments might have later been repurposed as livestock pens.  

Where Roman Soldiers Took a Bath

GONIO, GEORGIA—Polish archaeologists have made a surprising find of an ancient bath complex at the Roman fort of Asparos during their first excavation season. According to PAP, the team was greatly surprised by the quality of the building materials and techniques used, which were not typical for a soldiers’ bathhouse, as well as its decoration, including mosaic flooring, a luxury unusual for this type of bath. Equally surprising was the date of the complex, says excavation director Radosław Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski. The bath dates to the second half of the first century A.D., during the reign of the emperor Vespasian, at least a century or more earlier than other Roman structures found in this part of Georgia.

Massive Hellenistic Tomb Discovered in Northern Greece

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—A massive tomb has been unearthed in northeastern Greece, just 65 away from Thessaloniki, reports the Guardian. Over the past two years, archaeologists have been slowly excavating the giant structure, which dates to the fourth century B.C. The tomb is encircled by a 1500-foot marble wall and approached by an almost 20-foot-wide road lined with fresco-covered walls. Archaeologists have also discovered the tomb’s entrance guarded by two large sphinxes. A 15-foot-tall sculpture of a lion that may once have been placed on top of the tomb was discovered more than a century ago near the site. The tomb’s opulence and enormous size surely mark it as having belonged to an important Macedonian official, says a minister from the Ministry of Culture, and may rank it as the largest tomb ever found in Greece. Within the next weeks, archaeologists hope to enter the tomb’s interior, perhaps enabling them to identify who was buried inside.