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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, February 10

Update: Mastaba Tomb Yields Additional Artifacts

DAKAHLIYA, EGYPT—The remains of three more people from the Late Egyptian period have been found in a mastaba tomb at Tel El-Tabila, according to an announcement by Mohamed Ibrahim, Egypt’s Minister of State for Antiquities. Two of them had been mummified, and were found in anthropoid limestone coffins. The first, from the 26th Dynasty, had been damaged by high levels of humidity. Both coffins had been accompanied by wooden boxes filled with ushabti figurines. Ahram Online also reports that all of the bodies were accompanied by amulets, including one depicting Amun, Horus, and Neftis; a heart-shaped scarab; an Alba bird made of bronze; and 12 amulets featuring the Udjat eye of Horus. 

Police Recover Bronze Statue in the Gaza Strip

GAZA—A young fisherman claims to have pulled an intact bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo from the ocean last August. He says he then carried it in a donkey cart to the Gaza Strip, where two of its fingers were removed to try to determine the value of the metal, before the rare statue appeared for sale on the Internet. Police then seized the statue and are investigating its origins. Archaeologists who have seen photographs of the statue estimate it to be at least 2,000 years old, crafted sometime between the fifth and first centuries B.C. But they question the fisherman’s story. “This wasn’t found on the seashore or in the sea…it is very clean. No, it was [found] inland and dry,” Jean-Michel de Tarragon of the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem told Reuters. “There is a feeling that they could find more and more [items] linked to the statue, more and more artifacts, so this is very sensitive,” he added.

Hieroglyphs Shed New Light on Akhenaten’s Rule

LUXOR, EGYPT—An excavation by a team of Spanish and Egyptian archaeologists has revealed hieroglyphs carved into the columns of a mausoleum of an 18th Dynasty minister. The rulers are shown in the same space, one following the other, and their names are shown beside each other. This would suggest that Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV, otherwise known as Akhenaten, ruled together for nine or ten years of the 39 years that Amenhotep III sat on the throne. “There is nothing similar in Pharaonic history,” Martin Valentin, Field and Scientific Director of the Spanish Mission of the Asasif Project, told Hispanically Speaking News. The reign of Amenhotep III is known for its stability and prosperity, and it had been thought that his son broke away from tradition when he ascended to the throne—changing his name to Akhenaten and promoting the worship of the sun god Aten.

The First Mission Station in New Zealand

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND—Ian Smith and Angela Middleton of the University of Otago have been excavating the Hohi Mission Station at Kerikeri, which stood from 1814 to 1832. The first Europeans in New Zealand were dependent upon local Maori communities for food and protection. “We found the remains of what is likely to have been the house of early New Zealand missionary Thomas Kendall and his family, as well as artifacts like ceramic shards, glass, a coin dating from 1806 bearing the profile of George III, and gunflints,” Smith told the New Zealand Herald. They also found a classroom containing toys, slate pencils, and fragments of writing slates, and a whare, or Maori dwelling.

Friday, February 07

Third-Century Palace Unearthed in Japan

SAKURAI, JAPAN—The discovery of another building at the Makimuku archaeological site, which is located near the ancient capital of Nara, suggests that the third-century complex was home to Queen Himiko and perhaps her successor, Toyo, who are mentioned in early Chinese documents. “The latest finding virtually confirms that the buildings stood in a regular geometry along the central axis of a quadrangular area stretching 150 meters from east to west. That is an extraordinary dimension for third-century artifacts,” Hironobu Ishino of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology, explained to The Asahi Shimbun.

Mastaba Tomb Discovered in Egypt

DAKAHLIYA, EGYPT—At the site of Tel Tabla, archaeologists unearthed a mud-brick mastaba tomb with a number of burial shafts. According to a report in Ahram Online, one of the shafts contained a carved limestone sarcophagus holding the well-preserved mummy of a woman named Werty. Beside the sarcophagus they found 180 wood and limestone ushabti figurines.

Northern Europe’s Earliest-Known Inhabitants

HAPPISBURGH, ENGLAND—Erosion along the coast of Norfolk in eastern England has revealed footprints thought to have been left behind by a group of Homo antecessor individuals some 900,000 years ago. The tracks were made by at least five different hominids. “In some cases we could accurately measure the length and width of the footprints and estimate the height of the individuals who made them….This height range suggests a mix of adults and children, with the largest print possibly being male,” Isabelle De Groote of Liverpool John Moores University told The Telegraph. The scientists took 3-D scans of the prints when they were revealed during a low tide after stormy seas last spring, but it was not possible to preserve them. At the time the prints were made, the area was an estuary of the Thames River, surrounded by salt marsh and coniferous forest. The weather would have been cold, requiring clothing, shelter, and the ability to make fire. Flint tools and fossil remains of rhinos, hyenas, and mammoths were also found at Happisburgh. 

Thursday, February 06

The Loss of Syria’s Cultural Heritage

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture, announced at a press conference that the European Union has donated 2.5 million euros to a program intended to fight looting and improve the available information about Syria’s endangered cultural heritage. During the continuing civil war, illegal digging has taken place at the sites of Mari, Elba, Palmyra, and Apamea. “All of them have been subject to this phenomena, some of them to an extent that is unimaginable. Apamea—it’s completely destroyed,” Bandarin told the Associated Press. In an effort to stem the flow of antiquities out of Syria, UNESCO has been training police and customs forces in neighboring countries to identify looted artifacts. “We certainly have intercepted a very, very small amount of what has been pillaged,” said Bandarin.

Erosion Threatens England’s Archaeology

LONDON, ENGLAND—Storms and flooding in Britain this winter have eroded away archaeological sites and uncovered shipwrecks. Among the damaged sites is the lost medieval port town of Dunwich, which was slowly swallowed up by the North Sea beginning with a three-day storm in 1286. The Museum of London Archaeology is therefore recruiting volunteers to help archaeologists address the emergency. “We cannot halt the erosion or destruction of some of these sites but can ensure that the information about the remains is not lost. By creating a standardized, web-based recording system and providing training and new skills, we see this as an extraordinary opportunity for people across the country to create a lasting record that will benefit us all for years to come,” Taryn Nixon, chief executive of the museum, told The Guardian

New Thoughts on Corn Domestication

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the ancestor plant of modern corn has many long branches tipped with tassels, and its seeds mature over a period of a few months. But when cultivated in a greenhouse under the environmental conditions of 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, teosinte grows into a something recognizable as a corn plant. “Intriguingly, the teosinte plants grown under past conditions exhibit characteristics more like corn: a single main stem topped by a single tassel, a few very short branches tipped by female ears and synchronous seed maturation,” Dolores Piperno of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History told Science Daily. The Holocene climate, recreated in the greenhouse, was two to three degrees Celsius cooler than today’s temperatures, and the carbon dioxide levels were approximately 260 parts per million. Current carbon dioxide levels are 405 parts per million. “When humans first began to cultivate teosinte about 10,000 years ago, it was probably more maize-like—naturally exhibiting some characteristics previously thought to result from human selection and domestication,” she said. Piperno and colleague Klaus Winter of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute add that past environmental conditions should be taken into consideration by scientists researching evolutionary change and the process of domestication.