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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, September 26

Scholars Say Ancient Structure May Have Been a Dining Hall

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that Joseph Patrich of Hebrew University and Shlomit Wexler-Bedolah of the Israel Antiquities Authority believe that two rooms found near the Western Wall Plaza five years ago served as Jerusalem’s city council triclinium in the first century B.C. The rooms, connected by a water feature with a decorative fountain, are thought to have been part of a large, opulent building. Indentations on the walls may have been left by sofa seating, where guests could have rested and dined. The structure is thought to have been destroyed in an earthquake around A.D. 30. It was previously believed that the rooms served as a public fountain. To read more about archaeology in Israel, go to "Artifact: Roman Coins in Israel."

Roman Coins Unearthed at Medieval Castle in Japan

URUMA, JAPAN—The Japan Times reports that Roman coins dating to the third and fourth centuries A.D. have been found at the ruins of Katsuren Castle in southern Japan. The castle dates to the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, when trade with China and Southeast Asia could have transported the four copper coins to Okinawa. X-ray analysis of the worn coins suggests that they bear an image of Constantine I and a soldier holding a spear. The castle site also yielded a coin from the Ottoman Empire. For more on Roman coin finds, go to "Seaton Down Hoard."

New Thoughts on the Death of Ötzi the Iceman

BALZANO, ITALY—Seeker reports that Angelika Fleckinger, the director of the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, requested that chief inspector Alexander Horn of Munich’s Criminal Investigation Department research a possible scenario for the death of the 5,300-year-old frozen mummy known as Ötzi the Iceman. Horn evaluated information from the forensic medical examinations conducted on the mummy’s remains, and used behavioral investigative analysis to analyze records of the ancient “crime scene.” He suggests that Ötzi was resting in the mountains, where he had eaten a hearty meal of wild goat, when he was taken by surprise and shot in the shoulder with an arrow. Another injury, to his right hand, may have been inflicted a few days prior to his murder. “Since no other injuries could be found, we believe he came out as a winner from that hostile encounter,” Horn said. The loser, however, may have carried a grudge and pursued Ötzi. And, since Ötzi's mummy was found with his valuable copper ax, made with materials from southern Tuscany, theft was an unlikely motive for the murder. “A personal conflict is more likely,” Horn said. “We are talking of a behavioral pattern that is also prevalent today in most murder cases. It starts with little things and it grows to the extreme.” To read more, go to "Ancient Tattoos: Ötzi the Iceman."  

What Killed the Crew of the Franklin Expedition?

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—The reports that researchers from the University of Glasgow think that accidents, and not illnesses such as tuberculosis, scurvy, and lead poisoning, may have been responsible for the loss of many of the Franklin Expedition’s 129 crew members. No log books from the Franklin Expedition have ever been found, so team leader Keith Millar and colleagues evaluated the “sick books” of nine Royal Navy ships that searched for the lost ships of the Franklin Expedition. Those ships were similarly equipped to the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. The researchers found that the crews of the later ships suffered some symptoms of scurvy and lead poisoning, but not on a large scale. Millar suggests that accidents that occurred while hunting for wild game on foot in a harsh climate and over difficult terrain could be to blame for the Franklin Expedition’s heavy losses. Robert Park of the University of Waterloo, who was on the team that discovered HMS Erebus in 2014, disagrees with Millar, noting that 15 Franklin Expedition officers were dead by 1848, three years into the expedition. “I can’t imagine a catastrophic accident that would kill so many officers,” he said. For more, go to "Franklin’s Last Voyage."

Forensic Anthropologists Reconstruct Lord of Sipan’s Face

  LIMA, PERU—Andina reports that forensic anthropologists have reconstructed the face of the Lord of Sipan, a Mochica ruler whose third-century grave was discovered in Lambayeque in 1987 by archaeologist Walter Alva. Researchers from Inca Garcilaso de la Vega University, and Cícero Moraes and Paulo Miamoto of the Brazilian NGO Team of Forensic Anthropology and Odontology, used computer software to reassemble the Lord of Sipan’s skull, which had been severely damaged by the weight of his burial. The team also determined that the ruler stood about five feet, four inches tall, had arthritis in his spine, healthy teeth, and was between 45 and 55 years old when he died. “He was quite tall for that time period. He had a slightly strong muscle tone, which means he did not do any physical work, as befits his high rank,” Alva said. A replica of the reconstruction will be 3-D printed for display in the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan. To read more about archaeology in Peru, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder." 

Friday, September 23

Rare Roman-Era Coffin May Have Been Reused

DORSET, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a limestone sarcophagus holding the remains of a Roman man was uncovered in a quarry in southwest England by a team from Thames Valley Archaeologist Services. The researchers said that the burial was unusual because the man’s feet had been bent backwards so that his body would fit in the coffin. “In the Roman period, burial in a sarcophagus was moderately common in Italy but very unusual in Britain, where even wooden coffins seem to have been rare,” said archaeologist Steve Ford. He thinks the sarcophagus, which would have been a prestigious item, may have been reused. An initial examination of the bones did not reveal any signs of disease. Further investigation into the cause of death are underway. For more on Roman Britain, go to "Artifact: Roman Eagle Sculpture."

Geoglyphs Mapped in Southern Peru

TORONTO, CANADA—Live Science reports that dozens of circular geoglyphs of varying sizes have been recorded in southern Peru, near the ancient town of Quilcapampa. Many of the images, dated to between A.D. 1050 and 1400, were created by removing stones from the surface of the ground. Justin Jennings of the Royal Ontario Museum and his colleagues mapped the intertwined rings with satellite imagery, aerial drones, and ground surveys, and found that they had been placed near trade routes. The researchers suggest that the circular images may reflect the continuous movement of people, goods, and food along the route linking the coast and the highland. Some of the geoglyphs are accompanied by cairns, or rock piles, as part of the design. To read about another massive site in Peru, go to "An Overlooked Inca Wonder."

Possible Iron Age Broch Discovered in Scotland

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND—Shetland News reports that Michael Stratigos of the University of Aberdeen and underwater archaeologist Sally Evans think they may have found the remains of an Iron Age broch—a type of hollow-walled stone roundhouse found only in Scotland on an islet in the Loch of Strom. The site consists of a large mound with a small, circular depression in its center. Possible stone piers have also been found. “If it’s not a broch and is an Iron Age house, then it’s still significant because we don’t have many large Iron Age houses, and we should have more,” commented archaeologist Val Turner of the Shetland Amenity Trust. Stratigos said that part of the broch may have already been lost to erosion. “It is difficult to say how well preserved the site is without taking back some or all of the vegetation, something that would undoubtedly speed up the decay of the site,” he explained. To read more, go to "Hillforts of the Iron Age." 

Cambodia’s Forestry Officials Foil Suspected Looters

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—The Cambodia Daily reports that forestry official Mom Bun Lim, chief of the Banteay Srei division, seized two tenth-century sandstone sculptures after pursuing a car on rural roads for several hours. He noted that the vehicle seemed overloaded, and suspected the two occupants were carrying a load of illegal timber. He called for reinforcements to cut the driver off when he neared a populated area. The illegal cargo turned out to be two ancient sandstone sculptures that may have been stolen from the remote site of the Koh Ker temple in Preah Vihear province, which is located about 75 miles away, since the region around the Angkor Archaeological Park is well guarded. Anthropologist Ang Choulean of the Royal University of Fine Arts said that antiquities thefts were “a pretty frequent occurrence in the 1990s, but it’s been years since we’ve heard talk of thieves.” To read more, go to "The Battle Over Preah Vihear."

Thursday, September 22

Computer Model Simulates Ancient Climate Change, Migration

MANOA, HAWAII—Live Science reports that scientists led by Axel Timmermann of the University of Hawaii at Manoa have developed a new computer simulation, spanning a period of 125,000 years, of how rainfall, temperature, sea levels, glacial ice, vegetation, carbon dioxide levels, and the migration patterns of modern humans might have been affected by Milankovitch cycles, or wobbles in the planet’s orbit and tilt that occur every 21,000 years. The model suggests that modern humans may have traveled between northeastern Africa and other parts of the world through periodic “habitable green corridors” in the Sahara and Arabian deserts. Timmermann says these results align with archaeological and fossil data from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. “If the climate had been constant over the past 125,000 years, we would have evolved in a very different way,” he said. A future version of the simulation will add Neanderthals, interbreeding, cultural exchange, and competition for food into the mix. For more on modern human origins, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

Genetic Study Links Indigenous Australians to First Arrivals

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The Guardian reports that evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen conducted a population analysis of 83 Indigenous Australians and 25 Papuans, and found that their ancestors can be traced back 50,000 years, to the first arrivals on the continent. “They are probably the oldest group in the world that you can link to one particular place,” he said. The study also suggests that about four percent of the Indigenous Australian genome came from an unknown human relative. Willerslev added that Indigenous populations in Australia remained almost totally isolated until about 4,000 years ago, about the same time that the languages now spoken by these populations began to spread. “You see a movement of people spreading across the continent and leaving signatures across the continent,” he said. “That is the time that this new language has spread.” For more on the prehistory of Australia, go to "The Rock Art of Malarrak."

Scientists Successfully Image Ancient, Charred Bible

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY—Live Science reports that a team from the University of Kentucky has “virtually unwrapped” the En-Gedi scroll using X-ray-based micro-computed tomography scans. The scroll was discovered in the Holy Ark at the synagogue at En-Gedi, which was destroyed by fire around A.D. 600. The team, led by computer scientist Brent Seales, first identified each of the five layers of parchment in the scroll. Then they created a virtual geometric mesh for each of the layers to help make the text, written with an ink containing metal, more visible. In the last step, the researchers digitally flattened the scroll and merged the layers into one, 2-D image. The text, placed in two columns, consists of 35 lines of Hebrew. Biblical scholars now know that the En-Gedi scroll contains the beginning of the Book of Leviticus, the third of the five books in the Jewish Torah. And the text is identical to the text of the Book of Leviticus in medieval Hebrew Bibles. “This is quite amazing for us,” said Emanuel Tov, professor emeritus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “That in 2,000 years, this text has not changed.” To read about a similar project, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum."