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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, June 20

Scientists Re-Examine Ancient Prosthetic Toe

BASEL, SWITZERLAND—According to a report in Swiss Info, researchers from the University of Basel, the University of Zurich, and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo re-examined a 3,000-year-old prosthetic toe discovered in Egypt’s Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna necropolis with modern imaging techniques, including microscopy, X-ray technology, and computed tomography. The prosthesis belonged to the daughter of a priest whose big right toe appears to have been amputated. The wooden toe had been refitted several times. “They often wore sandals, so you can imagine that a well-formed foot was important,” said Andrea Loprieno-Gnirs of the University of Basel. “The wooden toe shows that she had a certain living standard, and also that there were craftsmen capable of making such prosthetics.” For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

18th-Dynasty Egyptian Face Reconstructed

TURIN, ITALY—Live Science reports that an international team of researchers has used computed tomography scanning to reconstruct the face of Nebiri, an Egyptian dignitary who lived during the reign of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Thutmose III (r. 1479‒1425 B.C.) and was buried in the Valley of the Queens. His tomb was plundered in antiquity, and his body destroyed, but Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli recovered his head and canopic jars containing his internal organs in the early twentieth century. The remains are now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Turin. Chemical analysis indicated that Nebiri’s head and brain were carefully packed with linen bandages treated with a mixture of animal fat or plant oil, an aromatic plant, a coniferous resin, and heated Pistacia resin, or mastic. “We were able to add strength to the argument that Nebiri was [a] high elite,” Robert Loynes of the University of Manchester said of the meticulous packing job, which protected the remains from insects and maintained the head’s lifelike appearance. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

900-Year-Old Jewelry Unearthed in Central Israel

MODIIN-MACCABIM-RE’UT, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that more than 2,500 volunteers and students from the fourth through twelfth grades have assisted the Israel Antiquities Authority with the excavation of a Crusader fortress tower at Givat Tittora, a strategically located hilltop site in central Israel. Excavation director Avraham Tendler said that many pieces of jewelry have been uncovered in the tower’s inner courtyard, where clay ovens, cooking pots, jars, serving dishes, a table, olive pits, grains, charred grape pips, and animal bones were also found. Tendler explained that over a period of hundreds of years, working women probably lost the jewelry, which includes rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and hair pins. The site will eventually become part of a nature park. To read about another discovery in Israel, go to “Byzantine Riches.”

Monday, June 19

Gold Worker’s Tomb Excavated in Sudan

MUNICH, GERMANY—Live Science reports that a 3,400-year-old tomb on Sai Island in northern Sudan has been investigated by a team of scientists with the AcrossBorders archaeological research project. The tomb’s multiple chambers hold the remains of more than a dozen people who may have lived on the island and worked in its gold mines. In addition to the human remains, the team members found scarabs, ceramic vessels, a gold ring, and gold funerary masks. A shabti, or small stone sculpture, discovered in the tomb may have been intended to do the work of the deceased in the afterlife. Inscriptions on the artifacts indicate the tomb had been built for Khnummose, a master gold worker. Julia Budka of Ludwig-Maximillians University said that DNA analysis of the remains in the tomb could reveal any possible relationships between the tomb’s occupants. Tests could also reveal whether the bodies were mummified. Traces of bitumen, a type of petroleum used by the ancient Egyptians in the process of mummification, have been found, but the bodies and coffins are poorly preserved. For more, go to “Miniature Pyramids of Sudan.”

DNA Study Reveals Tale of Cat Domestication

LEUVEN, BELGIUM—Cat domestication is thought to be linked to the beginning of agriculture, when early farmers first stored rodent-attracting grains. According to a report in Seeker, a team led by Claudio Ottoni of the University of Leuven analyzed the DNA of 200 domestic cats who lived over a period spanning 9,000 years in the Near East, Egypt, Europe, north and east Africa, and southwest Asia. The study suggests that all domesticated cats descend from the African wildcat Felis silvestris, and were first tamed in the Near East some 10,000 years ago. The animals traveled with migrating farmers to Europe, and later spread out from Egypt on rodent-infested trade ships. Ottoni explained, however, that it is unclear whether the Egyptian domesticated cat descended from domesticated cats imported from the Near East, or whether a second, separate, domestication took place in Egypt. Most house cats alive today descend from cats that can be traced back to Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The DNA analysis also revealed that the blotched coat pattern did not become common in cats until the medieval period. Until then, most cats were striped. For more on felines in the archaeological record, go to “Baby Bobcat.”

Medieval Sword Recovered in Poland

HRUBIESZÓW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a medieval sword was recovered from a peat bog in southeast Poland and donated to the Fr. Stanislaw Staszic Museum. The well-balanced weapon measures almost four feet long and is only missing the padding on its two-handed hilt, which was probably covered with wood, bone, or antler. An isosceles cross in a heraldic shield on the rear bar of the sword may have been the blacksmith’s maker’s mark. Conservators will look for additional marks on the blade. According to museum director Bartlomiej Bartecki, archaeologists will investigate the site where the sword was found to look for possible clues as to how it landed in the bog. Did a knight lose his weapon, or are his remains and the rest of his equipment still in the ground? “This is a unique find in the region,” Bartecki said. “It’s worth pointing out that while there are similar artifacts in museum collections, their place of discovery is often unknown, and that is very important information for historians and archaeologists.” The sword will be conserved in Warsaw and eventually returned to the Fr. Stanislaw Staszic Museum. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Krakow, Poland.”

Friday, June 16

Islamic Trade Center Uncovered in Ethiopia

EXETER, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that traces of a wealthy medieval city, complete with a twelfth-century mosque and Islamic burials and headstones, have been discovered at Harlaa, located in eastern Ethiopia. Pottery, glass vessel fragments, rock crystal, carnelian, glass beads, and cowry shells imported from Madagascar, the Maldives, Yemen, and China have been uncovered, along with bronze and silver Egyptian coins dating to the thirteenth century. Timothy Insoll of the University of Exeter explained that high-quality jewelry was made at the site with silver, bronze, semi-precious stones, and glass beads, using technology usually associated with jewelry made in India at that time. He thinks that jewelers from India may have been among the people who migrated to the cosmopolitan city at Harlaa. And, the mosque at the site resembles those built in Tanzania and Somaliland, which suggests that the people who lived at Harlaa also had contact with other Islamic communities in Africa. Human remains from the site are being analyzed for further information. For more, go to “Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast.”

Timber on Oregon Coast May Represent 19th-Century Shipwreck

CANNON BEACH, OREGON—According to a report in The Daily Astorian, a walker discovered a piece of wood on the northern Oregon coast that may have come from a nineteenth-century shipwreck. The piece of wood, cut from old-growth timber, measures about 18 feet long and is marked with notches, square cut-outs, and square nails. “In general shipwrecks are pretty common on the coast, but if it were actually that old it would be a rare situation,” said Christopher Dewey of the Maritime Archaeological Society. A state archaeologist has been asked to evaluate the find. For more on the archaeology of shipwrecks, go to “Is it Esmeralda?

Bones of Shang Dynasty Sacrificial Victims Analyzed

BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA—Live Science reports that researchers led by bioarchaeologist Christina Cheung of Simon Fraser University analyzed skeletal remains from the royal cemetery of Yinxu, the capital of Shang Dynasty China from the sixteenth century B.C. to the eleventh century B.C. The cemetery contains royal burials, and more than 2,500 pits holding the remains of sacrificial victims. Oracle bone inscriptions found at the site indicate that many of those who had been sacrificed were captured during wars. Cheung and her colleagues measured the levels of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes in the bones of 68 sacrificial victims found in the pits, and compared them with the remains of 39 people who had been buried in a residential neighborhood of Yinxu. The results of the tests suggest that the locals and the sacrificial victims all ate a subsistence diet based on millet, but the locals also consumed, wheat, rice, and perhaps wild fish and deer. The composition of the victims’ larger bones also indicates that they had not always eaten food from the Yinxu area, and may have only lived there for a few years. Cheung thinks the captives probably spent their time in Yinxu working as enslaved laborers. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”