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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, April 18

Ohio Museum Will Return Sculpture to Italy

CLEVELAND, OHIO—The Plain Dealer reports that The Cleveland Museum of Art will hand over a marble portrait head of Drusus Minor, the son of Emperor Tiberius, to Italy. Museum officials learned that the sculpture, acquired in 2012, was excavated and photographed at the town of Sessa Aurunca in the 1920s, and taken from a museum there in 1944, during World War II. They had thought it had been part of an Algerian collection since the late nineteenth century. “It is disappointing, even devastating, to lose a great object,” said museum director William Griswold. “On the other hand, the transfer of this object to Italy is so clearly the appropriate outcome that, disappointed though I may be, one can hardly question whether this is the right thing to do.” To read more about ancient Roman sculpture, go to "Artifact: Eagle Carrying a Snake."

Medieval Priest’s Remains Unearthed at Thornton Abbey

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Lincolnshire Today reports that the remains of a medieval priest have been found near a hospital chapel altar at Thornton Abbey in the east of England by a team from the University of Sheffield. A gravestone identified him as Richard de W’Peton, who died on April 17, 1317. “After taking Richard’s skeleton back to the laboratory, despite poor preservation, we were able to establish Richard was around 35-45 years old at the time of his death and that he had stood around 5 feet, 4 inches tall,” said Emma Hook. Examination of his skeleton revealed that he had performed strenuous physical labor, and marks on his teeth suggest that he had experienced a period of malnutrition or illness during childhood. The research team also produced a 3-D scan of the priest’s skull, which detected a slight depression that may represent a well-healed wound from blunt-force trauma. Hugh Willmott added that the priest may have died of hunger during the Great Famine, which struck Europe between 1315 and 1317, after a period of heavy rains that caused widespread crop failures. To read more about medieval English archaeology, go to "Stronghold of the Kings in the North."

Archbishops’ Remains Discovered in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Telegraph reports that 30 lead coffins were found in a hidden chamber beneath the altar of the deconsecrated church located next to Lambeth Palace, the thirteenth-century London residence of the leader of the Church of England. It had been thought that all of the burials under the 1,000-year-old church were removed in the nineteenth century when the structure was refurbished, but scholars now know that the remains of the archbishops were not disturbed. A gilded funerary miter found resting on a coffin was the first clue to the identity of the deceased. Metal name plates on two of the coffins revealed that they indeed held the remains of former Archbishops of Canterbury: Richard Bancroft, who served as archbishop from 1604 to 1610 and oversaw the publication of the King James Bible; and John Moore, who served from 1783 to 1805. Church records have revealed that three additional Archbishops of Canterbury were probably buried in the vault during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although the coffins will be left undisturbed, a glazed, manhole-sized panel has placed over the entrance to the tomb in the chancel so that museum visitors can see the steps leading to the vault. To read more about the archaeology of English churches, go to "Writing on the Church Wall."

3,500-Year-Old Tomb Opened in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Mostafa Waziry, Director General of Luxor Antiquities, announced that a t-shaped tomb dating to the 18th Dynasty has been opened in the Zeraa Abu El-Nagaa necropolis, according to a report in Ahram Online. Egyptian archaeologists recently found the entrance to the tomb, which was discovered in the early twentieth century. The tomb is thought to have been built for New Kingdom city magistrate Ou Sarhat, and then reused during the 21st Dynasty, so that it contains dozens of well-preserved wooden coffins, wooden funerary masks, and nearly 1,000 ushabti figurines made of faience, terra-cotta, and wood.  To read more about ancient Egypt, go to "The Cult of Amun."

Friday, April 14

DNA Study Suggests New Dates for Mediterranean Farmers

HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND—The International Business Times reports that the Archaeogenetics Research Group at the University of Huddersfield analyzed some 1,500 mitochondrial genome lineages obtained from modern DNA samples in order to study the arrival of farmers in different regions of Europe. The scientists, led by Martin Richards, found evidence suggesting that Near Eastern farmers arrived in the Mediterranean during the Late Glacial period, about 13,000 years ago. Then during the Neolithic period, about 8,000 years ago, they spread from the Mediterranean to the rest of Europe. Martin and his team hope that new sources of ancient DNA from Greece and Italy will be found for additional testing. The climate there makes it difficult to recover ancient genetic material from human remains at archaeological sites, but technological developments may could improve the odds of success. For more on early European farmers, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

17th-Century Wampanoag Massasoit to be Reburied

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND—The Associated Press reports that the remains of Massasoit Ousamequin, the leader of the Wampanoag Nation who signed a long-lasting treaty with the Mayflower Pilgrims in 1621, will be reburied at his original Rhode Island gravesite overlooking Narragansett Bay. The cemetery was destroyed in the nineteenth century when a railroad was constructed through the site. Ousamequin’s remains and grave goods, including a pipe, knife, beads, and arrowheads, ended up in seven different museums. Ramona Peters, a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, coordinated the effort with members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, and the Assonet Band of Wampanoag, to recover Ousamequin’s remains and belongings, and of the others who had been buried in the same cemetery. “It is an honor and a privilege to be able to do this for our ancestors,” she said. For more on archaeology in Massachusetts, go to “Salem’s Lost Gallows.”

Archaeologists Investigate Eroding South Carolina Shell Mound

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—According to a report in The Post and Courier, a prehistoric shell mound on South Carolina’s Edisto Island is eroding rapidly due to recent damage from hurricanes and tropical storms. Some 100 years ago, the mound, which is made up primarily of oyster shells, was recorded to stand some 15 feet tall, while today only a three-foot portion of the mound remains. “We’re probably looking at a handful of months [before it’s gone],” explained archaeologist David Jones of South Carolina Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. While conducting salvage excavations earlier this spring, archaeologists from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology discovered a pit filled with shells in the heart of the mound, known as the Spanish Mount. “Maybe [the mound] started out as a trash pit and they continued to dump,” added dig leader Karen Smith. Her team recovered a whelk drilled with two holes from a layer of whelk shells thought to have been eaten at a feast. For more on archaeology in South Carolina, go to “A Bold Civil War Steamer.”

Thursday, April 13

Earliest Structures at Nea Paphos Unearthed

WARSAW, POLAND—Science & Scholarship in Poland reports that a team led by Henryk Meyza of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences has found fragments of 2,400-year-old walls and floors at the site of Nea Paphos in Cyprus. These features are thought to date to the founding of the city, which was located at a convenient harbor. “The relics of the first houses erected within a residential area are not impressive in terms of craftsmanship,” Meyza said. “The floors were made of clay. Only in later houses they were replaced with stone slabs or meticulously made mosaics.” The researchers were careful to look for the city’s earliest dwellings in places where they would not disturb the well-preserved remains of later buildings. To read about another discovery at Nea Paphos, go to “Artifact: Late Roman Amulet.”

Greco-Roman Artifacts Discovered in Alexandria

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, Mahmoud Afifi of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced that a collection of artifacts dating to the Hellenistic and Byzantine eras has been unearthed in the Babour El-Maya area of Alexandria. The artifacts include pots, coins, ovens, bones, and lamps. Excavators also found ruined buildings with black granite floors and plaster-covered limestone walls. The area had been slated for the construction of a residential building. To read more about Egypt, go to “Recovering Hidden Texts.”

Tools Found in Eastern Canada Older Than Previously Thought

NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA—Stone tools discovered near a fire pit on the shores of an ancient lake in eastern Canada have been dated to 12,700 years ago, or 700 years older than had been previously thought. According to a report in CBC News, some of the tools, used for working animal hides, making bone tools, and decorating, originated in Maine, indicating that the people using the tools traveled over a wide area, or obtained goods through trade networks. “There’s an awful lot of use of these tools,” added Brent Suttie of the Department of Tourism, Heritage, and Culture. He explained that the tools had been reshaped multiple times until they were no longer functional. The campsite will remain undeveloped, and the artifacts, housed in the provincial archaeological collections facility, will be “returned to First Nations at the time they request them,” Suttie said. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to “Franklin’s Last Voyage.”

Artifacts From Turkik Woman’s Grave Analyzed

KHOVD CITY, MONGOLIA—Researchers from the Khovd Museum and The Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia have been analyzing and conserving the remains of a Turkik woman and her grave goods excavated last year in the Altai Mountains. The Siberian Times reports that it had been thought that the woman died of a head injury in the sixth century A.D., but experts now say she lived in the tenth century. They are awaiting the results of radiocarbon dating and DNA testing. The woman was buried with more than 50 items, including a pair of leather boots decorated with red- and black-striped embroidery, a mirror and comb, an embroidered bag containing a sewing kit, a horse that had been sacrificed, a saddle, and four changes of clothing. A tar-like substance called shilajit, applied to the body, may have helped to preserve it. The woman’s body and the horse’s remains were also covered with felt. “As the grave was buried in a cool environment, fabric and the felt did not undergo a biological reaction,” said Galbadrakh Enkhbat, director of the Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia. “They appeared as if they had been used only yesterday.”

Sandstorm Uncovered Possible Archaeological Site in Iran

TEHRAN, IRAN—According to the Tehran Times, recent sandstorms have uncovered a structure in a possible archaeological site near the historic city of Fahraj in Iran’s Kerman Province. Mohammad Vafaei, director of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts Organization said that archaeologists will determine the site’s age, and whether it is a necropolis or a settlement. Law enforcement officers will protect the site while the investigation continues. For more on archaeology in Iran, go to “The Price of Plunder.”

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