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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, November 13

Coin Cache, Ovens Unearthed in Egypt

CRAWLEY, AUSTRALIA—Archaeologists from the University of Western Australia are part of an international team excavating Tell Timai, the remains of the Greco-Roman town of Thmuis in Egypt. Student Liesel Gentelli found a cache of 2,200-year-old coins that she thinks may have been placed under the building’s foundation as an offering. The 13 coins date to the reigns of Ptolemy II, III, and IV, suggesting that the building was constructed no later than 221 B.C. In another part of the site, archaeologist Sean Winter found a number of ovens that may have been part of an industrial-scale bakery or a tavern sometime around the first century. “Nowhere in the published literature can we find an equivalent number of ovens in the same place,” he told Phys.org. Food remains show that the people of Thmuis ate fish and shellfish from the Mediterranean, birds, and mammals. To read more about life in Egypt during this period, see "Documents Tell of Childhood in Roman Egypt."

Intact Macedonian Tomb Discovered in Northern Greece

VERGINA, GREECE—According to The Greek Reporter, an intact tomb dating to the fourth century B.C. has been discovered at the necropolis in Aigai in northern Greece. Archaeologist Angeliki Kottaridi, head of the excavation, found a gold-plated bronze vessel and a gold-plated bronze wreath among the tomb’s burial offerings. The krater, used for mixing wine and water, was found surrounded by pieces of wood that may have been a piece of furniture. The artifacts will become part of a new archaeology museum in Aigai. To read about Roman-era funeral rites in Macedonia, see "Burial Customs."

CT Scans Reveal Contents of Viking Hoard Pot

MELROSE, SCOTLAND—The Carolingian pot discovered in Dumfries and Galloway last September was given a CT scan at Borders General Hospital. The resulting image shows that the ninth-century pot contains at least 20 objects, including five silver brooches, gold ingots, and an ornate ivory beads coated in gold. The items had been wrapped in an organic material that may be leather. “Nothing else has been on my mind for two-and-a-half months than seeing what was inside the pot, and then seeing it, there was a rush of emotion and was incredibly exciting,” Derek McLennan told the Daily Mail. McLennan was investigating property belonging to the Church of Scotland with the Reverend Dr. David Bartholomew when he discovered the Viking treasures. To read about the initial discovery, see "Viking Hoard Discovered in Scotland."

Imported Glass in Japanese Tomb Identified

KASHIHARA, JAPAN—A dark blue dish and a clear painted bowl recovered together from a fifth-century tomb in Nara Prefecture are evidence of Japan’s far-reaching trade networks. The dish has been confirmed to have been imported from the Roman Empire. Its chemical composition, analyzed with a fluorescence X-ray device, is almost identical to Roman glasswork made in the second century or earlier in the Mediterranean region. The chemical composition of the painted glass bowl matches glass fragments unearthed at the palace in the ancient Persian capital of Ctesiphon. “Japan aggressively traded with other countries in the fifth century, and (the latest findings) show various elements were entering Japan at the time. Because the glass dish may have been transported via Central Asia, it is no wonder that there was a time lag (between its production and arrival in Japan),” Takashi Taniichi of Sanyo Gakuen University told The Asahi Shimbun.

Wednesday, November 12

How Does the Environment Shape the Development of Culture?

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Kathelinjne Koops of the University of Cambridge has written an opinion piece in Biology Letters that challenges the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. She and her colleagues have reviewed studies on tool use among chimpanzees, orangutans, and bearded capuchins, and have found that their tool use did not increase during times of scarcity. Rather, primates use tools when there are calorie-rich, hard-to-reach foods, such as nuts and honey, available in the environment. Understanding the development of tool use in our primate cousins could provide insights into the development of human culture and technology, Koops explained. “The local environment may exert a powerful influence on culture and may, in fact, be critical for understanding the occurrence and distribution of material culture,” she told Science Daily.

“Project Recover” Finds Two World War II Aircraft

NEWARK, DELAWARE—Last March, a team of researchers and volunteers found two planes that had crashed into the Pacific Ocean near the Republic of Palau during the fierce fighting of World War II. Eric Terrill of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Mark Moline of the University of Delaware were studying currents and making maps of the flow of water around the islands when they met Patrick Scannon, whose nonprofit group BentProp uses historical records and first-hand accounts to search for the remains of American service members, and which had already identified a downed Corsair fighter off Palau. Their combined efforts led to the discovery of an Avenger bomber that went down with two men and a F6F Hellcat. All of the information collected by Project Recover has been turned over to the U.S. Navy. “It was an exciting time, but also a solemn time because you know there are potentially servicemen still in the plane,” Moline said. To read about similar projects, see "The Archaeology of World War II."

Human Remains Recovered From Amphipolis Tomb

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—Greece’s Culture Ministry has announced the discovery of skeletal remains in the elaborate late fourth-century B.C. tomb at Amphipolis. “The tomb in all probability belongs to a male and a general,” chief archaeologist Katerina Peristeri told BBC News. Tests on the bones may reveal the age and sex of the occupant, whose body had been placed in a wooden coffin held together with bronze and iron nails. The coffin was then buried some five feet below the floor of the tomb’s third chamber. Bone and glass fragments in the grave were probably decorations on the casket. Archaeologists found some of the remains scattered in the chamber, confirming that the tomb had been plundered. To read about the search for Alexander the Great's Tomb, see "Searching for History's Greatest Rulers."

Tuesday, November 11

Pigments Could Help Scientists Date Cave Art

VALENCIA, SPAIN—A team of scientists from the University of Valencia and France’s National Center for Scientific Research has identified a new set of figures painted in black on the walls of the Remígia Cave in the Valltorta-Gassulla area of Spain, and analyzed how the pigments in the artworks were prepared. The pigments were tested on site with EDXRF—energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence, and microsamples were tested in the lab with electron microscopy. Most of the rock art in the Iberian Mediterranean Basin, known as Levantine art, is made with a red pigment from iron oxide. Red was also used to paint over some of the black images. White was sometimes used to complement the red. The black pigments in these new paintings were made from carbonized plant materials that could help the team date the artwork. “Up to now, these pigments were associated with the use of mineral components such as manganese oxides, but this study has made it possible, for the first time, to identify the use of carbonized plant material to produce the black pigments used in the Levantine paintings at Valltorta-Gassulla,” Clodoaldo Roldán of the University of Valencia told Science Daily. To read about another ancient pigment study, see "From Egyptian Blue to Infrared."

Vivid Murals Depict Daily Life in Ancient China

DATONG CITY, CHINA—Live Science reports that a circular tomb decorated with murals has been excavated in northern China. The 1,000-year-old tomb had been looted, and the name of its occupant has not survived, but a three-foot-tall statue of him was left behind. The figure, which may have been substituted for the body in the burial, is sitting cross-legged on a platform and smiling, wearing a long black robe. The tomb’s ceiling was decorated with bright red stars connected with straight lines to form constellations. Images on the walls depict attendants carrying fruit and drinks. A reclining deer, a crane, bamboo trees, and a turtle are also shown. Other animals in the paintings may have been pets of the deceased, described in the new journal Chinese Cultural Relics by a team from the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology as “a black and white cat with a red ribbon on its neck and a silk-strip ball in its mouth,” and “a black and white dog with a red ribbon on its neck and a curved tail.” To read about other archaeological depictions of dogs, see "More Than Man's Best Friend."

U.S. Museum Sends Artifacts Home to Peru

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—The United States Air Force transported human remains, ceramic vessels, necklaces, and a textile to the Peruvian Air Force base in Lima. All of the artifacts and remains, which had been housed at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington, were identified for repatriation under the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. “It’s been an honor to care for these collections. We are glad to help send these collections home to Peru,” Peter Lape, associate director of research and curator of archaeology at the Burke Museum, told The Daily. The staff at the museum found the three sets of Peruvian remains when they inventoried their collections to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. The museum and the Peruvian government then coordinated their efforts to identify the additional artifacts. 

Ice Age Infant Burials Discovered in Central Alaska

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—The remains of two infants buried more than 11,000 years ago have been found underneath a hearth where the cremated remains of a three-year old child were discovered earlier. The hearth is part of a residential structure at Upward Sun River, one of the oldest archaeological settlements in Alaska. Perhaps a set of twins, one of the infants died in utero, while the other lived for a few weeks. The radiocarbon dates for all three sets of remains are identical, suggesting that there was perhaps only a single season between the death of the infants and the death of the small child. The hearth also contained traces of salmon and ground squirrels, offering clues to the diet eaten by the inhabitants, and indicating that the burials took place during the summer months. Shaped stone points and antler shafts decorated with incised lines were included in the burials as grave offerings. The weapons are the earliest known examples of hafted biface technology in North America. “Taken collectively, these burials and cremation reflect complex behaviors related to death among the early inhabitants of North America,” Ben Potter of the University of Alaska Fairbanks told Science Daily. DNA analysis could reveal how the children were related to each other and who the people were who lived at Upward Sun River. To read more about the first people to reach the New World, see "America, in the Beginning."