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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, January 03

19th-Century Potato Blight Analyzed

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA—Live Science reports that scientists from North Carolina State University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Museum have conducted a genetic study of Phytophthora infestans, the potato blight that wiped out potato crops in Ireland and Europe in the 1840s. The team of researchers analyzed nuclear genomes and mitochondrial genomes of 183 modern and historic potato blight samples from Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, and the United States, and found that the strain that caused the devastating blight probably originated in South America, and then through potato shipments and the seed trade, traveled to the United States and then on to Europe. The strain, known as FAM-1, remained the dominant strain of potato blight into the early twentieth century. To read about archaeology in Ireland, go to “Samhain Revival.”

Crushed Murex Shells Unearthed at Ancient Paphos

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—The Famagusta Gazette reports that a team of researchers from the University of Cyprus has unearthed an ancient rampart with two staircases and watchtowers at the ancient city of Paphos. The sixth-century B.C. rampart was found on the plateau of Hadjiabdoulla, where a palace and storage and industrial facilities were in use until the end of the fourth century B.C. Traces of olives, grapes, and wheat have been found in the complex. Additional samples have been taken for micro-morphological studies and the possible identification of additional crops. The team also found a thick layer of crushed murex shells on the floor of one of the storage rooms. Team leader Maria Iacovou noted that this is the first time that archaeological evidence for the production of the highly valued purple dye from murex shells has been found in Cyprus. To read about another archaeological discovery on Cyprus, go to “And They’re Off!

Rock Art Discovered in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a group of recreational cavers discovered rock art carved into the limestone walls of an ancient cistern near an unnamed archaeological site located in south-central Israel. The images include a three-footed menorah with seven branches, a cross, and a key. Archaeologist Sa’ar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority examined the patina-covered engravings and thinks the menorah was carved sometime during the Second Temple period, between 530 B.C. and A.D. 70. Niches, carved into walls alongside the cistern, may have been used for raising doves for temple use at this time. The cross is thought to date to the fourth century A.D. Ganor explained that the settlement near the cistern dates to the late Roman and Byzantine periods. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Sun and Moon.”

Friday, December 30

“Ancient” Standing Stones May Commemorate Medieval Victory

STIRLING, SCOTLAND—The Herald Scotland reports that archaeologist Murray Cook obtained radiocarbon dates for the foundation of one of two stones that stand near the entrance to the Police Scotland Central Division headquarters. It had been thought that the stones were erected some 3,000 years ago and served as a landmark during the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn. “The date that came up is contemporary with the battle,” Cook said. He now thinks the stones might have been erected to mark the spot where Sir Thomas Randolph, a commander in Robert the Bruce’s army, defeated 300 English cavalry on the first day of the battle for Scottish independence. Randolph’s victory prevented Edward II’s attempt to relieve the siege of English forces holding Stirling Castle. To read more about archaeology in Scotland, go to "Living on the Edge."

New Thoughts on Japan’s Inariyama Burial Mound

GYODA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that Motoyuki Sato of Tohoku University and researchers from the Museum of the Sakitama Ancient Burial Mounds used radar technology to study the round section of the key-hole shaped Inariyama burial mound. An excavation at the late-fifth-century site in 1968 uncovered a sword blade bearing an inscription that refers to King Wakatakeru in a chamber made of small rocks in the center of the mound. A bronze mirror, military artifacts, and pieces of horse harnesses were also found, but no human remains were recovered. It had been thought that King Wakatakeru, who is mentioned in Japanese histories, owned the sword, and that he had been buried in one of the small chambers found near the weapon. But the new study has detected another chamber, deeper underground, which may be an earlier burial site. The scholars suggest that the individual who had been buried in the newly found chamber may have owned the sword, while the smaller chambers may have been added for later generations. To read more about archaeology in Japan, go to "Kublai Khan Fleet."

Thursday, December 29

Ground-Penetrating Radar Raises Questions in Southern England

HARPENDEN, ENGLAND—The Herts Advertiser reports that archaeology student Alexander Thomas of Bristol University conducted a ground-penetrating radar survey on farmland scheduled for the construction of a new school building. Thomas says he has found “strong anomalies consistent with a large rectangular building constructed of brick or stone,” and chalk extraction pits. Historical records of the area from the medieval period through the nineteenth century note farm and mill buildings at the site, but not in the same spot as the anomaly, which he thinks could represent a large Roman industrial site and mining activity. Kris Lockyear of University College London points out, however, that no pottery, bricks, or roofing tiles have been found on the surface. “The pits are perfectly ordinary chalk pits which are dotted all over the Hertfordshire countryside used to extract chalk for marling, not for any industrial process,” Lockyear said. Archaeological fieldwork is planned before construction begins. For more, go to “A Villa under the Garden.”

Vietnam’s Kinh Thien Palace Investigated

HANOI, VIETNAM—Vietnamnet reports that archaeologists in northern Vietnam have investigated the site of the Kinh Thien Palace, which is located inside the eleventh-century Thang Long Royal Citadel. The final palace at the site was built in the fifteenth century, and was torn down by the French in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The researchers uncovered traces of several earlier palaces that stood on the site as early has the eighth century A.D. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Excavation Reveals Traces of 17th-C. Fortress in Japan

OSAKA, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that traces of Sanada Maru fortress have been found at Osaka Castle, located on the southern end of the island of Honshu. The fortress was built by warlord Sanada Nobushige during the Winter Campaign of the Siege of Osaka in 1614, and helped the Toyotomi clan repel the armies of the Tokugawa Shogunate, who eventually brought in artillery and dug under the fort’s walls. The fort was destroyed, and the moat at Osaka Castle was filled in after the Shogunate forces won the battle. Sanada Maru “may have been larger than previously assumed,” said Yoshihiro Senda of Nara University. The topography of the site suggests that the fort was rectangular in shape, and measured 380 by 330 yards. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

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