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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, August 02

DNA Study Traces Greek Ancestry

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—Science Magazine reports that researchers led by Iosif Lazaridis of Harvard University and George Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington studied the genomes of ancient Greeks; Mycenaeans, who lived in mainland Greece between 1600 and 1200 B.C.; and Minoans, who lived on the island of Crete between 2600 and 1400 B.C., in order to study the origins of modern Greeks. DNA was extracted from the teeth of ten Minoans, four Mycenaeans, and five people from early farming or Bronze Age sites in Greece and Turkey. The samples were then compared to the genomes of more than 300 ancient people from around the world and 30 modern Greeks. The study suggests that the ancient Minoans and Myceaneans, who were closely related to each other, received most of their DNA from early farmers who lived in Greece and southwestern Anatolia, and some DNA from people from the eastern Caucasus. Mycenaeans also possessed DNA from a second wave of migrants from Eastern Europe or Siberia. But little DNA has been introduced to the Greek population from later migrations, the study concludes. This is “particularly striking given that the Aegean has been a crossroads of civilization for thousands of years,” Stamatoyannopoulos said. For more, go to “A Surprise City in Thessaly.”

Luxury Roman Homes Found in Southern France

VIENNE, FRANCE—Agence France-Presse reports that an entire first-century A.D. Roman neighborhood of luxury homes and public buildings has been found on the banks of the Rhone River in southeastern France. The neighborhood is thought to have been occupied for about 300 years and then abandoned after a series of fires. Fire damaged the first floor, roof, and balcony of one structure, called the Bacchanalian House for its mosaic floor depicting a procession of maenads and satyrs. But other parts of the house, such as balustrades, tiles, gardens, and the water supply system survived. “We will be able to restore this house from the floor to the ceiling,” said archaeologist Benjamin Clement. Another house contained a mosaic depicting the kidnapping of Thalia, patron of comedy, by Pan, the god of the satyrs. A public building, perhaps a school, with a fountain featuring a statue of Hercules, was found in the market area. The 75,000-square-foot site is located near the ancient Roman city of Vienne, which was on the route connecting northern Gaul and the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis to the south. For more, go to “France’s Roman Heritage.”

Construction Project Reveals Antwerp’s 16th-Century City Walls

ANTWERP, BELGIUM—A sixteenth-century fortification wall measuring 20 feet tall and the pillars of a city gate were uncovered during a construction project in Antwerp, according to a Reuters report. Archaeologist Femke Martens explained that the wall also served as a channel for water into the city’s breweries. Parts of the monumental wall will be integrated into the design for the new tramway and plaza that will be built on the site. The rest will be recovered and preserved before a new road is built. For more on archaeology in Belgium, go to “The Blood of the King.”

Medieval Artwork Uncovered in Coptic Monastery

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that frescoes and architectural elements of a medieval church have been uncovered at the Monastery of St. Bishoy by restorers who removed a modern layer of mortar from its walls. Coptic inscriptions were found below the paintings of saints and angels, which date to between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. One painting on the western wall of the church depicts a woman named Refka and her five sons, who were martyred. The team also uncovered the church’s ambon, a structure from which Christian scriptures were read. It was made of mud-brick covered with a layer of mortar and decorated with a red cross. Mohamed Abdellatif, deputy antiquities minister for Egypt’s archaeological sites, said a review of historic documents revealed the church had been remodeled in A.D. 840, during the Abbasid era, and again in 1069, during the Fatimid caliphate. For more, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

Tuesday, August 01

Archaeological Sites Found Near Saudi Arabia’s Ancient Lakes

LONDON, ENGLAND—According to a report in Live Science, a team led by landscape archaeologist Paul Breeze of King’s College London used high-resolution satellite imagery, aerial imagery, and geological maps to identify 46 archaeological sites beside ancient lakes in Saudi Arabia’s western Nefud Desert. Their research suggests that hominins migrating out of Africa may have traveled further into Arabia than had been previously thought. Breeze and his team traveled to some of the sites, where they took sediment samples of the lake beds, many of which are thought to have been situated in basins between sand dunes. They also found tools dating to the Lower Paleolithic period, between 1.8 million and 250,000 years ago. At that time, the region experienced repeated phases of wetter climate, and therefore supported more vegetation and wildlife than it does today. “Based on the geological record, we would expect some level of greening of Arabia to happen once more in the future,” said Breeze, “although likely not in the near future, and it is unclear how human influence on the climate might affect this.” For more, go to “Fact-Checking Lawrence of Arabia.”

18th-Century London Burial Thwarted Grave Robbers

LONDON, ENGLAND—Newsweek reports that an excavation team from the Museum of London Archaeology found a sand-filled coffin covered with heavy stones among the 25,000 graves in the New Churchyard, also known as the Bedlam Burial Ground, in the center of London. Archaeologist Robert Hartle explained that the sand and stones may have been intended to thwart body snatchers. The unusual sand-filled coffin dates to between 1720 and 1739—a time when bodies were sold illicitly to anatomy students for dissection. Hartle added that archaeological evidence of body snatching is extremely rare. To read in-depth about the illicit trade in dead bodies, go to “Haunt of the Resurrection Men.”

Statue Discovered at Angkor Thom

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—According to a report in The Cambodia Daily, archaeologists from the Apsara Authority discovered a sandstone statue of a guard near the northern entrance of the walled city of Angkor Thom. The statue is now missing its feet and parts of its legs, but is thought to have stood more than six feet tall on the grounds of a hospital built by King Jayavarman VII during the twelfth century. “The hospital consisted of wooden buildings and a chapel erected in stones,” said Tan Boun Suy, deputy director-general of the Apsara Authority. “What is left is the chapel…as wooden structures have long disappeared.” The team has also recovered a piece of another statue as well as roof tiles and ceramics. Rethy Chhem of the Cambodia Development Resource Institute added that Jayavarman VII placed hospitals at each of the four cardinal points of Angkor Thom. Each of those hospitals was equipped with two Buddhist shrines. For more, go to “Angkor Urban Sprawl.”

Monday, July 31

Sealskin Processing Site Investigated in Newfoundland

PORT AU CHOIX, NEWFOUNDLAND—Patricia Wells of the Port au Choix Archaeology Project and her team are exploring a now-waterlogged campsite occupied by the Groswater people sometime between 2,800 and 2,000 years ago, according to a report in the Northern Pen. So far they have uncovered stone tools thought to have been used for processing sealskins, and they have taken a sediment core from nearby Bass Pond. “We hope to assess whether the Groswater had any impact on the pond ecology, and look into the long ecological history of the region as a whole,” Wells said. Wells explains that the Groswater people probably did not use the site as a base camp for hunting, however, because there’s no view of the ocean and no place to land game on the shore. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to “Standing Still in Beringia?

2,500-Year-Old Sarcophagus Found in Turkey

BALIKESIR PROVINCE, TURKEY—A sarcophagus containing the skeletal remains of two people has been found at the ancient Greek city of Antandrus, which is located in northwestern Turkey, according to a report in the Daily Sabah. Gürcan Polat of Ege University said the sarcophagus dates to the fifth century B.C. “The bones probably belonged to people from the same family,” Polat added. The excavation also uncovered an imported bowl, two amphoras, and two strigils, tools used to scrape sweat and dirt from the skin. To read about another recent discovery in Turkey, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

16th-Century Crypt Discovered in New World’s First Cathedral

SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC—According to a report in El País, a brick vault that could hold the remains of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo has been found at the Basilica Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the first cathedral built in the Americas. Oviedo wrote Summary of the Natural History of the Indies, the first account of the New World, and served as governor of the fortress of Santo Domingo from 1532 until his death in 1557. “We know that up to middle of the sixteenth century there was an altar dedicated to Santa Lucía built on Oviedo’s instructions, and that right underneath he ordered a vault to be constructed, where he was buried,” said Esteban Prieto Vicioso, head of the conservation project at the cathedral. Christopher Columbus had also been buried at the cathedral for a time, but his body was later moved. Prieto Vicioso explained that there is no documentary evidence that Oviedo’s body was ever exhumed, however. The restoration team plans to open the crypt, which, in addition to Oviedo’s remains, might hold an iron key to the fortress of Santo Domingo. A head injury received during a knife fight could help Prieto Vicioso’s team identify Oviedo’s remains. For more on archaeology in the Caribbean, go to “Finding Lost African Homelands.”

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