Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, June 02

10,000-Year-Old Rice Discovered in China

SHANGSHAN, CHINA—According to a report in The Atlantic, a team in China has radiocarbon-dated rice phytoliths from the lower reaches of the Yangtze River to nearly 10,000 years ago. Poor preservation at the Shangshan site makes it unclear whether the earliest microscopic pieces of silica came from domesticated, wild, or transitional rice plants, but the grains are thought to have been small, thin, and easily scattered. Archaeologists have also found imprints of rice husks on pieces of pottery, in addition to stone tools that could have been used for milling. The scientists note that the surface patterns on the phytoliths changed over time. The markings on the youngest samples resemble those found on more modern, domesticated rice phytoliths. For more on archaeology in China, go to “World's Oldest Pants.”

Late Roman Gold Coins Unearthed in The Netherlands

NIJMEGEN, THE NETHERLANDS—Dutch News reports that a hoard of gold coins was unearthed in an orchard in the central eastern Netherlands. Some of the coins bear the image of Majorian, one of the last rulers of the Roman Empire. Archaeologist Nico Roymans of Vrije University thinks the coins may have been buried in the second half of the fifth century A.D. by a Frankish military leader who had been paid by the Romans for help with local Germanic tribes. Maps of the area dating to the nineteenth century show a burial mound at the spot where the coins were found. “The burial mound would have been easy to find in the late Roman era and maybe that was the reason for hiding the treasure there,” Roymans said. The coins will go on display at Valkhof Museum. For more, go to “Hoards of the Vikings.”

Lost Egyptian Artifact Found in Michigan

BERLIN, GERMANY—Live Science reports that an Egyptian artifact lost during World War II has been found in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor by Dutch Egyptologist Nico Staring. The faience-covered carving, which had been purchased from an English collection in 1910, was hidden in a sarcophagus in Berlin’s Neues Museum at the beginning of the war. The museum, however, went on to be heavily damaged by Allied bombers. According to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the artifact was acquired from a private collector in 1945 by Dutch-American physicist Samuel Abraham Goudsmit, who was in charge of investigating Germany’s nuclear weapon program during the war. Goudsmit eventually donated the carving, which depicts Ptahmose, the mayor of Memphis during the reign of Ramesses II, worshipping Osiris and Isis, to the Kelsey Museum. Upon learning the history of the artifact, officials at the Kelsey Museum decided to return it to Berlin, where it will go on display at the Neues Museum, which reopened in 2009. For more on Egypt, go to “The Great Parallelogram.”

Thursday, June 01

Cancer Identified in 700-Year-Old Bones From Panama

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA—According to a report in Smithsonian Magazine, bioarchaeologist Nicole Smith-Guzmán of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute found evidence of bone cancer in 700-year-old skeletal remains stored since they were unearthed at a village site in Bocas del Toro more than 40 years ago by archaeologist Olga Linares. At the time, Linares wrote that she had found the remains of a “diseased individual,” who had been discarded in a trash midden. Smith-Guzmán says that radiocarbon dating has shown that the bones belonged to a teenager who had been carefully buried in the midden with ceramic vessels and a shell trumpet after the village had been abandoned. The teen would have had a swollen upper right arm from the sarcoma, but Smith-Guzmán and pediatric oncologist Jeffrey Torestsky of Georgetown University say that it was probably not the cause of his or her death. Smith-Guzmán also explained that the shells in the midden helped to preserve the bones, and the rare evidence of cancer, from the region’s acidic soil. For more on the identification of incidents of cancer in the archaeological record, go to "Ancient Oncology."

Cat Print Found on Roman Roof Tile in England

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—A cat’s paw print has been found on a piece of Roman roof tile dating to the first century A.D. in the East of England. Lincolnshire Live reports that the tile was uncovered during the excavation of a Roman town in the path of a new highway. Most of the town’s buildings would have been constructed with timber and thatch, but tiles would have been made on site for the construction of the homes of wealthy Romans. A cat, possibly wild or domesticated, must have walked across this tile while it had been drying outside before it was fired in a kiln. Deer and dog prints have also been found on tiles recovered during the new road construction project. To read more about animal prints in Roman Britain, go to "They're Just Like Us."

Ten Late Period Tombs Discovered in Aswan

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that ten rock-hewn tombs have been discovered on Aswan’s west bank by a team of researchers from Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities who had been studying the nearby Agha Kahn mausoleum. The tombs, which date to the Late Period (664‒332 B.C.), are similar to each other. They feature sliding steps leading to an entrance, followed by a small burial chamber. Stone sarcophagi, mummies, and funerary artifacts have been found in the tombs' chambers. The scientists will return to the tombs in the fall for further excavation. For more, go to “Egypt’s Immigrant Elite.”

Wednesday, May 31

Grave in Portugal Yields Bony Tumor

COIMBRA, PORTUGAL—A calcified ovarian tumor measuring just under two inches wide was found by archaeologists in the abdominal cavity of a woman buried at the historic Church and Convent of Carmo in Lisbon. According to a report in Live Science, the cemetery at the site was in use between the fifteenth century and 1755, when an earthquake destroyed the church. The woman was at least 45 years old at the time of her death. Such ovarian cysts, which grow from cells that would normally become eggs, can produce teeth, hair, and bones, and can grow large enough to cause severe pain. But Sofia Wasterlain of the University of Coimbra said it is not possible to tell how this teratoma impacted the woman’s life. Wasterlain added that she did not find any damage to the woman’s skeleton from the bony growth. For more, go to “Off the Grid: Côa Valley, Portugal.”

Mass Grave Dating to the Thirty Years’ War Excavated

SAXONY-ANHALT, GERMANY—Live Science reports that bioarchaeologists have analyzed 47 skeletons of soldiers killed during the Battle of Lützen, fought on November 16, 1632, by Protestant forces led by Swedish King Gustav II Adolf, and the Holy Roman Empire’s army led by General Albrecht von Wallenstein. These soldiers were among the 9,000 killed during the battle and buried in mass graves. This grave was removed from the site in a giant block of soil for excavation in a lab. A team led by Nicole Nicklisch of the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt found that most of the men, who are thought to represent both sides of the battle, went into the fight with prior injuries. Some of the fresh injuries were caused by bladed weapons, but more than half of the soldiers had been wounded by gunfire. Historic records indicate that the imperial cavalry may have been carrying pistols, muskets, and carbines. Unfired lead bullets in the oral cavities of some of the skeletons could reflect the practice of holding bullets in the mouth for quick reloading. The scholars also note that few artifacts were found in the mass grave. They think the local people who were left to bury the dead probably took objects of value from the bodies. For more on archaeology in Germany, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.”

Roman Bath Uncovered in Southeast England

CHICHESTER, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that the remains of a private Roman bathhouse have been uncovered in Chichester’s Priory Park by a team of archaeologists and volunteers. The outlines of three buildings were first detected by ground-penetrating radar at the site last year. So far, the team has unearthed the hot room and its hypocaust, where heat was produced under the floor of the hot room. Archaeologist James Kenny explained that the suite of bathrooms was probably attached to a house in an affluent area on the edge of the Roman city. “Only someone who was incredibly wealthy could have owned a bath house like this and paid for it to be maintained,” he explained. Kenny thinks the site dates to the third or fourth century A.D. For more on Roman Britain, go to “London’s Earliest Writing.”

Laser Cleaning Reveals Catacomb’s Frescoes

ROME, ITALY—The Telegraph reports that 1,600-year-old frescoes in the Catacomb of St. Domitilla, the oldest and largest catacomb in Rome, have been cleaned with laser technology. The lasers used different wavelengths of light to burn away a thick layer of calcium deposits, algae, and smoke from oil lamps without damaging the colors of the frescoes. “Until recently, we weren’t able to carry out this sort of restoration—if we had done it manually we would have risked destroying the frescoes,” said project leader Barbara Mazzei. The frescoes were painted on the ceilings of two crypts built for wealthy imperial grain merchants. Some of the images record how grain arrived at the Roman port of Ostia, where it was transferred to boats that traveled the Tiber River to warehouses in the capital. Other paintings include pagan symbols for the seasons and the afterlife, and images Christ. For more, go to “Rome's Imperial Port.”