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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, June 27

NPS Seeks Improved Experience at Mesa Verde

DURANGO, COLORADO—Rangers at Mesa Verde National Park are asking the public for ideas to relieve congestion and overcrowding at its most popular sights. “It is no secret Chapin Mesa gets overrun. The plan has always been to redirect visitors and traffic to Wetherill Mesa, but that has not worked out as well as we had hoped,” deputy superintendent Bill Nelligan told The Cortez Journal. For example, visitors may now prefer to walk, bicycle, or take a bus through the park, rather than drive pollution-producing private vehicles through its winding, narrow roadways. Heavy crowds also damage the kivas. “Improving opportunities like trails separate from the road, and more self-guided areas, so visitors have a sense of exploration and discovery is the goal of the plan,” he said.

Hatra Claimed by Iraqi Militants

BAGHDAD, IRAQ—The Islamic militants who have taken over northern Iraq have gained control of the third-century B.C. Temple of Mrn at Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple, dedicated to the god Shamash, had been protected by a squad of 20 Iraqi policemen, but they reportedly fled when the area fell to tribal militants and Isis fighters. “Currently there is no one protecting the temple at all, and it is in control of the rebels. I am concerned about its safety, although I am also worried about government forces doing bombing,” councilor Mohammed Abdallah Khozal told The Telegraph. The site gained notoriety as a location in the opening scene of the 1973 film The Exorcist

Thursday, June 26

Archaeologists Search for Chapel at Scotland’s Bridgend Farm

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—A medieval floor tile and a circular, stone-lined well have been unearthed at Scotland’s Bridgend Farm. Archaeologists from Rubicon Heritage Services and a team of volunteers are looking for the remains of a sixteenth-century chapel built by Sir Simon Preston. “The excavations unearthed clues which prove there was activity in the area at the time the chapel was constructed and in use,” a spokesperson told Culture 24. The floor tile is from a high-status building. The well and pottery from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are thought to predate the chapel. 

Evidence Suggests That the Neanderthal Diet Included Vegetables

  CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—Neanderthals in Europe cooked and ate plants some 50,000 years ago, according to an analysis of fossilized fecal material recovered at the Neanderthal occupation site El Salt in southern Spain. Science reports that Ainara Sistiaga of the University of La Laguna in Tenerife and geobiologist Roger Summons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used technology that detects fecal matter in drinking water to test five locations at El Salt. They found the chemical byproducts created by the digestion of meats, and levels of plant sterols that “unambiguously record the ingestion of plants.” Butchered bones and hunting tools, and analysis of the levels of carbon, nitrogen, and other chemicals in Neanderthal bones, have given scientists clues to the meat in the Neanderthal diet. And recent studies of plaque from Neanderthal teeth found in Iraq and Belgium shows that they ate starchy foods in porridge form. Sistiaga says that this is the first direct evidence that Neanderthals ate and digested plants. Critics would like conclusive evidence that the feces came from Neanderthals, however.  

Wednesday, June 25

Egyptologist Locates King Cambyses’s “Missing” Army

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Egyptologist Olaf Kaper of Leiden University has deciphered the full list of the titles of Pharaoh Petubastis III carved on ancient temple blocks at Amheida in Egypt’s Dachla Oasis. He realized that they held the answer to the mysterious disappearance of King Cambyses and 50,000 Persian troops in the Egyptian desert ca. 534 B.C.—the Greek historian Herodotus suggested that the army had been swallowed by a sand storm. “Since the nineteenth century, people have been looking for this army: amateurs, but also professional archaeologists. Some expect to find somewhere under the ground an entire army, fully equipped,” he told Science Daily. Kaper thinks that the Persian army was defeated by the Egyptian rebel leader Petubastis III at the Dachla Oasis, and that the Persian King Darius I covered up the defeat when he ended the Egyptian revolt two years later. “The temple blocks indicate that this must have been a stronghold at the start of the Persian period. Once we combined this with the limited information we had about Petubastis III, the excavation site and the story of Herodotus, we were able to reconstruct what happened.” 

Chariots Discovered in Early Bronze Age Burial

  BASEL, SWITZERLAND—Zurab Makharadze, head of the Center of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, announced the discovery of a timber burial chamber containing two four-wheeled, oxen-pulled chariots at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East at the University of Basel. The burial, which contained the remains of seven individuals, was found in a kurgan in the south Caucasus. “One of them was a chief and others should be the members of his family, sacrificed slaves or servants,” Makharadze told Live Science. Ornamented clay and wooden vessels, flint and obsidian arrowheads, leather and textiles, a wooden armchair, carnelian and amber beads, and 23 gold items were also recovered from the 4,000-year-old burial. “The purpose of the wooden armchair was the indication to power, and it was put in the kurgan as a symbol of power,” Makharadze explained.  

Well-Preserved Quipus Found in Inca Warehouses

LIMA, PERU—Twenty-five well-preserved quipus, made of multiple knotted wool and cotton strings of different colors, were discovered at the archaeological complex of Incahuasi in Peru’s Lunahuana Valley. Quipus, which are thought to have been used for record keeping, are usually found in a funerary context, but this collection was unearthed in warehouses, or kallancas. This is “what makes us believe they were used for administrative purposes,” archaeologist Alejandro Chu, who is in charge of the site, told Peru This Week.

Spain Returns Seized Artifacts to Colombia

MADRID, SPAIN—Reuters reports that Spain has returned 691 artifacts to Colombia, including 3,000-year-old ceramics, busts, sculptures, and jewelry, which were seized in 2003 in a drug-trafficking, money-laundering case. The items had been held at Madrid’s Museum of America until Colombia petitioned Spain’s High Court for their repatriation. “In addition to economic value, the pieces’ greatest value comes from their roots, which is an expression of history itself, of culture and of every nation’s soul,” Police General Director Ignacio Cosido said at a ceremony at the museum, where the artifacts were handed over to Colombian officials. The remaining three hundred seized artifacts will remain at the museum while Spanish officials determine where they belong.