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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, December 30

Two Large Buildings Discovered in Agora at Nea Paphos

KRAKOW, POLAND—Traces of two large public buildings have been found in Nea Paphos, an ancient city founded in Cyprus at the end of the fourth century B.C. “One of them was probably a temple, the other probably served as a warehouse. Both were very well built,” Ewdoksia Papuci-Wladyka of Jagiellonian University told Science & Scholarship in Poland. The buildings are in the city’s agora, or central gathering place. An ancient well was found at its eastern entrance. “When the well was no longer in use, it served as the trash: it was mainly filled with broken vessels and kitchenware. Inside we also found fragments of statues and coins,” she said. The vessels, many decorated with red, glossy surface slips, date to the Hellenistic period. “They testify to the wealth of the residents of Paphos.” For more on the archaeology of ancient Greek agoras, see "Attention Shoppers."

Remains May Be Irish Children Who Died in Wreck of Coffin Ship

MONTREAL, CANADA—Human bones eroded and recovered from a beach on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula have been described as three European children suffering from malnutrition. Parks Canada archaeologists think the children may have died in the 1847 wreck of the Carricks, a ship carrying immigrants fleeing the famine in Ireland. An estimated 100 bodies washed ashore after the ship sank in a violent storm and were buried in a mass grave thought to be located in the area where the bones were found. Two of the children were between the ages of seven and nine. The third child was between 11 or 12 years of age. One of the children suffered from rickets, a condition caused by vitamin D deficiency. Analysis of tooth enamel indicates that the children ate a plant-based diet in Europe. A button from the site has also been traced to nineteenth-century Europe. “They are witnesses to a tragic event. You can’t have a more tangible witness to tragedy than human remains,” Parks Canada archaeologist Pierre Cloutier told The Globe and Mail. To read about another discovery dating to the era of the Great Famine, see "Mass Graves Found at Irish Prison Site."

Large Underground City Discovered in Turkey

NEVŞEHIR, TURKEY—An underground city estimated to be 5,000 years old has been discovered in Turkey’s Central Anatolian province, surrounding Nevşehir fortress, which sits on a conical-shaped hill. The area was being prepared by the Housing Development Administration (TOKİ) for an urban transformation project. “It is not a known underground city. Tunnel passages of seven kilometers are being discussed. We stopped the construction we were planning to do on these areas when an underground city was discovered,” TOKİ Head Mehmet Ergün Turan told Hurriyet Daily News. This city is thought to be much larger than other underground cities in the region. “We believe that people, who were engaged in agriculture, were using the tunnels to carry agricultural products to the city. We also estimate that one of the tunnels passes under Nevşehir and reaches a faraway water source,” said Özcan Çakir of 18 March University. To read about the spectacular remains of a Hellenistic and Roman-era city in central Turkey, see "Zeugma After the Flood."

Monday, December 29

Belize’s Blue Hole Yields Evidence of Drought in Maya World

HOUSTON, TEXAS—New evidence from Belize’s Great Blue Hole strengthens the case that drought contributed to the collapse of Maya civilization. Earth scientist André Droxler of Rice University and his team drilled cores from the sediments of the Great Blue Hole, located near the center of Lighthouse Reef. “It’s like a big bucket. It’s a sediment trap,” Droxler told Live Science. The team also collected samples from Romboid Reef and analyzed their chemical composition, especially the ratio of titanium to aluminum. When rain is plentiful, titanium from volcanic rocks in the region is swept into streams and carried to the ocean. Low levels of titanium to aluminum suggest a period with less rainfall. Droxler’s team found that between A.D. 800 and 1000, when Maya civilization collapsed, there were only one or two tropical cyclones every two decades, rather than the usual five or six big storms. According to the new results, another major drought struck between 1000 and 1100, about the time of the fall of Chichen Itza. “When you have major droughts, you start to get famines and unrest,” Droxler explained. To read about a similar study, see "Long-Term Drought May Have Led to Fall of Harappan Civilization."

Poor Sanitary Conditions Found at Celtic Site

BASEL, SWITZERLAND—The eggs of roundworms, whipworms, and liver flukes have been identified in coprolite samples from the Basel-Gasfabrik site, a Celtic settlement in Central Europe that dates to 100 B.C., using new geoarchaeological methods. Micromorphological thin sections, which enable the parasite eggs to be captured directly in their original settings, were prepared from soil samples embedded in synthetic resin, rather than by wet sieving of the soil samples. The researchers from the University of Basel found that some individuals had more than one parasite. They were also able to determine that human and animal waste may have been used as a fertilizer, and that humans and animals lived in close contact. For a similar discovery, see "6,000-Year-Old Human Parasite Egg Discovered in Syria."

Friday, December 26

Possible Roman-Era Synagogue Unearthed in Israel

MAGDALA, ISRAEL—Excavations on the shore of the Sea of Galilee have revealed a large public structure outfitted with elaborate columns that suggest it could have been a synagogue dating to the Roman period. "So far, we have not found another use that could have been made of the structure besides a synagogue," Bar-Ilan University archaeologist Michael Osband told Y Net News. "The structure joins a very limited list of rural synagogues dated to the Roman period that have been uncovered so far." Abandoned sometime after the middle of the fourth century A.D., the building is still being excavated. Osband and his team hope further digging at the site will shed light on when it was occupied. To read about a spectacular discovery at another synagogue in Israel, see “Mosaics of Huqoq.”