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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, January 18

Curved Coins from the Iron Age Unearthed in Germany

BRANDENBURG, GERMANY—Live Science reports that Wolfgang Herkt, a volunteer with the Brandenburg State Heritage Management and Archaeological State Museum (BLDAM), discovered a cache of 41 Celtic coins in northeastern Germany, in an area where Celts did not live some 2,000 years ago. After Herkt found ten coins, he alerted researchers at the BLDAM, who recovered another 31. Such curved gold coins are called “rainbow cups,” referring to the popular legend of a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, explained numismatist Marjanko Pilekić of Goethe University. By comparing the imageless coins in the hoard with rainbow cups from other sites in southern Germany, Pilekić was able to date them to between 125 and 30 B.C. The coins are thought to have reached Brandenburg through trade networks and deposited all at once. “The find extends the distribution area of these coin types once again,” Pilekić said. To read about gold artifacts found in a Celtic coin cache, go to "Hidden in a Coin Hoard."

DNA Study Identifies Possible “Kunga” in Syria

PARIS, FRANCE—Science News reports that analysis of a genome obtained from a 4,500-year-old equine skeleton discovered in northern Syria’s royal burial complex at Umm el-Marra suggests the animal had a donkey for a mother and a hemippe, a type of Asiatic wild ass that went extinct in 1929, for a father. The resulting hybrid animal could be a kunga, a horselike animal mentioned in texts written on clay tablets and depicted in Sumerian artwork several hundred years before horses arrived in the region. Paleogeneticist Eva-Maria Geigl of Institut Jacques Monod explained that donkeys can be timid and the Asiatic wild ass was untamable, but a hybrid of the two could have been valuable in warfare and useful for pulling wagons. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. For more on kunga burials, go to "Mesopotamian War Memorial."

Volcanoes Help Scientists Date Early Human Fossil

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Gizmodo reports that a study of volcanic ash in southwestern Ethiopia has pushed back the age of the oldest-known modern human fossil, called Kibish Omo I, to at least 233,000 years old, or 36,000 years older than had been previously thought. “This is the best estimate we have at the moment, and it is congruent with the most recent models of human evolution, which place the emergence of our species—Homo sapiens—between 350,000 and 200,000 years ago,” said volcanologist Céline Vidal of the University of Cambridge. The fossil was discovered in 1967 at the Omo Kibish Formation, which is located within the more than 4,000 miles of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Vidal and her colleagues analyzed rocks from volcanic eruptions in the Rift Valley, and compared their chemical signatures to the composition of layers of volcanic ash at archaeological sites. The researchers were able to connect the six-foot layer of ash that covered the Omo I fossil to the eruption of a volcano some 250 miles away. “We identified the source of the ash to be a colossal eruption of Shala volcano, which occurred about 233,000 years ago,” she said. “This means that Omo I is older than 230,000 years.” Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature. To read about a 3.8-million-year-old hominin fossil uncovered in northern Ethiopia, go to "Artifact."

Prosperous Roman Trading Town Uncovered in England

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that traces of a Roman trading town, four wells, and a 30-foot-wide road for carts traveling to and from the town were uncovered in England’s East Midlands during archaeological investigations ahead of the construction of a high-speed train route. The site, which is situated near the River Cherwell, was an Iron Age village consisting of more than 30 roundhouses when the Romans invaded Britain in A.D. 43. “At its height, there would have been hundreds of people living in the town,” said archaeologist James West of MOLA Headland Infrastructure. Stone buildings were eventually constructed at the site, along with workshops and kilns in specialized industrial areas. Artifacts related to metalwork and the production of bread and pottery have also been uncovered. More than 300 Roman coins, scale weights, delicate jewelry, glass vessels, and fine pottery imported from Gaul are additional clues to the town’s prosperity, West explained. To read about the burial in the Midlands of a man who might have been a Roman slave, go to "Identifying the Unidentified."

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Friday, January 14

Museum Repatriates Smuggled Artifacts to Nepal

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—According to a New York Times report, the Rubin Museum of Art will repatriate to Nepal two wooden sculptures that were determined to have been smuggled from religious sites. The first is the upper section of a seventeenth-century wooden torana, or ornamental gateway, from the Yampi Mahavihara temple complex in Patan, which is located in the south-central Kathmandu Valley. The second, a fourteenth-century wooden carving of a female spirit, or apsara, bearing a garland, was part of an ornamental window at the Itum Bahal monastery in Kathmandu. Both objects had been purchased in private sales. “The proactive response and thoughtful collaboration from the Rubin have positively contributed to Nepal’s national efforts to recover the lost artifacts,” commented Bishnu Prasad Gautam, acting Consul General of Nepal. To read about an early Buddhist shrine in Nepal, go to "Buddhism, in the Beginning," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

4,000-Year-Old Game Board Discovered in Oman

WARSAW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that a 4,000-year-old game board has been discovered in the remains of a large building in northern Oman’s Qumayrah Valley by a team of researchers led by Piotr Bieliński of the University of Warsaw's Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology. The site, which is located near the village of Ayn Bani Saidah, was situated near the sea and along a trade route. “The board is not a luxury item,” Bieliński said. Its playing fields and cup holes had been “slightly clumsily” hewn into the stone, he explained. Evidence of copper processing, as recorded in cuneiform texts from Mesopotamia, was also found at the site. To read about 2,900-year-old bronze weapons uncovered in Oman, go to "Fit for a War God."

Mosaics Revealed at 6th-Century Christian Basilica in Turkey

HATAY, TURKEY—The Anadolu Agency reports that excavation of the site of a sixth-century basilica with three naves near Turkey’s southeastern coast has uncovered another mosaic. “There are peacocks and an inscription on the mosaic. And that shows heaven,” said Ayse Ersoy of the Hatay Archaeology Museum. With the inscription, a formerly enslaved person thanked God for freedom, she explained. Another inscription at the site revealed that the church was called the Church of the Three Apostles. Ersoy expects to find a large settlement in the area. To read about a fifth-century basilica found at the ancient city of Nicaea, go to "Sunken Byzantine Basilica."

Possible Roman Wooden Figure Found in England

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a wooden figure thought to have been carved during the Roman era based upon its style has been found in a waterlogged ditch in southeastern England ahead of the construction of a 150-mile-long high-speed train route. The figure’s feet and arms below the elbows have not survived. What remains measures about 26 inches long. The figure wears a knee-length tunic gathered at the waist, while its head appears to have been topped with a hat or styled hair. Another fragment of wood recovered from the ditch will be radiocarbon dated. To read about a copper alloy figurine unearthed at a Roman settlement in southeast England, go to "Mistaken Identity."

Thursday, January 13

Prehistoric Scavengers May Have Crafted Clovis Points

KENT, OHIO—Archaeologist Metin Eren of Kent State University suggests that Clovis points were more likely to have been used as knives to cut meat from already dead mammoths, or as dart tips to scare away other scavengers, than as weapons for killing such large animals, according to a Science News report. Using measurements taken from preserved Asian woolly mammoths and Columbian mammoths, Eren and his colleagues estimate that the layers of skin, fat, dense fur, and long outer hairs measured from seven to 12 inches for the woolly mammoth, and several inches less for a Columbian mammoth, which may not have had the thick layer of underfur. Eren notes that the animals’ internal organs were also protected by the bones of their rib cages. The researchers then shot replica Clovis points into clay blocks, and found that the Clovis points traveled an average of just seven inches through the material. Smaller points tended to travel deeper into the blocks than the larger ones, Eren explained, but their broad tips limited penetration. When the replica points were fired at oak boards, which are not as hard or dense as ribs, all but three points broke on the first shot. Yet broken points are not commonly found at presumed kill sites, Eren said. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. To read about a campsite used by hunters of the Clovis culture 13,000 years ago, go to "Around the World: Michigan."

Arrival of Millet in Mesopotamia Pushed Back 1,000 Years

NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY—According to a statement released by Rutgers University, evidence for the cultivation of broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) in the late second millennium B.C. has been found at the site of Khani Masi, which is located in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Environmental archaeologist Elise Laugier said the robust, quick-growing summer crop was first domesticated in East Asia, then spread through Eurasia. It had been previously thought that Mesopotamia’s farmers relied on wheat and barley, grown during the wetter winter months, and that millet was first grown in southwestern Asia in the late first millennium, when Mesopotamia’s imperial irrigation systems were first constructed. However, the newly found millet indicates that Mesopotamia’s local farmers created a resilient food system in their semi-arid ecosystem to support the growth of the burgeoning empire. To read about another recent Mesopotamian discovery, go to "Mesopotamian War Memorial."

Medieval Burial Vaults Uncovered in Bruges

BRUGES, BELGIUM—Flanders News reports that three painted burial vaults dated to the fourteenth century were discovered during construction work near the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, which is located near the center of the city. “These are fragile constructions, often consisting of brickwork,” said Nico Blontrock, culture alderman for Bruges. A special commission was established to remove the vaults from the ground and protect the paintings, he explained. “The paintings on a layer of plaster feature angels, crosses, and other Christian themes,” Blontrock said. The best preserved vault will be displayed in the church’s museum. To read about walls made of bone that were uncovered at the site of a medieval church in Ghent, Belgium, go to "If These Walls Could Talk."

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