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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, January 26

Village Dated to First Bulgarian Empire Discovered

GRADISHTE, BULGARIA—A previously unknown village dated to the ninth century A.D. was discovered in northeastern Bulgaria by a team of researchers led by Stanislav Ivanov of the Shumen Branch of Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, according to an Archaeology in Bulgaria report. The site, which is situated in the path of a planned highway, consists of some 80 dugout dwellings constructed during the time of the First Bulgarian Empire. During this period, the people of the empire converted to Christianity and adopted the Bulgaric alphabet. The rescue excavation will offer researchers information about the lives of villagers during this turbulent time. For more on Bulgarian archaeology, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Storm Revealed 17th-Century Seawall in Southern England

PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND—A wall and a slipway for launching boats into the water were revealed last month during a storm off England’s southeastern coast, according to a report in The News. Alex Godden of Wessex Archaeology said that mortar from the structure has been dated to the late seventeenth century, when the defenses for the city of Portsmouth were redesigned. “The possible slipway may have originally flanked a series of steps to allow access from the defenses on to the beach, while the wall’s irregular construction indicates that it was never meant to be seen, unlike the actual defenses themselves,” he explained. The plans for a new seawall will be altered to preserve the remains of the historic structure. To read about the shipwrecks of Mary Rose and Vasa, which were raised for display in Portsmouth, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks..."

350,000-Year-Old Rubbing Tool Tested

HAIFA, ISRAEL—According to a Science News report, Ron Shimelmitz of the University of Haifa suggests that an artifact unearthed in Israel’s Tabun Cave in the 1960s is a 350,000-year-old tool for grinding and rubbing hides or plants. Shimelmitz and his colleagues found microscopic signs of wear and polish on the stone tool and compared them to marks they made on nine similar stones collected near the cave site, which is located in the coastal mountains of northern Israel. The team members rubbed the recently collected stones on hard basalt rock, wood of medium hardness, and deer hide. They found that rubbing stones on deer hide produced the wavy surface and clusters of shallow grooves found on the ancient tool. It had been previously thought that such wide, flat stones were first used as rubbing and grinding tools some 200,000 years ago. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to "Around the World: Israel."

Ancient Shipwrecks in Aegean Sea Investigated

ATHENS, GREECE—Tornos News reports that scientists and divers from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Institute of Historical Research of the National Research Foundation explored shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea near the island of Kasos over a period of three years. The researchers explained that this area around Greece’s southernmost island was an important route for several different ancient cultures. They investigated a Roman shipwreck that carried oil from Spain and amphoras made in what is now Tunisia in the second and third centuries A.D.; a second ship carrying amphoras made in the North Aegean in the first century B.C.; and a third stocked with fifth-century B.C. amphoras from Mendi, which is located on Greece’s island of Euboea. To read about the world's oldest known shipwreck, go to "Ancient Shipwreck," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2018.


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Monday, January 25

Medieval Coins Discovered in Romania

ZALĂU COUNTY, ROMANIA—Romania-Insider reports that metal detectorist Cristian Marincaş alerted authorities after he discovered 6 silver coins in northwestern Romania. Archaeologists from the Zalău County Museum of History and Art found an additional 30 silver coins at the site. The researchers determined that the coins were minted between 1551 and 1599 in Poland, Lithuania, Riga, and Hungary. No evidence of a ceramic or metal container was found at the site, however, which suggests the coins may have been stored in a canvas or leather bag. For more on Romanian archaeology, go to "Spying the Past from the Sky."

Fort, Church, and Temple Remains Uncovered in Southern Egypt

ASWAN, EGYPT—Egypt Today reports that researchers from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities have discovered traces of a temple dated to the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Roman fort, and part of a Coptic-period Christian church at the Shiha Fort site in southern Egypt. The remains of the temple include part of a sandstone panel engraved with the image of the temple entrance and the figure of a Roman emperor standing next to an altar, and blocks of sandstone engraved with images of palm fronds. Pottery and a section of a red brick vault dated to the Coptic period were also uncovered. The church was surrounded by a mudbrick wall. Four rooms on the church’s northern side, a hall, a staircase, and kilns were also found. To read about a prayer written on a Coptic papyrus discovered at Lisht, go to "Divine Invitation."

Roman Marble Table Unearthed in Bulgaria

VARNA, BULGARIA—According to an Archaeology in Bulgaria report, more than 100 pieces of a household table dated to the fourth century A.D. have been found in one of the towers at the Petrich Kale Fortress, which is located on a plateau in northeastern Bulgaria near the coast of the Black Sea. Researchers from the Varna Museum of Archaeology think the table may have been used by a high-ranking Roman official. “It is a round table made of white marble, and is known in scientific literature as a table from the ‘raven beak’ type due to its typical profile, with its top slightly curled inwards,” said team member Maria Manolova-Voykova. Similar tables have been found in Greece and Turkey, she explained, but this is the first of its type to be uncovered in Bulgaria. Once it is restored, the table will be put on display in the Varna Museum of Archaeology. To read about excavations of a Roman villa in northern Bulgaria, go to "Mirror, Mirror."

Researchers Explore Bronze Age Currency

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS—Courthouse News Service reports that researchers led by Maikel H.G. Kuijpers of Leiden University analyzed more than 5,000 of copper objects discovered north of the Alps and found that about 70 percent of the rings and many of the ribs and ax blades all weighed about seven ounces. People would have been able to weigh the objects by hand, Kuijpers explained. This uniformity, perhaps produced by casting the objects in molds, could indicate they were used as currency some 3,500 years ago, he said. The value, he added, came from the copper itself, rather than an assigned value. By the end of the Early Bronze Age, forming copper into rings and ribs gave way to the use of pieces of scrap metal and casting cakes as commodity money. Currency standardization increased when scales came into use and allowed for greater accuracy of measurement during the Middle Bronze Age, he added. To read about the largest Bronze Age hoard discovered in London, go to "Tool Time."

Friday, January 22

Neolithic Cursus Monument Spotted on Scottish Isle

ARRAN, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that a Neolithic cursus monument was spotted on the Isle of Arran with the use of lidar scanning technology. Such structures were made up of long lines of timber posts that may have marked a processional route. Sometimes the monuments were burned. Dave Cowley of Historic Environment Scotland said this is the first cursus monument to be found on the island. “What this example at Tormore tells is there are probably actually many more of them but because they were built from timber, you are not likely to see them in the unimproved peat landscape of the west coast.” This monument runs to the crest of a ridge, he added. “They have been very careful how they have positioned this monument,” he said. “There probably was a superstructure here but we won’t know for sure without excavation.” Excavation could also reveal if the timbers had been set on fire, he added. For more on Scottish archaeology, go to "Around the World: Scotland."

Mughal-Era Water Tank Unearthed in Northern India

AGRA, INDIA—The Times of India reports that a water tank and fountain dated to the sixteenth century have been uncovered near the Todarmal Baradari, the ruins of an ornate summer house in the town of Fatehpur Sikri, by researchers from the Archaeological Survey of India. The town served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585 during the reign of Emperor Akbar the Great. The tank measures about 28 feet square and about 3.5 feet deep. Archaeologist Vasant Swarankar said its limestone plaster coating was embellished with patterns and was probably constructed at the same time as the Todarmal Baradari—the only trace of the mansions, gardens, pavilions, stables, and caravansaries that once stood in the neighborhood to survive. To read about dairy production in the Indus Valley, go to "Around the World: India."

Survey Reveals Viking-Era Site in Northern Norway

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—According to a statement released by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, a survey conducted in northern Norway’s Bodø municipality with ground-penetrating radar detected the presence of 15 burial mounds, one of which may contain a boat grave. Archaeologist Arne Anderson Stamnes said the size and shape of the mounds suggests that they date to between A.D. 650 and 950, or the Viking Age. The largest mound measures about 100 feet across, he explained. The survey also revealed 32 unusual, oval ditches oriented with their narrow ends toward the sea. Stamnes and his colleagues think the ditches may represent the foundations of buildings, although the survey did not reveal any firepits within the ditches. Instead, Stamnes suggests the structures may have been used as market stalls or temporary dwellings similar to those seen at archaeological sites in Iceland. More than 1,200 pits were also detected, Stamnes said, indicating that there was a lot of activity at the site, perhaps centered around the powerful family members that had been buried there. To read about a genetic study of more than 400 Viking skeletons, go to "Largest Viking DNA Study," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2020.

Byzantine Inscription Uncovered in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a statement released by the Israel Antiquities Authority, a Greek inscription including the phrase “Christ born of Mary,” was found in the village of et-Taiyiba in northern Israel’s Jezreel Valley, on a stone that had been reused in a wall dated to the Byzantine or Early Islamic period. The inscription itself is thought to date to the late fifth century, when the stone was originally used as part of a church’s doorway frame. Leah Di-Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said that the formula “Christ born of Mary” was commonly used at the beginning of inscriptions and documents as a protection and blessing, and indicates that the building was a church, and not a monastery, since monasteries did not tend to greet those who entered. The inscription also names Theodosius, a Christian bishop, as the founder of the building, and asks those who enter it to pray for him and for the “miserable” Thomas. To read about literacy among seventh-century B.C. Israelites, go to "Reading, Writing, and Algorithms."