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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, October 11

Gladiator Fresco Revealed in Pompeii

NAPLES, ITALY—A fresco that graphically depicts the impending combat victory of one gladiator over another has been uncovered in Pompeii's Regio V, according to a report in The Independent. The victor, identified as a murmillo-type gladiator by his weapons and armor, stands over a cowering foe equipped in the Thracian manner. The latter has sustained deep gashes to the wrist, legs, and chest, and is holding up a finger to beg for mercy. The fresco, which measures roughly four feet by five feet, was found in what appears to have been a basement tavern or store. The floor above may have housed the proprietors or been used as a brothel. Massimo Osanna, superintendent for Pompeii, says it is very likely the establishment was frequented by gladiators, whose barracks were not far from the site. To read more about recent excavations in Pompeii's Regio V, go to "Digging Deeper into Pompeii's Past." 

National Museum of Finland Repatriates Some Mesa Verde Items

HELSINKI, FINLAND—National Parks Traveler reports that the National Museum of Finland will hand over the remains of 20 individuals and 28 artifacts removed from what is now Mesa Verde National Park in the late nineteenth century to representatives of the 26 federally recognized Native American tribes traditionally associated with the park. In 1891, Gustaf Nordenskiöld, a young Swedish man, stopped in southwestern Colorado while on a world tour to study the cliff dwellings. He made sketches, took photographs, excavated 20 graves, and collected some 600 objects, including bowls, ladles, baskets, pots, mugs, corn cobs, woven sandals, mats, snowshoes, pouches, tools, arrows, and metates. He was arrested for theft, but eventually released and allowed to leave the country with the human remains and the objects. “The collection of artifacts and human remains by Gustaf Nordenskiöld and others played an important role in the signing of the 1906 Antiquities Act, protecting cultural resources, and the establishment of Mesa Verde National Park,” said park information officer Cristy Brown. Park officials will work with the repatriating tribes to return and rebury the remains and artifacts. “The repatriating tribes are the leaders of this effort,” Brown explained, “but we are proud to be able to fulfill our role when the time comes.” To read about an effort to document the temporary dwellings of Native Americans in Colorado, go to "A Western Wiki-pedia."

Looted Cambodian Statue Recovered in California

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations reports that a Cambodian sandstone sculpture dating to the tenth century A.D. has been recovered from an auction house. The headless statue, thought to have been looted during a twentieth-century conflict in Cambodia, depicts the Hindu god Shiva, who sits with his arm around his wife, Uma. The sculpture will be returned to Cambodia at the conclusion of the investigation. To read about Phnom Kulen, the sacred capital city of the Angkor Empire, go to "Letter from Cambodia: Storied Landscape."

Study Examines Bronze Age Status and Family Relationships

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a Science Magazine report, analysis of the bones of 104 Early Bronze Age farmers who were buried in family cemeteries in southern Germany some 4,000 years ago has revealed a network of family groups related through the male line. Each household was made up of a high-status man married to a high-status women who grew up elsewhere, and unrelated male and female servants who had been buried without grave goods. Research team members Alissa Mittnik of Harvard Medical School and Philipp Stockhammer of Ludwig Maximilian University and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History explained that some of the high-ranking male individuals in the sample carried a variant of the Y chromosome, which is passed from fathers to sons, associated with the Neolithic Bell Beaker culture. The Y chromosome variant carried by these men is still found in Europe today. Men buried without grave goods in the family cemeteries carried a different variant of the Y chromosome. Women who had been buried with elaborate grave goods carried DNA unrelated to others buried in the cemetery. The chemical composition of their teeth and the style of some of their grave goods suggest they grew up in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic. The remains of local girls who had died before reaching adulthood, and poor unrelated women, were also identified in the cemeteries. The lack of remains of adult daughters of the wealthy suggests they moved away and married into other communities. To read about possible marriage alliances during this period, go to "Bronze Age Bride," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2015.

Neolithic Quarry Discovered at Christian Pilgrimage Site in Wales

DENBIGHSHIRE, WALES—BBC News reports that a Neolithic quarry has been discovered in northern Wales at St. Dyfnog’s Well, a Christian pilgrimage site connected to a sixth-century Welsh saint, who is said to have stood under a cold waterfall in a shirt belted with an iron chain as penance. The first written record of a church associated with the well, which is now a rectangular stone-lined pool fed by several springs, dates to the thirteenth century. Pilgrims to the well are said to have believed its water acquired healing powers from St. Dyfnog’s holiness. Archaeologist Ian Brooks explained that some 6,000 years ago, people came to the site to extract chert from local limestone by lighting fires to heat the rock, then pouring water on it to cause it to splinter. Brooks and a team of volunteers also uncovered steps leading down to the well basin, traces of a building, and a Victorian-era gin bottle. The well is thought to have been lined with marble in the eighteenth century, decorated with statues, and equipped with changing rooms for pilgrims. To read about a medieval Welsh abbot's striking gravestone, go to "He's No Stone Face."


More Headlines
Thursday, October 10

Hominins May Have Stored Food 400,000 Years Ago

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—The New York Times reports that hominins living in what is now Israel may have stored food as early as 400,000 years ago. Researchers led by Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University analyzed marks on more than 80,000 bones from Qesem Cave and found heavy chop marks on the ends of some of fallow deer leg bones. Barkai said these bones carry no meat and little fat, and the skin is easy to remove when the bone is fresh. “We had a hypothesis that these unusual chop marks at the end of the meatless bones had to do with the removal of dry skin,” he said. To see if it was possible to store the bones in order to eat their nutritious marrow later, Barkai and his team members collected the leg bones of freshly killed dear and stored them in cave-like conditions for several weeks. At the end of each week, someone took a flint flake and a quartzite tool and attempted to break open a bone to remove its marrow, which was tested for its nutritional value. The experiments produced marks similar to those found on the Paleolithic deer bones, and the test results showed that after nine weeks, the bone marrow was still edible and nutritious. To read about early hominins' scavenging for meat, go to "Marrow of Humanity."

2,300-Year-Old Fortifications Unearthed in Cyprus

NICOSIA, CYPRUS—In-Cyprus reports that a previously unknown fortification dating to the early Hellenistic period has been discovered at the site of Pyla-Vigla on the southeastern coast of Cyprus. The well-defended settlement is situated on a steep plateau overlooking Larnaca Bay and the coastal road that connected the cities of Kition and Salamis. Archaeologists led by Brandon R. Olson of Metropolitan State University of Denver, Tom Landvatter of Reed College, R. Scott Moore of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and education director Justin Stephens uncovered extensive mudbrick and fieldstone fortifications, projectile points, iron weapons, and lead sling bullets, which were dated to the late fourth and early third centuries B.C. on the basis of the architectural style of the fortifications and the types of coins and pottery uncovered at the site. To read about the elaborate grave goods of an aristocratic family in Classical Cyprus, go to "Living the Good Afterlife."

Second-Century A.D. Inscription Found in Bulgaria

PLOVDIV, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that a marble slab bearing an inscription dating to the second century A.D. has been unearthed at the forum of the ancient city of Philippopolis in southern Bulgaria. The city’s library, treasury, and Odeon once stood in the area where the inscription was found. Epigrapher Nicolay Sharankov said the text is thought to be the end of a letter imposing a fine on the city by Emperor Septimius Severus for supporting Pescennius Niger, his rival to the throne. It also preserves the names of Philippus and Caecilius Cerealis, two ambassadors sent by the city to the emperor. Septimius Severus seized power in A.D. 193, a period of civil war known as the Year of the Five Emperors. Pescennius Niger was eventually defeated in A.D. 194 at the Battle of Issus in Cilicia, a Roman province in what is now southeastern Turkey. Septimius Severus expected a prominent citizen of Philippopolis to pay the fine, Sharankov added. To read about Severus' building program in the city of Rome, go to "Mapping the Past: The Forma Urbis Romae."

Wednesday, October 9

Excavators Return to 18th-Century Pub Site in Scottish Highlands

BRORA, SCOTLAND—According to a report in The Scotsman, a team of researchers under the direction of archaeologist Warren Bailie of GUARD Archaeology have returned to the site of the Wilkhouse, an eighteenth-century public house in the Scottish Highlands that served farmers who were walking with their livestock to market. Coins uncovered at the site suggest the drove road that passed the pub had been in use since the late sixteenth century. Bailie said the pub’s double chimneys, slate roof, and lime-washed walls reflected the “modernity and affluence” that had been growing in the region in the mid-seventeenth century, since drovers’ inns were usually drystone structures with wooden shutters, low walls, central hearths, and thatched roofs. The excavation revealed the remains of meals of rabbit, birds, fish, and whelks, and shards of drinking glasses. An inverted cross found on a hearth stone may have been intended to keep witches from flying down the chimney, Bailie added. The pub fell out of use by 1819, however, due to the Highland Clearances, in which landowners evicted their tenants in order to enclose their fields for more profitable large-scale sheep herding. To read more about archaeology in Scotland, go to "Lost and Found (Again)."

Viking Coin Hoards Uncovered in Estonia

KURESSAARE, ESTONIA—ERR News reports that two hoards of silver coins dating to the Viking era have been discovered on the island of Saaremaa. The first hoard dates to the latter half of the tenth century A.D., and is thought to have been carried to Saaremaa’s southern coast from the island of Gotland, which is also located in the Baltic Sea. The second hoard, found in western Saaremaa, also dates to the late eleventh century. Mauri Kiudsoo of Tallinn University said the caches of coins reflect the upheaval in the region at the time. Few coin hoards from the late eleventh century have been found in other parts of Estonia, he added. For more, go to "Hoards of the Vikings."

Early Bronze Age Megalopolis Discovered in Israel

HARISH, ISRAEL—As many as 6,000 people may have once lived in En Esur, a 5,000-year-old site uncovered in northern Israel, according to a CNN report. Built on top of an earlier settlement, the city was situated at the crossroads of two trade routes, covered more than 160 acres, and consisted of planned roads, alleys, designated residential neighborhoods and public areas, a temple, and fortifications. “Our site is more than two or three times larger than the largest sites [in this area] during this period,” explained archaeologist Yitzhak Paz of the Israel Antiquities Authority. A stone basin in the temple’s courtyard may have been used during religious rituals, while stone figurines depicting humans and animals, as well as burnt animal bones, were found inside the temple. Paz said his team of researchers does not know why the city was abandoned, but flooding along Israel’s coastal plain may have played a role. To read about excavations at another Bronze Age site in Israel, go to "Cults of the Bronze Age."