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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, April 9

Ancient Egyptian Artifacts Unearthed at Temple of Ramesses II

ABYDOS, EGYPT—According to an Ahram Online report, a team of researchers led by Sameh Iskander of New York University uncovered foundation deposits, ten large storerooms, and niches cut into the walls of the southwest corner of the Temple of Ramesses II in Abydos. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said that the foundation deposits, which include plaques inscribed with Ramesses II’s throne name, copper tool models, pottery, grindstones, and food offerings, were buried in 1279 B.C. when construction of the temple began. It had been previously thought that the temple was built by Seti I, the father of Ramesses II. “This discovery has changed the physical appearance of the Abydos landscape and shed considerable light on our understanding of the temple and its economy during the thirteenth century B.C.,” Iskander explained. The storerooms at the site held grain and other temple provisions, offerings, and equipment, and were roofed with vaulted brick ceilings. In the niches, the researchers found the heads and bones of 12 sacrificial bulls dated to the Ptolemaic period. “This is a testimony to the vivid memory of Ramesses II in the Egyptian mind 1,000 years after his reign,” Iskander said. A complete bull skeleton was also found buried under the temple floor. To read about analysis of a pair of legs found in the tomb of Ramesses II's wife Nefertari, go to "Royal Gams."

Early Agricultural Hotspot Found in Amazonia

BERN, SWITZERLAND—Gizmodo reports that evidence for the cultivation of crops some 10,000 years ago has been discovered in southwestern Amazonia by researchers led by Umberto Lombardo of the University of Bern. Lombardo and his team used remote sensing technology to investigate the savannah known as Llanos de Moxos in northeast Bolivia, and detected more than 6,600 areas that had once been forested. Samples of sediments from some of these “forest islands” yielded identifiable fossilized particles of plants called phytoliths from cassava, which is also known as manioc, dated to 10,350 years ago; squash, dated to 10,250 years ago; and maize, dated to 6,850 years ago. “We already knew from genetic studies that manioc was domesticated sometime between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, so it is the squash evidence that is most surprising,” said paleoecologist S. Yoshi Maezumi of the University of Exeter. “The fact that people were cultivating an already-domesticated squash species by 10,000 years ago implies an even earlier period of pre-domestication cultivation, and it will be extremely interesting to know where this took place.” Lombardo added that the farmers’ diet was probably supplemented with large herbivores and fish. For more, go to "Home on the Plains."

London’s Neolithic Pottery Dated with New Technique

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol and his colleagues have developed a technique to isolate fatty acids from food residues in pottery for precise radiocarbon dating. Evershed explained that the method has been shown to produce dates accurate to within the span of a human life by comparing the dates obtained from fatty acids with dates obtained from charcoal, seeds, and bones, at sites in Britain, Europe, and Africa. For example, the team recently dated pottery fragments recovered in London’s East End to 5,600 years ago. The pots, which were decorated with fingertip and deer hoof impressions, once held dairy products like butter and cheese made from the milk of cattle and sheep or goats, and stewed beef and mutton. Such Neolithic artifacts rarely survive in the city, explained Jon Cotton of the Museum of London Archaeology, and in this case, no other organic materials for radiocarbon dating were recovered from the site. The dated pottery offers new information about London’s first farmers, he added. To read about bread baked using yeast extracted from ancient Egyptian pottery, go to "Proof Positive."


More Headlines
Wednesday, April 8

Evidence of Ancient Surgery Unearthed in Greece

GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK—According to a statement released by Adelphi University, researchers led by Anagnostis Agelarakis examined the remains of four women and six men who were buried between the fourth and seventh centuries A.D. at the site of Paliokastro on the Greek island of Thasos. As part of the Eastern Roman Empire, they were part of a group of mounted archers and lancers who were buried in elaborate graves near a monumental church. All of the individuals in the sample led physically demanding lives, and men and women had both suffered traumas that had been treated with great care, perhaps by a military physician, Agelarakis explained. One man had even received head, neck, and brain surgery, perhaps because he had been suffering from an infection. The man is thought to have died during the operation or shortly thereafter, Agelarakis added. To read about paintings of monkeys from the Greek island of Thera, go to "A Barrel of Bronze Age Monkeys."

Conservators Find Goddess Painting Inside Egyptian Coffin

PERTH, SCOTLAND—Conservators at Perth Museum and Art Gallery found paintings of Imentet, an Egyptian goddess who welcomed the dead to the afterlife, inside the lid and the base of a 3,000-year-old coffin belonging to Ta-Kr-Hb, a priestess or princess of Thebes, according to a report in The Scotsman. The mummy and its coffin were donated to the museum in 1936. “We had never had a reason to lift the whole thing so high that we could see the underneath of the trough and had never lifted the mummy out before and didn’t expect to see anything there,” explained museum collections officer Mark Hall. The painting at the bottom of the coffin shows the goddess, who was mentioned in the Book of the Dead and was sometimes known as “She of the West,” wearing a red dress and standing on a platform with her arms slightly outstretched. A pole or column, probably a support for the platform, is also shown in the image. Hall and his colleagues rewrapped the mummy to stabilize it and preserve the coffin. The examination will also help the researchers to determine how the mummy was impacted by grave robbers in antiquity and collectors during the Victorian era. To read about the first archaeological evidence for conical headpieces often worn by figures in Egyptian art, go to "Egyptian Coneheads."

U.S. Repatriates Two Khmer Statues to Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—The Phnom Penh Post reports that the United States handed over two Cambodian statues seized by Homeland Security Investigation at a ceremony held at Cambodia’s National Museum. The first sculpture, recovered in San Francisco in 2017, is a sandstone Khmer torso dated to the eleventh century A.D. The figure is shown wearing a folded and draped piece of long, rectangular cloth known as a sompot on its lower body. The second statue, recovered in Los Angeles in 2005, depicts the torso of an unidentified deity carved from grey sandstone. According to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, the statues were repatriated under a memorandum of understanding signed by the governments of the two countries that is intended to reduce the plundering of Cambodia’s heritage. To read about the sacred Khmer site of Phnom Kulen, go to "Letter from Cambodia: Storied Landscape."

Tuesday, April 7

CT Scans Indicate Human Ancestors Could Walk and Climb Trees

KENT, ENGLAND—A new study of the internal structure of two fossil leg bones from South Africa’s Sterkfontein Cave suggests that either Paranthropus robustus or an early member of the genus Homo continued to climb trees while walking upright some two million years ago, according to a BBC Science Focus report. Leoni Georgiou, Matthew Skinner, and Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent and their colleagues said that the leg bones resembled those of modern humans until they examined their internal structure with computed tomography scans. Internal bone structure, the researchers explained, changes based upon how individuals use their limbs. The scans revealed that the inside of the spherical femur head showed that the hominins regularly adopted highly flexed hip joint postures like the ones used by tree-climbing apes. Read the original scholarly article about this research in PNAS. To read more about bipedalism among early hominins, go to "The Human Mosaic."

Roman Coin Hoard Analyzed in Poland

CICHOBÓRZ, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that more than 1,700 coins discovered in a field in southeastern Poland last year have been identified as 2,000-year-old Roman coins. Mariusz Dyl was looking for shed antlers when he spotted some scattered coins and alerted archaeologists at the Hrubieszów Museum. “We went to the place and together with a team of archaeologists and volunteers, including Mr. Dyl, we continued excavations around the discovery site,” said museum director Bartłomiej Bartecki. Examination of the coins indicates they were minted over a period of about 100 years from the end of the first century to the end of the second century A.D., since the oldest of the coins bears the image of the emperor Nerva, while the latest coin bears an image of Septimius Severus. Bartecki thinks the coins, which equal about six years’ worth of pay for a Roman legionary, had been placed in a wooden box or leather pouch decorated with silver-plated bronze rivets and buried by the Vandals, who were driven out of the region by the Goths between the end of the second century and beginning of the third century A.D. “Perhaps the Vandals hoped that they would return to their lands in the near future, so they decided to bury the coins. But they were wrong,” he said. To read about one of the largest Roman coin hoards ever found, go to "Seaton Down Hoard," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2014.

Medieval Cave Art Discovered in Southeastern England

GUILDFORD, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by UCL Institute of Archaeology, decorated niches, writing, and other markings estimated to date to the late fourteenth century have been found in a small sandstone cave in southeastern England. The artwork suggests the cave was used as a Christian shrine or hermitage associated with the nearby medieval ruins of a church dedicated to St. Catherine. Discovered during work to stabilize the railway embankment, the cave is thought to have been much larger before railroad tracks were installed in the early 1840s. Researchers from UCL's Archaeology South-East examined the cave's eight or nine niches that feature inscriptions or etched initials, including a Gothic shrine adorned with carved dots and a Calvary cross. Carbon from black deposits on the ceiling, thought to be soot from lamps, and two fire pits in the cave will be radiocarbon dated. The archaeologists note that the hill where the cave is located was once known as Drakehull, or “The Hill of the Dragon,” and may have held ritual significance before the construction of the Christian church in the late thirteenth century. To read about personal expressions of faith in the Middle Ages, go to "Letter from England: Writing on the Church Wall."