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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, December 15

Marble Sculptures Repatriated to Lebanon

NEW YORK, NEW YORK—CBS News reports that three ancient sculptures, including a marble torso dating to the sixth century B.C., a bull’s head dated to the fourth century B.C., and another torso dating to the fourth century B.C., have been repatriated to Lebanon. The artworks are thought to have been among more than 500 objects looted from the Temple of Eshmun, located in southwestern Lebanon, during a civil war in the 1970s. “These are actual celebrated remnants of an entire civilization’s culture and history,” said New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. The statues came to light when the bull’s head was loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by a private collector and put on display. To read about a recent discovery in Lebanon, go to “Disposable Gods.”

Bronze-Age Tomb Discovered Near Loch Ness

LOCH NESS, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that a second Bronze-Age burial has been found on the western shore of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. A single Beaker pot was found in the 4,000-year-old cist, which had filled with soil. The small pot, which has a flared neck and a simple, incised decoration, may have held an offering. Mary Peteranna of AOC Archaeology said historic maps show a large cairn once stood in the area, but centuries of plowing have damaged the remains of prehistoric structures. “During the work, we actually found a displaced capstone from another grave that either has not survived or has not yet been discovered,” she said. The archaeological work is being carried out before a medical center and residential housing are constructed. To read about another Bronze Age discovery, go to “Scottish 'Frankenstein' Mummies.”

19th-Century Grave of British Soldiers Found in New Zealand

NORTHLAND, NEW ZEALAND—According to a report in the New Zealand Herald, the remains of 12 British soldiers who died in the last battle of New Zealand’s Northern Wars have been found in a communal grave at the site of Ruapekapeka Pa. Also known as the “Bat’s Nest,” Ruapekapeka Pa was a Maori hilltop fortress complete with a palisade, trenches, and tunnels. Over several days in January 1846, more than 1,000 British troops bombarded the fortress and opened a breach in the palisade. They found only a few Maori warriors remaining within the fortress, but the fighting intensified and about a dozen British soldiers were killed as they took control of Ruapekapeka Pa. Archaeologist Jonathan Carpenter said a smoking pipe and a percussion cap were found in the grave. A bullet was found lodged in the rib cage of one of the men. “The graves had last been seen in 1851,” Carpenter said. “The local community, and the local Maori community in particular, were concerned the men were not adequately acknowledged or cared for.” For more, go to “World Roundup: New Zealand.”

Scientists Identify Intestinal Parasites in Ancient Greek Burials

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Some 2,500 years ago, the Greek doctor Hippocrates described infestations of parasitic worms in his patients. Modern scholars suspected he was referring to roundworms, pinworms, and tapeworms, but had not been able to confirm the diagnoses. Live Science reports that biological anthropologist Evilena Anastasiou of the University of Cambridge led a team of researchers who analyzed soil adhering to the pelvic bones of 25 skeletons unearthed on the Greek island of Kea for traces of parasites in decomposed feces. They detected and identified roundworm and whipworm eggs in four of the burials, and noted that the eggs of those two parasites have robust, protective outer membranes. The more delicate eggs of other intestinal parasites probably decomposed over time. The researchers suggest roundworms may have been the Helmins strongyle worm Hippocrates reported, while Ascaris may have referred to both pinworm and whipworm. For more, go to “Vikings, Worms, and Emphysema.”


More Headlines
Thursday, December 14

2,500-Year-Old Rock Art Discovered on Tiny Indonesian Island

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—The International Business Times reports that 2,500-year-old cave art depicting boats, dogs, horses, and people has been discovered on the small Indonesian island of Kisar. In some of the images, the people are holding what may be shields, while in other scenes, they are playing drums or perhaps performing ceremonies. The artwork is small in size, like the drawings found on the neighboring island of Timor, according to Sue O’Connor of Australia National University. The images also resemble those found on metal drums made in northern Vietnam and southwest China and traded throughout the region some 2,500 years ago. For more on cave art in Indonesia, go to “The First Artists.”

Face of 17th-Century Scottish Soldier Reconstructed

DURHAM, ENGLAND—The Northern Echo reports that the face of one of 1,700 Scottish soldiers imprisoned in Durham after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 has been digitally reconstructed by FaceLab experts at Liverpool John Moores University. Researchers from Durham University led by Chris Gerrard have been studying the remains of the soldiers since they were recovered from a mass grave in 2013. The skull of this man, known as “Skeleton 22,” was carefully reassembled and scanned, then combined with information gleaned from his dental calculus, and his age and anatomy, in order to create the 3-D image. The process revealed a previously unidentified scar on the soldier’s forehead. He is shown wearing a Scottish soldier’s typical gear, including a blue bonnet, and a brown jacket and shirt. The team had previously determined that the soldier was between the ages of 18 and 25 at the time of death, experienced periods of poor nutrition during his childhood, and had lived in southwest Scotland during the 1630s. The soldiers’ remains will eventually be reburied at the Elvet Hill Road Cemetery in Durham City. To read in-depth about the Scottish soldiers imprisoned in Durham, go to “After the Battle.”

Roman Engineering Revealed in Corinth’s Ancient Harbor

ATHENS, GREECE—According to a report in The Guardian, members of the Lechaion Harbor Project are investigating structures built by the Romans in 44 B.C. in Lechaion, the ancient port of Corinth. Foundations of two large structures are visible in the outer harbor, but most of the ancient port is covered with sediment. The researchers suggest that by the first century A.D., large moles and quays had been built in the harbor basins with five-ton stone blocks. Pieces of wooden caissons and pilings used as foundations have also been found under the sediments. These remains can help archaeologists understand the Roman engineering process. An island in the middle of the inner basin may have served as a religious sanctuary, the base of a large statue, or a customs office. Seeds, bones, part of a wooden pulley, anchors, fishhooks, and ceramics from Italy, Tunisia, and Turkey have also been recovered. To read recent underwater excavations at the site of the Antikythera shipwreck in Greece, go to “Bronze Beauty.”

Artifacts Recovered in Aswan Excavations

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that archaeological teams working with Egyptian archaeologists in the Aswan area have unearthed four intact burials of children in Gebel El-Silsila, a cemetery dating to the First Intermediate Period at Kom Ombo, and a statue thought to depict the Greek goddess Artemis in the old town of Aswan. Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that Maria Nilsson and Swedish researchers discovered the children’s tombs, which yielded a mummy in linen wrappings, traces of wooden coffins, and funerary furniture, including amulets and pottery. The tombs date to the 18th Dynasty, between 1550 and 1292 B.C. In Kom Ombo, Austrian researchers uncovered mudbrick tombs, pottery, and other grave goods in a cemetery dating to between 2181 and 2055 B.C. The cemetery had been built on top of an older one, as well as an Old Kingdom town. Abdel Moneim Saeed, general director of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities, added that a mission headed by Swiss Egyptologist Wolfgang Muller found a statue missing its head, feet, and right hand. The figure’s dress resembles that worn by Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, procreation, and virginity, who had been combined with the Egyptian goddesses Isis and Bastet. For more, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

Wednesday, December 13

Ireland’s Genetic Map May Reflect Historic Events

DUBLIN, IRELAND—According to a BBC News report, a team of Irish, British, and American researchers identified ten genetic clusters in the modern Irish population that accord roughly with ancient boundaries. The 194 Irish individuals in the sample each had ties to specific regions dating back four generations. And although the differences between the groups were “really subtle,” the clusters seemed to reflect either the borders of Ulster, Leinster, Munster, and Connacht—the four Irish provinces—or the land's historical kingdoms. Geographical divisions created by mountains may also have played a role. “The likelihood is that it’s a combination of these things—a little bit of geography combined with wars or rivalry generates kinship in each distinct area,” said Gianpiero Cavalleri of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The tests also detected Norwegian-like ancestry in some of the samples, which could reflect the presence of Vikings on the island. Cavalleri noted, however, that if the Vikings carried a large number of Irish individuals back to Norway, it could have reduced the genetic differences between the two groups. For more, go to “The Vikings in Ireland.”  

Blunt-Force Trauma Studied in Neolithic Skulls

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—Live Science reports that Meaghan Dyer of the University of Edinburgh investigated a possible cause of injuries found on Neolithic skulls unearthed in western and central Europe. Sometimes the head wounds showed signs of healing, while in other instances they had been fatal. A replica wooden club, based upon one discovered in waterlogged soil on the banks of the Thames River in London and radiocarbon dated to around 3500 B.C., was crafted for the experiment. Dyer described the weapon as a “very badly made cricket bat” with a heavy tip. The club was then swung at synthetic skull models by a 30-year-old man in good health, who was instructed to fight as if he were in battle. The fractures he inflicted upon the skull models resemble those seen on the Neolithic remains. One in particular closely matched an injury found on a skull unearthed at a massacre site in Austria dated to 5200 B.C. Dyer concluded the beater “very clearly is lethal.” The study could lead to the re-evaluation of some ancient injuries that had been attributed to falls and accidents. For more, go to 10,000-Year-Old Turf War.

Archaeological Sites in Afghanistan Found With Satellite Imagery

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—According to a report in Science Magazine, researchers are using images taken by commercial and United States government satellites and military drones to look for archaeological sites in areas of Afghanistan that are too dangerous for fieldwork. Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership has tripled the number of recorded archaeological features in Afghanistan to more than 4,500. Among the discoveries, the team members have identified 119 caravanserais dating to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. These vast mudbrick buildings, which each had room to shelter hundreds of travelers and thousands of camels, lined routes linking Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid Empire, located in what is now Iran, and the Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent. It had been thought that land travel declined after the Portuguese developed trade routes across the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century. “But this shows a huge infrastructure investment of the Safavids a century later,” said Kathryn Franklin of the University of Chicago. To read about another recent discovery made using aerial and satellite imagery, go to “Hot Property.”