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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, January 21

Archaeologists Will Study Life on the International Space Station

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—According to an NPR report, researchers led by archaeologists Alice Gorman of Flinders University and Justin Walsh of Chapman University will study “space culture” on the International Space Station (ISS), which opened in November 2000, by examining a grid made up of photographs taken by crew members. In this first phase of the project, the daily photographs will allow the archaeologists to investigate life on board the ISS as it changes over a 60-day period. Walsh explained that there are social and cultural dimensions to the problems the scientists on board the ISS face when working to solve technical, engineering, and medical issues. In particular, Gorman and Walsh plan to examine how the crew of the ISS interacts with each other and with equipment that originated in countries other than their own; see if the objects on board reflect gender, race, class, and hierarchy; and determine if the crew alters the ISS to suit their needs and desires. To read about the extraterrestrial origins of glass incorporated into an ancient Egyptian pectoral, go to "Scarab From Space."

Study Considers Placement of Japan’s Imperial Tombs

MILAN, ITALY—According to a statement released by the Polytechnic University of Milan, researchers Norma Baratta, Arianna Picotti, and Giulio Magli used high-resolution satellite imagery to analyze the position of more than 100 megalithic tombs constructed in Japan between the third and seventh centuries A.D. Many of these tombs, known as kofun, are keyhole-shaped. Larger tombs are thought to have been built for emperors, while smaller ones may have belonged to other members of royal families or court officers. The study suggests that the tombs are oriented toward the arc of the rising sun. In particular, the largest of the known tombs, the Daisen Kofun in Osaka Prefecture, is oriented toward the rising sun at the winter solstice, the researchers explained. This alignment of the tombs may be linked to the imperial tradition that considered Japan’s emperors to be descendants of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, they concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Remote Sensing. To read about a recent DNA study of modern Japanese people, go to "Japan's Genetic History."

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Thursday, January 20

Possible Bronze Age Drinking Straws Identified in Russia

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA—Gizmodo reports that eight gold and silver tubes discovered in 1897 in a burial mound in the northern Caucasus may have been used as drinking straws, and not as scepters, as had been previously thought. The tubes were found next to one of three individuals buried in the Maikop kurgan some 5,000 years ago. When archaeologist Viktor Trifonov of the Russian Academy of Sciences and his colleagues recently examined the interior of the objects, they detected traces of barley starch granules, fossilized bits of other plants, and lime tree pollen. The residues, Trifonov explained, indicate the tubes could have been used to consume a beverage, perhaps a fermented barley beer flavored with herbs and lime flowers. Metal strainers in the tips of the straws could have filtered out impurities in the liquid, he added. A large vessel recovered from the kurgan would have held about seven pints—enough for eight drinkers to sip as a communal activity. Artwork dated to the fourth and fifth millennia B.C. depicting such communal use of straws has been found in Iraq and western Iran. “Such practices must have been important and popular enough to spread between the two regions,” Trifonov said. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Antiquity. To read about excavations of another kurgan in southern Russia, go to "Rites of the Scythians."

Mummies in Rock-Cut Burial Chambers Found in Upper Egypt

ASWAN, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a Greco-Roman–era tomb constructed in two sections has been discovered in Upper Egypt by a team of Egyptian and Italian archaeologists. “It is a mass grave that includes more than one family,” said Patrizia Piacentini of the University of Milan. The entrance to the tomb consists of an aboveground rectangular building made with sandstone blocks and covered with a vault made of mudbricks. This structure leads to a rectangular courtyard and four rock-cut burial chambers, where some 20 well-preserved mummies were found, explained Abdel-Moneim Said Mahmoud of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities. Artifacts found in the tombs include offering tables, stone panels engraved with hieroglyphs, a copper necklace engraved with a Greek inscription, pieces of colored cartonnage, and wooden statues of the human-headed Ba bird, which were created to represent a person’s non-physical being. To read about the discovery of a 3,800-year-old unopened tomb in Aswan, go to "The Unseen Mummy Chamber."

Villa Site in Croatia Yields 1,800-Year-Old Statue Fragment

ZADAR, CROATIA—Total Croatia News reports that more than 860 square feet of marble flooring, a three-foot fragment of a statue of the Roman goddess Venus, and another piece that may have been the statue's base were uncovered at a construction site near Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. The fragment ranges from the goddess’ knees to below her chest and is thought to have stood on a pedestal in the atrium of an urban villa between the second and fourth centuries A.D. “We found a precious and rare statue, which will be known more after its cleaning and conservation,” said underwater archaeologist Smiljan Gluščević. Broken pieces of fingers on the statue’s legs may have belonged to a figure of the god Mercury, who was often shown with Venus, explained researcher Nenad Cambi. A sewage canal, a wall lined in gray marble tiles, and a black-and-white mosaic covering about 40 square feet were also found at the villa site. To read about a terracotta figurine of Venus that was found at France's ancient Roman city of Vienna, go to "A Day by the Rhone."

Foundations of a Mining Headquarters Uncovered in Eastern Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that the remains of a sandstone structure have been uncovered in the Wadi Al-Nasb area of the South Sinai Peninsula, near the sites of ancient turquoise and copper mines. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said the building may have been used as a mining administrative center as early as some 4,000 years ago, during the Middle Kingdom period. Situated next to an ancient well, the building had a sandstone floor, two main halls, two rooms, and a staircase leading to the roof, he added. Archaeologist Ayman Ashmawi explained that the building was eventually used as a copper workshop—furnaces, copper ore, copper ingots, crucibles, and slag were recovered from the site’s upper layers. To read about the world's oldest known geological map that was unearthed in Egypt, go to "Mapping the Past: The Goldmine Papyrus."

Wednesday, January 19

Study Investigates Origins of West African Cuisines

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of Bristol, chemical analysis of residues on fragments of 3,500-year-old pottery unearthed in West Africa offers clues to the plants cooked and consumed by the Central Nigerian Nok culture. Julie Dunne of the University of Bristol said that the seven distinctive lipid profiles detected on the vessels indicate that leafy plants, grasses, pulses, and tubers had been cooked. Those plants are thought to include greens or leaves from jute mallow, African eggplant, okra, cowpea, and bombax, which are still prepared in sauces and soups served with starch-based staples in West Africa today. To read about evidence for Nok honey collection, go to "Around the World: Nigeria."

Blocks from Sphinx-Shaped Colossi Unearthed in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that fragments of a pair of limestone sphinxes, and pieces of walls and columns decorated with festive and ritual scenes, have been unearthed at Luxor’s temple of Amenhotep III by a German-Egyptian team of researchers led by archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said the colossal sphinxes, which measured about 26 feet long, were found half-submerged in water. Their heads, he added, depict Amenhotep III wearing the striped nemes headdress, royal beard, and a broad collar around his neck. He said that cleaning of the limestone revealed the inscription “the beloved of Amun-Re” on one of the chest pieces. The column bases and foundation blocks found in the southern part of the temple’s Hypostyle Hall indicate that the structure was larger and had more columns than previously thought, while the sandstone wall decorations show images of the Heb-sed jubilee festival of Amenhotep III. The researchers also discovered additional parts of statues of Sekhmet, the lioness goddess of war. Three nearly intact statues of the goddess had previously been discovered at the temple. To read about a recently uncovered Egyptian settlement dating to the reign of Amenhotep III, go to "Golden City," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2021.

Ancient Funerary Avenues Discovered in Saudi Arabia

PERTH, AUSTRALIA—Live Science reports that 4,500-year-old funerary avenues in northwestern Saudi Arabia were identified with satellite imagery, aerial photography, ground surveys, and excavations. The avenues run alongside thousands of pendant-shaped stone tombs and cover some 330 miles. Although some of the avenues were lined with red rock, most of them were formed from repeated use by people and their domesticated animals, according to Mat Dalton of the University of Western Australia. The avenues would have facilitated travel from north to south, he explained. Similar avenues may have been built in what are now southern Saudi Arabia and Yemen, he added. “We might even envision funerary processions along avenues from settled oases towards the tombs, but this is purely hypothetical until we find more evidence,” Dalton said. Read the original scholarly article about this research in The Holocene. To read about an aerial survey that identified more than 1,000 stone monuments in northwest Saudi Arabia, go to "Around the World: Saudi Arabia."

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