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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, October 17

Climate May Have Contributed to the Fall of Egyptian Dynasty

DUBLIN, IRELAND—According to a report in The Guardian, an analysis of environmental records and historic documents suggests a volcanic eruption may have contributed to the Roman victory over Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 30 B.C. Egypt’s defeat has long been blamed on the shortcomings of the 300-year-long Ptolemaic dynasty, including infighting, decadence, and incest. But ice core data, Islamic records of water levels in the Nile River, and ancient Egyptian histories written on papyrus suggest a volcanic eruption somewhere in the world in 44 B.C. may have disrupted the annual flooding of the Nile and triggered famine, plague, and social unrest. Historian Joe Manning of Yale University and climate historian Francis Ludlow of Trinity College Dublin say failure of the Nile floodwaters, and the resulting social stresses, could have weakened Cleopatra’s power and left her reign vulnerable to the Romans. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

Possible Missing Jewelry Box Piece Found at Viking Fortress

KØGE, DENMARK—A small silver artifact has been uncovered at Borgring, a Viking fortress in eastern Denmark. According to a report in Science Nordic, the object resembles one of the three parts known to be missing from an elaborate box brooch discovered in a Viking woman’s grave at the Fyrkat fortress in Hobro, which is located to the north of Borgring. “It will be incredible if this fitting is connected with the find from Fyrkat,” said Jeanette Varberg of the Moesgaard Museum. “If this really is where it comes from then it’s like finding a needle in the ocean.” The woman in the grave at Fyrkat is thought to have been a high-status shaman or sorceress. Analysis of her “well-used and highly treasured” box suggests it held white lead, which appears to have been used as a sealant to waterproof the box. Perhaps she traveled between the two castles, which are both thought to have been built by Harald Bluetooth, who was king of Denmark between A.D. 958 and 987. Analysis of the metal could offer more information on the origins of the two pieces. For more, go to “Bluetooth's Fortress.”

Bronze Age Toys Recovered in Southeastern Turkey

SANLIURFA, TURKEY—The International Business Times reports that 5,000-year-old toys have been discovered in one of the 120 tombs in the necropolis at the ancient religious center of Sogmatar, which was dedicated to Sin, the god of the moon. Excavation leader Celal Uludag said the first toy, found in a child’s grave, is an earthenware horse carriage with four wheels. The front of the vehicle was decorated with incised lines. Uludag thinks it was made for the children of the city’s ruler or administrators. The second toy from the tomb is a rattle with a bird motif. All of the tombs in the necropolis were situated around a large, central mound. For more on archaeology in Turkey, go to “The Price of a Warship.”


More Headlines
Monday, October 16

Pacopampa Skeletons Bear Healed Injuries

KANAGAWA PREFECTURE, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, archaeologists have found evidence of brutal injuries on skeletons dating from between the thirteenth and sixth centuries B.C. at Peru’s ceremonial center of Pacopampa. Tomohito Nagaoka of St. Marianna University School of Medicine said the remains of seven of the 104 individuals uncovered by the joint Peruvian-Japanese excavation team bore evidence of severe injuries, including fractures to the skull, facial features, and limbs, and a dislocated elbow joint. The bodies lacked signs of defensive wounds, and they were recovered in ceremonial areas of Pacopampa. Some of the traumatic injuries had healed, and no signs of malnutrition was found in the bones. All of the injured were aged 35 or older. Yuji Seki, head of the investigation, speculates that elite groups living at Pacopampa may have fought each other to ward off disaster and pray for good harvests. “These elite groups, such as oracles, might have repeatedly taken part in combat by throwing stones and using clubs,” Seki said. For more on archaeology in Peru, go to “Painted Worlds.”

Three-Kingdoms Period Statue Found in South Korea

GANGWON PROVINCE, SOUTH KOREA—The Korea Joongang Daily reports that a gilt-bronze statue thought to date to the sixth century A.D. has been recovered in the northern corner of the Three-story Stone Pagoda at Jinjeon Temple. The statue measures about three and a half inches tall, and depicts a Buddha triad, or two Hyupsi bodhisattvas on either side of an Avolokitesvara bodhisattva, who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. The figures’ facial expressions and the patterns on their garments are well preserved. The engraving also depicts the light emanating from the Avolokitesvara’s head and body. To read about another recent discovery in South Korea, go to “Doll Story.”

Ramses II Temple Uncovered in Abusir Necropolis

CAIRO, EGYPT—According to a report in Ahram Online, a temple dedicated to Ramses II has been uncovered in the Abusir necropolis by a team of Egyptian and Czech archaeologists. Archaeologist Mohamed Megahed said the temple, which measured about 170 feet long by 100 feet wide, had a large forecourt and was flanked by storage buildings. At least some of the mudbrick walls enclosing the court had been painted blue. The side walls were lined with stone columns. An elevated three-chambered sanctuary was accessed by a ramp or staircase located at the rear of the court. “The remains of this building, which constitutes the very core of the complex, were covered with huge deposits of sand and chips of stone of which many bore fragments of polychrome reliefs,” said Mirsolave Barta, director of the Czech mission. Two engravings—one of the different titles of Ramses II, and the other relating to the cult of solar deities such as Re, Amun, and Nekhbet—were also found. For more, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”

Roman-Period Structure Found Near Jerusalem’s Western Wall

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Reuters reports that Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists have exposed eight courses of stone wall in the Western Wall Tunnels, some 26 feet below the surface of the Old City. The excavation has also uncovered an unfinished, theater-like structure dated to the Late Roman period with pottery and coins. (The results of radiocarbon testing are expected in a few months.) Such a theater was mentioned by Josephus Flavius and other ancient sources. The structure was found under Wilson’s Arch, one of a series of arches that supported a passageway to the Temple Mount, and may have been intended for musical performances or city council meetings. “This is the first time that a theater-like structure has been exposed in Jerusalem, so it’s extremely exciting,” said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Joe Uziel. The theater and the area around the arch were covered with dirt and debris after an earthquake around A.D. 360. For more on archaeology in Israel, go to “Reading Invisible Messages.”

Friday, October 13

Stone Adze Unearthed in New Zealand

WAIKANAE, NEW ZEALAND— reports that a Maori adze made of Nelson argillite was unearthed at a golf course construction site near the Kapiti Coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Human remains, and shell middens dated to the sixteenth century, have been uncovered in the area in the past. Archaeologist Andy Dodd said the cutting tool was recovered from disturbed earth and would be impossible to date accurately. “However, stone tools such as adzes were readily replaced with metal tools when these became available,” he said. For more, go to “World Roundup: New Zealand.”

Scientists Analyze DNA of Canada’s Lost Beothuk People

ONTARIO, CANADA—The Globe and Mail reports that a team of researchers led by Hendrik Poinar and Ana Duggan of McMaster University has recovered mitochondrial DNA from the remains of 19 individuals who were members of Newfoundland’s Beothuk culture, which died out in the early nineteenth century. The team members also retrieved mitochondrial DNA from the remains of 53 Maritime Archaic people who lived in Newfoundland between 8,000 and 3,200 years ago. Samples from two Paleo-Eskimos, who spread to the island from the Arctic, were also analyzed. It had been previously thought that the Beothuk had descended from the Maritime Archaic people, but a comparison suggests the two groups were not closely related. “The island got populated twice—at least—by distinct groups,” Duggan said. Oral tradition suggests that some Beothuk fled Newfoundland after the arrival of Europeans. A chromosomal study could reveal whether any First Nation groups may be their descendants. For more on archaeology in Canada, go to “Standing Still in Beringia?

Genetic Study Questions Idea of Early Easter Island Contacts

SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA—A new genetic study casts doubt on the ideas that the Polynesians who populated Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, had contact with Native Americans from South America before the arrival of Europeans in the eighteenth century. According to a report in Live Science, scientists led by Lars Fehren-Schmitz of the University of California Santa Cruz examined genetic samples obtained from the skeletal remains of five individuals unearthed at Ahu Nau Nau, one of the sites where enormous statues called moai are found on the island. The bones ranged in age from as early as 1445 to the early twentieth century. Fehren-Schmitz wants to know when the gene flow between Native Americans and the people of Rapa Nui occurred, and says studying the ancient populations of other islands could offer additional evidence. But an earlier study conducted by Erik Thorsby of the University of Oslo detected genetic markers typical of Native Americans in some Rapa Nui skeletons. He thinks that just a few people from South America may have reached the island, which lies 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile. Their genes “may be easily missed when ancient DNA from only five individuals are investigated,” he said. For more on genetic studies, see “The Heights We Go To.”