Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, August 16

Hellenistic Temple Uncovered in Jordan

AMMAN, JORDAN—A Hellenistic temple has been discovered in Umm Qais, around 75 miles north of Amman, according to a report from The Jordan Times. A team from Yarmouk University led by archaeologist Atef Sheyyab discovered the temple along with a water network. The temple was built during the Hellenistic era (332-63 B.C.) and went on to be reused during the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic eras. The temple consisted of an inner area (a pronaos), a podium, and a holy chamber (a naos). The team discovered a number of Ionic-order columns that once supported the structure’s roof. Broken pottery samples will be used to more precisely date the temple. The water network includes Hellenistic wells and Roman tunnels, which lead to a hot bath outside the town. For more on archaeology in Jordan, go to “Mystery Buildings at Petra.”

Excavations of Lord Elgin’s Ship Continue

KYTHIRA, GREECE—Underwater excavation of Mentor, a ship that sank off the Greek island of Kythira in 1802, has turned up a range of items, including chess pieces, combs, and a toothbrush, according to a report from Greek Reporter. This is the fifth year in a row that excavations of the wreck have been undertaken by the Greek Ephorate of Old Antiquities. Other findings included pieces of furniture, coins, parts of a pulley, ropes, and metal portions of one of the ship’s masts. The ship was carrying antiquities taken from the Parthenon by British diplomat Lord Elgin, and was headed to Malta and then on to England, but instead sank at the entrance to the port of Avlemona on Kythira. Many if not all the sculptures from the Parthenon were salvaged in the years after the wreck and ultimately sold to the British Museum. Previous excavations have recovered various objects used by the ship’s 10-man crew, including cookware, glass, ceramics, porcelain, bottles, guns, bullets, a small cannon shell, and several compasses. For more on excavations of Mentor, go to “What If They Never Arrived?

Parts of Tudor Palace Unearthed in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—Parts of Greenwich Palace, where Henry VIII as well as his daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I were born, have been unearthed, according to The Wharf. Two rooms from the Tudor Palace were discovered during construction of a new visitor center at the Old Royal Naval College in southeast London. The rooms are thought to have been used as kitchens, a brewhouse, or for doing laundry. One of the rooms included a lead-glazed tiled floor, and the other had what are thought to have been “bee boles,” pockets in the wall where beehive baskets could be kept during the colonies’ winter hibernation. In the summer, when the hive baskets were kept outdoors, the cavities may have been used to keep food and drink cool. The palace was built in the fifteenth century and included state apartments, a chapel, courtyards, gardens, and a jousting area, but was demolished in the seventeenth century under the Stuarts and ultimately replaced with Greenwich Hospital, which today houses the Old Royal Naval College. “To find a trace of Greenwich Palace, arguably the most important of all the Tudor palaces, is hugely exciting,” said Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England. For more, go to “Letter from England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Ancient Roman Villa Excavated on Sicily

  TAMPA, FLORIDA—Portions of an ancient Roman villa on the island of Sicily as well as artifacts discovered at the site are offering new insights into life there nearly 2,000 years ago, according to a report from International Business Times. A team from the University of South Florida is excavating a 5,400-square-foot Roman villa called Durruelu, near the coastal town of Realmonte. The uncovering of new walls and floor levels, as well as a staircase and water channel, has established that the structure was consistently occupied from the second to the seventh century and was reconfigured in the fifth century. Cookware, lamps, pottery, and pottery-making equipment discovered at the site show that pottery, bricks, and tiles were produced there at large scale. Parts of the site were excavated decades ago, and the current excavation included 3-D scans of the entire site. To read in-depth about the excavation of another villa, go to “Romans on the Bay of Naples.”

Tuesday, August 15

Anglo-Saxon Cemetery on Lindisfarne Excavated

DURHAM, ENGLAND—Two complete skeletons have been discovered in what is thought to be an Anglo-Saxon cemetery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the northeast coast of England, according to a report from Chronicle Live. The cemetery is believed to have been linked to the island’s monastery, and those buried in it may have included those who worked the monastery’s land or pilgrims who traveled to the island. Another dig on the island recently discovered an early church. “They found the church and we have found the congregation,” said Durham University archaeologist David Petts, who led the cemetery excavation. The two complete skeletons will be analyzed for insights into the individuals’ diet, health, and geographic origins. The discovery of seal bones along with the remains of other animals offers an initial clue into what the people on the island were eating. “They are hunting seals and making the most of the resources available to them,” said Petts. A charnel pit containing bones that may have been gathered together after being turned up by plowing was also discovered. To read in-depth about Anglo-Saxon England, go to “Letter From England: Stronghold of the Kings in the North.”

Ptolemaic-Era Tombs Uncovered in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—Three rock-cut tombs from the Ptolemaic era have been discovered near the town of Samelut in Upper Egypt, according to a report from Ahram Online. The tombs, which were discovered by an Egyptian archaeological mission, contain a number of sarcophagi of varied shapes and sizes in addition to a range of clay fragments. Studies of these fragments suggest they are from the 27th Dynasty and the Greco-Roman era. “This fact suggests that the area was a large cemetery over a long period of time,” said Ayman Ashmawy, head of the Ministry of Antiquities’ Ancient Egyptian Sector. Previous excavations in the area uncovered around 20 tombs built in the catacomb style typical of the period, but the newly discovered tombs have a different architectural design. The two tombs for which excavation has been completed each featured a perpendicular burial shaft—the first leading to a single burial chamber with four sarcophagi and nine burial holes, and the second leading to two burial chambers, one of which contains the remains of two sarcophagi and six burial holes, including one designed for a small child. The bones found in the tombs belonged to men, women, and children, suggesting the tombs were part of a large cemetery that served a large city. For more, go to “Afterlife on the Nile.”

Initiation Rites and Rock Art in Namibia

WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA—A recent survey of rock art in the Namib Desert is yielding new insights into the cultures of ancient hunter-gatherers, reports the International Business Times. Among the most intriguing rock art panels recorded by the survey is one that depicts a female antelope, or kudu. Dating to perhaps 3,000 years ago, it probably played a role in female initiation rituals, says Quaternary Research Services archaeologist John Kinahan. Such rituals took place in isolated locations in ritual seclusion shelters, which the rock art panel also appears to depict. Nearby, Kinahan identified a stone circle that is likely the remains of one of the shelters. “It is possible that the sociable characteristics of the female kudu were given as example to follow to young girls who prepared to become women,” says Kinahan. “Kudus are docile and sociable, they look after the youngsters all together and collaborate without the males. These characteristics were probably seen as desirable for women to have.” To read more about archaeological discoveries in southern Africa, go to “The First Use of Poison.”

Early Islamic House Unearthed in Jordan

JERASH, JORDAN—Live Science reports that archaeologists have unearthed the remains of an extravagant early Islamic period house in the city of Jerash. The building seems to have been destroyed on January 18, 749, when an earthquake struck the city. The team did not find any objects related to daily life, but they did find troughs filled with thousands of the stone cubes known as tesserae that are used to create mosaics. That suggests that the house was possibly undergoing a remodel at the time of the earthquake. The discovery also allows a rare glimpse into the process of mosaic creation. “What our findings now indicate is that these tesserae were most likely produced on location,” says Aarhus University archaeologist Rubina Raja, the project's co-leader. “You would have the craftsmen or craftswomen who actually carved these tesserae on-site to be used later.” The team also found the skeleton of a young person who appears to have died in the house when the earthquake struck. To read more about early Islamic archaeology, go to “Expanding the Story.”

Monday, August 14

Silver Coins Signal Rome's Rise

FRANKFURT, GERMANY—The International Business Times reports that a new geochemical study shows that shortly after the Romans defeated the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War, they began to mint their coins in silver mined on the Iberian Peninsula, which Carthage had controlled up to that point. A team led by Katrin Westner of the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Goethe University, Frankfurt, tested the silver content of 70 Roman coins minted between 310 and 101 B.C. They found that before the second Punic War, Roman coins were made from silver mined in the Aegean. But after Carthage's defeat around 209 B.C., the Romans began to use silver mined in what is now Spain. “This massive influx of Iberian silver significantly changed Rome’s economy, allowing it to become the superpower of its day," says Westner. "We know this from the histories of Livy and Polybius and others, but our work gives contemporary scientific proof of the rise of Rome." To read more about how Rome evolved into a superpower, go to “Rome’s Imperial Port.”

106-Year-Old “Edible” Fruitcake Found in Antarctica

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND—A fruitcake that predates the outbreak of World War I has been discovered in Antarctica, according to a report from BBC News. The 106-year-old delicacy was found by a team from the New Zealand–based Antarctic Heritage Trust on Cape Adare. It is thought to have belonged to members of a team led by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott. The tin holding the cake was somewhat rusty, but the cake itself was found to be in good condition—and even smelled edible. The cake was uncovered in Antarctica’s oldest building, a hut built in 1899 by a team led by Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink and used by some members of Scott's team during their 1911 Terra Nova expedition. Scott was known to have been fond of the fruitcake, which was made by the biscuit company Huntley and Palmers. Conservators have uncovered some 1,500 items in the hut, including well-preserved jams and poorly preserved meat and fish. Although Scott and his team reached the South Pole, a Norwegian team got there just over a month ahead of them, and Scott and four of his team members died on their return to the base. For more, go to “The Third Reich’s Arctic Outpost.”

Circular Wall Unearthed in Peru

CUSCO, PERU—Andina reports that Peruvian archaeologists digging a site in the surburbs of Cusco have unearthed a circular wall that was erected some 3,000 years ago. Built by an ancient people known as the Marcavalle culture, the structure measures 22 feet in diameter and was probably a dwelling that might have also had a ceremonial function. Inside, the team discovered pottery featuring human and animal faces, as well as figurines and dog and other animal bones. A second walled structure, likely a workshop, was also unearthed. To read in-depth about archaeology in Peru, go to “An Overlooked Inca Wonder.”