Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Wednesday, November 08

Rome’s Lead Pipes May Have Added Antimony to Water Supply

NANTERRE, FRANCE—Live Science reports that an international team of scientists led by Philippe Charlier of Max Fourestier Hospital tested a lead water pipe from a home in Pompeii and found it carried highly toxic levels of antimony. The metal is thought to have been added to lead to strengthen it. To begin the investigation, the researchers dissolved a fragment of the metal pipe in concentrated nitric acid, and then heated it to more than 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit to ionize the elements so that they could be identified within a mass spectrometer. The analysis suggests the possible levels of antimony in city’s water supply could have caused antimony intoxication, diarrhea, and vomiting, leading to severe dehydration and eventually liver and kidney damage. Antimony has also been found in the groundwater close to volcanoes, possibly increasing the exposure of Pompeii’s population to the toxic element. The researchers suggest testing additional pipes throughout the Roman Empire, and looking for traces of antimony in the bones and teeth of ancient Romans, for more information on how antimony poisoning might have affected their health. For more on Pompeii, go to “Family History.”

Glass Fragment from Calligraphy Set Found in Japan

KYOTO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that a fragment of a twelfth-century glass vessel was unearthed in an area of nobles’ homes in Heiankyo, Japan’s ancient capital. Researchers from the Gangoji Institute for Research of Cultural Property in Nara say the bluish-green fragment may have been part of the spout of a “suiteki” container, which would have been imported from China during the Heian Period, from A.D. 794 to 1185, for dropping water onto ink-grinding stones. The site may have been a base to distribute imported suiteki to aristocrats in Kyoto. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

2,000-Year-Old Sundial Unearthed in Roman Town

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a 2,000-year-old sundial has been discovered in a roofed theater at the site of the ancient town of Interamna Lirenas, which is located in central Italy. An inscription on the sundial names Marcus Novius Tubula, a plebeian tribune to Rome, and dates the artifact to the first century B.C. Alessandro Launaro of the University of Cambridge said the sundial and its inscription suggest the small town was more aware of and involved in the affairs of the capital than had been previously thought. Additional engravings on the face of the timepiece mark the seasons with respect to the winter solstice, equinox, and summer solstice. Only part of its needle, which cast the shadow necessary to show the time, was preserved. To read about a 3,300-year-old sundial discovered in Egypt, go to “Artifact.”

Tuesday, November 07

Luxurious Bathtubs Unearthed in China

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA— reports that three 2,000-year-old baths, complete with bricks, tiles, and sewerage drains, have been uncovered in Liyang, an ancient capital city located in northwest China. “The shape, structure, and size of the baths were very similar to the baths in the imperial palace of Xianyang, capital during the Qin Dynasty,” said researcher Liu Rui. The baths are thought to be some of the oldest in China. For more, go to “China’s Legendary Flood.”

Cut Marks on Fossils May Have Been Made by Crocodiles

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA—According to a report in Science Magazine, scrapes and cut marks found on animal fossils may have been made by the teeth of attacking crocodiles, rather than the tools of early human ancestors, as had been previously suggested by a study of 3.4-million-year-old animal remains. In that study, the researchers suggested the marks on the bones had been made by Australopithecus afarensis some 800,000 years before the oldest-known stone tools were used. Yonatan Sahle and Sireen El Zaatari of the University of Tübingen and Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, recently butchered a sheep carcass with stone flakes and compared the marks to those made on sheep bones by captive crocodiles. Even under a microscope, they found the cut marks to be indistinguishable from those made by the reptiles. “The resemblance is so stunning,” Sahle said. For more, go to “Earliest Stone Tools.”

Section of Roman Road Unearthed in Germany

BERLIN, GERMANY—According to an Associated Press report, a Roman road was discovered in western Germany by construction workers preparing the local Christmas market. Aachen city archaeologist Andreas Schaub said the road measures about 20 feet wide and is thought to date to the second century A.D. The road may have connected Aachen to what is today the city of Maastricht in the Netherlands. For more, go to “Slime Molds and Roman Roads.”

Monday, November 06

Griffin Warrior’s Tomb Yields Finely Carved Seal Stone

CINCINNATI, OHIO—Conservation of an artifact recovered from the grave of the so-called Griffin Warrior at Pylos has revealed an agate finely carved with an image of a battle between a victorious soldier wearing a codpiece and another wearing a kilt, according to a report in The New York Times. A second kilt-clad fighter is shown dead on the ground. The stone was mounted so that it could have been worn on the wrist. Archaeologists Jack L. Davis and Sharon R. Stocker of the University of Cincinnati say the seal stone, dubbed the Pylos Combat Agate, is a masterpiece likely to have been imported from Crete, and then buried with the Griffin Warrior, who may have been a local chieftain in southern Greece, around 1450 B.C. Fritz Blakolmer of the University of Vienna suggests the image on the seal stone was a copy of a larger work of art, such as a Minoan wall painting, and may represent an event familiar to both the Minoans and the Greeks of the Peloponnese. The detailed image was probably created with the use of a magnifying glass, he added, but no such tool has been found on Crete to date. For more, go to “The Minoans of Crete.”

Greek-Style Gymnasium Discovered in Egypt’s Faiyum Oasis

MEDINAT WATFA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a center for the education of wealthy, Greek-speaking men has been unearthed at Philoteris, a village founded in the third century B.C. by Ptolemy II. The site, which featured a large meeting hall with statues, a dining hall, and a courtyard in the main building, resembles those found in large cities such as Athens, Pergamon, and Pompeii. The excavation team of German and Egyptian archaeologists also uncovered traces of the gardens that surrounded the school, and a racetrack on the grounds. “Although much smaller, the gymnasium of Watfa clearly shows the impact of Greek life in Egypt, not only in Alexandria, but also in the countryside” explained Cornelia Römer of the German Archaeological Institute. To read about other recent discoveries in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

Possible Evidence of Cave-Dwelling Farmers Found in China

FUZHOU, CHINA—Some 10,000 grains of carbonized rice have been discovered in a cave in southeast China, according to a Xinhua News Agency report. Caves are usually thought to be the homes of hunter-gatherers, but Zhao Zhijun, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the remains of common farmland weeds found among the rice grains suggest they were grown by the Nanshan cave dwellers between 5,300 and 4,300 years ago. And the people suffered from dental cavities and other oral problems common among agrarian societies, added team member Wang Minghui. “The Nanshan finding offers a new perspective for prehistoric study,” Zhao said. “We must consider more possibilities when talking about where our ancestors lived and what they lived on.” For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”