Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 17

Possible Norman Cemetery Excavated in Sicily

WROCLAW, POLAND—Science in Poland reports that researchers led by Sławomir Moździoch of the Polish Academy of Sciences have discovered a medieval cemetery in Sicily, near the ruins of the church of San Michele del Golfo. After examining the bones from ten of the graves, the researchers were able to classify just five of the dead as three women and two children. The size and build of the bones suggests they may have been Normans from northern France, who conquered the island in addition to parts of southern Italy. “In the second half of the eleventh century, the island was recaptured from the Arabs by a Norman nobleman, Roger de Hauteville,” Moździoch explained. The church, which resembles those found in Western Europe, is also thought to have been built at this time, at a strategic location on a hill. Coins minted in Champagne and Lucca have been discovered within it. To read about the skeleton of a warrior recently discovered in northern Italy, go to “Late Antique TLC.”

Bits of Ancient Bread Unearthed in Jordan

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK—The Guardian reports that archaeologist Amaia Arranz-Otaegui of the University of Copenhagen and colleagues have found charred crumbs of bread baked 14,000 years ago by Natufian hunter-gatherers living in northeast Jordan. It had been previously believed that bread was first produced by early farmers. Among the more than 600 charred, bread-like lumps found in a fireplace, the excavation uncovered small tubers from a wetland plant, legumes, wild wheat and barley, and plants belonging to the cabbage family. Analysis of some of the lumps suggest they were made from barley, einkorn wheat or oats, and sometimes other plants. The flour used to make them may have even be sieved. The dough is thought to have been baked in the fire’s ashes, or on a hot stone, to produce an unleavened flat bread. Team member Tobias Richter said such a bread would have been very labor intensive to produce, and so was probably not a staple in the Natufian diet. This bread may have been consumed as part of a large feast or ritual event—since the fireplace also contained the bones of gazelles, water birds, and hares—or may have been prepared as provisions for a journey. To read about another recent discovery in Jordan, go to “Desert Life.”

Fishing May Have Driven Use of Pottery in Ancient Japan

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a report in Cosmos Magazine, archaeologist Alex Lucquin of the University of York and colleagues analyzed residues obtained from more than 800 ancient pots recovered from more than 46 sites in Japan, and found traces of seafood in all of the samples—even on the pots found inland. It had been thought that the expansion of forests in southern Japan after the last Ice Age would have shifted people’s diets towards foods obtained from hunting and gathering on land. Instead, it appears that people developed more intensive fishing strategies. The scientists were even able to determine the type of seafood from the charred, fatty deposits. Salmon was the most common fish detected in the oldest pots, which date back about 11,000 years. Other marine and freshwater fish, molluscs, and marine animals were processed and stored in the pots more frequently as the climate warmed. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Monday, July 16

Ancient Papyrus Restored and Translated

BASEL, SWITZERLAND—According to a Live Science report, a wad of 2,000-year-old papyrus from the collections of the University of Basel has been restored and translated, revealing a previously unknown composition. An examination of the papyrus with ultraviolet and infrared light revealed the sheets may have been stuck together, possibly to be reused as a bookbinding. Once a restorer separated the wad into individual sheets, the Greek text could be read. Ancient historian Sabine Huebner explained the papyrus bears a medical text that may have been composed by the Roman physician Galen, who lived from A.D. 130 to 210. The text may also comprise a commentary on Galen's work, describing a phenomenon he called “hysterical apnea.” Women afflicted with this so-called condition did not suffer from a “wandering womb,” as was thought by other physicians of the day, Galen is known to have argued, but from “hysterical suffocation,” brought on by a lack of intercourse. “The majority of papyri are documents such as letters, contracts, and receipts,” Huebner said. “This is a literary text, however, and they are vastly more valuable.” To read about a papyrus discovered in Egypt in 1934 and only recently translated, go to “Divine Invitation.”

5,500-Year-Old Passage Tomb Unearthed in Ireland

COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND—The Aberdeen Evening Express reports that a Neolithic passage tomb has been discovered in Ireland’s Boyne Valley by researchers from University College Dublin and a private agricultural technology company. A large stone cairn measuring about 130 feet in diameter had been placed over the tomb’s main passage and two burial chambers within the western part of the structure. Six of the stones that had been placed in a ring around the perimeter have also been found. One of them had been decorated with numerous carvings. In addition, two possible satellite tombs have been found nearby. “The spate of archaeological discoveries in Bru na Boinne—Boyne Valley Tombs—in recent weeks highlights what a globally significant place this is,” said Steve Davis of University College Dublin. To read about earlier discoveries in the Boyne Valley, go to “Samhain Revival.”

Mummification Workshop Excavated in Egypt

GIZA, EGYPT—The Associated Press reports that a 2,500-year-old mummification workshop and a 100-foot-long burial shaft lined with burial chambers carved into the bedrock have been excavated at Saqqara. One of the burials consists of a badly damaged wooden coffin containing a mummy wearing a gilded silver mask, thought to have belonged to the second priest of Mut. “Very few masks of precious metals have been preserved to the present day, because the tombs of most ancient Egyptian dignitaries were looted in ancient times,” said Ramadan Hussein of the German-Egyptian archaeological mission that conducted the excavation. The workshop held embalmer’s tools, including pottery vessels and measuring cups. Traces of oils used in the mummification process during the 26th Dynasty may be found on the jars. “We are in front of a gold mine of information about the chemical composition of these oils,” Hussein explained. Fragments of mummy cartonnages, canopic cylindrical jars, and marl clay and faience cups were also recovered. To read about another recent discovery at Saqqara, go to “Queen of the Old Kingdom.”

Iron-Age Wooden Bowl Found in Scotland

SOUTH RONALDSAY, SCOTLAND—A 2,000-year-old wooden bowl has been found in a chamber accessed with a series of stone-cut steps beneath Cairns Broch, a round tower at an Iron-Age village site on South Ronaldsay, one of Scotland’s Orkney Islands, according to a report in The Independent. Researchers led by Martin Carruthers of the University of the Highlands and Islands think the bowl may have been placed there before the broch was sealed and abandoned. “In appearance, the bowl is similar in shape to certain of the pottery vessels of the period,” Carruthers said. The bowl’s round base suggests it may have been passed from person to person, similar to the way a traditional alcoholic drink is passed in a wooden vessel at weddings in Orkney today. The excavation of the chamber also uncovered what could be woven plant fibers, and two other wooden objects that look like pegs or stakes.

Friday, July 13

Possible Evidence of War Unearthed at Sardis

MANISA, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that possible traces of the war between the Lydians and the Persians in 546 B.C. has been unearthed in what is known as the Palace region at Sardis, the ancient capital of the Lydian kingdom in western Turkey. Previous excavations in this area of the city have uncovered huge terrace walls that could have supported a monumental building, as well as a military shield, ivory from a piece of furniture, and a stone seal. “These pieces make our predictions stronger that this area was the field of a palace,” said lead archaeologist Nicholas Dunlop. Now, nearly 50 arrowheads have been found spread over different areas of the possible palace structure. “We also found pots, cooking bowls, and a piece of floor,” he added. “We found three arrowheads in this floor. These arrowheads might be from the last big war.” Historic records indicate the Lydian kingdom fell to the Persians after the 14-day attack. To read about a ritual deposit discovered at Sardis, go to “How to ward off an earthquake with Roman magic.”

Byzantine- and Roman-era Rooms Uncovered in Egypt

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that chambers dating to the Roman and Byzantine periods have been unearthed in Alexandria. Mostafa Waziri of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said one of the Roman-era chambers has huge stone blocks set at right angles and smooth Doric columns. A large number of Roman coins were also recovered. The walls of the Byzantine-era rooms were crafted from irregular blocks of stones fitted together with weak mortar. Another room had a tiled floor and a decorated column. According to Nadia Kheidr of the Central Department of Antiquities of Lower Egypt, the artifacts uncovered by the excavation team included lamps decorated with crosses and palm leaves, dishes, two large water jars, and other fragments of pottery. To read about a recent discovery in Luxor, Egypt, go to “Honoring Osiris.”

Unusual 2,500-Year-Old Skull Found in Burial Cave in Sicily

PALERMO, SICILY—According to a Live Science report, archaeologists led by Roberto Miccichè of the University of Palermo were investigating an artificial cave in northern Sicily where more than 50 people were buried some 2,500 years ago, when they found a lone skull that had been placed above the tomb’s main entrance, facing into the cave. The burials were looted at some point, but the researchers think the robbers used a different entrance to the cave and left the skull in its original position. As the researchers explain in a paper in the International Journal of Paleopathology, examination of the skull revealed it had belonged to a woman who died between the ages of 35 and 50. Her cause of death was cancer that the researchers suspect originated in her breasts and then spread to her skull, leaving 14 holes in it. Miccichè suggested that the distinctive markings on her bones may have led to the unusual placement of her skull. The woman’s role in the community during her life may also have been a factor, he added. To read about an unusual burial recently discovered in northern Italy, go to “Late Antique TLC.”