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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, January 31

1,600-Year-Old Ritualistic Sword and Mirror Unearthed in Japan

NARA, JAPAN—The Mainichi reports that a shield-shaped bronze mirror measuring about two feet tall and a 7.5-foot-long iron sword have been recovered from a late fourth-century burial in the Tomio Maruyama Kofun, which is located in Nara, on the southwestern coast of the island of Honshu. The mirror and sword are thought to have belonged to someone who was close to the powerful owner of the kofun, which is the largest circular burial mound in Japan. Kosaku Okabayashi of the Nara Prefecture’s Archaeological Institute of Kashihara said that the surface of the daryu mirror is decorated with distinctive designs that include images of magical creatures. The dako sword, a type known for wavy, snake-like shapes, is thought to be the oldest and longest of the 80 that have been found in graves in Japan. Markings from a sheath and a handle have been spotted in X-rays of the weapon. Researchers think the sword was enlarged to increase its power to protect the dead from evil spirits, and is unlikely to have been used in battle. Mirrors are also thought to have been used to protect the dead. The occupant of the burial may therefore have been involved in military and ritualistic matters, concluded archaeologist Naohiro Toyoshima of Nara University. For more on kofun, go to "Around the World: Japan."

Rare Iron Age Wooden Axle Discovered in England

SUFFOLK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a wooden axle was discovered in a waterlogged pit in eastern England. Analysis of the wood, conducted by dendrochronologist Michael Bamforth of the University of York, indicates that the axle was made between 400 and 100 B.C. It is thought to have been part of an Iron Age chariot or cart before it was repurposed in antiquity as a stake to shore up the sides of the pit. “Most of the spindle—for the wheel hub—survives, as well as part of the rectangular axle-bed which would have been secured to the underside of the cart or chariot,” said Chris Fern of Cotswold Archaeology. Charred boards that may have been part of the vehicle were also recovered from the pit, which may have served as a watering hole for livestock. To read about Iron Age roundhouses unearthed in northwest England, go to "Hail to the Chief."

Roman-Era Residential Area Revealed in Luxor

LUXOR, EGYPT—Live Science reports that a Roman residential area dated to the second and third centuries A.D. has been unearthed in eastern Luxor, near the site of Luxor Temple, which had been constructed more than 1,000 years earlier. Archaeologists from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities have uncovered dwellings, workshops, and pigeon towers, where pigeons were raised for food. Artifacts recovered from the site include pottery, bells, food grinding tools, and copper and bronze Roman coins. The settlement may have serviced a Roman military camp in the area during the reign of Diocletian, from about A.D. 284 to 305, commented Susanna McFadden of the University of Hong Kong. To read about a New Kingdom settlement at Luxor, go to "Golden City," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2021.

1,000-Year-Old Dry Moat Uncovered in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a statement released by the Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority, excavations along Sultan Suleiman Street in Old Jerusalem uncovered a deep defensive moat dated to the tenth century A.D. The 30-foot-wide moat, carved from rock, would have surrounded the ancient city walls as an extra layer of protection from potential invaders. “Armies trying to capture the city in the Middle Ages had to cross the deep moat, and behind it, two additional thick fortification walls, while the defenders of the city on the walls rained down on them fire and sulfur,” said Amit Re’em of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Tunnels in the fortifications would have allowed the defenders to attack the enemy in the moat as well, he added, noting that in the First Crusade of 1099, it took the Crusaders five weeks to cross the moat while under heavy fire. One as-yet-unexplained handprint was found carved into the moat wall. It may have been intended to symbolize or point to something, or may be a bit of surviving graffiti, the researchers concluded. To read about the archaeology of the Crusades, go to "Reimagining the Crusades."

Monday, January 30

Statue of Hercules Discovered in Rome

ROME, ITALY—The Guardian reports that a life-sized statue of an individual in the guise of Hercules, wearing his characteristic lion skin and carrying a club, was uncovered in Rome during repairs to a collapsed sewer pipe some 65 feet underground. The carving, found in Appia Antica Archaeological Park near what would have been the second mile mark on the Appian Way, has been dated to between 27 B.C. and A.D. 476. To read about a larger-than-life-sized statue of a youthful Hercules unearthed in the ancient Greek city of Philippi, go to "A Young Hercules."

Do the Great Apes Share a Common Language?

ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that human volunteers shown videos of wild chimpanzees and bonobos were able to interpret their gestures correctly more than 50 percent of the time. For example, Kirsty Graham of the University of St Andrews said that scratching the chest translates to “groom me,” a mouth stroke says “give me that food,” and beckoning with fingers pointed down means “come here.” In all, great apes in the wild have been observed using more than 80 gestures to communicate. “Human infants use some of these same gestures, too,” Graham said, suggesting that modern humans and other great apes may have inherited a gesture vocabulary from our last common ancestor. To read about a study that compared Neanderthals' hearing to that of chimpanzees and modern humans, go to "Neanderthal Hearing."

High-Tech Scans Reveal 17th-Century Dental Work

LAVAL, FRANCE—CBS News reports that archaeologists led by Rozenn Colleter of the France's National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) have used a cone beam scan to examine the dental work of Anne d’Alègre, an aristocrat who died in 1619 and was buried in a lead coffin at the Chateau de Laval in northwestern France. When the X-rays were compiled into 3-D images, the researchers found that the woman suffered from periodontal disease that had loosened her teeth. A gold wire had been used to link the loose teeth to neighboring teeth. Over time, repeated tightening of the gold wire would have destabilized the neighboring teeth as well, Colleter explained. The researchers also identified an artificial tooth made of elephant ivory held in place by the wire. Hippo ivory was usually used in dental work at the time, Colleter concluded. To read about the oldest example of filling dental cavities, go to "Not So Pearly Whites."

Old Kingdom Tombs Uncovered in Saqqara

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that excavations at a necropolis near the step pyramid at Saqqara have uncovered several tombs dated to the 5th (ca. 2465–2323 B.C.) and 6th (ca. 2323–2150 B.C.) Dynasties of Egypt’s Old Kingdom period. Archaeologist Zahi Hawass said one tomb at the site, which is known as Gisr Al-Mudir, belonged to Khnumdjedef, who held several roles, including that of a priest in the pyramid complex of Unis (reigned ca. 2353–2323 B.C.), the last pharaoh of the 5th Dynasty. A second priest’s tomb held nine statues, including one of a man and woman, several servants, and other individuals. “Unfortunately, the expedition did not find any inscriptions that might identify the owners of these statues,” Hawass said. A false door found near the statues, however, belonged to someone named Messi, who may have also owned the statues, he explained. A large, rectangular limestone sarcophagus still sealed with mortar was found in a 50-foot-long shaft at the site. Inscriptions on the 4,300-year-old sarcophagus revealed that it belonged to a man named Hekashepes, whose mummy was covered with gold leaves. Mostafa Waziry of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities added that a unique group of stone statues was also recovered. To read about the tomb of an Egyptian dignitary uncovered at Saqqara, go to "Old Kingdom Tomb," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2019.

Friday, January 27

Mesolithic Human Remains Discovered in Northern England

CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that one set of human remains and a shell bead recovered from northern England’s Heaning Wood Bone Cave have been dated to 11,000 years ago. Rick Peterson of the University of Central Lancashire said that this individual would have been a pioneer reoccupying the region after the end of the Ice Age. The previously oldest-known human remains found in northern England, which were discovered at Kent’s Bank Cavern in 2013, had been dated to 10,000 years ago. Heaning Wood Bone Cave held at least eight burials, Peterson added. “Some of them came back [dated] from the Bronze Age, some of them were Neolithic which is about 6,000 years ago,” he said. To read about an 11,000-year-old engraved shale pendant unearthed in North Yorkshire, go to "Mesolithic Markings."

5,000-Year-Old Tavern Uncovered in Iraq

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—According to a statement released by the University of Pennsylvania, a public eating space or tavern dated to 2700 B.C. has been uncovered at Lagash, an ancient city site located in southern Iraq. The tavern was equipped with benches; a zeer, or clay pot used to keep food cool; an oven; and storage vessels containing traces of food. Archaeologist Holly Pittman of the University of Pennsylvania said the tavern was partially open-air and partially a kitchen area. And although the city was an important political, economic, and religious center, Pittman explained that it also supported a large population that produced food and crafts. Earlier excavations have revealed a pit of red clay, a pit of sand, kilns, and waste materials from pottery manufacturing; streets; alleyways; and traces of buildings. One building, thought to have been used by the potters, held benches and a table. A nearby domestic kitchen space held clay jar stoppers, bowls containing traces of food, and a grinding stone. A toilet was found in another room in the dwelling, Pittman added. She and her colleagues are also evaluating the ancient city’s access to water, noting that the Tigris-Euphrates river delta would have been much closer to the site than it is today. To read about a 200-year-long border conflict involving Lagash, go to "Warfare."

When Did England’s Civil War Begin?

WARWICKSHIRE, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that the bases of two towers from a late medieval fortified gatehouse have been found at the site of Coleshill Manor, the home of a seventeenth-century royalist situated next to a strategic crossing of the River Cole in England’s West Midlands. Examination of the towers’ stone walls revealed pockmarks made by musket balls and pistol shot. Dozens of musket balls have also been recovered. Stuart Pierson of Wessex Archaeology and his colleagues think the damage may have occurred in August 1642, since Parliamentarian troops could have passed by Coleshill Manor as they headed to the Battle of Curdworth Bridge, long thought to be the first skirmish of England’s Civil War. “There are always stories about royalty and the lead parliamentarians, but there’s not so much focus given to the people themselves, even the upper classes who found themselves involved but weren’t necessarily really part of it,” Pierson said. To read about the aftermath of a civil war skirmish in Scotland in 1650, go to "After the Battle."

CT Scans Reveal Ancient Egyptian Teenager's Intact Mummy

TAHRIR, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that Sahar Saleem of Cairo University and Sabah Abdel-Razek of the Cairo Egyptian Museum and their colleagues examined the so-called “Mummy of the Golden Boy” with computed tomography scans and advanced radiology techniques. The study found that the 2,300-year-old remains, which were discovered in 1916 in a tomb at Tell Edfu and have been kept in storage at the Cairo Egyptian Museum since then, belonged to a boy approximately 15 years of age at the time of death. He had healthy teeth and bones, and showed no signs of malnutrition. The body had received elaborate care—the brain had been removed, as well as the viscera, although the heart was spotted within the chest cavity. Packing and resin were then inserted in the skull and body cavities. Forty-nine amulets of 21 different varieties, including the Eye of Horus, scarabs, and the Knot of Isis, were placed in three columns in the body cavity and between the folds of the wrappings. Thirty of the amulets were made of gold, while the rest were made of stone or faience. The images also showed that a golden tongue amulet had been placed in the mummy’s mouth. Abdel-Razek said that the intact “Mummy of the Golden Boy” will be put on display at the Egyptian Museum, along with the CT scans and 3-D printed replicas of the amulets. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Frontiers in Medicine. To read about the virtual unwrapping of the mummy of Amenhotep I, go to "Inside a Pharaoh's Coffin," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2022.