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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, August 06

Six Statues Discovered in Southwestern Turkey

AYDIN PROVINCE, TURKEY—Six statues estimated to be 2,000 years old have been unearthed in the ancient Greek city of Magnesia, according to a report in The Daily Sabah. The statues were all found in the same area of the city’s temple of Artemis, and had been placed face down. Four of them depict women, and one is of a man, but scholars have not been able to identify the sixth figure. In all, nearly 50 statues have been unearthed at the site. “This discovery will not be the end of it and clearly shows we can find more statues in this particular area,” said lead archaeologist Orhan Bingöl. To read about another ancient Greek city in Turkey, go to "In Search of the Philosopher's Stone." 

Four Roman Horseshoes Found in England

NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that a full set of Roman horseshoes dated to between A.D. 140 and 180 was discovered in a ditch at Vindolanda, the site of an ancient fort near Hadrian’s Wall. The iron hoof protectors, known as hipposandals, had been inscribed with a tread intended to keep the horse from slipping. “One of the hipposandals has a hairline fracture so the set may have been thrown in the ditch because one was damaged,” explained curator Barbara Birley. To read more about Hadrian's Wall, go to "The Wall at the End of the Empire." 

Two Middle Kingdom Burial Chambers Uncovered in Egypt

MINYA, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that two burial chambers dating to the Middle Kingdom period have been uncovered in Upper Egypt’s Beni Hassan necropolis by a team of Egyptian archaeologists and researchers from Maquarie University. Ayman Ashmawi, head of the Ministry of Antiquities’ Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department, said one of the chambers, located at the bottom of a ten-foot-deep shaft, belonged to an official named Rimushenty, and was probably emptied by British Egyptologist Percy E. Newberry sometime between 1893 and 1900. Pottery remained in the rooms to the east and west of Rimushenty’s main tomb chamber, however. Gamal El-Semestawi, General Director of Middle Egypt Antiquities, said the second chamber had the same design as the first, and it also contained pottery. This tomb had been decorated with well-preserved wall paintings dedicated to an official named Baqet II. The paintings will be cleaned and restored as the study continues. To read more about the elaborate tomb paintings at Beni Hassan, go to "Emblems of the Afterlife." 

Friday, August 03

Bimah Discovered at Site of Lithuania’s Great Synagogue

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA—An international team of archaeologists has uncovered the bimah, or central prayer platform, at the site of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, according to a report from The Jewish Chronicle. The building, constructed in the 1630s, was burned down by the Nazis during World War II and built over by the Soviets in the postwar period. The original bimah was damaged by fire in the eighteenth century and rebuilt in the Tuscan Baroque style, with decorative lions facing the ark where the Torah scrolls were kept. “It is really a very exciting development,” said archaeologist Jon Seligman. “When we talk about the presentation of the site to the public in the future, this will be one of the central features of the display.” Seligman’s team discovered two of the synagogue’s mikvehs, or ritual baths, last year. To read about the Old Synagogue of Krakow, go to “Off the Grid.”

Scientists Measure Maya Drought With “Fossil Water”

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Washington Post, analysis of sediments from Mexico’s Lake Chichancanab has quantified the severity of the drought that has been linked to the collapse of Maya civilization. Scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Florida developed a geochemical technique to measure the levels of the different isotopes of “fossil water” trapped in crystals of the mineral gypsum found in the lake’s layers of sediment. Lighter isotopes of water would have evaporated more quickly, leaving behind higher proportions of heavier isotopes of water in the gypsum, depending upon the length of the drought. The study indicates there was a 50 percent decrease in annual precipitation between A.D. 800 and 1000, rising to as much as a 70 percent drop at times. “Drought does have the potential to be a driving force for a lot of the issues that can cause civilization stress,” said Nick Evans of the University of Cambridge. To read in-depth about study of a Maya city in Guatemala, go to “The City at the Beginning of the World.”

No Link Found Between “Hobbits” and Modern Flores Population

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY—BBC News reports that a new genetic study led by Serena Tucci of Princeton University suggests the small-statured people who live on the Indonesian island of Flores today evolved separately from Homo floresiensis—the small-sized hominin known as the “Hobbit,” whose fossils were discovered in the island's Liang Bua Cave some 15 years ago. It had been previously thought that Flores' ancient population might have mixed with Homo sapiens when the latter arrived on the island thousands of years ago, producing the ancestors of the modern so-called pygmy population. Tucci explained that, because scientists have not been able to recover “Hobbit” DNA from the fossils, the team members employed a statistical method to look for ancient DNA in the modern Flores population. The researchers found traces of Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry, but no “chunks” of DNA of unknown origin. They did, however, identify gene variants associated with short stature, which also occur in other current Homo sapiens groups, and genes associated with plant-based diets. Since smaller individuals have lower energy requirements, they may have been better adapted to survive on the poor diet available on the island. “Together, the evidence makes it unlikely that the pygmies are in any way derived from Hobbits,” concluded team member Richard Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz. For more on the search for DNA from early humans, go to “Caveman Genetics.”

Thursday, August 02

Did Orkney’s Mass Burials Result from Tsunamis?

ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A new theory proposes that Neolithic burials in Orkney and Shetland may contain the bodies of tsunami victims, according to a BBC News report. The theory is based on clear evidence of tsunamis that occurred in the Solomon Islands and Vanuata, in the southern hemisphere, around the same time the burials date to, just over 5,000 years ago. Evidence of a tsunami that occurred around this time has been found at Garth Loch, South Nesting in Shetland, but no such evidence has been found in Orkney. “The question is, is it at all possible that even a single body in [the mass burials] might have drowned? And, if so, when did that drowning take place?” says James Goff of the University of South Wales. “And is it indeed possible that it is indeed linked to the Garth tsunami?” Archaeologists who have excavated in Orkney are skeptical of the theory. They point out that the mass burial sites do not show signs of having been constructed in haste and that they appear to have been built over a span of hundreds of years, and as such could not have been the result of a single event. To read in-depth about archaeology in Orkney, go to “Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart.”

People Buried at Stonehenge Appear to Have Come From Wales

OXFORD, ENGLAND—At least some of the people buried at Stonehenge appear to have come from near the Preseli Hills in west Wales where the bluestones used to build the Neolithic monument were quarried, according to a report from The Guardian. Testing of strontium isotopes from the cremated skull fragments buried at the monument showed that at least 10 of 25 individuals represented had come from at least 100 miles away, including the area near the Preseli Hills. It’s not clear that the bones belonged to those who built the monument, but the earliest cremation dates—around 3000 B.C.—are close to when the bluestones that formed the first circle at Stonehenge were transported there. “The earliest dates are tantalizingly close to the date we believe the bluestones arrived, and though we cannot prove they are the bones of the people who brought them, there must at least be a relationship,” said archaeologist John Pouncett of the University of Oxford. “The range of dates raises the possibility that for centuries people could have been brought to Stonehenge for burial with the stones.” The pieces of skull were found in a circle of 56 pits outside the stone circle that also contained bluestone chips and may have held the original circle of bluestones, which were then rearranged over the succeeding centuries. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”

Byzantine Gold Coin Unearthed in Bulgaria

SOFIA, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that archaeologists have found a 14th-century Byzantine gold coin at the Byzantine frontier fortress of Rusokastro on southeastern Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. Broken in half, one side of the coin depicts Mary alongside the fortifications of Constantinople, while the other shows Jesus as he crowns two Byzantine emperors. To read about another recent discovery at the Rusokastro fortress, go to “Iconic Discovery.” 

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