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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, January 8

Two Sculptures Unearthed in Southern Turkey

BUDUR, TURKEY—Hurriyet Daily News reports that a statuette depicting Asclepius, the Greek god of health, and the head of a statue of Serapis, an Egyptian god of light, were unearthed in southern Turkey at the site of the ancient city of Kibyra. Şükrü Özüdoğru of Mehmet Akif Ersoy University said the Asclepius figure dates to the second century A.D. and was found in six pieces in a burned layer at a temple dedicated to the emperor. Now cleaned, conserved, and reassembled, it stands about 15 inches tall. The bearded head of Serapis was recovered from the bath complex and reunited with a marble bust unearthed at the site last year. The sculptures will be displayed at the Burdur Archaeology Museum, Özüdoğru said. To read about a terracotta mask of Dionysus recently unearthed at the ancient city of Daskyleion in western Turkey, go to "Who Is That Masked God?"

Two-Million-Year-Old Stone Tools Found in East Africa

JENA, GERMANY—Courthouse News Service reports that an international team of researchers has discovered stone tools dated to between two and 1.8 million years old in Tanzania’s Ewass Oldupa, the western area of Oldupai Gorge, a 28-mile-long canyon known for its hominin fossils. Recovered from layers of stratified sediments, the artifacts are the oldest stone tools found in the gorge to date. The tools include pebble and cobble cores, sharp-edged flakes, and polyhedral cobbles. Fossils of wild cattle, pigs, hippos, panthers, lions, hyenas, primates, reptiles, and birds were also uncovered in the layers, along with evidence of changing habitats over the 200,000-year period. The habitats included systems of rivers and lakes, fern meadows, woodlands, palm groves, dry steppes, and evidence of natural burning. The recurrence of the Oldowan tools in these layers suggests that the hominins moved in and out of the area during periods of volcanic activity and as the environment shifted. “We see that we have a lot of flexibility and versatility even though ecosystems were changing,” said team member Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. “I think in part, this is the beginning of our own genus, and in part, that is our legacy.” Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature Communications. To read about an 800,000-year-old bone point from Olduvai, go to "The Bone Collector."

Ice Age Hunters May Have Shared Meat With Wolves

HELSINKI, FINLAND—Archaeologist Maria Lahtinen of the Finnish Food Authority suggests that Ice Age hunters probably had a surplus of lean meat to feed wolves and even captured wolf pups, according to a Science News report. The wolves would have been able to digest more lean protein than the humans, who may have been more interested in acquiring fatty marrow and grease from animal bones to meet their energy needs when the carbohydrate supply ran low during winter months. Feeding the wolves would have also reduced competition for prey and the need to kill wolves. The process may have eventually led to the two predators hunting together and dog domestication, Lahtinen explained. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Scientific Reports. To read about remains of butchered wolves and dogs discovered at a Bronze Age site on the Russian steppe, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."

Thursday, January 7

Buddhist Cave Temples Examined with High-Tech Tool

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND—Researchers from Nottingham Trent University, the Dunhuang Research Academy, and the British Library employed remote spectral imaging to examine the paintings within Buddhist temples in northwestern China’s Mogao Caves, according to a Nottinghamshire Live report. In Cave 465, the high-resolution images showed previously unknown Sanskrit script at the foot of each of the Five Celestial Buddhas painted on the cave’s ceiling. Team member Haida Liang said the text had been written in cinnabar on paper that was then pasted on the ceiling, perhaps as part of a consecration ritual. The study also showed that one of these inscriptions had been glued face down, so that the letters were flipped. The workmen were unlikely to have been able to read Sanskrit, Liang explained. Analysis of the writing style and the formulas of the paint pigments has helped to date the temple to sometime after the late twelfth century A.D. “This has been a huge debate for many years, but now our analysis has enabled us to date this cave with much more certainty than ever before,” she said. To read about a Ming Dynasty Buddha statue and temple found underwater in southeastern China, go to "The Buddha of the Lake."

Byzantine-Era Tombstone Found in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—According to a statement released by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a tombstone bearing a Greek inscription was discovered during trail maintenance work at Nitzana National Park, which is located in southern Israel’s Negev Desert. Leah Di Segni of Hebrew University said the inscription dates to the sixth or seventh century A.D., and refers to “Blessed Maria, who lived an immaculate life.” The inscription also states that Maria died on February ninth. Tali Erickson-Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority said that the settlement at Nitzana was founded on a trade route in the third century A.D., and by the Byzantine period had a military fortress, churches, a monastery, and served as a stopping point for Christian pilgrims traveling to St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula. Nitzana was eventually abandoned in the tenth century, she added. The discovery of the tombstone could help researchers define the boundaries of the ancient town. To read about another recent discovery in the Negev, go to "Alcohol Through the Ages: Desert Wine."

New Thoughts on Amazonia’s Dark Earth

EUGENE, OREGON—According to a statement released by the University of Oregon, researchers led by Lucas Silva of the University of Oregon think that patches of fertile soil in the Amazon rain forest known as Amazonian Dark Earths (ADEs) could have been created through natural processes, rather than through human intervention, as has been previously suggested. Silva and his team members analyzed and dated soil samples collected near the confluence of the Solimoes and Negro rivers in northwestern Brazil, and found that calcium, phosphorous, and other nutrients in the soil likely originated from fires upstream. These minerals, which are found in ADEs, could have been transported to other areas through the river flooding that occurred after a long dry period between 8,000 and 4,000 years ago. Otherwise, the researchers suggest, it would have taken a large, sedentary population thousands of years of soil management work to transform the land to support agriculture. It is more likely, they argue, that people identified and settled in areas with arable soil and then developed soil management techniques. Read the scholarly article about this research in Nature Communications. For an alternative explanation of the origins of ADEs, go to "Dark Earth in the Amazon."

Wednesday, January 6

Devastation Caused by Great Northern War Unearthed in Estonia

TARTU, ESTONIA—ERR News reports that construction work at the University of Tartu has revealed traces of houses destroyed during the Great Northern War. “So to say, we opened an early modern time capsule, the whole quarter has remained exactly the same as it was in 1708 when it was destroyed,” said archaeologist Rivo Bernotas. Estonia, which had been ruled by Sweden, was integrated into the Russian Empire in 1710 as a result of the war. Bernotas said the researchers also recovered a token created to commemorate the consecration of Jodokus von der Recke as Bishop of Tartu in 1545, medieval ovens and refuse such as animal and fish bones, and other artifacts including an stove tile carved with the image of King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden. To read about recent archaeological work in Estonia, go to "Largest Viking DNA Study," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of 2020.

Hilltop Buddhist Monastery Uncovered in Eastern India

BIHAR, INDIA—The Times of India reports that a Mahayana Buddhist monastery dated to about the eleventh or twelfth centuries A.D. has been discovered on a hilltop in eastern India. Anil Kumar of Visva Bharati University said the structure featured interconnected cells, wooden doorframes, and lime-plastered floors decorated with red, green, yellow, white, and black paint. The lintel at the entrance to the monastery’s main sacred area depicts two Bodhisattvas known as Manjushri and Avalokiteshvara. Wooden votive tablets recovered at the site each bear the figure of a person that may represent the Buddha. Kumar said some 500 sculptures have also been documented at the site. The name of the monastery, Srimaddharmaviharik aryabhiksusanghasya, was found written in script dated to about the eighth or ninth centuries A.D. on two burnt clay seals, he added. The large number of metal bangles, and the presence of doors on the cells, suggest that women monks may have lived in the monastery. A woman named Vijayashree Bhadra, who received donations from Mallika Devi, a queen of the Pala Empire, is known to have served as chief monk. To read about another Buddhist monastery where there is evidence for cohabitation of monks and nuns, go to "Early Buddhism in India."