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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Thursday, February 7

Nabatean Carvings Returned to Jordan

OXFORD, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Art Newspaper, three carvings removed from a Nabatean temple at the site of Khirbet et-Tannur have been returned to Jordan. The carvings had been in the collection of a Spanish diplomat who served in Jerusalem and Amman, and were acquired by an art dealer sometime after the diplomat’s death in 2016. Judith McKenzie of the University of Oxford, who has led an international study of the archaeologist Nelson Glueck’s records of the excavation of Khirbet et-Tannur in the early twentieth century, confirmed the identification of the artifacts and arranged for their repatriation. “Securing their return was a collaborative effort involving myself, the art dealer, and various authorities in Spain and Jordan,” she explained. In addition, McKenzie’s study of pottery and inscriptions at Khirbet et-Tannur could assist archaeologists with the dating of the temples and tombs at the Nabatean site of Petra, located about 40 miles to the south. For more, go to “Mystery Buildings at Petra.”

Ancient Settlement Found in India

RAJKOT, INDIA—The Times of India reports that a site covering two square miles and a possible cemetery that may contain more than 100 burials have been discovered near a river in western India’s state of Gujarat. “We learnt that in ancient times, round stones were placed around the burial site,” said Subhash Bhandari of Kutch University. “Since we found such stones, it lends further credence to the possibility of finding a burial site here.” The team of researchers from Kutch University and the University of Kerala will investigate the possible burial site with 10 to 15 trenches, to see whether the burials are similar to those found at Dholavira, another Indus Valley Civilization site of similar age in the region. The team members are also mapping the site with a differential geographic positioning system and a drone. Pottery, beads, bangles, and bricks have been recovered, Bhandari added. For more, go to “India's Anonymous Artists.”

Wednesday, February 6

Medieval Sword Discovered on Danish City Street

AALBORG, DENMARK—The Local reports that a plumber and a machine operator working on a city street site in northern Denmark uncovered a well-preserved, well-made sword. Archaeologist Kenneth Nielsen of the Historical Museum of Northern Jutland said the weapon measures about 43 inches long, weighs just over two pounds, and features a rounded longitudinal groove, which would have reduced its weight. He added that the sword was found on the oldest layer of paving on one of the city’s central streets, and that items found there usually date to the 1300s—a period in Danish history that witnessed a series of internal power struggles. Swords like this one are typically found in noble burials, Nielsen said, so he thinks the owner of the sword may have been defeated in battle, and his weapon lost in a layer of mud covering the roadway. To read about a 1,000-year-old sword discovered in Norway, go to “Artifact: Viking Sword.”

Possible Iron-Age Musical Instrument Recovered in Scotland

FEARNAN, SCOTLAND—The Courier reports that a notched wooden object, thought to be the bridge of a plucked string instrument, has been recovered from the waters of central Scotland’s Loch Tay. The object has been dated to 500 B.C. and is believed to be one of the earliest music instruments found in Western Europe. The instrument is likely to have been made by people who lived in a crannog, or fortified dwelling, on the shores of the loch. To read about the excavation of a crannog in Northern Ireland, go to “Saving Northern Ireland's Noble Bog.”

Lidar Survey Reveals Size of Pre-Colonial City in Southern Africa

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Live Science reports that a team of researchers led by archaeologist Karim Sadr of the University of the Witwatersrand has created a map of the ruined city of Kweneng using lidar technology. Located in what is now the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, Kweneng is thought to have been built by the Tswana, whose descendants still live in the region. The site, which is covered by a thick layer of vegetation, was discovered during an aerial survey in 1968. The new study indicates that it includes three times as many structures as previously thought. Sadr and his team estimate the city was founded in the fifteenth century and occupied into the nineteenth century, based on the architectural style of the structures. The researchers note that at the city’s peak in the early nineteenth century, it contained between 800 and 900 stone-walled compounds, each of which may have housed several families. To read about another recent discovery in South Africa, go to “Oldest Sketch,” which was one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top Ten Discoveries of 2018.

1,400-Year-Old Canal Found in Alabama

GULF SHORES, ALABAMA— reports that two sections of a 1,400-year-old canal have been uncovered in the long, narrow, sandy peninsula at the mouth of Mobile Bay. The canal, which measures about sixth-tenths of a mile long, would have shaved more than ten miles off the trip around the peninsula in frequently rough waters. It connected the rich fishing grounds of Oyster Bay and Little Lagoon, which had an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico. “There are other similar ancient canals,” said Greg Waselkov of the University of South Alabama, “but they are very rare. All of the other long canals, and there are only six known examples of this type, are all in Florida.” Waselkov is attempting to determine when maintenance of the canal stopped. “Hurricane tidal surges dumped massive amounts of sand onto the abandoned canal, which contains all sorts of datable material from elsewhere that has nothing to do with the canal,” he said. “So it's a challenge.” A remote-sensing survey could help Waselkov and his team locate the path of the rest of the waterway. To read about exploration of a shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico, go to “All Hands on Deck.”

Tuesday, February 5

High-Tech Map Made of Scottish Islands

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—BBC News reports that more than 4,000 photographs of Canna and Sanday, islands in the Scottish Inner Hebrides, were taken with an ultra-high-definition camera on a fixed-wing drone. Researchers from the National Trust for Scotland said the resulting minutely detailed 3-D map, which was produced by the firm GeoGeo, revealed dozens of archaeological sites dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Age through the nineteenth century. The sites include settlement mounds, hut circles, and shielings, or rough shelters placed in pastures. “We’ve been able to obtain exact plots of known sites but also recorded the extensive traces of cultivation, such as rig and furrow field systems that range in age from the Bronze Age onwards,” explained Derek Alexander of the National Trust for Scotland. To read about an unusual discovery in the Scottish Outer Hebrides, go to “Scottish 'Frankenstein' Mummies.”

Stone Structures in Western Sahara Revealed

NORWICH, ENGLAND—Surveys of areas of the Western Sahara under the control of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and examination of satellite images on Google Earth have identified dolmens, structures made of piled rocks, and stones arranged on the ground in shapes of crescents, circles, lines, and rectangles, according to a Live Science report. However, little recent excavation has been carried out in the region because of security problems. Joanne Clarke of the University of East Anglia and independent researcher Nick Brooks, who reviewed work done there between 2002 and 2009, said that the structures could mark the locations of graves. Few artifacts recovered from these desert sites can be radiocarbon dated, although human burials at two tumuli were dated to about 1,500 years ago. To read about a groundbreaking discovery made in nearby Morocco, go to “Homo sapiens, Earlier Still.”

Bronze-Age Populations in Caucasus Region Studied

JENA, GERMANY—According to a Genome Web report, a study of the genomes of 45 people who lived between 6,500 and 3,500 years ago throughout the Caucasus region indicates that they were genetically similar to each other, even though the artifacts they left behind suggest they lived in distinct cultural groups. The Caucasus region stretches from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, and includes part or all of what is now Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iran, and Turkey. Wolfgang Haak of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History suggested that Bronze Age farmers living in the southern Caucasus likely spread north over the mountains, where they met nomads from the Eurasian steppe, some of whom were related to Yamnaya groups to the northwest. Other steppe-dwellers, such as the Steppe Maykop, had genes resembling those found in Paleolithic Siberians, ancient Native Americans, and modern North Asians, he said. Some of these groups met in an interaction zone, where they were likely to have exchanged genes along with cultural, technological, and social innovations such as effective metal weapons, the wheel, and the wagon. To read about a slightly more recent culture from the Caucasus, go to “Rites of the Scythians.”