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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, May 6

Ibis Remains Detected in Ancient Egyptian Mummy

ITHACA, NEW YORK—A recent CT scan of a 1,500-year-old mummy held in the collections at Cornell University has revealed the remains of a sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopica), according to a Live Science report. A study of museum records conducted by researcher Carol Ann Barsody and her colleagues suggests that the mummy, which had been mistakenly labeled as a hawk, may have arrived at Cornell in 1930 as part of a donation made by an alumnus. The Egyptians sometimes sacrificed these birds, which have long legs and a curved beak, to Thoth, the god of the moon, reckoning, learning, and writing, who is sometimes depicted with the head of an ibis. Barsody said that the scan showed that the bird’s head had been twisted around and bent back against its body. A leg had been fractured prior to the mummification process, the sternum and ribcage had been removed, and its beak was broken after mummification. The bird’s feathers and soft tissues were also detected by the scan, she added. The team of researchers now plans to create a 3-D virtual model of the ibis. To read about ibis sacrifices in ancient Egypt, go to "Birds of a Feather."

Historic Jamestown Threatened by Flooding

JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—According to a report in The Washington Post, the site of the 1607 English settlement of Jamestown, the first arrival of enslaved Africans in America in 1619, and long-time home of Native Americans has been placed on a list of the country’s most endangered historical places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Situated on a tidewater island between the James River and a swamp, the site is vulnerable to heavy rain and rising groundwater levels brought about by climate change. “You’ve got resources there underwater, that are staying underwater,” said Katherine Malone-France of the National Trust. Archaeologists and their colleagues attempt to manage the water around their excavations with drainage systems constructed in the 1950s, sump pumps, sand bags, and tarps because water can damage or destroy artifacts such as pieces of armor, projectile points, and human remains, and wash away layers of sediments. Plans to reinforce the 100-year-old concrete-block seawall holding back the James River with giant granite stones will soon get underway, added Michael Lavin of Jamestown Rediscovery. A modern drainage system, a special flood berm, and raised roads are also needed to preserve the site, he said. To read about recent finds from Jamestown, go to "Burn Notice."

Thursday, May 5

Researchers Document Cuba’s 1960s Defenses

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK—Esteban Grau González-Quevedo of the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humanity and Odlanyer Hernández de Lara of Syracuse University conducted a survey of concrete bunkers and trenches dug into the bedrock along Cuba’s coastline, and documented them with 3-D photogrammetry, according to a Live Science report. In 1962, the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles on the island, which is located just 124 miles from the United States. The U.S. threatened to invade if the missiles were not removed, leading to a tense 13-day standoff between the two nuclear powers known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The structures under investigation were built to defend Cuba against this possible U.S. invasion. “Some of the inscriptions relating to the time of the Missile Crisis are very interesting, including one that reads: ‘aquí no se rinde nadie’ (no one is giving up here),” de Lara said. Some of the now-abandoned structures have been damaged by coastal erosion, he added. To read about a survey of indigenous sites on the island, go to "World Roundup: Cuba."

DNA Indicates Black Rats Colonized Europe at Least Twice

YORK, ENGLAND—According to a statement released by the University of York, a DNA study of rodent bones dated from the first through the seventeenth centuries has traced the spread of the black rat (Rattus rattus) across Europe and North Africa. A team of researchers from the University of York, the University of Oxford, and the Max Planck Institute found that the black rat colonized Europe in the Roman period, but its population there declined after the fall of the empire. A genetically distinct population of rats then appeared in Europe in the medieval period, perhaps reflecting the re-emergence of long-distance trade. However, their population declined again in the eighteenth century, with the arrival of the brown rat, (Rattus norvegicus), which is now the dominant rat species in Europe. The population dynamics of black rats and humans mirror each other, and could reflect historic and economic events, the researchers concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature Communications. To read about a study of the spread of house mice throughout southwestern Asia and southeastern Europe, go to "Mouse in the House."

3-D Photogrammetry Reveals 1,000-Year-Old Etchings in Alabama

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE—Science Magazine reports that a project to document etchings of birds, snakes, wasps, and overlapping patterns of lines on the ceiling of an underground cave in northern Alabama with 3-D photogrammetry has revealed previously undetected images of three human-like figures, a serpent with scales, and a swirling figure with a rattlesnake tail. One of these images measures about 11 feet long, making it the largest known in North America. Jan Simek of the University of Tennessee explained that because the cave’s ceiling is less than two feet from the ground, researchers had to lie on their backs to view just one of the etchings at a time. But after taking more than 16,000 high-resolution photographs, Stephen Alvarez of Ancient Art Archive and his colleagues created an easier-to-view model of the cave with virtual reality software. “We could light the space any way we wanted and drop the floor away,” he said. Simek added that the newly found figures resemble cliff drawings at Alabama’s Painted Bluff, pictographs in Canyonlands National Park, and figures on pottery created in the American Southeast from 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1000 by the people of the Woodlands period, while charcoal fragments at the site and wood smoke streaks on the cave walls, perhaps made by torches brought into the cave as a light source, have been dated to about 1,000 years ago. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Antiquity. To read about Cherokee ritual imagery documented deep in caves of the American South, go to "Artists of the Dark Zone."

Wednesday, May 4

Carvings in Southern Mexico May Represent Ritual Ballcourts

OAXACA, MEXICO—Thirty carvings depicting possible I-shaped ritual ball courts have been found in natural rock outcrops at the site of the ancient settlement of Quiechapa, according to a Live Science report. The settlement, which is located in southern Mexico, dates back to about 2,300 years ago, said Alex Elvis Badillo of Indiana State University. The carvings, he added, are thought to date to sometime after 100 B.C., based upon the shape of the ball courts. In the sixteenth century, Spanish priest Ruiz de Alarcón wrote of rituals in which Mesoamerican people spilled their blood into small cavities cut into rock. Badillo suggests that these ball court–shaped carvings may have been used in this way. He and his colleagues documented the carvings with structure-from-motion (SfM) photogrammetry to produce 3-D representations of them. He notes that further study is needed, however. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Ancient Mesoamerica. To read about a 3,400-year-old ball court discovered in Oaxaca, go to "Play Ball!"

Possible Ringfort Spotted in Satellite Imagery of Southern Ireland

COUNTY TIPPERARY, IRELAND—Tipperary Live reports that a previously unidentified circular enclosure and a tree line following the curvature of the mark was spotted on satellite imagery of land in southern Ireland by volunteer map contributor Anne-Karoline Distel, who alerted Ireland’s National Monuments Service. Jean Farrelly of the National Monuments Service said the enclosure may have held animals, or it may have been a ringfort where a farmer’s family lived. The tree line is located on the current border of the town of Cashel and may mark a boundary dating back to the time of the enclosure, she added. To read about mounds, barrows, and ringforts at another site in western Ireland, go to "Off the Grid: Rathcroghan, Ireland."

12th-Century Carving Discovered in Cambodia

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA—The Khmer Times reports that pieces of a carving dated to the twelfth century A.D. have been unearthed at Angkor Archaeological Park, which is located in northwestern Cambodia. The sculpture was found at the causeway of the Angkor Thom temple's Takav Gate, and depicts an apsara, a type of dancing fairy or spirit of the clouds and waters. To read about laser scanning of Angkor's surrounding areas, go to "Laser Scanning," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of the Decade.