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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, November 28

New Thoughts on Water Sources in the Indus Valley

LONDON, ENGLAND—A new study suggests that Bronze Age Indus villages may not have relied upon flowing, Himalayan rivers to survive, according to a Live Science report. Sedimentologist Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London says a paleochannel, long thought to have carried water necessary for the survival of Indus villages, was actually dry by the time the villages were at their peak, between 4,800 and 3,900 years ago. Based upon a study of river sediments and samples from the paleochannel, Rajiv Sinha and Ajit Singh of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur determined the Sutlej River, which now flows across the Punjab region, had once flowed through the paleochannel, bringing glacial sediments and seasonal floods to the region. But about 8,000 years ago, the Sutlej changed course, leaving behind groundwater and a fertile river valley that was probably seasonally inundated with monsoon rains. “We think, actually, that these towns and settlements developed here because this was actually a good place for agriculture,” Gupta said. For more, go to “Letter from India: Living Heritage at Risk.”

Peru’s Orca Geoglyph Restored

ICA PROVINCE, PERU—Live Science reports that a geoglyph depicting a killer whale has been cleaned and restored on a hillside in southern Peru’s Palpa region. Johny Isla of Peru’s Ministry of Culture saw a photograph of the geoglyph, which had been studied by German archaeologists in the 1960s, but its location had been poorly documented and then forgotten. He began his search for the orca with Google Earth, and then looked for it on foot on land that is now private property. “Being drawn on a slope, it is easier [for it] to suffer damage than [for] those figures that are in flat areas, such as those of the Nazca Pampa,” Isla explained. The 230-foot-long figure, thought to have been created some 2,000 years ago by the Paracas culture, was formed through the removal of a thin layer of stones from the surface of the ground. Some parts, including the creature’s eyes, were made of piles of stones. The Ministry of Culture is working to secure the geoglyph. To read about another fascinating feature in Peru, go to “An Overlooked Inca Wonder.”

Possible Medieval Mikveh Identified in France

SAINT-PAUL-TROIS-CHÂTEAUX, FRANCE—A basin in an ancient cellar in southern France may have been used as a mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, during the Middle Ages, according to a Times of Israel report. Researchers led by Claude de Mecquenem of the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research recently re-examined the cellar, which is located in what had been the heart of the Jewish quarter in the town of Saint-Paul-Trois Châteaux in the thirteenth century. “Every time I went down there, there was always water there,” commented Mylène Lert of the Tricastine Museum of Archaeology. “And considering that a Torah ark was discovered in a house next door, the clues suggesting that this is a mikveh are starting to add up,” she said. After King Philip IV expelled Jews from southern France in 1306, they were only allowed in live in guarded ghettos on land owned by the pope. To read about the discovery of another mikveh, go to “Under the Rug.”

Monday, November 27

Greek Statue Fragments Found in Southern Turkey

ADANA PROVINCE, TURKEY—According to a report in the Daily Sabah, pieces of a limestone statue of the Greek goddess Hygieia and the god Eros have been found in the ancient city of Anavarza. Nedim Dervişoğlu, director of the Adana Museum, said the statue is thought to date to the third or fourth century B.C. Hygieia, the goddess of hygiene, was one of the six daughters of Asclepius, the god of health. Dervişoğlu explained that Anavarza was known for the development of medicine and the home of Dioskurides, a pharmacologist during the Roman period. Excavators will continue to search for the statue’s missing heads. To read about another discovery in Turkey, go to “Figure of Distinction.”

Iron Age Cauldrons Uncovered in England

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—An Iron Age ceremonial site in the England's East Midlands has yielded 11 cauldrons, a sword, dress pins, a brooch, and a cast copper-alloy horn cap, which may have been part of a ceremonial staff, according to a report in the Leicester Mercury. John Thomas of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services said that in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., the site is thought to have been a small, open settlement, but by the third century B.C., the evidence suggests later generations enclosed the individual roundhouses. Most of the cauldrons were found in a large, circular enclosure ditch surrounding a building, while others were spread across the settlement. The vessels may have been used during major feasts and large gatherings before they were buried. The excavators lifted the cauldrons from the ground in soil blocks wrapped in strips of plaster, and then examined them with computer tomography equipment before carefully removing the surrounding dirt. Thomas noted the cauldrons came in different sizes, but were comprised of iron rims and upper bands with two iron ring handles, and copper-alloy bowls. For more, go to “Letter from Wales: Hillforts of the Iron Age.”

Byzantine Mosaic Unearthed at Ashdod-Yam

ASHDOD, ISRAEL—The Times of Israel reports that a mosaic dating to the Byzantine period has been unearthed in the ancient city of Ashdod-Yam, or Azotus in Greek. The mosaic, found on the floor of a 1,500-year-old Christian church, bears a Greek inscription recording when the church was constructed—the year 292, according to the Georgian calendar, or A.D. 539. Archaeologists led by Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University, Angelika Berlejung of Leipzig University, Balbina Bäbler of the University of Göttingen, and Sa’ar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority say the inscription is the earliest-known use of the Georgian calendar in the world, as well as the first time a Georgian church or monastery has been found on Israel’s Mediterranean coastline. The scholars suggest the mosaic supports historical sources that mention the presence of Georgian bishop and philosopher Peter the Iberian in Ashdod-Yam. The church is thought to have been part of a larger complex.

Wednesday, November 22

Medieval Village Unearthed in Denmark

TOLLERUP, DENMARK—Traces of three medieval farm buildings have been unearthed in eastern Denmark, reports Science Nordic. The structures were built between A.D. 1400 and 1600, but the site itself probably dates to at least the eleventh century. King Canute IV deeded a village in the vicinity of the excavations to a local bishop in 1085, and tax records from the period suggest there were six farms and a manor at that site. Archaeologists suspect the newly discovered village is the same one mentioned in the medieval documents. National Museum of Denmark archaeologist Nils Engberg says that merely finding any traces of buildings dating to this period is exceedingly rare. Because of a chronic timber shortage in the Middle Ages, buildings were made from stone, which was often reused in later buildings. “We have lots of excavations from earlier periods” says Engberg. “For example from the Stone Age and Bronze Age. But unfortunately not from the Middle Ages.” To read more about medieval Denmark, go to “Bluetooth’s Fortress.”

New Research on Viking Army Camp at Repton

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have turned up new evidence about a ninth-century Viking overwintering camp in the Derbyshire village of Repton, according to a report from Yahoo News. The site, which was occupied by a Viking army in the winter of 873-4, was previously excavated starting in the 1970s and was thought to have been limited to a fortified D-shaped enclosure measuring just a few acres. Now, a team from the University of Bristol has found evidence of structures and activities including metalworking and ship repair in the area outside this enclosure. Among the items found there were lead gaming pieces, fragments of battle-axes and arrows, and nails with roves, which are a telltale feature of Viking ship nails. The finds show that the Viking camp was larger and host to a wider range of activities than had been previously known, said Cat Jarman of the University of Bristol. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when the Vikings arrived in Repton in 873, they drove the Mercian king Burghred overseas. The researchers also confirmed that a mass grave at the site containing at least 264 people dates to the time of the overwintering camp and likely holds Viking war dead. For more on the Vikings in England, go to “Vengeance on the Vikings.”

Lioness Relief Discovered in the Galilee

  SEA OF GALILEE, ISRAEL—A well-preserved basalt relief of a lioness has been uncovered by archaeologists at El-Araj in the Galilee, according to a report from Haaretz. The 1,320-pound relief includes a three-dimensional representation of the head, including mane, fangs, and tongue, and a two-dimensional representation of the body, including a tail hanging down between the legs. The carving dates to the fourth to sixth centuries A.D., said Mordechai Aviam, director of excavations at the Kinneret Academic College in the Galilee. “This relief looks very much like other statues of lions and lionesses discovered in synagogues in the Golan Heights,” he said. However, Aviam believes the site is Julias, a Roman-era town, and the carving could have been featured on a non-Jewish public building. To read about another recent discovery in Israel, go to “Conspicuous Consumption.”

Ancient Plaque Used to Track Migrations

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—The Atlantic reports that researchers are using plaque from the teeth of ancient Polynesians to track prehistoric human migrations in the Pacific. University of Adelaide biologists Laura Weyrich and Raphael Eisenhofer collected samples of plaque from the uncleaned teeth of skulls stored in a number of museums. The samples contained the DNA of a number of common mouth bacteria and by studying the mutations in these bacteria’s genes, the team hopes to be able to infer the timing and exact routes of several migration events. “The traditional means of looking at human migrations might be too coarse,” says Eisenhofer. “Hopefully, the rapid rate of evolution in that bacteria will allow us to answer some of the questions.” To read in-depth about ancient microbial DNA, go to “Worlds Within Us.”