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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, July 13

3,000-Year-Old Inscription Found in Israel

KIRYAT GAT, ISRAEL—According to a statement released by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a fragment of an inscription thought to be related to the biblical book of Judges has been found at the site of Khirbat er-Ra’i, which is located in southern Israel, by a team of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Macquarie University. The alphabetic script inscription, written in ink on a fragment of a pottery jug, includes the name “Jerubbaal” and dates to about 1100 B.C. In the biblical tradition, the name “Jerubbaal” is associated with the judge Gideon. The piece of pottery was found in a storage pit that had been lined with stones. The jug may have held oil, perfume, or medicine. Alphabetic inscriptions from this period have mostly been found at the Canaanite city of Tel Lachish in south-central Israel, which was destroyed around 1150 B.C. The discovery of the inscription suggests that the use of the alphabet may have been preserved at Khirbat er-Ra’i after the fall of Tel Lachish. To read about a new study on literacy among the Israelites, go to "Reading, Writing, and Algorithms."

World War II-Era Bunker Unearthed in Poland

LUBLIN, POLAND—The First News reports that traces of a bunker built by German forces during World War II were unearthed in central Poland during a construction project. A wooden staircase and three underground corridors lined with wood survive, according to Dariusz Kopciowski, the Lublin Conservator of Monuments. Nazi and Soviet-made bullets were recovered from inside the structure, which suggest it may have been the site of a battle when the occupying Germany army was driven out by the Red Army in the summer of 1944. “We don’t yet know what else could be there,” Kopciowski said. “At the moment we have to check if there are not some unexploded bombs.” Researchers have also recovered mineral water bottles made in Germany and the Czech Republic at the site. To read about the Nazi occupation of Krakow, go to "Off the Grid."

Roman Coins Found on Riverbank in the Netherlands

LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS—According to a Live Science article, metal detectorists reported their 2017 discovery of more than 100 Roman coins along the banks of the Aa River in the southern Netherlands to the Portable Antiquities of the Netherlands. When Liesbeth Claes of Leiden University and her colleagues went to the site to investigate, they recovered two coins and a bronze pendant from a horse harness to add to the four silver denarii, 103 bronze sesterces, and several axes. Claes said that all of the coins were minted between 27 B.C. and A.D. 180, while the pendant dates to between A.D. 120 and 300. None of the coins was very valuable, she explained, and they were found scattered over a wide area. Research revealed a nineteenth-century document indicating that the spot where the coins were found had been used as a ford. The researchers think the coins may have been offered by Romans who crossed the river. “For traders, in particular, it was important to be able to transport their goods safely to the other side,” Claes explained. “And there’s also the fact that in ancient times, rivers always had some sacred connections.” Future excavations could reveal evidence of a passageway and additional offerings. For more on the Roman presence in what is now the Netherlands, go to "Caesar's Diplomatic Breakdown."

Monday, July 12

Scientists Investigate Climate’s Impact on Human Evolution

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Temperature may have been the main driver of the evolution of human body size over the past million years, according to a Cosmos Magazine report. Andrea Manica of the University of Cambridge and Manuel Will of the University of Tübingen and their colleagues analyzed the body and brain size of more than 300 Homo fossils, including bones from Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, Homo habilis, and Homo erectus, and compared the measurements of the fossils to regional climate reconstructions dating back one million years. The researchers found that the archaic humans had larger bodies in areas with colder, harsher climates, and smaller bodies in warmer places. By reducing surface area compared to weight, the researchers explained, less heat would be lost through the skin. “We found that different factors determine brain and body size—they’re not under the same evolutionary pressures,” Will added. “The environment has a much greater influence on our body size than our brain size.” To read about a distant cousin of modern humans, go to "Homo naledi," one of ARCHAEOLOGY's Top 10 Discoveries of the Decade.

Ancient Industrial-Sized Well Found in Southern India

TAMIL NADU, INDIA—The Times of India reports that an unusual rubble stone structure uncovered at Kodumanal, a site near the banks of the River Noyyal in southern India, may have been built as a 100-foot-deep well. “Through excavations all these years we have found archaeological evidence for industrial activity in Kodumanal,” said archaeologist J. Ranjith. “There were evidences to show that the inhabitants were involved in stone polishing [and] iron ore smelting. So they would require a water source close by rather than going to the river every time,” he explained. Pathway-like features on the sides of the stone structure, which measures about 33 feet square, may have been used as channels. The excavation has also revealed an access route and steps. In previous excavations, Kodumanal has yielded urn burials, cists, cairns, beads, and 2,300-year-old pottery bearing Tamil brahmi inscriptions, Ranjith added. To read about a 2,000-year-old temple complex in southeastern India, go to "India's Temple Island."

Statistical Analysis Applied to Tombs in Eastern Sudan

NAPLES, ITALY—According to a Live Science report, Stefano Costanzo of the University of Naples L’Orientale and his colleagues mapped more than 10,000 funerary monuments spotted in satellite imagery of the Kassala region of eastern Sudan. The structures include simple raised tumuli, which are widely found in Africa, and qubbas, an Islamic-style tomb or shrine. “To the naked eye, it was clear that the clustered tombs were conditioned by the environment, but deeper meaning may have been implied in their spatial arrangement,” Constanzo said. The researchers decided to analyze the placement of the tombs with a statistical modeling technique used to study the spatial patterns of stars and galaxies. They determined that the monuments consist of subclusters of burials that seem to emanate from an unidentified “parent” tomb of social or traditional importance, he explained, although more burials were found in landscapes where building materials were readily available. Future research could narrow the model by time periods, determine the precise locations of the suspected “parent” tombs, and explore who was buried in them. Read the original scholarly article about this research in PLOS ONE. To read about the Nubian city of Kerma in northern Sudan, go to "A Nubian Kingdom Rises."

Pre-Colonial Burial Cave Mapped in Gabon

PARIS, FRANCE—According to a Live Science report, archaeologists Richard Oslisly and Sébastien Villotte of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and their colleagues mapped the interior of Gabon’s Iroungou Cave. Because the cave can only be reached through a vertical drop of 82 feet, the researchers employed photography and laser-scanning so that they could create a 3-D reconstruction of its four levels. They also collected samples from leg bones for radiocarbon dating, but left the remains in place. The study revealed that the complete remains of at least 24 adults and four children had been placed in the cave between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The scientists noted that all of the intact upper jaws were missing their central and lateral permanent incisors, and that the tooth sockets had healed. Villotte explained that the removal of so many front teeth would have affected pronunciation and changed the shape of the face in a “highly visible” way, perhaps to identify members of a particular group. Bracelets, rings, axes, knives, marine shells, and pierced carnivore teeth were also found. “As this site is exceptional, and as burial rites are virtually unknown for pre-colonial Gabon, one can consider this discovery as the first piece of the puzzle,” Villotte concluded. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Antiquity. To read about a DNA study of the remains of enslaved individuals from West Africa who were taken to the Caribbean in the seventeenth century, go to "Finding Lost African Homelands."

Friday, July 9

4,000-Year-Old Settlement Unearthed in Eastern India

ODISHA, INDIA—According to a report in The Hindu, traces of a settlement, with a circular fortification made of mud and a water management system, have been uncovered in the village of Durgadevi, which is located near India’s eastern coast, by a team of researchers from the Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies (OIMSEAS). Archaeologist Sunil Kumar Patnaik of OIMSEAS said the team found the remains of a circular dwelling with a rammed earth floor containing black-on-red painted pottery, black slipped ware, red slipped ware, and copper objects dated to the Chalcolithic period (2000–1000 B.C.). “People were mostly leading a settled life and had started agriculture, and domestication of animals and fishing,” Patnaik said. Iron Age (1000–400 B.C.) artifacts, including nails, arrowheads, a crucible, and slag, are the first to be found in the area. Red ware, terracotta ear studs, bangles, beads, and conical objects reflect the shift to trade and urbanization in the Early Historic Period (400–200 B.C.), when the fortifications were built, he added. To read about an early Buddhist monastery in the eastern state of Jharkhand, go to "Buddhist Retreat." 

Etruscan Boy’s Remains Discovered in Italy

ROME, ITALY—ANSA reports that the remains of a boy of about 12 years of age were discovered at Pontecagnano, an Etruscan outpost in the Campania region of southwestern Italy. Archaeologist Gina Tomay said the boy was buried in the fourth century B.C. wearing a warrior’s bronze belt. Two ceramic cups were placed at his feet to hold food and wine at the afterlife banqueting ceremony called the symposium, she added. To read about exchange between the Nuragic people of Sardinia and early Etruscans on mainland Italy known as the Villanovans, go to "Tyrrhenian Traders."

Medieval Seal’s Incomplete Engraving Identified

NORFOLK, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that the incomplete Latin inscription on a damaged medieval seal containing a Roman carved gem may be a biblical quote. Alex Cortez, who lives in Alameda, California, heard that Norfolk finds liaison officer Helen Geake and her team had not yet identified the incomplete inscription on the object, which was discovered by a metal detectorist in eastern England. Cortez found a reference to a similar, thirteenth-century seal engraved with part of a psalm in Latin. “So I scrutinized the photos and went through a Latin psalter until I found a likely candidate,” he said. Cortez thinks the seal matrix read “Declina a Malo, a fac bonum,” a phrase meaning “decline from evil and do good.” Geake explained that the phrase is found in Psalm 37 in modern bibles. To read about another artifact found by a metal detectorist in Norfolk, go to "Anglo-Saxon Jewelry Box."

Traces of Thracian Tower Found in Bulgaria

BURGAS, BULGARIA—The Sofia Globe reports that defensive structures, coins, ornaments, and amphora seals have been uncovered on Cape Chiroza, along Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast, by archaeologists from the country’s National History Museum and the Regional History Museum Burgas. The structures include the foundations of an enclosure wall, a massive tower, and a wide ditch that may have been used in rituals in addition to acting as a means of defense. Fragments of Thracian pottery and pottery imported from the area of the city of Pergamum, which is located in Anatolia, were also recovered. The pottery and coins found at the site date it to the first century B.C. To read about a Roman oil vessel found in a Thracian grave in Bulgaria, go to "Bath Buddy."