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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, December 28

Late Eighteenth-Century Ice House Found in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Guardian reports that a late eighteenth-century commercial ice-storage facility has been found in central London, in what was a well to-do neighborhood near Regent’s Park. The egg-shaped structure, which was backfilled with rubble when a later stucco terrace on the site was destroyed during World War II, measures approximately 31 feet deep and 25 feet wide. Most ice wells in the city were much smaller than this one, according to David Sorapure of the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). “What this one does and why it is significant is it bridges the gap between [the time when] ice was only for the very wealthy, to a kind of mass availability of ice,” he explained. By the early nineteenth century, the ice house was filled with ice imported from Norway by an entrepreneur, who had it transported to the site on the newly constructed Regent’s canal. MOLA archaeologist Danny Harrison said workers would chip off blocks of ice for sale to restaurants, private homes, and perhaps even neighborhood dentists and doctors who used ice to numb their patients. For more on life in nineteenth-century London, go to “Haunt of the Resurrection Men.”

Bronze Lamp Unearthed at Roman Villa in England

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Bristol Live reports that part of a Roman villa and a burial site dating to the second and third centuries A.D. have been unearthed at a construction site in southwestern England by a team from Cotswold Archaeology. One of the burials consisted of human cremains held in a pottery vessel. A bronze hanging lamp thought to have been manufactured in the first century A.D. was also recovered. It features a human figure wearing a tunic and sitting cross-legged. For more on Roman England, go to “Off with Their Heads.”

Hidden Carvings Revealed at Scotland’s Dunkeld Cathedral

PERTHSHIRE, SCOTLAND—According to a report in the Daily Record, conservationists inspecting a fifteenth-century tomb at Dunkeld Cathedral found stone carvings that had been hidden from view for some 600 years. The tomb, built in 1420 for Bishop Cardeny, is thought to have originally been placed in a freestanding location, and later moved and placed against a wall. Colin Muir of Historic Environment Scotland said the conservation team does not yet know why the tomb was moved. “Conservation works to protect the fabric of the tomb are currently being planned, and we hope to undertake further investigation of what may lie behind it,” he said. As part of the investigation, the researchers recorded the carvings with 3-D photogrammetric technology and created a model of the tomb. To read about a recent discovery relating to early Christianity in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

Monday, December 24

A Persian Military Outpost Identified in Israel

ACRE, ISRAEL—Haaretz reports that archaeologists digging at the site of Tel Keisan ("hill of treachery" in Arabic) in northern Israel have unearthed the remains of a Persian military outpost that might have played a role in the succesful 525 B.C. Achaemenid invasion of Egypt. According to historians such as Diodurus Siculus and Strabo, King Cambyses II attacked Egypt after massing a huge army on the plains near the city of Acre. The team, led by Ben-Gurion University archaeologist Gunnar Lehmann and David Schloen of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, believe that Tel Keisan was probably one of several outposts that played a role in supporting the Persian expeditionary force during its build up. The Persian-period fortifications at Tel Keisan were later heavily damaged during Alexander the Great's fourth-century B.C. campaign to drive the Achaemenids out of the Levant. To read in-depth about the ancient Egyptian occupation of the region, go to “Egypt’s Final Redoubt in Canaan.”    

Horse Unearthed in Pompeii

POMPEII, ITALY—News of the latest exciting discovery in Pompeii comes from The Guardian, which reports that archaeologists excavating in an exceptionally well-preserved villa just north of the city have uncovered an intact horse buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The horse, one of two, or perhaps three, found thus far in the villa’s stables, still wears a military-style harness. The team has also unearthed bronze elements of what they believe to be a type of saddle with four horns and a wooden substructure that provided stability for the rider at a time before the adoption of stirrups. This saddle design is known to have been for military use. According to Massimo Osanna, the director general of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, the horses were thoroughbreds and belonged to the wealthy villa’s owner, who may have been a general in the Roman army. For other discoveries from the new excavations in Pompeii, go to “Top 10 Discoveries of 2018.” 

Friday, December 21

Ape-Like and Human-Like Features Found in Hominin Brain

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Live Science reports that paleontologist Amélie Beaudet of the University of the Witwatersrand and her colleagues used micro-computed tomography to make an endocast of the interior of the skull of “Little Foot,” a 3.67-million-year-old Australopithecus individual discovered in South Africa’s Sterkfontein Caves. “I was expecting something quite similar to the other endocasts we knew from Australopithecus, but Little Foot turned out to be a bit different, in accordance with its great age,” Beaudet said. Little Foot’s brain was asymmetrical, suggesting that the two sides of the brain performed different functions, just as the brains of modern humans and apes do. Little Foot’s visual cortex, however, takes up a greater portion of the brain than it does in later Australopithecus specimens. Beaudet thinks Little Foot’s ape-like brain could resemble that of a common ancestor to chimpanzees and humans. The differences its brain and later Australopithecus brains may also show that brain evolution occurred in fits and starts, she said. For more, go to “Cosmic Rays and Australopithecines.”

New Technique May Determine Sex From Just a Tooth

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA—The Boston Globe reports that researchers from the University of California, Davis, have developed a technique to determine the sex of skeletal remains based on amino acid sequences in tooth enamel proteins. The enamel is dissolved in acid, heated, ground, and treated with an enzyme before it is examined with a mass spectrometer. Glendon Parker of the university’s department of environmental toxicology explained that the test works because a protein found in tooth enamel comes from a sex-specific gene. Anthropologist Jelmer Eerkens added that determining the sex of a person's remains can be key to learning about the social role they may have played. “In both ancient and modern societies around the world, sex is often a strong determinant of your identity within a society,” Eerkens said. “It determines things like whether you can inherit land, when you get married, and whether you need to move to your new spouse’s village.” To read in-depth about how dental plaque is being used to study the past, go to “Worlds Within Us.”

Byzantine Churches Uncovered in Cyprus

AKROTIRI, CYPRUS—According to Greek Reporter, a mosaic featuring an inscription written in Greek has been discovered at a Christian site in southern Cyprus. The inscription reads, “Lord, help those who fear Thy Name.” The mosaics are located on the floors of a highly decorated complex of temples and atria dating to the reign of the emperor Heraclius, who ruled from A.D. 610 to 641. One of the temples was a basilica with three aisles. Dimitris Triantafyllopoulos of the University of Cyprus said the complex was devoted to martyrs who were buried there. To read about another mosaic discovered in Cyprus, go to “And They’re Off!”

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