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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Tuesday, November 14

Buddhist Monastery Site Uncovered in China

JINGCHUAN COUNTY, CHINA—An excavation in northwest China has uncovered a 1,000-year-old ceramic box containing cremated human remains said to have belonged to Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, according to a report in Live Science. An inscription on the box explains that two monks, named Yunjiang and Zhiming, of the Mañjuśrī Temple of the Longxing Monastery collected the more than 2,000 pieces of cremated remains, including teeth and bones, over a period of 20 years, and buried them in the temple on June 22, 1013, as a way to practice and promote Buddhism. More than 260 Buddhist statues, and the remains of a building that may have been part of the monastery complex, were also found. Hong Wu of the Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology said it was not clear whether the statues, which had been made as early as the fourth century A.D., had been buried at the same time as the cremated remains. Some of the statues, which depict the Buddha, bodhisattvas, arhats, and deities, stood more than six feet tall. Few of the statues had been inscribed, but carved steles were also recovered. For more, go to “The Buddha of the Lake.”

Volunteers Find Bronze Age Site in England

CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—BBC News reports that archaeologists and volunteers from the Duddon Valley Local History Group were excavating two tenth-century Norse longhouses in northwest England when they discovered a Bronze Age settlement radiocarbon dated to 1300 B.C. They also identified fireplaces dating to the sixteenth or seventeenth century at the site. For more, go to “Bronze Age Ireland’s Taste in Gold.”

2,000-Year-Old Ink Stone Identified in Japan

CHIKUZEN, JAPAN—According to a report in The Asahi Shimbun, researchers have detected traces of carbide, thought to have been used as ink, on a piece of sandy shale recovered in 2003 at the Yakushinoue ruins in northern Kyushu. The stone, now broken in two, has the classic shape of a suzuri, or ink stone. It measures about six inches long, two inches wide, and less than one-half inch thick. Writing is thought to have been introduced along the coasts of Japan, where people had contact with other cultures. Scholars use ink stones to track how writing spread. “This is the first finding unearthed inland to be confirmed as an ink stone,” said Yasuo Yanagida of Kokugakuin University. The identification of this stone suggests that writing was practiced by the people of the Yayoi Pottery Culture over a wider area than had been previously thought. For more, go to “Japan’s Early Anglers.”

Mummy Discovered in Egypt’s Faiyum Oasis

CAIRO, EGYPT—Ahram Online reports that a mummy has been discovered at the Deir Al-Banat archaeological site in the Faiyum Oasis by a joint Russian-Egyptian team of researchers. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the mummy is well preserved, although the Greco-Roman period, wooden sarcophagus in which it was found is cracked and in poor condition. The linen-wrapped mummy wears a blue and gold cartonnage mask decorated with images of Kabir, the sky god. An image of the goddess Isis adorns the mummy’s chest area. To read about another recent discovery in Egypt, go to “In the Time of the Rosetta Stone.”

Monday, November 13

8,000-Year-Old Grape Wine Detected on Pots From Georgia

TORONTO, CANADA—The Guardian reports that evidence of winemaking dating back some 8,000 years has been discovered by an international team of archaeologists and botanists, who analyzed fragments of fired clay pots and soil samples from two Neolithic villages in the South Caucasus region. The fragments from one of the jars, which had been decorated with “blobs” that the researchers say could have been intended to represent grapes, may have once held more than 80 gallons of the fermented liquid. The tests revealed tartaric acid, a substance found in grapes, on eight of the fragments. Tartaric acid, and three other acids linked to grapes and wine, were detected in the soil samples. Grape pollen, grape starch particles, and the remains of a fruit fly were also found. This is “certainly the example of the oldest pure grape wine in the world,” said Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida. Traces of 7,000-year-old wine made from grapes have been detected on jars found in the Zagros Mountains of northern Iran, and 9,000-year-old wine made from a mixture of grapes, honey, and other ingredients has been discovered in China’s Henan Province. For more, go to “Recreating Nordic Grog.”

Fire Damages Pre-Inca Site in Peru

CHICLAYO, PERU—BBC News reports that as much as 95 percent of Ventarron, a 4,500-year-old site located on Peru’s Lambayeque region on the northern coast, has been damaged by a fire thought to have been started in a nearby sugar cane field and spread by strong winds. The site is known for its murals, including an image of a deer trapped in a net, which is said to be among the oldest-known murals in the Americas. “We are losing an exceptional monument unique to its generation,” said archaeologist Walter Alva, who discovered the mural in 2007. To read about another set of murals in Peru, go to “Painted Worlds.”

5,000-Year-Old Mound Surveyed in Turkey

NEVŞEHIR PROVINCE, TURKEY—According to an Anadolu Agency report, a team of archaeologists led by Yalçin Kamiş of Nevşehir Haci Bektaş Veli University are mapping a 5,000-year-old mound in an area near Cappadocia. The oldest layer is thought to include a defensive fortress and settlement dating to the early Bronze Age. “The site contains a multilayered mound with remains of different periods, the oldest dating from the third to second millennium B.C. It is understood that there are Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine settlements in the area,” Kamiş explained. To read about another discovery in Turkey, go to “Let a Turtle Be Your Psychopomp.”

Scientists Evaluate Acoustics of Ancient Greek Theaters

EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS—According to a report in Live Science, Eindhoven University of Technology researchers mapped the acoustic qualities of ancient Greek theaters to see if descriptions of sound quality targeted to modern-day tourists have been exaggerated. For example, a whisper was said to be heard in the last of 55 rows of seats in the theater at Epidaurus, or 194 feet away from the stage. Using speedy, wireless measuring devices of their own making, the researchers, led by acoustician Constant Hak, took more than 10,000 measurements at different times during the day in the theater at Epidaurus, which dates to 400 B.C.; the theater of Argos, which dates to 200 B.C.; and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which dates to A.D. 200. The scientists found that loudly projected voices were intelligible in the seats in the last rows, but words spoken at a normal volume were not. The sounds of ripping paper and a dropped coin could be heard about halfway up the rows of seats, and a whisper and the strike of a match could be heard only by those sitting in the front row. So while the sound quality is good, according to the researcher, it is not as impressive as travel guides claim. To read about a recent discovery in Greece, go to “A Surprise City in Thessaly.

Friday, November 10

Roman Mithras Temple Reconstructed in London

LONDON, ENGLAND—The remains of a Roman temple dedicated to the bull-slaying god Mithras, which dates to the third century A.D., are set to be reopened to the public in Bloomberg's new European headquarters, according to a report in The Guardian. Mithraism was a cult religion devoted to Mithras practiced across the Roman Empire from about the first to the fourth centuries A.D. and was especially popular among soldiers. While their beliefs and rituals remain largely a mystery, followers of Mithraism had a complex system of initiation and met in underground temples called mithraea, many of which survive. The London Temple of Mithras was first discovered in 1954 and, for a time, was partially (and poorly) reconstructed for visitors on a nearby car park roof. Now in its original location, the mithraeum will be displayed alongside artifacts uncovered at the site. To read more about Roman Britain, go to “The Wall at the End of the Empire.”

Medieval Mass Graves Unearthed

KUTNA HORA, CZECH REPUBLIC—While excavating beneath a Catholic chapel in the central Czech Republic, archaeologists have unearthed some 1,500 skeletons from 30 medieval mass graves, reports the Prague Daily Monitor. Experts believe the remains belong to people who likely died during a famine in 1318 and a plague epidemic that began in 1348. "We must realize that such a mass grave represents a sample of a population within a very short period, which is extremely valuable to us," says the Czech Institute of Archaeology's Jan Frolik, who supervised the dig. The burials were probably unmarked and while the team found some buckles and coins in the cemetery, the people were largely buried without any grave goods. To read more about medieval mass graves, go to “Vengeance on the Vikings.”

Luxury 17th-Century Items Uncovered Near Paul Revere House

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS—Evidence of a sumptuous lifestyle enjoyed by a seventeenth-century family has been uncovered near the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End, according to a report from The Boston Globe. The finds include a shard of a ceramic bowl of a type known as “sgraffito” probably produced between 1630 and 1640 in the Pisa region of northern Italy, making it the oldest known piece of European ceramic to have been discovered in the city. Also found at the site were decorated pieces of expensive Italian glass, animal bones suggesting a rich diet, and a clasp from a woman’s bodice. “They’ve got glassware that would make Liberace blush,” said Joe Bagley, Boston city archaeologist. The items were apparently discarded by the family of John Jeffs, a mariner active in the Atlantic trade, and suggest that people living in Puritan Boston were comfortable acquiring ostentatious and luxurious items. Bagley expected to find a large number of nineteenth-century artifacts in the excavation, which is being carried out in advance of construction work, and was surprised to find insights into life two centuries earlier as well. To read about a Revolutionary War–era discovery made near Boston, go to “Finding Parker’s Revenge.”

8th-Century Skeleton Discovered at Hereford Cathedral

HEREFORD, ENGLAND—The Hereford Times reports that a skeleton discovered underneath Hereford Cathedral dates back to the origins of the city. Excavations ahead of construction work to improve the cathedral’s cloisters found three skeletons nearly seven feet underground. According to archaeologists, one of the skeletons belonged to a man who died in middle age, potentially due to several apparent blade injuries. Radiocarbon dating determined that the man lived sometime between A.D. 680 and 780, a period when the city was still a dangerous Anglo-Saxon frontier settlement in the Kingdom of Mercia, in the Welsh borderlands. To read more about Anglo-Saxon England, go to “The Kings of Kent.”