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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
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.”

Thursday, November 09

Medieval Jewish Cemetery Excavated in Italy

BOLOGNA, ITALY—According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report, more than 400 graves at the site of a medieval Jewish cemetery have been uncovered as part of a construction project near Bologna’s Via Orfeo. In 1569, after Pope Pius V banished Jews from most papal territories, he reportedly turned the cemetery’s land over to the nuns of a nearby cloister and told them to destroy the graves. Archaeologists recovered the remains of adults and children, and artifacts made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and amber. No tombstones were found, and 150 of the graves showed signs of intentional desecration. To read about another recent discovery in Italy, go to “Itinerant Etruscan Beekeepers.

Teenager’s Bones Recovered from Scottish Cave

EIGG, SCOTLAND—The Scotsman reports that tests have confirmed that some 50 human bones discovered in Frances Cave on the island of Eigg belonged to a single teenager who lived between 1430 and 1620. The cave is also known as Massacre Cave, after a story of clan warfare said to have wiped out as many as 400 members of the Macdonald clan by their Macleod rivals in 1577. The Macdonalds are said to have retreated to the cave when the Macleods arrived on the island seeking revenge after several of their young men were tied up and returned to their boats for reportedly harassing the local girls. The Macleods are accused of setting a turf fire at the entrance to the cave that suffocated the hiding Macdonalds. “When post-excavation analysis has been completed we will discuss what happens next with the community on Eigg,” said archaeologist Kirsty Owen of Historic Environment Scotland. For more on archaeology in Scotland, go to “Fit for a Saint.”

Cuneiform Tablet From Anatolia Records Infertility Plan

KAYSERI PROVINCE, TURKEY—Daily Sabah reports that a 4,000-year-old Assyrian clay tablet found in Anatolia records a marriage agreement that includes a plan for how to proceed in case of infertility. Researchers led by Ahmet Berkiz Turp of Harran University said the agreement provided for a hierodule, or a female slave, who would serve as a surrogate if the couple were not able to produce a child within the first two years of marriage. “The female slave would be freed after giving birth to the first male baby and ensuring that the family is not left without a child,” Turp said. To read in-depth about cuneiform tablets, go to “The World's Oldest Writing.”

Study Suggests Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers Coexisted

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—According to a report in Seeker, a new genetic study indicates that most of today’s Europeans still carry hunter-gatherer DNA. Mark Lipson and David Reich of Harvard Medical School and their team of international colleagues analyzed samples taken from the remains of 180 people who lived in what are now Hungary, Germany, and Spain between 8,000 and 4,000 years ago. The farmers, who migrated into Europe from the Near East, could be differentiated from the hunter-gatherers based on the different isotope ratios in their bones and teeth, due to the differences in their diets. The researchers then constructed mathematical models to describe how farmer and hunter-gatherer populations might have interacted with each other. The data suggests that after an initial exchange, the two groups continued their contact over a long period of time. And, the farmers moved around a lot, perhaps searching for arable land as their populations grew. “During this period, it seems likely that hunter-gatherers were not migrating such long distances, but our knowledge is not complete,” Lipson said. Overall, the scientists think farmers and hunter-gatherers coexisted for some time before hunter-gatherers were completely integrated into farming populations. To read about evidence of early conflict among hunter-gatherers, go to “The First Casus Belli.”