JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—The remains of a large building from the second century B.C. has been uncovered in a parking lot at the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park. Although pottery and other artifacts from the time have been uncovered, this is the first time that a building from the Hasmonean period has been found in the ancient city. Its thick walls made of rough limestone blocks and coins helped archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority to make the identification. “The Hasmonean city, which is well-known to us from the historical descriptions that appear in the works of Josephus, has suddenly acquired tangible expression,” said archaeologists Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets.
AL-QANTARA EAST, EGYPT—Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Police discovered a limestone relief engraved with four lines of Greek text while pursuing a gang of smugglers along the Suez Canal. The relief, which is topped with a winged sun disk, was part of a poorly preserved tomb containing human skeletal remains and pottery. Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities section of the Ministry of State Antiquities, thinks the now residential area was once a Greco-Roman necropolis.
ROME, ITALY—Scientists from George Mason University and Rome’s Center for Speleoarchaeological Research are using laser 3-D scanning to map sections of the ancient quarry system beneath the city. Carved out of the volcanic tuff, some of the tunnels have been reused as catacombs, for mushroom farming, and as bomb shelters. In antiquity, the Romans were careful to keep the tunnels narrow in order to support the growing city. But erosion and generations of construction have made the tunnels unstable, and modern streets and buildings have collapsed. “What the municipality wants to do is to basically have a map of the risk so at that point they can on their side decide what kind of intervention needs to be done,” explained Giuseppina Kysar Mattietti of George Mason University.
NARA, JAPAN—A team led by Satoshi Yabuuchi of Tokyo University of the Arts has used computer graphics technology to re-create the original appearance of an eighth-century Buddhist statue of the armor-plated deity Shukongojin, which is kept in the Todaiji temple in Nara. Their research of the pigments left on the surface of the sculpture has shown that it was decorated in complicated patterns made up of brilliant colors. Shukongojin, surrounded by peacock feathers and holding a thunderbolt, is credited with guarding the law of Buddhism. The sculpture goes on display once a year.
CAIRO, EGYPT—France has returned five artifacts to Egypt that were smuggled out of the country sometime after 2011. Three of the objects are the head, torso, and arms of a glass statue. All five items were taken from a storage space used by French archaeologists. “The team in charge of monitoring sales of artifacts identified five pieces dating from the Ptolemaic dynasty on Internet websites, two which were being auctioned in the city of Toulouse,” said Ali Ahmed of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities.
ROME, ITALY—Although the European Union-funded project to restore Pompeii is partially underway, heavy rains and wind have caused a wall to collapse on one of the major streets in the ancient city, and plaster has come off a wall at the House of the Small Fountain. Italy’s National Association of Archaeologists is calling for the government to appoint someone to lead the work. “This is an incomprehensible delay. If culture is to be a priority in Italy we must start with Pompeii, now decimated by continuous collapses caused mainly by a lack of routine maintenance,” read a statement released by the group.
DENVER, COLORADO—The excavation of Neanderthal living spaces at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in northwestern Italy, shows that they divided the cave into different areas for different activities, such as butchering game and tool making. A well-placed hearth would have kept the cave warm. “There has been this idea that Neanderthals did not have an organized use of space, something that has always been attributed to humans. But we found that Neanderthals did not just throw their stuff everywhere but in fact were organized and purposeful when it came to domestic space,” said Julien Riel-Salvatore of the University of Colorado, Denver.
HILO, HAWAII—Scientists from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii have found a World War II-era Japanese submarine in deep water off the coast of Oahu. It was one of five Japanese subs that were captured by the U.S. Navy and sent to Hawaii for study after the war. The I-400 and its two sister ships could each carry three folding-wing seaplanes and had been designed to attack the U.S. mainland. In 1946, the I-400 was scuttled to prevent its advanced technology from falling into the hands of the Soviet Union.
HEBEI PROVINCE, CHINA—The Jingxing Ancient Road, constructed through mountainous terrain in the third century B.C., was the main artery connecting Hebei and Shanxi provinces until the 1940s. “In ancient times, this flagging was a national road, bustling and crowded with people and vehicles. Since the distance between carriage wheels were made the same and this particular section of road was very narrow, repeated travel by carriages made grooves into the road. Workers were called on to flatten out the bulges left by wheeled vehicles of the time. As a result, the original was two meters higher than the current road,” explained tourist guide Jiang Chunxia. The road and the villages surrounding it will be preserved and developed for tourism.
LIMA, PERU—Last summer, 35 small, human-shaped sarcophagi were spotted with a powerful zoom lens camera in the Amazonas region of northern Peru. Now archaeologists have climbed the steep cliff where to the cemetery and confirmed the find. They think the small size of the sarcophagi, which face the remains of a town, indicates that they were used to hold the remains of mummified children. “We’re dealing with a discovery that is unique in the world,” said Manuel Cabañas López of the regional Ministry of Exterior Commerce and Tourism.
GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA—A carved limestone panel thought to have been removed from the Maya site of La Corona has been returned to Guatemala. According to Rosa Maria Chan, deputy minister for Cultural and Natural Heritage, the Classic period sculpture was discovered in a private collection in San Francisco in 2001. Guatemalan officials recovered it from an auction house after the collector’s death. Many artifacts were taken from La Corona and other archaeological sites in the Petén region in the nineteenth century, Chan added.
SAVANNAH, GEORGIA—A highway construction project has revealed more than 33,000 artifacts, including a Mexican coin that may have been worn as a pendant, an 1865 penny, pieces of brick, broken dishes and bottles, a cast iron pot, and a brass thimble, from a suspected slave quarters occupied from about 1750 until through the Civil War. Now a wooded area, in the 1850s, the site was a large plantation owned by an attorney named William Miller, who owned 87 slaves. Archaeologist Rita Elliott thinks that the enslaved residents probably lived in windowless wooden houses and stored their belongings in pits in the floors. Military items suggest that the Union Army camped at the site during Sherman’s March in 1864.
DURHAM, ENGLAND—The skeletons of 18 people who may have died of disease and buried in a hurry during the medieval period have been uncovered near Durham Cathedral. “The bodies have been tipped into the earth, one on top of each other, without elaborate ceremony and they are tightly packed together and jumbled,” said Richard Annis of Durham University. The excavation team is waiting for permission to remove the bones for testing. “It is too early to say what they may be,” Annis added.
BEIJING, CHINA—At the Neolithic site of Shimao Ruins in northern China, archaeologists have unearthed the skulls of more than 80 young women who may have been sacrificed before they were buried in a mass grave. The skulls show signs of “being hit and burned,” according to Sun Zhouyong, deputy head of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology. The women may have been captives that were killed in a ceremony at the construction of the city’s wall some 4,000 years ago. The rest of their bodies have not been found.
BEIJING, CHINA—The government of China has asserted its ownership of shipwrecks in an area covering most of the South China Sea, which it claims as its territorial waters. “We want to find more evidence that can prove Chinese people went there and lived there, historical evidence that can help prove China is the sovereign owner of the South China Sea,” said Liu Shuguang, head of the government’s Center of Underwater Cultural Heritage. Chinese archaeologists are planning a comprehensive underwater survey of areas of the South China Sea that are in dispute with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and the Philippines. But UNESCO encourages countries to share the excavation of underwater cultural heritage sites, since a ship and its owner, cargo, and crew may have been assembled from international sources in antiquity. “If you look around the world now, the majority of projects are multinational ones,” said Ulrike Guerin of UNESCO.
CARDIFF, WALES—In advance of restoration of the western moat at Cardiff Castle, archaeologists carried out excavations of the former defensive watercourse, also known as Mill Leat. The team recovered some 3,000 artifacts, mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries, including a pewter spoon and Venetian glass that would have belonged to individuals of high status. The moat also once served as a millpond that supplied water to corn mills outside the castle, which was originally built by Norman invaders in the 11th century. The moat has now been reflooded to return it to its medieval appearance.
LONDON, ENGLAND—While digging a Neolithic temple complex some 15 miles from Stonehenge, archaeologists led by Kingston University's Helen Wickstead discovered a massive sand and clay sinkhole that could hold 6,000-year-old plant material. The site, known as Damerham, sits on chalk land, so the discovery of sand and clay, which preserve plant life better than chalk, was unexpected. "We don't often find materials like this that capture and preserve the plant remains-pollen or phytoliths-from a specific time period," said Wickstead in a statement. "We are very hopeful that, within this material, there will be evidence of plant life that will help us continue to piece together the puzzle of human habitation on this significant site."
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Archaeologists digging at a 6,000-year-old site on Papua New Guinea's New Britain Island have discovered a cache of obsidian tools that were deliberately shaped as phalluses. The researchers, led by the Australian Museum's Robin Torrence, speculate that the stones played an important social or ritual role, since they would have been difficult to make and their thin edges show no evidence that they were ever actually used as tools. “It could indicate that the tools were used in an initiation ritual for boys or girls,” says Torrence. “Another theory is that the shape could refer to the power and status of the person who owned this object.” She points out that the tools were probably made by highly skilled craftspeople who used obsidian that came from outcrops more than 60 miles away from the site, suggesting these ritual objects may have been traded over a large area.
LONDON, ENGLAND—Estonian engineers have unveiled a new underwater robot, called U-CAT, designed specifically to operate inside shipwrecks. The robot is propelled by four flippers that mimic the locomotion of sea turtles."Conventional underwater robots use propellers for locomotion," explains Taavi Salumäe, a designer at the Tallinn University of Technology's Centre for Biorobotics."[The] fin propulsors of U-CAT can drive the robot in all directions without disturbing water and beating up silt from the bottom, which would decrease visibility inside the shipwreck” The robot was built as part of a European Union-funded research project called ARROWS that develops technology for use in underwater archaeology.
TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN—Tests on a wooden beam discovered on the bottom of Lake Michigan have so far failed to prove that the timber is from the Griffin, a ship built by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in 1679 and lost in a storm on her maiden voyage. Dean Anderson, Michigan’s state archaeologist, thinks the beam is a pound net stake, used for fishing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “I’m not seeing any evidence of a vessel element here,” he said. Steve Libert, who has been looking for the lost ship for 30 years, and French archaeologists, think that the beam’s beveled end resembles a bowsprit. Results of carbon-14 analysis are due soon.