LONDON, ENGLAND—A professor of East Asian archaeology at University of London asserts that Greek art was the inspiration for the 8,000 terracotta warriors that guard the mausoleum of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi. According to Lukas Nickel, recently translated ancient texts indicate early contact between China and Greece, telling of the first emperor copying 12 huge statues that appeared in western China more than 2,200 years ago. Because large statues were not present in China before this time, Nickel infers that the idea to construct the sculptures was influenced by the conquest of Alexander the Great.
LONDON, ENGLAND—On Monday, the Royal College of Surgeons in London launched an online database of skeletal specimens showing some of the most grotesque conditions suffered by long-dead Britons. Many of the 1,600 bones found in the database, known as Digitised Diseases, came from archaeological excavations at locations such as the site of Yorkshire's Battle of Twoton in 1461, London Hospital's previously known burial ground (excavated beginning in 2006), and a cemetery in Gloucester. The conditions represented in the collection include traumatic injuries, scoliosis, syphilis, rickets, and leprosy. "We believe this will be a unique resource both for archaeologists and medical historians to identify diseases in ancient specimens, but also for clinicians who can see extreme forms of chronic diseases which they would never see nowadays in their consulting rooms, left to progress unchecked before any medical treatment was available," said Digitised Diseases lead researcher and University of Bradford forensic archaeologist Andrew Wilson.
CYPRUS—Carbon-dating of material found at a site in southeastern Cyprus suggests that the settling of the island began some 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. The site, Ayia Varvara-Asprokremnos, was apparently occupied by 8600 B.C., and archaeologists have uncovered several finds there, including two stone tools (one of which might have been used for grinding ochre) and small statuette of a female figure. "This tells us that Cyprus was very much a part of the Neolithic revolution that saw significant growth in agriculture and the domestication of animals," says University of Toronto archaeology research fellow Sally Stewart. "With farming came a surplus of wealth, in both food and time. People now had the time to specialize in other roles such as manufacturing, and they had the time to spend making figurative art."
ARUSHA REGION, TANZANIA—Paranthropus boisei is an early human ancestor first identified in 1959 when the anthropologist Mary Leakey found a skull with a large jawbone and cranium in northern Tanzania. Scientists today are saying that Paranthropus boisei had a gorilla-like upper body and was capable of adapting to both arboreal and terrestrial environments, based on research of a 1.34 million-year-old partial skeleton found in Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge more than two years ago. The arm bones, in particular, are prominent suggesting the roughly four-foot-tall biped that evolved 2.3 million years ago had a powerful upper body. "We are starting to understand the physiology of these individuals of this particular species and how it actually adapted to the kind of habitat it lived in," said University of Colorado Denver anthropologist Charles Musiba, who was part of the research team. "We knew about the kind of food it ate—it was omnivorous, leaning more toward plant material—but now we know more: how it walked around and now we know it was a tree climber."
MACON, GEORGIA—An investigation led by Eric Klingelhofer of Mercer University may have found new clues into the disappearance of the lost colony of Roanoke Island. Last year, researchers discovered that a patch on a sixteenth-century map of coastal Virginia and North Carolina covered a symbol that could represent a fort. Would some of the lost colonists have moved to this location in case of an emergency? “Our best idea is that parts of Raleigh’s exploration in North America were a state secret, and the map ‘cover-up’ was an effort to keep information from the public and from foreign agents,” Klingelhofer said. Where else could a small group of the more than 100 colonists have gone to find refuge? After using satellite images to orient historic maps, the team used magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar to look for metal objects, graves, and signs of collapsed wooden structures. “We have to go in and dig some holes, I guess,” added Clay Swindell of North Carolina’s Museum of the Albemarle.
RAMLA, ISRAEL—Highway construction in central Israel has uncovered the remains of a tenth or eleventh-century estate with a fountain in its garden. “It seems that a private building belonging to a wealthy family was located there and that the fountain was used for ornamentation,” said Hagit Torgë of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The stone and plaster fountain was decorated with mosaics, but it is unusual because its network of terra cotta pipes connected with stone jars has survived. The region was probably abandoned in the eleventh century, following an earthquake.
PIROT, SERBIA—Archaeologist Zoran Mitic has uncovered a two-horse chariot estimated to be between 3,000 and 4,000 years old. “Judging by the manner of burial, I guess that it was a member of [the] Thracian people, not ordinary, but someone who occupied an important place in the hierarchy, due to the fact that the chariot is decorated with beautiful bronze applications,” he said.
MINEOLA, NEW YORK—A 3,200-year-old inscribed gold tablet that was brought to the United States by Riven Flamenbaum, a survivor of the Holocaust, has returned to Germany’s Pergamon Museum. Flamenbaum said that at the end of World War II, he traded his cigarettes and food from the Red Cross to Russian soldiers for the Assyrian artifact, which was excavated from Iraq’s Ishtar Temple by German archaeologists a century ago. Flamenbaum’s descendants argued in Nassau County Court that the tablet was a spoil of war. They wanted to donate it to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., according to their attorney, Steven Schlessinger.
BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA—Angry villagers have blocked the removal of 20 megalithic statues from San Agustín Archaeological Park in southern Colombia. Authorities intended to remove the objects for a temporary exhibit in Bogotá marking the 100th anniversay of the site's discovery. But locals, many of whom make their living from tourism at the site, worried that once the statues were taken away they would never be returned. Archaeologists working at the site have excavated some 600 stautes depicting deities and mythological beasts, but many of those have been taken away, including 35 that were shipped to Berlin by San Agustín's original excavator, German Konrad Preuss. Locals blocked roads and prevented workers from loading the statues onto trucks. Museum officials went ahead with the exhibit, opening it with highlighted, empty spaces were the statues would have stood.
COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA—Australian Aborigines were using European glass beads as currency long before sustained contact with Europeans themselves, say Australian National University archaeologists Daryl Wesley and Mirani Litster. They have excavated 30 beads of European manufacture in the Arnhem Land region and think the artifacts were brought to the continent by Maccasans, an Indonesian people known to have traveled to the area to harvest sea cucumbers. The Maccasans could have traded the beads with the Aborigines, probably in return for access to land. While beads have been found at sites in the area before, it was thought they dated to after 1916, when European missionaries would have brought them to Arnhem Land. But the team found the beads in deposits that long predate the arrival of missionaries. Wesley says the discovery has implications for Aboriginal land claims, which in part are based on the idea that they negotiated with the Maccassan for access to their traditional fishing grounds.
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—A limestone sculpture depicting the Roman god Jupiter that was recently excavated from a quarry in central England has been donated to Cambridge University. Dating to between the second and fourth centuries A.D., it was originally part of a larger monument. Two paws are visible on top of the piece, and probably belonged to a sculpted figure of an lion or a gryphon. Archaeologists speculate that the sculptures eyes were once filled with colored paste, and that the monument was likely re-used as a grave marker.
CARLISLE, ENGLAND—Two wooden tridents from the Neolithic era have been discovered in an extinct river channel in northern England and are set to go on display at the Tullie House Musem. Measuring six feet long, the tridents were made with stone tools from a single oak plank. Carbon dating of the artifacts shows they are between 5,900 and 5,400 years old, an era when farming first began to be practiced in the area. The tridents could have had an agricultural use, but might have also been used for hunting or fishing. Only four other wooden tridents have been found in the UK, all of which were discovered in the 19th century.
CAIRO, EGYPT—The remains of dogs have been discovered buried in pots at the southeast corner of Shunet ez Zebib, a mud-brick structure at the archaeological site of Abydos. “Of the many jars that were recovered, only 13 have thus far been properly investigated. Of these, four were empty, three contained ibises, and five were filled with dogs,” said Salima Ikram of The American University in Cairo. Three of the pots held skeletal remains of dogs, but the other two held well-preserved dogs whose fur coats are still largely intact. They may have been mummified through evisceration, dessication, and defatting with natron salt. The bodies were then coated with oil and resin and pushed, hind limbs first, into the pots. “They were probably votive offerings unless they held the position of sacred animals—perhaps the pot burials are indicative of their being Sacred rather than just Votive,” Ikram explained.
YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND—A well-preserved skeleton thought to date to the Roman period has been discovered in a sewer trench in the village of Norton-on-Derwent. The sewer project runs alongside a modern road that follows a route similar to an ancient Roman road. “It was in a crouched or fetal position, possibly mirroring birth and was located within the limits of a Roman cemetery but it has similarities with burials of prehistoric date,” said archaeologist Chris Pole. No grave goods have been recovered. Tests may help determine the person’s age, sex, and perhaps a cause of death.
LUXOR, EGYPT—New excavations and ground-penetrating radar studies in the Valley of the Kings suggest that multiple tombs have yet to be discovered. “The consensus is that there are probably several smaller tombs like the recently found KV63 and 64 yet to be found. But there is still the possibility of finding a royal tomb. The queens of the late Eighteenth Dynasty are missing, as are some pharaohs of the New Kingdom, such as Ramesses VIII,” said archaeologist Afifi Ghonim of the Ministry of State for Antiquities. The team, made up of Egyptian scientists and members of the Glen Dash Foundation for Archaeological Research, has collected so much data that it will take years to analyze it all. In particular, faults in the natural features of the Valley of the Kings can produce false positives in radar instruments. They have already identified a deep channel that the ancient Egyptians used for a short period as a flood control system to protect the tombs from water and debris.
LEIPZIG, GERMANY—It had been thought that the hominins that lived in Spain’s cave of Sima de los Huesos were early Neanderthals or members of Homo heidelbergensis. But a 400,000-year-old femur from the cave has yielded mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only through the female line, and it links the residents more closely to the Denisovans than to Neanderthals or modern humans. “This really raises more questions than it answers,” said Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He thinks that the Sima de los Huesos hominins may have been a founder population that gave rise to both Neanderthals and Denisovans. Pääbo’s team will attempt to extract nuclear DNA, inherited from both parents, from the bone samples. “My hope is, of course, eventually we will not bring turmoil but clarity to this world,” he added.
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.