AKHMIM, EGYPT—Six years ago, a colossal sculpture of the head of Ramses II was unearthed in the cemetery of the town of Akhmim. Further investigation revealed that the area could be the site of a temple dedicated to Ramses II, which was described by the Greek historian Herodotus as being larger than the Karnak temple complex. The residents of Akhmim were ordered to stop burying their dead in the cemetery in order to protect the archaeological site, and some of the modern tombs were relocated, but since the revolution of 2011, the cemetery has become a garbage dump. Now, the Ministry of State of Antiquities has moved the sculpture and additional artifacts into storage for protection. Guards are also said to be patrolling the site.
DROGHEDA, IRELAND—Members of the Boyne Fishermen’s Rescue and Recovery Service found an ancient log boat in the Boyne River while removing shopping carts from the water. Archaeologist Karl Brady says that the boat is unusual because it has a pair of oval-shaped blisters on its upper edge that may have been used for holding oars. “I have seen them on some boats found in Northern Ireland and Britain but not in Ireland,” he explained. This particular boat may be between 500 to 5,000 years old, but log boats were used in Ireland until the eighteenth century.
B’NEI SHIMON, ISRAEL—A mosaic dating to the Byzantine era has been uncovered in Israel, along the route of an ancient road where a new highway is being constructed. The large, colorful mosaic, made up of geometric designs and images of decorated amphoras, would have served as the floor of a public building. Pools, water channels, and pipes were uncovered in front of the structure. “The find of this mosaic is extraordinary; the size of it and the [condition] goes beyond what is usually found. This is an unusual find,” said Davida Eisenberg Degen of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
CUMBRIA, ENGLAND—The Roman fort known as Glannaventa was dismantled during the medieval period, its stones incorporated into village structures and a castle, leaving behind an earthwork platform. Archaeologists will examine the only standing Roman building at the site, the remains of a bathhouse thought to have been reused during the medieval period as a house. They also want to learn more about the settlement that surrounded the fort during the Roman period. “People have wanted to find out about the area for a long time and discover its wider context and involvement with Hadrian’s Wall,” said Holly Beavitt-Pike of English Heritage.
COLIMA, MEXICO—Many bones and at least eight skulls have been found in a shaft tomb in western Mexico. The tomb is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,500 years old. “At first they identified the burials because of the odd rock groupings that were used to cover them, they also found evidence of ceramic material which drove us deeper into the investigation,” said Marco Zavaleta Lucido of the National Institute of Anthropology and History. Among the pottery offerings were pots, plates, censers, and two dog-shaped bowls.
SEVILLE, SPAIN—A structure at the Carmona necropolis known as the Elephant’s Tomb may have been built as an underground temple of Mithraism in the second century A.D. A window in the main chamber of is positioned so that rays of sunlight reached the center of the room—a likely place for a statue of Mithras slaying the bull—three hours after sunrise during the spring and autumn equinoxes. “The presence of a fountain is also highly significant as these are commonly found in the Mithraeums,” said Immaculada Carrasco of the University of Pablo de Olavide. The building was later renovated for use as a necropolis.
TUCSON, ARIZONA—Chemist Wayne Wesolowski of the University of Arizona has analyzed paint chips from a surviving piece of window frame from the railcar that carried Abraham Lincoln’s body from New York to Illinois after his death in 1865. The rest of the car was destroyed in a fire in 1911. Millions had gathered to witness Lincoln’s funeral procession, but different witnesses reported different colors for the railcar. By comparing the chips with national color standards, Wesolowski has determined that the car was a brownish-red color, or “dark maroon.” “It was such a huge, important event, and we knew a lot of the technical details about the railcar, but the color had been a mystery,” he said. A replica train will be built to retrace the path of the procession for the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death in 2015.
BAVARIA, GERMANY—The bacterium Yersinia pestis, which caused the disease known as the Black Death in the fourteenth century, has been identified in DNA samples taken from 19 skeletons of people who died in sixth-century southern Germany. It is thought that these people were felled by the Justinianic Plague, which killed more than 100 million people between the sixth and eighth centuries. Named for the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, the plague is thought to have contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire. “It is always very exciting when we can find out the actual cause of the pestilences of the past,” said Barbara Bramanti of Johannes Gutenberg Univeristy.
LONDON, ENGLAND—A new genetic study by population geneticists Peter Ralph and Graham Coop of the University of California suggests that all modern Europeans share common ancestors who lived as little as 1,000 years ago. The scientists examined the entire genomes of 2,257 people from 40 populations. “Even pairs of people as far apart as the U.K. and Turkey share a chunk of genomic material 20 percent of the time,” they said.
MUĞLA, TURKEY—Roman-era mosaics have been discovered at the ancient city of Milas in southwestern Turkey, after police were tipped off that pottery had been looted from the site. The excavation team found the tiled artwork some three feet below the surface, where the suspects reportedly said that they had found the pots. “We already knew that there were very precious historical artifacts in the region. We need to focus more on unearthing them,” said Milas District Governor Bahattin Atçı.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A first-century quarry has been discovered in northern East Jerusalem. Pick axes, wedges, and a key have been found at the site, where huge stones were removed and transported along a road, downhill to the city’s building projects. “The quarrying phenomenon created a spectacular sight of bedrock columns and steps and craters of sorts that were the result of the rock-cuttings. What remained are rock masses in various stages of quarrying, and there were those that were found in a preliminary stage of rock-cutting prior to detachment,” said Irina Ziberbod of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—David Sear of the University of Southampton has created the most accurate map to date of the submerged medieval port town of Dunwich, on England’s eastern coast. Sear recorded the town’s streets, boundaries, and major buildings in the murky, muddy water, by combining high-resolution acoustic imaging with old charts and navigation guides. Beginning in 1286, storms eroded the coastline and silted up the Dunwich River and eventually the town’s harbor. By the fifteenth century, Dunwich was no longer viable. “Everyone was surprised, though, by how much of the eroded town still survives under the sea and is identifiable,” commented Peter Murphy of English Heritage.
MILAN, ITALY—Excavations at the Church of Saints James and Philip on the outskirts of Milan have uncovered the graves of an infant and an adult, in addition to coins dating to the reign of the Roman emperor Magnentius, who ruled between 350 and 353. The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage for Lombardy has declared the church to be of historical interest.
HAARLEM, NETHERLANDS—Skeletal remains, buttons, bullets, and musket parts were discovered in a sand dune in the northern Netherlands by surprised birdwatchers who had been awaiting the arrival of a rare feathered visitor. Archaeologist Esther Poulus was called in, and she determined that the bones were of a British soldier who had been killed in a one-day battle in 1799. His uniform buttons identify him as a member of the Coldstream Guards. Veterans of the current Coldstream Guards regiment claimed the soldier’s bones earlier this month. “The archives in the UK show that the two soldiers I think it could be were in the most dangerous jobs, as grenadiers. Judging by his remains, our soldier was probably around 1.8m tall, which was tall for the time. And the grenadiers recruited the tallest. So it’s just a hunch,” Poulus said.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—A research team led by Charles Stanish of UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology used astronomical software and 3-D modeling to determine that during the winter solstice, southern Peru’s Cerro del Gentil pyramid aligned with two geoglyphs and the setting sun. The geoglyphs are two stone lines that are positioned so that they appear to frame the pyramid as the setting sun sank behind it. “Thus the pyramid and the linear geoglyph constitute part of a single architectural complex, with potential cosmological significance, that ritualized the entire pampa landscape,” they wrote. The team continues to study other geoglyphs in the area. “A lot of them are being destroyed by construction,” Stanish said.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Stephanie Dalley of Oxford University has concluded after many years of study that the famed Hanging Garden has never been found in Babylon because it was actually constructed by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in Nineveh. Among the textual evidence she cites is the king’s description of his palace and its system of canals, dams, and aqueducts that brought water to Nineveh from 50 miles away. Traces of a giant aqueduct can be seen from the air near the ancient city. Other texts refer to a garden resembling a mountain landscape, complete with terraces, pillared walkways, exotic plants and trees, and streams. She adds that it was the first-century historian Josephus who placed the Hanging Garden in Babylon.
WACO, TEXAS—Thousands of butchered animal bones bearing two-million-year-old tool marks have been uncovered at the Kanjera South site in Kenya by anthropologist Joseph Ferraro of Baylor University. The bones represent entire gazelles and other relatively small animals that may have been killed by Homo erectus hunters and taken back to Kanjera South, where they were butchered. Few animal tooth marks on the bones support the idea that the animals were killed by hominids. Additional skulls and jaws from larger animals such as antelope and wildebeests suggest that human ancestors also scavenged the heads left behind by large predators in order to eat the nutritious brain tissue. There are no signs of cooking at Kanjera South, however.
READING, ENGLAND—Evolutionary theorist Mark Pagel of the University of Reading thinks that many of today’s languages could share a common ancestor language dating back 15,000 years. He and his colleagues built a statistical model to predict how long a particular word may have remained in use. Based upon Indo-European words with similar sounds and meanings, the model only takes the frequency of the word’s use and its part of speech into account—not its sound, which has traditionally been employed to reconstruct “protowords.” The new model predicts that most words have a 50 percent chance of being replaced every 2,000 to 4,000 years, but very common words, including some pronouns and numerals, can last for 10,000 or even 20,000 years. “The model hints at a group of people living somewhere in Southern Europe as the glaciers were receding, speaking a language that might resemble those spoken today. It’s astonishing that spoken language can be transmitted through millennia with enough fidelity to give us information about our early history,” he said.
BEIRUT, LEBANON—Syria’s medieval castles and forts are situated in areas that are still strategically important. The citadel of Aleppo, a World Heritage Site, protects government forces as they shell opposition fighters, dividing the city in half. Reports also indicate that the south wall of the crusader castle Crak des Chevaliers has been nearly destroyed by modern weapons. It protects the route between the coast and the Orontes River Valley. “All the kingdoms of settled Syria wanted to control the famous route that is known as the Homs gap,” said Helen Sader of the American University in Beirut. Activists say that the third-century al-Madiq citadel in Hama has been used by government forces to shell villages to the north. “This is the importance of Syria. And this is what made it so attractive to so many powers—and it still is. We just hope that this will end very soon, before they destroy everything,” she added.
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK—The Metropolitan Museum of Art has agreed to repatriate to Cambodia two life-size, tenth-century statues known as “The Kneeling Attendants,” based upon evidence suggesting that the statues had been looted from the Koh Ker temple complex during Cambodia’s civil war. Witnesses place the statues at the temple complex as late as 1970, and officials at the museum were presented with photographs of the statues’ broken-off bases, which remain in situ. The Met received the statues as two heads and two torsos as separate gifts between 1987 and 1992. “This is a case in which additional information regarding the Kneeling Attendants has led the museum to consider facts that were not known at the time of the acquisition and to take the action we are announcing today,” Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum, said last Friday.