CARTHAGE, TUNISIA—Over the weekend, thieves broke into the Paleo-Christian Museum in Carthage and stole a fifth-century A.D. marble statue depicting the mythological figure of Ganymede embracing Zeus in the form of an eagle. First discovered in pieces during a 1977 excavation in a cistern under the House of the Greek Charioteers in Carthage, the statue measured over a foot and a half once it was restored. Study of the sculpture and others like it made clear that wealthy Christians of the period did not hesitate to decorate their homes with pagan sculptures. The Tunisian police and Interpol are now on the lookout for the statue.
BRONX, NEW YORK—While she was conducting a survey of white-lipped peccaries in 2009, Alexine Keuroghlian of the Wildlife Conservation Society found drawings of animals and geometric figures in sandstone caves on Brazil’s Cerrado plateau. She contacted archaeologist Rodrigo Luis Simas de Aguiar, who determined the drawings were made by hunter-gatherers between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago. Some of the drawings, which depict armadillos, deer, large cats, birds, reptiles, and human-like figures, resemble drawings of the central plateau, but others are similar to images usually found further north. Excavation of the cave floor and geological dating could provide more information about the artwork.
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA—Lice can offer information on human evolution, according to a study in progress led by David Reed of the Florida Museum of Natural History. For example, genetic analysis has shown that the human pubic louse originated from gorilla lice more than three million years ago. This would suggest that early humans and gorillas once lived in close proximity. The researchers also found that clothing lice diverged from head lice between 80,000 and 170,000 years ago, indicating when humans must have begun wearing clothing of some sort. And, an investigation of mitochondrial DNA indicates that three lice lineages may have evolved separately on different hominids, only to be later reunited on modern humans.
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—Lee Burger of the University of Witwatersrand has taken a team into South Africa’s cramped Rising Star cave system to retrieve unidentified hominid fossils. “Our aim is to get the fossils out carefully, study them, compare them to other fossil material from around the world, and then proceed to analyze and describe them,” he said. In 2010, Berger announced his son’s discovery of an Australopithecus sediba fossil at Malapa Cave, located just a few miles away.
ONTARIO, CANADA—Traces of a concrete grandstand dating to the 1950s have been uncovered at the site of an old baseball stadium in the city of Kitchener. The original grandstand was constructed of wood in the 1880s, when the first baseball diamond was built at Victoria Park. When the team was moved to a new stadium in the 1960s, the grandstand was torn down and buried.
COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS—Fluted spear points no more than 12,400 years old have been unearthed at Serpentine Hot Springs in Alaska’s Bering Land Bridge National Preserve by a team of researchers associated with the Center for the Study of First Americans at Texas A&M University. This is the first time that fluted spear points from Alaska have been found in a datable context. It had been thought that fluting technology was carried by Paleoindians as they migrated southward, but the Alaska points are too young to be ancestral to the Clovis culture, thought to date to 13,000 years ago in North America. The new dates suggest that the models that describe the dispersal of early Americans and the transmission of their technologies will have to be revised. “Not all of Beringia’s early residents may have come from Siberia, as we have traditionally thought. Some may have come from America instead, although millennia after the initial migration across the land bridge from Asia. If the fluted points do not represent a human migration, they at least indicate the surprisingly early spread of an American technology into Arctic Alaska,” said team leader Ted Goebel.
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—Matthew Stirn of the University of Sheffield and his colleagues used satellite imagery to predict the locations of 13 prehistoric villages in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. They looked for areas that shared traits in common with other, known village sites of Numic-speaking peoples, such as south-facing, sunny slopes and stands of whitebark pine trees, which produce nutritious nuts. Sure enough, they uncovered artifacts at the new sites that are associated with Numic-speaking people. The 2,000 to 2,500-year-old villages, however, are older than the scientists expected them to be. “If the Numic spread originated in California and moved to Wyoming, how come the Wyoming sites are older than those in California? It has since been proposed that the discovery of earlier villages in Wyoming provide evidence that the Numic spread might have occurred in the opposite direction,” Stirn explained.
LIMA, PERU—Skeletal remains of more than 100 dogs have been recovered from the Maranga Archaeological Complex, much of which has been destroyed the growth of modern Lima. All of the dogs were in resting positions, and had been buried some 1,000 years ago alongside human remains. Many had been provided with food for the afterlife. Peru is known for its pre-Inca hairless dog breed, but these dogs sported yellowish or brown fur.
NEWBOROUGH, ENGLAND—Archaeologists have uncovered a small farmstead made up of roundhouses and Roman pottery dating between the first and third centuries A.D. at the site of a solar energy farm in England’s West Midlands. Other artifacts may date to the Saxon era. “We’ve also identified a couple of sites that may be late prehistoric, possibly settlements or funerary sites which we still need to look at,” said archaeologist Richard O’Neill. The site is not far from Flag Fen, where timbers were used to cross waterlogged soil during the Bronze Age.
MAEBASHI, JAPAN—Last year, archaeologists digging in the Kanai-Higashiura archaeological site, which was buried under volcanic ash in the early sixth century, uncovered the remains of a man who had been partially dressed in armor. Further study and a computer tomography scan show that he may also have been wearing an iron helmet that covered his head and neck and had hoate cheek protectors. “It is highly possible that this is a helmet that was actually used during the Kofun period, the first ever confirmed in the country,” said Toshiyuki Uchiyama of the Tochigi Miraizukuri Foundation’s Archaeological Research Center. This is the first time that Kofun Period armor has been found worn by its owner rather than as part of a ritual set of grave goods.
ZHENGZHOU, CHINA—A tomb at the Jiahu archaeological site in central China has yielded three flutes carved from the bones of red-crowned cranes. The 9,000-year-old flutes are about eight inches long and are decorated with carved patterns. Pottery kilns, traces of buildings, and other tombs and coffins have also been uncovered at the Neolithic site. “People who created Jiahu culture were not only hunters, fishermen, and craftsmen, but also early farmers and brilliant artists,” said lead archaeologist Zhang Juzhong.
LUXOR, EGYPT—Fragments of an Egyptian collar discovered in a tomb in Thebes have been reassembled. Made of cartonnage, the 2,300-year-old collar was decorated with bright colors and was intended for wear after death. Many other fragments of cartonnage were recovered from the tomb, which is approximately 3,300 years old and had been reused many times. “These pieces could range from about palm-sized to dime-sized. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle,” said Susan Redford of Penn State University. A clay seal found near the collar fragments suggest that an undertaker was among those buried in the tomb.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—An analysis of genetic and archaeological data suggests that Israel’s wild boars are descended from domesticated pigs imported by the Philistines and other seafarers some 3,000 years ago. “Our DNA analysis proves that the wild boars living in Israel today are the descendants of European pigs brought here starting in the Iron Age. Given the concentration of pig bones found at Philistine archaeological sites, the European pigs likely came over in the Philistines’ boats,” said Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University. Additional European pigs may have been brought to Israel by the Romans and the Byzantines, and then by Crusaders. Modern pigs from Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, and Iran, however, share a Near Eastern genetic signature.
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND—A team of archaeologists led by Southampton University's Simon Keay are embarking on a massive project to study the interconnections between 31 important Roman ports across the Mediterranean, from Turkey to Spain. Focusing on sites dating to the first two centuries A.D., the team will conduct excavations at eight of the most important surviving ports, and will use satellite imagery and already available archaeological data to study another 23. "By studying these networks we aim to gather a wealth of knowledge about how they operated and why – also helping to set in context how trade was conducted in later historical periods and, indeed, today," says Keay.
BEIJING, CHINA—Moving the massive stones used to build Beijing's Forbidden City in the 15th and 16th centuries required more than sheer manpower. According to medieval Chinese texts, teams of workers moved the stones on sledges in the depths of winter. Now a team of modern engineers says those workers likely dragged monoliths weighing more than 100 tons on ice roads lubricated with water. Princeton engineer and fluid mechanicist Howard Stone Sledges crunched the numbers, and estimates that it would take 1,500 men to drag a sledge carrying a 112-ton monolith over bare ground, while only 50 men would be needed haul it across a road covered in ice and a thin film of water. Though wheeled vehicles were introduced to China in the fourth century B.C., by the 1500s they still could not carry a load weighing more than 86 tons.
ANKARA, TURKEY—Excavations at the Kultepe mound in central Turkey have revealed a large building that could be a royal palace from which rulers administered the Bronze Age city of Kanesh. Though the team of Turkish archaeologists has yet to completely excavate the building, preliminary work suggests its dimensions are enormous. According to a Ankara University archaeologist Fikri Kulakoglu, the 4,500-year-old structure may be larger than any other building known from the period. Further work at Kultepe will not only reveal the extent of the palace, but is expected to yield evidence of Kanesh's role in an extensive international trade network.
WARSAW, POLAND—A team led by archaeologist Marcin Krzepkowski has unearthed a large Late Bronze and Early Iron Age cemetery in northern Poland. At least 150 graves were discovered, and the cemetery contained more than 1,000 urns holding the cremated remains of the dead, who belonged to a farming people scholars call the Lusatian culture. The cemetery also held a number of bronze ornaments and a rectangular ceramic artifact known as a "moon idol," which Krzepkowski says are rare in this part of Poland. Among the graves were a number that held the remains of small children, who were buried with miniature ceramic vessels and clay rattles.
OSLO, NORWAY—More than 100 years ago, when the Oseberg ship was discovered in a burial mound dating to the ninth century, researchers recovered small silk fragments thought to have been looted by the Vikings from churches and monasteries in England and Ireland. But a new investigation by Marianne Vedeler of the University of Oslo suggests that the Vikings maintained trade networks with Persia and the Byzantine Empire by traveling along Russian rivers. She has found evidence of 15 different textiles in the Oseberg ship, many of which feature patterns and motifs from the Persian Empire. The medium-quality silk had been cut into strips for use as trimming on clothing. Other textiles in the collection had been woven locally from imported silk thread.
IOWA CITY, IOWA—An excavation at the site of a new building at the University of Iowa has uncovered a limestone foundation that dates to the 1830s. The foundation is thought to have supported a cabin overlooking the Iowa River. Trading beads were found in an area that was probably a storage area under the cabin’s floor boards. Six brick-lined cisterns dating to the late nineteenth century, two privies, and a well containing trash from the 1850s, including bottles, dishes, buttons, a sheet-music holder, and personal items, were also found at the site.
ITHACA, NEW YORK—Cornell University will return to Iraq a collection of cuneiform tablets that were donated to the school by Jonathan Rosen, a former business partner of antiquities dealer Robert Hecht. The 10,000 Mesopotamian tablets date to the fourth millennium B.C., and may have been looted from Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. Among the tablets, which record details of daily life, temple rituals, agricultural records, and the resettlement of refugees, are the private archive of a Sumerian princess. “We’re not accusing anyone of a crime, but we believe they should be returned,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Miro Lovric.