MINGORA, PAKISTAN—Rock carvings of Buddhist iconography dating from 1,000 to 2,000 years ago in Pakistan's Swat Valley are under threat from neglect, say archaeologists. The reliefs are from the Gandhara civilization, a culture that was important in the spread of Buddhism in the area and which flourished from the A.D. first to 11th centuries in northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. The spectacular carvings are fading due to weather, though vandals in the area have defaced them in various ways, including urinating on the pieces. "We will soon devise a proper mechanism for the protection of all the archaeological sites of the Gandhara civilization in consultation with the archaeological experts and local culture activists," Mahmood Khan, the regions's minister for sports, tourism and archaeology told the UPI.
CARDIFF, WALES—The 18th Century writer Iolo Morganwg called Cardiff, the capital of Wales, "an obscure and inconsiderable place." New finds in a park near the city's famous Cardiff Castle are changing that idea. The discovery of Venetian glass and tools related to tanning, ceramics, and metal industries indicate that, by the 16th century, the city was more of a going concern than Morganwg would later choose to describe it. "We knew it was a reasonably significant early modern town," Amelia Pannet of Archaeology Wales told the BBC. "But these discoveries help to put it into some sort of context."
SOFIA, BULGARIA—Archaeologists continue to make new discoveries at the spectacular site of Sveshtari, a third-century B.C. tomb complex in northeast Bulgaria built by the ancient Thracian people the Greeks knew as the Getae. First discovered in 1982, the tomb's central chamber features the relief carvings of ten half-human, half plant female figurines. According to archaeologist Diana Gergova, recent discoveries include evidence for animal sacrifice at the site, as well as a golden casket that was laid to rest on a tree in one of the tombs.
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY—Near the modern Woodford Reserve distillery, a team lead by Kim McBride of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey is uncovering the remains of an 1812 log cabin where the settler Elijah Pepper first constructed a still, and where his son, the master distiller Oscar Pepper, was born. "We hoped to find any artifacts or architectural remains that would help fill in the picture of life there at the Pepper house," said McBride. So far the team has discovered stone walls built at the same time as the cabin, and a number of animal bones, as well as a copper condensing coil, toys, cutlery, and what might be a pool cue, among many other artifacts. The team has also uncovered the remains of what might be a kitchen that also doubled as slave quarters.
VALENCIA, SPAIN—Scientists analyzing Neanderthal remains found in Spain's Cova Foradà believe they have found evidence that modern human's closest extinct relative once used toothpicks to clear food from between their chompers, as well as to relieve the pain from periodontal disease. Neanderthal teeth found in the Spanish cave could date as far back as 150,000 years ago showed a lot of wear consistent with tooth decay that would have caused sore gums but no cavities. The research team speculates that something akin to a stiff blade of grass might have been used as a toothpick by the ancient hominins.
LIMA, PERU—Two mummies, an adult and an infant, were found by archaeologists inside a tomb at Huaca Pucllana, which dates to the Wari civilization, more than 1,000 years ago. Both bodies were wrapped in ceremonial fabric, and the child was likely sacrificed on behalf of the adult. The tomb also contained 10 complete artifacts, including jars, and remains of guinea pigs, which were likely also sacrificed.
DMANISI, GEORGIA—Science writer Carl Zimmer writes in the New York Times that, if the analysis of the skull found at the site of Dmanisi in Georgia is correct, the early hominin Homo erectus might have been behaviorally more like a baboon than a chimpanzee, the ape that is the closest genetic relative to humans. If all early hominins of about two million years ago were just variations of Homo erectus, as the Dmanisi skull suggests, then that species had remarkable range, showing up not only in Africa, but in Eurasia and Indonesia, as well. A similar range of adapatability is seen in baboons, who can survive in deserts or forests and interbreed when they encounter another group.
JERUSALEM—Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a 1,700-year-old lead tablet while excavating a collapsed Roman mansion in an area of Jerusalem known as the "City of David." There appears to be a curse written on the tablet in Greek, in which a woman, Kyrilla, condemns a man named Iennys over a legal dispute. Scholars believe that the tablet might have been created by a professional magician.
WASHINGTON, DC—Scientists are attempting to use teeth—specifically, by examining the shapes of ancient molars and premolars—to determine what the common ancestor was between modern humans and their closest relatives, the Neanderthals. Most estimates believe humans and Neanderthals diverged 400,000 years ago, making the long extinct Homo heidelbergensis a likely candidate. Not so, says Aida Gómez-Robles of George Washington University. "The most likely dental shape of an ancestral species is an intermediate shape between the one observed in both daughter species," she says. And H. heidelbergensis doesn't fit the bill. Her finding is that the common ancestor may go back even farther, possibly living up to one million years ago.
OXFORD, ENGLAND—Armand D'Agour, a classicist at Oxford University, described to the BBC the process by which he and other scholars were attempting to reconstruct the music of ancient Greece. He notes that much of the vaunted writing of the civilization, like the work of Homer and Sophocles, was actually musical. And instruments used are preserved and can be reconstructed via depictions in paintings and even archaeological remains. One of D'Agour's colleagues, David Creese, from the University of Newcastle, managed to play a song inscribed on a more than 2,000-year-old marble column. The tune is credited to Seikilos, and Creese played it on a zither-like instrument he constructed.
Here's an audio file (©BBC) of Creese's reconstruction:
UTTAR PRADESH, INDIA—The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) undertook preliminary excavations at the site of a ancient fort in the north Indian village of Daudiakala last week. Three months earlier, a local holy man, Shoban Sarkar, dreamt there was a cache of 1,000 tons of gold on the premesis—a vision he reported to, among other, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The dig, however, was not influenced by the swami's dream, the ASI's Syed Jamal Hasan told the Agence France Presse, "It is a trial excavation and so far we have cleared soil up to a depth of five feet and yesterday we found a medieval wall, earthen jars and pots, a hearth and a floor."
CAIRO, EGYPT—Czech archaeologists uncovered the tomb of a prominent physician of the fifth dynasty in the Abusir Necropolis near Cairo. The tomb of Shepseskaf-Ankh, once the head of physicians for Upper and Lower Egypt, contains a courtyard, eight burial chambers, and false door bearing several engravings of the doctor's various titles, including "The priest of god Khnum" and "The priest of Sun temples." The necropolis contains many high ranking officials who seved during the Kings of Abusir's reign.
GUNNISON, COLORADO—The Mountaineer Site, on the summit of western Colorado's Tenderfoot Mountain, is home to some of the oldest structures in North America. Dating back 10,000 years to what archaeologists refer as the Folsom Period, the eight Paleoindian dwellings uncovered here are the only ones of their kind ever discovered. But the mountain is also important to telecommunications companies, which over the years have installed transmission towers at the site and inadvertantly harmed archaeological deposits. Now government agencies, telecommunications companies, and archaeologists have worked out a plan to protect the site, which is critical to scholars' understanding of the Folsom period, from further development. “Sites like this need to be protected and they’re not always well understood,” Carr says. “There’s so much more to learn, only a fraction of it is excavated.
DINGWALL, SCOTLAND—Archaeologists excavating at a parking lot in northern Scotland have unearthed the remains of a man-made mound where a “thing,” or Norse parliament, gathered in the eleventh century. Historians believe a Viking earl known as Thorfinn the Mighty ordered the thing mound constructed after he rose to power by defeating other local lords, possibly including the historical MacBeth. The parking lot was known to be the site of the town of Dingwall’s “moothill,” or medieval assembly place. The discovery confirms the Moothill of Dingwall was linked to the earlier Viking thing mound.
ENID, OKLAHOMA—Workers installing a natural gas line in northern Oklahoma accidentally uncovered the skeleton of a 50,000-year-old mammoth. Archaeologists and geographers from Oklahoma State University involved in a study that aims to reconstruct the prehistoric habitat of mammoths excavated the fossilized remains. “We are really fortunate to be involved in excavating such a find, and the mammoth’s fossilized remains are in very good condition for this type of removal and reassembly,” said Oklahoma State geographer Dale Lightfoot.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL— A new study of ancient pollen grains from the Sea of Galilee supports the theory that a devastating drought was responsible for a regional collapse in the eastern Mediterranean during the Late Bronze Age. Scientists examined grains from cores that dated as far back as 3,500 B.C. and found that from 1250 to 1100 B.C. there was a sharp decrease in trees like oaks and pines, a sign of repeated drought episodes. A letter from a Hittite queen to Ramses II dating to the mid-13th century B.C. offers the first textual hint that something was going wrong, reading in part “I have no grain in my lands.” The team believes the drought precipitated a sharp drop in prosperity that the Hittite, Mycenaean, and Egyptian worlds never fully recovered from.
YEREVAN, ARMENIA—Rainwater has seriously damaged frescoes at the ruins of the twelfth-century monastery of Kobayr in northern Armenia. Depicting Christ and the twelve apostles, the frescoes are the now object of a joint Armenian-Italian mission aimed at renovating the works of art. The ruins are also decorated with elaborate inscriptions in both Armenian and Georgian.
NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists of the Nottingham Caves Survey are attempting to map each of the hundreds of human-made caves that are underneath the town. The team is using a 3-D laser scanner to create highly accurate maps of each chamber, some of which date back to the sixth century A.D., when Saxons settled the area and first began to carve out chambers in the easily excavated sandstone that underlies Nottingham. The chambers served as cisterns, malt kilns, pub cellars, and jails, most famously the one said to have held Robin Hood. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a great number were dug for storage beneath buildings. Though many were lost in the nineteenth century due to development, archaeologists estimate that some 450 survive, including several that served as bomb shelters during air raids in World War II. Gizomodo journalist Geoff Manaugh toured the caves this summer in the company of Nottingham Caves Survey archaeologists and has written a fascinating account of his visit.
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETS—French Egyptologist Alain Zivie believes he may have discovered the tomb of the artist Thutmose, the official sculptor of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s court and the genius who is thought to have created the famed bust of Nefertiti. That iconic sculpture was found in a studio belonging to Thutmose in Akhenaten’s capital of Amarna in 1912. In 1996, Zivie’s team was excavating in a subterranean gallery in the necropolis of Saqqara thought to hold only mummified animals. To their surprise, the archaeologists uncovered a small tomb holding the remains of a man identified as Thutmose and his wife dating to the Amarna period (ca. 1353–1336 B.C.). The rich depictions of Thutmose and his wife together on a double coffin, as well as the discovery of a colorful ivory palette similar to one discovered in Amarna, fueled Zivie’s suspicion that the Thutmose of the Saqqara tomb and the Thutmose of the Amarna studio were one in the same, and that the master was responsible for the exquisite art in his own tomb. Still, Zivie allows that his case is not ironclad, saying “the story is unfinished.”
SPARTA, GREECE—Conservators working under the auspices of Greece’s Central Archaeological Council are studying how to rehabilitate the ruins of Sparta’s ancient theater. Built of local white marble during the Roman period, the late first-century B.C theater was one of the Classical world’s largest. Said to be capable of holding an estimated 16,000 people, it featured a mobile stage and was considered a tourist destination in ancient times. Much of the auditorium was destroyed during the Byzantine period, and the remaining marble and limestone blocks have suffered from erosion.