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Unusual Metal Recovered from Ancient Greek Shipwreck

January 7, 2015

GELA, SICILY—Thirty-nine ingots of cast metal have been recovered from a ship that sank 2,600 years ago off the southern coast of Sicily. “The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century. It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela’s coast at a depth of ten feet,” Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office told Discovery News. The metal is being called orichalcum, a legendary metal that the fourth-century B.C. Greek philosopher Plato attributed to the mythical island of Atlantis. “Nothing similar has ever been found. We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects,” Tusa added. Analysis of the metal shows that it is an alloy made of copper, zinc, and small percentages of nickel, lead, and iron. The ingots were most likely destined for workshops in Gela. “It will provide us with precious information on Sicily’s most ancient economic history,” Tusa said of the shipwreck’s precious cargo. To read more about underwater archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Shipwrecks."

Categories: Blog

Unusual Metal Recovered from Ancient Greek Shipwreck

January 7, 2015

GELA, SICILY—Thirty-nine ingots of cast metal have been recovered from a ship that sank 2,600 years ago off the southern coast of Sicily. “The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century. It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela’s coast at a depth of ten feet,” Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office told Discovery News. The metal is being called orichalcum, a legendary metal that the fourth-century B.C. Greek philosopher Plato attributed to the mythical island of Atlantis. “Nothing similar has ever been found. We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects,” Tusa added. Analysis of the metal shows that it is an alloy made of copper, zinc, and small percentages of nickel, lead, and iron. The ingots were most likely destined for workshops in Gela. “It will provide us with precious information on Sicily’s most ancient economic history,” Tusa said of the shipwreck’s precious cargo. To read more about underwater archaeology, see "History's 10 Greatest Shipwrecks."

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Nichoria’s Dark Age

January 7, 2015

CINCINNATI, OHIO—W. Flint Dibble of the University of Cincinnati and Daniel J. Fallu of Boston University have examined soil clinging to poorly preserved bones collected in the 1960s from the Greek village of Nichoria, Messinia. Located near the palace of Pylos, the village thrived during the Greek Bronze Age, and was still occupied after the collapse of the Bronze Age, beginning around 1200 B.C., in a period known as the Dark Age, when other Greek settlements and palaces were abandoned. Excavations in the 1960s suggested that Nichoria survived through cattle ranching because of the number of cattle bones that were recovered. But Dibble and Fallu say that the acidic soil at the site that has damaged the cattle bones could also have destroyed crucial evidence. “Bone is made up of calcium carbonate, so other carbon materials could be destroyed, such as charred plants—key to understanding agriculture at that time. Also, there are few metal objects from the Dark Age, and the soil environment might be an explanation for that,” Dibble explained. To read about how Bronze Age names persisted in Dark Age poetry, see "Evidence From Homer."

Categories: Blog

New Thoughts on Nichoria’s Dark Age

January 7, 2015

CINCINNATI, OHIO—W. Flint Dibble of the University of Cincinnati and Daniel J. Fallu of Boston University have examined soil clinging to poorly preserved bones collected in the 1960s from the Greek village of Nichoria, Messinia. Located near the palace of Pylos, the village thrived during the Greek Bronze Age, and was still occupied after the collapse of the Bronze Age, beginning around 1200 B.C., in a period known as the Dark Age, when other Greek settlements and palaces were abandoned. Excavations in the 1960s suggested that Nichoria survived through cattle ranching because of the number of cattle bones that were recovered. But Dibble and Fallu say that the acidic soil at the site that has damaged the cattle bones could also have destroyed crucial evidence. “Bone is made up of calcium carbonate, so other carbon materials could be destroyed, such as charred plants—key to understanding agriculture at that time. Also, there are few metal objects from the Dark Age, and the soil environment might be an explanation for that,” Dibble explained.  

Categories: Blog

Mysterious Greek Coins Studied

January 6, 2015

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—For more than a century beginning around 540 B.C., the Greek cities of Southern Italy began minting so-called incuse coins, which show the same image on the front and back. Researchers have never been certain how the coins were manufactured, and with only a few dies used to make the coins surviving and with no contemporary accounts or illustrations, there is a dearth of information apart from the coins themselves. Now scientists from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) are teaming up with scholars from the Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatics (ACAN) to use neutron scattering, or the use of neutrons to characterize materials, to analyze some of the 1,267 incuse coins in ACAN's collection. "ANSTO's neutron scattering texture measurements will provide insight into the mechanical processes undertaken to create the coins," Kenneth Sheedy, Director of ACANS, said in an ANSTO news release. "Numismatists from ACANS will then infer the production steps undertaken to produce these coins using knowledge of ancient materials and equipment that were available at the time." To read about how coins can help change our understanding of history, see "Artifact: Silver Viking Coin." 

Categories: Blog

Mysterious Greek Coins Studied

January 6, 2015

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—For more than a century beginning around 540 B.C., the Greek cities of Southern Italy began minting so-called incuse coins, which show the same image on the front and back. Researchers have never been certain how the coins were manufactured, and with only a few dies used to make the coins surviving and with no contemporary accounts or illustrations, there is a dearth of information apart from the coins themselves. Now scientists from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) are teaming up with scholars from the Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatics (ACAN) to use neutron scattering, or the use of neutrons to characterize materials, to analyze some of the 1,267 incuse coins in ACAN's collection. "ANSTO's neutron scattering texture measurements will provide insight into the mechanical processes undertaken to create the coins," Kenneth Sheedy, Director of ACANS, said in an ANSTO news release. "Numismatists from ACANS will then infer the production steps undertaken to produce these coins using knowledge of ancient materials and equipment that were available at the time." To read about how coins can help change our understanding of history, see "Artifact: Silver Viking Coin." 

Categories: Blog

Did Easter Island Really Collapse?

January 6, 2015

EASTER ISLAND, CHILE—A new study contradicts the idea that the prehistoric Rapa Nui people of Easter Island suffered a demographic collapse brought on by poor environmental stewardship. Scholars had theorized that unchecked agricultural growth after the first settlers arrived around A.D. 1200 strained the island's fragile ecosystem to the breaking point, leading to the erosion of topsoil and the eventual death by starvation of many members of Rapa Nui society. But prehistoric demographics are notoriously difficult to determine with precision. Phys.org reports that an international research team has evaluated the claim that the population of Easter Island collapsed by studying how land was used at different times on the island. They dated obisidian farming tools from a variety of agricultural sites on the island using a method known as obsidian hydration and found that there were population shifts that correlated with changes in rainfall and soil quality. Some areas did lose population, but others gained in population over time. Overall, they were unable to find evidence for a dramatic population collapse, which happened only once Europeans reached the island in A.D. 1722 and islanders succumbed to diseases such as syphilis and smallpox. To read about the study of the decline of a prehistoric culture in the American Southwest, see "On the Trail of the Mimbres."  

Categories: Blog

Did Easter Island Really Collapse?

January 6, 2015

EASTER ISLAND, CHILE—A new study contradicts the idea that the prehistoric Rapa Nui people of Easter Island suffered a demographic collapse brought on by poor environmental stewardship. Scholars had theorized that unchecked agricultural growth after the first settlers arrived around A.D. 1200 strained the island's fragile ecosystem to the breaking point, leading to the erosion of topsoil and the eventual death by starvation of many members of Rapa Nui society. But prehistoric demographics are notoriously difficult to determine with precision. Phys.org reports that an international research team has evaluated the claim that the population of Easter Island collapsed by studying how land was used at different times on the island. They dated obisidian farming tools from a variety of agricultural sites on the island using a method known as obsidian hydration and found that there were population shifts that correlated with changes in rainfall and soil quality. Some areas did lose population, but others gained in population over time. Overall, they were unable to find evidence for a dramatic population collapse, which happened only once Europeans reached the island in A.D. 1722 and islanders succumbed to diseases such as syphilis and smallpox. To read about the study of the decline of a prehistoric culture in the American Southwest, see "On the Trail of the Mimbres."  

Categories: Blog

Pharaonic Carving Discovered in Egypt

January 6, 2015

CAIRO, EGYPT—A new epigraphic survey of the ancient sandstone quarries of Gebel el Sisila north of Aswan has revealed previously unrecorded inscriptions and rock art, reports the Cairo Post. Led by Lund University archaeologist Maria Nilsson, the team has found a rare depiction of two obelisks from the quarry being cut and loaded onto boats, as well as a small rock carved stela that shows a pharaoh making offerings to the gods Amun-Ra and Thoth, who are rarely portrayed together. A royal cartouche accompanying the stela is so poorly preserved that the team can not be sure which pharaoh is being depicted, but preliminary work suggests the stela dates to the late dynastic period, perhaps the Third Intermediate Period (1069-664 B.C.) The Gebel el Silsila Survey has also thus far discovered more 60 rock art sites on both sides of the Nile that date from the Epipalaeolithic (ca. 8500 to 6500 years ago), to the Early Dynastic (ca. 3100-2686 B.C.) periods. To read about epigraphic work at a later necropolis on the Nile, see "Minature Pyramids of Sudan."

Categories: Blog

Pharonic Carving Discovered in Egypt

January 6, 2015

CAIRO, EGYPT—A new epigraphic survey of the ancient sandstone quarries of Gebel el Sisila north of Aswan has revealed previously unrecorded inscriptions and rock art, reports the Cairo Post. Led by Lund University archaeologist Maria Nilsson, the team has found a rare depiction of two obelisks from the quarry being cut and loaded onto boats, as well as a small rock carved stela that shows a pharaoh making offerings to the gods Amun-Ra and Thoth, who are rarely portrayed together. A royal cartouche accompanying the stela is so poorly preserved that the team can not be sure which pharaoh is being depicted, but preliminary work suggests the stela dates to the late dynastic period, perhaps the Third Intermediate Period (1069-664 B.C.) The Gebel el Silsila Survey has also thus far discovered more 60 rock art sites on both sides of the Nile that date from the Epipalaeolithic (ca. 8500 to 6500 years ago), to the Early Dynastic (ca. 3100-2686 B.C.) periods. To read about epigraphic work at a later necropolis on the Nile, see "Minature Pyramids of Sudan."

Categories: Blog

Rare Australian Spearpoints Dated

January 6, 2015

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Superbly crafted serrated spearpoints from the northwest Kimberly region are widely regarded as the pinnacle of prehistoric stone working technology in Australia. But because they are rarely found in ancient sites, doubts have persisted about their antiquity. Now Australian National University archaeologist Tim Maloney has radiocarbon dated charcoal from three sites where the points were discovered and shown that they first appeared around 1,000 years ago, a time when the population of the region was growing and new rock art styles were emerging. According to Maloney, it's still difficult to say just how common the spearpoints were, but it's clear that they would have been highly regarded, prized possessions. “The sort of skill required for Kimberley points, I think, is one that really involves several years of apprenticeship,” Maloney told ScienceNetwork Western Australia. “Perhaps only a small group of individuals were even able to produce them.” To read more about the debate over the age of Kimberly spearheads, see "What's the Point?

Categories: Blog

Rare Australian Spearpoints Dated

January 6, 2015

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Superbly crafted serrated spearpoints from the northwest Kimberly region are widely regarded as the pinnacle of prehistoric stone working technology in Australia. But because they are rarely found in ancient sites, doubts have persisted about their antiquity. Now Australian National University archaeologist Tim Maloney has radiocarbon dated charcoal from three sites where the points were discovered and shown that they first appeared around 1,000 years ago, a time when the population of the region was growing and new rock art styles were emerging. According to Maloney, it's still difficult to say just how common the spearpoints were, but it's clear that they would have been highly regarded, prized possessions. “The sort of skill required for Kimberley points, I think, is one that really involves several years of apprenticeship,” Maloney told ScienceNetwork Western Australia. “Perhaps only a small group of individuals were even able to produce them.” To read more about the debate over the age of Kimberly spearheads, see "What's the Point?

Categories: Blog

Tomb of Osiris Unearthed in Egypt

January 5, 2015

LUXOR, EGYPT—A team of Spanish and Italian Egyptologists has unearthed a tomb complex on the West Bank of the Nile opposite the modern city of Luxor that features a chapel with a statue of the god Osiris. According to an announcement published by the Luxor Times, the team believes the unusual architecture of the tomb, which probably dates to sometime between 760 and 525 B.C. shows that like the Osirion complex in Abydos, it was modeled on the mythical tomb of Osiris, and was intended to celebrate that god's mysteries. Below the Osiris statue the team found the tomb's burial chamber, and a nearby room was decorated with reliefs depicting demons and deities holding knives and meant to stand guard over the body of the tomb's occupant. To read about another recent discovery in the same vicinity, see "Sarcophagus of a Singer of the God Amun Found in Luxor." 

Categories: Blog

Tomb of Osiris Unearthed in Egypt

January 5, 2015

LUXOR, EGYPT—A team of Spanish and Italian Egyptologists has unearthed a tomb complex on the West Bank of the Nile opposite the modern city of Luxor that features a chapel with a statue of the god Osiris. According to an announcement published by the Luxor Times, the team believes the unusual architecture of the tomb, which probably dates to sometime between 760 and 525 B.C. shows that like the Osirion complex in Abydos, it was modeled on the mythical tomb of Osiris, and was intended to celebrate that god's mysteries. Below the Osiris statue the team found the tomb's burial chamber, and a nearby room was decorated with reliefs depicting demons and deities holding knives and meant to stand guard over the body of the tomb's occupant. To read about another recent discovery in the same vicinity, see "Sarcophagus of a Singer of the God Amun Found in Luxor." 

Categories: Blog

Palindrome Amulet Unearthed in Cyprus

January 5, 2015

KRAKOW, POLAND—Polish archaeologists working at the site of Nea Paphos in Cyprus have discovered a 1,500-year-old amulet containing an inscription that reads the same backwards as forwards, making it a palindrome. Livescience reports that on one side of the amulet are crude carvings depicting the Egyptian god Osiris lying on a boat, as well as Harpocrates, the Greek god of silence. On the reverse, a 59-letter inscription reads "[a god] is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine." Amulets depicting gods were long used as good-luck talismans in the ancient world, but at the time this one was made, Cyprus was part of the Eastern Roman Empire and Christianity was the official religion. Both the iconography and inscription show that people persisted in practicing traditional religions into the Christian era and that Christianity overlapped with pagan beliefs for some time. But the amulet also demonstrates that familiarity with traditional beliefs may have been fading by the time it was made. For instance, while the artisan who made the amulet correctly depicted Osiris as mummified, they also chose to show Harpocrates covered with bandages, which is incorrect. This suggests the artisan may not have fully understood the religious iconography being depicted. To read more about the site, see "Large Buildings Discovered at Nea Paphos."

Categories: Blog

Palindrome Amulet Unearthed in Cyprus

January 5, 2015

KRAKOW, POLAND—Polish archaeologists working at the site of Nea Paphos in Cyprus have discovered a 1,500-year-old amulet containing an inscription that reads the same backwards as forwards, making it a palindrome. Livescience reports that on one side of the amulet are crude carvings depicting the Egyptian god Osiris lying on a boat, as well as Harpocrates, the Greek god of silence. On the reverse, a 59-letter inscription reads "[a god] is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine." Amulets depicting gods were long used as good-luck talismans in the ancient world, but at the time this one was made, Cyprus was part of the Eastern Roman Empire and Christianity was the official religion. Both the iconography and inscription show that people persisted in practicing traditional religions into the Christian era and that Christianity overlapped with pagan beliefs for some time. But the amulet also demonstrates that familiarity with traditional beliefs may have been fading by the time it was made. For instance, while the artisan who made the amulet correctly depicted Osiris as mummified, they also chose to show Harpocrates covered with bandages, which is incorrect. This suggests the artisan may not have fully understood the religious iconography being depicted. To read more about the site, see "Large Buildings Discovered at Nea Paphos."

Categories: Blog

Temple Walls Possibly Felled by Earthquake

January 5, 2015

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists have long assumed that a large pile of stones lying next to the south end of the Western Wall fell to the street after Roman soldiers destroyed the Holy Temple during the great revolt in A.D. 70. But now archaeologist Shimon Gibson has put forward a controversial theory that the walls did not fall during the sacking of the temple, but stood until an earthquake in A.D. 363 toppled them, leaving the heap of stones visible today. Gibson doubts that Roman soldiers would have bothered to destroy the walls in what would have been a challenging engineering operation. He also notes that in the late Roman period, Jerusalem was a vibrant city with a large, prosperous population and that it's unlikely the debris would have been left untouched and not recycled for new buildings. “Now we know much more about the late Roman period,” Gibson told Haaretz. “If there was a neighborhood like this there, how could it be that they leave debris from the year 70 C.E. in the middle of it all? It’s like going out of your house and leaving a pile of debris. You clear it. And why leave the city to bring stones to build new buildings if you have stones next to your house?” Other archaeologists strongly disagree with Gibson, and point to stratigraphic evidence that the stones have been at there present location since the first century A.D. To read more about archaeology in Jerusalem, see "The Walls of Mount Zion." 

Categories: Blog

Temple Walls Possibly Felled by Earthquake

January 5, 2015

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists have long assumed that a large pile of stones lying next to the south end of the Western Wall fell to the street after Roman soldiers destroyed the Holy Temple during the great revolt in A.D. 70. But now archaeologist Shimon Gibson has put forward a controversial theory that the walls did not fall during the sacking of the temple, but stood until an earthquake in A.D. 363 toppled them, leaving the heap of stones visible today. Gibson doubts that Roman soldiers would have bothered to destroy the walls in what would have been a challenging engineering operation. He also notes that in the late Roman period, Jerusalem was a vibrant city with a large, prosperous population and that it's unlikely the debris would have been left untouched and not recycled for new buildings. “Now we know much more about the late Roman period,” Gibson told Haaretz. “If there was a neighborhood like this there, how could it be that they leave debris from the year 70 C.E. in the middle of it all? It’s like going out of your house and leaving a pile of debris. You clear it. And why leave the city to bring stones to build new buildings if you have stones next to your house?” Other archaeologists strongly disagree with Gibson, and point to stratigraphic evidence that the stones have been at there present location since the first century A.D. To read more about archaeology in Jerusalem, see "The Walls of Mount Zion." 

Categories: Blog

Unknown Queen's Tomb Discovered in Egypt

January 5, 2015

CAIRO, EGYPT—The BBC reports that archaeologists led by the Czech Institute of Egyptology's Miroslav Bárta have uncovered the tomb of a previously unknown queen at Abusir, the necropolis of the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis. Inscriptions on the tomb's walls indicate it was occupied by Queen Khentakawess, and its close proximity to the pyramid of the Pharaoh Neferefre, a Fifth Dynasty king who ruled briefly around 2460-2458 B.C., led the team to hypothesize she was probably Neferefre's wife and the mother of his successor. In addition to the inscriptions, the team discovered 23 limestone pots and four copper tools. To read about an earlier discovery of an Old Kingdom tomb made by the Czech team, see "The Doctor Is In."

Categories: Blog

Unknown Queen's Tomb Discovered in Egypt

January 5, 2015

CAIRO, EGYPT—The BBC reports that archaeologists led by the Czech Institute of Egyptology's Miroslav Bárta have uncovered the tomb of a previously unknown queen at Abusir, the necropolis of the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis. Inscriptions on the tomb's walls indicate it was occupied by Queen Khentakawess, and its close proximity to the pyramid of the Pharaoh Neferefre, a Fifth Dynasty king who ruled briefly around 2460-2458 B.C., led the team to hypothesize she was probably Neferefre's wife and the mother of his successor. In addition to the inscriptions, the team discovered 23 limestone pots and four copper tools. To read about an earlier discovery of an Old Kingdom tomb made by the Czech team, see "The Doctor Is In."

Categories: Blog

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