AREZZO, ITALY—Andrea Pessina, regional superintendent of archaeological heritage, announced that a first-century Roman structure has been discovered at the Medici Fortress of Arezzo in central Italy. According to a report in ANSAmed, the building, which sits on a steep slope overlooking a valley, was probably used as a residence. Painted walls and floors have been found in two of the three uncovered rooms. Archaeologists also excavated the medieval burial of a man with a long iron sword.
MUNICH, GERMANY—A CT scan of a mummy of a woman in the collection at the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection shows that she had been killed by blunt-force trauma to the head. “She must have received a couple of really severe hits by a sharp object to her skull just before her death. The skull bones that had been destroyed fell into her brain cavity, and they are still there today,” Andreas Nerlich of Munich University told Live Science. Isotopes in her hair, which had been held with bands made of alpaca or llama hair, indicate that she lived near the coastline of Peru or Chile, and ate a diet high in seafood and maize. She was dying from Chagas disease, caused by parasites, when she was killed. She was probably then buried in the dry sands of the Atacama Desert, which preserved her body.
LONDON, ENGLAND—Mel Greaves of The Institute of Cancer Research in the United Kingdom thinks that human ancestors had pale skin when they lost their body hair some two to three million years ago. The lack of hair was “almost certainly to facilitate heat loss by sweating in physically very active hunters, especially in the more open, dry and hot Savannah” of East Africa, Greaves told Discovery News. It had been theorized that melanin, the pigment that gives skin color, evolved as an adaptation to limit damage to the skin from sun exposure. Greaves studied albinos living in Africa, who lack any pigment in their skin, hair, and eyes, and found that they are indeed highly susceptible to skin cancer. “We assume that all hominin migrants from Africa over the past 100,000 years would have been dark skinned. What happened to those migrant populations’ skin color later depended upon geography and UVR (ultraviolet radiation) exposures,” he added.
WARSAW, POLAND—How healthy were the people of ancient Mesopotamia? Arkadiusz Soltysiak of the University of Warsaw collected information from all 44 previously published reports on human remains from Mesopotamia, where winters are moist and summers are hot, making ancient bones fragile and poorly preserved. “Despite the few published data, it can be concluded that the communities of Mesopotamia were quite healthy. We can also identify some trends—for example, least diseases visible on the bones were recorded in the early and mid-Bronze Age. Interestingly, this correlates well with written sources of that time—it was a heyday of farming communities,” Soltysiak told Science & Scholarship in Poland. He noted that the dental health of the people suffered as date palms spread and eating habits changed up to the medieval period.
CORNWALL, ENGLAND—A German ship that sank off the southern coast of England during World War I has been revealed by heavy storms that have washed away tons of sand from the beach. The SV Carl “was a sailing ship that was being towed to London and broke its tow. The majority of the ship was salvaged and this is all that is left which is remarkably good condition from being under the sand all these years,” film maker Crispin Sadler told the Cornish Guardian.
VIENNA, AUSTRIA—An international team of archaeologists has used noninvasive technologies to map the second-century gladiatorial school near the site of Carnuntum, where at least 80 gladiator-slaves lived in a two-story building. The facility, which had a practice arena, heated floors for winter training, baths, infirmaries, plumbing, and a graveyard, was more like a fortress where the men were kept as prisoners, according to Wolfgang Neubauer of the University of Vienna, whose team recently published its findings. “Lots of other people were likely killed at the amphitheater, people not trained to fight. And there was lots of bloodshed. But the combat between gladiators was the point of them performing, not them killing each other,” he told National Geographic Daily News. The initial discovery and reconstruction of the school were included in ARCHAEOLOGY magazine's Top 10 Discoveries of 2011.
DRESDEN, GERMANY—Analysis of the odd lumps found on the necks and chests of mummies from northwestern China’s Taklamakan Desert has shown them to be made of cheese. “We not only identified the product as the earliest known cheese, but we also have direct …evidence of ancient technology,” Andrej Shevchenko of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics told USA Today. The low-lactose cheese had been made by combining milk with a “starter” of bacteria and yeast—not the killing of a young calf, lamb, or kid for rennet. Shevchenko adds that the low cost of producing this cheese would have helped encourage the spread of herding throughout Asia.
PONOROGO, INDONESIA—An inventory of the ancient artifacts at the Ponorogo Regency administration hall in East Java revealed that eight of them are missing. “The items, mostly statue fragments, dating from the East Javanese classical era between the tenth and fifteenth centuries, went missing,” Rizki Susantini, an archaeologist at the Trowulan Cultural Heritage Conservation Center, told The Jakarta Post. The administration is looking for the items, but they may have been stolen.
OAHU, HAWAII—Unusually strong sea swells off the coast of Oahu’s North Shore have exposed more than 70 petroglyphs carved into the lava rock along Pupukea Beach for the first time since 2010. Many of the images depict human-shaped figures and dogs. According to Western Digs, scholars think the petroglyphs may have been used to document travel, to mark trails and boundaries, and to commemorate important events.
XINJIANG, CHINA—Erosion threatens a network of more than 200 sandstone caves in the dry climate northwestern China. Situated along the ancient Silk Road, the caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks who painted the walls with murals in the style of Indian art. The structures were used as temples from the third through the eighth centuries. Preservationists have tried to fortify the complex with cement and metal poles, but, as conservator Giorgio Bonsanti told Il Giornale dell’Arte, “the signs of progressive decay, which in the long term would turn everything to sand, are dramatically evident.”
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA—Historian Fletcher Crowe and anthropologist Anita Spring think that Fort Caroline, a French fortified settlement built in 1564, could be located near the mouth of the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia. Crowe examined sixteenth and seventeenth-century maps of the Southeast at the Bibiliothèque Nationale de France, and compared them to modern maps of the region. The team then used GPS coordinates to locate a triangular structure surrounded by moats, and dozens of Native American villages. Researchers had long been looking for traces of the fort in Jacksonville, Florida, near the St. Johns River, based upon what was known about the languages spoken by Native Americans living near the fort. “We proved that the Native Americans living near the fort spoke a language called Guale. The Guale speakers lived in the Altamaha area. They did not live in Northeast Florida, where Jacksonville is,” Spring explained to Science Daily. “The next step is to do archaeological excavations to confirm this discovery,” Crowe added.
DECORAH, IOWA—Luther College student Brittany Anderson discovered nine papyri while taking an inventory of the papers of the late Orlando W. Qualley, who had been a professor at the school and a member of a University of Michigan excavation at Karanis in the 1920s. The fragments date to the first to fifth centuries A.D. Several of them are accounting documents, but according to Graham Claytor of the University of Michigan, one is a libellus, or a document given to a Roman citizen to confirm that a sacrifice had been made to the gods as ordered by the emperor in the year 250. Christians who refused to perform the sacrifice were subject to arrest, torture, and execution. “As soon as they are properly preserved, we hope to display all the papyri in our library for everyone to see. They provide a great opportunity for our students to examine a genuine piece of the ancient world,” Philip Freeman, Qualley Chair of Ancient Languages at Luther College, told The Decorah Newspapers.
SPEYER, GERMANY—Germany’s state archaeology authority seized a trove of gold and silver artifacts estimated to be 1,500 years old from a treasure hunter who may have sold some of the pieces on the black market. The recovered items, perhaps buried by a Roman ruler fleeing the Germanic Teutons, include a solid silver bowl set, and a set of gold and silver-plated statuettes that were part of a military commander’s portable folding chair. The chair had been ‘brutally torn out of the earth and destroyed,” chief archaeologist Axel von Berg told The Local. Leaf-shaped gold brooches, thought to have decorated a Roman officer’s coat, were also found.
NORMAN, OKLAHOMA—An international team of scientists, led by Christina Warinner of the University of Oklahoma, has analyzed the 1,000-year-old dental plaque found on the teeth of medieval Germans. They found evidence of the health and diets of the individuals, and the same kind of bacteria that causes periodontal disease in people today. “Through protein sequencing, we can reconstruct infection and immune processes. It is like excavating a battlefield archaeological site, just at a molecular scale,” researcher Enrico Cappellini of the University of Copenhagen told the International Business Times.
TRALLEIS, TURKEY—A large-scale restoration project has begun at Tralleis in western Turkey, according to Hurriet Daily. Archaeologists aim to restore parts of the city, which was once an important center in the trade routes crossing the ancient Mediterranean, after millennia of earthquakes have damaged the site. In antiquity, Tralleis was inhabited from at least the fourth century B.C. through the Roman period, and survived until the 13th century. “The city has features showing the activities and social life of many eras,” says Culture and Tourism Director Nuri Aktakka, who is supporting the scientific research at the site in an effort to bring tourists to this little-known ancient city.
SRINAGAR, INDIA—A rare ninth-century A.D. sculpture of the Hindu god Shiva has been discovered in southern Kashmir, reports the Kashmir Dispatch. The sculpture was accidentally unearthed during sand extraction from a river bed, and was then reported to Kashmiri heritage officials. Wearing a crown with three peaks, the sculpture depicts the god with a third eye in his forehead.
EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND—Analysis of a 900-year-old skeleton of a young man buried at the site of the modern Scottish Seabird Centre shows he was stabbed multiple times in the back, left shoulder, and ribs. The BBC reports that after analyzing the murder victim's injuries, archaeologists say he was likely killed with a lozenge-shaped dagger almost three inches long, a type which was commonly carried by soldiers of the time. The accuracy of the wounds suggests the murder was not spur of the moment, but was planned and carried out with some professionalism. Wear on the shoulder of the man suggests he may have been an archer.
ABEL BETH MACCAH, ISRAEL—After months of conservation, a seemingly nondescript ball of silver found in simple jar at the site of the ancient biblical city of Abel Beth Maccah in northern Israel has turned out to be five ancient silver hoop earrings, as well as other pieces of silver that may have been used as a kind of money, Live Science reports. The archaeologists, who found the jar leaning against a wall in a very large ancient building, are unclear as to why the vessel and its valuable contents were left behind, but will return next season to investigate the city’s puzzling history.
HADDENHAM, ENGLAND—Archaeologists excavating the parking lot of a village pub have discovered nine burials that are believed to date to the early Saxon era, around the sixth century A.D. Though early Saxons were pagan, the burials are oriented east to west, which was a Christian practice. Among the grave goods unearthed were a spear, knife, and a shield found with a male burial. “Projects such as these prove how even the smallest developments can yield a wealth of archaeological information and details not only of how people lived but also of their treatment toward the dead more than 1,400 years ago," archaeologist Jonathan House told the Cambs Times.
VARANASI, INDIA—The Archaeological Survey of India is beginning new excavations at Sarnath, a sacred site where Buddha is thought to have delivered his first sermon. Previous excavations there unearthed artifacts and remains dating back to the third century B.C, when the emperor Ahoska the Great erected a large pillar at the site. But the early history of Sarnath is still murky. Archaeologist Ajay Srivastava told the Times of India that the team hopes to use new scientific methods to understand the chronology of Sarnath. "We hope to unearth useful finds to throw light on the past of this important Buddhist site," said Srivastava.