ORKNEY, SCOTLAND—A rare, almost complete underground building dating to the Bronze Age has been discovered on the periphery of the prehistoric Links of Noltland, an archaeological site on the island of Westray. The building may have been used as a sweat house or sauna and for ritual activities. It may also have served as a place where women could give birth, and the sick and elderly could come to die. “We know this was a large building, with a complex network of cells attached to it and a sizeable tank of water in the central structure which would likely have been used to produce boiling water and steam—which could have been used to create a sauna effect,” Rod McCullagh of Historic Scotland said in a press release. Heated stones would have been placed in the tank to heat the water. “What this would have been used for we don’t know exactly but the large scale, elaborate architecture and sophistication of the structure all suggest that it was used for more than just cooking,” McCullagh explained. To read more about archaeology on Orkney, go to "Neolithic Europe's Remote Heart."
THESSALONIKI, GREECE—Archaeologist Katerina Peristeri claimed in a press conference yesterday that the vaulted tomb excavated last year in Amphipolis “was a funerary monument for Hephaestion,” Alexander the Great’s closest friend and general. At least five skeletons were found in the tomb, which featured twin statues of sphinxes and young women, a painted frieze, and a mosaic floor. Peristeri said that fragments of Hephaestion’s monogram have also been found inscribed in the tomb. According to a report by the Associated Press, Peristeri explained that there is no evidence that Hephaestion was buried at the site, but that it might be one of a series of monuments Alexander erected to his memory in 324 B.C. Panayiotis Faklaris of the University of Thessaloniki disagrees. “There is no historic or scientific basis,” for the claims he said. “Hephaestion had no connection with Amphipolis.” To read more about the Amphipolis tomb, one of last year's Top 10 Discoveries, go to "Greece's Biggest Tomb."
STAFFIN, SKYE—A fragment of burned and worked bone and several hundred flints were discovered near Staffin Bay by a team of archaeologists and volunteers from the University of Highlands and Islands, the Staffin Community Trust, and local primary schools. The piece of 8,000-year-old bone, which appears to have been shaped at one end and perhaps drilled on the other, may have been used as a toggle to fasten clothing or bead in a necklace. The team also uncovered the remains of a circular building. “Although the structure did not turn out to be prehistoric, it has protected significant evidence for Mesolithic activity below it,” outreach archaeologist Dan Lee of the University of Highlands and Islands said in a Staffin Community Trust press release. “Hopefully we have enough material for radiocarbon dates and further excavation would be useful to better define the extent of the site,” he added.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Machu Picchu was built in the Andes Mountains some 8,000 feet above sea level by the Inca in the fifteenth century, and abandoned in the early sixteenth century. “There is a longstanding debate about what the function of Machu Picchu was because it is so unique and unusual as an Inca site. It is too big to be a local settlement. And it’s too small and not the right structure to have been an administrative center for the Inca Empire,” Brenda Bradley of the George Washington University said in GW Today. Many think Machu Picchu served as a royal retreat and diplomatic space for Emperor Pachacuti. Now, Bradley and a team of researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Yale University will analyze nuclear, mitochondrial, and Y-chromosome DNA samples obtained from the skeletal remains of more than 170 individuals unearthed at Machu Picchu in the early twentieth century to learn about the population. “They were probably very skilled people who came from far and wide to play very specific roles. That’s what we predict,” Bradley said. To read about Machu Picchu's amazing hydraulic systems, go to "Machu Picchu's Stairway of Fountains."
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND—While at the University of Sheffield, Tom Booth and colleagues from the University of Manchester and University College London conducted a microscopic analysis of skeletons from Bronze Age burial sites across the United Kingdom. “We know from previous research that bones from bodies that have decomposed naturally are usually severely degraded by putrefactive bacteria, whereas mummified bones demonstrate immaculate levels of histological preservation and are not affected by putrefactive bioerosion,” he said in a press release. The researchers then compared the results to a mummy found in northern Yemen and a bog body from Ireland. Both of these bodies showed limited levels of bacterial bioerosion within the bone. Some of the Bronze Age skeletons from Britain show similar low levels of bioerosion, unlike the badly damaged skeletons from other prehistoric and historic periods. “The idea that British and potentially European Bronze Age communities invested resources in mummifying and curating a proportion of their dead fundamentally alters our perceptions of funerary ritual and belief in this period,” he said. To read about the earliest known evidence of intentional mummification in Egypt, go to "Mummification Before the Pharaohs."
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND—Two Bronze Age hoards have been discovered at Tărtăria-Podu Tărtăriei vest, a site in a small ravine in southern Transylvania, according to a report in Live Science. One of the eighth-century hoards consisted of 300 artifacts, while the other had 50 objects. Both contained parts of horse harnesses, double axes, short swords, spears, brooches, foot and arm bracelets, pendants, torques, beads, and hairpins. “The majority of the objects are made of bronze, yet there are also weapons and tools made of iron,” Corina Bors of the National History Museum of Romania said in a presentation at the recent meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists. She thinks that the hoards may have been left as gifts for the gods. “It’s plausible to believe that this offering was made by somebody with high social status,” she said. This discovery marks the first time that scientists have been able to excavate an intact Bronze Age hoard in Romania. Analysis of the artifacts could shed light on prehistoric trade routes in the region.
JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA—Archaeologists have been excavating the cellar of a building that sat outside the perimeter of the original 1607 James Fort. They can now confirm that they have found a well that had been dug inside the structure by the English colonists and filled in with debris. “We want to be prepared for what we’ll find in there. Some types of materials will begin to degrade quickly once we remove them, so from a conservation standpoint we want to have all our ducks in a row,” senior archaeologist Danny Schmidt told The Williamsburg Yorktown Daily. This well is similar to one that had been dug inside the fort. Both were square-shaped and lined. Excavation of the second well is scheduled to begin next spring.
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—Three cannons from the CSS Pee Dee, a 150-foot Confederate gunboat, have been recovered from the Pee Dee River. The cannons, each weighing more than 15,000 pounds, were on board when the gunboat was scuttled in 1865 as Union troops advanced. “The recovery of these three cannons—the complete armament of a Confederate gunboat—offers unique insight in the arming and intended role of this warship to contest the Union blockade off the coast of South Carolina and to perhaps engage in high seas raiding against Northern merchant vessels,” James Spirek of the South Carolina Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) said in a press release. The wreckage of the CSS Pee Dee was broken up in 1906 by an Army Corps of Engineers dredging operation. Its propellers, engines, and a boiler were later recovered. The current project used sonar to discover iron bolts and timbers from the ship, in addition to the cannons. The project also identified the site of the Mars Bluff Navy Yard, one of seven inland Confederate naval yards, with ground-penetrating radar and other remote-sensing technologies. To read about a Confederate POW camp, go to "Life on the Inside."
POMPEII, ITALY—Massimo Osanna, the archaeological superintendent of Pompeii, announced that a team made up of archaeologists, computer engineers, radiologists, and orthodontists will use CT scanners to examine the remains of 86 people who died in Pompeii during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. In the late nineteenth century, Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli developed a technique of plaster casting the remains of the victims of the volcano, but the plaster, while preserving the external details of the bodies that had been preserved in the ash, had prevented modern archaeologists from examining their bones and teeth. “It will reveal much about the victims: their age, sex, what they ate, what diseases they had and what class of society they belonged to. This will be a great step forward in our knowledge of antiquity,” Osanna told The Local, Italy. Orthodontist Elisa Vanacore added that the citizens of Pompeii had very good teeth, probably from eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables. “The initial results also show the high levels of fluorine that are present in the air and water here, near the volcano,” she explained. To read more about Pompeii, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."
OMSK, RUSSIA—Two 2,700-year-old graves thought to belong to the Irmen culture have been excavated in southwestern Siberia by Mikhail Korusenko of the Omsk Branch of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Siberian Times reports that a knife and a buckle have been found in one of the graves, which are thought to be part of a Bronze Age necropolis first discovered more than 100 years ago during a construction project. Workers were renovating the building when they found these burials. To read about another Bronze Age site in Russia, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND—The skeletons and tusks of 50 walruses have been found since the late nineteenth century on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in western Iceland. According to Iceland Magazine, recent carbon dating of the bones indicates that they are at least 2,000 years old, and probably came from a large walrus colony that lived on the island before the arrival of the Vikings. Thus, early colonists would have had access to walrus ivory and bone for trade and for carving their own works of art. The new evidence supports the idea that the Lewis Chessmen, discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, could have originated in Iceland. This had been suggested because the “bishop” pieces in the twelfth-century set are dressed in ceremonial clothing as bishops, as they were called in the Icelandic language. In English and other Scandinavian and Germanic languages of the time, the pieces that moved as “bishops” were known as “runners” or “messengers.” To read more about the Viking Era in Britain, go to "The Vikings in Ireland."
TATAREVO, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that researchers from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology discovered a pottery vessel covered with lines of printed letters in the fourth and deepest tomb in the Great Mound in Tatarevo. The vessel dates to the first century A.D. and is a balsamarium, made for holding balsam. “This is a unique find because it is the first time a parchment with the text of a literary work has ever been found in Bulgaria—and in a ‘negative’ in which the letters are backwards,” said lead archaeologist Kostadin Kostadinov. The words, written in Greek with ink made from cinder and natural dyes, had been written on a piece of parchment that was then wrapped around the balsamarium. The parchment has almost completely disintegrated, but the writing has now been identified as part of the poem “Prayer to the Muses” by the Athenian politician and poet Solon, who lived in the sixth century B.C. The excavation is funded by Plovdiv Municipality to protect the Thracian burials from treasure hunters.
QIRYAT GAT, ISRAEL—The mosaic floor of a Byzantine-era church that had been removed for conservation purposes has been returned to Qiryat Gat Industrial Park, where it will be on display. The 1,500-year-old mosaic realistically depicts a Nile River landscape and the streets and buildings of a settlement in Egypt where, according to Christian tradition, the prophet Habakkuk had been buried. “The appearance of buildings on mosaic floors is a rare phenomenon in Israel. The buildings are arranged along a main colonnaded street of a city, in a sort of ancient map,” archaeologists Sa’ar Ganor and Rina Avner of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a press release. Animals, including a rooster, deer, and birds are depicted in two sections of the mosaic, and there is also an image of a goblet with red fruits. “The artist utilized tesserae of 17 different colors in preparing the mosaic. The investment in the raw materials and their quality are the best ever discovered in Israel,” added Ganor.
KENT, ENGLAND—Kent Online reports that a log boat dating to the Bronze Age was discovered in a boatyard in the town of Faversham in southern England. A portion of the 4,000-year-old boat was lifted out of the water and Paul Wilkinson of SWAT Archaeology was called in to examine it. The boat was then returned to the water to keep it from drying out. Archaeologists will investigate to see if any more of the vessel has survived. For a similar discovery, go to "Bronze Age Boats Found Near Flag Fen."
CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS—Researchers from the Parker’s Revenge Project are reconstructing the battle that took place on April 19, 1775, when the Lexington militia led by Captain John Parker laid down heavy fire on British soldiers marching from Concord to Boston. The site is part of what is now Minute Man National Historical Park. So far, the team has found a small cluster of battle-related artifacts all within 80 yards of each other. “What we have found to date is very significant. Due to the location and special patterning of the musket balls recovered, we now know the exact place where individuals were standing during the battle, allowing us to begin to paint a much clearer picture about what happened that day,” project archaeologist Meg Watters said in a press release. The team, with the support of the Friends of Minute Man National Park, will continue the high-tech survey of the 44-acre battlefield. “It is extremely gratifying to be able to use modern technology to reveal this history and heroism,” added Bob Morris, president of the Friends of Minute Man National Park. To read more about historical archaeology in the United States, go to "New York's Original Seaport."
NUNAVUT, CANADA—CBC News Canada reports that underwater archaeologists diving on the wreck of HMS Erebus cleaned a lot of kelp off the ship, took detailed measurements of it, and recovered 39 artifacts this season during a period of good weather. Among the objects are a portion of the ship’s wheel, a sword hilt, and a boot. “We now have a really solid understanding of the site that will allow us to develop the best strategy for future investigations,” said Marc-André Bernier of Parks Canada. The team also recorded plates, mariners’ tools, and other artifacts made of wood, lead, copper, and glass at the site. “This shipwreck is proving to be very rich in artifacts. It will have many clues that will lead to the demise and what happened to the crew members,” added Adrian Schimnowski of the Arctic Research Foundation. Parks Canada underwater archaeologists are still looking for HMS Terror, the other Franklin Expedition ship lost in Arctic in the mid-nineteenth century.
BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—An international team of scientists led by Rolf Quam of Binghamton University examined CT scans and virtual computer reconstructions of the internal anatomy of the ears of Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus. “We know that the hearing patterns, or audiograms, in chimpanzees and humans are distinct because their hearing abilities have been measured in the laboratory in living subjects. So we were interested in finding out when this human-like hearing pattern first emerged during our evolutionary history,” Quam explained in a press release. Modern humans have better hearing than other primates across a wider range of frequencies, generally between 1.0 and 6.0 kHz. The new research suggests that these early human ancestors had hearing that was more sensitive than modern humans or chimpanzees from about 1.0 to 3.0 kHz, which may have favored short-range vocal communication in open environments, but this does not indicate that they could speak. “We feel our research line does have considerable potential to provide new insights into when the human hearing pattern emerged and, by extension, when we developed language,” Quam said.
PARIS, FRANCE—The Associated Press reports that a 3,000-year-old Olmec carving stolen from southern Mexico sometime between 1968 and 1972 has resurfaced in Paris. Parts of the stone, which was chipped out of the rock face, are missing, but the image, thought to depict a priest, is largely intact. “There’s no image like this anywhere else. You can see he’s wearing some sort of mask over his face. His clothes are unlike anything we’ve seen. There’s just enough clues in some of the clothing detail and the face detail to show it’s Olmec,” commented John Clark of Brigham Young University. For more on the Olmec, go to "The Cascajal Block."
BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA—According to a report in The Slovak Spectator, archaeologists working ahead of the construction of a sewage system have discovered more than 200 artifacts near Gerulata, a Roman military camp in suburban Bratislava. Among the jewelry, coins, and buckles is a unique silver belt dating to the second to fourth centuries A.D. “We believe that this belt once belonged to a lady, and since the goldsmith work in question is of cutting edge expertise, the lady probably belonged to a high class of society,” said Archaeological Agency general director František Žák Matyasowszky. Two rings were also found. The first, made of bronze, may have been worn by a woman. The other may have been made for a child. It features a small white disc in its center that depicts a gladiator or a warrior. For more, go to "Rome's Earliest Fort."
WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS—An international team of archaeologists and professional technical divers were able to spend 40 hours at the Antikythera shipwreck this year as part of the first-ever systematic excavation of the site. They recovered an intact amphora, a large lead salvage ring, two lead anchor stocks, fragments of lead hull sheathing, a small table jug, and a chiseled stone that may have been the base of a statuette. Nine carefully dug trenches yielded wooden remains of the hull of the ship, a piece of bronze furniture, part of a bone flute, a glass gaming piece, and bronze nails. “We were very lucky this year, as we excavated many finds within their context, which gave us the opportunity to take full advantage of all the archaeological information they could provide,” diving archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou of the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities said in a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution press release. The ship, which dates to 65 B.C., was discovered by sponge divers in 180 feet of water off the coast of the Aegean island of Antikythera in 1900. At the time, marble statues, bronze sculptures, and the mechanical device known as the Antikythera Mechanism were salvaged. To read more about nautical archaeology, go to "History's 10 Greatest Wrecks."