TUSCANY, ITALY—A Roman amphitheater thought to date to the first century A.D. has been discovered in the town of Volterra, a well-known Etruscan city that fell under Roman rule in the first century B.C. “It’s puzzling that no historical account records the existence of such an imposing amphitheater. Possibly it was abandoned at a certain time and gradually covered by vegetation,” archaeologist Elena Sorge of the Tuscan Superintendency told Discovery News. “This amphitheater was quite large. Our survey dig revealed three orders of seats that could accommodate about 10,000 people. They were entertained by gladiator fights and wild beast baiting,” Sorge explained. A survey conducted with ground-penetrating radar by Carlo Battini of the University of Genoa indicates that much of the amphitheater, which was constructed of stone in the same manner as the nearby theater, is under 20 to 32 feet of dirt. To read about a recent Etruscan discovery, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands."
READING, ENGLAND—In 2013, archaeologists from the University of Reading unearthed a fragment of inscribed marble at the site of Silchester Roman Town, located in southern England. Analysis of the stone fragment, which is etched with the letters ‘ba,’ has shown that it was part of a sign with the letters ‘At’ in the second line that was found at the site in 1891. The sign is thought to have read ‘At(e)ba(tum), or ‘of the Atrebates,’ the French tribe thought to have founded Silchester in the first century B.C. “Matching pieces which were discovered over 100 years apart to a 2,000-year-old object is incredibly rare—perhaps happening only once or twice in the UK before,” Mike Fulford of the University of Reading said in a press release. Fulford thinks that the building may have been destroyed by the legendary Boudica during her rebellion against the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. To read more, go to "Boudica: Queen of the Iceni."
TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Five teeth and a partial leg bone from saber-toothed cats have been found at Germany’s Schöningen mine, in the same layer where excavations have also uncovered eight wooden spears with sharpened points and the remains of horses. Paleontologist Jordi Serangeli of the University of Tübingen thinks that between 320,000 and 300,000 years ago, hominids may have used the spears to defend themselves against the big, fast cats, in addition to using them to hunt horses. Although, “if one wanted to drive off a big carnivore, it would have been much easier to bounce a rock off its head,” John Shea of Stony Brook University commented in Science News. Pits, scrapes, and other marks on the leg bone of an adult male saber-toothed cat suggest that it may have been used as a hammer for crafting stone tools. To read about Paleolithic art discovered in Germany, go to "A New Life for Lion Man."
BRISTOL, ENGLAND—Chemical analysis of Neolithic pottery vessels from more than 150 archaeological sites in Europe has detected the presence of beeswax for the first time. Prehistoric rock art images and murals from ancient Egypt have suggested that early farmers kept bees, but this is the earliest evidence of beekeeping found to date. “Our study is the first to provide unequivocal evidence, based solely on a chemical ‘fingerprint,’ for the palaeoecological distribution of an economically and culturally important animal. It shows widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early farmers and pushes back the chronology of human-honeybee association to substantially earlier dates,” Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol’s Organic Geochemistry Unit said in a press release. For more on the technology of that era, go to "Neolithic Toolkit."
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—For the past 20 years, a team of archaeologists from the University of Sydney has been excavating at Nea Paphos, the capital city of Cyprus during the Hellenistic and Roman periods (300 B.C.–A.D. 400). The most recent project has focused on mapping the city’s 8,500-seat theater and the surrounding area with pole photography and photogrammetric technology. “The work now is to position the theater within its ancient urban context,” lead archaeologist Craig Barker explained in a press release. The new 3-D map revealed that the more than 160 fragments of massive granite columns found around the theater lined two main roads during the Roman period. The first road ran north-south from the harbor to the theater; the second ran east-west behind the theater. “The scale of the Roman trade in monumental architectural elements was massive. As the capital city of Cyprus at the time, it is not surprising Nea Paphos would be adorned with this architectural demonstration of Roman civic order,” Barker added. To read more, go to "Rome's Imperial Port."
CAIRO, EGYPT—Thermal scans of Khufu’s Great Pyramid were made at sunrise, as the sun heats the structure, and at sunset, when they pyramid cools, as part of Egypt’s Scan Pyramids Mission. Scientists from Cairo University, Paris’ Heritage Innovation and Preservation Institute (HIP), Quebec’s Université Laval, and Japan’s Nagoya University measured the rate of heating and cooling and found the first row of limestone blocks on the pyramid’s eastern side are the same temperature, except for three, which are hotter. This difference in temperature could be explained by fractures in the rock behind the blocks, or perhaps by empty spaces. “It could be void spaces, fissures, or passages. So far, I do not know,” explained Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty in Ahram Online. Further tests, including muon radiography, and 3-D reconstruction, are underway. To read more about pyramids, go to "Miniature Pyramids of Sudan."
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—A second early nineteenth-century burial vault has been uncovered beneath Washington Square Park during work conducted by the city’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC). The vault is identical to the first one, which was found last week and had previously been uncovered in 1965 by the ConEdison power company. “It’s the second vault we didn’t expect,” archaeologist Alyssa Loorya of Chrysalis Archaeology told The Guardian. The second arched brick chamber contains 20 wooden coffins, some with name and date plates, and it has a wooden door with an intact lock that faces westward under the park. The archaeological team is investigating the burials with high-resolution photographs and has no plan to enter the chamber or move the bodies. “You can get enough resolution to see dental wear patterns, suture closings on bones,” Loorya said. To read more about the archaeology of the city, go to "New York's Original Seaport."
NEW YORK, NEW YORK—Tree ring chronologies have been used to create a drought atlas of the Old World that reaches back more than 2,000 years. When combined with drought atlases of North America and Asia, also created by the Tree Ring Lab at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, scientists will be better able to pinpoint causes of drought and extreme rainfall in the Northern Hemisphere. “Climate variability tends to occur within patterns that span the globe, creating wet conditions somewhere and dry conditions somewhere else. By having tree ring-based hydroclimate reconstructions for three northern hemisphere continents, we can identify the responsible modes of variability,” climate modeler Richard Seager said in a press release. This information can help scientists understand climate conditions during historic famines, such as in 1741, when rainfall was well below normal during the spring and summer in Ireland, England, and Wales. It had been thought that an unusually cold winter and spring were to blame. Excessive rains beginning in 1314 also led to famine. To read about how climate change may have impacted Iron Age cultures in Wales, go to "Hillforts of the Iron Age."
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES—Scholars at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus mapped the date palm genome and found more than seven million mutations separating modern Middle Eastern and North African varieties. As for ancient date palms, seeds found on Dalma Island, Abu Dhabi, have been dated to more than 7,000 years ago, while the oldest cultivated date seeds found in North Africa are about 4,000 years old. The new study supports this archaeological evidence, and indicates that today’s date palms could have descended from plants first domesticated in the Middle East, and then domesticated a second time in North Africa. It is also possible that that the fruit tree was first cultivated in the Middle East and then spread to North Africa, where it was crossed with wild plants. But researchers have yet to find the wild ancestor of the date palm. “It is important to know the identity and geographic origin of the wild progenitor of a domesticated species because it will help us understand the evolutionary process underlying domestication and the nature of the genetic changes underlying domestication,” senior research scientist Khaled Hazzouri said in a press release. To read more about archaeology in the Persian Gulf, go to "Archaeology Island."
CAIRO, EGYPT—King Tutankhamun’s tomb was scanned last week with infrared thermography by scientists from the Ministry of Antiquities, Cairo University, and the Heritage, Innovation, and Preservation (HIP) Institute, Paris. Preliminary results of the experiment indicate that an area of the tomb’s northern wall is different in temperature than other parts of the wall. According to a report in the Ahram Online, Mamdouh El-Damaty, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities, said that further tests are needed to mark the area, which could indicate that an open space, or additional chambers, are located behind the wall. British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves suggested that could be the case after he examined high-resolution images of the tomb’s walls produced by the Spanish artistic and preservation specialists Factum Arte. He spotted what looked like two doorways that had been plastered over and thinks they might lead to Nefertiti’s missing burial.
NANCHANG, CHINA—Chinese archaeologists excavating a royal cemetery in southeastern Jiangxi province have unearthed eight tombs and a chariot burial area set among a network of roads and a drainage system. These tombs have yielded thousands of artifacts, including items made from gold, jade, iron, wood, and bamboo; terracotta figures; musical instruments; and tons of bronze coins. The researchers say that the coffin they will open next, which is in the main mausoleum, may belong to Liu He of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – A.D. 25). Liu is thought to have ruled only briefly before he was deposed, regained power, and then ousted a second time. The other tombs may have been built for his wife and other family members. “There may be a royal seal and jade clothes that will suggest the status and identity of the tomb’s occupant,” lead archaeologist Xin Lixiang of the National Museum told the South China Morning Post. It the tomb does belong to Liu He, it could provide scholars with more information about his tumultuous reign. To read more about archaeology in China, go to "Tomb Raider Chronicles."
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—A team of scientists led by Theodore Schurr of the University of Pennsylvania has conducted a genetic study of people living in the Lesser Antilles in an effort to look for traces of the original inhabitants of the islands. They examined mitochondrial DNA, inherited through the maternal line; Y-chromosomes, passed from father to son; and autosomal markers, which give an overall picture of genetic contributions from ancestors through both sides of the family, from 88 individuals from the First Peoples Community in Trinidad and the Garifuna people in St. Vincent. “In the case of the mitochondrial DNA and the Y-chromosome, we know the markers that define those lineages commonly seen in indigenous populations of the Americas,” Schurr said in a press release. The team found 42 percent indigenous ancestry from the maternal side, and 28 percent from the paternal side. “These communities are not passive in this whole process; they’re actively exploring their own ancestry. They’re also trying to establish the fact that they have indigenous ancestry, that they are the descendants of the original inhabitants. They’re reclaiming that history,” Schurr added. To read about historical archaeology in the Caribbean, go to "Pirates of the Original Panama Canal."
FRANKFURT, GERMANY—New radiocarbon dates suggest that people were mining in Austria’s Central Alps in the middle Bronze Age, and again in the early Middle Ages. This is “a small sensation, since the academic world had so far not considered that Bronze Age mining in the Montafon mining area could be possible,” Rüdiger Krause of Goethe University said in a press release. Evidence for Bronze-Age mining had been found in the Eastern Alps, in the Mitterberg mining area, however. “What significance our new site in Montafon had in the context of Bronze Age copper supply in the Alps will be seen when we examine it further,” Krause explained. To read about a Bronze Age discovery in Russia, go to "Wolf Rites of Winter."
NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—A 5,000-year-old site consisting of pits in the ground that were used for processing and smoking fish has been unearthed in Siberia. “This year we came across an unusual facility, a Neolithic smokehouse,” Vyacheslav Molodin of the Russian Academy of Sciences told The Siberian Times. “This method is known and is still used by some Siberian and Extreme North ethnic groups. The fish starts smelling, but it didn’t bother our ancestors,” he said. The bones of other animals were also found in the pits, including a wolverine, ermine remains, a dog, and a fox. Wolverines are native to the taiga, and not the local steppe, raising the question of how a wolverine ended up in a smokehouse pit. “For some time the pits were used for ritual purposes but it’s a huge mystery which we have yet to understand,” Molodin added. To read about medieval archaeology in Siberia, go to "Fortress of Solitude."
MAINZ, GERMANY—Recent excavations led by archaeologist Behzad Mofidi-Nasrabadi of Mainz University at the site of Haft Tappeh have uncovered a workshop with an attached clay tablet archive. The archive dates to the city’s time as a prominent center in the Elamite Empire and records the expansion of commerce, arts, and crafts. Physical evidence of this prosperity include lavish grave goods found in the tomb of a female official, and an artful female figurine unearthed by the team. But at the end of the fourteenth century B.C., the city began to decline for reasons that have yet to be determined. Some of its temples and palaces were abandoned, and their materials were reused to build simple dwellings. The 3,400-year-old remains of several hundred massacre victims were found piled on top of one another behind one of these walls. The research team will continue to investigate what might have happened. To read more about Bronze Age archaeology in Iran, go to "The World in Between."
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA—Fossils of seven giant rat species found in East Timor are helping archaeologists track the migration of people through Southeast Asia and determine what kind of impact they had on the environment. “We’re trying to find the earliest human records as well as what was there before humans arrived,” Julien Louys of Australian National University said in a press release. It has been shown that people were living in East Timor some 46,000 years ago and eating the giant rats. “The funny thing is that they are co-existing up until about a thousand years ago. The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor, people could start to clear forests at a much larger scale,” he said in a press release. To read about archaeology in Borneo, go to "Landscape of Memory."
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—In the late fifteenth century, the Portuguese constructed a church on Santiago Island, one of the ten barren Cabo Verde islands located off the West African coast. Eventually, Cabo Verde became a hub for the transatlantic slave trade. Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge have excavated the structure, thought to be the oldest European colonial building discovered in sub-Saharan Africa. “We’ve managed to recover the entire footprint-plan of the church, including its vestry, side-chapel, and porch, and it now presents a really striking monument,” Christopher Evans, director of the Cambridge Archaeology Unit, said in a press release. More than 1,000 people are thought to have been buried in the floor of the church by the mid-sixteenth century. Preliminary analysis shows that about half of them were African, while the rest came from various places in Europe. “From historical texts we have learned about the development of a ‘Creole’ society at an early date with land inherited by people of mixed race who could also hold official positions. The human remains give us the opportunity to test this representation of the first people in Cabo Verde,” Evans said. To read about extraordinary African structures dating to the same period, go to "Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast."
CINCINNATI, OHIO—Snail shells collected from an archaeological site in northeast Morocco have been analyzed to determine the climate conditions in the region between 10,800 and 6,700 years ago by Yurena Yanes of the University of Cincinnati, Rainer Hutterer of the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum, and Jorg Linstadter from the University of Cologne. “Because the isotopes of snail shells are only influenced by temperature and water conditions and not by humans, we have natural archives at the time of prehistoric occupation,” Yanes said in a press release. The researchers found that the climate grew warmer and could have supported the switch from hunting and gathering to agriculture. “Even though previous research has not observed major climate change at that temporal transition at the study site, with the oxygen isotope analysis of these shells, we have evidence for a significant natural climate change,” she explained. For more about prehistoric snails, go to "What Paleolithic People Were Really Eating."
ROME, ITALY—Radioactive deposits in sediments taken from the inside of two Neanderthal skulls discovered in a gravel pit in central Italy in the early twentieth century have been re-dated by a team made up of researchers from Sapienza University, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Italian Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV). “The results of our studies show that the Saccopastore remains are 100,000 years older than previously thought—and push back the arrival of Neanderthal man in Italy to 250,000 years ago,” Fabrizio Marra of INGV told The Local, Italy. This is about the same time that Neanderthals are believed to have arrived in central Europe. The new dates are also in line with the age of 11 stone artifacts that had been discovered with the fossils. To read more in-depth about Paleolithic Europe, go to "Structural Integrity."
SHANGHAI, CHINA—A team of scientists led by Yu Li of Fudan University has conducted proton-induced X-ray emission analyses of pieces of proto-porcelain and fragments of impressed stoneware collected at the site of the Piaoshan kiln. The site is thought to date to China’s first dynasty, between 2070 and 1600 B.C. Samples from five other early kiln sites in the vicinity were also tested. They found that the samples from the six kiln sites each had distinct chemical profiles, which may indicate that the raw materials used to produce the pots had been procured locally. “The research clearly show the relationship of inheritance of early Chinese proto-porcelain, and fill the large gaps in knowledge regarding the origin of Chinese proto-porcelain,” Yu Li said in a press release. For more on archaeology in China, go to "The Tomb Raider Chronicles."