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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, September 12

Tomb of First Emperor’s Grandmother Unearthed in China

SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA—A tomb complex said to be the second largest in China was uncovered during the expansion of the Xi’an University of Finance and Economics. International Business Times reports that inscribed pottery and artifacts of jade, gold, and silver suggest that the tomb was built by the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, for his grandmother, although a sarcophagus has not been found yet. The tomb also contained two carriages and the skeletons of 12 horses. Such carriages, pulled by six horses, were a symbol of royal rank. 

Do You Have Snippets of the Star-Spangled Banner?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Smithsonian Institution is collecting the missing bits of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the huge American flag that was raised over Fort McHenry after the retreat of the British in 1814. (The flag is best known as the inspiration for the poem by Francis Scott Key that became the national anthem.) The pieces were snipped off the flag by its various keepers and given away as keepsakes until about 20 percent of the flag was missing by the 1880s. “It was such a monumental moment in time that people felt they wanted to hold a piece of that history,” Jennifer Jones of the National Museum of American History explained to The Associated Press. So far, 17 pieces have been recovered and analyzed to see if their weaves, stains, and soils match the original. There are no plans to attempt to reassemble the flag, but some of the pieces may be loaned to other museums. Unless, of course, the missing 15th star is recovered. “We’d love to have that back. That one I might put back on,” said Suzanne Thomassen-Krauss, the flag’s chief conservator. 

3,000-Year-Old Short Sword Found in China

NANJING, CHINA—Eleven-year-old Yang Junxi was playing near the Laozhoulin River in east China’s Jiangsu Province when he found a bronze sword in the sediments. His father contacted the Gaoyou Cultural Relics Bureau where it was identified as a 3,000-year-old artifact from the time of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. “The short sword seems a status symbol of a civil official. It has both decorative and practical functions, but is not in the shape of a sword for military officers,” Lyu Zhiwei, head of the bureau, told Xinhua News. The river had been recently dredged, which may have brought the artifact to the surface. Archaeological investigation of the river and surrounding area is planned.

Bodies of Caryatids From the Amphipolis Tomb Revealed

AMPHIPOLIS, GREECE—Ekathimerini reports that archaeologists have removed the dirt from the bodies of the two caryatids discovered at the entrance to one of the chambers in the vast Amphipolis tomb. Greece’s Culture Ministry announced that the 2,300-year-old statues are of “exceptional artistic quality.” The life-sized statues depict women with thick hair dressed in semi-transparent robes. Less than half of the barrel-vaulted tomb has been unearthed so far. To read more about the sculptures, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "Caryatids Uncovered in Amphipolis Tomb."  

Thursday, September 11

Mediterranean Shipwreck May Be 4,000 Years Old

LIMANTEPE, TURKEY—A Mediterranean shipwreck thought to be 4,000 years old is being called one of the oldest in the world by scholars from Ankara University’s Research Center for Maritime Archaeology. “If we confirm that the sunken ship is 4,000 years old, it will be a very important milestone for archaeology,” Hayat Erkanal, head of excavations, told Hurriyet Daily News. Turkey’s Urla Port and the coastal town of Klozemenai date back to the seventh century B.C. The city was destroyed and inundated by an earthquake in the eighth century. The wreck and its artifacts are being conserved and studied at the new Mustafa Vehbi Koç Maritime Archaeology Research Center and Archaeopark. To read about two Bronze Age shipwrecks discovered off the Turkish coast, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "History's Top 10 Shipwrecks."    

Gate May Mark Site of 17th Century Home Destroyed by Royalists

NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND—Pipeline work along the River Trent in the East Midlands uncovered two stone walls, positioned adjacent to the Kelham Road, that are angled to lead away from it. The structures may have been part of a gateway to a large house that was possibly demolished sometime between 1644 and 1666. “The theory is that the house was demolished by Royalists during the Civil War to remove any cover for attacking forces,” Karen Nichols of Wessex Archaeology told Culture 24. The house and its gate do not appear on any eighteenth century maps. The team also recovered pottery, tiles, and tobacco pipe fragments dating to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, and a Neolithic arrowhead.   

Google Offers Street Views of Egypt’s Monuments

CAIRO, EGYPT—Google Street View now offers images of archaeological attractions in Egypt, including the pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, the pyramids of Saqqara, Saladin’s citadel, and the ancient city of Abu Mena. The Street View team usually collects images with a camera attached to a car, but that plan would not work in the bumpy terrain surrounding Egypt’s ancient monuments. Instead, the Google team members set out on foot with the 360-degree panoramic cameras on their backs. “It was a unique experience for us as well, because the equipment really got tested in the heat,” program manager Amita Khattri told Time. To read about the construction of the pyramids, see ARCHAEOLOGY's "How to Build a Pyramid."  

Wednesday, September 10

Pilgrimage Church Excavated in Hallaton, England

LEICESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND—The remains of a man and a woman who had been buried holding hands have been uncovered at the Chapel of St. Morrell, an ancient pilgrimage site in the English Midlands. The skeletons are thought to date to the fourteenth century, since nine other skeletons of similar age have been unearthed at the site. Stones had been placed upon some of those bodies at burial. “This was a tradition popular in eastern Europe with the idea of keeping the dead down,” archaeologist Vicky Score of the University of Leicester told The Leicester Mercury. Tiles from a Roman building were also discovered beneath the medieval chapel. “It shows this ground has been used as a special sort of place by people for at least 2,000 years,” she said. To read about the discovery of a forgotten graveyard in London, see ARCHAEOLOGY's feature article "Haunt of the Resurrection Men."   

Rock Art Chemistry Analyzed in Australia

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Working with the people of the Jawoyn culture, Barbara Stuart, Alexandria Hunt, and Paul Thomas of the University of Technology, Sydney, are analyzing the chemistry of ancient rock art in Arnhem Land to understand how the materials were used by the artists, and how their techniques changed over time. “We need to take samples but we try to take as small amount as we can so that we don’t visually alter the paintings at all,” Hunt told Phys.org. Her tests, employing the infrared beam at the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne, will determine what the pigments were made from. “Once I have that information I’ll be able to work out the age of the paintings,” she explained.   

New Map Reveals Stonehenge’s Hidden Landscape

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND—Information gathered with high-tech equipment during a four-year project to survey the area around Stonehenge has been converted into a new digital map. Among the discoveries are two massive pits that are older than Stonehenge and appear to form astronomical alignments on midsummer’s day. Stonehenge was eventually built upon the intersection point of the eastern pit’s alignment with the rising sun and the western pit’s alignment at sunset. Also predating Stonehenge was a burial mound containing a massive wooden building. Wolfgang Neuber of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute thinks it was used in burial rituals until it was later covered in chalk. Another huge henge known as Durrington Walls was found to the northeast. Its 70 massive stones or posts had been pushed over or laid flat. “This radically changes our view of Stonehenge. In the past we had this idea that Stonehenge was standing in splendid isolation, but it wasn’t… it’s absolutely huge,” Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University, told The Guardian  

Lost Franklin Expedition Ship Found in the Canadian Arctic

OTTAWA, CANADA—After six years of searching, one of the lost Franklin Expedition ships has been discovered in the waters of Victoria Strait near King William Island, right where an Inuit hunter testified in the late 1840s that he saw an abandoned ship sinking in deep water. “This is a great historic event,” Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced at a press conference. Researchers from Parks Canada found the vessel using a recently acquired remotely operated underwater vehicle. “With older technology, you could have come very close to this and not seen it at all,” Harper stated in his comments, reported by CBC News. The sonar images reveal that some of the deck structures survived, but the masts were sheared away, probably by the ice when the ship sank. The contents of the ship “should be very, very well preserved,” added Parks Canada underwater archaeologist Ryan Harris. Further investigation should tell if the ship is the HMS Erebus or HMS Terror. “Finding the first vessel will no doubt provide the momentum—or wind in our sails—necessary to locate its sister ship and find out even more about what happened to the Franklin expedition’s crew,” Harper concluded. To read about the discovery of HMS Investigator, a doomed vessel dispatched to search for the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, see ARCHAEOLOGY’s feature, “Saga of the Northwest Passage.”