Archaeology Magazine

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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, September 25

Stolen Olmec Carving Recovered in Paris

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."

Ancient Silver Belt Unearthed in Slovakia

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."

Antikythera Shipwreck Yields Ancient Luxury Goods

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 about a working Lego model of that famous ancient device, go to "Artifact: Lego Antikythera Mechanism."

The Search for “Mona Lisa” Ends

FLORENCE, ITALY—A research team that has been excavating beneath the Sant’ Orsola convent in Florence for several years claims to have found bone fragments that may have belonged to Lisa Gherardini, the silk merchant’s wife thought by some scholars to have been Leonardo da Vinci’s model for the Mona Lisa. Gherardini lived in seclusion at the convent during the last years of her life. Carbon-14 dating shows that the bones in question date to about the time that Gherardini died, in July 1542, at the age of 63, but they are too degraded for DNA testing. “Our biggest problem has been the fact that the fragments were very fragmented, very deteriorated,” Giorgio Gruppioni of the University of Bologna told The Guardian. If a skull had been found, there had been plans to reconstruct its face and compare it with the famous painting. To read about the excavation of an Etruscan necropolis, go to "Tomb of the Silver Hands."

Thursday, September 24

Moscow’s Oldest Road Uncovered

MOSCOW, RUSSIA—Excavations in Moscow’s central Zaryadie district have uncovered layers of wooden pavements thought to represent the city’s oldest road, known as Velikaya, “The Large One.” Although not named on historic city plans, it is mentioned in city chronicles, and is believed to have connected the old Kremlin and a wharf on the Moscow River. “We were very lucky to have reached the road. The district is full of the city’s infrastructure lines and old archaeological excavation sites,” Leonid Belyayev of the Archaeology Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences told The Moscow Times. Most of the seventeenth-century road surface has been revealed, and in areas, the fifteenth-century road has been uncovered. The deepest layer of the road surface is thought to date to the twelfth century, when the Kremlin was established. For more, go to "Moscow Underground."

New Method Studies Human Lateralization With Stone Tools

BIZKAIA, SPAIN—Researchers from the University of the Basque Country have developed a new method for determining if individual flint flakes were produced by right- or left-handed knappers. “We focus on the butt of the flake which is where part of the percussion platform has been preserved. The fractures that appear on the platform are oriented according to the direction of the impact made on it by the percussor. Once the direction of the impact is known, it is possible, with a high degree of reliability, to determine whether it was produced by the left hand or the right hand,” Eder Dominguez-Ballesteros said in a press release. Studying the origins and development of laterality, or the preference for one side of the body over another, helps scientists to understand the evolution of the organization of the human brain. Earlier methods of determining laterality required the study of more than one flake for comparison. For more, go to "Neanderthal Tool Time."

9,000-Year-Old Decapitated Skull Discovered in Brazil

  LEIPZIG, GERMANY—Fragments of a human body including a jaw, the first six cervical vertebrae, and two severed hands that had been laid over the face of a skull in opposite directions have been unearthed at Lapa do Santo, a hunter-gatherer rock-shelter site in east-central Brazil. According to a press release from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, v-shaped cut marks were found on the jaw and the sixth cervical vertebra. André Strauss of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and his colleagues believe that the 9,000-year-old remains could represent the oldest case of decapitation in the Americas. Isotopic analysis of the bones and of other human remains at the site indicate that the individual had been a local member of the group, so the decapitation may have been part of a mortuary ritual, rather than a case of trophy-taking during war. To read about what might be the earliest known murder victim, go to "A Place to Hide the Bodies."

Wednesday, September 23

Egypt Approves Search for "Nefertiti’s Tomb"

CAIRO, EGYPT—Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el-Damaty has approved the use of noninvasive radar technology to search for a tomb behind Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves proposed that Tutankhamun, who died at the age of 19, may have been buried in an outer chamber of a tomb constructed for Queen Nefertiti. Reeves says that the high-resolution images taken of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Factum Arte show lines underneath the plastered and painted surfaces of the walls. The lines could be doorways leading to a hidden chamber. He also suggested that the layout of Tutankhamun’s tomb resembles those built for ancient Egyptian queens. “We’re very excited… It may not be a tomb belonging to Nefertiti, but it could be a tomb belonging to one of the nobles. If it is Nefertiti’s, this would be very massive,” Mouchira Moussa, a media consultant to the Antiquities Minister, told the Associated Press. To read about previous searches for Nefertiti's tomb, go to "Lost Tombs: In Search of History's Lost Rulers."

6,500-Year-Old Graves Unearthed in Bulgaria

KAMENOVO, BULGARIA—Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that the 6,500-year-old graves of three adults and one child have been discovered underneath a former school yard in northeast Bulgaria. Earlier this year, the team of archaeologists, led by Yavor Boyadzhiev of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, Dimitar Chernakov of the Ruse Regional Museum of History, and Dilen Dilov of the Razgrad Regional Museum of History, found a flint-tool workshop from the same time period near the newly discovered necropolis. Pottery and flint tools were found in the graves, and the child’s grave contained three beads made from Spondylus shells, which suggest that the residents had a trading relationship with people living near the Mediterranean Sea. Flint bowls painted with black, red, and white were found in one of the adult graves. For more, go to "8,000-Year-Old Village Unearthed in Bulgaria."

Construction at Westminster Abbey Reveals Medieval Bones

LONDON, ENGLAND—The remains of at least 50 people thought to have lived in the late eleventh or early twelfth century have been unearthed at the footings of Westminster Abbey’s south transept. The bodies were probably originally buried in a small cemetery outside the walls of a church that was demolished by Henry III before he began the construction of the abbey in the thirteenth century. The king’s workers stacked the bones in piles, which were found under a layer of stone chips left behind by the masons who built a platform for the massive new church. Some of the bones were damaged by pickaxes, including the skull of a small child. “What the child is doing there is one of the many unanswered questions, but it is a feature of many ecclesiastical sites that you find the remains of women and children in places where you might not quite expect them,” Warwick Rodwell, abbey archaeologist, told The Guardian. A few original graves remain, but they were damaged by water that had leaked from pipes installed during the Victorian era. The Victorians also moved a stone coffin and incorporated it into a new brick wall. To read about another medieval burial, go to "Vengeance on the Vikings."