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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Friday, August 07

Final Christogram Fragment Found in Bishop’s Basilica

SANDANSKI, BULGARIA—A fragment of a sixth-century marble slab bearing a Christian symbol has been recovered at the so-called Bishop’s Basilica in the ancient city of Parthicopolis in southwestern Bulgaria. The pieces of the image have been unearthed over the past 25 years and assembled by scholars at the Sandanski Museum of Archaeology. “This is a christogram, from the Greek letters chi rho which stand for Jesus Christ. It also features the Greek letters alpha and omega which also appear in the central part of the christogram. It is decorated with geometric elements,” Vladimir Petkov, director of the museum, explained in Archaeology in Bulgaria. The slab also bears an inscription of the name Anthim, who built the church and compared its beauty to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Petkov adds that the carving served as a decoration in a room that may have been a scriptorium or a library. To read about a remarkable discovery of gold artifacts in Bulgaria, go to "Thracian Treasure Chest."

Monolith Discovered in the Sicilian Channel

TRIESTE, ITALY—Discovery News reports that Zvi Ben-Avraham of Tel Aviv University and Emanuele Lodolo of the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Trieste, have discovered a monolith in deep water, resting on a spot that was once an island off the coast of Sicily. The 15-ton stone, broken into two parts, has three holes. Two of the holes are on the sides of the stone, the third passes through the stone at one end. “There are no reasonable known natural processes that may produce these elements,” they wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The island, known as the Pantelleria Vecchia Bank, was submerged some 9,500 years ago. “Most likely the structure was functional to the settlement. These people were used to fishing and trading with the neighboring islands. It could have been some sort of a lighthouse or an anchoring system, for example,” Lodolo said. To read about the discovery of anchors from one of the ancient world's most famous battles discovered in the same location, go to "Abandoned Anchors from the Punic War Found."

Thursday, August 06

Bronze Age Walkway Discovered in England

LINCOLNSHIRE, ENGLAND—Volunteers with the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN), who are trained to record and monitor archaeological sites in danger of eroding away, have discovered a wooden track thought to be 4,000 years old. Such trackways were used to cross boggy ground. This example was discovered on a beach in Cleethorpes, on the east coast of northern England. “It is really difficult to say just how much more is preserved, it’s all down to the survival quality of the wood within a peat layer,” Andy Sherman, a CITiZAN spokesperson, told BBC News. To read about another important find in northern England, go to "Spectacular Viking Hoard."

Ancient Native American Cemetery Secured in Tennessee

MURFREESBORO, TENNESSEE—Black Cat Cave, located in central Tennessee, has been secured by a public and private partnership including the City of Murfreesboro and Middle Tennessee State University. Recent excavations have shown that the cave, which served as a speakeasy in the 1920s, is the site of a Native American cemetery dating back 5,000 to 7,500 years. The new gate system will protect the prehistoric cemetery while allowing for water and air exchange in the cave system. “The ultimate goal is to protect this Native American site from future episodes of vandalism and looting, while gaining important archaeological information to better understand the long-term use of the cave by various groups that lived in Rutherford County,” Tanya Peres, now at Florida State University, said in a Middle Tennessee State University press release. To read about Pinson Mounds, another Native American site in Tennessee, go to "Off the Grid."

Tobacco Identified in Quids From Arizona’s Antelope Cave

CORTEZ, COLORADO—A new study of a sample of the more than 300 quids, or yucca fiber-wrapped bundles, excavated from a trash midden in Arizona’s Antelope Cave reveals that most of them contained wild tobacco. “As wads of fibers, perhaps they haven’t produced as much excitement as they could have, before we realized ancient folks were actually putting substances inside them,” Karen Adams of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center told Western Digs. It had been thought that Ancestral Puebloans used the quids some 1,200 years ago as “tea bags,” dye bundles, wash pads, and even something to suck on at times when food was scarce. A further DNA study showed that the contents of six of the quids contained a type of tobacco that still grows near the cave. “We believe that yucca-leaf quids containing wild tobacco were sucked and/or chewed primarily for pleasure and the stimulant effect they brought to the individuals who inhabited Antelope Cave over hundreds of years,” the team wrote in the Journal of Field Archaeology. To read about the discovery of an ancient watering system in Arizona, go to "Early Irrigators - Tucson, Arizona." 

Wednesday, August 05

Context Required to Understand Bonobo Communication

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—Zanna Clay of the University of Birmingham noticed that the short, high-pitched “peep” calls made by wild bonobos sound similar in a wide range of situations. “It became apparent that because we couldn’t always differentiate between peeps, we needed to understand the context to get to the root of their communication,” she said in a press release. The acoustic structure of the calls showed that their sound did not vary between neutral and positive contexts, such as feeding, traveling, and resting, and in that way they resemble the communications of human infants. It had been thought that primate calls are “functionally fixed,” or tied to certain contexts and emotional states, and that only humans use vocalizations that are flexible. This suggests that such vocalizations date back to our last common ancestor, who lived between six and ten million years ago. “We felt that it was premature to conclude that this ability is uniquely human, especially as no one had really looked for it in the great apes. It appears that the more we look the more similarity we find between animals and humans,” Clay added. To read more, go to "Tool Use is Innate in Chimpanzees."

Tennessee Men Get Prison Time for Looting Civil War Sites

CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE— reports that two men were each sentenced to 30 months in federal prison after they pleaded guilty to illegal archaeological excavations on federal land over a period of four years. The men are accused of looting Civil War-era artifacts from Fort McCook at Battle Creek in Tennessee; taking U-rails from public lands in Bridgeport, Alabama, to create a counterfeit artifact; and one of the men reportedly removed rifle bullets and Schenkl artillery shell fragments from Tennessee’s Shiloh National Military Park. To read about the excavation of a Civil War-era prison camp, go to "Life on the Inside."

Byzantine-Era Synagogue Had Menorah Mosaic Floor

GALILEE, ISRAEL—A partially preserved mosaic depicting a menorah has been unearthed in the Byzantine-era synagogue at Horvat Kur, according to a press release from the Kinneret Regional Project. The upper part of the image of the lampstand has survived, and shows an oil lamp on each of the seven branches of the menorah. The lamps, which resemble lamps of the Byzantine period, are symmetrically arranged around the central lamp, which has an unusual central wick and flame. The mosaic also records the names El’azar, his father Yudan, and grandfather Susu or Qoso. They may have been influential men in the community who helped pay for the construction of the synagogue. The mosaic was damaged when the synagogue was renovated and a column base inserted on the spot. To read about Roman-era mosaics, go to "Zeugma After the Flood."

First-Century Ritual Bath Discovered in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—A mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, dating to the first century A.D. was discovered in an underground cave in southern Jerusalem during the construction of a preschool. The walls of the bath were covered in plaster and decorated with images of a boat, palm trees, plants, and a symbol that may be a menorah, and Aramaic inscriptions that had been incised or written with mud or soot. “There is no doubt that this is a very significant discovery. Such a concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period at one archaeological site, and in such a state of preservation, is rare and unique and most intriguing,” Royee Greenwald and Alexander Wiegmann of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a press release. The images were removed and are being conserved in Israel Antiquities Authority laboratories because they are so sensitive that exposure to air damages them. To read about a similar discovery, go to "A Surprising Find Under the Living Room Floor."