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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, January 05

Tomb of Osiris Unearthed in Egypt

LUXOR, EGYPT—A team of Spanish and Italian Egyptologists has unearthed a tomb complex on the West Bank of the Nile opposite the modern city of Luxor that features a chapel with a statue of the god Osiris. According to an announcement published by the Luxor Times, the team believes the unusual architecture of the tomb, which probably dates to sometime between 760 and 525 B.C. shows that like the Osirion complex in Abydos, it was modeled on the mythical tomb of Osiris, and was intended to celebrate that god's mysteries. Below the Osiris statue the team found the tomb's burial chamber, and a nearby room was decorated with reliefs depicting demons and deities holding knives and meant to stand guard over the body of the tomb's occupant. To read about another recent discovery in the same vicinity, see "Sarcophagus of a Singer of the God Amun Found in Luxor." 

Palindrome Amulet Unearthed in Cyprus

KRAKOW, POLAND—Polish archaeologists working at the site of Nea Paphos in Cyprus have discovered a 1,500-year-old amulet containing an inscription that reads the same backwards as forwards, making it a palindrome. Livescience reports that on one side of the amulet are crude carvings depicting the Egyptian god Osiris lying on a boat, as well as Harpocrates, the Greek god of silence. On the reverse, a 59-letter inscription reads "[a god] is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine." Amulets depicting gods were long used as good-luck talismans in the ancient world, but at the time this one was made, Cyprus was part of the Eastern Roman Empire and Christianity was the official religion. Both the iconography and inscription show that people persisted in practicing traditional religions into the Christian era and that Christianity overlapped with pagan beliefs for some time. But the amulet also demonstrates that familiarity with traditional beliefs may have been fading by the time it was made. For instance, while the artisan who made the amulet correctly depicted Osiris as mummified, they also chose to show Harpocrates covered with bandages, which is incorrect. This suggests the artisan may not have fully understood the religious iconography being depicted. To read more about the site, see "Large Buildings Discovered at Nea Paphos."

Temple Walls Possibly Felled by Earthquake

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Archaeologists have long assumed that a large pile of stones lying next to the south end of the Western Wall fell to the street after Roman soldiers destroyed the Holy Temple during the great revolt in A.D. 70. But now archaeologist Shimon Gibson has put forward a controversial theory that the walls did not fall during the sacking of the temple, but stood until an earthquake in A.D. 363 toppled them, leaving the heap of stones visible today. Gibson doubts that Roman soldiers would have bothered to destroy the walls in what would have been a challenging engineering operation. He also notes that in the late Roman period, Jerusalem was a vibrant city with a large, prosperous population and that it's unlikely the debris would have been left untouched and not recycled for new buildings. “Now we know much more about the late Roman period,” Gibson told Haaretz. “If there was a neighborhood like this there, how could it be that they leave debris from the year 70 C.E. in the middle of it all? It’s like going out of your house and leaving a pile of debris. You clear it. And why leave the city to bring stones to build new buildings if you have stones next to your house?” Other archaeologists strongly disagree with Gibson, and point to stratigraphic evidence that the stones have been at their present location since the first century A.D. To read more about archaeology in Jerusalem, see "The Walls of Mount Zion." 

Unknown Queen's Tomb Discovered in Egypt

CAIRO, EGYPT—The BBC reports that archaeologists led by the Czech Institute of Egyptology's Miroslav Bárta have uncovered the tomb of a previously unknown queen at Abusir, the necropolis of the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis. Inscriptions on the tomb's walls indicate it was occupied by Queen Khentakawess, and its close proximity to the pyramid of the Pharaoh Neferefre, a Fifth Dynasty king who ruled briefly around 2460-2458 B.C., led the team to hypothesize she was probably Neferefre's wife and the mother of his successor. In addition to the inscriptions, the team discovered 23 limestone pots and four copper tools. To read about an earlier discovery of an Old Kingdom tomb made by the Czech team, see "The Doctor Is In."

Friday, January 02

European Battlefields from World War II Surveyed

MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO—David Passmore of the University of Toronto, Mississauga, and his colleagues surveyed key World War II battlegrounds in Europe from June 1944 through February 1945. They focused on parts of northwestern France; the Ardennes forests of Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany; the Hürtgenwald and Reichswald forests of western Germany; and the woodlands of the Arnhem region of the Netherlands. The team found evidence of bomb craters, foxholes, trenches, and German logistics depots. “These things [could] illuminate war diaries and accounts of battlefield history, and provide a far more accurate impression of where troops were fighting, how they were fighting, and so on," Passmore told Live Science. He and his team are now investigating what the Allies knew about those German depots. The archaeological evidence may allow Passmore to determine how successful the Allied bombings were. For more on the study of battlefields of this era, see "Archaeology of World War II."

Large Hoard of Anglo-Saxon Coins Unearthed

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND—Members of a metal detecting club discovered a lead bucket filled with more than 5,000 silver Anglo-Saxon coins late last month. The coins, which feature the faces of Anglo-Saxon kings, including Ethelred the Unready and Canute, had been covered with two feet of earth. “They’re like mirrors, no scratching, and buried really carefully in a lead container, deep down. It looks like only two people have handled these coins. The person who made them and the person who buried them,” club leader Pete Welch told the Daily Record. Archaeologist Ros Tyrrell was called in to help excavate the 1,000-year-old coins. “When the coins have been properly identified and dated, we may be able to guess at why such a great treasure was buried,” added a spokesman from Bucks County Museum. To read about an early Anglo-Saxon kingdom, see "The Kings of Kent."

Siberia’s Spaso-Zashiverskaya

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA—Spaso-Zashiverskaya, originally built in 1700 in the town of Zashiversk, was a center for the Christianization of the people who lived near Siberia’s Indigirka River. The town was an administrative and trade center until 1803, when the fur trade declined. A smallpox outbreak in 1840 killed all but one of the town’s remaining settlers. In the 1940s, the top of the church’s belfry collapsed, but archaeologist Alexey Okladnikov described the church in 1969 as a “splendor,” according to The Siberian Times. The timber church was disassembled in 1971, and stored until the late 1980s, when it was reassembled at an open-air museum at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk. 

Wednesday, December 31

Medieval Hoard Discovered Beneath Russian Museum

TVER, RUSSIA—During excavations conducted in conjunction with the restoration of the Tver State Museum in western Russia, archaeologists discovered a medieval silver hoard lying just six feet below the office of the museum's general director. Buried in a small hole covered with ceramics sometime during the Mongol invasions of the mid-thirteenth century, the hoard contained silver headdresses, chains, beads, and pendants, among other items. According to RU Facts, archaeologists believe the jewelry may have belonged to a Tver noblewoman who died in the assault on the city or was otherwise unable to retrieve her precious cache. The hoard narrowly missed being discovered in the fifteenth century, when the area on which the museum now sits was leveled and workers may have come within less than five inches of the jewlery. To read about another recently unearthed cache, see "Viking Hoard Unearthed in Scotland."

Norwegian Vikings Among the First to Raid British Isles

TRONDHEIM, NORWAY—A new examination of ninth-century A.D. burial sites in the central Norwegian region of Trøndelag has revealed they contain many more artifacts from Britain, such as brooches, drinking horns, and swords, than had been previously believed. “These graves are some of the earliest proof that we have of contact between Norway and the British Isles,” archaeologist Aina Margrethe Heen Pettersen told Science Nordic. She argues that Vikings from Trøndelag were among the first to voyage across the North Sea, and emphasizes that they were not simply bent on raiding. “Contact with the Anglo-Saxons means more than just violent pillaging. Drinking horns and swords are considered to be gifts in support of alliances. And scales that have been found suggest that there was trading between the Vikings and the people of the British Isles at the time.” To read in-depth about some of the earliest Viking raids, see "The First Vikings."

Antiquities Thief Arrested in Israel

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Israeli Border Police caught a man with a metal detector and digging implements at the Roman and Byzantine-era town Khribat Marmita. A search of the man's home by Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) inspectors yielded over 800 illegally excavated coins from the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman eras, as well as seals and bronze necklaces. Eitan Klein, deputy head of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery told The Times of Israel that the man is one of over 100 looters apprehended in 2014 by the IAA and that the coins he removed now have no scientific value. “Disconnecting the coin from an archaeological site is irreversible damage,” said Klein, “which doesn’t allow a restoration of the data, and effectively erases a whole chapter of history from an archaeological site.” To read about a scientifically excavated coin, see "Rare Coin Discovered in Israel."