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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, August 10

New Kingdom Mummies Re-Examined

TURIN, ITALY—Scientists have taken a new high-tech look at the royal architect Kha and his wife Merit—a pair of Egyptian mummies dating to the 18th Dynasty that were discovered in the village of Deir el Medina in 1906. It had been thought that their bodies had been put through a poor mummification process because their internal organs had not been removed and placed in canopic jars, as the organs of royal mummies usually were during this time period, some 3,500 years ago. According to a report in Discovery News, however, the international research team found that all of the internal organs were well preserved. X-ray imaging and chemical microanalyses showed that the mummies were decorated with jewelry. Kha’s wrappings had been treated with animal fat or plant oil and balsam. Merit’s mummy had been treated with fish oil, balsam, resin, and beeswax. “The findings tell us that the lower-level elite, such as Kha and Merit, received a reasonable degree of care. Significant effort was clearly involved in their mummification, even if it did not produce the same high level of bodily preservation as the higher elite and royals at this time,” said Joann Fletcher of the University of York. To read about animal mummies in ancient Eygpt, go to "Messengers to the Gods." 

Study Suggests Carbs Fueled Human Evolution

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Karen Hardy of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies and her team examined archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological, and anatomical data, and argue in The Quarterly Review of Biology that carbohydrate consumption was critical to the evolution of the human brain over the past million years. Starch-rich plant foods, when cooked, make it easier to digest the glucose needed to fuel the brain and to support human pregnancy and lactation. Early humans may have started off cooking meat, but they could have added tubers, seeds, fruits, and nuts to the fire. People now have an average of six copies of salivary amylase genes, versus only two copies in other primates, which increases their ability to digest starch. Genetic evidence suggests that this increase in salivary amylase genes occurred within the last million years. The increase in the number of genes may have co-evolved with the ability to cook, and further accelerated the growth of brain size. To read more about early humans, go to "Our Tangled Ancestry."

“Summer Palace” Found at India’s Qutub Shahi Tombs

HYDERABAD, INDIA—Chinese blue and white pottery dating to the sixteenth century has been unearthed at a Summer Palace discovered in the Qutub Shahi Tombs complex in southern India. “This shows that there were trade relations between the Qutub Shahi Sultanate and China,” KK Muhammed of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture told The Times of India. Hookahs, which were introduced to India by the Portuguese in 1604, were also uncovered. Hundreds of people who worked at the tombs also lived there and participated in group recitations of Quran. “There was a muallim (teacher) with 20 to 25 students. A portion which has a mosque has also been found,” he added. Underground chambers are thought to have offered a cool retreat. For more, go to "The Islamic Stepwells of Gujarat, India."

Large Bronze Age Fortress Discovered in Turkey

MANISA, TURKEY—A Bronze Age settlement and fortress have been discovered in Turkey’s Gölmarmara Lake basin by an international team of archaeologists working with the Kaymakçi Archaeology Project. “This area is four times larger than the ancient site of Try in Çanakkale and the largest late Bronze Age settlement that has been found in the Aegean region,” Sinan Ünlüsoy of Yaşar University told Hürriyet Daily News. The site has one of the largest of six citadels in the region that were within a day’s walk of each other. According to Ünlüsoy, this fortress may be one mentioned in texts from the Hittite Empire. To read about a similar Bronze Age site, go to "Temple of the Storm God."

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."