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Archaeological Headlines By JESSICA E. SARACENI
Monday, March 31

Mausoleum of Augustus to Be Restored

ROME, ITALY—Restoration of the mausoleum of Augustus, built in 28 B.C., is scheduled to begin. The cylindrical monument once stood 120 feet high, and was topped with a bronze statue of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. The structure held his ashes, as well as the ashes of his successors, Tiberius and Claudius. “It’s incredible the mausoleum is still standing despite what it has been through,” archaeologist Elisabetta Carnabuci told The Guardian. The tomb was pillaged by the Visigoths, converted to a castle in the twelfth century, fired on with cannons, turned into a garden, and used for bullfights, fireworks, and concerts. The mausoleum is expected to reopen to the public in 2016.

Tomb With Pyramid Entrance Excavated in Egypt

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—A 3,300-year-old tomb that had a 23-foot-tall pyramid at its entrance has been excavated at an ancient cemetery in Abydos. The underground burial chambers of the elaborate tomb, which was looted as least twice in antiquity, still held a red-painted sandstone sarcophagus for a scribe named Horemheb in one chamber, and Shabti figurines for a man named Ramesu in another. The disarticulated skeletal remains of three to four men, 10 to 12 women, and at least two children were also recovered. Radiocarbon dates of the bones should help Kevin Cahail of the University of Pennsylvania determine if the women had been wives of the men, or if the tomb had been used over multiple generations by the same family. It is even possible that the tomb was reused without permission at a later date. Cahail and his team also discovered a broken heart amulet carved from red and green jasper. “It’s a beautiful object and possibly one of the best carved examples of these very rare type of amulets. It was probably on the chest of one of the deceased individuals and there probably would have been some sort of necklaces and gold and things like that,” he told Live Science

Looted Bone Boxes Recovered in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL—Eleven ossuaries containing bone fragments and pottery were recovered last week in a joint operation between officials from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Shefet police, who interrupted a clandestine transaction and arrested several suspects. Some of the 2,000-year-old bone boxes are elaborately carved with Jewish symbols and text in Hebrew and Greek, and two were inscribed with names. The ossuaries are thought to have been recently looted from a burial cave in Jerusalem that may have been uncovered during a construction project. “We can learn from each ossuary about a different aspect of language, art and burial practice,” Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA, told Haaretz

Was the Black Death Airborne?

LONDON, ENGLAND—The Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century was not spread by fleas on rats, according to a new study of plague DNA extracted from 25 skeletons unearthed in London last year. Tim Brooks of Public Health England thinks that the Yersinia pestis bacterium must have been transmitted through coughs and sneezes in order for it to have spread through the population so quickly. Archaeologist Don Walker and Jelena Bekvalacs of the Museum of London add that the skeletons show that the people were in poor health when the plague struck—they suffered from rickets, anemia, malnutrition, and bad teeth. A study of the wills registered at the Court of Hustings by archaeologist Barney Sloane estimates that as many as 60 percent of Londoners succumbed to the Black Death. “As an explanation [rat fleas] for the Black Death in its own right, it simply isn’t good enough. It cannot spread fast enough from one household to the next to cause the huge number of cases that we saw during the Black Death epidemics,” Brooks told The Guardian.

Friday, March 28

Maya Skulls Show Signs of Wooden-Club Warfare

ROCKHAMPTON, AUSTRALIA—Head injuries on Maya skulls are consistent with the use of spiked clubs, as depicted in Maya artwork, according to a study led by bioarchaeologist Stan Serafin of Central Queensland University. He examined 116 skulls from different periods of Maya history in 13 different sites from Mexico’s Northwest Yucatan. The team concluded that warfare could have decreased during the Classic period, but increased slightly in the Postclassic period, “which is to be expected since hard times tend to breed violence,” Serafin told CQUniNews. He thinks the wounds are more consistent with open combat between military units. “While some of these injuries may have been from arrows, a wooden club with protruding points would better account for their concentration in the left frontal and horizontal orientation in four out of five examples,” he added.

Genes Suggest African Cattle Were Domesticated in the Middle East

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI—It had been thought that native cattle were domesticated in Africa some 10,000 years ago, but a genetic study of 134 cattle breeds led by Jared Decker of the University of Missouri suggests that Africa’s domesticated cattle originated in the Fertile Crescent, or the area of Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Israel. When early farmers from the Fertile Crescent migrated south, their cattle interbred with Africa’s wild cattle, or aurochs. “By better understanding the history of the animals we domesticate, we can better understand ourselves,” Decker told Red Orbit.

Tomb From Peru’s Churajón Culture Discovered

AREQUIPA, PERU—Peru’s Ministry of Culture has confirmed to Peru this Week that a pre-Inca tomb from the Churajón culture has been discovered by workers in the building where the Nobel Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa was born. The building is being converted into a museum that was expected to be completed in April. Four pots helped archaeologists identify the tomb. Officials have yet to decide if the tomb will be opened to the public as part of the museum.

17th-Century Minister’s Home Uncovered in Virginia

MAKEMIE PARK, VIRGINIA—Students and volunteers assisted with the excavation of the seventeenth-century home site of the Rev. Francis Makemie, known as the Father of American Presbyterianism. He died in 1708 and was buried on his property, now Makemie Memorial Park—a Virginia Historic Landmark that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Among the recovered artifacts are buttons, nails, cow bones and teeth, colonial-era glass, clay pipe fragments, ceramics, and green and yellow tiles that may have decorated a fireplace. The team has also uncovered the brick foundation to one of two home sites, and they may find outbuildings and slave quarters. “There’s a lot here. This is the whole basis of the history of this area,” David Wright of Eastern Shore Community College told Delmarva Now

England’s “Beachy Head Lady” Was Sub-Saharan Roman

EASTBOURNE, ENGLAND—While reviewing the collection of 300 sets of human remains from the excavation of two Saxon cemeteries, Heritage Officer Jo Seaman and her team found the well-preserved skeleton of a young woman from sub-Saharan Africa who was missing her wisdom teeth. Radiocarbon dating revealed that she had lived during the Roman period, around 200 or 250 A.D., and isotope analysis indicated that she had lived in southeast England. Without access to her grave, Seaman told Culture 24 that it is hard to know much about her social status. “We think we know roughly where the cemetery is and hopefully later this year we’re going to go and try to find it, just because we may be able to find other individuals there,” she said. 

Bones Dating to Fremont Culture Found in Utah Yard

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH—A father and a 14-year-old digging a trout pond in their backyard unearthed human remains just a foot below that surface that may date to the Fremont Culture, which inhabited the region from 700 to 1300 A.D. Archaeologists are coming to the site to sift through the dirt pile for the rest of the skeleton and any artifacts the teen may have missed. KUTV reports that the boy had found so many animal bones and hooves from large animals that he didn’t think skull and other bones could be human. 

Thursday, March 27

Human Remains Offer New Information on Ancient Lives

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Teams of scientists have been analyzing skeletal material of people who lived in the Sahara Desert and other parts of Africa as long as 8,000 years ago. Ronika Power and Marta Mirazon Lahr of the Leverhulme Center for Human Evolutionary Studies at Cambridge University, and Tamsin O’Connell from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research are focusing on individuals who lived in pre-Dynastic Egypt. David Mattingly of the University of Leicester is studying skeletons from the farmers and traders of the Garamantes civilization, who lived in the Sahara from 1000 B.C. to 1500 A.D. Isotope levels from tooth enamel indicate where an individual grew up, and isotopes from bones reveal where a person had been living in the last ten years before death. “Discontinuities between what the teeth tell us and what the bones tell us may provide evidence that the individual migrated. This in turn opens up questions about the interconnectedness of peoples—the movement of individuals, ideas, knowledge, and material culture at very early stages of civilization,” Power told Phys.org. “Did they adopt the customs of their hosts or did they maintain their immigrant identity?” she asked.

Byzantine-Era Gold Coins Discovered in Egypt

LUXOR, EGYPT—German archaeologists excavating a tomb at the necropolis in the Deir Beikhit area of Draa Abul Naga unearthed a collection of 29 gold coins dating to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram Online that the Byzantine coins had been wrapped in linen and placed in a decorative column in the tomb. 

19th-Century Cistern Excavated at the University of Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA—A cistern near the Rotunda at the University of Virginia may have been a source of water for fighting fires in the nineteenth century, according to archaeologist Steve Thompson. He and his team have removed some four tons of earth to reach the bottom of the cistern, which would have held 75,000 gallons of water collected from the Rotunda’s roof gutters. “The structure itself is of interest because it informs us about the water supply here at UVA through the entire nineteenth century. Getting water to the university was an enormous and continual problem,” he told NBC 29

Shipwreck Off the Coast of Florida Identified

ST. AUGUTSTIINE, FLORIDA—Archaeologists have identified a shipwreck off the coast of St. Augustine, as the Deliverance, named for a ship built by English explorers wrecked in Bermuda in the seventeenth century. “We first visited this wreck site in 2008, and we’ve kept an eye on it since then as numerous storms over the years have exposed the ribs and keel in the sand,” Chuck Meide, director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program told News 4 Jax. A January storm uncovered enough of the schooner that Meide and his team were able to compare the wreckage to historical information. An article in an English-language newspaper in Singapore helped them narrow the search down to the Deliverance, which traveled between Jacksonville, Florida, and Bermuda, until it ran aground during a storm in 1947.