Prehistoric hunting scenes unearthed in Spanish cave

Threat of vandalism puts ancient paintings at risk

By Belén Palanco. Web only

Published online: 23 May 2014


A series of hunting scenes dating from 7,000 years ago have been found by archaeologists on the six-metre long wall of a small cave in the region of Vilafranca in Castellón, eastern Spain—but it is being kept a secret for now.

A layer of dust and dirt covered ten figures, including bulls, two archers and a goat. The murals were exposed to harsh weather but the paintings pigments have not seriously deteriorated.


Inés Domingo Sanz, a research professor at the University of Barcelona, and Dídac Román, a research associate (archaeology) at the University of Toulouse II Le Mirail and University of Valencia, discovered the site while undertaking government-sponsored research into another excavation area in the region. Sanz says that “some of the [painting] details are unique [and unlike anything] across the entire Mediterranean Basin”. A planned publication will throw light on the rare archaeological find.


The cave was discovered in November 2013 but its location will only be revealed once security measures are in place, after vandals defaced a 5,000-year-old rock painting in Spain’s southern Jaén province in April.



Long-Lost Mummy of Pharaoh's Foster Brother Found



The mummy of the pharaoh Amenhotep II's foster brother may have been found in a former monastery, according to archival research into 19th-century documents.


The mummy, now reduced to a skeleton, is believed to be that of Qenamun, the chief steward of Amenhotep II (about 1427–1400 B.C.) who was the 7th Pharaoh of Egypt's 18th Dynasty and likely Tutankhamun's great-great-grandfather.


Qenamun was effectively Amenhotep II's foster brother, as his mother, Amenemipet, was the chief royal nurse of the future king. The two grew up together and the bond endured in adult life, with Qenamun enjoying a high and powerful status.


But the whereabouts of Qenamun's afterlife journey had remained a mystery -- no coffin nor mummy was found in his large and beautifully decorated tomb in Thebes.


"Identifying Qenamun has been like fitting together long-lost puzzle pieces," Marilina Betrò, professor of Egyptology at Pisa University, told Discovery News.


It all began two years ago when a skeleton resting in a cardboard box was found in a store room of a 14th-century monastery. Located in Calci, a village near Pisa, the monastery now houses one of the world's oldest natural history museums.


"Intriguingly, the skull bore an inscription in black ink stating it was one of the mummies brought from Egypt by Ippolito Rosellini, Europe's first Egyptology professor," Marilina Betrò told Discovery News. She holds the same chair at Pisa University that Rosellini did.


In 1828 the Pisa academic left for Egypt with Jean-Francois Champollion, the French philologist who had recently deciphered the Rosetta Stone.


Financed by the grand-duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, and the King of France, Charles X, the joint Franco-Tuscan expedition brought to Europe a treasure trove of ancient antiquities. At the same time, it yielded a survey of the monuments of Egypt and their hieroglyphic inscriptions, which, thanks to Champollion, were readable for the first time.


On Dec. 29, 1829, back from Egypt, Rosellini wrote a report to Grand Duke Leopold II. Attached to that letter was a list of 1878 antiquities he had packed for the journey back to Tuscany -- 660 were acquired by excavations, while 1,218 were purchased.


Rosellini stated he chose to take the best intact items, leaving behind several other objects because of shipping costs.


"Until a few years ago, only the draft of that letter was known, and it lacked the list. We found it in the National Archives in Prague, where all the documents of the Habsburg-Lorraine family are kept," Betrò said.


The list of the 660 antiquities began with the description of 11 mummies. Seven are currently on display in Florence's Egypt museum, while records about three others -- a woman, a man and a child -- reveal they were destroyed and never made to the Florence museum. The eleventh mummy remained a mystery.



Archaeologists Excavate for Archaic Greek City of Tenea

Thu, May 22, 2014


It was in July 1984 when rescue excavations conducted by Dr. Elena Korka, now Director of the Ephorate of Private Archaeological Collections and Antiquity Shops, turned up an ancient sarcophagus of the Greek early archaic period near the town of Chiliomodi in Greece. The sarcophagus contained a female skeleton along with offerings. The interior of the sarcophagus slab was adorned with a composition consisting of two lions of monumental character. It was a remarkable find.

But this was not altogether surprising, as archaeologists and historians believed that somewhere in the area the central structural remains of the city of Tenea likely existed. Established, according to written sources, not far from the ancient cities of Corinth  and Mycenae shortly after the Trojan War, its first inhabitants were said to be Trojan prisoners of war settled there by Agamemnon. Tenea was considered to be the main settlement of the valley, situated strategically to control the way from Argos to ancient Corinth, and the historian Strabo wrote that Tenea was the location where the Corinthian king Polybius nursed Oedipus.


Historically, other hints of Tenea's real existence have emerged, such as the discovery of the Kouros statue in 1846, now housed in the Glyptothek Museum in Munich, and more recently two other archaic kouroi were found and seized by the police in 2010. Because of the importance of the finds, archaeologists conducted surveys in the area around the sarcophagus discovery and its surrounding region.

But the first full, systematic investigation in the area did not begin until 2013 under the direction Korka. With the help of Greek and foreign scholars, archaeologists, geologists, and students, Korka soon uncovered an archaic cemetery consisting of burial sites with archaic period enclosures. Korka believes the cemetery may be associated with the ancient city of Tenea itself.


"Only sporadic remains of the city have been discovered in the region.......such as the Munich kouros, the sarcophagus, and two archaic kouroi," write Korka and colleagues.  "It is thus most likely that substantial archaeological remains of this important ancient city are expected to come to light very soon."*

Korka and her team hope to uncover much more in coming excavation seasons. They intend to return to the area in September of 2014 to continue where they left off in 2013.

More information about the effort and how one can participate can be obtained at http://www.archaeological.org/fieldwork/afob/15660.


* http://www.archaeological.org/fieldwork/afob/15660.



GIS technology verifies Caesar and Helvetii history

Written by Geoff Vivian


AN INTERNATIONAL team is using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) modelling to assess Julius Caesar’s account of his war with a Celtic tribe.


According to Caesar, more than a quarter of a million Helvetii were settled in the Swiss plateau before they decided to abandon their territory and invade Gaul in 58 BCE.


In his Gallic Wars he says the Helvitii were running out of food.


UWA archaeologist Tom Whitley is developing a GIS model to test Caesar’s population estimate and is testing geophysical techniques to see if they can detect signs of the migration and war.


He is using the GIS to model a large scale economic system focussing on subsistence; looking at local wild and agricultural sources of potential energy available in the environment.


The model tests Caesar’s assertions against the amount of calories that would have been available to the people if they had completely populated the territory.


“Does that in fact reflect what he was saying, that there was a stress on the amount of energy that’s available versus how many people are there to use it?” Professor Whitley says.


“Or does it look like he’s exaggerating his numbers to make it look like he defeated more people than actually he did?”


Prof Whitley says using the historical account, ecological and archaeological data allows him to construct detailed models of a complex economic system.


“If we try to reconstruct what was going on from the archaeological data alone when we have just a very fragmentary record, we don’t know exactly how this mechanism is operating,” he says.


“So with computer simulation we can simulate different kinds of effects and what the results were.”


Part two of study investigates Roman war impressions

The other part of the study aims to find specific archaeological signatures for the war, such as Roman riverfront fortifications, using untested techniques.


“Some of the GIS modelling is intended to say where it is likely that the Romans would have been building these structures,” he says.


“Can we simulate what that past environment looked like where people were likely to have crossed and … go to those locations and see if we can find them?”


They are also testing the effectiveness of ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry and aerial photogrammetry, to see if the massive Helvetian encampments can be identified on what are now vinyards and small farms.


Vinyards contain wire and metal posts, making magnetometry impractical, and radar can only be used in strips between the vines.



Tom Whitley is an Assistant Professor of Archaeology at the University of Western Australia (UWA).

His collaborators are Geoff Avern, Christine Markussen and Katie Simon.

You can download a translation of Caesar’s Gallic Wars from the MIT website.



Maryport Roman Settlement Excavation Yields New Finds

Fri, May 23, 2014


The Hadrian's Wall Trust's research and community archaeology project at the Maryport Roman settlement - directed by Oxford Archaeology North and funded by philanthropist Christian Levett - is revealing new evidence and raising more questions about this internationally famous site.


Site director John Zant said: "We're piecing together the complex story of the site over at least a couple of hundred years from around AD 100 to AD 300.


"From our work so far it's possible there may be an earlier fort than the remains we can see in the next field, and possibly even a lost Roman harbour to the north of the present day harbour.


"The Maryport civilian settlement is the largest currently known along the Hadrian's Wall frontier. We already know from geophysical surveys that there are lines of buildings here either side of the main street running from the north east gate of the fort.


"We're concentrating on a building plot on the west side of the road. It's possible the road linked the fort with a Roman harbour. If this were the case, the road would have been a bustling thoroughfare along which most of the people and goods arriving at Maryport would have travelled.


"We've found a fascinating variety of artefacts, including fragments of fine tableware imported from Gaul and the Rhineland, storage vessels that once contained Spanish olive oil and Gallic wines, fragments of fine glass vessels and several items of jewellery, including a jet finger-ring and part of a decorated glass bangle.


"The ring and bracelet would have been owned by quite well-off women, perhaps the wives and daughters of serving soldiers or retired veterans."


The remains of the stone building have been carefully removed revealing earlier Roman remains beneath. It is now clear that the stone structure replaced an earlier long and narrow building made entirely from timber.


The Roman timbers themselves have vanished completely but the positions of the north and south walls survive as stone-filled construction trenches, the stones having been packed around the base of wooden posts to hold them in position. At least part of the building was floored with clay and had with an internal drainage channel lined with stone slabs.


There are archaeological levels below this too, showing there was an even earlier phase of occupation on the site.  Several pits are also being investigated. One of these has yielded a Samian ware cup in a style that had fallen out of fashion by the early years of the second century AD. Samian ware is red pottery from central Gaul. This, together with a late first-century Samian vessel recovered last year, could mean the settlement was occupied before the reign of the emperor Hadrian (AD 117-38) and that there was an earlier Roman fort at Maryport.


The team has also been looking at the area at the rear of the building plot. Three rectangular, vertical-sided pits that may have served as wells or cisterns are now being excavated.  Detailed analysis of pollen and other environmental remains in the soils at the base of these features may shed light on what they were used for. Samples from other parts of the site will also be analysed to provide information on local environmental conditions and cultivation of animals and plants for food.


Christian Levett, who owns the archaeological magazine Minerva and the Mougins Museum of Classical Art in France, said: "I'm particularly interested in the connections we're seeing across the Roman empire through the imported objects the team is finding such as amphorae, pottery and ornaments.


"Maryport is a remote but important part of the Roman world with a fascinating story. I'm looking forward to more information coming through as the team continues the detailed analysis after they leave the site."

Including Maryport, there were over 30 forts on the 150 mile Roman frontier across the north of England, including 16 along the line of the 73 mile wall itself plus coastal, outpost and supply forts. Along the wall there were around 80 milecastles and 160 turrets, a ditch to the north and the great defensive vallum earthwork to the south.


The Hadrian's Wall frontier zone is part of the first transnational world heritage site � Frontiers of the Roman Empire - which includes the Antonine Wall in Scotland and the German Limes. This represents the borderline of the Roman Empire at its furthest extent in the 2nd century AD. It stretched from the west coast of northern Britain, through Europe to the Black Sea, and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast. Nigel Mills, heritage advisor to the Hadrian's Wall Trust said: "We're indebted to the volunteers, local people and visitors alike of all ages, many of whom have come back to work on the site for a second year.


Said Levett, "the settlement project is helping us to understand much more about who the people were who lived here, how they lived, and the significance of Maryport in the Roman frontier.


"The frontier defences down the Cumbrian coast were just as important as Hadrian's Wall itself. New interpretation panels have recently been installed at all the main sites along with guidebooks, cycle routes and a tourist trail so there is lots to see in this part of the world heritage site."


Rachel Newman of the Senhouse Museum Trust said: "It's very exciting to find such a wealth of information from the site, and it confirms that the site had a complex history beyond the visible, second-century fort.


"We'd also like to thank the volunteers - more people get involved each year and there's a lot of interest from our local community."



Guided tours of the excavation site, starting from the Senhouse Roman Museum at 2pm and 3.30pm, are Monday to Friday until Friday 30 May. Visitors can see the settlement excavation in progress and meet the archaeologists.


The next open day is on Bank Holiday Monday 26 May with tours from the museum at 11am, 2pm and 3.30pm, check www.senhousemuseum.co.uk for the latest information.


For the tours and the open day there is a charge of £3 for adults and £1 for children (£8 for families) which includes entry to the museum.  Visitors under 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.


A free lecture on the dig by John Zant takes place on Wednesday 28 May at 7.30pm to round up current knowledge of the settlement site.


The Senhouse Roman Museum is open every day during half-term week 25 May to 1 June (£3 for adults, £1 for children, £8 for families). Activities are:

Sunday 25 May, 3pm - Guided tour around the Roman fort led by a museum volunteer

Wednesday 28 May, 2-4pm - Children's craft drop-in. Make and take away your own laurel wreath

Thursday 30 May, 3pm - Guided tour around the Roman fort led by a museum volunteer,


In June, the Senhouse Museum Trust and Newcastle University Roman Temples Project dig starts again for six weeks at a different part of the site.

Source: Press release of the Hadrian's Wall Trust



Microbes from 1,500-year-old feces support archeological theories


Contact: Jim Sliwa



American Society for Microbiology


By evaluating the bacteria and fungi found in fossilized feces, microbiologists are providing evidence to help support archeologists' hypotheses regarding cultures living in the Caribbean over 1,500 years ago. They report their findings today at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.


"Although fossilized feces (coprolites) have frequently been studied, they had never been used as tools to determine ethnicity and distinguish between two extinct cultures. By examining the DNA preserved in coprolites from two ancient indigenous cultures, our group was able to determine the bacterial and fungal populations present in each culture as well as their possible diets," says Jessica Rivera-Perez of the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, who presented the study.


Various indigenous cultures inhabited the Greater Antilles thousands of years ago. The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have thousands of pre-Columbian indigenous settlements belonging to extinct cultures that migrated to the Caribbean at some point in history.


Archaeological excavations in Vieques, Puerto Rico unearthed hand-made tools and crafts as well as fossilized feces dating from 200 to 400 A.D. The presence of two distinct styles of craftsmanship, as well as other clues obtained from the dig sites, suggested these artifacts belonged to two distinct cultures.


"One culture excelled in the art of pottery; in fact, their signature use of red and white paint helped identify them as descendants from the Saladoids, originating in Saladero, Venezuela. In contrast, the second culture had exquisite art for crafting semiprecious stones into ornaments, some of which represented the Andean condor. This helped archaeologists identify the Bolivian Andes as possible origins of this Huecoid culture," says Rivera-Perez.


To help confirm these archeological hypotheses, Rivera-Perez and her colleagues examined the DNA preserved in coprolites from both Saladoid and Huecoid settlements and compared the bacterial and fungal populations found in each. Major differences were detected between the fecal communities of these cultures, providing additional support that they may have had different origins. Additionally, they found fungal and corn DNA in the Huecoid coprolite that suggests the consumption of an Andean fermented corn beverage, further confirming the theory that the Huecoids originated in the Bolivian Andes.


"The study of the paleomicrobiome of coprolites supports the hypothesis of multiple ancestries and can provide important evidence regarding migration by ancestral cultures and populations of the Caribbean," says Rivera-Perez.


This study was conducted by collaborators from the University of Puerto Rico and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. This study was partially funded by the NIH Grant to the University of Puerto Rico (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement Program).


The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 39,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to advance the microbiological sciences as a vehicle for understanding life processes and to apply and communicate this knowledge for the improvement of health and environmental and economic well-being worldwide.



Spanish Conquest May Have Altered Peru's Shoreline

By Heather Pringle Monday, May 19, 2014 - 3:00pm


In 1532, Francisco Pizarro led an expedition of battle-hardened Spanish soldiers on a fateful journey, from the desert coast of northern Peru to the highland Inca city of Cajamarca. A civil war had just ended in the Inca Empire, and Pizarro and a party of fewer than 200 men marched eastward to capitalize on the turmoil.


The ensuing Spanish conquest of the Inca had a profound effect on the region’s indigenous people, but a new paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that it also had an unexpected impact on the land itself. Before the Spaniards arrived, inhabitants of the arid northern Peruvian coast clad massive sand dune–like ridges with an accidental form of “armor”: millions of discarded mollusk shells, which protected the ridges from erosion for nearly 4700 years and produced a vast corrugated landscape that “is visible from space,” says archaeologist Dan Sandweiss of the University of Maine, Orono, one of the paper’s authors.


This incidental landscape protection came to a swift end, however, after diseases brought by Spanish colonists decimated the local population and after colonial officials resettled the survivors inland. “There were very few [indigenous] people living along the coast then,” says lead author and geologist Daniel Belknap of the University of Maine, and without humans to create the protective covering, newly formed beach ridges simply eroded and vanished.


Belknap and Sandweiss began examining the surviving ridges in 1997, selecting a set of nine that extend 21 kilometers in length northwest of the mouth of the Chira River. A previous researcher, archaeologist James Richardson III of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had noted an abundance of shells, pottery sherds, and fire pits covering these beach ridges, so the University of Maine researchers decided to study the sand formations and their origins.


With a team of students, the two researchers dug test pits into the sides of the dunes, the tallest of which rises 7 meters in height. In the upper layers, team members found a dense concentration of shells, most of which belonged to two mollusk species favored by Peruvian diners today. Taken together, the cultural evidence strongly suggested that ancient Peruvian fishers had camped on the ridges, possibly year-round, eating shellfish meat and tossing away millions of shells.


By mapping and examining the ridges themselves, the team determined that they formed under a specific combination of events. When earthquakes periodically struck the region, they loosened sandy sediments throughout the Chira valley, and during El Niño events, these sediments were swept into the Chira River and transported to the inlet. There, shore currents carried the sand to the northwest and deposited the sediments in long dunelike ridges along the coast. Because little rain fell in the region annually, there was little vegetation to stabilize these ridges and protect them from strong winds that regularly gust there.


“If you are there at 2 in the afternoon, you get these 40-kilometer winds blowing there, and your eyeglasses are scoured,” Richardson says.


But the ancient humans who camped on the ridges unwittingly preserved these landforms, Sandweiss says. They discarded the shells from their dinners on the slopes, and their trash armored the ridges against the scouring action of the wind, preserving even the sharp crests. “You don’t think that pre-Columbian people can have such a significant effect on the landscape, but clearly they can,” he says.


Previously published radiocarbon dates for charcoal from the ancient fire pits showed that the oldest ridge dated to about 5100 years ago and the most recent was created about 400 years ago, about the time of the Spanish conquest. Other ridges appear to have formed after that time, but they were swept away by the wind. “The last 500 meters of the coast is low and hummocky, not like the discrete ridges before,” Belknap says.


Archaeologist Richard Burger of Yale University says the findings fit well with ideas that other researchers have raised about the unintentional environmental effects that the Spaniards had on the former Inca Empire. The European conquerors, he notes, had a huge appetite for wood for construction and for smelting operations, and some archaeologists have suggested that this led to the deforestation of the hillsides around Cuzco. “The landscape is sensitive to changes in cultural patterning, and very often the changes that occur are not intended and not even intuitively sought-after,” he says.


The study is an important reminder “of the very blurry divide between the natural world and the cultural world,” adds archaeologist Torben Rick of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Parts of the northern coast of Peru may look completely natural and pristine, he says, “but if you rewind the clock a couple of millennia, you see that people were actively shaping this land by creating beach ridge systems.”



Divers stage emergency excavation of historic Thames shipwreck

Archaeologists fear climate change could destroy preserved remains of the London, which blew up off Essex coast in 1665

Dalya Alberge

Friday 16 May 2014 15.53 BST


Archaeologists will embark on an emergency excavation of one of Britain's most important shipwrecks on Sunday after discovering it is deteriorating at alarming speed because of the warmer waters caused by climate change.


The once-mighty 17th-century vessel, named the London, has lain in the muddy silt of the Thames estuary off the Essex coast near Southend-on-Sea for 350 years.


Built in 1656, she was in a convoy that transported Charles II from the Netherlands to restore him to his throne after Oliver Cromwell's death in 1658. One of the most illustrious ships of her day, her remains are now a time capsule of the 17th century.


English Heritage, the government advisory body, has commissioned Cotswold Archaeology to carry out a major excavation.


Mark Dunkley, a marine archaeologist at English Heritage, told the Guardian: "It's rare for wooden shipwrecks of this age and older to survive to this extent." The hundreds of surviving wrecks are mostly later iron and steel ships.


Asked why the wreck is deteriorating now after 350 years, he said: "Through human-induced climate change, warmer water is moving northwards. That's allowing the migration of warm-water invasive species." He spoke of the need for action to stop warm-water ship-boring organisms eating away at timber and organic artefacts and prevent loose objects being dispersed.


The London met her end in 1665 when she suffered a mysterious gunpowder explosion. More than 300 lives were lost in a tragedy recorded by Samuel Pepys, the diarist and secretary to the Navy Board: "A little a' this side the buoy of the Nower [Nore], she suddenly blew up.


"About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance."


The diarist John Evelyn also lamented "the poor orphans and widows" left behind.


The archaeologists are collaborating with Steven Ellis, a Thames estuary diver, who has been granted the government licence.


He too spoke of the need for action. During initial test dives, he spotted "loads of shoe soles". When he returned, they had been washed away, he said.


Ellis did, however, find a complete shoe that looked astonishingly modern, in superb condition considering its age. He said: "The Thames has got so much silt. That's why everything is in such good nick."


His other initial finds included personal items such as a bronze signet ring and clay pipes, as well as navigational dividers, buckets, pots and cooking utensils. He retrieved ship's fixtures and fittings such as door latches, an anchor cable and cannonballs.


Parametric sonar data suggest buried deposits beyond the visible remains. Other tests have uncovered extremely unusual female human remains.


The excavation will be complex. Though the wreck is only up to 18 metres deep, visibility is poor. Ellis said: "On a good day, you've got perhaps half a metre."


There are also strong currents and the site is at the edge of a shipping lane. "It makes it a little more hairy than most dives," he said.


The London's final resting place was only confirmed in 2005. She is one of only 49 ships protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act in England, an indication of her importance.


Dunkley said: "Part of the excitement for us, as archaeologists, is to share with those people that can't access the London with a scuba tank."


The wreck offers insights into the navy when England was emerging as a global power, he added. "It allows us to share our understanding of how people lived, fought and died on this class of ship. The London fills a gap in our understanding of ship technology and ship construction."


The vessel was fitted for war when she blew up. The women on board were possibly officers' relatives. Perhaps they would have disembarked as the ship would have been fully prepared for war, Dunkley suggests. "Pepys talks of ladies being on board. We don't know whether they were guests masquerading as crew members, which happened in Admiral Nelson's time. Or whether they were guests of the lower decks."


Although she blew up, the ship seems to be pretty complete, lying in two sections. She was once 37 metres long by 12 metres wide.


Divers will excavate the bow, the hold, the main gun deck and the carpenter's and boatswain's storerooms. Finds recovered from the site will be curated, published and displayed by Southend Museums Service.