Sunday, April 29, 2012


(Reuters) - Seven works of ancient art and other antiquities that had been looted and smuggled out of Italy were returned to that country's government by U.S. officials in Washington. Two 2,000-year-old ceramic vessels, one Roman sculpture, one Renaissance painting and three music sheets from choir books dating to the 13th century were recovered in four separate investigations by U.S. law enforcement. They were handed back to Italian ambassador Claudio Bisogniero at a ceremony attended by U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Two of the four items returned on Thursday were linked to Italian national Gianfranco Becchina who has been accused of having ties to Italian organized crime and is currently the subject of an ongoing investigation by Italian officials. No arrests over the objects were made by U.S. officials, a Homeland Security department spokeswoman said. And once identified, all were forfeited by their owners or dealers.

The objects linked to Becchina included ceramic vessels - an Attic red-figured pelike and a red-figured situla - looted from archeological sites in Italy and smuggled into Switzerland where ownership was transferred. They landed at a California gallery before consignment for sale to Christie's auctioneers in New York, U.S. officials said. Similarly, U.S. investigators learned a Roman marble statue also ended up at Christie's New York after being smuggled out of Italy through Switzerland.

In 2008, Renaissance painting, "Leda e il Cigno" (Leda and the Swan) by Lelio Orsi was also recovered after it was sold at an auction at Sotheby's in New York for $1.6 million. Finally, the three choir book leaves were recovered from a rare book dealer in Portland, Oregon, who similarly gave them up to be returned.


Monticello archaeologists have discovered two previously unknown archaeological sites that contain nineteenth century artifacts, including remains of slave homes—some from Jefferson’s time. The sites were discovered in April at Tufton, historically significant as one of Thomas Jefferson’s four quarter farms located about a mile and a quarter east of Monticello. A preliminary assessment of the artifacts indicates the earlier of the two sites was occupied in the first few decades of the nineteenth century, most likely by enslaved field laborers who worked on the Tufton farm.

Archaeologists recovered significant Jefferson-era artifacts including: a padlock, which matches one found on Mulberry Row, a glass bead, a slate pencil, a metal coat button, along with scores of datable ceramic sherds in refined English earthenwares and some Chinese porcelain.

The second site contains artifacts that date from the mid through late-nineteenth century and contains above-ground remains of at least two houses: a stone foundation and a brick chimney stack. This indicates that after Jefferson’s death and the sale of his slaves to pay his debts, the site was occupied by slaves belonging to Tufton’s subsequent owners, the Macons, who acquired the tract in 1833. The earlier site also contains artifacts from the Macon period.

The Jefferson-era remains on the earlier site will give archaeologists an opportunity to assess how the material lives of slaves living on an outlying quarter farm compared to the lives of enslaved domestic workers and artisans living on Mulberry Row and enslaved field hands who cultivated the fields of Monticello Mountain and lived on its slopes. The later nineteenth-century remains offer the possibility of studying how the material lives of slaves changed from Jefferson’s time up to the Civil War, and then again after emancipation. The archaeological sites are significant in size. The site with earlier artifacts measures about 875 by 500 feet, the later 750 by 200 feet.

“This is the biggest cluster of Jefferson-era artifacts we have found since we discovered Site 8 in 1998,” said Fraser Neiman, Director of Archaeology at Monticello. Site 8 was the main slave settlement on the Monticello home farms in the late 18th century. “Our initial hypothesis is that these newly discovered sites represent multiple, widely spaced single-family houses,” said Neiman.

Thomas Jefferson inherited Tufton and later gave it to his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph. Tufton served as important agricultural land, providing large amounts of crops and food sources for the Monticello plantation. Beginning in 1817, Tufton was managed by Jefferson’s grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph.


The Special Archaeological Superintendent for Naples and Pompeii confirmed the collapse of the red-frescoed wall next to an unidentified villa in an area already closed to the public. The collapse of the wall is particularly embarrassing for the government as it follows several other incidents at the world heritage site in the past two year .

There is growing concern Italy's ability to protect it from further degradation and the impact of the local Mafia or Camorra. Giulia Rodano, cultural affairs spokesman for the center-left Italy of Values party, said there was a need to restore state funding that had been eroded by government cutbacks.

"How many walls have to fall, how much rain or snow should we expect to see a turnaround in state finance for the protection of cultural assets," Ms Rodano said.


A roman shipwreck was recently excavated in shallow waters near an Italian beach resort. The most complete Roman ship ever found, the cargo vessel sank off the coast of Sicily some 1,700 years ago. Among the ship's official cargo were hidden stashes of valuable interlocking tiles used in construction. This Roman shipwreck, dating to the third century AD, has revealed signs of smuggling.

Dating to the third century AD, the large sunken ship was fully recovered six months ago at a depth of 7 feet near the shore of Marausa Lido, a beach resort near Trapani.

Her cargo, officially consisting of assorted jars once filled with walnuts, figs, olives, wine, oil and fish sauce, also contained many unusual tubular tiles. The unique tiles were apparently valuable enough for sailors to smuggle them from North Africa to Rome, where they sold for higher prices.


Humans that populated the banks of the river Manzanares (Madrid, Spain) during the Middle Palaeolithic (between 127,000 and 40,000 years ago) fed themselves on pachyderm meat and bone marrow. This is what a Spanish study shows and has found percussion and cut marks on elephant remains in the site of Preresa (Madrid).

In prehistoric times, hunting animals implied a risk and required a considerable amount of energy. Therefore, when the people of the Middle Palaeolithic (between 127,000 and 40,000 years ago) had an elephant in the larder, they did not leave a scrap.

Humans that populated the Madrid region 84,000 years ago fed themselves on these prosbocideans' meat and they consumed their bone marrow, according to this new study. Until now, the scientific community doubted that consuming elephant meat was a common practice in that era due to the lack of direct evidence on the bones. It is still to be determined whether they are from the Mammuthus species of the Palaleoloxodon subspecies.

The researchers found bones with cut marks, made for consuming the meat, and percussion for obtaining the bone marrow. "There are many sites, but few with fossil remains with marks that demonstrate humans' purpose" Jose Yravedra, researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and lead author of the study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science points out to SINC.

This is the first time that percussion marks that showed an intentional bone fracture to get to the edible part inside have been documented. These had always been associated with tool manufacturing but in the remains found, this hypothesis was discarded. The tools found in the same area were made of flint and quartzite.

The team, made up of archaeologists, zooarchaeologists and geologists from UCM, the Institute of Human Evolution in Africa (IDEA) in Madrid and the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution (CENIEH) in Burgos, collected 82 bones from one elephant, linked to 754 stone tools, in an area of 255 metres squared, in the site of Preresa, on the banks of the river Manzanares.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Manmade mounds shaped like orcas, condors and even a duck may be the oldest evidence of animal mounds outside of North America, according to former University of Missouri anthropologist.Writing in the magazine Antiquity, Robert Benfer, a professor emeritus, describes a series of mounds, some more than 1,300 feet (400 meters) across, in coastal valleys in Peru. Archaeological evidence at the sites pegs some at more than 4,000 years old."It's going to shake everybody's views," Benfer told LiveScience. "The previous oldest animal figures were at Nazca and they're 2,000 years old."

The Nazca Lines are simple stone outlines of animals decorating the Nazca Desert in Peru. Like the newly discovered mounds, they may have had ritual significance. In addition, the shapes likely coincided with the constellations these ancient people saw in the Milky Way.


A bronze, Viking-era "piggy-bank" containing thousands silver coins dating from the 11th century has been unearthed on the Baltic island of Gotland in what Swedish archaeologists have described as a "fantastic" treasure find.The silver treasure was found during an archaeological examination of a field in Rone, on southern Gotland.

"We had an expert out there with a metal detector who got a signal that he's found something pretty big," said Per Widerström, an archaeologist with the Gotland Museum. The same field has yielded previous treasure finds, including a well-known discovery from the 1880s, when a collection of nearly 6,000 coins dating from the 11th century were uncovered.

The field's reputation made it a target for amateur treasure hunters and plunderers, prompting the Gotland county administrative board to commission a survey of the area as a preventative measure against any further plundering of valuable archaeological finds.

A preliminary analysis of one of the coins revealed that it was likely minted in Germany some time between 1000 and 1040. "It's fantastic," museum head Lars Sjövärd told the local news website. X-rays also indicate that the bucket, which measures 23 centimeters in diameter and has a depth of about 17 centimeters, likely contains "thousands" of coins. "We can't say for sure because the x-rays couldn't penetrate all the silver. There might be other silver artifacts in there, but as it looks now, the bucket appears filled to the brim with coins," said Widerström. He explained that the find is unusual in that it was a complete treasure was found intact, something which is likely due to the fact that it was nestled just over 30 centimeters deep in the earth. "Ploughs only go down about 29 centimeters, which means this treasure has managed to escape damage from all agricultural activity over the centuries," Widerström explained.

He compared the bronze bucket to a Viking-era "piggy bank" or "cash box", adding that the size of the find may be one of the first indications of a consolidation in the market of Viking merchants. He refused to place a monetary value on the find, although museum head Sjövärd explained that even one of the silver coins could be worth "thousands" of Swedish kronor. He added that the field where the coins were found has likely yielded its last Viking-era treasure.


Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a Neolithic portal dolmen, one of Western Europe's oldest ritual burial chambered monuments, in an isolated field in Wales. It is thought the tomb was built
from giant boulders about 5,500 years ago. Its capstone bears a seemingly random pattern of dozens of circular holes gouged into its surface - symbols of Neolithic or Bronze Age ritual burial activity.

What makes it particularly interesting is that the site has rare remains of human bones and shards of decorated pottery. An official burial license must now be sought before the bones can be removed, but eventually radiocarbon-dating and other tests planned for the remains may give new insight into Britain's early farming ancestors. The archaeological excavation near Newport in Pembrokeshire has been led by George Nash, Thomas Wellicome and Adam Stanford, who plan to resume work in September.

Dr Nash, an archaeologist and lecturer at Bristol University, said: "The dolmen is the earliest type of monument you can find in the Neolithic era. It is very rare to discover such a site of this age. Since 1600, intense farming practices have meant a lot of ancient sites were destroyed. What is unique about the whole thing is that we are dealing with thick, acidic soils but the bones and the pottery have survived."

While the tomb is thought to date from 3,800BC, the pottery with its grooved design appears contemporary with late Neolithic activity, Dr Nash believes. Further finds include two perforated, sea-worn shale beads, each about 4.5cm in diameter, which are thought to be some form of jewellery. Dr Nash has linked them to hundreds of examples found in the 1970s at a nearby coastal settlement from the Early Mesolithic period 9,000 years ago. He believes his Neolithic site may have even older, Mesolithic origins.

What is particularly interesting about this dolmen discovery is the number of ancient capmarks on the slab ... and the recovery of human remains with pottery. They will be able to extract a lot of information from the bones: where these people came from, where they lived, and whether they came from

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


A team of archaeologists have found "hidden" remains of prehistoric buildings and fields on Skomer Island, off the Pembrokeshire coast. Using new technology, they "X-rayed" fields and found buried ditches and structures not visible on the ground. Dr Toby Driver from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales said they may date back 5,000 years. He added they are among the best preserved anywhere in the UK.

Skomer Island is a national nature reserve and famed for its bird life and puffins. It also has remains of prehistoric houses and much of the island has been designated an Ancient Monument. But nobody had carried out any archaeological studies of the island since the 1980s. Last April airborne laser scanning was completed of the island, which provided a model of the surface of landscape, including its houses and fields. However, because the center of Skomer was farmed until the 1950s, anything of interest on the surface was ploughed away.

So archaeologists from the Royal Commission and Sheffield University went to the island last week to carry out a geophysical survey, which uses technology to measure through the earth, creating an "X-ray" picture of what is under the ground. It was the first time the technique had been used on the island and Dr Driver, who was part of the team, said it gave greater insight into what life on the island was like in the past. "Work over the last three to four years by the Royal Commission has begun to demonstrate that actually we think people were there for a few thousand years rather than a few hundred years. "From before the Roman times maybe back four of five thousand years before now. He added: "We now know that the center of the island has been occupied in the Iron Age and possibly before the Romans and that means pretty much the whole island would have been a very busy place for two to three thousand

"We're very lucky on Skomer, it's a gem for Wales. It hasn't been ploughed around the edges - it hasn't been ploughed since the Romans left Wales, so that's about 2,000 years old. "It's very, very well preserved. This is a place on Wales where we can study prehistoric fields, Iron Age life, a Celtic way of life , in a way that in other parts of Wales has been lost." The team now hopes to do more work on the island in the future.

Monday, April 02, 2012


A Roman goddess is making Boston's Museum of Fine Arts her new home. A flatbed truck will pull up with the 13-foot-tall, almost two-millennia-old statue of Juno resting on her back in a steel cage—and without her head. (The museum decided decapitation would allow a more-secure move, since the head was precariously attached.) A crane will raise Juno 80 feet in the air and lower her into the museum through a skylight. Once the sculpture lands, movers will push it through a doorway expanded by 18 inches to accommodate Juno's girth and then use a chain hoist to lift her upright. The colossus will be the centerpiece of a new classical gallery. The museum calls Juno the largest classical sculpture in the U.S. and pursued the acquisition for five years before buying it last spring for a seven-figure sum largely funded by an anonymous donor.

The 13,000-pound marble statue was shipped from Rome to a wealthy Boston couple in the late 19th century and until recently lived on the manicured gardens of a historic property in Brookline, a western Boston suburb. Over the years, local youth, who nicknamed her "Gloria," occasionally splattered her with graffiti or involved her in college hazing rituals. Acid rain and violent weather also threatened her. Property caretaker Harry McCusker, who recalled forsythia blooming around her and coyote pups once playing at her feet, said the statue was a constant in his life. "It was almost like we bonded with each other—she might have even said good morning to me," he said.

Conservators will work on Juno in the gallery, in public view, starting early next month. Staff will ponder whether to position the head to allow greater eye contact with visitors; the statue is believed to have been part of a Roman civic monument, staring down from several stories up. The museum team also strongly suspects that this isn't the statue's original head and will test the marble to see whether it came from the same quarry as the torso.

Ms. Kondoleon first learned of the statue five years ago through a local scholar and discussed a possible purchase with the Brandegee Foundation, the private group that owns and manages the property on which Juno used to sit. A foundation spokesman declined to comment. Throughout, Ms. Kondoleon said, she was confident that Juno belonged at the Boston museum: "I knew her destiny."

A version of this article appeared Mar. 17, 2012, on page C14 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A New Bostonian, Size XL, Age 1,900.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Thousands of possible early human settlements have been discovered by archaeologists using computers to scour satellite images. Jason Ur said he had found about 9,000 potential new sites in north-eastern Syria. Computers scanned the images for soil discoloration and mounds caused when mud-brick settlements collapsed. Dr Ur said surveying the same area on the ground would have taken him a lifetime.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researcher told BBC News: "With these computer science techniques, however, we can immediately come up with an enormous map which is methodologically very interesting, but which also shows the staggering amount of human occupation over the last 7,000 or 8,000 years. "What's more, anyone who comes back to this area for any future survey would already know where to go. "There's no need to do this sort of initial reconnaissance to find sites. This allows you to do targeted work, so it maximizes the time we have on the ground."

In the past, Dr Ur used declassified spy satellite photographs and the human eye to try to identify potential sites. But over the last three years, he has worked with computer expert Bjoern Menze, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to create a software application able to classify a huge range of terrain. He said this had removed subjectivity and allowed them to look at a much larger area. In all, about 9,000 possible settlements were identified across 23,000 sq km.


Mankind's ancestors may have started walking on two legs simply because it allowed them to carry more food away in their hands, boosting their chance of survival, scientists have said.

Anthropologists studying chimpanzees found that the great apes, who usually walk on all fours, walk upright and free their hands for carrying when they need to monopolize hard-to-find resources by swiping more at a single attempt in the face of fierce competition.

The team from the University of Cambridge and Kyoto University in Japan believe the benefit of "first come, first served" and getting a bigger share of scarce food supplies could, over a long period of time, have led some of our earliest "hominin" ancestors to evolve into "bipedal" primates walking on two legs permanently instead of four. Professor William McGrew, from Cambridge's department of archaeology and anthropology, said: "Bipedality as the key human adaptation may be an evolutionary product of this strategy persisting over time. Ultimately, it set our ancestors on a separate evolutionary path."

Scientists believe that man's ancestors changed how they moved at a time of climate upheaval which reduced the forested areas in which they lived and forced them out into the open more. But a lack of fossils means there is division over what specific factor it was that led to the development of walking on two feet. The research by the team led by PhD student Susana Carvalho and Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests our earliest hominin ancestors may have lived in shifting environmental conditions in which certain resources were not always easy to come by.

Chimpanzees are one of several ape species able to walk on two legs for short periods of time. The scientists conducted two studies of chimpanzees in Bossou Forest in Guinea, west Africa, finding that when supplies of highly prized coula nuts were scarce, the chimps were more likely to walk on two feet in an attempt to carry off more in a single trip.

They also found that when the chimpanzees went "crop raiding", 35% of their activity involved some sort of bipedal movement, and "once again, this behavior appeared to be linked to a clear attempt to carry as much as possible in one go". By studying the behavior of chimpanzees, they believe that over time, intense bursts of bipedal activity in early hominins may have led to anatomical changes that in turn became the subject of natural selection where competition for food or other resources was strong.