Monday, March 25, 2019


Skara Brae women archaeologists who were written out of history. The photographs were taken at Skara Brae, probably in 1929. An "excavation" on social media has provided names for four women shown in pictures of a dig in Orkney.
The women - shown in photographs taken in 1929 - had been assumed to be tourists or visitors.

But since Prof Dan Hicks, from the University of Oxford, tweeted the images they have been named as archaeologists working on the site. Those behind the search say it shows how women have been written out of the history of archaeology.

Another version of the picture shows excavator Prof Gordon Childe in a trench. One of the women in the image is clearly shown holding a trowel. Dr Antonia Thomas from the University of the Highlands and Islands told BBC Radio Orkney the photographs were "brilliant". But highly staged.

She says: "Everybody on site is looking towards Gordon Childe", who led the excavation of Skara Brae in 1928 and 1929. The Neolithic village at the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of Orkney's mainland had first been uncovered by storms towards the end of the 19th Century. "But just in the foreground, within the trench area, are two women who are laughing, and looking toward Gordon Childe as well." The Neolithic village of Skara Brae in Orkney was uncovered by storms at the end of the nineteenth century One of the women is clearly holding a trowel, and close examination of their shoes suggests they are covered in mud and dust. Dr Mairi Davies from Historic Environment Scotland explained that despite the preconceptions, women were active in archaeology at the time.

"In the arts faculty at that time in some years there were actually more female students than male. And his classes reflected that gender balance. "So we know that there were several women in Prof Childe's classes at Edinburgh. And we know that some went on to be very active field archaeologists."


Now, an article published in the journal L'Anthropologie tells how University of Barcelona researchers found -in the site of Hort de la Bequera (Margalef de Montsant, Priorat)-, an artistic piece from 12,500 years ago in which humans and birds try to interact in a pictorial scene with exceptional traits: figures seem to star a narration on hunting and motherhood.

The piece they found is a 30-centimeter long limestone which shows two human figures and two birds, which the researchers identified as cranes. Since they found the piece in 2011, they underwent all cleaning, restoration and 3D copying procedures to study it in detail. Those figures were engraved in the stone board with a flint tool so that they created an organized composition compared to the other pieces of the same period.

"This is one of the few found scenes so far which suggest the birth of a narrative art in Europe, and this theme is unique, since it combines an image of hunting and a motherhood one: a birth with its young one," says the first signer of the article, ICREA researcher and lecturer at the UB Inés Domingo. "In the represented scene the birds catch the attention, they are copied or chased by two human figures," continues Domingo. "We do not know the meaning of the scene for prehistoric peoples, but what it says is that not only they were regarded as preys but also as a symbol for European Palaeolithic societies," she continues.

"We do not doubt this is an exceptional milestone in European Palaeolithic rock art due its singularity, its excellent conservation and the chances to study it within a general context of excavation," say the authors of the article; members of the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP).

The director of the excavation, Pilar García Argüelles notes that "the findings of the engraved scene are exceptional, and proves the importance of the site and the area regarding Palaeolithic art in the peninsular north-east area; where we can find nearby the only Palaeolithic cave engraving in Catalonia, the deer in the cave of Taverna (Margalef de Montsant), and about 40 kilometers away there is Molí del Salt (Vimbodí), with an interesting series of stone blocks with engraved animals and a representation of huts."

The first to identify the engraving was the co-director of the excavation, Jordi Nadal, who remembers that moment with excitement: "Since the first moment I was aware of the importance of this finding, of its uniqueness; these things do not happen very often, this is seeing a figure that has been forgotten and buried for 12,500 years."


Rome's birthday celebrations for Natale di Roma include historical re-enactments including a costumed parade and gladiator fights. Rome celebrates its 2,772nd birthday on 21 April which this year coincides with Easter Sunday festivities.

Known as Natale di Roma, the annual birthday celebration is based on the legendary founding of Rome by Romulus in 753 BC.

Events are centered in the Circus Maximus and include the trench-digging ritual, known as the tracciato del solco, which recalls the founding of ancient Roman towns when a trench was dug and offerings thrown into it to encourage the gods to watch over the inhabitants.

Other re-enactments include the agricultural Palilia ceremony. Dating back to before the founding of Rome, the ceremony was held in honor of the goddess Pales, protector of flocks and herds, and involved vestal virgins distributing straw and the ashes and blood of sacrificed animals before jumping over a bonfire three times.
The Circus Maximus also hosts historical re-enactments including gladiator fights, aimed at children.

The main event each year however is a costumed parade, featuring more than 2,000 gladiators, senators, vestal virgins and priestesses, which begins and ends at the Circus Maximus. The pageant is organized by the Gruppo Storico Romano, an historical dramatic society which, for more than 20 years, has brought history to life by re-enacting battles, historic events, and displays of ancient theater and dance in the city center.


Fashion house Gucci to sponsor restoration of Roman cliff from which traitors were flung to their deaths Even by the bloody standards of the ancient Romans, it was a particularly grisly way to die. The Tarpeian Rock is a precipitous cliff in the heart of Rome from where, during Roman times, traitors, perjurors and larcenous slaves were hurled to their deaths.

Now, in an unlikely marriage between the worlds of high fashion and ancient history, the cliff, which still exists, is to be restored with the help of the Florentine fashion brand Gucci.

Paths around the cliff will be cleared and a new lighting system installed in what is being described as a “restyling” of the area. Gucci has not divulged how much it will contribute, but the project will take a year and a half to complete. “According to history, up to the first century AD traitors were sentenced to death from the cliff to the underlying Roman Forum, symbolically expelled from the city.

“Today the cliff, made mainly of tufa, a porous rock, carved and dug over the centuries, is a unique natural space,” the fashion house said. The restoration is just the latest example of wealthy Italian fashion brands coming to the rescue of Rome’s crumbling cultural heritage.

The sweeping stone staircase, built between 1723 and 1726, has featured in many films, most notably Roman Holiday, the 1953 romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Work on the area, where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by senators on the Ides of March in 44BC, will be completed towards the end of 2022, according to Virginia Raggi, the mayor of Rome.

Bulgari will reportedly contribute around €800,000 to the site, which is home to a large population of feral cats and a cat sanctuary.


The underground vaults of Jerusalem’s Nea Church, a large complex erected by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, have remained closed to visitors since their excavation in the 1970s. One of Jerusalem’s great archaeological wonders, long closed to the public, may soon be open to visitors for the first time since it was excavated in the 1970s. The New Church of the Theotokos, commonly referred to as the Nea Church, was a large Byzantine church constructed in sixth-century Jerusalem that has sat in ruins for a thousand years.

Byzantine Emperor Justinian I ordered the construction of the church in A.D. 534 as part of a vast imperial construction campaign, which was considered an engineering triumph by contemporary and modern historians but has been ignored by the general public.

When it was first constructed, the Nea Church was a massive edifice, rivaling the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in Christendom, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried. Both churches appear on the Madaba Mosaic, a sixth-century map depicting Jerusalem, in Jordan’s Church of Saint George in Madaba. Emperor Justinian’s chronicler, Procopius of Caesarea, said the emperor built the church “with which no other can be compared,” and detailed how Justinian “gave orders that it be built on the highest of the hills, specifying what the length and breadth of the building should be.”

Now, almost half a century after Israeli archaeologists plumbed its depths, a group of activists is pushing for the church's restoration and opening to visitors.

Although the company describes the Nea Church as a “unique architectural monument in Jerusalem,” most of the enormous site has remained closed to visitors since Nahman Avigad's archaeological excavations ended in 1981. Avigad’s study of the site was part of a large number of excavations carried out by Israeli archaeologists in the Jewish Quarter after Israel captured Jerusalem's Old City in the 1967 war. Unlike other discoveries, such as a Roman-era neighborhood and marketplace and ancient fortifications, the Nea Church was never developed for tourists.

The church complex included a hostel for Christian pilgrims to the holy city, a monastery and a hospital. Like King Herod’s Temple Mount, atop which the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque stand today, Justinian had massive stone vaults constructed to provide the church a level foundation. These were plastered over and used as enormous underground cisterns. Archaeologists discovered a Greek inscription exalting the emperor inside the cisterns.

But Daniel Shukrun, secretary of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter, told Al-Monitor that the Nea Church vaults are presently unsafe for the general public. In late 2017, the company conducted a major clean-up operation inside the subterranean chambers to clear out years of accumulated bat droppings and refuse, but the area remains unsuitable for tourists, he said. He cautioned that while the company is interested in developing the church, and the wheels are now in motion, the Nea Church restoration project would cost an enormous, as yet indeterminate sum.

Sunday, March 10, 2019


Gendarmerie forces in the western city of Kütahya seized 5,000 coins dating from the Roman and Byzantine eras in an anti-smuggling operation yesterday.

Acting on a tip-off, the anti-smuggling unit of the gendarmerie raided a gas station in the city's Geven neighborhood, catching two suspects red-handed while they were selling and buying the coins. Searching the suspects' cars, security forces found the trove of coins. Suspects are being detained while an investigation is underway on how they got hold of the coins.

It is unclear if the coins originated from Kütahya, which was ruled by the Roman and Byzantine Empires before the Seljuks seized it. Kütahya is also home to Aizanoi, an ancient Roman city which was the largest city in western Turkey in its era. In another operation last December in Kütahya, security forces confiscated around 10,000 historical Roman coins from smugglers.

Thousands of anti-smuggling operations are carried out across Turkey every year to halt the illegal sale of historical objects and protect the country's rich cultural heritage.The issue is crucial to a country that is home to about 3,000 ancient cities from 42 civilizations and whose tourism industry relies on its rich historical heritage to attract millions of foreign visitors each year.


A new study has found US Civil War-era tunnels and buildings buried beneath the famed Alcatraz island prison in San Francisco, California. Historians had long-suspected that the notorious federal penitentiary had been constructed atop US military fortifications built in the 1800s. A study published last week in Near Surface Geophysics describes the complex found beneath the prison yard.

The now-closed jail imprisoned some of the worst criminals in US history. The study of the land, which is now controlled by the National Park Service, was conducted with ground-penetrating radar and terrestrial scans.
Beneath the prison's recreation yard, researchers discovered evidence of fully buried structures, ammunition magazines and tunnels. "They weren't erased from the island - they're right beneath your feet."

Armed with the new evidence, researchers are now planning to do more testing on the island known as The Rock. The island was first claimed by the US government for military use after it was used to take control of California from Mexico in the 1840s. A photo from 1869 shows soldiers on the island back when it was still a fort
During the US Civil War, Fort Alcatraz was used at the official military prison of the West Coast. The first inmates from the federal prison system began arriving in the 1930s, and the last were moved out in 1963.

Monday, March 04, 2019


Egyptian security officials at the Cairo International Airport foiled a plot to smuggle out of the country mummified limbs that were hidden inside a loudspeaker, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities announced on Sunday. The contraband was to be loaded on a plane to Belgium when authorities spotted something strange on the X-rays.

In a hollowed-out speaker, they found six preserved body parts belonging to two different mummies: two sets of feet and lower legs; two sets of hands and forearms; an upper arm; and part of an upper torso, according to Iman Abdel-Raouf, an Egyptian official who works on archaeological matters. The authorities did not identify the smuggler, or whether any perpetrators were charged.

The recovered remains will be brought to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo so that a team of archaeologists can inspect and conserve them, according to the ministry. Their analysis could provide insight into the origins of these body parts, and how they relate to other discoveries. Every artifact from Egypt’s past, no matter the size, helps shape scientists’ understanding of its ancient civilizations.

Grave robbing and smuggling have long troubled Egypt. Looting of ancient Egyptian artifacts escalated during the 2011 revolution, and the country has lost an estimated $3 billion to illegal smuggling since then, according to the Antiquities Coalition, an American nonprofit that tracks the looting and trafficking of antiquities.

“So long as there is a demand for looted and stolen artifacts, thieves and traffickers are going to find the supply,” said Tess Davis, the coalition’s executive director. “It’s impossible to police all of the country all of the time.”

Some stolen bits of history are finding their way home. Earlier this month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it would return to Egypt a gilded coffin that belonged to a priest named Nedjemankh, dated to the 1st century B.C. It was purchased in 2017 from an art dealer in Paris for $4 million. Bogus papers claimed it had been exported out of Egypt legally, when it had in fact been looted in 2011.


A 2,000‑year‑old cactus spine tattoo tool discovered by WSU archaeologist Andrew Gillreath‑Brown. Archaeologists have discovered the oldest tattooing artifact in western North America.

With a handle of skunkbush and a cactus‑spine business end, the tool was made around 2,000 years ago by the Ancestral Pueblo people of the Basketmaker II period in what is now southeastern Utah. Andrew Gillreath‑Brown, an anthropology PhD candidate, chanced upon the pen‑sized instrument while taking an inventory of archaeological materials that had been sitting in storage for more than 40 years.

His discovery pushes back the earliest evidence of tattooing in western North America by more than a millennium and gives scientists a rare glimpse into the lives of a prehistoric people whose customs and culture have largely been forgotten. Tattooing is an artform and mode of expression common to many indigenous cultures worldwide. However, little is known about when or why the practice began. This is especially the case in places like the southwestern United States, where no tattoos have been identified on preserved human remains and there are no ancient written accounts of the practice.

Previously, bundled and hafted, or handled, cactus spine tattoo tools from Arizona and New Mexico provided the best archaeological examples of early tattoo implements from the Southwest. The earliest of these have been dated to between AD 1100‑1280. So when Gillreath‑Brown came across a very similar looking implement from a site in Utah that is 1,000 years older, he knew he had found something special.

The tool consists of a 3 ½ inch wooden skunkbush sumac handle bound at the end with split yucca leaves and holding two parallel cactus spines, stained black at their tips. “The residue staining from tattoo pigments on the tip was what immediately piqued my interest as being possibly a tattoo tool,” Gillreath‑Brown said.

Encouraged by Aaron Deter‑Wolf, a friend and co‑author of the study who has done studies on ancient tattooing and edited several books on the subject, Gillreath‑Brown analyzed the tips with a scanning electron microscope, X‑ray florescence and energy dispersive ray spectroscopy. For good measure, he did several test tattoos using a replica on pig skin. He saw the crystalline structure of pigment and determined it likely contained carbon, a common element in body painting and tattooing.


CHUKOTKA, RUSSIA—Haaretz reports that ancient obsidian tools have been found at a Mesolithic site in the Arctic Circle by a team of researchers led by Vladimir Pitulko of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Pitulko said the small settlement on what is now Zhokhov Island was inhabited by 25 to 50 people of the paleo-Arctic Sumnagin cultural complex, who hunted, fished, and lived in reindeer-skin tents. The small number of volcanic glass tools, found among some 19,000 stone tools and other objects made of antler, mammoth ivory, and bone, have been dated to between 8,000 and 9,000 years ago, when sea levels were lower and the island was still connected to mainland Siberia.

Chemical analysis of the obsidian indicates it came from the Lake Krasnoye region, more than 1,000 miles away from the site. Pitulko and his colleagues suggest the obsidian could have been carried by traders traveling by dogsled, since traces of wooden sleds, and the remains of dogs who would have weighed around 55 pounds—the size of dog used to pull sleds today because they have sufficient strength but are not so large that they overheat—have also been recovered on the island.