Thirty-six men, women, and children may have been massacred 4,000 years ago in the Nile Delta city of Mendes, where archaeologists found their bodies beneath the foundation of a temple linked to Ramesses II. The bodies were carelessly dumped at the site, and eventually were buried beneath debris when a nearby structure burned down. The violence may have been linked to the collapse of the Old Kingdom between 2250 and 2150 B.C.
Asia & the Pacific
The discovery of a 4,300-year-old observatory confirms historical accounts of astronomers in the country studying the heavens as early as 2400 B.C., say Chinese archaeologists. The packed-earth observation platform, 120 feet in diameter, was discovered in Linfen, Shanxi Province.
Mum's the word on a "significant archaeological site" found in a lava-tube cave at a luxury housing development on the Big Island. Archaeologists, Native Hawaiians, and the developers are all being mysteriously hush-hush about artifacts said to be at least 50 and likely more than 100 years old; one archaeologist said he had "never seen anything like this" in his 37-year career. For now, the cave has been sealed and is under 24-hour guard.
Scientists are getting a better grip on the burial practices of the Lapita, the first settlers of eastern Polynesia. A 3,000-year-old cemetery in Teouma--the oldest in the Pacific--contains the remains of 25 individuals, except for their skulls. Teeth were found scattered where the heads should be, indicating that the skulls were not removed before or soon after death but well after decomposition. For the first time, a skull has also been found, sealed in a pot and buried. Until the arrival of missionaries, the removal of the head of the deceased was common throughout the Pacific. The origins of this practice may lie with the Lapita.
Lima's oldest mummy, a Wari senior official who was decapitated about 1,300 years ago, was recently found at the Huaca Pucllana ceremonial complex. The headless mummy, found surrounded by textiles and food such as corn and beans, is of a man likely killed when the region's native Ichmas rose up against the Wari, who had conquered the area between A.D. 600 and 1000.
The skulls of three big cats unearthed at the Tower of London in the 1930s have been carbon-dated by scientists to as early as A.D. 1280, about a century after King John established the Royal Menagerie. The lion and leopard skulls are the only physical evidence from the early period of the bestiary, which held exotic creatures for some 600 years and at its height was a major tourist attraction. Lions, in particular, were seen as the embodiment of English royalty. The location of the menagerie itself has yet to be found.
Archaeologists are trying to solve a dark puzzle deep in a cave in the eastern Peloponnese, where more than 30 children and adults hid out some 1,400 years ago. Oil lamps, food and water containers, valuables, and a large Christian cross lead scholars to believe the people were prepared to stay in the caves for a length of time, but the skeletons indicate that the refugees--who were perhaps fleeing from the barbarian Avars--became trapped underground.
Rome's got crabs, say scientists after inspecting an ancient water channel beneath the Imperial Forum. A colony of more than 500 river crabs have moved in and are enjoying their clean water and safe environment so much that they have grown almost 50 percent larger than specimens found in Tuscany and Sicily. Archaeologists excavating the Forum must now find a way to work without disturbing the crabs.
The Curse of Ötzi? Molecular biologist Tom Loy, who analyzed the Iceman's DNA, passed away recently, making him the seventh person associated with the 5,000-year-old hunter to die. The tourist who discovered Ötzi in 1991, Helmut Simon, fell to his death near the find spot in October 2004. The head of the team that recovered Simon died of a heart attack an hour after Simon's funeral. Other casualties include the first archaeologist to inspect Ötzi, the mountaineer who led scientists to the remains, the man who filmed Ötzi's removal from the mountain, and a member of the Iceman's forensic team, who died in a car accident while on his way to give a lecture about Ötzi.
See "Insider: Fortunate Fire."
A highway-widening project has revealed the ferry crossing where, on a summer night in 1863, Harriet Tubman led Union gunboats up the Combahee River. Troops disembarked at the ferry and gave a prearranged signal for slaves to abandon nearby plantations. More than 700 slaves were freed, and Tubman became the first woman to lead an U.S. Army raid. Artifacts from the ferry lodge, including items likely burned during the raid, have been recovered, and more excavations are planned.
© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America