Song, dance, drink, and sex marked many a New Year celebration in antiquity, according to archaeologists digging at the Mut Temple in Luxor, where they discovered a column dating to the reign of Hatshepsut (1473-1458 B.C.) with text describing the Festival of Drunkenness. Though the event is known to date to the Middle Kingdom, this is the first time it has been identified in temple architecture that predates Ptolemaic times.
Asia & the Pacific
Until recently, archaeologists had been hard pressed to explain how a domesticated variant of a bottle gourd species native to Africa showed up at ancient sites from the mid-Atlantic to Peru. Now, comparison of DNA from modern bottle gourds with that from gourds recovered at archaeological sites in the Americas suggests that they were first brought over from Asia around 10,000 years ago.
Anticipating the find to rival the terra-cotta warriors of Xian, Chinese heritage officials are moving forward with plans to excavate an 800-year-old cargo ship off the coast of Guangdong Province. The 80-foot-long vessel, intact and upright in 60 feet of water, is believed to contain up to 70,000 artifacts, including early Southern Song Dynasty (A.D. 1127-1279) porcelain. A salvage vessel designed to raise the ship in one piece is currently under construction.
Nero's spectacular Domus Aurea (Golden House), reopened to the public in 1999 after a 21-year-long restoration, is in danger of collapse and will be closed for at least two years, according to Italian cultural officials. Recent heavy rain has weakened the 2,000-year-old brick and plaster walls and ceilings.
Currents that run through the Solent, an ancient valley that now serves as a channel between mainland England and the Isle of Wight, are scouring clean a unique underwater settlement, archaeologists warn. Scholars are eager to excavate the remains of a wooden structure, radiocarbon dated to 6000 B.C., and an adjacent pit containing burnt flint that researchers believe may be an oven or hearth. The settlement--the only one of its kind in the U.K.-- has been preserved under silt for millennia but now may disappear within a few years.
Near & Middle East
See "Insider: The Osthoff Affair."
Hot Spot: While Jewish groups have long complained of illegal digging and destruction of artifacts on the Temple Mount by Muslim religious authorities, Jerusalem's top Muslim cleric is now accusing the Israeli government of excavating beneath the mount to undermine the site, calling the archaeological work an "aggression." The Israel Antiquities Authority insists that no projects are being conducted in the vicinity of the Temple Mount.
Calling the assault "Shock and Awe in the fourth millennium," archaeologists have found evidence of a siege that destroyed one of the earliest cities in the world, making it one of the first examples of large-scale warfare. The 10-foot-tall mud walls of the 5,500-year-old northern Mesopotamian city of Hamoukar had been bombarded with sling bullets and eventually collapsed in a fire. Artifacts of daily life were found where fleeing inhabitants dropped them. The aggressors may have been from the Uruk-dominated south.
The Bronx may be up, but the Battery's definitely down. Archaeologists found a 45-foot-long stone wall beneath Manhattan's Battery Park that may be part of the seventeenth-century fort that gave the area its name. Unearthed by workers digging a subway tunnel extension, the wall may have been first built by Dutch settlers around a bank of cannons and then improved on by English colonists. Pottery, a 1744 King George II halfpenny, pipe fragments, and a pewter medallion were also found.