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Tuesday, November 27

Using declassified spy satellite images from the 1960s, Jason Ur of Harvard University is mapping the ancient sites and landscapes in the area around Irbil, the capital of Kurdish northern Iraq. So far he’s identified 1,200 potential sites. “This type of work is not about excavating a specific area, but about trying to come up with a complete map of all the sites in a region and especially about being able to break it down by time, so we can see the growth and contraction of individual sites,” he said.

Botanist Jose Vouillamoz and biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern think that grape cultivation  and domestication began in southeastern Anatolia. Residues of tartaric acid, left behind by grapes, have been found on pottery throughout the Middle East, but in Anatolia, the residues date back to sometime between 5,000 and 8,500 B.C. Their DNA research has also shown that wild grapes in the region still have a close genetic link to local cultivated grapes. Hundreds of modern varieties of today’s wine grapes are descended from wild Anatolian grapes. “They are incredibly lucky to have this [genetic diversity]. It has been lost in many places,” said Vouillamoz.

Several trenches have been excavated by Australian archaeologists from the University of Sydney at the theater in Paphos, the ancient capital of Cyprus. The theater had been renovated five times in antiquity before it was built over during the medieval period. Investigators also found fragments of sculptures that decorated the theater’s stage and nymphaeum.

Three men accused of robbing Greece’s Olympia Museum  faced a prosecutor in the city of Patra today. Police cracked the case when one of the men tried to sell a 3,000-year-old gold ring from the museum to an undercover officer. The rest of the stolen artifacts had been buried in a village located near the museum. Greek authorities are still looking for two more suspects.

Scientists opened the tomb of Medici family member Giovanni dalle Bande Nere  and his wife, Maria Salviati, in Florence. A noted warrior, historical records indicate that Giovanni was shot in the thigh during a battle in 1526, then he died of an infection a few days after his damaged leg was amputated. An examination of his remains, however, shows that his upper legs were intact and only his lower legs had been removed. “The surgeon was not a good doctor or the news [that] reached us [is] not accurate,” commented Maro Ferri of the Superintendent of Fine Arts of Florentine Museums. Further tests on the bones are planned.

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