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Wednesday, December 12
by Jessica E. Saraceni

An ancient terraced landscape in the Palestinian village of Battir, located near Bethlehem, is expected to be declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. But environmentalists and Israel’s nature and parks authority say that the planned route of the security barrier, right through a valley between the terraces, will destroy it. According to Gidon Bromberg of Friends of the Earth Middle East, this agricultural landscape is “one of the earliest examples of terraced agriculture, and continues today in basically the same state. Around half a billion stones were collected generation after generation, repaired after every winter season, expanded over time.”

A basilica said to date to the era of Constantine the Great (306 to 337 A.D.) has been unearthed near the West Gate of ancient Serdica, now modern Sofia, Bulgaria. The basilica was adorned with mosaics, but further excavation of the building may not be possible because of its location. A second-century Roman wall, a fifth-century gate, and a sixth-century tower have also been found at the site, which will become a public park.

A section of Roman road has been uncovered in the medieval undercroft at England’s York Minster by a team from the York Archaeological Trust. The road, thought to be part of the Via Quintana, probably ran behind the original Roman basilica. York was a major Roman military and economic hub from the first through fifth centuries.

Local Syrian groups  have been using social networking sites to publish pictures and videos of damage from tanks, military emplacements, and shelling to the country’s archaeological ruins. Graduate student Emma Cunliffe of the University of Durham, who has studied Syrian archaeological sites with satellite imagery, has been monitoring the new information daily and compiling a list of the plundered and mutilated heritage sites. “There will be a record of damage–it will be a place to start. A lot of these are going to provide very necessary tourist revenue,” she explained.

Development of a property once owned by Yarrow Mamout, a prominent African-American in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., has been delayed. Yarrow, as he is known, may have been buried on the property after his death in 1823. The current house on the property was built in the 1850s, although researcher James H. Johnston thinks it may have been built on the foundations of Yarrow’s home. “If you dig, you might find items from [Yarrow’s] time period,” he said.

Following clues in historic documents, archaeologists and their students from the University of Kentucky have found evidence of a Roman settlement in northern Italy, and a possible prehistoric site beneath it, using ground-penetrating radar and a magnetometer. “We had 500 years of information that was all scattered and never really put together or even looked at by scientists, which included some very detailed manuscript information by eyewitnesses who actually saw the Roman town on two different occasions when it was uncovered by flooding,” said archaeologist Paola Visonà.

Tuesday, December 11
by Jessica E. Saraceni

Sediment cores taken near the mouth of the Tiber River have revealed the location of Ostia’s harbor. Located to the northwest of the ancient port city, the harbor was as deep as a seaport in order to receive ships carrying wheat for Rome’s citizens. This oldest part of the city, where an imperial palace has also been found, dates to the fourth century B.C. Flooding of the Tiber during the imperial period silted up the harbor and closed the port. Archaeologists now want to know how ships carried goods to Rome for the 25 years between the closing of the port and Ostia and the construction of Portus, a new harbor to the south of the city.

Italian researchers say they have found evidence of habitation by both Neanderthals and modern humans in the caves of Roccia San Sebastiano, which overlook the Tyrrhenian Sea, near Naples. The earliest archaeological layers in the cave are 40,000 years old, and they yielded Neanderthal tools and a tooth lost by a Neanderthal child.

A carnyx, a long, slender trumpet-like instruments decorated with an animal’s head, was recently reassembled from fragments of iron and bronze objects that had been buried in a pit in Tintignac, France. “These items were deliberately damaged so that they could not be used again by mere mortals,” explained Christophe Maniquet of the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research. An instrument maker was able to examine the result and fashion a new carnyx out of brass so that modern researchers could play and hear the instrument for the first time.

Forensic scientist Susan Hayes of the University of Wollongong has constructed a “facial approximation” for a 30-year-old female “Hobbit,”  based upon the 18,000-year-old remains that were recovered from Liang Bua Cave on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. “She’s taken me a bit longer than I’d anticipated, has caused more than a few headaches along the way, but I’m pleased with both the methodological development and the final results,” she said. The controversial fossils were named Homo floresiensis, followed by vigorous debates over whether or not the three-foot-tall adults signified a separate species of early humans. In 2007, Matthew Tocheri of the National Museum of Natural History found that Homo floresiensis wrist bones match those of non-human apes. And in 2009, Dean Falk of Florida State University wrote,” It’s not just that their brains are small; they’re differently shaped. It’s its own species.”


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