Archaeologists Rescue Huge Iron Age Cemetery from Road Project

Archaeologists in Armenia are conducting a rescue excavation of a huge Iron Age cemetery in a regional capital of the ancient kingdom of Urartu. Discovered two years ago during construction of the nation's North-South Highway, the site, located near the Armenian capital city of Yerevan, holds hundreds of graves and perhaps 1500 people.

Because the government-funded highway project is a major investment for Armenia, meant to connect the entire country and bolster the Eurasian trade corridor, the archaeologists have little time to excavate—just six months, and one month has already passed. 

The 50-hectare necropolis was located in an Iron Age city called Teishebaini. Among the finds unearthed so far are several skeletons with elaborate grave goods, as Armen Martirosian, an anthropologist (and medical doctor) working at the site, describes in a first-person account on Facebook. Of excavating the remains of a person the team has nicknamed Ligo, he writes:

After a great deal of delicate excavation, a small tap on the remaining dirt keeping Ligo’s skull in place was enough to free his skull and have it roll into my waiting hand. For the first time in 2600 years or so, Ligo, a warrior from the Late Iron Age kingdom in the modern Republic of Armenia known as Urartu, was back above ground. How he died still remains a mystery, but the tomb that housed him for well over two and a half millennia certainly contains a host of information of his life and times. In addition to his tomb’s co-occupant, he was buried with an iron dagger, a small iron knife, an iron quiver with iron arrowhead, two bronze plaques the size of a pack of cards, probably attached to some kind of military uniform, a number of ceramic vessels, and what appeared to be a sacrificed lamb above both his and Rigo’s heads. From the wear on his teeth, he appeared to be in his mid 20s, with an estimated height, based on his femur and vertebrae, to be 175cm. As the on-site anthropologist on the archaeological team, my role is but one of many in uncovering the history of Armenia. These individuals were not just strangers reverting to dust, but ancestors of many of the people of the Trans-Caucasus, particularly Armenians.  

The kingdom of Urartu is mentioned in Assyrian sources as far back as the 13th century BCE. It was located in a mountainous region southeast of the Black Sea and spanned what is today Armenia, eastern Turkey (home to its capital city, Van), and northwest Iran. Urartu was at its most powerful in the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. While historically it's been thought that Armenians replaced the Urartians in the 6th century BCE, some say that recent genetic evidence backs up the idea that Armenians and other modern-day people living in the region are actually their descendants.

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Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Utility Workers May Have Found One of Rome’s First Churches
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

The remains of what may have been one of Rome’s earliest Christian churches were accidentally discovered along the Tiber River during construction, The Local reports. The four-room structure, which could have been built as early as the 1st century CE, was unearthed by electrical technicians who were laying cables along the Ponte Milvio.

The newly discovered structure next to the river
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

No one is sure what to make of this “archaeological enigma shrouded in mystery,” in the words of Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency. Although there’s no definitive theory as of yet, experts have a few ideas.

The use of colorful African marble for the floors and walls has led archaeologists to believe that the building probably served a prestigious—or perhaps holy—function as the villa of a noble family or as a Christian place of worship. Its proximity to an early cemetery spawned the latter theory, since it's common for churches to have mausoleums attached to them. Several tombs were found in that cemetery, including one containing the intact skeleton of a Roman man.

Marble flooring
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

A tomb
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma1

The walls are made of brick, and the red, green, and beige marble had been imported from Sparta (Greece), Egypt, and present-day Tunisia, The Telegraph reports.

As The Local points out, it’s not all that unusual in Rome for archaeological discoveries to be made by unsuspecting people going about their day. Rome’s oldest aqueduct was found by Metro workers, and an ancient bath house and tombs were found during construction on a new church.

[h/t The Local]

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Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Scientists Just Found the Oldest Known Piece of Bread
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen
Alexis Pantos, University of Copenhagen

An old, charred piece of long-forgotten flatbread has captured the interest of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians around the world. Found in a stone fireplace in Jordan’s Black Desert, this proto-pita dates back 14,400 years, making it the oldest known example of bread, Reuters reports.

To put the significance of this discovery in context: the flatbread predates the advent of agriculture by 4000 years, leading researchers to theorize that the laborious process of making the bread from wild cereals may have inspired early hunter-gatherers to cultivate grain and save themselves a whole lot of trouble.

“We now have to assess whether there was a relationship between bread production and the origins of agriculture,” Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, a researcher with the University of Copenhagen, told Reuters. “It is possible that bread may have provided an incentive for people to take up plant cultivation and farming, if it became a desirable or much-sought-after food.”

A report on these findings—written by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London, and University of Cambridge—was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It was once thought that bread was an invention of early farming civilizations. A 9100-year-old piece of bread from Turkey was previously regarded as the oldest of its kind. However, the Jordanian flatbread was made by a group of hunter-gatherers called the Natufians, who lived during a transitional period from nomadic to sedentary ways of life, at which time diets also started to change.

Similar to a pita, this unleavened bread was made from wild cereals akin to barley, einkorn, and oats. These were “ground, sieved, and kneaded prior to cooking,” according to a statement from the University of Copenhagen. The ancient recipe also called for tubers from an aquatic plant, which Arranz-Otaegui described as tasting “gritty and salty."

[h/t Reuters]

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