archaeological city

Stunning mosaics shed light on enigmatic past of Roman city in southern France

Archaeologists have unearthed part of an ancient Roman city in southern France, known as Ucetia. To date, the settlement had only be known by name, and this is the first time that some of its impressive features have come to light.

The excavations began in October 2016 at the request of the French state, after local authorities bought land near the modern-day city of Uzes (near Nimes) to build a boarding school and a canteen. A team led by Philippe Cayn from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) excavated the 4,000m sq site, to make sure construction works wouldn’t destroy any major artefacts. In the process, the researchers shed a light on the mysterious past of the Roman city of Ucetia.

“Prior to our work, we knew that there had been a Roman city called Ucetia only because its name was mentioned on stela in Nimes, alongside 11 other names of Roman towns in the area. Read more.

reuters.com
Archaeologists discover Aztec ball court in heart of Mexico City
The remains of a major Aztec temple and a ceremonial ball court have been discovered in downtown Mexico City, shedding new light on the sacred spaces of the metropolis that Spanish conquerors overran five centuries ago, archaeologists said on Wednesday.

Raul Barrera, an archaeologist from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) speaks to the media about new Aztec discoveries including the main temple of the wind god Ehecatl, a major deity, as well as an adjacent ritual ball court, located just off the Zocalo plaza in the heart of downtown Mexico City, Mexico June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Raul Barrera, an archaeologist from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) shows to the media a new Aztec discovery a ritual ball court, during a tour of the area, located just off the Zocalo plaza in the heart of downtown Mexico City, Mexico June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

A new Aztec discovery of the remains of the main temple of the wind god Ehecatl, a major deity, is seen during a tour of the area, located just off the Zocalo plaza in the heart of downtown Mexico City, Mexico June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Diego Prieto, director of the Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) speaks to the media during a news conference about new Aztec discoveries including the main temple of the wind god Ehecatl, a major deity, as well as an adjacent ritual ball court, located just off the Zocalo plaza in the heart of downtown Mexico City, Mexico June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

A new Aztec discovery of the remains of the main temple of the wind god Ehecatl, a major deity, is seen during a tour of the area, located just off the Zocalo plaza in the heart of downtown Mexico City, Mexico June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

A model of the major structures of the ceremonial precinct of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, including the temple to the wind god and ball court, as seen outside the ruins of the Templo Mayor in downtown Mexico City, Mexico June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

A new Aztec discovery of the remains of the main temple of the wind god Ehecatl, a major deity, is seen during a tour of the area, located just off the Zocalo plaza in the heart of downtown Mexico City, Mexico June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Raul Barrera, an archaeologist from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) speaks to the media about new Aztec discoveries including the main temple of the wind god Ehecatl, a major deity, as well as an adjacent ritual ball court, located just off the Zocalo plaza in the heart of downtown Mexico City, Mexico June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, an archaeologist from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) speaks to the media during a news conference about new Aztec discoveries including the main temple of the wind god Ehecatl, a major deity, as well as an adjacent ritual ball court, located just off the Zocalo plaza in the heart of downtown Mexico City, Mexico June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

The remains of a major Aztec temple and a ceremonial ball court have been discovered in downtown Mexico City, shedding new light on the sacred spaces of the metropolis that Spanish conquerors overran five centuries ago, archaeologists said on Wednesday.

The discoveries were made on a nondescript side street just behind the city’s colonial-era Roman Catholic cathedral off the main Zocalo plaza on the grounds of a 1950s-era hotel.

The underground excavations reveal a section of what was the foundation of a massive, circular-shaped temple dedicated to the Aztec wind god Ehecatl and a smaller part of a ritual ball court, confirming accounts of the first Spanish chroniclers to visit the Aztec imperial capital, Tenochtitlan.

“Due to finds like these, we can show actual locations, the positioning and dimensions of each one of the structures first described in the chronicles,” said Diego Prieto, head of Mexico’s main anthropology and history institute.

Archaeologists also detailed a grisly offering of 32 severed male neck vertebrae discovered in a pile just off the court.

“It was an offering associated with the ball game, just off the stairway,” said archaeologist Raul Barrera. “The vertebrae, or necks, surely came from victims who were sacrificed or decapitated.”

Some of the original white stucco remains visible on parts of the temple, built during the 1486-1502 reign of Aztec Emperor Ahuizotl, predecessor of Moctezuma, who conquistador Hernan Cortes toppled during the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

Early Spanish accounts relate how a young Moctezuma played against an elderly allied king on the court and lost, which was taken as sign that the Aztec Empire’s days were numbered.

The building would have stood out because of its round shape among the several dozen other square temples that dominated the Aztecs’ most sacred ceremonial space before the 1521 conquest.

Aztec archaeologist Eduardo Matos said the top of the temple was likely built to resemble a coiled snake, with priests entering though a doorway made to look like a serpent’s nose.

Once excavations finish, a museum will be built on the site, rubbing shoulders with modern buildings in the capital.

Mexico City, including its many colonial-era structures with their own protections, was built above the razed ruins of the Aztec capital, and more discoveries are likely, Matos said.

“We’ve been working this area for nearly 40 years, and there’s always construction of some kind … and so we take advantage of that and get involved,” he said.

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The Sanctuary of Isis in the Ancient Greek city of Dion which is located at the foot of Mount Olympus. A place of magic and wonderful vibes where nature and human intervention were meant to become one.

Photos: Vera Bousiou

Archaeologists discover Aztec ball court in heart of Mexico City

The remains of a major Aztec temple and a ceremonial ball court have been discovered in downtown Mexico City, shedding new light on the sacred spaces of the metropolis that Spanish conquerors overran five centuries ago, archaeologists said on Wednesday.

The discoveries were made on a nondescript side street just behind the city’s colonial-era Roman Catholic cathedral off the main Zocalo plaza on the grounds of a 1950s-era hotel.

The underground excavations reveal a section of what was the foundation of a massive, circular-shaped temple dedicated to the Aztec wind god Ehecatl and a smaller part of a ritual ball court, confirming accounts of the first Spanish chroniclers to visit the Aztec imperial capital, Tenochtitlan. Read more.

nature.com
Collapse of Aztec society linked to catastrophic salmonella outbreak
DNA of 500-year-old bacteria is first direct evidence of an epidemic — one of humanity's deadliest — that occurred after Spanish conquest.

One of the worst epidemics in human history, a sixteenth-century pestilence that devastated Mexico’s native population, may have been caused by a deadly form of salmonella from Europe, a pair of studies suggest.

In one study, researchers say they have recovered DNA of the stomach bacterium from burials in Mexico linked to a 1540s epidemic that killed up to 80% of the country’s native inhabitants. The team reports its findings in a preprint posted on the bioRxiv server on 8 February1.

This is potentially the first genetic evidence of the pathogen that caused the massive decline in native populations after European colonization, says Hannes Schroeder, an ancient-DNA researcher at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen who was not involved in the work. “It’s a super-cool study.”

Dead bodies and ditches

In 1519, when forces led by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés arrived in Mexico, the native population was estimated at about 25 million. A century later, after a Spanish victory and a series of epidemics, numbers had plunged to around 1 million.

The largest of these disease outbreaks were known as cocoliztli (from the word for ‘pestilence’ in Nahuatl, the Aztec language). Two major cocoliztli, beginning in 1545 and 1576, killed an estimated 7 million to 18 million people living in Mexico’s highland regions.

“In the cities and large towns, big ditches were dug, and from morning to sunset the priests did nothing else but carry the dead bodies and throw them into the ditches,” noted a Franciscan historian who witnessed the 1576 outbreak.

There has been little consensus on the cause of cocoliztli — although measles, smallpox and typhus have all been mooted. In 2002, researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City proposed that a viral haemorrhagic fever, exacerbated by a catastrophic drought, was behind the carnage2. They compared the magnitude of the 1545 outbreak to that of the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe.

Bacterial genomics

In an attempt to settle the question, a team led by evolutionary geneticist Johannes Krause at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, extracted and sequenced DNA from the teeth of 29 people buried in the Oaxacan highlands of southern Mexico. All but five were linked to a cocoliztli that researchers think ran from 1545 to 1550.

Ancient bacterial DNA recovered from several of the people matched that of Salmonella, based on comparisons with a database of more than 2,700 modern bacterial genomes.

Further sequencing of short, damaged DNA fragments from the remains allowed the team to reconstruct two genomes of a Salmonella enterica strain known as Paratyphi C. Today, this bacterium causes enteric fever, a typhus-like illness, that occurs mostly in developing countries. If left untreated, it kills 10–15% of infected people.

It’s perfectly reasonable that the bacterium could have caused this epidemic, says Schroeder. “They make a really good case.” But María Ávila-Arcos, an evolutionary geneticist at UNAM, isn’t convinced. She notes that some people suggest that a virus caused the cocoliztli, and that wouldn’t have been picked up by the team’s method.

The question of origin

Krause and his colleagues’ proposal is helped by another study posted on bioRxiv last week, which raises the possibility that Salmonella Paratyphi C arrived in Mexico from Europe3.

A team led by Mark Achtman, a microbiologist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK, collected and sequenced the genome of the bacterial strain from the remains of a young woman buried around 1200 in a cemetery in Trondheim, Norway. It is the earliest evidence for the now-rare Salmonella strain, and proof that it was circulating in Europe, according to the study. (Both teams declined to comment on their research because their papers have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.)

“Really, what we’d like to do is look at both strains together,” says Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary biologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. And if more ancient genomes can be collected from Europe and the Americas, it should be possible to find out more conclusively whether deadly pathogens such as Salmonella arrived in the New World from Europe.

The existence of Salmonella Paratyphi C in Norway 300 years before it appeared in Mexico doesn’t prove that Europeans spread enteric fever to native Mexicans, says Schroeder, but that hypothesis is reasonable. A small percentage of people infected with Salmonella Paratyphi C carry the bacterium without falling ill, so apparently healthy Spaniards could have infected Mexicans who lacked natural resistance.

Paratyphi C is transmitted through faecal material, and a collapse of social order during the Spanish conquest might have led to the poor sanitary conditions that are ripe for Salmonella spread, Krause and his team note in the paper.

Krause’s study offers a blueprint for identifying the pathogens behind ancient outbreaks, says Schroeder. His own team plans to look for ancient pathogens in Caribbean burial sites that seem to be linked to catastrophic outbreaks, and that were established after the Europeans arrived. “The idea that some of them might have been caused by Salmonella is now a distinct possibility,” he says.

Archaeologists in Ethiopia uncover ancient city in Harlaa

A forgotten city thought to date back as far as the 10th century AD has been uncovered by a team of archaeologists in eastern Ethiopia.

Artefacts from Egypt, India and China have been found in the city in the Harlaa region.

The archaeologists also uncovered a 12th Century mosque which is similar to those found in Tanzania and Somaliland.

Archaeologists says this proves historic connections between different Islamic communities in Africa.

“This discovery revolutionises our understanding of trade in an archaeologically neglected part of Ethiopia. What we have found shows this area was the centre of trade in that region,” lead archaeologist Professor Timothy Insoll from the University of Exeter said. Read more.

bbc.com
Aztec tower of human skulls uncovered in Mexico City - BBC News
The skulls found in Mexico City are only a fraction of those Spanish soldiers encountered in 1521.

Tales of the tower of skulls which struck fear into the hearts of Spanish conquistadors have been passed down through the generations in Mexico.

Said to be the heads of defeated warriors, contemporary accounts describe tens of thousands of skulls looming over the soldiers - a reminder of what would happen if they did not conquer territory.

For the next 500 years, the skulls lay undisturbed underneath what was once the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, but is now Mexico City.

Until, that is, a group of archaeologists began the painstaking work of uncovering their secrets two years ago.

What they found has shocked them, because in among the skulls of the young men are those of women and children - bringing into question everything historians thought they knew.

“We were expecting just men, obviously young men, as warriors would be, and the thing about the women and children is that you’d think they wouldn’t be going to war,” Rodrigo Bolanos, a biological anthropologist investigating the find, told news agency Reuters.

“Something is happening that we have no record of, and this is really new, a first.”

So far, archaeologists have found 676 skulls in a site next to Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, which was built over the Templo Mayor, one of the most important Aztec temples.

Its base has yet to be uncovered, and it is thought many more skulls will be found.

They are believed to form part of the Huey Tzompantli, a skull rack some 60 metres (200ft) in diameter which stood on the corner of the chapel of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of the sun, war and human sacrifice.

Archaeologists have no doubt it is one of the racks, or tzompantli, described by soldier Andres de Tapia, who accompanied Hernan Cortes in the 1521 conquest of Mexico.

Cortes landed at Veracruz, on Mexico’s east coast, in 1519. Two years later, allied with other native forces, Cortes’ men captured the Aztec capital.

2

Lt. Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was a British officer and archaeologist who mysteriously disappeared in 1925 during an expedition to uncover an ancient lost city in the jungle of Brazil. Fawcett first encountered the city, which he referred to as the Lost City of Z, in a cryptic document known as Manuscript 512 which described an enigmatic Grecian city hidden deep in the heart of the Amazonian jungle. On May 29th, 1925, Fawcett, with his son Jack and their companion Raleigh Rimell, departed into the jungle and were never seen again. 

The fate of Fawcett and his party remains unknown. Some believe that they were killed by indigenous people such as the Kalapalo, who were the last people to see them alive. Others believe that they died of natural causes, as many members of the party were ill the last time they were seen. Still others speculate that Fawcett and his party were held captive and lived out the rest of their lives with the Kalapalo people.

Considered one of the world’s greatest explorers at the time, Fawcett’s life and journeys inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write his 1912 novel The Lost World. Since his disappearance in 1925, over 100 would-be rescuers and explorers have disappeared in the Amazon in an attempt to discover the truth about really happened to Fawcett and his expedition.