World news: discoveries at Fayum and Vulci

A round-up of some of latest archaeology news from around the world.

Funerary portraits found at Fayum

At Gerza in Fayum, Egypt, excavations (ongoing since 2016) have revealed a large funerary building dating to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. A number of rock-cut and stone-lined burial chambers were discovered inside, which contained a number of interments displaying a wide range of burial practices. Archaeologists believe these differences may represent the various economic statuses of the individuals buried there.

Image: Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, photo by Mohamed Samah, APNEP

The most significant find, however, was a number of painted panels known as ‘Fayum portraits’ – naturalistic portraits of high-status people dating to the Roman period in Egypt. It is believed these are the first such portraits to be discovered since Flinders Petrie found a large number during his excavations at Hawara (also in Fayum) in the late 19th/early 20th century.

Elucidating the social organisation of Neanderthals

Recent genetic analysis of two assemblages of Neanderthal remains has shed new light on their social organisation. Extracting aDNA from 11 individuals found at Chagyrskaya Cave and two from Okladnikov Cave, both in the foothills of the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia, researchers found that, while the individuals from Okladnikov Cave were not closely related to each other, the individuals from Chagyrskaya Cave were.

In particular, they were able to identify a father and his teenage daughter, as well as a pair of second-degree relatives, indicating that these individuals were probably all from the same social group.

Overall, based on the low levels of genetic diversity, it is likely that the group consisted of around 20 individuals, while the greater diversity seen in the mitochondrial DNA (inherited from the mother) versus the Y-chromosome DNA (inherited from the father) suggests that females were the ones to leave their communities and males stayed. The full results were recently published in Nature:

Second temple found in Vulci

Archaeologists from the Vulci Cityscape project have uncovered a second temple in the Etruscan city of Vulci, Italy. It was first found through geophysical survey in 2020, but recent excavations have revealed its foundations and a number of Etruscan artefacts.

Unusually, the temple is located just to the west of the Tempio Grande, which was excavated at Vulci in the 1950s, with the two temples similar in size, alignment, and date (both appear to have been built during the Archaic period in the late 6th/early 5th centuries BC). It is hoped post-excavation analysis will provide a more specific chronology of the newly discovered temple, and help to shed light on its use over time.