World news: Israel, Netherlands, and Spain

A round-up of some of the latest archaeology news from across the globe.

Ancient astragali in Israel

Archaeologists have unearthed an assemblage of 530 astragali, dice made from the ankle bones of sheep and goats, during excavations of a system of man-made caves beneath the ancient city of Maresha in southern Israel. Though these are common finds at Classical Mediterranean sites, there are few known examples of astragali from the Hellenistic Levant.

Image: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

Recent analysis of the assemblage, which mostly dates to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, has been published in the journal Levant ( The study found that many of the bones had been polished, shaved down, or perforated in order to improve the roll of the dice. Some featured Greek inscriptions of gaming instructions or the names of deities, most commonly Nike, goddess of victory; others had been engraved with symbols thought to be related to divination practices.

Roman sanctuary in the Netherlands

A Roman sanctuary built and inhabited by soldiers on the northern edge of the Roman empire from the 1st to late 3rd century AD has been uncovered during excavations in the Netherlands.

Archaeologists from RAAP Archaeological Consultancy discovered the site of Herwen-Hemeling in the province of Gelderland. There, they revealed the remains of at least two temples, both with vibrantly painted walls, and a stone staircase leading down to a large well. Coins, pottery, and parts of limestone statues were uncovered, along with fragments of armour, horse harnesses, and points of spears and lances, which suggest the site was almost exclusively used by the military. The excavations also identified hearth pits, which may have been used for sacrificial fires, as well as several exceptionally well-preserved votive stones or altars bearing inscriptions naming the high-ranking Roman officers who had dedicated them to their preferred deity. These inscriptions reveal that soldiers stationed at the complex had hailed from as far away as Italy and Africa.

Though the sanctuary cannot be preserved in situ, a 3D model of it will be created.

Earliest hominid in Europe?

At the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Atapuerca, in northern Spain, archaeologists have uncovered a maxilla (upper jawbone) that could be the earliest fossil of a human ancestor ever found in Europe. Atapuerca is noted for producing evidence of early human occupation, including what was previously the oldest known hominid fossil, discovered in Sima del Elefante in 2007 and dated to 1.2 million years ago. The maxilla was found at the same site, though from a layer c.2m deeper. Scientific dating is under way; however, researchers are confident that this find is older, even suggesting it could be c.1.4 million years old. Further analysis may also identify which hominid species the jawbone belonged to and so contribute to our understanding of early human evolution in Europe.