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Archaeologists uncover world’s first large-scale sand dune farm at Caesarea



A team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Bar Ilan University have uncovered a sand dune farm from the Middle Ages in Caesarea, Israel.

Situated on the coast of the Eastern Mediterranean in the Sharon Plain, Caesarea was an ancient city known as Caesarea Maritima during the Roman and Byzantine periods and a medieval city during the Arab and Crusader periods.

Caesarea was first settled during the 4th century BC as a Phoenician Colony, emerging as a major trading port during the 1st century BC under Hasmonean rule. During the Roman period, the city became the provincial capital of the Roman province of Judaea, Roman Syria Palaestina, and Byzantine Palaestina Prima.

Following the Muslim conquest of 640, the city fell under Arab rule during the 7th or 8th century AD. This period saw a gradual economic decline accompanied by the fleeing Christian aristocracy.

Caesarea was taken by Baldwin I in the wake of the First Crusade in 1101. Similar to the events that took place in Jerusalem in 1099, the Crusaders massacred a segment of the male population, enslaved women and children, and pillaged the city.

In 1187, Saladin succeeded in retaking the city, but it was later recaptured by the Europeans during the Third Crusade in 1191. Then, in 1251, Louis IX of France ordered the fortification of the city, which included the construction of high walls (some of which are still standing today) and a deep moat. Caesarea was finally lost in 1265 when it fell to the Mamluk armies of Sultan Baibars.

Recent excavations have uncovered an ancient farming system in the sand dunes adjacent to the city ruins. The area, dubbed “Caesarea Gardens”, is a large 1.5 square km area containing the world’s first large-scale sand dune farming.

Researchers have found 370 checkerboard crop plots containing marble fragments, coins, stones, ceramics and glass. The material was originally deposited as waste in landfills around Caesarea, which was then reused for berm construction to harness groundwater and enrich the soil.

According to the researchers, it would have taken hundreds of workers to transport the sand and reconfigure the dunes over a wide area for the Caesarea Gardens. Overall, they estimate that approximately one million workdays were invested in the agricultural project.

The team have found no evidence of archaeobotanical remains or agricultural waste, possibly due to the soil composition making it difficult to preserve plant remains. They suggest that the plots were likely used for the cultivation of vegetables, rather than orchards, cereal crops, or vineyards.

Sand dune farming was introduced to various regions including the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the Mediterranean coast, the Sahara, and the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula, as a result of Islamic expansion, however, the Caesarea Gardens were abandoned sometime by the Crusaders during the 12th century AD.

Header Image Credit : Yaakov Shmidov – Israel Antiquities Authority

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Nazca geoglyphs discovered used AI deep learning




Archaeologists from the Yamagata University have used AI deep learning to discover new geoglyphs in the northern part of the Nazca Pampa in the arid Peruvian coastal plain.

Geoglyphs in the Nazca Pampa were first identified during the 1920’s, with ongoing studies since the 1940’s revealing various figurative geoglyphs of zoomorphic designs, geometric shapes, and linear lines.

Geoglyphs can be categorised into three main types: figurative, geometric, and lineal. Archaeologists suggest that the lineal geoglyphs were created by the Nazca, a culture that developed during the Early Intermediate Period and is generally divided into the Proto Nazca (phase 1, 100 BC to AD 1), the Early Nazca (phases 2–4, AD 1 to 450), Middle Nazca (phase 5, AD 450 to 550) and the Late Nazca (phases 6–7, AD 550 to 750).

The relief type dates from the Late Formative period (400 to 200 BC), as the iconography of the geoglyphs are similar to that of Formative petroglyphs found on outcrops of rock. During this period, the region was inhabited by the Paracas Culture, an Andean people that emerged around 800 BC until 100 BC.

Since 2004, Yamagata University has been conducting geoglyph distribution surveys using satellite imagery, aerial photography, airborne scanning LiDAR, and drone photography to investigate the vast area of the Nazca Pampa covering more than 390 km2.

In 2016, the researchers used aerial photography with a ground resolution of 0.1 m per pixel to create a detailed survey of the region. Overtime, the team have identified various geoglyphs, however, the process is very time consuming, so they have adopted AI deep learning to analyse the photographs at a much faster rate.

The results of a study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, has revealed the discovery of four new Nazca geoglyphs using this new method by creating an approach to labelling training data that identifies a similar partial pattern between the known and new geoglyphs.

The four new geoglyphs depict a humanoid figure, a pair-of-legs, a fish, and a bird. The humanoid geoglyph is shown holding a club in his/her right hand and measures 5 metres in length. The fish geoglyph, shown with a wide-open mouth measures 19 metres, while the bird geoglyph measures 17 metres and the pair-of-legs 78 metres.

According to the study authors: “We have developed a DL pipeline that addresses the challenges that commonly arise in the task of archaeological image object detection. Our approach allows DL to learn representations of images with better generalisation and performance, enabling the discovery of targets that have been difficult to find in the past. Moreover, by accelerating the research process, our method contributes to archaeology by establishing a new paradigm that combines field surveys and AI, leading to more efficient and effective investigations.”

Yamagata University

Header Image Credit : Yamagata University

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Archaeologists study fortress in southern Georgia to understand community resilience




A team of archaeologists led by Cranfield University is conducting a detailed study of the fortress of Dmanisis Gora in the Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia.

The study is part of a project to understand why communities in the region were more resilient than other parts of the world during the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age around 1200 BC.

Dmanisis Gora is located at the north-eastern edge of the highland zone between two such gorges. The site consists of a compact defensive core that has two defensive walls with an enclosed area of 3.7 acres.

On the plateau behind the citadel area, a third wall, extending about 1000 m from edge to edge on the plateau, encloses a much larger area of about 138.3 acres that contains numerous circular and linear stone features.

During the so-called ‘12th Century BC crisis’ and its aftermath, the majority of Middle Eastern regions underwent a period of significant turmoil characterised by the disintegration of empires, famine, crop failures, armed conflicts, and mass migration.

In contrast, the Caucasus region (consisting of present-day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) appears to have been shielded from this tumultuous period, exhibiting only gradual transformations in material culture and patterns of settlement.

Either the region managed to entirely avoid the widespread disruption, or it did not experience the same cultural, economic, and political repercussions as other areas. This suggests that the communities in the region might have been more resilient, enabling them to withstand and adapt to the challenges in a comparatively effective manner.

Dr Erb-Satullo, from Cranfield University, said: “The key to understanding why the Bronze Age-Iron Age transition is different in the Caucasus is to study the fortress communities that dot the landscape during this period. We’re looking for clues about life in the Late Bronze Age through examining areas such as ceramics, burial rituals, farming practices, tools and social structures.”

“Given the upheaval at that time in other nearby regions, we are intrigued to find out more about one of these sites and determine what underlies their apparent resilience,” added Dr Erb-Satullo.

The project expands upon earlier pilot excavations carried out at the site prior to the pandemic, along with a thorough survey conducted in Autumn 2022 using drone-based photogrammetry. This is done by using the latest forensic technologies including isotopic analysis of animal remains, metallurgy, magnetometry and deploying drones to scan the area.

“What’s really exciting about this site is its size, preservation, and the fact that it has layers dating precisely to the years around the 12th Century BC crisis,” continued Dr Erb-Satullo. “Many fortresses are on hills which are prone to erosion. But this one has relatively flat topography, so the sediment will have built up in layers over time, helping to preserve artefacts and archaeological clues from the Late Bronze age.”

Cranfield University

Header Image Credit : BING Maps

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