Saturday, October 08, 2016


A prehistoric stone panel said to be the 'most important in Europe' had been unearthed for the first time in more than 50 years in Clydebank (West Dunbartonshire, Scotland). The Cochno Stone dates to 3000 BCE and is described as one of the best examples of Neolithic or Bronze Age cup and ring markings in Europe.

Located next to a housing estate, the stone excavation work lasted three weeks and allowed archaeologists to use 3D-imaging technology to make a detailed digital record of the site.

Dr Kenny Brophy, from Glasgow University, who is leading the dig next to Cochno farm, said: "This is the biggest and, I would argue, one of the most important Neolithic art panels in Europe. The cup and ring marks are extensive but the site just happens to be in the middle of an urban housing scheme in Clydebank. It was last fully open to the elements and the public up until 1965. Sadly, as it was neglected it was also being damaged through vandalism and people just traipsing all over it." A trial excavation last year indicated modern graffiti is "probably extensive" over the stone's surface.

The joint project between the University of Glasgow archaeology department and the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation aims to produce also a lifesize copy of the 8m by 13m stone using the recorded digital data and historical sources, including the graffiti as well as the prehistoric surface.

The rock art panel has been reburied to protect the national treasure. "Perhaps in the future this site could be turned into a major tourist attraction in Scotland, with a visitor center, who knows," Brophy said.

Edited from BBC News (7 September 2016), PhysOrg (23 September 2016)
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One of Orkney's most popular ancient landmarks is to be closed to the public due to concerns over safety. Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has announced that Maes Howe, the biggest and most impressive of Orkney's Neolithic chambered cairns, will be shut down by the end of September,2016.

The site attracts around 25,000 visitors annually and the temporary closure has been ordered because of dangers in accessing the site, with visitors using its car park having to cross one of the Orkney mainland's busiest roads. HES has been monitoring safety issues relating to vehicle movements around the 5,000-year-old tomb, and concluded there are significant risks to staff and visitors that cannot currently be overcome. It has been decided that the site will close from 26 September, with staff being redeployed to other roles. Maes Howe will not reopen until the issues have been addressed

Dr David Mitchell, acting chief executive and director of conservation at HES, said: "This is not a decision we take lightly, but our primary focus must be the safety of our staff and visitor. The HES board recently considered a development proposal which looked at the site infrastructure. They wish to discuss the project further with Orkney Islands Council. This was a catalyst for us to reassess the risks associated with the site, and in consequence we have decided to effect a temporary site closure until the identified risk can be mitigated to a satisfactory level." He added: "In the longer term, we are absolutely committed to finding a long-term solution for this site and working with our partners to conserve and share the wonderful heritage assets in Orkney."

Edited from The Scotsman (8 September 2016)
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We know what Oetzi was wearing when he died more than 5,000 years ago. We know how many tattoos he had. Now scientists have recreated the "best possible approximation" of his voice.

Lead researcher Rolando Fuestoes explains: "We can't say we have reconstructed Oetzi's original voice, because we miss some crucial information from the mummy. But with two measurements, the length of both the vocal tract and the vocal cords, we have been able to recreate a fairly reliable approximation of the mummy's voice."

Oetzi was found by two German hikers in 1991, frozen and mummified in the Oetzal Alps in South Tyrol, and is Europe's oldest known natural mummy, providing researchers with an unprecedented glimpse into what life was like around 3,300 BCE, during the Copper Age.

Oetzi was murdered - he most likely died from an arrow wound to his shoulder. He was dressed in a mix of sheep, goat, and cow skins, and carried a deerskin quiver and a bearskin cap. His 61 tattoos have been studied in detail. By reconstructing his voice, researchers hope to gain more insight into what humans might have sounded like.

Francesco Avanzini, one of the researchers, says: "Of course, we don't know what language he spoke 5,000 years ago. But we should be able to recreate the timbre of his vowel sounds and, I hope, even create simulation of consonants."

They've now succeeded with the vowel reconstruction. CT scans were used to map Oetzi's internal structure, since MRI scans could have damaged the mummy. One difficulty is that Oetzi's arm is covering his throat, and the hyoid - or tongue-bone - is party absorbed and dislocated. The tension and density of the vocal cords and the thickness and composition of the throat tissue were simulated using mathematical models.

The team predicts that Oetzi's voice had a frequency between 100 and 150 Hz, which is similar to average males today.

Edited from Science Alert (22 September 2016)
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A three year project documenting, analyzing, and dating more than 200 rock art sites in the northwest Kimberley region of Western Australia has identified what may be the longest, most impressive rock art sequence anywhere in the world, challenging Western Europe as the location for the production of the world's earliest rock art.

Lead author and University of New England archaeologist Doctor June Ross says the new timeline for the beginning of rock art in Sulawesi in Indonesia around 39,000 years ago, together with evidence from excavations in Kimberley show that humans with sophisticated artistic skills settled along the northern coastline as early as 36,000 years ago.

Doctor Ross says that: "Our results demonstrate that at least some phases of Kimberley art are of great antiquity - and may date to a time when sea levels were lower, the continent was much larger and environmental conditions were more challenging - perhaps the oldest art is now submerged off the Kimberley coastline."

Using optically-stimulated luminescence applied to sand grains found within mud wasp nests, researchers were able to date when the artwork was created. Geochronologist Kira Westaway from Macquarie University says mud wasps stuck their nests onto many of the art motifs, and these became fossilized over time: "They build nests on top of the art using grains of sand that can be used for dating without damaging the art itself."

Cathy Goonack, Chair of the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation, said the rock art brings visitors from all around the world to the Mitchell Plateau. "They want to look at our art and hear our stories; now we've got a good science story that we can tell people as well. We'll also use this information to help us look after our art," she said.

Edited from Perth Now (31 August 2016)
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Archaeological investigations have been taking place since late last year across Sherford, a new town on the eastern edge of Plymouth, 300 kilometers southwest of London on the south coast of England.

A team from Wessex Archaeology discovered features such as roundhouses, which functioned as homes for large family groups in prehistoric farming communities. Artifacts found include a rare decorated bone weaving comb. The excavation also revealed two Early Bronze Age burial mounds dating to between 2400 and 1600 BCE - one of which contained the cremated remains of an individual, likely of high importance, in a decorated pottery vessel.

Notable recent finds includes flint work dating to 8500-4000 BCE, indicating that Neolithic hunters and gatherers thrived in the area long before the first communities arrived.

Archaeologist Andy Mayes calls the site: "one of the most fascinating large-scale archaeological projects we have worked on to date," adding that, "The prehistoric landscape of Devon is poorly understood, and our findings at Sherford have national significance, expanding our historic understanding of the local area."

Bill Horner, Devon County Archaeologist, says: "Developments of this size are very rare in Devon and it gives us a unique opportunity to look at archaeology on a landscape scale."

Edited from The Herald (13 September 2016)
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Monday, September 05, 2016


Recently discovered multiple assemblages of Homo erectus footprints in northern Kenya provide unique opportunities to understand our ancient ancestors. Using novel analytical techniques, researchers have demonstrated that the footprints preserve evidence of a modern human style of walking and a group structure consistent with human-like social behaviors.

Habitual bipedal motion is a defining feature of modern humans compared with other primates, and had profound effects on the biologies of our ancestors and relatives. There has been much debate over when and how a human-like bipedal gait first evolved, largely because of disagreements over how to infer biomechanics from skeletal shapes. Aspects of group structure and social behavior also distinguish humans from other primates, yet there is no consensus on how to detect these in the fossil or archaeological records.

In 2009, a set of 1.5-million-year-old hominin footprints was discovered near the town of Ileret, on the northeast shore of Lake Turkana, in the extreme northwest corner of Kenya - a trace fossil discovery of unprecedented scale for this time period, now extending to five distinct sites preserving a total of 97 tracks created by at least 20 different presumed Homo erectus individuals. Researchers found the shapes of these footprints indistinguishable from those of modern habitually barefoot people, most likely reflecting similar foot anatomies and mechanics.

Kevin Hatala, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and George Washington University, says: "Our analyses of these footprints provide some of the only direct evidence to support the common assumption that at least one of our fossil relatives at 1.5 million years ago walked in much the same way as we do today."

Based on experimentally derived estimates of body mass from the fossil tracks, the researchers have inferred the sexes of the individuals and, for the two most expansive excavated surfaces, developed hypotheses regarding the structure of the groups. For example, at each of these sites there is evidence of several adult males. Cooperation between males underlies many of the social behaviors that distinguish modern humans from other primates.

Edited from PhysOrg, Science Daily (12 July 2016)
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Sunday, September 04, 2016


Located on the Salisbury Island, which lie 60km off the southern coast of Western Australia, are a series of caves, which contain Aboriginal artifacts and is patrolled by sharks. Besides the archaeologists, traditional owners, abalone divers, and filmmakers have helped search for the archaeological artifacts.

David Guilfoyle, who works for Applied Archaeology Australia, is the leader of the project has that: "The present-day mainland is 60 kilometers to the north of the island, and has documented evidence of human occupation in granite caves, extending at least 13,000 years before present,î adding that "So we know people were living here when they could walk to this limestone ridge

The area around the island rises from between 80m to 100m above the flat coastal plan, and would have been a distinctive feature for the inhabitants of the region in the late Pleistocene period. At the height of the ice age 18,000 years ago the caves, which are now underwater, would have offered shelter for these people. However, in the modern period the area is almost patrolled by sharks, who feed on the local wildlife.

The research has been described by Doc Reynolds, a traditional owner and senior heritage director for the Esperance Tjaltjaak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation: "This place would have looked like Uluru in the red center of Australia, a massive feature surrounded by low, flat bush land and rocky outcrops. It would have drawn my ancestors here for the many resources it provided. From an Aboriginal perspective, it's been a mind-blowing cultural experience, to actually stand on an island that used to be joined to the mainland all those years ago, and you think that I may be the first Aboriginal person to stand on that island since."

Edited from ABC AU News (20 June 2016)
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For the past five years archaeologists have been tracking a series of rock art findings in north-central Chile’s Limari Valley. The experts involved say finding traces of the visual language used by the area’s inhabitants has been difficult; the paintings are highly deteriorated and cannot be identified with the naked eye. But with the help of digital technology including high-resolution cameras, tablets and specialized software, researchers have been able to detect the presence of paintings that time and erosion have almost erased.

The team of Chilean anthropologists and archaeologists found more than 150 paintings. They were probably created by hunter-gatherers between 2000 BC and 500 AD in the Coquimbo Region, an area south of the Atacama Desert that extends to about 400 kilometers north of the Chilean capital, Santiago.

During the study photos were taken of the target rocks and the resulting images were analyzed with DStretch software, which detects colors and patterns difficult to observe with the naked eye. "This program has algorithms predefined for working with rock art," says study leader Andres Troncoso, an archaeologist at the University of Chile.

"These new technologies are allowing us to account for a universe of representations that were poorly known because the conservation status of these paintings is bad," says Marcela Sepulveda, an archaeologist at the University of Tarapaca, who has done studies on rock art in northern Chile.

From the captured images, researchers singled out those from stones still bearing some sort of noticeable archaeological evidence such as pigment. They further considered designs consistent with rock art that was already known to be from the area and that had undoubtedly been produced by humans.

The newly discovered paintings consist mainly of lines, circles and squares of different colors. It is believed that the pigments were derived from locally available minerals, probably combined with animal fat. It remains unclear what tools were used to create their art. According to Troncoso the painters could have used brushes, fingers or a combination of both. But there is more certainty about the materials they used for each color: Red was made with hematite, green with copper, yellow with goethite and black with coal.

"We were lucky that the black paintings were made with coal," Troncoso says. Thanks to that, researchers were able to perform radiocarbon analysis to date the paintings more accurately. "If you look at the archaeological literature globally, there are very few absolute dates for rock art," he explains, emphasizing the importance of this finding.

The study results, published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, suggest that the paintings belong to different groups of pre-Hispanic inhabitants of the Limari area: people from the coastal area and others from the mountains. While the art produced by both communities has similarities—such as the absence of animal and human figures—the study concludes that the design composition and use of color is different in both groups. "Down (on the coast) there are parallel lines that are not present up (in the mountains)," Troncoso says, adding that those who lived on the mountains also displayed art with a greater variety of colors.

Determining the meaning of rock art is a very complex task. This study suggests that the Chilean paintings helped generate a sense of identity and belonging within communities. "Ultimately it comes down to marking which is my territory and which is not my territory," Troncoso says. "It's like saying, 'Those of us who occupy this territory are in the same group and we paint this way.'" Archaeologist Marcos Biskupovic agrees. Marcos, with the Archaeological Museum of La Serena, who was not involved in this study, says that these paintings "can be badges for a particular social identity."

Several questions about the findings remain unanswered, including how this rock art evolved over 2,500 years and whether there were other kinds of social transformations in these communities of hunter-gatherers. There is also the matter of what might have been going on in the valleys adjacent to the study area, which covers 115 square kilometers, and how far these communities and their paintings reached into neighboring areas. "Outlining these aspects would help us delineate the socio-political reality of these hunter-gatherers," Troncoso says.

For now, the discovery of the paintings provides at least a little more of a glimpse into the visual language used by the pre-Hispanic inhabitants in this part of Latin America. "This research has allowed us to organize pieces of information that until now were widely dispersed, and to discover new sites that were previously unknown," Sepulveda says.


Close to three-quarters of the artifacts seized in anti-smuggling operations in Syria and neighboring Lebanon this year have proved to be fakes, Syria’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim tells The Art Newspaper. Speaking ahead of his visit to Edinburgh’s International Cultural Summit this week, the director general for antiquities and museums also gives a relatively optimistic view of restoration work in Palmyra, and shares his pressing concerns over the devastating crisis in Aleppo.

There have been growing questions over the extent of illicit digging and antiquities trafficking in Syria by militant groups including Isis. Abdulkarim says that while 7,000 objects have been seized by authorities in Syria since 2013, the proportion of fakes has risen from 30% to closer to 70%, both inside the country and in neighboring Lebanon.

Objects seized by police in Damascus include 30 fake ancient Bibles, as well as Korans. Another haul was 450 gold Medieval coins, all discovered to be fake, along with scores of fake mosaic tableaus and statues. Some items were poorly made fakes that were quickly weeded out, but sometimes it was difficult to distinguish between the real artifacts and the copies. “I hope the originals are stopped and the fakes go to the market place,” Abdulkarim says.

From Lebanon, 89 big objects including 20 Palmyran statues, 18 mosaics, and Roman capitals and architectural pieces, were returned to Damascus in 2014 after they were examined by a Syrian delegation, he says. Lebanon is the only country that has worked with Syria during this time to investigate suspected looted objects, he adds, while Turkey and Jordan have refused any contact. “I don’t ask that they return all objects to Syria, because I know there will be a negative response,” Abdulkarim says, but he appealed to those countries to publicly report what they had seized, and provide figures and details to UNESCO and Interpol.

Turning to recovery efforts in Palmyra, Abdulkarim says that almost all of the ancient city’s artifacts have been secured since it was recaptured from Isil’s control in March, and most of the stones from damaged structures are reusable. "I can confirm that more than 90% of the collection in Palmyra is safe; 10% is damaged.” He says: “We didn’t lose Palmyra’s art.”

“We need about five years to finish our work,” Abdulkarim adds. Emergency repairs in Palmyra are now focused on two temples blown up by Isil—the Temple of Baalshamin and most of the Temple of Bel—and the Triumphal Arch. In terms of artifacts, 38 gold coins from the Islamic, Byzantine and Roman periods were lost in the rushed evacuation. But the unique Zenobia Antonius bronze coin, bearing the image of the third-century Palmyrene Queen, was removed to Damascus and is safe.

There are some 400 to 500 statues and tens of thousands of lesser objects now in Damascus awaiting restoration, Abdulkarim says. Three truckloads were evacuated just before Isil occupied Palmyra in June 2015 and many more pieces have been moved since. These include the 15-tonne remnants of the second-century Lion of al-Lat statue, which was blown up by the extremist group. While Isil beheaded many of the statues that could not be moved, “the majority were in a good situation,” Abdulkarim says, with heads left lying at the site.


Research has for the first time statistically proven that the earliest standing stone monuments of Britain were oriented with the Sun and Moon. The study details the use of innovative 2D and 3D technology to test the patterns of alignment.

Project leader and University of Adelaide Visiting Research Fellow Dr Gail Higginbottom, says: "Nobody before this has ever statistically determined that a single stone circle was constructed with astronomical phenomena in mind - it was all supposition."

Examining the oldest great stone circles built in Scotland - Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis, and Stenness, Isle of Orkney - the researchers found a great concentration of alignments towards the Sun and Moon at different times of their cycles, and 2000 years later, much simpler monuments were still being built in Scotland that had at least one of the same astronomical alignments found at the great circles. The researchers discovered a complex relationship between the alignment of the stones, the surrounding landscape and horizon, and the movements of the Sun and the Moon across that landscape.

Dr Higginbottom explains that: "This research is finally proof that the ancient Britons connected the Earth to the sky with their earliest standing stones, and that this practice continued in the same way for 2000 years."

At about half of the sites the northern horizon is relatively higher and closer, and the summer solstice Sun rises out of the highest peak in the north. At the other half it is the exact opposite - higher and closer southern horizon, out of which rises the winter solstice Sun.

Dr Higginbottom concludes: "These people chose to erect these great stones very precisely within the landscape and in relation to the astronomy they knew. They invested a tremendous amount of effort and work to do so. It tells us about their strong connection with their environment, and how important it must have been to them, for their culture and for their culture's survival."

Edited from EurekaAlert!, ScienceDaily (17 August 2016)
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Archaeologists have uncovered traces of buildings from about 2500 years ago on the small Hebridean island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, including the remains of a two-meter defensive wall. Excavations have also revealed pottery, flints, and other prehistoric material, indicating a prehistoric village.

Archaeologist Hugh McBrien, of the West of Scotland Archaeology Service, says: "When we find something unexpected, as in this case, we have to stop and reconsider what we previously understood about the site. What is becoming clear is that when the ice sheets rolled back off Scotland some 10-12,000 years ago the Mesolithic hunter gatherers moved onto the islands and followed the retreating ice."

The team discovered two different periods of building on top of the original village mound of more than 1,000 years, and a previously unknown extension to the medieval vallum, all in a shallow ditch next to the local school.

Dr Clare Ellis, who led the site work, says: "What is most exciting to me is that the lines of the property that exist now are very similar to the property lines that existed more than 2,000 years ago," adding that she is keen to get back onto the site later in the year and carry out further investigations.

Edited from Herald Scotland, Archaeology Magazine (19 August 2016)
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Saturday, August 27, 2016


Israeli archaeologists in northern Israel have uncovered the ruins of a rural synagogue that dates back some 2,000 years. The remains of the synagogue were found during an archaeological dig at Tel Rekhesh, near Mount Tabor in the lower Galilee, in what was an ancient Jewish village.

The find could lend weight to the New Testament narrative that Jesus visited villages in the area to preach.

Mordechai Aviam, an archaeologist at Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee who led the dig, estimated the synagogue was built between 20-40 AD and was used for a hundred years. No rural synagogues have been found from that time, he said.

“This is the first 1st century synagogue in rural Galilee of the first century,” he said.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Recently discovered multiple assemblages of Homo erectus footprints in northern Kenya provide unique opportunities to understand our ancient ancestors. Using novel analytical techniques, researchers have demonstrated that the footprints preserve evidence of a modern human style of walking and a group structure consistent with human-like social behaviors.

Habitual bipedal motion is a defining feature of modern humans compared with other primates, and had profound effects on the biologies of our ancestors and relatives. There has been much debate over when and how a human-like bipedal gait first evolved, largely because of disagreements over how to infer biomechanics from skeletal shapes. Aspects of group structure and social behavior also distinguish humans from other primates, yet there is no consensus on how to detect these in the fossil or archaeological records.

In 2009, a set of 1.5-million-year-old hominin footprints was discovered near the town of Ileret, on the northeast shore of Lake Turkana, in the extreme northwest corner of Kenya - a trace fossil discovery of unprecedented scale for this time period, now extending to five distinct sites preserving a total of 97 tracks created by at least 20 different presumed Homo erectus individuals. Researchers found the shapes of these footprints indistinguishable from those of modern habitually barefoot people, most likely reflecting similar foot anatomies and mechanics.

Kevin Hatala, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and George Washington University, says: "Our analyses of these footprints provide some of the only direct evidence to support the common assumption that at least one of our fossil relatives at 1.5 million years ago walked in much the same way as we do today."

Based on experimentally derived estimates of body mass from the fossil tracks, the researchers have inferred the sexes of the individuals and, for the two most expansive excavated surfaces, developed hypotheses regarding the structure of the groups. For example, at each of these sites there is evidence of several adult males. Cooperation between males underlies many of the social behaviors that distinguish modern humans from other primates.

Edited from PhysOrg, Science Daily (12 July 2016)
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The traditional understanding of the Neolithic period in Orkney has long been of a game of two halves, represented by completely different cultural packages: the early phase in the 4th millennium BCE, associated with single farmsteads, compartmented burial cairns, and shallow round-bottomed pottery with limited decoration; and the late Neolithic turn of the 3rd millennium BCE, associated with villages, passage-grave tombs, and flat-bottomed pottery with ornate decoration.

With no clear sign of a transition between these two, the arrival of a new group replacing the earlier culture was suggested, however new dating evidence confirms an idea originally suggested by Colin Renfrew, blurring the lines between early and late Neolithic categories.

The Cuween-Wideford Landscape Project was set up in 1994 to further explore this idea, initially focusing on Stonehall Farm, where a mid to late 4th millennium BCE dispersed settlement had graduated to a late Neolithic village in the late 3rd millennium BCE, and soon uncovering traces of similarly early activity at other sites. The program quickly expanded to the whole Bay of Firth, about 7 kilometers east of the Stenness-Brodgar ritual complex.

In 2002 the team realized there were traces of older timber structures beneath several Neolithic stone structures at Wideford Hill, and this pattern was repeated across Orkney - a completely unexpected development, as wooden structures were not previously thought to have been part of the Orcadian Neolithic. These discoveries also undermined the long-held belief that stalled cairns and stone houses came together to Neolithic Orkney - using the same architecture, dividing internal space using pairs of orthostats, mimicking domestic architecture and creating houses for the dead.

Radiocarbon dating places the earliest stalled cairns circa 3600-3500 BCE, but stone houses do not appear until around 300 years later - tomb-builders seem to have lived in the nearby timber houses. Burial cairns were not modeled on dwellings, but the other way around.

Building in wood gives any structure a finite lifespan. Those wooden structures excavated show frequently shifting footprints, and little sign of decayed posts being replaced. Building in stone roots a structure in one location. At several sites the team noted building materials being recycled again and again as the settlements expand.

The excavated stone structures are generally significantly larger than the timber buildings they replaced, and could have accommodated many more people. It seems likely we are seeing the results of cooperation between larger groups, a more collectivist style of living, and bigger social units being brought together.

Edited from (04 August 2016)
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A major excavation is underway in rural Dorset (England), near the modern day village of Winter borne Kingston. The team of archaeologists from Bournemouth University are actually uncovering the remains of the original village settlement, which first occupied the site in approximately 100 BCE. They have named it Duropolis, in honour of the Durotriges, the Iron Age tribe that would have comprised its first inhabitants.

The site is quite large, covering approximately 4 hectares, and so far the team has uncovered most of the elements of a typical Iron Age settlement, including roundhouses, storage and animal enclosures. The presence of this unfortified settlement coincides with the decline and abandonment of nearby hill forts, heralding in a more peaceful era.

One of the co-Directors of this year's dig, Dr Miles Russell, is quoted as saying "People think that towns were introduced by the Romans in the 1sdt. Century CE and that's simply not true. What we've here are all the elements of an urban system a good hundred years before the Romans arrived and it seems to be continuing up until the point that they left".

However, the most exciting find in this year's dig is the discovery of the skeletal remains of 8 bodies, the significance of which is explained by the other co-Director, Paul Cheetham: "Understanding of our Iron Age past is significantly improved by this finds, given the advances in scientific investigation, such as DNA and isotope analysis, which provide an insight into population movements and ancestry. Accessing skeletal information from this date in the UK is extremely rare, as most pre Roman tribes either practiced cremation or placed bodies in rivers or bogs, so this data could completely change our understanding of the Iron Age".

Edited from Dorset Echo (7 July 2016)
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Monday, August 01, 2016


Archaeologists in Texas thought they’d made an important discovery in the 1990s, when they unearthed a trove of stone tools dating back 13,000 years, revealing traces of the oldest widespread culture on the continent.

But then, years later, they made an even more powerful find in the same place — another layer of artifacts that were older still.

About a half-hour north of Austin and a meter deep in water-logged silty clay, researchers have uncovered evidence of human occupation dating back as much as 16,700 years, including fragments of human teeth and more than 90 stone tools.


The Great Wall is disappearing, brick by brick, and Chinese authorities have had enough. A new campaign has been launched to protect the ancient fortification that snakes for 13,000 miles (21,000 kilometers) across northern China from criminal damage. Built in different stages from the third century B.C. to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the wall was built to defend an empire but parts of it are now crumbling.
Bricks have been stolen to build houses, for agriculture or to sell as souvenirs to tourists -- exacerbating the natural erosion wrought by wind, rain and sandstorms.

Cultural Heritage (SACH) first outlined the new regulations earlier this year but the issue has been in the headlines after a video of a man kicking and vandalizing the wall went viral on Chinese social media last week.

Many China visitors associate the Great Wall with an extensively restored stretch of Ming era wall at Badaling near Beijing, but this is far from typical of most of the structure.

According to official statistics, around 30% of the Ming Dynasty section of the wall has already disappeared and less than 10% is considered well preserved.

"The Great Wall is a vast heritage site -- over 20,000 kilometers -- hence increasing the difficulty in preservation and restoration," Dong Yaohui, deputy director of the Great Wall of China Society, told CNN last year.


When you work with ancient objects, new discoveries are often small: a fragment of a vase, for example, or half an earring. But Jeffrey Spier, the Getty Villa’s senior curator of antiquities, recently stumbled upon something much bigger. This past spring, Spier was in New York and dropped by a gallery in midtown Manhattan. While there, he turned around and noticed the marble head of a stern-looking older woman mounted on a pedestal by the wall. “I immediately thought: That’s the head!” recalls Spier.

Decades of studying Greek and Roman art and a keen visual memory (an indispensible skill for any curator) snapped into place. Spier had just identified a carved marble head that had been mysteriously missing for decades from the body of the Getty’s 2,000-year-old Roman Statue of Draped Female. But as Spier explains, “Roman sculptors prided themselves in accurate and realistic portraits. Unlike the Greeks, they didn’t create idealized beauty. So once I saw a photograph of this sculpture’s missing head, I recognized it easily, the way you’d recognize a person you’d met before.” He laughed, “When I saw it I thought: Don’t I know you?” Spier took photos of the head on his phone and, when he returned to the Villa, shared them with his colleagues. All agreed that a fortuitous match had been made.

The whereabouts of the Roman woman’s head had been a mystery for decades. The statue was acquired by the Getty in 1972 and is currently in storage. About a year ago, Spier and associate curator Jens Daehner began going through the artworks in storage to assess them for the Villa collection’s coming reinstallation (scheduled for 2018). The headless Statue of Draped Female proved intriguing to them, and with the help of provenance researchers Judith Barr and Nicole Budrovich, they found documentation that confirmed the statue did have its original head while on the art market in the early 20th century. Yet sometime between before 1972, as the 7-foot-tall lady circulated through several European collections, she was decapitated.

But why? And by whom? Spier and his colleagues can only speculate on a motive: perhaps the neck partially broke in transit and then the owner decided to remove the head, or maybe a former owner felt they could make a larger profit selling two separate pieces rather than one tall statue.

Whoever deprived this Roman woman of her head wasn’t particularly careful about it. Associate conservator Eduardo Sanchez is pretty convinced that the head was broken off intentionally by use of a power tool drill in combination with hard impacts to the front of the neck. When the head was brought to the Getty Villa, Sanchez and fellow associate conservator Jeff Maish created a lightweight replica of the broken neck surface to test its fit to the neck break on the body. The fit was inarguably perfect, except for some missing fragments in the front of the neck.

The restoration of the head to Statue of Draped Female may not add much drama to its interpretation, but now that we can see her face it does provoke questions about who she was. Spier assumes the Roman woman must have had significant wealth and status to have such a large statue made of her. She could have been a wife of a Roman emperor, whose portraits were often on coins—yes, a hunt through coins of the period is on.

While the head and body are prepared for re-capitation (not a typical task for antiquities conservators) the Antiquities team is continuing to comb through 19th-century catalogues and travel guides in French, Italian, and Latin, trying to flesh out the details of the statue’s past, and to discover the identity of the Roman woman she was modeled after.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


British and French archaeologists used lasers to scan prehistoric paintings at a site more than 2,000 meters above sea level in Southern France. The Abri Faravel Rock shelter site, about 100 kilometers southeast of Grenoble in the Parc National des Ecrins, is believed to have been used as summer pasture from the Mesolithic to Medieval period, and is still used by shepherds today.

One of the paintings depicts a deer with a spear in its back, fending off a dog - a common motif in cave paintings. Researchers say that while other regions the Alps have examples of engraved rock art, painted rock art at high altitudes is extremely rare and the Abri Faravel paintings are the highest yet found.

In addition to revealing new detail about the ancient artwork, the scans have been used to make a digital model of the site - part of a larger project which the team has been working on since 1998, focusing activities above 2,000 meters in the Alps over the last 2,000 years.

Doctor Kevin Walsh, an archaeologist at University of York and lead researcher on the project, explains that "in the past, maybe 4,000 or 5,000 years ago, people were living and working in these landscapes and that's the kind of thing that our project has demonstrated, that the origins of activity of high altitude go back a very long time."

Researchers working at the site have uncovered a number of artifacts, including flint, pottery, metalwork, and even a Roman brooch.

Edited from Mail Online (25 May 2016)
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Spanish archaeologists say they have discovered an exceptional set of Paleolithic cave drawings that could rank among the best in a country which already boasts some of the world's most important cave art.

Chief site archaeologist Diego Garate says that an estimated 70 drawings were found on ledges 300 meters underground in the Atxurra cave in the northern Basque region, describing the site as being among the top 10 in Europe. The engravings and paintings feature horses, buffalo, goats, and deer, dating to between 12,500 and 14,500 years ago.

Garate says access to the area is so difficult and dangerous that it is unlikely to be open to the public. The cave was discovered in 1929 and first explored in 1934-35, but it was not until 2014 that Garate and his team resumed their investigations and the drawings were found.

"No one expected a discovery of this magnitude," said Jose Yravedra, a prehistory professor at Madrid's Complutense University. "There a lot of caves with drawings but very few have this much art and this much variety and quality." Garate says one buffalo drawing depicts what must be the most hunting lances of any in Europe. Most have four or five lances but this has almost 20.

Yravedra says that, given the cave's hidden location and the number, variety, and quality of its drawings, the site was being classified as a "sanctuary," or special Paleolithic meeting ritual place, like those at Altamira in Spain, or Lascaux in France. Regional officials hope to set up a 3-D display of the art so that the public can appreciate it.

Edited from (27 May 2016)
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In Europe, the oldest boat ever discovered is a 10,000 year-old dugout canoe from the Netherlands. The oldest plank-built vessels in the region are Bronze Age boats found at Dover and in Yorkshire, dated to between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago. At Bouldnor Cliff, 11 meters underwater off the northwest shore of the Isle of Wight in the south of England, Garry Momber and the Maritime Archaeology Trust have found something up to twice that age.

In 2005, at the bottom of a 7-metre high underwater cliff, Garry saw something. "Among the branches of an old tree was a collection of colored flints, some of which had been superheated."

Two years later the team had enough money to investigate further. Their 2 by 3 meter excavation revealed charcoal, flint tools, wood chippings, well-crafted functional items, and dozens of pieces of well-preserved timbers. Most of the timbers were oak, still in position where they had fallen over 8,000 years ago. Some had been shaped and trimmed, while others had been charred to make them easier to work.

One piece, just under 1 meter long and about 8,100 years old, had been split - a technique which doesn't appear elsewhere in the British archaeological record for another 2,500 years, when it was used during the Bronze Age to build deeper log boats, by removing 1/4 of the tree and hollowing out the remaining 3/4. When it was felled, the tree would have been a couple of meters wide and several tens of meters high.

The team also found a scalloped out end-piece, timbers that formed the end of the structure, and cord which would have united the various elements. Taken together, these would make Bouldnor Cliff the oldest known boat-building site in the world. "The trouble is we still need more evidence to be 100% certain," says Garry.

Garry and his team will return to the site in June. You can follow their progress at DigVentures on Facebook, and TheDigVenturers on Twitter.

Edited from DigVentures (2 June 2016)
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Paintings at Laas Geel in the self-declared state of Somaliland retain their fresh brilliance some 5,000 years or more after Neolithic artists swirled red and white color on the cliffs of northern Somalia, painting antelopes, cattle, giraffes and hunters carrying bows and arrows.

Abdisalam Shabelleh, site manager from Somaliland's Ministry of Tourism, says: "These paintings are unique. This style cannot be found anywhere in Africa." Then he points to a corner, where the paint fades and peels off the rocks. "If nothing is done now, in 20 years it could all have disappeared."

Amazed by the remarkable condition of the paintings as well as their previously unknown style, Xavier Gutherz, the former head of the French archaeology team that discovered the site in 2002, asked for the cave's listing as a UNESCO world heritage site, but that was refused because Somaliland is not recognized as a separate nation. "Only state parties to the World Heritage Convention can nominate sites for World Heritage status," said a UNESCO spokesperson. Requests for funding from donor countries face the same legal and diplomatic headache.

The cave paintings have become one of the main attractions for visitors to Somaliland. Around a thousand visitors each year endure rugged terrain with armed escorts to reach Laas Geel, and numbers are growing. Archaeologists say that Laas Geel may only be one of many treasures awaiting discovery in the vast rocky plains stretching towards the tip of the Horn of Africa.

Edited from Mail Online, News24 (26 June 2016)
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In an area of New Brunswick the Canadian Department of Transportation had plans to construct a by-pass of Route 8 around the city of Fredericton, capital of the region.

As part of the investigations which are made for the planning of any major road, not just in Canada, an archaeological team was sent to see if there was anything of interest. What they found was actually so important that there was an immediate cessation of ground works and the by-pass would have to be permanently re-routed.

The find centered on a campsite, dated at 10,000 BCE, which would have been based on the shores of a long lost lake. So far over 600 artifacts have been unearthed, ranging from stone tools to arrow heads and a fire pit.

One of the First Nation tribes of this area of New Brunswick was the Maliseet and several members of the archaeological team were members of that tribe, including Shawna Goodall, who is quoted as saying "These are my ancestors. And just to be able to be the first one to hold things in 13,000 years - I get goose bumps every timer, (from) every single artifact. That never ores away, that feeling".

The other exciting part of the find is that it provides a missing link. Team Leader, Brent Suttie, is quoted as saying "We have a few sites down in the Pennfield area and then we have very famous sites in Debert, Nova Scotia that dates to 11,600 years old. We don't have anything between those two sites. This site just happens to fall within that".

Edited from CBC News, CTV News, Global News (23 June 2016)
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A 5,000-year-old figurine, discovered in the 1860's was recently rediscovered in the Stromness Museum collections by Dr. David Clark. The figurine was found among artifacts from Skaill House donated to the museum in the 1930's.

The figurine is made of whalebone measuring 9.5 cm in height and 7.5 cm in width, adorned with a mouth, eyes, and a navel with no other decorations. It was originally discovered by William G. Watt while excavating a stone bed in house 3 of the Neolithic village. It was originally seen as an 'idol' or 'fetish' and described as such in the 1867 Skara Brae report written by George Petrie.

The figurine represents the first Neolithic example of a representation of a human form, which are exceptionally rare in Britain. The figurine, nicknamed 'Skara Brae Buddo' is now being displayed for the first time in Stromness Museum alongside other artifacts from Skara Brae.

Edited from The Orcadian (15 June 2016), Live Science (21 June 2016)
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A study of 44 people from the Middle East show that two populations invented farming independently, then spreading it to Europe, Africa, and Asia. The results were published on the bioRxiv preprint server, showing that it supports archaeological evidence of farming starting in multiple places.

The evidence is important as it is the first detailed look into the ancestry of individuals from the Neolithic revolution. During this period, some 11,000 years ago, humans living in the Fertile Crescent shifted from a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary lifestyle, which domesticated crops and transformed sheep, wild boars, and other creatures into domestic animals over thousands of years.

Previously it has been difficult to obtain DNA from this area due to the hot climates. Recent successes in extracting DNA from the petrous let Iosif Lazaridis and David Reich, population geneticists at Harvard Medieval School, analyze these genomes, which were 14,000 to 3,500 years old.

The genomes showed a stark difference between the populations from the southern Levant region and those living across the Zagros Mountains. The Zagros population were found to be closely related to hunter-gatherer populations, supporting the theory that farming was developed independently in the Southern Levant.

Roger Matthews, an Archaeologist from the University of Reading says that: "There has been a school of thought arguing that everything happens first in the southern Levant and everyone learns how to be farmers from this initial dispersal. But the archaeological evidence shows very strong local traditions that are clearly not in communication with each other, persisting for centuries if not millennia."

The farmers from Zagros domesticated goats and cereal such as emmer, while their counterparts in the west had barley and wheat. According to Rogers, Sometime 9,500 years ago, the traditions spread through the Middle East, possible mixing in eastern Turkey while seeking out materials for tools, such as obsidian. Rogers also states that more research is needed to find how farming spread to the east.

LaLueza-Fox sees that the ability to extract DNA from hotter climates as an important step for prehistoric research, "Retrieving genomic data from the ancient Near East is a palaeogenomic dream come true."

Edited from Nature magazine (20 June 2016)
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Excavations at Must Farm, 50 kilometers north-west of Cambridge, have unearthed the earliest examples of superfine textiles ever found in Britain - among the most finely-made Bronze Age fabrics ever discovered in Europe. Finds include more than 100 fragments of textile, processed fiber and textile yarn - some of superfine quality, with some threads just 1/10 of a millimeter in diameter and some fabrics with 28 threads per centimeter, fine even by modern standards. Most of the superfine fabrics were made of linen, and hundreds of flax seeds have been found, some of which had been stored in containers. Timber fragments with delicate carpentry may be the remains of looms, and fired clay loom weights have been found.

Some of the textiles had been folded, some in up to 10 layers. These may have been large garments, potentially up to 3 meters square - capes, cloaks, or drapes.

As well as making ultra-fine fabrics, at least some of the inhabitants wore exotic jewellery made of blue, black, yellow and green glass manufactured in the eastern Mediterranean. They lived in well-built 6 to 8 meter diameter houses and had a wide range of tools and other possessions. Around 50 bronze axes, sickles, spears, swords, razors, hammers, tweezers and awls have been found along with some 60 wooden buckets, platters and troughs, as well as around 60 well preserved ceramic bowls, mugs and storage jars - the largest collection of complete bronze, wooden and ceramic artifacts ever found in a British Bronze Age settlement. Dug-out canoes, and two wooden wheels have also been unearthed.

Yet evidence suggests that this settlement was attacked, burnt and destroyed less than a year after it was built. In the five houses excavated so far, people have left all their possessions behind - meals half eaten, salted or dried meat hanging in the rafters, garments neatly folded on or around well-made wooden furniture. Excavation director Mark Knight says: "It's a bit discovering the Marie Celeste. Everything is exactly as it was left. Only the inhabitants are missing."