Saturday, April 30, 2016


In the desert upland just a few miles from both Mexico and New Mexico, researchers have uncovered a 3,000-year-old bison kill site, featuring hundreds of bones and bone fragments, along with dozens of cobblestones and flaked and ground stone tools. Adding to the surprise is the fact that this location, known as Cave Creek Midden, near the town of Portal, is already well-known to archaeologists.

When it was first investigated in 1936, the site revealed stone tools and other artifacts that came to typify a critical phase in Southwestern history: the period from about 4000 and 500 BCE, when humans first started to re-settle the desert Southwest and develop methods for farming corn.

The discovery of a large bison kill here adds a whole new chapter to the story of the site, and a new understanding of the hunter-gatherers who lived here.Excavations revealed bison bones, cobblestones, and manos in a layer dated to around 1300 BCE.

“We found a bunch of bison where we hoped to find corn,” said Dr. Jesse Ballenger, of the University of Arizona, who co-led the new study with Dr. Jonathan Mabry.

“The presence of bison at the Cave Creek Midden site opens interesting avenues of research,” added Francois Lanoe, an Arizona doctoral student who also took part in the study.

“If bison were a major component of people’s diet, well, it is unexpected in that region of the Southwest.


he history of humans living in Ireland just added 2,500 years to its timeline, but the discovery wasn’t made in a peat bog or after excavating tons of dirt—it was found in a cardboard box.

In 2010 and 2011, animal osteologist Ruth Carden of the National Museum of Ireland began re-analyzing bones collected from cave excavations in the early 20th century when she came across part of a knee from a brown bear with several cut marks on it, according to a press release from the Sligo Institute of Technology.

Carden brought the bone to the attention of Marion Dowd, a specialist in cave archeology at Sligo. Dowd was intrigued, so the two sent samples to Queen’s University in Belfast and later to Oxford University to get the age of the samples.

The data from both labs showed that the bear was butchered 12,500 years ago, or 2,500 years before the earliest previous evidence of human habitation on the Emerald Isle. Three specialists additionally confirmed that the cut marks were made on fresh bone, further suggesting that humans were present in Ireland much earlier than previously thought.

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ISIS failed to demolish the Roman ruins in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra which was recaptured by pro-Government troops following a major offensive, although blood marked the scenes where the terror group murdered its victims.

ISIS captured the city in May 2015 and began blowing up some of the major landmarks at the UNESCO-listed world heritage site.

However, it used the 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater to conduct public executions, with the blood of the victims staining the sand.

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Skeletons unearthed in Kenya may be the oldest known evidence of human warfare, according to a new study.

The skeletons of 27 people who died about 10,000 years ago bear marks of blunt force trauma and projectile wounds, the researchers said in the study. The victims included men, women and children.

"That scale of death — it can't be an individual murder or homicide amongst families," said study co-author Robert Foley, an anthropologist and archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in England. "It was a result of some intergroup conflict."


Penn's libraries are home to a wide range of special and general collections related to the Holy Land.

These include primary sources such as rare manuscripts, early modern printed books, travelogues, early photographs and printed postcards, engraved and hand-illustrated maps and atlases, original archeological artifacts, field reports, and extensive circulating secondary sources.

Among the most important are the Lenkin Collection of Photography, which consists of over 5,000 early photographs of the Holy Land, dating from 1850-1937 and the Paola and Bertrand Lazard Holy Land Print collections, including hundreds of early printed books, postcards, maps, drawings, and watercolors.

Recent acquisitions include the Moldovan Family Digital Holy Land Map Collection and the Zucker Holy Land Travel Manuscript. Related materials at Penn are found in the University of Pennsylvania Museum's rich collection of early photographs, including nearly 1,500 original Maison Bonfils photographs, as well as in the Museum's historical records and field reports of archeological excavations at places like Bet Shean in Israel.


Archaeological sites in Alexandria are facing ruin, with renovation projects by the Antiquities Ministry covering 13 ancient Islamic, Coptic and Jewish monuments stalled due to a shortfall in funding that stretches back many years.
Eighty percent of the province’s sites, meanwhile, have not been touched by conservators for tens of years.

Archaeologists have told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the whole history of Alexandria is threatened with extinction, especially since the only UNESCO-registered ancient Coptic site, the Abu Mina archaeological zone, may be removed from the organization’s world heritage record due to high levels of underground water at the 600-feddan site.

Among those concerned is Antiquities Ministry official Mohamed Ali Saeed, the former director of Alexandria’s antiquities. He told Al-Masry Al-Youm that many ancient Islamic sites are near collapse, either due to a lack of renovation work or work being interrupted. Enumerating the endangered structures, Saeed listed the Shorbagy Mosque, the Terbana Mosque, the Haqqania courthouse, the Ptolemaic Wall, the old towers, the cisterns of Ibn al-Nabih, Ibn Battouta Ismail and Ingy Hanem, as well as the entire Abu Mina Coptic site. He said that while renovations at some sites have been halted for at least six years, others have not seen conservators for more than 20 years.

Saeed urged “immediate intervention" by the ministry to save the historic sites, warning that weather conditions, most notably seasonal winter storms, represent a serious threat to them. In his warning, Saeed gave special attention to the Abu Mina area, which, he explained, is Egypt’s only Coptic site listed by UNESCO. He said groundwater levels at Abu Mina have reached 5.5 meters, submerging the ancient tomb of Saint Mar Mina.

Ahmed Abdel Fattah, another expert and a member of the ministry’s permanent antiquities panel, warned of rising groundwater levels at the ancient Ptolemaic and Greek tombs of Mostafa Kamel, Shatbi and Anfoushi, where walls and floors are being gradually eroded. He said the structures should be prioritized for renovation, especially due to their exposure to high humidity levels resulting from proximity to the sea.

Abdel Fattah pointed to the endangered ancient Ptolemaic cemeteries of Alabaster and Wardian near the seaport, which he identified as two of the most historical sites in the Alexandria area. The Ptolemaic cemeteries of Souq al-Gomaa, are also suffering “severe deterioration” according to Abdel Fattah. “They fall between the tramway and low-income housing, surrounded by piles of garbage on all sides,” he noted.

Speaking from Abu Mina, the region’s antiquities official, Father Tedaous Avamina, said that in 2005 the Antiquities Ministry embarked on a LE50 million scheme, sponsored by UNESCO and the government, to reduce groundwater levels at the site. He explained that, though the project was completed in 2010, political upheaval and economic hardship meant there was not enough money for periodic maintenance of the water drainage equipment.

Political instability was also responsible for stalled renovations at other sites. An official source at the ministry’s engineering administration said nearly LE57 million had been earmarked for renovations at the Terbana and Shorbagi mosques since 2009. The official said that, while the first phase of renovations was concluded before the 2011 uprising, later phases were halted due to political upheaval.

According to the official, four other schemes are planned for the same sites, including the renovation of the ancient cemeteries and draining groundwater there. However, work cannot begin until the money has been found.


New fossils from Kenya suggest that an early hominid species -- Australopithecus afarensis -- lived far eastward beyond the Great Rift Valley and much farther than previously thought. An international team of paleontologists led by Emma Mbua of Mount Kenya University and Masato Nakatsukasa of Kyoto University report findings of fossilized teeth and forearm bone from an adult male and two infant A. afarensis from an exposure eroded by the Kantis River in Ongata-Rongai, a settlement in the outskirts of Nairobi.

"So far, all other A. afarensis fossils had been identified from the center of the Rift Valley," explains Nakatsukasa. "A previous Australopithecus bahrelghazali discovery in Chad confirmed that our hominid ancestor's distribution covered central Africa, but this was the first time an Australopithecus fossil has been found east of the Rift Valley. This has important implications for what we understand about our ancestor's distribution range, namely that Australopithecus could have covered a much greater area by this age."

A. afarensis is believed to have lived 3,700,000-3,000,000 years ago, as characterized by fossils like "Lucy" from Ethiopia.

Stable isotope analysis revealed that the Kantis region was humid, but had a plain-like environment with fewer trees compared to other sites in the Great Rift Valley where A. afaransis fossils had previously appeared. "The hominid must have discovered suitable habitats in the Kenyan highlands. It seems that A. afaransis was good at adapting to varying environments," notes Nakatsukasa.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq are netting between $150 million and $200 million a year from illicit trade in plundered antiquities, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations said in a recent letter. "Around 100,000 cultural objects of global importance, including 4,500 archaeological sites, nine of which are included in the World Heritage List of ... UNESCO, are under the control of the Islamic State ... in Syria and Iraq," Ambassador Vitaly Churkin wrote in a letter to the U.N. Security Council.

The smuggling of artifacts, Churkin wrote, is organized by Islamic State's antiquities division in the group's equivalent of a ministry for natural resources. Only those who have a permit with a stamp from this division are permitted to excavate, remove and transport antiquities. Some details of the group's war spoils department were previously revealed by Reuters, which reviewed some of the documents seized by U.S. Special Operations Forces in a May 2015 raid in Syria. But many details in Churkin's letter appeared to be new.

The envoy from Russia, which has repeatedly accused Turkey of supporting Islamic State by purchasing oil from the group, said plundered antiquities were largely smuggled through Turkish territory. "The main center for the smuggling of cultural heritage items is the Turkish city of Gaziantep, where the stolen goods are sold at illegal auctions and then through a network of antique shops and at the local market," Churkin wrote.

Turkish officials were not immediately available for comment on the Russian allegations. Russian-Turkish relations have been strained ever since Turkey shot down a Russian plane near the Syrian border last November.
Churkin said jewelry, coins and other looted items are brought to the Turkish cities of Izmir, Mersin and Antalya, where criminal groups produce fake documents on their origin.

"The antiquities are then offered to collectors from various countries, generally through Internet auction sites such as eBay and specialized online stores," he said. Churkin named several other Internet auction sites that he said sold antiquities plundered by Islamic State.

"Recently ISIL has been exploiting the potential of social media more and more frequently so as to cut out the middleman and sell artifacts directly to buyers," he said. EBay said it was not aware of the allegations that it was being used to sell plundered items."eBay has absolutely zero interest in having illicit listings of cultural or historical goods appear on our platforms," it said. "We're currently looking into the claims of this letter."

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Sunday, April 17, 2016


An "elaborate" Roman villa has been unearthed by chance by a homeowner laying electric cables in his garden in Wiltshire. It was discovered by rug designer Luke Irwin as he was carrying out some work at his farmhouse so that his children could play table tennis in an old barn.

He uncovered an untouched mosaic, and excavations revealed a villa described as "extraordinarily well-preserved". Historic England said it was "unparalleled in recent years".

Thought to be one of the largest of its kind in the country, the villa was uncovered in Brixton Deverill near Warminster during an eight-day dig. It is being compared in terms of its size and its owners' wealth to a similar, famous site at Chedworth in Gloucestershire.

A stone planter which had been holding geraniums by Mr Irwin's kitchen was also identified by experts as a Roman child's coffin

Finds including hundreds of oysters, which were artificially cultivated and carried live from the coast in barrels of salt water, suggest that the villa was owned by a wealthy family. The dig also turned up "extremely high status pottery", coins, brooches and the bones of animals including a suckling pig and wild animals which had been hunted.

"We've found a whole range of artifacts demonstrating just how luxurious a life that was led by the elite family that would have lived at the villa," said Dr David Roberts, of Historic England. "It's clearly not your run-of-the-mill domestic settlement." Dr Roberts said the villa, built sometime between AD 175 and 220, had "not been touched since its collapse 1,400 years ago", which made it "of enormous importance". "Without question, this is a hugely valuable site in terms of research, with incredible potential," he said. "It's one of the best sites I have ever had the chance to work on."


After being told that antiquities looted in Syria and Iraq may be on sale in Britain, Channel 4’s Dispatches program sent two academics undercover to pose as collectors.

Augusta McMahon, a senior lecturer in archaeology at Cambridge, and Alessio Palmisano, from University College London, wore hidden cameras as they browsed upscale London Mayfair antiques shops.

During a visit to a shop owned by Elias Assad, a dealer in Middle Eastern and Islamic antiquities, they spotted an ornate 6 ft piece of carved stone that they recognized as a lintel. The academics suspected that it originated from Syria.

Assad originally quoted a price of £50,000, but when McMahon and Palmisano returned several weeks later, he said the owner of the antiquity had agreed to drop the price.


The Islamic State has ruined a part of the historic great city wall that circled the Iraqi city of Nineveh, the ancient capital city of the Assyrian empire, Iraqi media reported Thursday. According to Alsumaria news, an Iraqi news site, the terror organization shattered in the past few days Adad gate, which was part of the northern sector of the Acropolis walls of ancient Nineveh.

ISIS fighters who devastated the historic wall of the Iraqi city have reportedly transferred the archeological ruins to Syria, where they would probably sell them.

The Adad gate, named after the God Adad, is one of 15 gates that constituted the great wall of Nineveh, which was built in 700 BCE by the Assyrian King Sennacherib.

In light of previous reports alleging that ISIS would bomb the city walls if the Iraqi army attempts to liberate Mosul, ISIS’ move appears to be an indication that the group has started losing ground as a result of the American-led campaign to recapture the city of Mosul.

This is not the first time the Islamic State has targeted Nineveh's ancient wall. In January 2015, the terror organization blew up large parts of the archaeological wall of Nineveh in the al-Tahrir neighborhood.


The first foreign experts who visited the museum in Palmyra after it was taken over from Islamic State militants said they spent a week collecting fragments of priceless broken sculptures from the museum grounds and preparing them for transportation to Damascus in a rescue mission they hope will help salvage most of its contents. Back in the Syrian capital Saturday, they offered grim new details about the extent of the destruction caused by the extremists during their 10-month stay in the ancient town.

The museum was trashed and some of its best-known artifacts and statues were smashed by the militants, who cut off the heads and hands of statues and demolished others before being driven out last month.

Bartosz Markowski, from the Polish Archaeological Center at the University of Warsaw, told The Associated Press that most of the 200 objects which were exhibited on the ground floor of the Palmyra museum were destroyed, many of them apparently with hard tools like hammers. Many artifacts have been stolen, he added, thought it was not possible to know how many.

He and his colleagues were the first specialists to visit Palmyra after it was taken over by the Syrian army, and spent a week working and assessing the damage. “We collected everything we could. The fragments were spread around the whole museum among broken glass and furniture … It is a catastrophe,” he said, speaking to the AP in the garden of the National Museum in Damascus.

During their rule of Palmyra, the extremists demolished some of the most famous Roman-era monuments that stand just outside the town, including two large temples dating back more than 1,800 years and a Roman triumphal archway, filming the destruction themselves for the world to see. The sprawling outdoor site, a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as the museum were among Syria’s main tourist attractions before the civil war.

Among the best-known statues destroyed was the famous Lion of Allat, a 2000-year-old statue which previously greeted visitors and tourists outside the Palmyra museum. The statue, which used to adorn the temple of Allat, a pre-Islamic goddess in Palmyra, was defaced by IS militants and knocked over by bulldozers.

On a visit to Palmyra on Thursday, The Associated Press saw the statue lying outside the museum building with its face cut and some of its broken pieces lying next to it. “Fortunately we collected most of the fragments and I hope it can be reconstructed very soon,” said Markowski, who in 2005 took part in a Polish archaeological mission that did renovation work on the statue. His colleague, Robert Zukowski, said the limestone lion statue should be the first thing restored and “it should stay in Palmyra as a sign of resistance against the barbarians. “

In addition to the damage inflicted by IS, Markowski said the museum building has suffered structural damage due to bombs falling. “There’s broken ceilings, broken walls, roofs, a lot of garbage and fragments of bricks everywhere, and among that there are fragments of sculptures,” he said. He said the restoration will require a massive international effort and years to accomplish.

“I think most of the objects can be restored, but they will never look as they did before,” he added.


One of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, based in Basra, southern Iraq, will reportedly be transformed into a museum this September (2016), just over 13 years after Western powers invaded Iraq. It will be the first museum to open in the country for decades, according to reports by National Geographic. The U.K.’s national British Museum has offered free curatorial support for it.

Partly funded by donations from oil companies to British charity, Friends of Basrah Museum, the project will cost an estimated $3.5m (£2.5m). The new museum will showcase at least 3,500 objects from Baghdad's Iraq Museum representative of different periods of the country’s history from ancient Sumer to Babylon.

The Basra government agreed to provide the rest of the necessary funding, but has not yet contributed the agreed $3 million share of the money. “Like anything else in Iraq, it is difficult to achieve the simplest task,” Lamia Al-Gailani Werr, a trustee of the Friends of Basrah Museum and an Iraqi who lives in London, tells National Geographic.


Analysis of a series of inscriptions on 2,600-year-old ceramic shards found during excavations at a fortress in the Israeli desert has shown they were written by at least six authors at different levels in the Judean military. It suggests literacy was much more widespread than had been believed. They contain a series of military commands regarding the movement of troops and the provision of supplies.

Using computerized imaging processing and machine learning, researchers have discovered the 16 inscriptions were written by at least six different authors. They are some of the most important historical and religious documents to have ever been discovered, giving a rare and detailed insight into Biblical times.

Advanced digital tools are also being developed to suggest new ways of joining these together by looking for connections between images, text and matches between fragment edges.The project will also assist attempts to translate the scrolls as they are fitted together, helping researchers unravel the secrets they contain.
Experts estimate there around 20,000 fragments of scrolls being scanned as part of the project but there could be many more.

This, they say, suggests writing, and so reading, within the Judahite military was common place as a way of issuing commands and recording information.

They argue this also suggests literacy was widespread throughout the kingdom of Judah - and this may have set the stage for the compilation of the hefty biblical works. It supports the idea that the Hebrew Bible was a massive composition of texts by many authors which were then gathered together rather than a single literary work.

Professor Israel Finkelstein, archaeologist at Tel Aviv University who led the work, told MailOnline: 'Biblical texts carry ideological and theological messages and as such were probably meant to be known to the population.
'Hence there has been an ongoing discussion on literacy in ancient Israel/Judah. 'Our work shows that late-monarchic Judah (around 600 BC) had an educational infrastructure which was suitable for compilation of texts and use of the written-word medium to convey ideological messages.'

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From delicate tableware to mirrors and jewellery, the Romans prized glass for its decorative qualities. Now archaeologists have unearthed an ancient glassworks where raw glass was made before being exported across the Empire.

The kiln, which dates to the Late Roman period 1,600 years ago, are the oldest to be found in Israel and suggest the region was one of the foremost centers for glass production in the ancient world.

Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient glassworks where raw glass was made, before being exported across the Empire. The extraordinary discovery was made by an archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority while excavating a site south east of Yagur, before the construction part of the Jezreel Valley Railway Project.
Abdel Al-Salam Sa'id spotted chunks of glass and a floor, sparking further excavations.

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Fire, a tool broadly used for cooking, constructing, hunting and even communicating, was arguably one of the earliest discoveries in human history. But when, how and why it came to be used is hotly debated among scientists. A new scenario crafted by University of Utah anthropologists proposes that human ancestors became dependent on fire as a result of Africa's increasingly fire-prone environment 2-3 million years ago.

As the environment became drier and natural fires occurred more frequently, ancestral humans took advantage of these fires to more efficiently search for and handle food. With increased resources and energy, these ancestors were able to travel farther distances and expand to other continents. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the findings were published April 10, 2016 in Evolutionary Anthropology.

Current prevailing hypotheses of how human ancestors became fire-dependent depict fire as an accident—a byproduct of another event rather than a standalone occurrence. One hypothesis, for example, explains fire as a result of rock pounding that created a spark and spread to a nearby bush. "The problem we're trying to confront is that other hypotheses are unsatisfying. Fire use is so crucial to our biology, it seems unlikely that it wasn't taken advantage of by our ancestors," said Kristen Hawkes, distinguished professor of anthropology at the U and the paper's senior author.

The team's proposed scenario is the first known hypothesis in which fire does not originate serendipitously. Instead, the team suggests that the genus Homo, which includes modern humans and their close relatives, adapted to progressively fire-prone environments caused by increased aridity and flammable landscapes by exploiting fire's food foraging benefits.

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When scientists unveiled the fossil remains of a newly discovered human species from South Africa called Homo naledilast September, the find electrified audiences around the world. It was an astonishing haul: some 1,550 specimens representing at least 15 individuals, recovered over just a few weeks of intensive excavation from the Rising Star Cave system outside Johannesburg. But it was the researchers’ favored explanation for how the remains ended up in the cave, more than the fossils themselves, that captured the public imagination and jolted the paleoanthropology community. They proposed that this creature—whose geologic age is unknown but who was clearly primitive; it had a brain the size of an orange—had deliberately disposed of its dead there. Many experts consider this behavior exclusive to our own far brainier species, H. sapiens.

Now an outside researcher has published the first formal critique of that provocative interpretation of the remains in a scientific journal. Members of the team that made the discovery dispute her claims, but other observers think that some of her criticisms are valid—and that the team has yet to make a convincing case that H. naledi deliberately disposed of the bodies in the cave.

Cavers discovered the H. naledi fossils in a chamber some 10 meters underground in Rising Star. To reach this inner sanctum, named the Dinaledi chamber, they squeezed through passages less than 25 centimeters across and climbed steep, jagged rocks in what would have been pitch darkness if not for their headlamps. How, the researchers wondered, did the fossils end up in such a remote part of the cave system?

To answer that question, geologist Paul Dirks of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, and his colleagues analyzed the cave’s geology and features of the bones for clues. Bones can accumulate in caves by any number of mechanisms: For example, floodwaters can wash them in from their original resting place and carnivores can bring their kills in from outside. But such situations tend to produce fossil assemblages that contain a mix of animal species. And one of the most distinctive aspects of the Rising Star site is that H. naledi is the only medium or large animal species found there.

In the absence of any of the telltale signs of things like flooding or carnivore activity, the researchers concluded that the best-supported explanation thus far was that H. naledi dragged its dead into the chamber, following at least part of the same arduous route the scientists took. The implication was that this extinct species with a brain a third the size of ours had an understanding of mortality—and a cultural tradition built around that concept.

That argument has met with skepticism from the outset. A number of experts expressed doubts in the popular press when Dirks, along with project leader Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and their collaborators, went public with their findings in two papers published in the online journal eLife last September. But none had published their counterarguments in a peer-reviewed scientific journal—until now.

Aurore Val, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand, wrote the critique, which is in press at the Journal of Human Evolution and available online. In it she argues that it is impossible to establish—based on the evidence presented in the team’s paper on the geologic context of the H. naledi fossils and bone features that hint at their fate—that the complete bodies were disposed of inside the chamber or at its entrance in the manner the team proposes.

Val, who was Berger’s PhD student and who has published papers with Berger, Dirks and other members of the H. naledi team in the past, uses several lines of evidence described in the initial reports to make her case. Noting that the discoverers have yet to determine the fossils’ age, she contends that they cannot know what the cave was like when the remains entered the Dinaledi chamber. Caves can change dramatically over time, and Rising Star may have once allowed easier access to the chamber. Val also argues that the team did not analyze enough fossil material to rule out water transport or carnivore damage.

In a response submitted to the Journal of Human Evolution, Dirks, Berger and their teammates charged that many of Val’s criticisms are “spurious” and stem from misinterpretations of their published data. Mapping of the cave and surrounding rock indicates that there has never been a direct opening from the surface into the Dinaledi chamber, they counter, and although the geology shows the cave has changed over time, such changes have not fundamentally altered the way into the chamber.

Furthermore, Dirks and his co-authors wrote, the studies of the sediments in the chamber show that the fossils were not waterborne. And they noted that macroscopic examinations of all the fossil specimens, and microscopic inspections of more than a third of them representing all skeletal elements, did not reveal any carnivore tooth marks. Likewise, they wrote that analysis of the fractures in the fossils failed to identify a single one consistent with carnivore damage.

The fact that the Journal of Human Evolution has yet to publish the response has riled the authors, who were under the impression that it would appear simultaneously with Val’s critical commentary. According to Co-Editor in Chief Sarah Elton of Durham University in England, that was a misunderstanding on the authors’ part. She explains that publication of a response is not guaranteed. All content goes through peer review. If a response is accepted for publication, it will appear in the same print issue, but a critique may appear online before the associated response because of the journal’s production schedule. The response from Dirks and his co-authors is currently under consideration for publication, Elton says.

Outside researchers who have seen Val’s comment and the team’s response think some of Val’s claims have merit. “Caves are very dynamic systems, and it is difficult to reconstruct past structures,” says Jeffrey McKee of The Ohio State University, who has excavated other fossil human sites in South Africa. He also agrees with Val that the researchers have ruled out water transport and carnivore activity, among other possibilities, prematurely. Analysis of the taphonomy—what happened to the organisms between death and fossil discovery—“must be much more thorough,” he insists. The fact that H. naledi is the only medium-to-large animal species represented in the fossil assemblage, although unusual, is nonetheless consistent with scenarios other than deliberate interment. Another South African site, Taung, where he has worked, contains a fossil deposit that consists mostly of baboons—probably the work of leopards. Leopards often concentrate their hunting efforts on a single prey species, McKee explains. And they may do so without leaving any incriminating scratches or punctures on the bones. “Most carnivores take the guts first, so in many cases there are no marks at all,” McKee says, adding that the Taung baboon fossils show few carnivore marks. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” he says.

As for the burning question of how old the H. naledi remains are, Dirks says dating of the site is underway: "We are currently exploring five different techniques at seven different labs on several continents, conducting double-blind tests for three techniques to obtain maximum confidence in our results.” Although the team has been under intense pressure to ascertain the age of the material, the geology of the site is complex and the researchers want to get it right, he explains. “Hang in there,” he adds. “It won't be that long anymore.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Sir Elton Joh, the 68-year-old rock star, will perform live for a crowd of just 2,000 people at the Amphitheatre of Pompeii on July 12th.

The amphitheatre is the oldest stone building of its kind, built in 80 BC.

Until 79 AD, when the city was buried by the erupting Mount Vesuvius, thousands of ancient Romans regularly crammed inside to watch gladiators do battle.

Sir Elton will be the first global music icon to play Pompeii since UK prog rockers Pink Floyd, who recorded Live at Pompeii in 1971, but did not perform in front of an audience for the occasion.


A rare gold coin dating to the rule of emperor Trajan but bearing the face of Augustus, has been discovered by a hiker in Israel. It suggests the ruler, known for his philanthropy and social welfare policies, was a fan of Rome's first emperor and ordered the issue of a coin in tribute.

The golden coin, which was unearthed in the countryside of eastern Galilee, northern Israel, is 1,900 years old and the twin of an identical artifact kept in London's British Museum.

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Our human ancestors, who looked like a cross between apes and modern humans, had access to food, water and shady shelter at a site in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. They even had lots of stone tools with sharp edges, said Gail M. Ashley, a professor in the Rutgers Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences. But "it was tough living," she said. "It was a very stressful life because they were in continual competition with carnivores for their food."

During years of work, Ashley and other researchers carefully reconstructed an early human landscape on a fine scale, using plant and other evidence collected at the sprawling site. Their pioneering work was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The landscape reconstruction will help paleoanthropologists develop ideas and models on what early humans were like, how they lived, how they got their food (especially protein), what they ate and drank and their behavior, Ashley said.

Famous paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey discovered the site in 1959 and uncovered thousands of animal bones and stone tools. Through exhaustive excavations in the last decade, Ashley, other scientists and students collected numerous soil samples and studied them via carbon isotope analysis. Early human habitat, recreated for first time, shows life was no picnic

The landscape, it turned out, had a freshwater spring, wetlands and woodland as well as grasslands. "We were able to map out what the plants were on the landscape with respect to where the humans and their stone tools were found," Ashley said. "That's never been done before. Mapping was done by analyzing the soils in one geological bed, and in that bed there were bones of two different hominin species."

The two species of hominins, or early humans, are Paranthropus boisei - robust and pretty small-brained - and Homo habilis, a lighter-boned species. Homo habilis had a bigger brain and was more in sync with our human evolutionary tree, according to Ashley.

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Monday, March 21, 2016


To people passing by, the piece of land doesn’t look like much, but to archaeologists it is historic.

“What the archaeologists ended up finding were a couple of cooking pits and evidence of a campsite that had been used over a longer period of time,” said City of Albuquerque Open Space Superintendent Matt Schmader.

The city wanted to transform the area into a community park in 2015. Its plans were put on hold after crews found ancient artifacts on the site. Schmader, who is an archaeologist, and his team were called to investigate.

“The surface is scraped with mechanical equipment. You expose the tops of the fire pits and other features and then you hand excavate very carefully to get the material out,” he said. The team uncovered hundreds of broken pieces of pottery, chipped stones from making tools, a pair of fire pits and remnants of a 1,000-year-old shelter.

Experts believe the land was once used by Native Americans as a specialized food gathering and preparation area.
The findings have been excavated and are being cataloged for a future museum display. Archaeologists have given the city clearance to build a park at the site. The city plans to incorporate the land’s history into the new playground.

“I think it gives an extra value to your experience at at park when you can go there aside from enjoying the great outdoors and you know that it has a historic value and you are standing on place where people had lived and worked 1,000 years ago,” Schmader said. Schmader said the artifacts from the site will likely be on display at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe.


Five newly restored houses which were once buried under the volcanic ash of mount Vesuvius can now be seen in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

The new exhibit which allows visitors to walk through the ancient homes and their gardens is called “Myth and Nature, from Greece to Pompeii” will remain open until October.

Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79 covering the Roman city of Pompeii in volcanic ash and capturing everything from human beings to food exactly there they were at the time.

The exhibit at Pompeii is in collaboration with the National Archaeological Museum of Naples which includes items found during excavations in Pompeii, including a piece of bread, seeds and grapes.


As the pillaging continues in a region rich in layers of ancient civilizations, the international community is focusing on the marketplace, doing what it can to scare off demand in hopes that supply will shrink. “There wouldn’t be any looting if there wasn’t money to be made,” said Kathryn Walker Tubb, a lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.

In the past few years, the effort to intercept the illicit trade has intensified.

In February last year, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution banning trade in artifacts illegally removed from Syria since 2011 and from Iraq since 1990. The International Council of Museums has issued “red lists” for objects at risk in Iraq, Syria and now Libya. Last August, the State Department in Washington announced a $5 million reward for information that could disrupt the ransacking and looting of cultural sites by the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Last month, Unesco followed up its Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Heritage Project, introduced in 2014 with the European Union, with a special task force that would deploy experts from Italy’s carabinieri force, with its long experience in tracking down looted art, to help hunt down stolen items.

The Asia Society and the Antiquities Coalition recently concluded an international conference on “cultural racketeering” with calls for special training for customs agents and support for local governments in conflict zones to catalogue and safeguard their treasures.

There have been scattered successes in recuperating smuggled antiquities from war zones. In March 2015, a police raid in Bulgaria uncovered a cache of statues and other objects thought to be from the ancient Sumerian city of Lagash, in southern Iraq. Also that month, the United States returned to the Iraqi government 65 stolen artifacts that had come from a Dubai-based dealer who had tried to sell them, with faked paperwork, to American museums and galleries. investigations rarely produce arrests because of the difficulty in proving the provenance of antiquities, often produced by civilizations that stretched across the ancient world.

Traffickers are also masters at coming up with fake documents that purport to show that the disputed object had been long held by mysterious collectors, now conveniently deceased. Such lack of evidence often means that the authorities often choose to avoid pursuing criminal charges in return for reclaiming the objects, which results in shady dealers getting off the hook, experts say.

But the publicity surrounding the effort to stem the flow of smuggled artifacts from Syria, Iraq and other war zones in the Middle East has had a dampening effect, said Christopher Marinello, the founder and director of the Art Recovery Group, an organization in London that has developed a database to recover lost and stolen artworks around the world.

“The media coverage has done such an incredible job that any reputable dealer will have taken a huge step backwards,” Mr. Marinello said. “We see dealers and auction houses coming in with questions about specific objects. We have seen catalogues for antiquities shrink.” Small items periodically appear on e-commerce sites: Two coins from Apamea, a looted archaeological site in Syria, recently showed up on eBay, priced at $84 and $133.

But most people agree that the market for larger, more valuable pieces has shrunk under international pressure. This concerns Ms. Tubb who fears that precious artifacts are being stashed in warehouses — in the Middle East but also in Europe — where they will remain hidden until the pressure eases.

Col. Ludovic Ehrhart, an investigator for France’s cultural theft police unit, told Le Monde that those trading in “blood antiquities” can afford to bide their time. “These long-standing networks wait three, five, even 10 years before they sell them on the official market, ‘’ he said.

The role played by terrorist groups such as Islamic State in the looting of antiquities from the Middle East has helped put a chill on the market, Mr. Marinello said. “It didn’t hurt that the F.B.I. has said you could be arrested for aiding international terrorism,” he said. “That is quite an incentive to not buy something.” Although Islamic State’s vicious attacks and subsequent pillaging of Syrian sites like Palmyra have attracted attention, there are other culprits.

The looting at Apamea, one of the largest and best preserved Roman and Byzantine sites in the world, took place on an industrial scale, as seen on satellite images that show the area pockmarked by a grid of more than 5,000 looting pits, at a time when the area was under the control of the Syrian government.

According to a 2015 report by the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Cultural Heritage Initiative, based on satellite images of 1,200 archaeological sites in Syria, more than 25 percent have been looted since the civil war began. Most of the pillaging happened in areas with weak governance, including places occupied by Kurdish and opposition forces, the report says.

Hard proof of the Islamic State’s involvement in antiquities trafficking came in May, when a United States-led raid on a compound in eastern Syria used by Abu Sayyaf, a commander identified as the director of the terrorist group’s oil smuggling and its trade in antique objects.

Abu Sayyaf, who was killed in the operation, was in possession of an odd assortment of artifacts — including an ivory plaque traced to the museum in Mosul, Iraq — Islamic State territory — as well as a collection of coins, bracelets and other easy-to-transport objects and a few obvious fakes.

The cache also revealed receipts for the 20 percent tax on precious materials — antiquities, but also minerals — collected from civilians by Islamic State. The total sum shown from these “tax” receipts reportedly amounted to $265,000, suggesting that the antiquities trade is just a small part of the group’s financing streams. But it shows the lengths to which the local population is willing to go to survive.


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Scans of Tutankhamun tomb show '90% chance' of hidden chambers


By Tony Gamal-Gabriel
March 17, 2016 7:24 AM

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Associated Press Videos

Scan of King Tut’s Tomb Shows Hidden Rooms

Scan of King Tut’s Tomb Shows Hidden Rooms

Scan of King Tut’s Tomb Shows Hidden Rooms

Radar scans of the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun in the ancient necropolis of Luxor showed a "90 percent" chance of two hidden chambers, possibly containing organic material, Egypt's antiquities minister has announced. Thursday.

Experts had scanned the tomb to find what a British archaeologist believes could be the resting place of Queen Nefertiti, the legendary beauty and wife of Tutankhamun's father whose mummy has never been found.

Preliminary scans of Tutankhamun's tomb reveal "two hidden rooms behind the burial chamber" of the boy king, Antiquities Minister Mamduh al-Damati told reporters.

"Yes, we have some empty space, but not total empty, including some organic and metal material," Damati said in English.

Experts are also scanning four pyramids to unravel the mysteries of the ancient monuments.

Using infrared technology, a team of researchers have been scanning the pyramids of Khufu, also known as the Great Pyramid, and Khafre at Giza and the Bent and Red pyramids in Dahshur, all south of Cairo.

Operation ScanPyramids, which aims to search for hidden rooms inside those four monuments, is expected to continue until the end of 2016.


In the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia, large sandstone outcrops diverted the flow of sand, allowing lakes and marshes to form several times in the past, and evidence has been found for repeated human occupations extending back hundreds of thousands of years.

The Arabian Peninsula saw some of the earliest human migrations, yet until just five years ago not a single Paleolithic site had been excavated or dated. Recent excavations in the United Arab Emirates and Yemen have confirmed early human occupations, yet most of the Peninsula remains almost unknown.

In the East Mediterranean Levant, the transition from the Lower to the Middle Paleolithic occurs about 250,000 years ago, with an abrupt change in material culture often attributed to population replacement. Though this transition occurs at different times around the world, research in Saudi Arabia suggests that in the north the change happens at the same time as in the Levant.

The early phases of the Middle Paleolithic remain poorly understood. The era between about 130,000 to 75,000 years ago has produced a far larger body of finds in Arabia. This is the period when we see evidence for the earliest expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into the Levant, generally regarded as a failed dispersal.

No archaeological sites are currently known for the period of around 70,000-60,000 years ago. The next wave of human occupation occurred about 60,000 to 55,000 years ago, still associated with a Middle Paleolithic technology broadly similar to tools produced at this time by Neanderthals in the Levant. The youngest known Middle Paleolithic assemblages in Arabia, dating to around 40,000 years ago, are found in the United Arab Emirates. There is then a complete absence of human occupation across the Peninsula until the transition to the Holocene, about 12,000 years ago.

Major debate surrounds the process by which the Neolithic way of life developed in Arabia: was it imported from the Levant, or of indigenous origin? Evidence from stone tools and rock art which date to the earliest phases of this period suggest a bit of both - not simple population dispersal, but rather of some form of cultural diffusion.

At the remarkable site of Shuwaymis, 'Neolithic' rock art reflects at least two phases. The first is associated with hunter-gatherers, often showing horses, hunting dogs, and human figures with bows. The second shows cattle, but no hunting scenes, and the pastoralists selectively re-engraved some of the earlier hunter-gatherer images. For example, humans were sometimes re-engraved, but the bow and arrows they were holding were not.

Along with findings from southern Arabia, this suggests both continuity and change: Arabia was not simply an empty space into which people moved.


A team of researchers, headed up by the Tel Aviv University (Israel), has recently been studying animal remains fund in a cave known as the Qesem Cave, located 12 km from Tel Aviv.

Human occupation of the cave was first identified in 2010 and is recorded as having started approximately 400,000 years ago and covered a span of 200,000 years. Whilst it is widely known that early humans captured, cooked and ate large game (in addition to a vegetarian diet), the discovery made by the team indicates that turtles also formed a significant part of their diet. Whilst not being as nutritious as larger game, the turtles nevertheless provided substantial calorific value, enough to warrant the time and effort needed in their capture, transport and preparation.

Studies of the remains found indicate that there were two main ways of cooking these heavily armored creatures, either by roasting whole within the shell or by splitting the shell open with flint tools and roasting the flesh on its own. As turtle remains were found at most levels throughout the cave it is thought that they must have been part of the diet throughout the 200,000-year human occupation.

Edited from EurekAlert! (1 February 2016)
[4 images]

Wednesday, March 02, 2016


The extra sites include the house of Julia Felix, an extravagant ancient spa, the Little House of the Orchard, which is home to colorful frescoes, and the gardens of the House of Venus in the Shell.

Tourists will also be able to see some human casts, shown for the first time, and an exhibition of Egyptian art and statues, called 'Egypt Pompeii', from mid-April.

New routes around the site will also be opened, allowing access to these new areas and also ensuring that the usual routes do not get worn out by the three million visitors who come to Pompeii each year


The western appetite for antiquities has always been a motivation for others to loot them. The same individuals who pride themselves on their appreciation of cultural heritage create situations that lead to the pillage of ancient sites, as the trade in illicit artifacts is fueled by demand. Objects are placed on the market because they have economic value. Western buyers purchase antiquities at depressed prices after they have passed hands from looters, smugglers or middlemen, creating greater incentive to loot and smuggle. In fact, there is evidence that Islamic State acts with the market in mind.

Tellingly, there has been a vast increase in supply of antiquities from Syria and Iraq. According to US customs, there has been a 145% increase in imports of Syrian cultural property and a 61% increase in imports of Iraqi cultural property between 2011 and 2013, suggesting that illicit trade is piggybacking on the legal trade. Government officials opine that antiquities have become a more significant revenue source for Isis as the conflict has progressed.

Buyers are either unaware of the damage caused by the black market, feel callously unconcerned that their purchases lead to destruction, or justify their actions believing that they are “saving” objects from conflict zones. (This reasoning is facetious because removing antiquities from their historical contexts and into private collections without proper archaeological research contributes nothing to the historical record or the public.) Thus, one way to reduce demand for loot is through education. Some collectors are uninformed about the buyer’s instrumental role in the looting mechanism and the harm that their purchases create.

Art collectors and art dealers must apply robust due diligence; purchasers should buy objects from reputable sources, investigate an object’s history and procure all documentation, including all requisite licenses and customs forms. If these documents are unavailable, then buyers must refrain from the acquisition. The provenience or “find spot” of objects from politically torn nations should act as a red flag. With increased education and available information, it becomes difficult for buyers to claim that they lacked information about the illegal origin of an object. In fact, there is ample information available to art buyers through databases, government warnings, art consultants, social media and educational resources. Just as investors complete due diligence before entering business transactions, so should art buyers bear the responsibility for their purchases. Collectors should confer with art lawyers and art market professionals to investigate a dealer’s reputation, professional standing and prior lawsuits involving their business practices. Due diligence encourages legitimate and responsible trade.

Quite simply, Isis profits from loot and regulates black market profits. During a raid on one of Isis’s leaders, armed forces discovered extensive records concerning plundered goods. Through their findings it is clear that the objects come to the west. The FBI issued a warning that looted artefacts are on the market. The notice is supported by first-hand accounts of Syrian objects being bought and sold. Impoverished, unemployed locals loot objects to support and feed their families, paying Isis a tax on artefacts leaving its territory. Turkey commonly serves as the gateway, and the objects reach the international market quickly. The works enter commerce surreptitiously, often sold online via photos or video chat, with items even appearing on eBay. Undercover investigations have confirmed that illicit goods have reached buyers in Europe and the US; government officials have evidence that loot appears on the markets in New York and London.

American and European legislators are tackling the problem by proposing laws to reduce the influx of plundered antiquities. Yet even with targeted laws, unscrupulous buyers will purchase loot. Collectors should be made aware that there are dangers other than legal penalties. Illicit goods are problematic from an investment perspective. At resale, lower prices are generated for objects without clear ownership histories. Provenance (an object’s ownership history) is considered during the valuation process, and pieces with strong provenance typically sell for significantly higher prices. If a work is revealed to be looted, there may be a cloud on its title that vitiates its value and makes the work vulnerable to seizure. Buyers may be rightfully haunted by their purchases for years to come.


Prosecutors Tuesday will unveil charges against an alleged Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist accused of destroying monuments at the fabled city of Timbuktu in an unprecedented case before the world's only permanent war crimes court.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


In total, the surviving section of the artwork measures 8 feet across and 5 feet high. It may have decorated the reception room of a wealthy person’s home. Nearly 20 feet (6 meters) below the streets of London, archaeologists discovered this fragile Roman painting featuring deer and birds.

Excavators from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) were carefully digging for Roman artifacts at 21 Lime Street, near Leadenhall Market in central London, ahead of the construction of an office building at the site.
They say the newly uncovered fresco was discovered facedown in the soil. The painted wall was likely toppled and sealed underground around A.D. 100, when Roman builders flattened the area to make way for construction of the civic center for the city, the forum basilica.

Paintings are far more fragile than stone and metal artifacts, so not many ancient wall murals survive intact in the archaeological record. There are famous examples from Pompeii, the city that was preserved in volcanic ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. But in London, complete paintings are much more scarce, though fragments of Roman wall plaster have been found before, MOLA archaeologists said. The newfound fresco, its painted surface just a millimeter thick, may be one of the oldest artworks of its kind to survive from the time of Roman Britain, they added.

At the construction site on Lime Street, the painted plaster was lifted from the ground in 16 sections, still encased in dirt. Only after a “microexcavation” in a lab were the archaeologists able to see what the surviving section of the painting looked like: It had red panels on the sides and at the center, there were green and black vertical panels with deer reaching their necks up to nibble attrees above a set of blue-green birds and a vine woven around a candle holder.What’s left of the fresco measures about 8 feet (2.5m) across and 5 feet (1.5 m) high.

“This was a really challenging but rewarding conservation project,” Liz Goodman, an archaeological conservator for MOLA, said in a statement. “We were up against the clock working on this huge and fragile fresco but it was a joy to uncover the decorative plaster that hadn’t been seen for nearly 2,000 years.”

The researchers are still studying the painting and the archaeological records from the site to get a better idea of what life was like in this section of the city during the Roman period, but they said the painting most likely adorned the wall of a reception room of a private home where guests were entertained.


Cultural destruction has always been a part of warfare. Nazi Germany’s attempt to remodel Europe according to its own worldview was not limited to invasion and mass atrocities: hundreds and thousands of books, works of art and other cultural relics were destroyed or looted.

Today is no different. From Mali to Syria, heritage sites are being razed to the ground. Even by historical standards, though, the actions of ISIS have left many shocked: “In Iraq, they’ve gone on a rampage of destruction not seen since the Mongol’s sacking of Baghdad in 1258,” CNN reported as ISIS ran bulldozers through Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra.

The Antiquities Coalition has also put together a collection of “before and after” photos that reveal the damage inflicted across the Middle East by terrorist organizations. In Syria alone, six UNESCO World Heritage sites have been damaged and destroyed since the start of the civil war.

But when thousands of people are being killed, enslaved, raped or forced to flee, some might question whether the protection of buildings and archaeological sites is really a priority.

For Irina Bokova, head of UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural arm, it’s not the buildings themselves that matter: it’s what they represent. “The destruction of culture has become an instrument of terror, in a global strategy to undermine societies, propagate intolerance and erase memories. This cultural cleansing is a war crime that is now used as a tactic of war, to tear humanity from the history it shares,” she wrote on this blog back in January. “This is why the protection of culture must be an integral part of all humanitarian and security efforts, and cannot be delinked from the protection of human lives and the support we owe to all the victims.”


Israeli archaeologists have discovered evidence of a 7,000-year-old human settlement in northern Jerusalem in a dig conducted in the Shaft neighborhood. The dig was organized and funded by the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation.

Remnants discovered from what archaeologists have said is the Chalcolithic period include buildings, pottery, flint tools, and a basalt bowl. That period in early human history is known for being the first time that humans used copper tools.

“Remains from the Chalcolithic period have been found in the Negev, the coastal plain, the Galilee, and the Golan, but they have been almost completely absent in the Judean Hills and in Jerusalem,” explained Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) Prehistory Branch Chairman Dr. Omri Barzilai.

“We also recovered a few bones of sheep, goat, and possibly cattle,” said IAA Excavations Director Ronit Lupo. “These will be analyzed further in the Israel Antiquities Authority laboratories, permitting us to recreate the dietary habits of the people who lived here 7,000 years ago and enhancing our understanding of the settlement’s economy.”

Lupo added, “Besides for the pottery, the fascinating finds attest to the livelihood of the local population in prehistoric times—small sickle blades for harvesting cereal crops, chisels and polished axes for building,borers, awls, and even a bead made of carnelian (a gemstone), indicating that jewelry was either made or imported.”


The site, named NEG II, is located in Wadi Ein-Gev, west of the Sea of Galilee and south of the Golan Heights town of Katzrin, and is estimated to cover an area of roughly 1,200 square meters (three acres).

In a series of excavations, archaeologists found numerous artifacts pointing to a vast human settlement including burial remains, flint tools, art manifestations, faunal assemblage and stone and bone tools. While other sites from the same period have been unearthed in the area, the Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said that NEG II was unique in that it contains cultural characteristics typical of both the Old Stone Age — known as the Paleolithic period — and the New Stone Age, known as the Neolithic period.

“Although attributes of the stone tool kit found at NEG II place the site chronologically in the Paleolithic period, other characteristics – such as its artistic tradition, size, thickness of archaeological deposits and investment in architecture – are more typical of early agricultural communities in the Neolithic period,” said chief excavator Dr. Leore Grosman. “Characterizing this important period of potential overlap in the Jordan Valley is crucial for the understanding of the socioeconomic processes that marked the shift from Paleolithic mobile societies of hunter-gatherers to Neolithic agricultural communities,” she added.

According to Grosman, NEG II was likely occupied in the midst of the cold and dry global climatic event known as the Younger Dryas, when temperatures declined sharply over most of the northern hemisphere around 12,900–11,600 years ago. Affected by climatic changes, groups in the area became increasingly mobile and potentially smaller in size, she said. NEG II, however, shows that some groups in the Jordan Valley may have become larger in size and preferred town-like settlements to a nomadic existence.

Researchers said this shift in settlement pattern could be related to climate conditions that provided the ingredients necessary for prehistoric man to take the final steps toward agriculture in the southern Levant. "It is not surprising that at a number of sites in the Jordan Valley we find a cultural entity that bridges the crossroads between Late Paleolithic foragers and Neolithic farmers,” Grosman said.


In 1997, scientists found the first scrap of Neanderthal DNA in a fossil. Since then, they have recovered genetic material, even entire genomes, from a number of Neanderthal bones, and their investigations have yielded a remarkable surprise: Today, 1 to 2 percent of the DNA in non-African people comes from Neanderthals.

That genetic legacy is the result of interbreeding roughly 50,000 years ago between Neanderthals and the common ancestors of Europeans and Asians. Recent studies suggest that Neanderthal genes even influence human health today, contributing to conditions from allergies to depression.

Now scientists have found that the genes flowed both ways. In a study published on Wednesday in Nature, a team of scientists reports that another instance of interbreeding left Neanderthals in Siberia with chunks of human DNA. This exchange, the scientists conclude, took place about 100,000 years ago. That’s a puzzling date, because a great deal of evidence indicates that the ancestors of today’s non-Africans did not expand out of Africa until 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. It’s possible, then, that these Neanderthals acquired DNA from a mysterious early migration of humans.


Early humans may have had romantic rendezvous with Neanderthals much earlier than previously thought. While scientists have long known that some ancient humans intermingled with our stocky cousins, a new study suggests that the relations could have started tens of thousands of years earlier than previously suggested.

Genomic analysis of a Siberian Neanderthal women discovered in the Altai mountains revealed bits of modern human DNA, Will Dunham reports for Reuters, which scientists traced back to hominid trists roughly 100,000 years ago.

In 2010, scientists discovered strands of Neanderthal DNA still lingering in modern Europeans and Asians—as much as one to two percent, reports Carl Zimmer for The New York Times. This genetic mark is a remnant of the ancient European and Asian ancestors who journeyed out of Africa into Neanderthal territory around 50,000 to 65,000 years ago.

But the latest study, published in the journal Nature, identifies a much older period of hominid coupling and DNA exchange, reports Colin Barras for New Scientist. Since Neanderthals never made it to Africa, it may represent an early wave of human explorers.

Read more:


Fossils of Homo floresiensis—dubbed "the hobbits" due to their tiny stature—were discovered on the island of Flores in 2003 have been controversial ever since their discovery as to whether they are an unknown branch of early humans or specimens of modern man deformed by disease.

The new study, based on an analysis of the skull bones, shows once and for all that the pint-sized people were not Homo sapiens, according to the researchers.

Until now, academic studies have pointing in one direction or another—and scientific discourse has sometimes tipped over into acrimony. One school of thought holds that so-called Flores Man descended from the larger Homo erectus and became smaller over hundreds of generations.

An adult hobbit stood a meter (three feet) tall, and weighed about 25 kilos (55 pounds). Similarly, Flores Island was also home to a miniature race of extinct, elephant-like creatures called Stegodon.

But other researchers argue that H. floresiensis was in fact a modern human whose tiny size and small brain—no bigger than a grapefruit—was caused by a genetic disorder. One suspect was dwarf cretinism, sometimes brought on by a lack of iodine. Another potential culprit was microcephaly, which shrivels not just the brain and its boney envelope.

Weighing in with a new approach, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, a pair of scientists in France used high-tech tools to re-examine the layers of the "hobbit" skull.

Read more at:


Excavations at site 80 kilometers northwest of London revealed a complex, multi-period archaeological landscape with significant remains dating to the Neolithic, Iron Age, Roman, and Saxon periods. The most unexpected discovery was a causewayed enclosure - one of only 80 or so such monuments known in the country.

Causewayed enclosures are of great significance in the Neolithic period, and represent the earliest known enclosure of open space. They vary greatly in form, but are characterized by their perimeter earthworks - ditches and banks constructed in short lengths, separated by undisturbed ground. The enclosures do not appear to have been permanently occupied, and were probably places where dispersed groups periodically gathered for a range of activities.

The newly discovered site has three roughly concentric ditches enclosing an area of high ground overlooking the valley of the River Thames. A small Neolithic henge monument was later constructed within the causewayed enclosure. A second, smaller ring-ditch close to the henge may also be of later Neolithic date.

During the Bronze Age, the site saw no activity which left a mark in the archaeological record, however it is possible the site continued to play an important role in the lives of local communities.

Not until the early Iron Age was a settlement built on the site - mostly on lower ground, away from the causewayed enclosure. The remains of a substantial enclosure, roundhouses, clusters of pits, and a number of granaries date to this period.

During the Roman occupation, a number of trackways were built leading to the higher ground occupied by the causewayed enclosure. A series of enclosures were constructed off the trackways and these were adapted and modified throughout the Roman period. Within the enclosures, at least six corn-drying ovens and a number of circular ovens and hearths were built. It is likely the site was then an important centre for processing agricultural produce from the surrounding area.

Following the end of the Roman period, the site was once again settled. The town of Thame is known to have been founded in the Saxon period, and it is likely the site was part of this settlement. The remains of eleven sunken-featured buildings were found, dating to the 6th to 7th century CE. Characteristic of the Saxon period, these were roughly rectangular pits dug into the ground, with a post at either end supporting a simple roof. It is thought they were workshops. Many contained objects associated with weaving, such as loom weights, bone pins and spindle whorls.

Edited from Cotswold Archaeology (October 2015)
[11 images]


Teeth from a cave in Hunan Province, southeastern China, show that Homo sapiens reached there around 100,000 years ago, a time when most current researchers thought our species had not moved far beyond Africa. Recent
excavations of an extensive cave system in Daoxian County discovered 47 human teeth, as well as the remains of hyenas, extinct giant pandas, and dozens of other animal species, but no stone tools; it is likely that humans never lived in the cave.

Maria Martinon-Torres, a palaeo-anthropologist at University College London who co-led the study, says the overall shape of the teeth is barely distinguishable from those of both ancient and present-day humans. The team dated various calcite deposits in the cave, and used the assortment of animal remains to deduce that the human teeth were probably between 80,000 and 120,000 years old.

Those ages challenge the conventional wisdom that Homo sapiens from Africa began colonizing the world only around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Older traces of modern humans have been seen outside Africa, such as the roughly 100,000-year-old remains from caves in Israel, but many had argued those remains are from an unsuccessful migration.

Without DNA from the teeth, it is impossible to determine the relationship between the Daoxian people and other humans, including present-day Asians, but Jean-Jacques Hublin, a palaeo-anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, thinks that later waves of humans replaced them. Other genetic evidence suggests that present-day East Asians descend from humans who interbred with Neanderthals in western Asia some 55,000 to 60,000 years ago.

It is not clear why modern humans would have reached East Asia so long before they reached Europe, where the earliest remains are about 45,000 years old. Martinon-Torres suggests that humans could not gain a foothold in Europe until Neanderthals there were teetering on extinction. The frigid climate of Ice Age Europe may have been another barrier.

Hublin says that although the Daoxian teeth may be older than 80,000 years, several of the teeth have visible cavities, a feature uncommon in human teeth older than 50,000 years. "It could be that early modern humans had a peculiar diet in tropical Asia," he says. "But I am pretty sure that this observation will raise some eyebrows." Martinon-Torres says her team plans to look more closely at the cavities and the diet of the Daoxian humans by examining patterns of tooth wear.

Edited from Nature (14 October 2015)
[2 images, 1 map, podcast link]