Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Iraqi government's reports that the ancient archaeological sites of Nimrud and Hatra were completely destroyed and leveled to the ground by the Islamic State (Isis) have been disputed by an international association of archaeologists citing satellite imagery and local professional sources. Claims that Nimrud, an Assyrian 13th century BC site, and Hatra, a world heritage site blending Hellenistic and Roman architecture with Eastern decorative elements, were "bulldozed" by IS were first reported by the Iraqi ministry of tourism and antiquities.

The destruction would be the latest in a series of attacks on ancient artifacts and antiquities in Iraq and Syria in the name of an iconoclastic and strict interpretation of Islamic Law by IS. The jihadist group draws inspiration from early Islamic history, rejects religious shrines and condemns Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims as heretics. Irina Bokova, head of the UN cultural agency Unesco, called the alleged demolition of Hatra "a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing under way in Iraq".

But Marc Lebeau, Belgian archaeologist and founder of non-profit Shirin (Syrian Heritage in Danger: an International research initiative and network), told IBTimes UK that these "single-sourced statements" are not supported by any sources on the ground."I had some doubts at the beginning. I tried to cross check this information with Asor, with their sources and partners. We also have our own sources in Mosul and Nineveh province. They are all professionals and able to access any damage. They didn't say anything. If something had happened they would've told us immediately. We don't have any confirmation from these sources," he said.

The most recent satellite imagery from UNOSat via the Unesco World Heritage Centre "do not reveal any massive human/mechanical presence, nor visible destruction" in the Nineveh province areas in question, according to Lebeau, who added that nonetheless we need to be cautious about IS.

Unesco confirmed to IBTimes UK that satellite images show that the sites of Nimrud and Hatra "have not been completely razed to the ground" but added that it is difficult to tell what really happened. "The images' resolution is really low so it's difficult to get a conclusive result. It's not clear whether damages have taken place to the site. We're in the process of analysing the images and comparing them to the previous ones taken at the site," said Giovanni Boccardi of Unesco's World Heritage Centre.

He said that many sculptures and decorations "could have been destroyed" by the Islamic State. "It's difficult to assess the situation from the satellite pictures. Even if they only destroyed a part of the site or knocked off a decoration, it would still be a total catastrophe."


Asier Gómez-Olivencia, an Ikerbasque researcher at the UPV/EHU, has led a piece of research that has produced a 3D reconstruction of the remains of a two-year-old Neanderthal recovered from an excavation carried out back in the 1970s at La Ferrassie (Dordogne, France). The work reveals the existence of anatomical differences between the Neanderthals and our species, even in the smallest ossicles of the human body.

The Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia between 230,000 and 28,000 years ago; during the last few millennia they coincided with Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and became extinct for reasons that are still being challenged. The archaeological site at La Ferrassie, excavated throughout the 20th century, is a mythical enclave because it was where 7 Neanderthal skeletons, ranging from foetuses to almost complete skeletons of adults, were found.

Among the remains discovered at La Ferrassie is the skeleton of a 2-year-old Neanderthal child found between 1970 and 1973 and baptized La Ferrassie 8; over 40 years since its discovery it has turned out to be useful in shedding new light on the anatomy of this extinct species. The study of these new remains has been published in the Journal of Human Evolution, and has also had the participation of researchers of the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research) in Paris and Bordeaux. The fact that a discovery of such significance has been made thanks to reviewing the remains excavated in the 1970s provides the researcher with proof of "the importance and need to review old excavations. We're in no doubt about that."

The study began by reviewing the collections at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris and at the Museo d'Archéologie national de St. Germain-en-Laye linked to the excavations at La Ferrassie in 1970 and 1973; it was there that 47 new fossils belonging to La Ferrassie 8, which complete its skeleton further, were recovered. Remains of a skull, jaw, vertebrae, ribs and hand phalanges were found among the new fossils.

Featuring among the remains is a very complete left temporal bone and an auditory ossicle was found inside it: a complete stapes. Virtual 3D reconstruction techniques enabled this ossicle to be "extracted virtually" and studied.
This stapes is the most complete one in the Neanderthal record and certifies that there are morphological differences between our species and the Neanderthals even in the smallest ossicles in the human body. As Asier Gómez-Olivencia pointed out, "we do not yet know the relation between these morphological differences and hearing in the Neanderthals. This would constitute a new challenge for the future."

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Archaeologists say they have been given a “rare glimpse” into a vast Roman villa with winged corridors and a pavilion-style room with an underfloor heating system on the proposed site of a new bypass in North Yorkshire. Small sections of tessellated mosaic and a concrete floor, covered by wall plaster lying face down on top of it, have been discovered in Bedale, where an excavation of the villa, launched in November 2014, has unearthed pottery from between the mid-3rd and 4th centuries and a nearby ditched enclosure from the late Iron Age Romano-British period. The site lies comparatively close to Dere Street, a former Roman road, and within ten kilometres of the major Roman site at Catterick.

The villa is located on a ridge of higher land defined by Scurf Beck to the west, which flows southwards into Bedale Beck, a tributary of the River Swale, and Dere Street Roman road to the east.Geophysical surveying indicates that the villa is of a substantial size and is set within a landscape of enclosures and field systems. The road corridor runs through the western extent of the villa and a triangular area of land has also been stripped of topsoil to the east to better understand the Aiskew villa complex. The masonry walls of the villa have been robbed at some date, with the stones presumably used to build structures somewhere in the vicinity.

An intact concrete floor surface survives in the room at the north-east end of the corridor beneath areas of painted wall plaster which had collapsed onto the floor, possibly when the villa was demolished. A small square room with internal dimensions of around four meters appears to have been added on to the north-west side of the villa complex at some date. This was a room heated by a hypcocaust system, demonstrated by the remains of pilae stacks which would have supported a suspended floor. Hot air would have been drawn under the floor from a fire within an external stokehole identified on the north-west side of the room. Hollow wall tiles know as box-flue tiles would have been attached to the inside of the stone external walls and the hot air would have travelled up through the tiles and out of the building through vents. The internal surface of the tiles was covered in layers of plaster and the final layer was painted. The demolition debris excavated from this room by experts contained large quantities of wall tiles and painted wall plaster in many different colours, suggesting that this was a well-appointed room. It may have been used for entertaining and could perhaps be a heated dining room. Stone and tile roof tiles have also been recovered from demolition deposits across the building.

Quantities of animal bone have been found alongside oyster and mussel shells. Personal items including bone pins and copper-alloy brooches have been discovered, as well as iron tools including knives and a cleaver, used to butcher animals.

Such enclosures were in use in the region from the Late Iron Age, with the local population continuing to occupy many sites into the Roman period. The interior of the Bedale enclosure has been badly damaged by ploughing and all that survives are a few pits; there are no traces of insubstantial structures such as roundhouses.The upper fills of the ditch have produced small quantities of handmade Iron Age tradition pottery; such pottery is not closely datable as it was manufactured in this region over a very long period and continued to be manufactured during the Roman period. The enclosure was obviously in use into the Roman period as a small quantity of wheel-thrown Romano-British and imported samian pottery has also been found.


Examination of stone artifacts between 1.77 and 1.95 million years old suggested that they could be toys played with by children. “This is an amazing discovery,” said professor Wei Qi, paleoanthropologist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and lead scientist of the project at the Heitugou site in Nihewan basin, Yangyuan county. “The site is a treasure chamber that may hold some useful clues to answer a lot of important questions, from the social structure of the early hominids to whether, when and how they arrived in Asia all the way from Africa.”

The “playground” was not big, but seemingly bustling with activity. In an area less than six square meters, scientists found more than 700 stone artifacts with nearly 20,000 fragmented pieces. Wei, now retired and spending most of his time at the site, believed that these stone pieces were made by the hands of children and women. More than 80 per cent of them were small, ranging 20 – 50mm in length, with most carrying no sign of wear by use at all.

There is other evidence suggesting the site was a playground instead of a living or working area. Researchers failed to find large amount of animal remains that are common in a habitat, and the near absence of large size stone tools could be a sign that few adult workers were involved in these activities. Though the site was discovered as early as 2002, it was not until recently that the scientists were able to date it with any certainty.

Using a geochronological tool called magnetostratigraphy, which analyzed the direction change of the ancient Earth’s magnetic field that was recorded in the site’s sediment, the scientists found the Heitugou site to be older than the famous Dmanisi site in Georgia, which was regarded the earliest known hominid site outside of Africa.

The concentrated distribution and little wear showed that they were buried by a sudden event, likely a landslide, which protected them from later exposure to winds and precipitation. Before the catastrophic event, the playground was likely a small paradise. Nihewan basin, now a rugged landscape with deep gorges, used to be an enormous lake which provided an ideal habitat for early hominids. In the past century, researchers have discovered numerous early hominid sites in the area.

But Wei’s discovery at the Heitugou site was not without controversy. Gao Xing, researcher with the CAS Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, said the biggest concern was whether the stone pieces were all made by hand.


Altamura Man was discovered in a cave in southern Italy in 1993 by cave explorers. The finding was reported to researchers at the University of Bari. The remains were embedded in rock and were covered in a thick layer of calcite

It was thought that excavating the remains would cause irreparable damage and thus, they have remained in situ for over twenty years, leaving researchers to rely on casual observation for their studies. For that reason, there was some debate initially about morphology and age. Subsequent study led to a consensus that the remains (only the head and part of a shoulder are visible) were that of an archaic Neanderthal, of a Homo genus believed to have been widespread in Europe 200,000 to 40,000 years ago.

The researchers with the current project began their work six years ago—a tiny part of shoulder bone (and stalactite fragments) was extracted and brought back to the lab for study. Analysis by Uranium-thorium dating revealed that the calcite was formed 172,000 to 130,000 years ago—during the penultimate quaternary glaciations period. The team also reports that samples of DNA have also been retrieved from the sample, and because of the age, represent the oldest such samples ever recovered from Neanderthal remains.

It is believed that Altamura Man wound up in such a peculiar spot after falling in a well and getting stuck—it is assumed he starved to death, or died from lack of water intake. The researchers next plan to test the DNA sample to see if it can be sequenced—if so, they are hopeful it might reveal new details about the evolution of hominids in general and perhaps more about the early history of the Neanderthal.

Read more at:


Spread across the imaginary line between western Belize and northeastern Guatemala, El Pilar is considered the largest site in the Belize River region, boasting over 25 known plazas and hundreds of other structures, covering an area of about 120 acres. Monumental construction at El Pilar began in the Middle Preclassic period, around 800 BCE, and at its height centuries later it supported more than 20,000 people. Ford, who is the Director of the BRASS/El Pilar Program at the MesoAmerican Research Center of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has taken a "hands-off", highly selective conservation approach to investigating the site. With the exception of a fully exposed Maya house structure, most of the structures at El Pilar have remained completely conserved by design, still covered in their tropical shroud. The Citadel excavations will open a new chapter in the research at El Pilar.

For three decades, archaeologist Anabel Ford has been exploring and studying the ancient Maya site of El Pilar, but until now she has never encountered anything like the ‘Citadel’. “We discovered a completely new component of the greater site that does not meet with any traditional expectations,” said Ford. “It shares nothing in common with Classic Maya centers: no clear open plaza, no cardinal structure orientation, and curiously no evident relationship to the major Classic site of El Pilar, little more that 600 meters away."

What Ford was describing was an unseen building, or associated complex of buildings, that was recently only detected by remote sensing technology—more specifically, a laser application known as LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging—in this instance an airborne remote sensing technique utilizing a helicopter employing laser technology to penetrate the thick vegetation and forest canopy that overlies and enshrouds objects and structures. It is a way of ‘seeing through’ the forest to reveal things otherwise invisible to the naked eye.

LiDAR helped to produce a remarkable map of El Pilar, revealing unexposed Maya architectural and other human-made features that, although still hidden from the naked eye, fit an often-seen pattern. This new set of structures, however, was something new. Dubbed the “Citadel” because of its location perched atop a ridge with the appearance of fortifications, it contains concentric terracing and four ‘temples’, each about three to four meters high. Unlike the other structure complexes, it seems by placement to have been isolated from the rest of greater El Pilar.
“The complex stretches from south to north across nearly a kilometer of terrain dramatically shaped into the hill with evident design and purpose,” states Ford. “The enormous complex presents a mystery. What is its origin? When was it built? How was it used? Why was it isolated?”

In a quest to find answers, Ford will be returning to the site in 2015, this time to do some ‘ground-truthing” and excavation. It will involve preliminary excavations to gather information about the nature and use of the constructions and terraces.

Ford hypothesizes that the Citadel, if it is a Classic period site, may have been designed and used for purposes separate from the Classic period site of El Pilar nearby, but she suggests two other contending possibilities: It could be an early, Preclassic (before 250 BCE) construction, before the organization of buildings on plazas became standardized during the Classic period (200 – 1000 CE); or it could be a later construction of the Postclassic period (after 1200 CE) when defensive locations were common. This would explain the massive terracing and the higher, ridge-top location.


The research, published in the journal Nature, suggests that early hominids may have been far more diverse than previously thought.

Discovered in a cave in South Africa in the early 1990s, Little Foot (named for his tiny feet) was first thought to be about 4 million years old. But later estimates, based on minerals found in the same cave, placed him closer to 2.2 million years old. For years, scientists could not agree.

Now, an international team of researchers has turned to a dating technique that measures levels of aluminum and beryllium in the rock layer holding the fossil. Their conclusion: Little Foot is 3.67 million years old, about half a million years older than Lucy.

If accurate, the new estimate suggests that there may have been many different species of Australopithecus inhabiting a far greater range in Africa than previously thought.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Despite its name, the Villa of the Mysteries, arguably the best-known monument at the archaeological site here buried by Vesuvian fury in A.D. 79, has something to reveal.

Restorations completed earlier this year and presented recently have disclosed the brilliant colors as they existed at the time of the eruption, as well as repair work that was done on some figures in ancient times, preservation officials said. An international team of experts used both traditional and high-tech methods to restore the mosaics and frescoes and supporting structures in the villa during the two-year project.

“This is the most ambitious restoration ever because it involved all the rooms,” said Massimo Osanna, the culture ministry official in charge of the site.

Though Pompeii is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, drawing more than 2.5 million visitors annually, in recent years, the site has most often grabbed headlines when something went wrong, usually an incident involving the collapse of a wall after bad weather. The criticism has made Italian officials bristle, and the culture minister, Dario Franceschini, grumbled on Friday that since the world’s news media has been so quick to “shine a spotlight on Pompeii every time something negative happens,” he hoped the news media would be as enthusiastic in reporting the restoration of “a pearl.”

Controversy has hounded the caretakers of one of the world’s largest open-air museums practically since it was first excavated in 1748. Exposure to the elements and the wear and tear tourists have proved to be serious challenges to safeguarding the vast site, not to mention the damage from the eruption, the occasional earthquake and the Allied bombing in 1943. And all too often restorers are called on to remedy the unintentional damage caused by their predecessors. In the 1960s, for example, “concrete was seen as the great save-all — it’s taken years to remove old restorations,” said Antonio Varone, a former director of the excavations at Pompeii.

Three years ago, the public outcry over Pompeii’s state of health prompted the European Union to allocate nearly €80 million (about $86.5 million) for its preservation, topped off by Italy for a total of €105 million (or $113.5 million.) There’s a catch: the funds must be spent by the end of 2015, or be returned, and critics have accused Pompeii officials of dragging their heels. Officials in Pompeii said on Friday that a sizable portion of the funds had already been earmarked for projects, and they felt confident that they would be able to meet the year-end deadline.

The cash infusion also covered 85 new jobs for archaeologists and engineers, and six-month apprenticeships for 150 budding archaeologists assigned to organize thousands of artifacts that have been in deposits for decades. Sidi Gorica, a recently graduated archaeologist at the University of Bologna said working at the site, even if only for a few months, was a dream come true. “It enriches you,” he said.

Mosaics were restored one piece at a time, while frescoes were cleaned. Lasers were also used on the frescoes, in particular to remove layers of wax that had been applied since the 1930s, oxidizing over time to darken the colors. The restored palette is what Pompeiians saw when Vesuvius erupted, Mr. Osanna said, adding that the lasers also allowed restorers to determine that some figures had already been repaired in ancient times. “Problems of deterioration had begun before the eruption,” he said. Experts also used ultrasound, thermal imaging and radar to study the walls of the villa and gauge their level of deterioration. The results will be published in the coming months so that they can be consulted for future restorations.

Sunday, April 05, 2015


A rare sample of prehistoric rock art has been found on an ancient pilgrimage route to Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo (Ireland). The prehistoric engravings resemble that found in Lough Crew, Co Meath, and is one of just of two rock art samples of its type to be identified west of the Shannon, according to archaeologist Michael Gibbons.

The panel had been concealed behind the outcropping at the Boheh townland known as St Patrick's chair, which has some 250 petroglyphs or carvings on its surface. The carvings are believed to have been inspired by the 'rolling sun' phenomenon, where the setting sun appears to glide down the flank of Croagh Patrick during the months of April and August.

The new panel was found by Michael Moylan of Ardmore, Co Galway and Mr Gibbons during field work they were doing for a series of educational programs for Connemara Community Radio.

The panel has spiral engravings, which are not as weathered as those on the chair due to the shelter afforded by its concealment. Mr Gibbons said that the site dates back about 5,800 years. "Rock art is more frequent in the southwest, in Donegal and in Wicklow, but is very elusive in the west," he said. It has been identified at Lochán na Sídhe near Tourmakeady in Co Mayo.

Edited from The Irish Times (27 February 2015)
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Archeologists are probing a Neolithic henge in the middle of Aghagallon which they believe dates back more than 4,500 years. The name of this small village in County Armagh (Northern Ireland) comes from the Gaelic 'Achadh Gallan', meaning 'field of the standing stone', and it was just a few years ago that its true significance was uncovered when they discovered the giant ringed site.

For many years it was unclear where this standing stone might be, however when the local community association made plans to extend its building on the Aghalee Road, it was discovered that they were right beside the standing stone. The ringed site which is in the townland of Derrynaseer was designated as a scheduled historic monument in 2003. It is formed by a large earthen bank which encloses a domed area some 180m in diameter and is clearly visible on Google Earth.

Archeologists from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) have been on-site recently and are carrying out non-invasive investigations to try and discover what lies beneath this site

A spokesperson for the NIEA said: "Based on the physical form of the surviving remains of the earthwork we believe that it is probably a henge, a prehistoric ritual monument, which would have been built some 4,500 years ago by local early farming communities. There are only eight surviving examples of this type of monument in Northern Ireland, the most famous being the Giant's Ring, which is located just outside Belfast."

Edited from LurganMail (3 March 2015)
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Professor Ran Barkai and two graduate students from the Tel Aviv University Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures recently confirmed that stone tools found among elephant remains at a Lower Palaeolithic site in Israel held traces of animal remains - the first scientifically verified direct evidence for the precise use of Palaeolithic stone tools to process animal carcasses and hides.

"Fracturing rocks in order to butcher and cut animal meat represents a key biological and cultural milestone," Professor Barkai says. "At the Revadim quarry, a wonderfully preserved site a half-million years old, we found butchered animal remains, including an elephant rib bone which had been neatly cut by a stone tool, alongside flint hand-axes and scrapers still retaining animal fat. It became clear from further analyses that butchering and carcass processing indeed took place at this site. Archaeologists have until now only been able to suggest scenarios about the use and function of such tools."

Hand-axes and scrapers found at prehistoric sites all around the world were distinct implements, used for specific purposes. By comparing replicas with their prehistoric counterparts, the researchers determined that the hand-axe was prehistoric man's sturdy "Swiss army knife," capable of cutting and breaking down bone, tough sinew, and hide. The slimmer, more delicate scraper was used for skinning carcasses and preparing hides.

Edited from EurekAlert! (19 March 2015)
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A new intensive survey of the Messak Settafet escarpment in southern Libya, a massive outcrop of sandstone in the middle of the Saharan desert, has shown that stone tools occur everywhere across the entire landscape, averaging 75 artifacts per square meter, in an area 350 kilometers long, and on average 60 kilometers wide - approximately 21,000 square kilometers.

Researchers say this vast assemblage of stone-age tools were extracted from and discarded onto the escarpment over hundreds of thousands of years - the earliest known example of an entire landscape being modified by hominins: the group of creatures that include us and our ancestral species.

"The Messak sandstone, now in the middle of the vast sand seas of Libya, would have been a high quality rock for hominins to fracture - the landscape is in effect a carpet of stone tools, most probably made in the Middle and Upper Pleistocene," said Dr Robert Foley, from the University of Cambridge, who conducted the research with colleague Dr Marta Mirazon Lahr.

Clusters of small quarrying pits dot the landscape, ranging up to 2 meters in diameter, and 50 centimeters in depth. These pits would have retained moisture, and the small pools would have attracted game. In many of these pits, the team found 'trapping stones': large stones used for traps and ties for game and cattle during the last 10,000 years.

Although stone tool manufacture dates back at least 2.5 million years, the researchers limited their estimate to one million years. Based on their and others research, they standardized population density, tool volume, the number of tools used by one person in a year and the amount of resulting debris per tool. They estimate an average density of between 0.5 and 5 million stone artifacts per square kilometer of Africa.

Edited from Univeristy of Cambridge PR (11 March 2015), Mail Online (11 March 2015)
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Hunter Johnson and Travis Rael have been excavating around the now-closed Florence Indian Mound Museum (Alabama, USA) in anticipation of a new facility being built later this year. They work for Tennessee Valley Archaeological Research, which is under contract with the city to perform the work.

The mound is from the Native American Woodland period, Johnson said, which dated from 1,000 BCE to 250 CE. The Florence mound is believed to be from the Middle Woodland period, Johnson said, with radio carbon dating at the top of the mound showing it in use about 250 CE, leading to the conclusion lower portions of the mound are older.

Pieces of flinty stone, along with bits of broken pottery, is evidence of habitation around the ancient mound on the north bank of the Tennessee River, Johnson said: "The pottery helps us tell the period people were here," he said. "The clay was mixed with something that kept the pottery from exploding when it was fired. That material tells us when it was made."

The city has earmarked $1.25 million to build a new museum to replace the existing building, which was acquired in the late 1960s. "We're moving as fast as we can possibly move with this," Mayor Mickey Haddock said, and now officials are awaiting the result of the archaeological excavations. "We have not found any artifacts that would prevent us from using that site," Haddock said.

Edited from SFGate (24 March 2015)


Two more engravings of wild bulls on basalt rock have come to light in the Zarme tributary of River Mhadei at Mauxi, Sattari (Konkan, West India). On March 28, members of the Keri-based group Vivekanad Puratatva Abhyas Mandal spotted these engravings below the 'bullfight' that was part of the rich rock art heritage discovered in the area on August 10, 1999. The new findings are due to unauthorized sand excavations made to the lower part of the rock.

The engravings on basalt rock boulders spotted earlier include a bull with straight and vertical horns, with a rounded hump; it shows the use of the bruising technique (chipping off the weathered rock surface to create a two-dimensional picture by changing the rock surface). On another rock is a deer with linear, elongated body and legs shown separately in lines, with a raised head and short raised tail. In front of it is found a deeply engraved trishul, a type of traditional trident.

Well-known archaeologist M Nambirajan, in his book 'Coastal Archaeology of Western India' notes, "Engravings and bruises in Mauxi of animals and a trishul may be of the Megalithic phase, probably datable to C 1000 BCE." "The Petroglyphs discovered in Mauxi are our greatest surviving art treasures, yet no effort is being made to protect this heritage for posterity. They simply lie in the open and can be destroyed by anybody," said Arvind Redkar, principal, BEd college, Mumbai, who visited the site.

Edited from The Times of India (31 March 2015)

Sunday, March 29, 2015


To the Editor:

Re “Race to Record and Shield Art Falling to ISIS” (front page, March 9):

The Islamic State has caused irreparable harm to the cultural heritage of Iraq, and, indeed, that of the world, through the destruction of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud, Assyrian sculptures at Nineveh and archaeological works of art in the Mosul Museum and elsewhere. Our institutions have released a joint statement deploring these heinous acts.

Iraq is one of the birthplaces of human civilization. Damage to its cultural heritage through wanton destruction of archaeological sites and artifacts, as well as looting and trade in archaeological materials, is reprehensible and shows a blatant disregard for our shared humanity. Tolerance of these acts can only lead to further losses of a similar or even greater magnitude.

As difficult as it is in these troubled times, we join in calling on international authorities to do what they can to protect the world’s archaeological and cultural materials. We also call on museums and the global archaeological community to alert the appropriate international authorities if they believe they have information regarding objects recently stolen from Nimrud, Mosul and elsewhere in the conflict zone of northern Iraq and Syria.

We support the efforts of the legitimate antiquities authorities in the region to mitigate the damage to the archaeological and historic heritage. We pledge to augment our efforts to educate the wider public about the significance of this heritage to humankind. Only through greater understanding of the value of this legacy for modern societies can we hope to stem these terrible losses.

Archaeological Institute of America

The letter was also signed by leaders of the Society for American Archaeology, the Association of Art Museum Directors, American Schools of Oriental Research, the American Anthropological Association and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.


Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria have stepped up their war on the region’s cultural heritage, attacking archaeological sites with bulldozers and explosives.

The so-called Islamic State (commonly known as ISIS) now controls large stretches of northern and western Iraq, and there's little to stop its militants from plundering and destroying sites in a region known as the cradle of civilization.

And last week the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced that members of ISIS had damaged the ruins of ancient cities dating back thousands of years, including a trio of Assyrian cities and the Roman-era metropolis of Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Meanwhile in Syria, the country's civil war has done tremendous damage, killing close to 200,000 and leaving millions more homeless. ISIS is just one of many factions fighting for control of the country, but it has encouraged looting as a moneymaking venture. Sites in Syria's eastern provinces, known to be ISIS strongholds, have been particularly hard-hit by looters.


The revolution in Libya four years ago toppled Muammar Qaddafi. It also led to hopes for a cultural revolution. But violence has increased, any cultural revolution is on hold, and Libya’s world-renowned archaeological sites—as well as its scientists—need protection. That’s the conclusion of Savino di Lernia, director of the Archaeological Mission in the Sahara at the Sapienza University of Rome. He made his points in a commentary in the journal Nature. [Savino di Lernia, Cultural heritage: Save Libyan archaeology]

Di Lernia has worked in Libya since 1990, studying, for example, 9,000-year-old wall art that depicts crocodiles and cattle. In addition to the activities of indigenous people, the country’s archaeological sites hold artifacts from ancient Greek and Phoenician cultures.

But the unrest has stopped work on these archaeological treasures. The fighting has damaged historic mosques and tombs, and relics are being trafficked out of the country, both for profit and to support radical groups.

Di Lernia argues that international groups should fund local research and continue training Libyan scientists in the hopes of a resumption of the cross-cultural exchanges and scientific training that had been going before the violence. Allowing Libyan archaeology to die would be, he says, quote, “a missed opportunity for a generation of young Libyan archaeologists — and a tragedy for the safeguarding of monuments and sites of universal and outstanding value.”


A new book, by anthropologist, Pat Shipman, “The Invaders“, argues that humans and their dogs drove Neanderthals to extinction.

She presents evidence that homo sapiens, who arrived in northern Europe 40,000 years ago, formed a partnership with wolves, which they domesticated into “wolf dogs.” The skeletal remains of these animals differ from those of both wolves, and the dogs that would come along later in history.

She says the wolf-dog helped early humans to hunt, turning them into super predators that dominated their environment. Ms. Shipman says humans thus became an “invasive species,” and drove the dog-less Neanderthals to extinction.


Neanderthals may have used the talons of white-tailed eagles to make jewelry 130,000 years ago, long before the appearance of modern humans in Europe, according to a new study published in PLOS One.

At an archaeological site in Croatia, researchers discovered the talons with notches and abrasions suggesting they had been made into necklaces or bracelets. Eagle talons may have had symbolic value to Neanderthals, the researchers said.


Archaeologists surveying the waterways of suburban Seattle (Washington, USA) have discovered an ancient tool-making site dating back more than 10,000 years. The find includes thousands of stone flakes, an array of bifaces, scrapers, and hammerstones, plus several projectile points.

The site was discovered along a creek in Redmond, Washington, under a layer of peat that was radiocarbon dated to about 10,000 years ago. And in the layer with the artifacts were burned bits of willow, poplar, and pine, which were themselves dated between 10,000 and 12,500 years ago. Together, these materials frame a period of prehistory in coastal Washington which archaeologists have not been able to explore before.

Dr. Robert Kopperl, from the firm SWCA Environmental Consultants, and his colleagues first made the find in 2008 while surveying a waterway known as Bear Creek. Initial work turned up some stone artifacts above the layer of peat, which was carbon dated between 8,000 and 10,000 years old. "when we did our 2009 test excavations, all of the artifacts we found were below that peat instead of above the peat, indicating that they pre-dated 10,000 years before the present," saud Kopperl.

Once they picked up traces of human habitation older than any other found in the region, the researchers hoped to encounter artifacts that had never been found there before. "We found two projectile point fragments that were concave-based - something not seen at any time in the local projectile point sequence," said Kopperl.

As for the lifeways of the people who made and used these tools ten millennia ago, the clues are scant. Residue analysis of several fragments, for instance, turned up traces of plants like beeweed, and proteins from bear, bison, deer, sheep, and salmon. Beyond that, there's not much context to draw on in western Washington, Kopperl said, because no other artifacts have been found that date this far back in time.

Edited from Western Digs (18 March 2015)
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A new study by Benjamin A. Black and colleagues tests if the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption in Italy 40,000 years ago contributed to the final extinction of the Neanderthals. The event was one of the largest volcanic cataclysms in Europe and injected a significant amount of sulfur-dioxide (SO2) into the stratosphere.

Black and colleagues point out that the decline of Neanderthals in Europe began well before the CI eruption: Radiocarbon dating has shown that at the time of the CI eruption, anatomically modern humans had already arrived in Europe, and the range of Neanderthals had steadily diminished. Work at five sites in the Mediterranean indicates that anatomically modern humans were established in these locations by then as well."

However, the abrupt cold spell that followed the eruption would still have significantly impacted day-to-day life for Neanderthals and early humans in Europe. Black and colleagues point out that temperatures in Western Europe would have decreased by an average of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius during the year following the eruption. These unusual conditions, they write, may have directly influenced survival and day-to-day life for Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans alike, and emphasize the resilience of anatomically modern humans in the face of abrupt and adverse changes in the environment.

Edited from EurekAlert! (20 March 2015)
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Saturday, March 07, 2015


On the morning of Jan. 29, 2013, Chalachew Seyoum was climbing a remote hill in the Afar region of his native Ethiopia, his head bent, eyes focused on the loose sediment. The site, known as Ledi-Geraru, was rich in fossils. Soon enough, he spotted a telltale shape on the surface — a premolar, as it turned out. It was attached to a piece of a mandible, or lower jawbone. He collected other pieces of a left mandible, and five teeth in all. Mr. Seyoum, a graduate student in paleoanthropology at Arizona State University, had made a discovery that vaulted evolutionary science over a barren stretch of fossil record between two million and three million years ago. This was a time when the human genus, Homo, was getting underway. The 2.8-million-year-old jawbone of a Homo habilis predates by at least 400,000 years any previously known Homo fossils. William H. Kimbel, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State, said the Ledi-Geraru jaw “helps narrow the evolutionary gap between Australopithecus and early Homo,” adding that it was an excellent “transitional fossil in a critical time period in human evolution.”

Dr. Spoor said in an email that he agreed with the hypothesis that the new Ledi-Geraru mandible “derives from Australopithecus afarensis, and at 2.8 million years shows morphology that is ancestral to all early Homo.” Dr.
Spoor’s predictions were drawn from a digital reconstruction of the disturbed remains of the jaws of the original 1.8-million-year-old Homo habilis specimen found 50 years ago by the legendary fossil hunters Louis and Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.

The reconstruction, suggesting a plausible evolutionary link between A. afarensis and H. habilis, yielded a remarkably primitive picture of a deep-rooted diversity of a species that emerged much earlier than the 2.3 million years ago suggested by some specimens. The teeth and jaws appeared to be more similar to A. afarensis than to subsequent Homo erectus or Homo sapiens, modern humans that emerged about 200,000 years ago.

Dr. Spoor’s analysis also seemed to put a new face on H. habilis. He said that individual species of early Homo were more easily recognizable by jaw structure and facial features than by differences in brain size, which tend to be highly variable. Dr. Villmoare and colleagues made similar observations in their article. Both the predictions and the mandible findings called attention to smaller teeth with the emergence of H. habilis and evidence suggesting that the species probably split in different evolutionary lines, only one of which might have been ancestral to later H. erectus and H. sapiens.

In an email, Dr. Spoor explained that the split occurred sometime before 2.3 million years ago. The lineage leading to H. habilis must have kept the primitive jaw morphology. The Ledi-Geraru specimen kept the primitive, sloping chin that links it to a Lucy-like ancestor. Other lineages must account for the fact that H. erectus and H. habilis existed together for a period more than a million years ago.

In a second report for the journal Science, Erin N. DiMaggio of Penn State and other geologists examined soil, vegetation and fossils at Ledi-Geraru. They determined that when the H. habilis left its jaw there, the habitat was dominated by mammals that lived in a more open landscape — grasslands and low shrubs — than the more wooded land often favored by A. afarensis.

But after about 2.8 million years ago, increased African aridity has been cited as a possible result of widespread climate change affecting species changes and extinctions. Kaye E. Reed, co-leader of the Arizona State team, noted that the “aridity signal” had been observed at the Ethiopian fossil site. However, she said, “it’s still too soon to say this means climate change is responsible for the origin of Homo.”

For that, Dr. Reed said, “we need a larger sample of hominin fossils, and that’s why we continued to come to the Ledi-Geraru area to search.” That, and to learn more about the evolution of our genus, Homo.

Friday, February 27, 2015


A rare Neolithic-era find of the skeletons of a couple embracing was found in excavations by the northern entrance of the Alepotrypa ('Foxhole') cave in southern Greece, on the Peloponnese peninsula. The Greek Culture Ministry now informs that DNA analyses show that the remains belong to a young couple, a man and a woman, both aged between 20 and 25, dating back almost 6,000 years and discovered next to numerous arrow heads.

The find is significant due to the corpses' antiquity and the fact that the man and woman were found entwined in an interlocking embrace, a very unusual position in archeological remains from this era. The researchers do not know how the couple died, but the fact they were buried together in this way suggests they died either at the same time, or during a similar time frame.

Both burials are part of a Neolithic cemetery in the greater area of the Neolithic Diros Cave, in western Mani, where excavations have yielded burials of children, embryos and adults dated from 4200 to 3800 BCE. According to most recent data and analyses, the cave appears to have been in use from Early to Final Neolithic (6000-3200 BCE) and served throughout as settlement and cemetery. At the end of the Final Neolithic (3200 BCE), a severe earthquake sealed the entrance of the cave and the remains of its inhabitants inside. The site has previously been linked with sparking myths about the Greek underworld god Hades.

Excavations began after an accidental discovery by speleologists Yiannis and Anna Petrocheilos in 1958. Excavations in the area were continued in 2014 under the honorary ephor of antiquities George Papathanassopoulos heading a committee of the Paleoanthropology Ephorate of Antiquities and the Speleological Society of Northern Greece.

Commenting on the finds, Dr. Papathanassopoulos said: "The type of burial in the foetal position is common in the Neolithic era, but the specific double burial in embrace is one of the earliest known examples. At some point, they will be exhibited in the museum."

Edited from Latin American Herald Tribune, EuroNews, Mail Online, Greece Reporter (13 February 2015)
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More than 30 years ago archaeologist Jonathan Driver was part of the team that uncovered one of the rarest finds in Canadian history - evidence of human occupation in northern British Columbia dating to the end of the last ice age.

Charlie Lake cave contained some of the oldest human remains in western Canada, as well as specialized weapons used to hunt large mammals, and animal skeletons suggesting ceremonial practices. The cave itself is not threatened by the planned construction of a dam and 83 kilometer long reservoir on the Peace River, starting in the summer of 2015, however hundreds of other sites will be flooded.

Dr Driver, a professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University, says: "The Peace River was a well-travelled route between the lowlands and the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains. It goes down deep, so you can follow the history of people in the Peace River just as the ice age is ending and the first animals and plants and then people are moving into a brand new land, and at this site you can follow that for 12,000 years."

Field work to create a heritage inventory in 2010 found 26 Class 1 palaeontology finds - rare or especially well-preserved and diverse fossils - as well as almost 300 archaeological sites, plus heritage sites of the earliest European settlers. Sites and artifacts which cannot be saved will be studied. The prehistory of the area is still being pieced together. Recently, a local farmer donated boxes of artefacts including 8,000-year-old pieces of obsidian from faraway quarries, indicating a vast trading network.

The province has approved construction knowing that what it terms 'heritage resources' will disappear. With construction set to begin in June, there is little time left to preserve this part of British Columbia's history.

Edited from The Globe and Mail (1 February 2015)
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A team of scientists has developed a mathematical technique that can work out how and when changes occurred to words in different languages, giving researchers the potential to turn the clock of human speech back thousands of years.

A leading evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading (UK) working with colleagues from the Santa Fe Institute (USA), professor Mark Pagel has detected these 'concerted sound changes', where a specific sound changes to another sound simultaneously in many different words. His team use statistical estimates of rates of lexical replacement for a range of vocabulary items in the Indo-European languages. The variation in replacement rates makes the most common vocabulary items promising candidates for estimating the divergence between pairs of languages.

The model was tested on the evolution of Turkic, a family of at least 35 languages spoken by peoples from southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Siberia and Western China, identifying more than 70 regular sound changes that occurred throughout the 2000 year history of the language group.

Pagel says: "Intriguingly, this concerted linguistic change has a parallel in genetics where the same changes can happen to several different genes simultaneously."

Pagel's research offers a fascinating picture of how our 7,000 living idioms have evolved, documenting shared patterns in the way we use language, and exploring the reasons why some words succeed and others become obsolete. His results suggest that forms of some common words used by Ice Age people living in Europe 15,000 years ago could still be recognized today.

Edited from PhysOrg (10 February 2015)


In 1891 a civil engineer from Bacup, Lancashire (England) was excavating in the Little Orme: one of two promontories which flank the town beach at Llandudno, on the coast of North Wales. What he discovered was a Neolithic female skeleton, dated at approximately 3,500 BCE. For whatever reason, the skeleton returned with the engineer to Bacup and it has remained there ever since.

Affectionately titled 'Blodwen', paying respect to her native Wales, research of her bones suggests she died between the age of 54 and 63 - which was remarkable for its time - was about 5ft (1.52m), of robust build, and probably from a farming community. She had arthritis in both her spine and knees and at the time of her death she was also suffering from secondary cancer.

For several years a Welsh historian, Frank Dibble, campaigned for the return of the ancient remains but sadly he passed away before he could achieve his ambition. Now the Stone Age skeleton is returning home after spending 120 years in England. Although the return is a permanent donation from the Bacup Natural History Society, there is still quite a cost involved in housing the exhibition. Fortunately the funds needed have been raised from a variety of sources and it is expected that a permanent exhibition will be opened to the public in April 2015, and will depict Llandudno in Neolithic times, with the skeleton as a centerpiece.

Edited from Daily Post (16 February 2015)
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