Sunday, July 20, 2014


An archeological dig has revealed artifacts of early human occupation in Australia. The discovery of the artifacts of animal bone and charcoal at the Ganga Maya Cave (meaning 'house on the hill') in the Pilbara region of Western Australia are the subject of a scientific paper not yet submitted to archaeological journals. The items analyzed through carbon-dating techniques indicate first use of the cave from more than 45,000 years ago.

The cave, close to an active iron ore mine, is of even more significance because it is believed to have been settled continuously and right through the Ice Age up until about 1700 years ago. Kate Morse, Director of Archaeology at Fremantle heritage consultancy Big Island Research remains cautious about making claims for the site's significance because so far only a one-metre square area, 139 cms deep, has been excavated.

Asked if the cave could be the site of the earliest human settlement in Australia, she said: "We have only got the one date and I would prefer to get other dates before I make those kind of claims. It is certainly a very old site. I think it is an area that people have traveled into to start exploring Australia. They have come from SE Asia across the water and arrived in northern Australia and made their way around the coast following river systems inland."

She added: "It's a very exciting find. The archaeological sequence is great because a lot of sites have been patchily occupied and ours is occupied on and off but repeatedly including during the Ice Age 18-22,000 years ago and it looks like people were visiting the site then. We have found charcoal, stone artifacts and animal bone. We have analyzed the bone to see if it is food remains or animals that have died in the cave. We think we have got some material that is burnt so it suggests it has possibly been used for food."

The discovery has, however, caused some division within the community with one elder, Eddy McPhee, saying he believes the mining company, Atlas, and Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) representing Njamal traditional owners were planning to destroy sacred sites and accompanying Dreaming tracks. But Big Island says it has worked closely with the traditional owners and YMAC on the project and says it has been well supported by Atlas. It says further excavation is planned in the near future.


An ancient burial containing chariots, gold artifacts and possible human sacrifices has been discovered by archaeologists in the country of Georgia, in the south Caucasus. The burial site, which would've been intended for a chief, dates back over 4,000 years - the Early Bronze Age, said Zurab Makharadze, head of the Center of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum.

Archaeologists discovered the timber burial chamber within a 39-foot-high (12 meters) mound called a kurgan. When the archaeologists reached the chamber they found an assortment of treasures, including two chariots, each with four wooden wheels. The team discovered ornamented clay and wooden vessels, flint and obsidian arrowheads, leather and textile artifacts, a unique wooden armchair, carnelian and amber beads and 23 golden artifacts, including rare and artistic crafted jewelry, wrote Makharadze in his study recently presented at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, held at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

While the human remains had been disturbed by a robbery, which probably occurred in ancient times, and were in a disordered position, the archaeologists found that seven people were buried in the chamber. "One of them was a chief and others should be the members of his family, sacrificed slaves or servants," Makharadze said. The burial dates back to a time before domesticated horses appeared in the area, Makharadze said. While no animals were found buried with the chariots, he said, oxen would have pulled them. The newly discovered armchair symbolizes the power that individuals like the chief had. "The purpose of the wooden armchair was the indication to power, and it was put in the kurgan as a symbol of power," Makharadze concluded.

Edited from Live Science (25 June 2014)
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A 4,200-year-old necklace made of alternating black and white disc-shaped beads has helped British researchers devise a new method for the identification of shell species in archaeological artifacts.

Mollusc shells appear to have been among the first durable materials used for personal ornaments and building tools, but their often degraded condition makes it hard to identify the species with traditional analysis. York University's Beatrice Demarchi, Julie Wilson, and their colleagues used statistical pattern recognition methods and amino acid analysis to distinguish shells taxonomically.

The new approach was tested on a necklace that has intrigued archaeologists ever since its discovery in 2009 at an early Bronze Age site near Suffolk in eastern England, in the grave of a young adult woman, radiocarbon-dated to around 2200 BCE. The necklace consisted of strings of tiny disc beads of shells and black jet, possibly carved out of the fossils of monkey puzzle trees from Whitby, 260 kilometers to the north.

Alison Sheridan, principal curator of Early Prehistory at National Museums in Scotland, says "The necklace had not been worn on the body, but was found near the head. Beads of jet and shell alternated in a zebra design. Interspersed with these - and I am currently trying to work out exactly how the arrangement worked - were a number of amber beads, some perforated straight through, some with cross-shaped perforations The necklace design is unique, although a lot of Early Bronze Age jet jewelery, and some amber jewelery, is known," Sheridan adds, "However, the use of sea shells for jewelery during the Early Bronze Age in Britain is incredibly rare."

It appears that Bronze Age craftspeople used local shells like dog whelk and tusk shells to make the necklace. Conical, curved and open at both ends, tusk shells resemble miniature elephant tusks, hence the name. Dog whelks are predatory, carnivorous sea snails often found on rocky shores. While dog whelks are abundant around the Suffolk coast today, tusk shells are less widespread, but present along the southern coast.

Edited from Discovery News (19 June 2014)
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This summer, archaeologists are welcoming tourists to explore an ancient British hillfort full of prehistoric artifacts, as the researchers wrap up an excavation at the site. The fort, called Burrough Hill, was carved into the side of a 690-foot (210 meters) mound in the modern-day English county of Leicestershire during the Iron Age, around 500 BCE, and was used until the third or fourth century CE of the Roman period.

A five-year excavation of the site yielded bones, jewelry, pottery and even game pieces. Archaeologists opened the hillfort to visitors on June 29, hosting guided tours that allow people to touch some of the artifacts, and offering Iron Age combat lessons before the dig comes to a close at the end of the summer. Last year, the team discovered a collection of stone tools and pottery that dates back to 2800 BCE. In the final stage of the excavation, archaeologists will investigate what they believe could be a second entrance into the fort.

The whole fort system discovered at Borough Hill spans 523,000 square feet (48,600 square meters) and includes several ramparts that stand 10 feet (3 m) tall. After the Iron Age, the fort was abandoned as a defense post and then used as a farmstead. Later, it hosted a large medieval festival. The team of archaeologists hopes the discovery of artifacts, such as pottery and quern stones used for grinding corn, will shed light on the lives of humans living in the Iron Age and help historians better understand the transition from the Iron Age into the Roman period.

Edited from Live Science (24 June 2014)
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Thursday, July 10, 2014


Beauty-of a sort-beat out brains among Neanderthals, report researchers analyzing a 430,000-year-old cache of skulls collected from the "Pit of Bones" cave site in Spain. The Neanderthals were a prehistoric species of early humans, famously stumpy looking, thick boned, and big nosed, who lived in Europe and western Asia before disappearing from the fossil record by about 28,000 years ago.

The 17 skulls discovered in Spain's Sima de los Huesos (Pit of Bones) cave and reported in the journal Science show that early Neanderthals sported their telltale "beetle brows" and heavy jaws about 430,000 years ago, long before they evolved Neanderthal features in their crania, including larger brains.

"These are the earliest Neanderthals," says study leader Juan Luis Arsuaga at the Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos in Madrid. "They can tell us a great deal about the evolution of Neanderthals, and by comparison, about modern humans."

The new study adds to evidence that the Neanderthals developed their characteristic looks slowly, and patchily, over hundreds of thousands of years, Arsuaga says. The ancient world likely was filled with a potpourri of archaic humans that included these early Neanderthals, he suggests, their numbers waxing and waning between ancient ice ages that arrived every hundred thousand years or so.

At the end of a 1,640-foot-long (500 meter) cave in northern Spain, the Sima de los Huesos pit is a deep depression, more than 46 feet (14 meters) below a shaft from the surface. Underneath a layer of dirt filled with cave bear bones, the pit holds an "astonishing, and even beautiful, collection of human fossils," says paleontologist Chris Stringer of London's Natural History Museum by email.

Some 6,500 human bones belonging to at least 28 individuals-the world's largest collection in any one place of ancient human fossils-have turned up in excavations there since 1976. "There are tons of bones," Arsuaga says. The skulls in the study, seven of them newly described, bear about two dozen facial features, among them the enlarged flat molars, heavy jaws, protruding snout, thick cheekbones, and heavy brows that typify more recent Neanderthals, ones less than 200,000 years old.

While Stringer views the Sima de los Huesos skulls as belonging to early Neanderthals, paleontologist Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York views them as a separate group of early humans. "The Sima hominids [members of the human family] have a number of Neanderthal features, mainly in the face, but are clearly not full-blown Neanderthals," Tattersall says. (The study itself leaves this open as a possibility, suggesting the Sima skulls may belong to a subspecies of Neanderthals or to a related earlier species.)

The evolution of Neanderthal's doughty looks has been tied to surmounting Arctic conditions during the ice ages. However, the cave site 430,000 years ago was only a little cooler and drier than today, Arsuaga says, arguing
against this explanation.

But if the Sima's ancestors had become isolated from other early humans, their distinctive Neanderthal facial features could have evolved randomly through "genetic drift" and become fixed in the population, suggests paleontologist Jean-Jacques Hublin of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in a commentary accompanying the study.

Arsuaga instead suggests that strong Neanderthal jaws may have evolved to maximize bite force in their front teeth, pointing to some change in diet or habits among them more than 400,000 years ago. Only one stone tool, a hand ax, has been found among the fossils at the site, however, so there is nothing to suggest new hunting techniques flourished among the Sima humans.

While they have Neanderthal faces, the skulls in the cave lack the cranial development of later Neanderthals, Hublin notes. (Some had bigger brains than those of modern people, but most didn't.) Later Neanderthals evolved even larger brains than the Sima ones.

Arsuaga suggests the combination of Neanderthal facial features alongside smaller crania in the Sima de los Huesos skulls argues for a branching, bumpy pattern in early human evolution across prehistoric Europe-what he calls the accretion model-rather than a smooth development of the species. There's no guarantee that the Sima Neanderthals were even ancestors of later Neanderthals, he says. They might have belonged to a branch that eventually died out.

Evidence for that sort of bumpy early human evolution came in December, when a team led by Matthias Meyer, also of the Max Planck Institute, reported that maternally inherited "mitochondrial" DNA found in a fossil thighbone at the Spanish cave matched that of a different early human group from Neanderthals. Instead, the mitochondrial genes matched those seen in a group called the Denisovans, known only from a Siberian cave. That raised the question of what Russian early human DNA was doing in Spanish fossils.

The Sima team now argues that those genes likely were an inherited leftover from a more ancient human species that lingered in the Spanish Neanderthals, something that Meyer agrees is "very plausible." More recent studies also
point to Neanderthals and Denisovans both sharing DNA with more ancient human species.

Modern people of European and Asian descent also share some Neanderthal and Denisovan genes, about 2 percent for the former. That points to interbreeding among modern humans and early human species within the last 60,000 years, when our ancestors left Africa to spread worldwide.

What is really fascinating, Meyer says, is that the Sima de los Huesos site, which has the most complete record of early human fossils from prehistory, is also the only known site with DNA preserved from that earlier period of
human evolution.

So how did the pit of bones end up full of so many early human fossils? That, says Arsuaga, "is the biggest mystery in paleontology." Some observers have suggested the cave was a death trap, where foolhardy Neanderthals fell to their deaths. But Arsuaga says the simplest answer is that their fellows deposited them there. "There are still a lot of bones. We may find 50 skulls before we are done."


Greg Hare, a veteran archeologist with the Yukon government, has been instrumental in assembling one of the finest collections anywhere of superbly preserved ancient hunting tools. Expounding on the trove of more than 200 artifacts stored in his Whitehorse lab, Hare might seem, with his scholarly manner and standard-issue khakis, all no-nonsense scientist. But ask him how hunters actually wielded these weapons, and he turns boyishly animated in his eagerness to demonstrate.

Pointing out an almost 5,000-year-old throwing dart that rests under glass in several painstakingly collected pieces, he reaches for an exact replica on a nearby shelf. He fixes one end of the slender, roughly two-metre-long willow dart into a notch in a wooden board that he grips in one hand. "It gives you an extension on your arm," he explains, "allowing you to hurl this dart with great force and distance." Hare heaves back, slow-motioning a throw, complete with a phwew sound effect at the point of release.

A short section of a dart shaft was the very first artifact found to launch the remarkable, ongoing saga of Yukon ice patch archeology. Back in 1997, a local husband and wife were hunting Dall sheep up in the southern Yukon mountains, when they smelled something barnyardy, and found that the odor was coming from a mound of melting caribou dung. The strange thing was that caribou hadn't been seen in the area for many years. That led to a sequence of investigations, including radiocarbon dating of the dung and then that first fragment of a dart, and finally to a grasp on what was happening: Climate change was eating away at the edges of mountain ice patches, revealing droppings left by caribou herds thousands of years ago-and tools lost by the hunters who had once pursued them.

According to Hare, climate conditions on about two dozen Yukon mountains have proven to be almost uniquely suited to preserving organic material. Unlike glaciers that move, slowly grinding down any artifacts trapped in them, the Yukon ice patches tend to remain stable. Or at least they did, until gradual warming over the past several decades began to shrink them and reveal treasures.

Among the finds: wooden darts as old as nearly 9,000 years, some complete with stone points, sinew bindings, bits of feather and traces of ocher decoration; a finely carved, barbed antler projectile point from about 1,200 years ago; and a size-four moccasin, 1,400 years old, amazingly intact, and believed to be a boy's. "Some of it is very
beautiful," Hare says.

In the first years after those sheep hunters caught a whiff of something, the ice patch archeology project was soon organized around annual helicopter trips into the mountains. The window of opportunity is limited: Sometimes there is only one week every August, when the short Yukon summer has melted away the previous winter's snow cover and perhaps exposed newly mushy portions of the old ice beneath.

First Nations were partners from the outset, and Aboriginal field assistants often made key finds. But last summer's search was cancelled entirely, when Yukon Native groups went to court to block a routine archeological permit. Rather than engage in a legal battle, the Yukon government withdrew the application. Neither the archeologists nor the First Nations leaders involved would explain the clash to Maclean's, with both sides saying they're close to finalizing a new memorandum of understanding.

Diane Strand, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations' heritage director and a key negotiator in the dispute, says she looks forward to bringing elders and young people from her community to work again with the archeologists this summer. "Going out on a patch, doing the work together, and then coming together around a campfire, that's going to feel good," Strand says. Hare has similar hopes. "In the early days, every time you found something it was a 'Holy crow!' moment," he says. "But it's been 15 years. My objective now is more than anything else to get young First
Nations students up there experiencing being on the ice and having the opportunity of finding something."


Unique Paleolithic prize for scientists, a jaw of an early human who 'feasted on woolly mammoth' - but may have been cannibalized. Embedded in a hillside where it has lain for around 14,000 years, the adult jaw from Afontova mountain on the outskirts of Krasnoyarsk was found alongside the bones of animals and ancient tools.

Detailed DNA analysis, probably in Germany, will indicate to experts the age, gender, race (Caucasian or Mongoloid or a mix), and even possible diseases from ancient times. Scientists will examine the jaw, which includes teeth, for evidence of ancient cannibalism, an initial suspicion which they cannot immediately confirm, but also for the possibility that mammoth meat was part of his diet.

These human remains did not lie in a grave but alongside the remnants of animals that were butchered, said research fellow Ivan Stasyuk. 'Why cannibalism? Because this jaw lies alongside weapons and chipped of bones of large ungulates,' he said, surmising that this human was slaughtered, and eaten, too.

'I would not jump to the conclusion of cannibalism,' countered his colleague Leonid Galuhin, also a research fellow at the company 'Krasnoyarsk Geoarheologiya', the deputy leader of excavation. 'For now the jaw has been taken to a Novosibirsk laboratory for all analyses, including trasological analysis, which will allow us to say for sure if there act of cannibalism or not.' The jaw is likely to be sent to the world famous Max Plank laboratory in Germany for a full scale DNA analysis.

'Findings of the bones of Paleolithic man are very rare,' said Galuhin. 'There are not many such findings in the world. To us, these are extremely rare discoveries. This jaw is really unique because it is perfectly preserved. We can glean a lot of data: age, gender, race, even some diseases.

This site, an ancient camp, has been researched since the late 19th century and has given us a lot of material, not just debris, but thousands of complete stone and bone tools. During our current excavations we hope to find probably not the same amount, but very close to this. Apart from stone and bone tools, we found a set of stone beads and some pieces of art including a triangular plate made of mammoth tusk with plotted points. It was probably a pendant.' The site is, in fact, a complex of ancient camps. Afontova gora (mountain) 2 has two parts. One is an area where butchered animal carcasses have been found, along with tools for dissecting meat.

Mammoth meat was part of the diet of these Siberians, he is certain. 'The climate was quite severe here, akin to modern Taymyr, for example.'The current excavation covering 10,000 meters is being conducted because of the construction of a new bridge - the fourth - across the Yenisei River in Kransoyarsk.

This 'rescue excavation' - expected to bring a wealth of new finds - may lead to the the creation of a special museum dedicated to this site, a long-held dream of archeologists. The site is on the right bank of the river and over many years bone and antler tools as well as items of personal adornment have been recovered. Fauna remains include mammoth, reindeer, sheep, horse, aurochs/bison, ibex, saiga antelope, red deer, hares, arctic foxes and wolves.


A team of archaeologists, who were working alongside the A1, the longest road in Britain, were shocked to discover evidence of a Mesolithic settlement which suggests the route may have been in use for 10,000 years,according to a report in The Express. This means the route predates previous estimates that claimed an ancient route in the same location was originally built by the Romans.

The A1 was built nearly a century ago and stretches 410 miles from London to Edinburgh. The earliest documented northern routes are the roads created by the Romans during the period from 43 to 410 AD, which consisted of several
roads recorded in the Antonine Itinerary. A combination of these were used by the Anglo-Saxons as the route from London to York, and together became known as Ermine Street, later known as Old North Road.

Archaeologists were carrying out excavations of a known Roman settlement along the road, ahead of plans to upgrade the junctions from 51 to 56 to motorway status, when they discovered a number of flint tools that date back to between 6,000 and 8,000 BC. They also found a small Mesolithic structure that resembled a type of shelter where they were making the flint tools. The site, near Catterick in North Yorkshire, is believed to have been used by people traveling north and south as an overnight shelter, similar to today's motorway service stations.

"It was fascinating to find one of those was a Mesolithic site, a further 8,000 years into the past beyond the Romans," said archaeologist Steve Sherlock. "This was a place that people knew of - a place they could return to on many occasions to stay overnight during their travels. There is evidence of people using the route and moving through the area over periods of time. It is also adding to our knowledge of the early Mesolithic period, a time we don't know very much about."

By April Holloway

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


A series of hunting scenes dating from 7,000 years ago have been found by archaeologists on the six-meter long wall of a small cave in the region of Vilafranca in Castellón, eastern Spain--but it is being kept a secret for now.

A layer of dust and dirt covered ten figures, including bulls, two archers and a goat. The murals were exposed to harsh weather but the paintings pigments have not seriously deteriorated.

Inés Domingo Sanz, a research professor at the University of Barcelona, and Dídac Román, a research associate (archaeology) at the University of Toulouse II Le Mirail and University of Valencia, discovered the site while undertaking government-sponsored research into another excavation area in the region. Sanz says that "some of the [painting] details are unique [and unlike anything] across the entire Mediterranean Basin". A planned publication will throw light on the rare archaeological find.

The cave was discovered in November 2013 but its location will only be revealed once security measures are in place, after vandals defaced a 5,000-year-old rock painting in Spain's southern Jaén province in April.

Edited from The Art Newspaper (23 May 2014)
[2 images]


Five Neolithic houses have been recreated at Stonehenge to reveal how the ancient monument's builders would have lived 4,500 years ago. The single-room, 5m (16ft) wide homes made of chalk and straw daub and wheat-thatching, are based on archaeological remains at nearby Durrington Walls. Susan Greaney, from English Heritage, said the houses are the result of "archaeological evidence, educated guess work, and lots of physical work." More than 20 tons of chalk, 5,000 rods of hazel and three tonnes of wheat straw were used

The 'bright and airy' Neolithic homes are closely based on archaeological remains of houses, discovered just over a mile away from Stonehenge. Dated to about the same time as the large sarsen stones were being erected, English Heritage said experts believe they may have housed the people involved with constructing the monument.

Excavations at Durrington Walls, not only uncovered the floors of houses but stake holes where walls had once stood - providing 'valuable evidence' to their size and layout. "We know for example, that each house contained a hearth and that puddled chalk was used to make the floor," said a spokesman for English Heritage. "And far from being dark and primitive, the homes were incredibly bright and airy spaces with white chalk walls and floors designed to reflect sunlight and capture the heat from the fire."
Using authentic local materials including 20 tonnes of chalk, 5,000 rods of hazel and three tonnes of wheat straw, it has taken a team of 60 volunteers five months to re-create the homes. Susan Greaney, a historian at English Heritage, said it had been a "labor of love" and an "incredible learning experience" for the volunteers. "Now visitors can step through the door of these houses and get a real sense of what everyday life might have been like when Stonehenge was built," she said.

Edited from BBC News (2 June 2014)
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Recent work by a team led by Mietje Germonpré, of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, uncovered evidence that some large carnivores at these sites were early domesticated dogs, not wolves.

According to Penn State Professor Emerita Pat Shipman, "Dogs help hunters find prey faster and more often, and can surround a large animal... while hunters move in. Furthermore, large dogs like those identified by Germonpré either can help carry the prey home or, by guarding the carcass from other carnivores, can make it possible for the hunters to camp at the kill sites."

Another unusual feature of these sites is the presence of extraordinary numbers of other predators, particularly wolves and foxes. "If humans were working and living with domesticated dogs or even semi-domesticated wolves at these archaeological sites, we would expect to find the new focus on killing the wild wolves that we see there."

Two other types of studies have yielded data that support Shipman's hypothesis. Hervé Bocherens and Dorothée Drucker, of the University of Tubingen in Germany, found that the individuals identified as dogs had different diets from those identified as wolves, possibly indicating feeding by humans. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA by Olaf Thalmann of the University of Turku in Finland, and others, show the dogs have a distinctive genetic signature that is not known from any other canid.

"Since mitochondrial DNA is carried only by females, this finding may indicate that these odd canids did not give rise to modern domesticated dogs and were simply a peculiar, extinct group of wolves," Shipman says. "Alternatively, it may indicate that early humans did domesticate wolves into dogs or a doglike group, but the female canids interbred with wild wolf males and so the distinctive female mitochondrial DNA lineage was lost."

Edited from PhysOrg (29 May 2014)
[1 image, 3 maps]


Near the village of Mursalevo in southwestern Bulgaria, archaeologists are investigating the remains of a settlement estimated to date to the late Neolithic, about 5800 BCE, making it one of the oldest farming communities in Europe. Archaeologist Vassil Nikolov, of the National Archaeology Institute and Museum, says the settlement shows signs of urban planning, and had about 35 houses made of clay over a wooden skeleton and covered with trestle and straw.

The digs have unearthed many pottery shards, as well as numerous bones of domesticated animals - evidence that the inhabitants kept livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. The settlement existed for at least 150 years, but was abandoned and burned down. Parts were excavated in the 1920s, during the construction of the railway line between Dupnitsa and Blagoevgrad, but the settlement had not been studied in depth in recent decades.

The site is one of several locations of archaeological interest that will be crossed by the Struma motorway, linking the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia to Thessaloniki in northern Greece.

Major infrastructure projects like motorways have proven a boon to archaeological research in Bulgaria over the past decade, offering the opportunity to excavate sites for which funding is otherwise not available because of the dwindling state subsidies for such research.

"The results are very important, the urban planning is something that I have not seen anywhere in the Balkans, not to such extent and in a settlement of this size," Nikolov said. "This will allow us to draw some conclusions about the social organization of this community and it speaks a lot to the human ability to organize and plan a settlement to take into account environmental factors."

Edited from The Sofia Globe (29 May 2014)
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Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an Iron Age settlement on the grounds of a proposed road and car park near Aberdeen (Scotland). Remnants of timber roundhouses and historic smithing materials have been dug up; pottery from the early Bronze Age has also been recovered from the field where construction work to ease traffic congestion along the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness road is due to begin.

Aberdeen City Council employed AECOM and Headland Archaeology to dig up a relatively undisturbed piece of ground in an area where prehistoric finds had been uncovered in the past. Archaeologist Eddie Bailey said it was 'remarkable' to see how the land was continually used by historic settlements.

He said: "Domestic occupation in the area has been found in the form of the remains of timber constructed roundhouses, with hearths and remnants of compacted floor and activity surfaces, which so far seem to indicate prolonged occupation on the same site, with phases of rebuilding occurring. The site appears to have been significant over a 2,000 year period with Iron Age occupation and evidence of smithing and domestic life. Partial quern stones, used for grinding cereal crops, have been found along with metal working residues and puts containing probable fire rakings of meals and every day life. Archaeologist Steve Thomson added: ""The continuity of use of the land is remarkable," he said. "Clearly a sense of place was important, not purely for practical reasons. Seeing the landscape, even today, helps the team understand why it was a focus for so long for continued use."

Edited from The Scotsman (3 June 2014), Culture24 (4 June 2014)
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Vandals have destroyed prehistoric rock art in southern Libya, endangering a sprawling tableau of paintings and carvings classified by UNESCO as of 'outstanding universal value'.

Located along Libya's southwestern tip bordering Algeria, the Tadrart Acacus mountain massif is famous for thousands of cave paintings and carvings going back up to 14,000 years. The art, painted or carved on rocks sandwiched by spectacular sand dunes, showcase the changing flora and fauna of the Sahara stretching over thousands of years. Highlights include a huge elephant carved on a rock face as well as giraffes, cows and ostriches rendered in caves dating back to an era when the region was not inhospitable desert.

Now, several of those paintings have been destroyed or damaged by graffiti sprayers or people carving in their initials. Tourist officials in Ghat, the nearest large town, said the vandalism started around 2009 when a former Libyan employee of a foreign tour company sprayed over several paintings in anger after he had been fired. But the destruction has accelerated since the 2011 civil war.

Edited from Reuters (3 June 2014)
[4 images]

Monday, April 28, 2014


Until now, the carbon 14 technique, a radioactive isotope which gradually disappears with the passing of time, has been used to date prehistoric remains. When about 40,000 years, in other words approximately the period corresponding to the arrival of the first humans in Europe, have elapsed, the portion that remains is so small that it can become easily contaminated and cause the dates to appear more recent. It was from 2005 onwards that a new technique began to be used; it is the one used to purify the collagen in DNA tests. Using this method, the portion of the original organic material is obtained and all the subsequent contamination is removed.

And by using this technique, scientists have been arriving at the same conclusions at key sites across Europe: "We can see that the arrival of our species in Europe took place 8,000 years earlier than what had been thought and we can see the earliest datings of our species and the most recent Neanderthal ones, in which, in a specific regional framework, there is no overlapping," explained Alvaro Arrizabalaga, professor of the department of Geography, Prehistory and Archaeology, and one of the UPV/EHU researchers alongside María-José Iriarte and Aritza Villaluenga.

The three caves chosen for the recently published research are located in Girona (L'Arbreda), Gipuzkoa (Labeko Koba) and Asturias (La Viña); in other words, at the westernmost and easternmost tips of the Pyrenees and it was where the flow of populations and animals between the peninsula and continent took place. "L'Arbreda is on the eastern pass; Labeko Koba, in the Deba valley, is located on the entry corridor through the Western Pyrenees (Arrizabalaga and Iriarte excavated it in a hurry in 1988 before it was destroyed by the building of the Arrasate-Mondragon bypass) and La Viña is of value as a paradigm, since it provides a magnificent sequence of the Upper Palaeolithic, in other words, of the technical and cultural behavior of the Cro-magnons during the last glaciation", pointed out Arrizabalaga.

The main conclusion -"the scene of the meeting between a Neanderthal and a Cro-magnon does not seem to have taken place on the Iberian Peninsula"- is the same as the one that has been gradually reached over the last three years by different research groups when studying key settlements in Great Britain, Italy, Germany and France. "For 25 years we had been saying that Neanderthals and early humans lived together for 8,000-10,000 years. Today, we think that in Europe there was a gap between one species and the other and, therefore, there was no hybridization, which did in fact take place in areas of the Middle East," explained Arrizabalaga.


The mysterious abandonment of one of North America's first big cities may be linked to a massive Mississippi River flood 800 years ago, a new study finds.

In the bottom of an oxbow lake next to Cahokia, Ill., which was the most powerful and populous city north of Mexico in A.D. 1200, lie the buried remains of a flood that likely destroyed the crops and houses of more than 15,000 people. Researchers investigating pollen records of Cahokia's farming and deforestation discovered distinctive evidence of the flood: a silty layer 7.5 inches (19 centimeters) thick. The silt is dated to A.D. 1200, plus or minus 80 years, said Samuel Munoz, lead study author and a geographer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The city wasn't completely abandoned until A.D. 1350, but the catastrophic flood could have shaken the confidence of the town, sited near modern-day St. Louis, Munoz said. "I think the relationships between flooding and the decision to abandon the settlement are pretty complicated, but it's surprising and exciting to discover this flood happened right in the middle of a key turning point in Cahokia's history," Munoz said.

At its height, Cahokia sprawled over an area of about 6 square miles (16 square kilometers). Similar to modern-day New York City, Cahokia was an artistic and cultural center, where people brought in raw materials from across North America, and residents transformed them into exquisite goods. Vast agricultural fields - where farmers grew crops such as corn, squash, sunflower, little barley and lambs quarters - surrounded the city. More than 200 earthen mounds rose from the city, many of which still loom over the landscape today. Cahokia's location near the confluence of major rivers made it a popular way point for some 2,000 years, according to Munoz's study, published April 10 in the journal Geology.

Pollen grains buried in nearby Horseshoe Lake show farming at Cahokia intensified starting about A.D. 450, accompanied by rapid deforestation. Corn cultivation peaked between A.D. 900 and 1200, during the height of the
Cahokia culture, and then stopped around A.D. 1350. Farming and deforestation picked up again in the 1800s, with the arrival of Europeans.No one knows where the Cahokia people went, but Mississippian cultural traditions continued in the Southeast for several centuries, Munoz said.


Archaeologists conducting an excavation beneath the Palazzo Vecchio, a 13th century building which serves as the Town Hall in Florence, have discovered the remains of an ancient Roman theater dating back nearly 2,000 years, including a Vomitorium (corridor) used by as many as 15,000 people.

Roman theaters started out as simple, temporary wooden structures, but by the 1st century AD, they were building elaborate stone theaters, complete with backstage area, orchestra pit, and seating for thousands of people.

According to Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA), excavations at the Palazzo Vecchio have revealed the original painted stone pavements along which spectators used to walk from the outer circle of the theater to the orchestra Pit, as well as wall foundations, and 10-meter deep well shafts, providing water and waste disposal for the theater. The remains of the theater cover a vast area of land and even include cells in which wild animals were confined.

Research at the site has revealed that it was in use between the 1st or 2nd century AD until the 5th century, and was initially built for around 7,000 people, but at the height of its popularity could have held as many as 15,000 spectators.

By April Holloway


Two ancient Egyptian tombs have been discovered by a Spanish - Egyptian team at the Al-Bahnasa archaeological site located in Minya, Egypt, according to a new report in Ahram Online. The ancient tombs, which date back around 2,500 years, contain sarcophagi with the mummified remains of a scribe and a priest, along with an intriguing array of funerary items.

The tombs belong to the 26th Dynasty of Egypt (c. 685-525 BC), the last native dynasty to rule Egypt before the Persian conquest in 525 BC (although others followed). The Dynasty's reign is also called the Saite Period after the city of Sais, where its pharaohs had their capital, and marks the beginning of the Late Period of ancient Egypt. The large number of coins dating back to this Dynasty reveals that the Saiiti era was one of Egypt's flourishing periods.

According to a statement issued by the Minister of Antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, the first tomb belongs to a prominent ancient writer, who would have had a "great impact on the intellectual and cultural life of the era." Scribes played an important role in Egyptian society and were central to the functioning of centralized administration, the army, and the priesthood. Scribes were part of only a small percentage of ancient Egyptian society who could read and write. The hieroglyphic language of the ancient Egyptians was complex and beautiful and those who had mastered it held a valued position in society and thus became members of the royal court.

Inside the scribe's tomb, archaeologists uncovered the deceased mummy, which is in a good state of preservation, along with a bronze inkwell and two small bamboo pens, which would have been placed there to aid the writer in his work in the afterlife.

Unusually, the researchers also discovered mummified fish within the tomb, which is the "first time to find stuffed or mummified fish inside a tomb," according to Ali El-Asfar, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector at the Ministry of Antiquities. Fish were mummified in mass quantities in ancient Egypt as offerings to the god. They were wrapped in linen and held together by bands of cloth soaked in sticky resin, permanently encasing the mummies. However, since these fish were found within the tomb of the deceased, it is believed they were placed there as food for the scribe in his afterlife.

The second tomb that was uncovered belongs to a priest who was the head of a family many of whose members were priests in the Osirion Temple. This temple was uncovered recently two kilometers west of the tomb. Inside the tomb,
archaeologists found a large collection of stone sarcophagi, some of which were broken, along with canopic jars carved in alabaster and bearing hieroglyphic texts as well as a collection of 26th Dynasty bronze coins and bronze Osirian statuettes.

By April Holloway


Archaeologists have found the remains of an ancient wall during excavations inside the Roman Forum, which has been dated to 900 BC - suggesting that the ancient city is two centuries older than previously thought.

According to Rome's foundation myth, the ancient city was founded by twin brothers Romulus and Remus in 753 BC. Their mother was Rhea Silvia, daughter to Numitor, king of Alba Longa. Before their conception, Numitor's brother Amulius seized power and killed all Numitor's male heirs and forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, sworn to chastity. However, Rhea Silvia conceived the twins by the god Mars, or by the demi-god Hercules; once the twins were born, Amulius had them abandoned to die in the river Tiber. They were saved by a series of miraculous interventions: the river carried them to safety, a she-wolf found and suckled them, and a woodpecker fed them. A shepherd and his wife discovered the twins and raised them to manhood, as simple shepherds. The twins, still ignorant of their true origins, proved to be natural leaders. Each acquired many followers. When they discovered the truth of their birth, they killed Amulius and restored Numitor to his throne. Rather than wait to inherit Alba Longa, they chose to found a new city. Romulus founded the new city, named it Rome, after himself, and created its first legions and senate.

Although possible historical bases for the mythological narrative remain unclear and disputed, the myth was fully developed into something like an "official", chronological version in the Late Republican and early Imperial era; and the founding of the city was established at 753 BC. However, this date has been challenged by the latest discovery in the Roman Forum.

Experts have been working on the dig since 2009, using historic photos, images and other research left by archaeologists including Giacomo Boni, who led the excavation of the Roman Forum from 1899, to locate the buried wall.

The ancient wall was found in the Lapis Niger, a black stone shrine that preceded the Roman Empire by several centuries, and sits next to the Arch of Severo Septimius, a marble monument built in the heart of the Forum centuries later in 203 AD. Researchers uncovered pieces of the wall made from tufa - a type of limestone - along with fragments of ceramics and grains.

"Examination of the recovered ceramic material has enabled us to chronologically date the wall structure to between the 9th century BC and the beginning of the 8th century BC," said Dr Patrizia Fortuni, an archaeologist from Rome's cultural superintendency, who heads the research team. "So it precedes what is traditionally considered the foundation of Rome."

By April Holloway


Research published in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology has indicated that Neanderthal children experienced strong emotional attachments with their immediate social group, were cared for when they were sick, and played a key role in society. Now the study authors have also revealed evidence that suggests Neanderthal children played with toy axes and were taught how to make tools.

Penny Spikins, a researcher in human origins at York University, has referred to three sites where toy-like hand axes were found. At one site in France and another in Belgium, stones were found that had been skilfully crafted alongside others that were inexpertly chipped, as if by learning children. This supports previous research by Dick Stapert (2007), who refers to very small artifacts containing what he calls 'flint failures', as well as a miniature hand-axe only 4.4 cm long, which may have been an instructional toy made by an adult for a child. In a paper titled 'Neanderthal children and their flints', Stapert says, "Very small artifacts - too small to be of use - may be products of learners, especially if they show beginner's marks. The small size would have been an adaptation
to the small hands of children."

Ms Spikins suggests that taken collectively, the evidence suggests that Neanderthal children were schooled in how to make tools. "Learning how to make hand axes may have been part of the adult sculpting of emotional self-control in children," said Spikins.

"The realization that children must be responsible for quite a few flint artifacts may help to understand not only some typological aberrations (e.g.pic-like tools), but also the reason why some sites make a 'primitive' impression. Taking into account the activities of children will make our reconstructions of the past not only more plausible and complete, but also more lively and interesting."

By April Holloway

Friday, April 18, 2014


While reading this book there were so many important facts that I decided to share them with any of you who could be interested. It's not exactly archaeology, but it pertains to the background that all archaeologists really need to know beginning in the 18th century and going back to the Neanderthals. Also, it comments on the state of the world today.

p.36: Cuvier's discovery of extinction (c. 1785) -- of "a world previous to ours" -- was a sensational event.

p. 37 Cuvier finally gave the mastodonte its name in a paper published in Paris in 1806.

p. 53 Without Lyell (father of geology) there would have been no Darwin. Darwin wrote, "I always feel as if my book came half out of Lyell's brains."

p. 81 Walter Alvarez dubbed the hundred mile crater beneath the Yucatan Peninsula "the Crater Doom" --more widely known named after the nearest town, as the Chicxulub crater.

p. 93 Thomas Kuhn, the 20th century's most influential historian of science. Kuhn's seminal work, the Structure of Scientific Revolution shaped not only individual perceptions but entire fields of inquiry. Kuhn made the term "paradigm shifts" -- the history of the science of extinction can be told as a series of paradigm shifts. This is in the chapter titled "Welcome to the Anthropocene."

p.102 The current theory is that the end-Ordovician extinction was caused by glaciation not by a "death star". This extinction lasted no more than 200,000 years and perhaps less than a 100,000. By the time it was over, something like 90% of all species on earth had been eliminated.

p.108 It seems appropriate to assign the term "Anthropocene" to the present in many ways human-dominated, geological epoch, observed Paul Crutzen, a Dutch chemist who shared a Nobel Prize for discovering effects of ozone-depleting compounds.

p. 113 Since the start of the industrial revolution, humans have burned through enough fossil fuels -- coal, oil,and natural gas -- to add some 365 billion metric tons of carbon to the a result of all this the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air today -- a little over four hundred parts per mission --is higher than at any other point in the last 800,000 years..

p.120 Ocean acidification is sometime referred to as global warmings "equally evil twin."

p. 132 Ken Caldeira, Stanford professor, published in Nature, "The Coming Centuries May See More Ocean Acidification Than The Past 300 Million years."

P.189 Ecologist Tom Lovejoy: (credited with the term "biological diversity") "in the face of climatic change, even natural climatic change human activity has created an obstacle course for the dispersal of biodiversity. The result which could be 'one of the greatest biotic crisis of all time."

p.239 Svante Paabo (Swedish) sometimes called the "father of paleogenetics." His present project is sequencing the Neanderthal genome. Most people alive today are slightly up to 4% Neanderthal. He "wants to show what changed in fully modern humans, compared with Neanderthals that made a difference."

p.266-67 In the center of the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of Biodiversity (in NYC) there's an exhibit embedded in the floor... arranged around a central plaque that notes there have been five major extinction events since complex animals evolved, over five hundred million years ago. According to the plaque, "Global climate
change and other causes, probably including collisions between earth and extraterrestrial objects," were responsible for these events. And further " Right now we are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, this time caused solely by humanity's transformation of the ecological landscape."

In an extinction event of our own making, what happens to us" One possibility -- implied by the Hall of Biodiversity -- is that we too will eventually be undone by our "transformation of the ecological landscape." .. by disrupting these systems -- cutting down tropical rainforests, altering the composition of the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans, we're putting our own survival in danger.


This is an amazing book, do read the whole thing and recommend it to many people, especially those who aren't sure about climate change.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


In recent months, numerous DNA studies of ancient humans have all converged on one conclusion - Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred. While for many this may seem unsurprising or even obvious, we must remember that until fairly recently the predominant scientific theory was that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens never came in contact with each other, let alone interbreed.

Science is also only just beginning to dispel the myth that Neanderthals were primitive cave men. But for some, the idea that up to 20% of Neanderthal genes are still present in the human race is still very hard to swallow. However, a new study, which utilized a more superior method of testing, leaves little room for doubt - many human beings alive today are the product of Neanderthal and Homo sapiens interbreeding.

The new research published in the April 2014 issue of the journal Genetics has utilized a technique that involves partitioning genomes into short blocks to calculate the statistical likelihood of distant or recent interbreeding and tracing back the biological ties that exist between humans and Neanderthals. The method can more confidently detect the genetic signatures of interbreeding than previous approaches, and has further enabled the researchers to distinguish between two possible scenarios - the first is that Neanderthals occasionally interbred with modern humans after they migrated out of Africa, the second is that the humans who left Africa evolved from the same ancestral subpopulation that had previously given rise to Neanderthals.

"Although there has been mounting evidence for genetic exchange between modern humans and Neanderthals in Eurasia from a number of recent genetic studies, it has been difficult to rule out ancestral structure in Africa," said study co-author Dr Konrad Lohse, a population geneticist at the University of Edinburgh. "Our approach can distinguish between two subtly different scenarios".

"This work is important because it closes a hole in the argument about whether Neanderthals interbred with humans. And the method can be applied to understanding the evolutionary history of other organisms, including endangered species," said Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Genetics.

By April Holloway


An impressive discovery of ancient lacustrine settlements and a huge necropolis, dating back as early as 8,000 years ago, has been brought to light by an archaeological excavation in the area between the villages of St. Panteleimon, Anargyros Amyntaiou, and Vegora Philotas in Greece.

Although excavations took place in the region more than a century ago, in 1898, by the Russian Institute of Constantinople, nothing was ever reported or announced and excavations stopped for more than 100 years. In 2001,
excavations resumed in the area due to lignite mining operations by the Greek Electricity company, leading to the accidental discovery of the ruins by a group of workers. Since then, an incredible 54 ancient settlements have been discovered with 24 discovered in the last two years alone. The details of the findings have just been reported by an archaeological representative of the Government.

The discoveries include the remains of numerous rectangular buildings, measuring 4x6 meters and oriented southeast to southwest, arranged in 'neighborhoods' of 4 to 6 buildings in each. The floors of the buildings were constructed with successive layers of clay resting on wooden beams. Some of the larger buildings consisted of two levels with a balcony on the second floor, demonstrating remarkably advanced architecture for the period between 6,000 BC and 3,000 BC. Inside the buildings, archaeologists have found the remains of fireplaces, which would probably have been used for both heating and cooking. In order to avoid flooding they had created fortifications to protect the settlements. Each house was raised on layers of clay to avoid water gathering beneath.

Many tools, pottery, various jewellery and clay figurines were found including anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations. One of the most impressive artifacts was a chair with legs (as opposed to a seat with a solid base), which until now had only been found in Greece dating back to the 6th century BC. The findings also shed light on the dietary habits of the ancient people, as scientists have found the remains of wheat, lentils, and pomegranate, as well as blackberry and elderberry seeds.

The civilisation that occupied this area has since been named the 'Civilization of the Four Lakes', as most of the settlements were found in the vicinity of a set of lakes in the region. The civilization is believed to have settled in the area beginning around 6,000 BC and extending until 3,000 BC. It appears that a great fire destroyed the settlements, with many remains becoming submerged in the depths of the lakes.

The necropolis that was found consists of cist graves in an entirely circular and radial arrangement with each tomb accompanied by a large number of offerings like ceramic and bronze vases, jewellery, clothing, weapons and tools.More than 148 tombs have been found to date. The discovery of the remains of some women wearing elaborate clothing and valuable jewellery indicates the existence of a hierarchical social system. The discovery reflects an incredibly advanced civilization existing in northern Greece 8,000 years ago.

By John Black


Archaeologists have uncovered the earliest evidence of the presence of humans in Scotland with an assemblage of over 5,000 flint artifacts which were recovered in 2005-2009 by Biggar Archaeology Group in fields at Howburn, South Lanarkshire. Subsequent studies have dated their use to 14,000 years ago. Prior to the find, the oldest evidence of human occupation in Scotland could be dated to around 13,000 years ago at a now-destroyed cave site in Argyll,
northwest Scotland.

Dating to the very earliest part of the late-glacial period, Howburn is likely to represent the first settlers in Scotland. The flint tools are strikingly close in design to similar finds in northern Germany and southern Denmark from the same period, a link which has helped experts to date them. The new findings were revealed by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, in her speech at the Institute for Archaeologists' annual conference, which is this year taking place in Glasgow. The definitive findings will be published next year in a report funded by Historic Scotland.

The hunters who left behind the flint remains at Howburn came into Scotland in pursuit of game, probably herds of wild horses and reindeer, at a time when the climate improved following the previous severe glacial conditions.
Glacial conditions returned once more around 13,000 years ago and Scotland was again depopulated, probably for another 1000 years, after which new groups with different types of flint tools make their appearance.

The nature of the physical connections made between the peoples in Scotland, Germany and southern Denmark is not yet understood. However the similarity in the design of the tools from the two regions offers tantalizing glimpses
of connections across what would have been dry land, now drowned by the North Sea.

Monday, April 07, 2014


A team from the Welsh Rock Art Organization has begun excavating Ynys Môn's least-known Neolithic chambered tomb - Perthi Duon, on Anglesey, in northwest Wales - one of eighteen existing stone chambered monuments that stand within a 1.5 kilometer corridor of the Menai Straits.

In 1723 the antiquarian Henry Rowlands reported three possible upright stones beneath the large capstone, however by the time the Reverend John Skinner sketched the site in 1802 it was in a ruinous state.

The probable orientation of the entrance is east-west, with its concealed chamber at the western end. The team have so far uncovered several significant features, including areas of compacted-stone cairn that would once have formed a kidney-shaped mound surrounding the chamber.

Team director Dr George Nash says that "This discovery, along with other excavated features clearly show this monument to be a portal dolmen, one of the earliest Neolithic monument types in Wales, dating to around 3,500 BCE. More importantly, the architecture of Perthi Duon appears to be a blueprint for other portal dolmen monuments within what is termed the Irish Sea Province. We hope, by the end of this excavation to gain a better understanding of the burial and ritual practices that went on at this site, some 5,500 years ago."

Edited from University of Bristol (21 March 2014)
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Back in 2006 the remains of some Neolithic houses were discovered at Durrington Walls, close to Stonehenge (Wiltshire, England). The remains were dated at 2,500 BCE, which was approximately the same time that the Stonehenge sarsen stones were being erected. It is believed that the huts may have housed the construction workers or may even have acted as hotels for visitors to the sacred site.

Whilst being valuable archaeological finds in their own right, the house remains - together with information gained from similar dwelling remains found in Orkney - have provided enough information to enable reconstructions to be made. So a 60 strong team of volunteers are now nearing the completion of the erection of five dwellings adjacent to the new visitor center. The replicas are as authentic as possible, even down to replicating the harvesting of coppiced hazel rods using flint axes.
Susan Greaney, senior properties historian at English Heritage, is quoted as saying "One of the things we're trying to do at Stonehenge is to reconnect the ancient stones with the people that lived and worked in the surrounding landscape. We hope these houses will give visitors a real insight into what life was like at the time Stonehenge was built. They are the product of archaeological evidence, educated guesswork, and a lot of hard physical work".

Edited from Times of Malta (21 March 2014)
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