Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ANCIENT CITY OF HATRA ATTACKED BY ISIS

Assessing the Destruction at Hatra
by Christopher Jones July 27, 2015 Culture, Education, Photos0 Comments
Last month reports swept through the global media that ISIS had used bulldozers to level the ancient city of Hatra. ISIS has already destroyed a number of irreplaceable sculptures from Hatra in the Mosul Museum, lending immediate credibility to reports from Iraqi antiquities officials that ISIS fighters had destroyed Hatra itself as well.

However, no videos or other confirmation surfaced for a month afterwards and there was no way to assess the extent of the damage. The story gradually faded from the media. Given the massive size of Hatra, and its location in the middle of the desert, in a region of no strategic significance, over fifty kilometers from inhabited areas, some grew skeptical that ISIS had mounted a major operation to demolish Hatra.

On Saturday video surfaced on YouTube and other websites which showed ISIS fighters destroying sculptures at Hatra. The voice-overs from several ISIS fighters contained the standard spiel about shirk, idolatry, and Muhammad destroying the idols of the Kaaba. The video was quickly removed, but I took some screenshots that will suffice illustrate the items which have been destroyed while leaving out the majority propaganda elements.

The good news is that the damage to Hatra is not as extensive was was first feared. The bad news is that more irreplaceable and unique Hatrene art has been damaged, threatening to further erase an already under-studied field.

At the beginning of the video there is an aerial shot of the ruins of Hatra which seems to have been shot from a blimp or drone. A graphic then highlights the Great Iwans and the Temple of the Triad with a label which reads “idols and statues.”

Saturday, July 25, 2015

WORLD'S OLDEST STONE TOOLS DATING TO 3.3 MILLION YEARS AGO FOUND ON SHORE OF LAKE TURKANA IN KENYA

A recently published study reveals that stone tools found almost by accident on the shore of Lake Turkana, in Kenya, in 2011, are by far the oldest known. The discovery challenges the notion that the things that made humans unique among primates all evolved around the same time, and suggests that other, more distant relatives knew how to fashion their own tools out of stone at least 3.3 million years ago.

Lead study author Sonia Harmand, of Stony Brook University and the Universite Paris Ouest Nanterre, says: "Our discovery instantly pushed back the beginning of the archaeological record by 700,000 years, or over a quarter of humanity's previously known material cultural history."

Many primates use items like sticks as tools, and other species even use rocks as tools, but actually making a tool was thought to be something exclusive to members of the genus Homo, which is believed to have appeared roughly 2.8 million years ago, and includes modern humans. The traditional view was that stone tool making, along with other key human traits such as language and meat-eating, evolved at that time.

It remains unknown what species made these stone tools. They could have been created by an undiscovered extinct human species, or by Australopithecus, which is currently the leading contender for the ancestor of the human lineage, or by Kenyanthropus, a 3.3-million-year-old skull of which was discovered in 1999 about 1 kilometre from where the tools were later found.

Replicating the toolmaking process, the researchers conclude the techniques used may represent a stage between the pounding used by earlier hominins and the knapping of later toolmakers. This discovery also has implications for understanding the evolution of the human brain. Scientists are now looking at the surfaces and edges of the tools and studying the sediment in which they were found to try to reconstruct how they were used.

Edited from LiveScience (20 May 2015), CNBC (21 May 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/o5amf3v
[1 image]
http://tinyurl.com/q65nwwz

HUNDREDS OF GAMING PIECES FOUND IN UTAH (USA) CAVE DATING TO THE LATE 13TH CENTURY

A cave on the shore of Utah's Great Salt Lake is giving archaeologists a rare glimpse into prehistoric gambling. Cave 1 has proven to hold a profusion of artifacts, most of which date to a span of just 20 to 40 years in the late 13th century CE, belonging to members of an obscure culture known as the Promontory. Researchers believe the Promontory people migrated from the Canadian Subarctic to the American Southwest.

Heaps of animal remains and children's footwear unearthed in the cave suggest this group was thriving in the late 1200s, when cultures like the nearby Fremont, who lived just a few kilometers away, had given up farming and were struggling to forage during a time of drought. "The numbers and diversity of gaming artifacts that we see in the Promontory record are unparalleled in western North America," said Dr John Ives, an archaeologist who has been researching the cave complex for years.

Most of the game pieces are dice, made from split pieces of cane, one side decorated with cut or burned lines, the other side plain. Many were discovered near the entrance of the cave, around a large central hearth. According to Alberta doctoral student Gabriel Yanicki, who is collaborating on the research, dice games were typically played only by women, for small stakes, or to allocate tasks like cooking.

Based on historical accounts, the pieces may have been used in a game in which three to eight dice were thrown to score points based on how many of the marked sides fell face-up, won by the first player to reach a predetermined score. While men usually didn't take part in dice games themselves, they often bet on the results.

The greatest significance of Cave 1's game pieces may not just be in how they were used, but in where they came from. The artifacts include gambling tools from nearly every part of the ancient American West. The cane dice are similar to those found throughout much of the Southwest, but not elsewhere in the Great Basin.

Researchers also discovered a die made from a beaver tooth wrapped in sinew, of a type used by the Klamath culture on the Oregon coast, 1400 kilometers to the west. "A spiral-incised stick looks similar to objects used in a guessing game played by a number of peoples in northern British Columbia," Yanicki says. A small sinew-netted hoop and feathered dart are indicative of gambling traditions from the Great Plains to the Colorado Plateau.

Edited from Western Digs (18 May 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/owob9gq
[4 images]

PREHISTORIC STATUETTES FOUND IN PERU

Researchers in Peru have discovered a trio of statuettes they believe were created by the ancient Caral civilization some 3,800 years ago. The mud statuettes were found inside a reed basket in a building at the ancient city of Vichama in northern Peru, which is today an important archaeological site. The Caral civilization emerged some 5,000 years ago and lived in Peru's Supe Valley, leaving behind impressive architecture including pyramids and sunken amphitheaters.

The newly found statuettes were probably used in religious rituals performed before breaking ground on a new building. Two of the figures, a naked man and woman painted in white, black and red, are believed to represent political authorities. The third, a woman with 28 fingers and red dots on her white face, is believed to represent a priestess.

The research team, led by archaeologist Ruth Shady, also unearthed two mud figurines of women's faces wrapped in cloth and covered with yellow, blue and orange feathers.


Edited from PhysOrg (9 June 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/p37c5uc
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CORNWALL SCENE OF PREHISTORIC GOLD RUSH BETWEEN 22ND AND 17TH CENTURIES BCE

New archaeological research is revealing that south-west Britain was the scene of a prehistoric gold rush. Geological estimates now indicate that up to 200 kilos of gold was extracted in the Early Bronze Age from Cornwall and West Devon's rivers - mainly between the 22nd and 17th centuries BCE.

New archaeological and metallurgical research suggests that substantial amounts were exported to Ireland, with smaller quantities probably also going to France. It also suggests that the elites of Stonehenge almost certainly likewise obtained their gold from the south-west peninsula, as may the rulers of north-west Wales, who took to wearing capes made of solid gold.

The archaeologist who has carried out the metallurgical research, Dr Chris Standish of Southampton University, believes that although Cornwall's prehistoric gold production was of considerable cultural and potentially political significance, it was, for the most part, merely a by-product of an even more important industry - tin extraction. "The available evidence strongly suggests that in Bronze Age Cornwall and West Devon, tin wasn't obtained through mining, but was instead extracted from the areas' rivers, probably through panning or sophisticated damming and sluicing systems," said Dr Standish. "But, as well as finding tin in the sand and gravels of the streams and rivers, they also found gold," he added.

Indeed, fine woolly sheepskins may well have been used to 'catch' the tiny grains of both tin and gold - in a technique similar to that which, in ancient Greek mythology, probably gave rise to the concept of the Golden Fleece. Cornish tin was crucial to the development of the Bronze Age in Western Europe, Britain and Ireland - because in order to make bronze, the prehistoric metalworkers had to combine copper with tin.

Like much of the Cornish gold, some of the tin was almost certainly 'exported' to Ireland where it was mixed with Irish copper to make bronze. As the Bronze Age progressed, large quantities of tin were also exported to the great North Welsh copper mining area near Llandudno where it was used to make even greater quantities of bronze, especially bronze axes.

Although estimates suggest that up to 200 kilos of gold were extracted from the south-west peninsula during the Early Bronze Age, only around 270 gold artifacts from that period, totaling some eight kilos, have ever been found and recorded in Britain and Ireland. Much of the gold was beaten into thin sheets that were then cut into crescent-shaped 'breast plates'. Recent research suggests that they may have been used as part of sun worship rituals. Unlike many Bronze Age treasures, they were not normally used as grave goods for the dead - but were instead buried in peat bogs and other places as votive offerings to the gods.

Sadly, the great majority of gold artifacts originally manufactured during that era were almost certainly repeatedly melted down over the centuries to manufacture later artifacts.

Edited from The Independent (4 June 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/p3uu24w
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EXCAVATION BEGINS AT LARGEST HENGE IN THE COUNTRY BUT LITTLE KNOWN -- BETWEEN STONEHENGE AND AVEBURY

Archaeologists are embarking on a three-year series of excavations in the Vale of Pewsey, between the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury - a little explored archaeological region of international importance.

The project will investigate Marden Henge, built around 2400 BCE - the largest henge in the country, and one of Britain's most important but least understood prehistoric monuments. Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building may also have helped to build Stonehenge.

According to Dr Jim Leary, Director of the University of Reading Archaeology Field School: "This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction."

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, adds: "Bigger than Avebury, ten times the size of Stonehenge and half way between the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, comparatively little is known about this fascinating and ancient landscape. The work will help Historic England focus on identifying sites for protection and improved management, as well as adding a new dimension to our understanding of this important archaeological environment."

Edited from University of Reading PR (15 June 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/ocj3bm3

PREHISTORIC HILL FORT NEAR CARDIFF, WALES -- DATING TO C. 3600 BCE

Archaeologists have returned to the sprawling Cardiff site where a series of discoveries were made in 2014, revealing that the hillfort was occupied from the Stone Age through the Roman era and beyond.

Following last year's emergence of five large roundhouses, a roadway, a decorated bead and extensive assemblages of pottery from the Iron Age, around 200 members of the public are expected to help Cardiff University experts at Caerau Hillfort - a 'significant' yet largely unknown prehistoric settlement. Neolithic flint tools and weapons dated to around 3,600 BCE, and Roman pottery remains were also found among impressive ramparts in the suburbs of the Welsh capital.

"Given that the site is five hectares in size, we're hopeful that the best is yet to come," says Dr Dave Wyatt, co-director of the CAER heritage project which has been supported by more than 2,000 local people since 2013. "Last year some mind-blowing discoveries were made which pushed back the origins of Cardiff deep into time. But we believe we're still just scratching the surface of this incredible site, so who knows what will be uncovered this year."

Edited from Culture24 (26 June 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/nzqgrpq
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Monday, June 22, 2015

ARTIFACTS SMUGGLED TO OTHER COUNTRIES FROM BAGDAD RECOVERED


The Ministry of Tourism and the Iraqi Antiquities, has recovered 663 artifacts smuggled to three countries in the framework of its efforts to recover thousands of lost artifacts of the country.

Undersecretary for Antiquities, Qais Hussein Rashid,said in a statement "the ministry received 663 artifacts were smuggled, were received in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of America, Italy and Jordan." He added that "it is part of the national campaign to protect Iraqi antiquities launched by the ministry this month."

He pointed out that the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities at the beginning of July next will showcase the recoveries."
And thousands of artifacts looted from Iraq, including about 16 thousand pieces from the Baghdad museum.

Iraq,was invaded by US forces in March 2003 with the support of other coalition forces action that made the country suffer the ransacking of its cultural heritage many of which remains hidden in galleries and museums of other countries.

KENNEWICK MAN IS CLOSELY RELATED TO CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICANS -- NEW DNA STUDY

In July 1996, two college students were wading in the shallows of the Columbia River near the town of Kennewick, Wash., when they stumbled across a human skull. At first the police treated the case as a possible murder. But once a nearly complete skeleton emerged from the riverbed and was examined, it became clear that the bones were extremely old — 8,500 years old, it would later turn out.

The skeleton, which came to be known as Kennewick Man or the Ancient One, is one of the oldest and perhaps the most important — and controversial — ever found in North America. Native American tribes said that the bones were the remains of an ancestor and moved to reclaim them in order to provide a ritual burial.

But a group of scientists filed a lawsuit to stop them, arguing that Kennewick Man could not be linked to living Native Americans. Adding to the controversy was the claim from some scientists that Kennewick Man’s skull had unusual “Caucasoid” features. Speculation flew that Kennewick Man was European. A California pagan group went so far as to file a lawsuit seeking to bury the skeleton in a pre-Christian Norse ceremony.

“It’s very clear that Kennewick Man is most closely related to contemporary Native Americans,” said Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Nature. "In my view, it’s bone-solid.”

Kennewick Man’s genome also sheds new light on how people first spread throughout the New World, experts said. There was no mysterious intrusion of Europeans thousands of years ago. Instead, several waves spread across the New World, with distinct branches reaching South America, Northern North America, and the Arctic.

But the new study has not extinguished the debate over what to do with Kennewick Man. Dr. Willerslev and his colleagues found that the Colville, one of the tribes that claims Kennewick Man as their own, is closely related to him. But the researchers acknowledge that they can’t say whether he is in fact an ancestor of the tribe.

Nonetheless, James Boyd, the chairman of the governing board of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said that his tribe and four others still hope to rebury Kennewick Man and that the new study should help in their efforts.

The scientific study of Kennewick Man began in 2005, after eight years of litigation seeking to prevent repatriation of Kennewick Man to the Native American tribes. A group of scientists led by Douglas W. Owsley, division head of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution, gained permission to study the bones. Last year, they published a 670-page book laying out their findings.

Kennewick Man stood about 5 foot 7 inches, they reported, and died at about the age of 40. He was probably a right-handed spear-thrower, judging from the oversized bones in his right arm and leg.

MINES ARE BEING LAID BY ISIS IN PALMYRA -- NOT SURE WHY!

Islamic State has reportedly planted mines and bombs in the ruins of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, according to a monitoring organization.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was not immediately clear whether the group was preparing to destroy the ancient ruins, or if they were simply attempting to prevent government forces from advancing towards the city in the center of the war-torn country, also known as Tadmur.

"They have planted it yesterday. They also planted some around the Roman theater we still do not know the real reason," Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Observatory, told Reuters.

The ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim group in May seized the city of 50,000 people, site of some of the world's most extensive and best-preserved ancient Roman ruins, which are feared to be at significant risk of destruction.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

ARCHAEOLOGISTS EXPLAIN HOW THEY STUDIED A DANISH BRONZE AGE FEMALE FIND WITH NEW METHODS -- BIO-CHEMICALS

We investigated the remarkable remains of the iconic Egtved Girl, who belongs to an impressive group of Bronze Age oak coffin burials from Denmark that were placed in monumental elite burial barrows dated to 1500-1100 BC. Excavations in 1921, close to the village of Egtved in Denmark revealed the partially preserved remains of a high status, fully dressed female of approximately 16 to 18 years of age. Dendrochronological analysis indicates that she was buried in an oak coffin approximately 3,400 years ago. Hair, tooth enamel, nails, and parts of the brain and skin are still
preserved, but no bones survived, most likely due to their dissolution in the partially acidic waterlogged environment prevailing within the oak coffin. A small container with some cremated skeletal remains of a 5 to 6-year-old child was placed by her head.

Ancient human mobility at the individual level is conventionally studied by the diverse application of suitable techniques (e.g. aDNA, radiogenic strontium isotopes, as well as oxygen and lead isotopes) to either hard and/or soft tissues. However, the limited preservation of coexisting hard and soft human tissues hampers the possibilities of investigating high-resolution diachronic mobility periods in the life of a single individual. Here, we present the results of a multidisciplinary study of an exceptionally well preserved circa 3.400-year old Danish Bronze Age female find, known as the Egtved Girl.

We applied biomolecular, biochemical and geochemical analyses to reconstruct her mobility and diet. We demonstrate that she originated from a place outside present day Denmark (the island of Bornholm excluded), and that she traveled back and forth over large distances during the final months of her life, while consuming a terrestrial diet with intervals of reduced protein intake. We also provide evidence that all her garments were made of non-locally produced wool.

Our study advocates the huge potential of combining biomolecular and biogeochemical provenance tracer analyses to
hard and soft tissues of a single ancient individual for the reconstruction of high resolution human mobility.Recent advances in tracing techniques at the individual level provide us with methodologies to map individual mobility during different life stages 1–14. However, the limited preservation of coexisting hard and soft human tissues often impedes the diachronic investigation of a single individual.
.

Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to K.M.F. (email: Karin.M.Frei@natmus.dk)

Published in Scientific Reports: 21 May 2015

www.nature.com/scientificreports/

Friday, June 12, 2015

GREEK HAIR STYLE AT THE ERECHTHEION HIGHLIGHTED BY FAIRFIELD UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR

Maybe the Greek women used a curling arm -- that's what Katherine Schwab discovered when she turned her attention to the hairstyles of the Caryatids, the six marble maidens created as columns on the south porch of the Erechtheion, part of the Acropolis of Athens. The ancient figures wear their tresses in intricate, subtly individualized arrangements of curls and wraparound plaits, each anchored by a thick fishtail braid dangling down the back.

An art history professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut, Schwab wondered whether flesh-and-blood women could wear their locks the same way. She found a hairstylist to reproduce the Caryatid coiffures and used some of her students as models.

Now she has turned her experiment into an exhibition, which is on show at the Greek Embassy in Washington DC. "The Caryatid Hairstyling Project" includes photos of the stone Caryatids, photos of the student models during and after the styling session, and a video of the undertaking.

STENCH & SMELLS OF ANCIENT ROME HIGHLIGHTED BY BRANDEIS PROFESSOR

Archaeologist Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow had members and guests of the Archaeological Associates of Greenwich alternately aghast and amused last week at tales of the sordid smells and deplorable sanitation that existed in places like Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ostia and Rome in the first and second centuries.

Professor AOKO, as her classical studies students at Brandeis University call her, addressed "Raising a Stink in the Roman City: Creating an Archaeology of Smell" at the Bruce Museum. "Stench and smells and health are all pungent topics," she began, "and in the first and second centuries AD these cities were very smelly places where people got used to sordid smells." She presented a drawing of a typical kitchen scene that showed a woman cooking a stew -- flush up against the toilet.

"Shops and homes were mixed in together and rich and poor houses were mixed." There were "garlic sellers, felt makers, poultry handlers, fish sellers, perfume makers and olive oil makers," all in the residential mix. "Nothing stinks more than rotting olive oil," she said, "even 2,500 years later in excavations." People would throw dead animals into the streets. "With street fires burning flesh ... there were hideous smells that had to be endured," she said.

Daily baths were definitely not de rigueur. A photo showed a "hot tub" in Pompeii that was said to hold up to eight people. "Your companions might have open wounds, lesions, diarrhea, gonorrhea, or a strong smell of excrement or urine -- all very unhealthy," Koloski-Ostrow said. Romans were said to have lice-infested hair and bad breath, and kept animals in their houses, which added to "the smelly interiors, the stench," she said.

Koloski-Ostrow moved on to the state of Roman amphitheaters -- in particular one called Pozzuoli located on the Bay of Naples. "It's the best preserved amphitheater in the world," she said, pointing out on a slide the holes in the arena through which the animals were brought up from below. "The smell after days of games must have been ghastly, that of dead men, animals, blood and animal parts, and there must have been millions of flies," she said.

After Koloski-Ostrow completed her fragrant account of ancient Rome, one of the evening's attendees asked a question surely on the minds of many: How did Romans counteract all the terrible smells on and around them?

"With incense and perfume," Koloski-Ostrow answered. "They mixed perfume and sweat."

TRIUMPHAL ARCH FOUND UNDERNEATH ROME'S CIRCUS MAXIMUS

The remains of a triumphal arch built in honor of the Emperor Titus have been unearthed from underneath Rome's Circus Maximus chariot-racing arena The arch, which was built immediately after the emperor's death in 81 AD, would have formed a magnificent entrance to the Circus Maximus, where charioteers competed against each other in races that were depicted in the 1959 Hollywood epic Ben Hur.

Authorities in Rome now hope to reconstruct the imposing, 17-metre-wide, 15-metre-long marble arch, in a project that would cost at least €1 million (£718,000). They have already starting building a detailed digital image of what the monument probably looked like, based on their findings.

The remains of the arch were found at a depth of around 10ft below ground at the eastern end of the Circus Maximus, which is located between the Colosseum and the Tiber River. Its existence had been known only from historical records from the medieval period – it is thought to have disappeared from sight 800 years ago, after its stone was pilfered for other buildings and its foundations sank beneath the ground. Archaeologists found more than 300 marble fragments of the monument, some of them the size of a small car.

They discovered the bases of the four giant columns that formed the front of the arch, as well as the plinths on which they rested and traces of the original travertine pavement. Emperors and generals would have passed beneath the huge arch during triumphal processions to celebrate military victories against the enemies of the Roman Empire.

Until the money to reconstruct the arch can be raised, its foundations will be reburied in order to protect them from the elements – a common archaeological practice. Excavating the remains of the arch was complicated because much of it lay below the water table and the site was prone to flooding, said Claudio Parisi Presicce, a cultural heritage official. "When the four plinths emerged we realized that there was more down there so we expanded the dig," he said.

If it is to be reconstructed, the first task will be to divert or block the water, the legacy of a system of channels and mills that were built in the area during the medieval period. The arch is one of two that was built in honor of the emperor, whose full name was Titus Flavius Vespasianus. The other arch, which is intact and in a state of excellent preservation, stands at the entrance to the Forum, the heart of the Roman Empire.

ISIL PILLAGING ARTIFACTS RAISES MONEY FOR THESE TERRORISTS

Looting priceless artifacts has raised tens of millions of dollars for Isil – a sum comparable to the profit the terrorists have made by the kidnap and ransom of Western hostages

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) has established a "ministry of antiquities" to maximize the profits from looting priceless artifacts across the territory it controls.

Since its lightning sweep through Iraq and Syria last year, Isil has sought to transform itself into an organization capable of ruling its own state, setting up an elaborate hierarchy of leadership and ministries. But while elsewhere in the Middle East, ministries of this kind try to protect antiquities; Isil's version was established to pillage and smuggle these treasures in a territory replete with classical ruins.

"They happened upon a pre-existing situation of looting and turned it into a highly organized trade," said Amr al-Azm, a former official in the Syrian antiquities ministry who now runs a network of archaeologists and activists to document the destruction of the country's treasures.

In Iraq, the jihadists have desecrated and looted the Assyrian remains at Mosul, Nimrud and Hatra. Earlier in May they captured the Roman city of Palmyra in Syria, raising fears that it might suffer the same treatment.

When Isil set up its self-described "Islamic Caliphate", it imposed a 20 per cent tax on looted antiquities. The jihadists then tried to gain control of the trade by regulating access to ancient sites.

By last summer, various "antiquities ministries" had been established across their strongholds. They have since been drawn together to form part of a "Ministry for Precious Resources", according to Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, who has helped to gather an archive of Isil's operational documents.

A number of groups have been contracted to carry out digs, helped by local archaeologists who identify the most lucrative sites. Accurate estimates for the revenue raised through this trade are hard to establish. But the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental body, has put the figure at tens of millions of dollars.
Experts say the focus on figures distracts from the human consequences of the smuggling trade.

"The bottom line is that it's funding terrorism – and the deaths of Iraqi and Syrian people," said Michael Danti, an archaeologist at Boston University who is advising the US State Department on how to tackle the problem. Isil is believed to have developed a network of middlemen for the onward trade of the artifacts, providing one dealer with an armed escort for trips to the Turkish border.

In other cases, local people sell the treasures to middlemen, paying Isil a tax of at least 20 per cent on the profits.
The spoils have also been found in the possession of senior commanders. When US commandos killed Isil's alleged chief financial officer, Abu Sayyaf, on May 16, they discovered various relics inside his home, including an ancient Assyrian Bible.

Archaeologists say they are beginning to find evidence of organized pillage on a scale unseen throughout the Syria's civil war.

OLDEST STONE TOOLS DATING TO 3.3 MILLION YEARS AGO PREDATE EARLIEST HUMAN LINE

The world's oldest stone tools have been discovered, scientists report. The tools include sharp-edged flakes, hammers and anvils. They were unearthed from the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya, and date to 3.3 million years ago.
They are 700,000 years older than any tools found before, even pre-dating the earliest humans in the Homo genus.

The find, reported in Nature, suggests that more ancient species, such as Australopithecus afarensis or Kenyanthropus platyops, may have been more sophisticated than was thought. "They are significantly earlier than anything that has been found previously," said Dr Nick Taylor, from the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS) in France and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. "It's really quite astonishing to think what separates the previous oldest site and this site is 700,000 years of time. It's monumental."

This stone tool is known as a core - flakes, used for cutting, are sheared away from its edges The first tools from the site, which is called Lomekwi 3, were discovered in 2011. They were spotted after researchers took a wrong turn as they walked through the hot, dry Kenyan landscape.

By the end of 2012, a total of 149 tools had been found, and another field trip in 2014 has unearthed more still. They include sharp flakes of stone, sheared off from larger rocks, which were most likely used for cutting. Hammers and anvils were also excavated, some of which were huge in size. "The very largest one we have weighs 15kg, which is massive," Dr Taylor told BBC News. "On this piece, it doesn't show the signs of actually having been flaked to produce other artifacts... rather, it was probably used as an anvil. "It probably rested in the soil and the other cobbles brought to the site, which were intended to be smashed apart to make tools, were struck against this large anvil."

Until this discovery, the oldest examples of this technology were the Oldowan tools from Tanzania, which date to about 2.6 million years ago. The researchers say the 700,000-year time difference reveals how manufacturing methods and use changed over time, growing more advanced.

Other finds, such as animal bones found in Ethiopia with cut marks that date to 3.39 million years ago, also suggest tool use began before H. habilis. Scientists now believe the 3.3-million-year-old implements were crafted by another, more primitive species

Dr Taylor said: "There are a number of possible candidates at present. "There was a hominin called Kenyanthropus platyops, which has been found very close to where the Lomekwi 3 tools are being excavated. And that hominin was around at the time the tools were being made. "More widely in the East African region there is another hominin, Australopithecus afarensis, which is famously known from the fossil Lucy, which is another candidate."

Australopithecus afarensis is a primitive species with both human and ape-like features Neither of these species was assumed to be particularly intelligent - they had both human and ape-like features, with relatively small brains.
However the tools suggest they may have been smarter than assumed.

Dr Ignacio de la Torre, from University College London's Institute of Archaeology, described this as "a game-changing" find. "It's the most important discovery in the last 50 years," he told BBC News. "It suggests that species like Australopithecus might have been intelligent enough to make stone tools - that they had the cognitive and manipulative abilities to carry tasks like this out."

NEW SPECIES OF HOMININ DISCOVERED IN AFAR REGION OF ETHIOPIA

A new species of ancient human has been unearthed in the Afar region of Ethiopia, scientists report. Researchers discovered jaw bones and teeth, which date to between 3.3m and 3.5m years old.It means this new hominin was alive at the same time as several other early human species, suggesting our family tree is more complicated than was thought.

The new species has been called Australopithecus deyiremeda, which means "close relative" in the language spoken by the Afar people.

The remains belong to four individuals and date to between 3.3m and 3.5m years old The ancient remains are thought to belong to four individuals, who would have had both ape and human-like features.Lead researcher Dr Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the US, told BBC News: "We had to look at the detailed anatomy and morphology of the teeth and the upper and lower jaws, and we found major differences.
"This new species has very robust jaws. In addition, we see this new species had smaller teeth. The canine is really small - smaller than all known hominins we have documented in the past."

The age of the remains means that this was potentially one of four different species of early humans that were all alive at the same time. The most famous of these is Australopithecus afarensis - known as Lucy - who lived between 2.9-3.8m years ago, and was initially thought to be our direct ancestor. However the discovery of another species called Kenyanthropus platyops in Kenya in 2001, and of Australopithecus bahrelghazali in Chad, and now Australopithecus deyiremedaI, suggests that there were several species co-existing.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

ANCIENT TOOLS FOUND IN UTAH DESERT -- MUCH DIFFERENT THAN CLOVIS -- DATE TO ABOUT 12-13,000 YEARS

Researchers exploring the desert flats west of Salt Lake City (northern Utah - USA) have uncovered more than a thousand ancient tools, such as spear points, a type of rectangular implement that hasn't been reported before, and objects that an archaeologist describes as "giant scrapers coming out of the ground... fresh as daisies."

The tools were found in 2012 on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range, where Dr. Daron Duke, lead researcher of the team that made the finds, was hired to conduct a survey. Based on ecological evidence and radiocarbon dates of organic matter in the area, laid down when this desert was a wetland, the oldest of the artifacts date to between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago, Duke said.


The most striking of the tools are 55 long, slender spear points and fragments, fashioned in a style known as Haskett - a tradition that's associated with the Great Basin region, but rarely found. One of the complete spear heads is the largest Haskett point yet found, measuring 22.6 centimeters (about 9 inches). And another was found to contain a residue of elephant proteins, making it the first likely evidence of mammoth-hunting in the Great Basin.

Together, these finds help clarify a picture that has remained hazy for archaeologists: the life and times of the Great Basin's earliest inhabitants, who may have been contemporaries of the ancient and widespread Clovis culture. "Haskett is very rare, anywhere," said Duke. "They were probably moving around with a sort of condensed tool kit, and I guess you could say they were low visibility. There weren't many people around, and they didn't leave much of a record. But we just got lucky here."

Haskett points are thought to be part of the larger Western Stemmed tradition of tool-making, whose artifacts are found throughout the Great Basin. And mounting evidence, including the new findings from Utah, suggests that the people who fashioned Western Stemmed tools were contemporaneous with the Clovis culture. "There's no doubt that the people who made fluted [Clovis] points are not those people who made Haskett points," Duke said. "Even though they accomplish the same thing, they're just completely different in their design."

His team found 19 extremely sharp, double-sided tools that they call rectangular bifaces, fashioned from broken Haskett stems, he said. "They appear to be used for some sort of intensive gouging of hard material, like bone or wood," Duke added. "These are artifacts that are not recognized in any of the other Paleoindian assemblages."

Edited from Western Digs (2 April 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/pejufw7
[2 images]

ANCIENT STONE TOOLS FOUND IN UTAH (USA) DESERT --12,000-13,000 YEARS OLD -- DIFFERENT FROM CLOVIS

Researchers exploring the desert flats west of Salt Lake City (northern Utah - USA) have uncovered more than a thousand ancient tools, such as spear points, a type of rectangular implement that hasn't been reported before, and objects that an archaeologist describes as "giant scrapers coming out of the ground... fresh as daisies."

The tools were found in 2012 on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range, where Dr. Daron Duke, lead researcher of the team that made the finds, was hired to conduct a survey. Based on ecological evidence and radiocarbon dates of organic matter in the area, laid down when this desert was a wetland, the oldest of the artifacts date to between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago, Duke said.

The most striking of the tools are 55 long, slender spear points and fragments, fashioned in a style known as Haskett - a tradition that's associated with the Great Basin region, but rarely found. One of the complete spear heads is the largest Haskett point yet found, measuring 22.6 centimeters (about 9 inches). And another was found to contain a residue of elephant proteins, making it the first likely evidence of mammoth-hunting in the Great Basin.

Together, these finds help clarify a picture that has remained hazy for archaeologists: the life and times of the Great Basin's earliest inhabitants, who may have been contemporaries of the ancient and widespread Clovis culture. "Haskett is very rare, anywhere," said Duke. "They were probably moving around with a sort of condensed tool kit, and I guess you could say they were low visibility. There weren't many people around, and they didn't leave much of a record. But we just got lucky here."

Haskett points are thought to be part of the larger Western Stemmed tradition of tool-making, whose artifacts are found throughout the Great Basin. And mounting evidence, including the new findings from Utah, suggests that the people who fashioned Western Stemmed tools were contemporaneous with the Clovis culture. "There's no doubt that the people who made fluted [Clovis] points are not those people who made Haskett points," Duke said. "Even though they accomplish the same thing, they're just completely different in their design."

In addition to these many revelations, the patch of barren Air Force land has also turned up other compelling finds, such as a type of tool that doesn't seem to have been recognized previously by archaeologists. There's a class of artifacts that's pretty much defined [by this locality] that I've never even heard of before," Duke said. His team found 19 extremely sharp, double-sided tools that they call rectangular bifaces, fashioned from broken Haskett stems, he said. "They appear to be used for some sort of intensive gouging of hard material, like bone or wood," Duke added. "These are artifacts that are not recognized in any of the other Paleoindian assemblages."

Edited from Western Digs (2 April 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/pejufw7
[2 images]

HOW EUROPEANS EVOLVED WHITE SKIN & INDO EUROPEAN LANGUAGES & HEIGHT

A new study shows that pale skin, as well as other traits such as tallness and the ability to digest milk as adults, arrived relatively recently in much of Europe. Comparing the DNA of 83 ancient individuals throughout Europe, the report says Europeans today are a blend of at least three ancient populations of hunter-gatherers and farmers who moved into Europe in separate migrations over the past 8000 years, and that a massive migration from the steppes north of the Black Sea may have brought Indo-European languages about 4500 years ago.

Curiously, neither the farmers who came from the Near East about 7800 years ago nor the pastoralists who came from the steppes 4800 years ago had the version of the gene that allows adults to digest sugars in milk. It wasn't until about 4300 years ago that lactose tolerance spread through Europe.

About 8500 years ago, early hunter-gatherers in Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary had darker skin. In the far north, seven people from a 7700-year-old site in southern Sweden had both light skin gene variants, as well as a third gene which causes blue eyes and may contribute to light skin and blond hair.

The first farmers from the Near East carried both genes for light skin. One of their light-skin genes spread through Europe, so that central and southern Europeans also began to have lighter skin, while the other gene remained at low levels until about 5800 years ago.

Complex traits such as height are the result of the interaction of many genes. Selection strongly favored several variants for tallness in northern and central Europeans starting 8000 years ago, with a boost from the later migration 4800 years ago. In contrast, selection favored shorter people in Italy and Spain starting 8000 years ago. Spaniards in particular shrank in stature 6000 years ago.

Surprisingly, the team found no immune genes under intense selection, which is counter to hypotheses that diseases would have increased after the development of agriculture. People in northern latitudes often don't get enough UV to synthesize vitamin D, so natural selection has favored two genetic solutions to that problem - pale skin that absorbs UV more efficiently, and lactose tolerance to digest the sugars and vitamin D naturally found in milk.

Altamura Man yields oldest Neanderthal DNA sample

A team of researchers has confirmed that Altamura Man was a Neanderthal, and revealed that the bones are 128,000 to 187,000 years old.
Altamura Man was discovered in 1993 in the karst caves of Lamalunga, near Altamura, in southern Italy - one of the most extraordinary hominin specimens ever found in Europe. The remains were embedded in rock and covered in a thick layer of calcite. It was thought that excavating the remains would cause irreparable damage, and they have remained in situ. There was some debate initially about morphology and age. Subsequent study led to a consensus that the visible remains (the head, and part of a shoulder) were that of an archaic Neanderthal, of a 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 was extracted. Uranium-thorium dating revealed that the calcite was formed 172,000 to 130,000 years ago, during the penultimate quaternary (Pleistocene) glaciations period - the last of five glaciations during Earth's history.
DNA has also been retrieved from the sample, and because of the age, represents the oldest ever recovered from Neanderthal remains. The researchers next plan to test the DNA sample to see if it can be sequenced. 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.

Edited from PhysOrg (3 April 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/pmskntr
[1 image]

OLDEST NEANDERTHAL DNA FOUND IN SOUTHERN ITALY PINPOINTED TO 128,000 TO 187,000 YEARS OLD

A team of researchers has confirmed that Altamura Man was a Neanderthal, and revealed that the bones are 128,000 to 187,000 years old. Altamura Man was discovered in 1993 in the karst caves of Lamalunga, near Altamura, in southern Italy - one of the most extraordinary hominin specimens ever found in Europe. The remains were embedded in rock and covered in a thick layer of calcite. It was thought that excavating the remains would cause irreparable damage, and they have remained in situ. There was some debate initially about morphology and age. Subsequent study led to a consensus that the visible remains (the head, and part of a shoulder) were that of an archaic Neanderthal, of a 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 was extracted. Uranium-thorium dating revealed that the calcite was formed 172,000 to 130,000 years ago, during the penultimate quaternary (Pleistocene) glaciations period - the last of five glaciations during Earth's history.

DNA has also been retrieved from the sample, and because of the age, represents the oldest ever recovered from Neanderthal remains. The researchers next plan to test the DNA sample to see if it can be sequenced. 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.

Edited from PhysOrg (3 April 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/pmskntr
[1 image]

BRITAIN'S OLDEST HUMAN CREMATION FOUND IN ESSEX (5600 BC)

Archaeologists say a section of burnt bone, discovered during preparations for a new pipeline in Essex (England) and dated to the Mesolithic period, come from the oldest human cremation in Britain.

A meter-round pit at Langford contained 118g of cremated bone, back filled with charcoal in a burial believed to represent at least one adult from 5600 BCE. Two radiocarbon dates have been confirmed from the fragments, weighing less than a tenth of the weight expected from a complete individual. A further test was performed on ashes from the pyre. Only around 20 examples of burials from the British Mesolithic, between 10000 BC and 4000 BC, are known, none of which had been cremated. Three cremations from the period come from Ireland, with several discovered across Europe.

"This deposit shows that people had the required understanding of fire and pyre technology to achieve the high temperature required for complete combustion of the corpse - probably greater than 600 degrees centigrade," says Nick Gilmour, who led the excavation for Oxford Archaeology. "It also hints at a belief system where the dead were sufficiently respected that they were not simply abandoned, as has been previously believed, and that time and resources were invested in funerary practices despite a mobile, hand-to-mouth existence," Gilmour added.

Three struck flints, found in the same pit, included sharp blades fitting the technology of the period. A Bronze Age barrow was also unearthed during construction work.

Edited from Culture24 (15 April 2015)
http://tinyurl.com/pahh5me
[4 images]

CHINESE SITE REVEALS STONE ARTIFACTS 1.95 TO 1.77 YEARS AGO

At an eroded basin in Hebei province researchers have discovered what could be a “playground” of early hominids nearly two million years ago 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.
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. One artifact, tagged HTG268, caught Wei’s special attention. In his opinion it could be a toy or gift made by a mother for her child.“It was so finely made and beautifully shaped, its quality could rival the stone artifacts of much more recent periods.”

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. A big challenge was to determine the age of these stone artifacts, Wei said. 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. The Heitugou site was discovered in Nihewan basin, Yangyuan county, Hebei province. 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.Children and their mothers could feel safe enough to sit by the lake making large amounts of stone toys. The scant animal fossils discovered at the Heihegou site were all herbivores such as elephants and rhinoceros.

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. “It is difficult to rule out the possibility that they were just stone fragments created by natural forces. They were too old, too preliminary. To determine whether they were hand-made artifacts may go beyond the limit of science today,” said Gao, who had visited the site.

“Future studies would be much needed. The Heitugou site has potential for significant discoveries, though it imposes some enormous challenges to paleoanthropologists.” Wei said he was sure that the stone pieces were hand made. If they are not, most stone pieces in museums today would be a subject of doubt, he said. But he admitted that the discovery brought up some difficult questions. It is commonly believed that the first hominid ventured out of Africa about 1.8 million years ago, via a route from Europe to Asia, but if there were hominids in China at the same time, the date or route of the expansion should be reconsidered.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

BULDOZING OF NIMRUD AND HATRA DISPUTED BY ARCHAEOLOGISTS AND SATELLITE IMAGES

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."

NEANDERTHAL RECONSTRUCTION OF THE REMAINS OF A 2 YEAR OLD SHOWS MAJOR ANATOMICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THEM AND OUR SPECIES

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."