Thursday, October 15, 2015


A new study of Homo naledi, the extinct human relative whose remains were discovered in a South African cave and introduced to the world in the October Issue of National Geographic, suggests that although its feet were the most human-like part of its body, H. naledi didn’t use them to walk in the same way we do. Detailed analysis of 107 foot bones indicates that H. naledi was well adapted for standing and walking on two feet, but that it also was likely comfortable climbing trees. That’s the conclusion of work published today in the journal Nature Communications.

“Homo naledi’s foot is far more advanced than other parts of its body, for instance, its shoulders, skull, or pelvis,” said William Harcourt-Smith, lead author of the new paper and a resident research associate in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Paleontology, and assistant professor at CUNY’s Lehman College. “Quite obviously, having a very human-like foot was advantageous to this creature because it was the foot that lost its primitive, or ape-like, features first.”

Walking upright is one of the defining features of the human lineage, and as feet are the only structure that make contact with the ground in bipeds, they can tell us a lot about our ancient relatives’ way of moving. In the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system in South Africa, the H. naledi excavation team recovered at least one specimen from almost every single bone in the new species’ foot.
H Naledi Foot Nat Geo

Analysis of these bones has shown that the foot bones look much more like human bones than chimpanzee bones, except for two major areas: the toes of H. naledi’s foot were more curved and their feet were generally flatter than seen in the average modern human. Taken alongside clues from other parts of its body—like its long, curved fingers, and ape-like shoulder joint—a picture emerges of a creature that was undoubtedly bipedal but also a tree climber.
Since we don’t yet know the age of the H. naledi fossils, researchers don’t know how this form of bipedalism fits into the hominin family tree.

“Regardless of age, this species is going to cause a paradigm shift in the way we think about human evolution, not only in the behavioral implications—which are fascinating—but in morphological and anatomical terms,” Harcourt-Smith said.
Tags: Paleontology, Fossils, Human Evolution

Monday, October 12, 2015


Experts believe they have unearthed one of Britain's biggest and best-preserved prehistoric settlements near Plymouth (Devon, England). Evidence of several families living and working on the land more than 3,000 years ago has been discovered by archaeologists in preparation for major building work on the site.

The excavation is one of the largest investigations of its type undertaken due to the sheer scale of the site. Andy Mayes, who is leading the project, said: "What's fantastic is we're looking at an unusually large area showing a whole prehistoric landscape. There hasn't been a great deal of disturbance on the site previously, and it's in pretty good condition under the surface, so it's a question of targeting those areas of significance.

Recent findings including Iron Age roundhouses, pottery and bone, potentially dating as far back as between 700 BCE - 43 CE and possibly earlier. Andy said: "We found three roundhouses which are likely to be Iron Age in date. We can see from geophysics alone that there were communities living and working on the site probably from the Bronze Age."

The team of archaeologists is expected to spend around ten weeks at the site and hope the results will provide a valuable insight into the lives of the people that lived and worked at Sherford in the later prehistoric and Romano British periods.

Edited from Western Morning News (2 October 2015)
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Amesbury in Wiltshire (England) is the oldest continuously inhabited site in the UK, dating back to approximately 8,800 BCE. In 1824 the Antrobus family bought the vast Amesbury Abbey Estate and administered it until October 1914 when the last remaining heir, Sir Edmund Antrobus, was killed in battle in Belgium in one of the first actions of World War I. There was no option but to put the whole estate up for sale. Part of the estate was the area surrounding and including Stonehenge.

Although this ancient site had been placed under the protection of the Ancient Monuments Act of 1883, it had not prevented one of the sarson stones from falling over or one of the lintels from breaking in two, so despite a fence being erected to protect it, there was still deep concern about its future.

On 21 September 1915 the entire Antrobus estate was put under the hammer at an auction at the New Theatre, Salisbury. Present at that auction was a local man, Cecil Chubb. He had been born in the nearby village of Shrewton and had, through his own efforts, risen from a lowly background to become a wealthy barrister. Legend has it that Cecil's wife Mary had sent her husband to the auction to buy some curtains. Instead he bid £6,600 (£680,000 in today's money, or around 923,000 euros) to purchase the stones, in his own words "on a whim".

Three years later, in October 1918, he gave the monument to the Nation as 'a deed of gift'. The rest, as they say, is history. Chubb's generosity was recognized by the then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and he was created Sir Cecil Chubb, First Baronet of Stonehenge.

Few people now remember Chubb and his generosity (although there is a plaque to his memory in his native village) one person who does is Heather Sebire, curator of Stonehenge. She believes that Chubb's impulse purchase and subsequent generous donation to the Nation is "as mysterious as Stonehenge itself".

Edited from The Guardian, BBC News (21 September 2015)
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As the co-author of Stonehenge with Caroline Malone in Cambridge U. Press' "Digging for the Past" Series, published in 2002, I wish we had known this amazing tale of how the British came to make this a national monument! Nancy Bernard

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Pigs foraging along a Scottish coastline have unwittingly uprooted the earliest evidence for a remote population of hunter-gatherers. The uprooted items, stone tools that have been dated to around 12,000 years ago, are described in the latest issue of British Archaeology. The tools were discovered on the east coast of the Isle of Islay, Scotland, and include sharp points -- likely used for hunting big game -- scrapers and more.

Archaeologists Steven Mithen and Karen Wicks of the University of Reading explained to Discovery News that a gamekeeper had previously released the pigs at a local port on Islay to reduce the bracken there. While feasting away, the pigs managed to dig up the ancient tools. "Previously, the earliest evidence (for humans at Islay) dated to 9,000 years ago, after the end of the Ice Age,” Mithen said. “The new discovery puts people on Islay before the Ice Age had come to an end at 12,000 years ago.”

Mithen and Wicks were already working on a project in Scotland when they were informed of the pigs’ finds. They investigated the site, Rubha Port an t-Seilich, as well as nearby areas, and found layers of many other artifacts dating to different time periods. These included remains of animal bones, antlers, spatula-like objects, crystal quartz tools, and what was once a very well used fireplace.

Based on the age of the tools and their craftsmanship, the researchers suspect they belonged to the Ahrensburgian and Hamburgian cultures. These people originated in central Europe, with most coming from what is now northern Germany.


Another landmark structure in Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra has been deliberately destroyed by Islamic State militants, according to local antigovernment activists and Syrian officials. The building involved this time was a set of triumphal arches, erected in the second century.

Since seizing Palmyra from government forces in May, Islamic State fighters have destroyed some of the most beautiful and historically significant monuments in the sprawling oasis city in Syria’s central desert, one of the world’s most renowned archaeological sites. The latest to fall was the triple arch built by the Romans to celebrate a victory over the Persians, which bore ancient inscriptions and stood at the entrance to a grand colonnade.

Militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, had already blown up the temples of Baalshamin and of Baal, in keeping with their stated belief that such structures are idolatrous. But the arch was not a religious structure.

As it expanded across Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State destroyed many archaeological sites, looting them for profit and damaging some for propaganda. Residents of Palmyra have also suffered under intensified bombardment by government warplanes over the past month, some of which did their own damage to the archaeological site, Mr. Homsi and others said.


Researchers have discovered a new clay tablet that adds 20 previously unknown lines to the 'Epic of Gilgamesh'. The famous poem, which dates back to 2100 BC, tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, a man created by the gods to stop him from oppressing the people of Uruk

Researchers have discovered a new clay tablet that adds 20 previously unknown lines to the 'Epic of Gilgamesh'. It is 11cm (4.3 inches) high, 9.5cm (3.7 inchs) wide and 3cm (1.2 inches) thick. The new lines for the poem were discovered by accident when a history museum in Iraq made a deal with a smuggler. The new lines from the poem were discovered by accident when a history museum in Iraq made a deal with a smuggler to purchase a set of 80 to 90 clay tablets.
The Sulaymaniyah Museum in Slemani had been involved engaging in these dealings as a way to regain valuable artifacts following the Iraq War, according to Ancient History Et Cetera.

Farouk Al-Rawi, a professor in the Department of Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London was the first to spot the tablet. After realizing its significant, he purchased the block of clay, which featured cuneiform writing, for $800 (£530). This relief shows Gilgamesh and Enkidu in their fight with Humbaba.After an initial fight, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become close friends. Together, they journey to the Cedar Mountain and defeat Humbaba, its guardian. Later they kill the Bull of Heaven, which the goddess Ishtar sends to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. As a punishment for these actions, the gods sentence Enkidu to death. It was discovered in Syria in 1944.

The first surviving version of this combined epic, known as the 'Old Babylonian' version, dates to the 18th century BC.
It is titled after its incipit, Shūtur eli sharrī ('Surpassing All Other Kings') and only a few tablets of it have survived. The later 'Standard' version dates from the 13th to the 10th centuries BC and bears the incipit Sha naqba īmuru ('He who Sees the Unknown'). Around two thirds of this longer, twelve-tablet version have been recovered.

The new section provides a more detailed description of the 'forest for the gods' in the Cedar Mountains which is part of the fifth tablet. Humbaba views the noise of the jungle as a form of entertainment, in a very vivid and rare description of the surroundings, George added. 'The new tablet continues where other sources break off, and we learn that the Cedar Forest is no place of serene and quiet glades. It is full of noisy birds and cicadas, and monkeys scream and yell in the trees,' George told Live Science. The chatter of monkeys, chorus of cicada, and squawking of many kinds of birds formed a symphony (or cacophony) that daily entertained the forest's guardian, Ḫumbaba,' wrote Al-Rawi.'The passage gives a context for the simile 'like musicians' that occurs in very broken context in the Hittite version's description of Gilgamešh and Enkidu's arrival at the Cedar Forest.

'Ḫumbaba emerges not as a barbarian ogre and but as a foreign ruler entertained with music at court in the manner of Babylonian kings, but music of a more exotic kind, played by a band of equally exotic musicians.'
The Sulaymaniyah Museum says the clay artefact could date as far back to the old-Babylonian period (2003-1595 B.C.), according to the Sulaymaniyah Museum. But the researchers who recognized the significance of the tablet say it is likely to have been younger, inscribed somewhere between 626-539 B.C.

Read more and see illustrations:
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Saturday, October 10, 2015


Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University has just opened a fascinating new exhibition with the theme of “Hair in the Classical World.” On display in the gallery are an assortment of objects and images from the Bronze Age through late Antiquity, including a diverse array of sculptures and, of course, coins. As the introduction to the exhibition notes, hair is particularly “resonant of cultural identity,” and the way that it was styled and sported in antiquity served a variety of different purposes. Among other things, hairstyles signified social position, served as a medium of cultural exchange, and played an important role in various rituals and rites of passage.

One of the most compelling aspects of the exhibition is its manifest interdisciplinarity. Any consideration of hairstyles must necessarily draw upon a wide range of material, historical, and visual sources, and the interpretation effectively mixes insights from archaeology, art history, and cultural studies. As everything from the intricate hair pins on display to the careful texturing and arrangement of hair on the statuary suggests, hairstyles were an important means of self and artistic expression in the classical world.

A significant inspiration for the exhibition was the Caryatid Hairstyling Project, which employed a professional hairstylist and student models in an attempt to replicate the elaborate hairstyles on the famed marbles of the Erechtheion. A short film of that project is on view as part of the exhibition. While all of this might give the impression that the focus is exclusively on women, there is also material reflecting on men’s hairstyles, which at times were as elaborate as those that adorned women. Braids were one style common to boys and girls in ancient Greece. Grown out along the central part, the braid was ritually cut and dedicated to the goddess Artemis when entering adulthood.


A team of scientists has reported that it had recovered the genome from a 4,500-year-old human skeleton in Ethiopia — the first time a complete assemblage of DNA has been retrieved from an ancient human in Africa. The DNA of the Ethiopian fossil is strikingly different from that of living Africans. Writing in the journal Science, the researchers conclude that people from the Near East spread into Africa 3,000 years ago. In later generations, their DNA ended up scattered across the continent.

“It’s a major milestone for the field,” said Joseph Pickrell, an expert on ancient DNA at the New York Genome Center who was not involved in the study. For decades, scientists had doubted that ancient DNA could survive in the tropics. The study raises hopes that scientists can recover far older human genomes from Africa — perhaps dating back a million years or more.

In the 1980s, few scientists would have believed it possible to reconstruct an entire genome from the DNA in a fossil. Once a human or other animal dies, its DNA starts to fall apart. Bacteria swiftly colonize the corpse, overwhelming it with their own DNA. But by the 1990s scientists were beginning to retrieve fragments of DNA and piece them together into longer segments. In 2010, researchers assembled the genome of a Neanderthal from 38,000-year-old fossils from Croatia. In many other cases, researchers failed to find ancient DNA in human fossils. Because it was widely suspected that the heat and humidity in the tropics would destroy genetic material, many scientists flocked to places like Siberia to seek ancient DNA.

That skepticism proved to be unwarranted. In recent years, Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at University College Dublin, and his colleagues have been surveying different bones to see if any are particularly good for preserving DNA. They found that the bone surrounding the inner ear can hold an abundance of genetic material even when other bones have lost theirs.


Specifically, they found mummified remains in seven Bronze Age burial sites located throughout the British Isles. The findings, published in the journal Antiquity, suggests the art of mummification may have been more widespread in ancient Britain than was previously thought.

Just to be clear, the mummies of Britain are not the same as the Egyptian mummies. The researchers define mummification as "the preservation of bodily soft tissue via natural processes...or artificial means." A natural mummification process might be putting a corpse in a preservative environment such as a peat bog. An artificial way to achieve the same effect is embalming or smoking.

Also, keep in mind that the British climate is not nearly as conducive to the preservation of soft tissue as the hot dry Egyptian desert. Therefore, the mummies of England and Scotland look more like skeletons than their Egyptian counterparts. This makes it hard to determine which bones may have belonged to bodies that had been deliberately preserved based on sight alone.

To understand where and when mummification might have taken place in ancient Europe, Booth and his collaborators put samples of 307 bones from 26 archaeological sites under a microscope. After examining the bones of known mummies from Yemen and Ireland, they were able to show that centuries-old mummified bones look different than bones from bodies that have not been mummified.

The reason is a little gross. There is evidence that when a person dies, the gut bacteria escapes from the body and starts breaking down soft tissue including the interior microstructure of the bones, Booth said. This process is known as putrefaction. However, if a body is preserved immediately after death, the putrefaction process does not have time to get started and the microstructure of the bones stays intact.

The researchers say that mummification in the Bronze Age was hardly uniform. Some of the bones looked a little burnt, suggesting the body had been smoked over a fire to preserve it. Other corpses may have been put in peat bogs and pulled out later. Still others may have had all their organs cut out soon after death to keep putrefaction at bay.
In addition, mummified bones were found yards away from non-mummified bones in the same archaeological sites, suggesting that just an elite few got the mummy treatment.

"In Egypt, after a body was mummified, it was locked away in tombs, and never seen again," he said. "In the Bronze Age in Britain, mummies were kept above ground and still had an active role in living society."

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Britain Scientific Research


Nearly a century after the rediscovery of King Tut’s tomb ignited a worldwide craze for Egyptology, new findings could turn out to be almost as stunning. Recently, after a group of Egyptian and foreign archaeologists examined the famous tomb, Egypt’s antiquities minister confirmed that they found evidence suggesting the existence of two previously undiscovered rooms. “This indicates that the western and northern walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb could hide two burial chambers,” minister Mamdouh Eldamaty told the Egyptian state press. In Nicholas Reeves’s theory, these doorways are among several clues suggesting that the tomb was originally built for another ruler—Nefertiti, the principal wife of Akhenaten, who is believed to have fathered Tutankhamun with another wife.

Reeves believes that Nefertiti and her grave goods may even lie intact behind the hidden doors, which were never penetrated by ancient robbers or modern archaeologists. But his theory had not been supported by a physical examination of the tomb itself. “First of all, we saw that on the ceiling itself there’s a distinct line,” Reeves said, after returning from visiting the tomb with Egyptian archaeologists and officials. He explained that in the room that contains Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus, the line on the ceiling perfectly matches the section of wall that appears to have been plastered over. “It suggests that the room was indeed a corridor,” he said.

Howard Carter discovered King Tut's tomb in 1922, but the mystery of Tut's death and possible murder lives on.
This gritty material matches fragments that originally covered another blocked door opened by Howard Carter in 1922. Carter, who excavated with a meticulousness that was highly unusual for his era, collected the gritty material, and it’s still stored in a side room of the tomb, where Reeves and the others were able to examine it.

As part of that project, which was completed earlier this year, Factum Arte posted all of its data online, including a series of scans that show the tomb’s walls in unprecedented detail. These scans reveal clear, straight lines that lie beneath the surface of the paint and plaster, suggesting the outlines of two doorways. The material has been available to anybody with even a casual interest in Egyptology— but probably nobody has studied it as closely as Reeves. Over the years, he’s gained a reputation as a scholar who makes breakthroughs by re-examining material that is publicly available.

Reeves acknowledges that many other archaeologists have vastly different views of the 18th Dynasty and its rulers. This is one of the most fascinating periods in ancient Egyptian history, but it’s also one of the most controversial, and it has always attracted extreme views and theories. Even Reeves admits that he has entered his recent work with great trepidation.

The next step, Reeves hopes, is to conduct a further examination with radar equipment and thermal imaging, both of which could reveal more clues as to what lies behind the possible doorways. He anticipates that this may be done in late November, depending on Egyptian authorities, who thus far have been highly supportive of Reeves’s work. And the Antiquities Ministry will decide what to do if there is further evidence of hidden rooms. This would represent the biggest challenge of the project, because one of the proposed doorways is covered by a priceless wall painting.

When asked if another mummy and intact grave goods might wait behind the doorway with the painted scene, Reeves said that this would match his theory. In addition to the material evidence of the wall and the grave goods, he believes that the scene in the tomb originally featured Nefertiti, with the figures altered to portray Tutankhamun instead.


Shanidar Cave, in northern Iraq's mountainous Kurdistan region, is a one-of-a-kind window into the lives of Neanderthals. Excavated in the 1950s and 1960s, remains from the cave (provisionally dated to between 65,000 and 35,000 years ago) suggest that the ancient human relatives cared for the infirm, ceremonially buried their dead and waged violent conflict.

In summer 2014, archaeologist Graeme Barker of the University of Cambridge, UK, led a team to Shanidar to conduct the first excavations of the cave in decades. But in August 2014, an advance by militants fighting for the Islamist terrorist group ISIS forced the researchers to abandon the dig and leave Iraq. ISIS militants were 40 kilometers from Erbil city — the capital of the province in which Shanidar is located — before US air attacks repelled the fighters.

Last month, with support from Kurdistan's Directorate of Antiquities, Barker's team returned to Shanidar and completed a three-week dig that seeks to shed new light on the Neanderthals who once called the cave home.

Why is Shanidar Cave important? It is an iconic site in world prehistory, in particular because of the Neanderthal burials found there 60 years ago by anthropologist Ralph Solecki. They are quoted again and again in debates about Neanderthal culture: are they actual burials or are they just bodies that were killed in rock falls?

One of the bodies was badly injured in life but died later in old age, and therefore must have been looked after by the community. That's always cited when people talk about Neanderthal social organization. The other very famous find was the ‘flower burial’ — pollen from sediments around one of the bodies was interpreted as evidence that Neanderthals had brought flowers in to lay with the burial. So, Shanidar and its Neanderthal burials contribute to big debates about Neanderthal life, culture and death.

barker's team wants to return to the cave to establish the age of the Neanderthals using dating methods that were not available 60 years ago, to try to resolve the questions about Neanderthal burial. But are also interested in debates about the Neanderthal demise. To what extent was an ability to deal with dramatic and abrupt climate change a factor in the demise of Neanderthals and the more-or-less contemporary expansion of modern humans? It has been much discussed with climate evidence in Europe, but in southwest Asia we haven't had the data.

By doing quite small-scale targeted field work on the site, and by working on archival material from the old excavations, the team thinks they can get an awful lot more information about when modern humans and Neanderthals were there, how they were living, what the climate was like and how they coped with climate change. They had planned to go back in August and September of 2014 for the first major digging season, but the day after they flew out at the beginning of August, ISIS attacked nearby Erbil city.

As for the team being in danger, they were completely embedded in Kurdish society, in the heartland of the part of Kurdistan where the region's president comes from. It was remarkable how unanxious our Kurdish friends and colleagues in Erbil appeared to be, although several of them joined the Peshmerga forces defending Erbil. But for Cambridge University and friends, wives, husbands and parents of people on the team, there was great anxiety. After five or six days, the university said that we really had to come out.

Shanidar is in Erbil province but is up in the mountains, a few hours’ drive from the Turkish and Iranian frontiers. Erbil city is at the foot of the mountains, and ISIS are being held to the west and southwest on the plains that stretch westwards to Syria. Barker was able to show the university that they had good structures in place in terms of safety plans, and with its support I took a small team back in April, and that was enormously successful. On the basis of that, I was confident in taking a larger team this summer for an extended season, and the plan is to go back next Easter.

Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2015.18487

Sunday, October 04, 2015


Tracks left along an ancient shore by a man, a woman, and a child on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia may be the oldest known human footprints in North America. A dozen prints, in three distinct sizes, were discovered by researchers working on Calvert Island, a coastal isle in Canada's Great Bear Rainforest that has yielded other evidence of human activity dating to the end of the last Ice Age.

The first of the footprints was found last year, filled with black sand and traces of charcoal, a sample of which was radiocarbon-dated to 13,200 years ago. The find adds to evidence that the first people didn't arrive in the Americas via an ice-free corridor east of the Rockies about 12,000 years ago, but down the Pacific Coast much earlier. In recent years, archeologists have steadily been pushing back the date of the earliest human presence on the Pacific Coast

Dr Duncan McLaren, of the University of Victoria said: "We were specifically looking for archaeological deposits dating between 14,000 and 10,000 years ago" - artifacts such as stone tools and bones. Based on our sea-level history work, we know that the shoreline was a few meters below the present shoreline during this period. So we began testing in the intertidal zone in front of [the] archaeological site ... to see if we could find any intact deposits beneath the beach

The discoveries will likely provide insights into the earliest settlement of British Columbia, and perhaps the peopling of the Americas. "The oldest dated archaeological assemblage known before this is from Haida Gwaii, where a spear point was found in amongst bear bones in a cave, dating to around 12,500 years before present," McLaren reveals. "As far as I know, archaeological deposits from the ice-free corridor are not known before 12,500 years ago."

Edited from The Globe and Mail (22 June 2015), Western Digs (26 June 2016)
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Anthropologists at Yamagata University have discovered 24 examples of the mysterious Nazca Lines in the arid region of southern Peru. The team began investigating the northern slopes of the urban areas of Nazca, Peru, from autumn 2013 and discovered 17 geoglyphs depicting llamas. This season they discovered five new examples near the area where they found geoglyphs the previous season, and 19 more on the slopes of a nearby mountain.

Discovered in the 1920s, the geoglyphs and line drawings of Nazca and Pampas de Jumana are designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. They are etched into the dusty soil and cover some 450 square kilometers.

The 24 newly discovered geoglyphs range from 5 to 20 meters in length, and are believed to date to around 400 BCE to 200 BCE, making them older than the iconic Nazca Line drawing known as the hummingbird. Most of the lines are heavily eroded, making them difficult to see with the naked eye. The researchers used equipment including a 3-D scanner to sketch out the patterns. Most of the drawings seem to depict llamas.

According to Masato Sakai, a professor of cultural anthropology at the university who is also the deputy director of the university's Nazca research institute: "There are no other areas concentrated with this many examples. Yet with both urban areas and farmland encroaching on the drawings, they are under the threat of being destroyed without being recognized as geoglyphs." The university plans to provide information to the Peruvian government's Culture Ministry, with which it is partnered, along with the city government of Nazca in the hopes of preserving the geoglyphs.

Edited from The Asashi Shimbun (8 July 2015)


A team led by Brian Redmond of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is excavating a 4,000-year-old site in northeastern Ohio. So far, they have uncovered a 75-millimetre-thick floor made from layers of yellow clay that was carried to the site. A basin was built into the floor, along with cooking pits and storage holes that held hickory nuts. Post holes show where hickory saplings were placed and then tied together to create a framework covered with cat-tail (marsh reed) mats.

Redmond thinks people migrated to the area from the southeast to spend the autumn and winter for a period of some 200 to 300 years. "There's nothing like this anywhere in Ohio. It's very significant, a much more significant site than we previously thought. These are house structures. This was like a village site."

The builders lived in what archaeologists classify as the Late Archaic period in North America, so far back that they don't have a tribal name. "We have no idea what they called themselves or what language they spoke," Redmond says. "The only reason we know anything about them is archaeology."

They were hunters and gatherers who lived before the advent of pottery or farming, and 2,000 years before mound-building. They ate fish from the nearby Black River and Lake Erie, small game such as squirrels and muskrat, and they specialized in deer. "We find a lot of butchered deer bones," Redmond reveals.

Farmers ploughed up arrowheads and other artefacts on the land over the years, and smaller digs explored the site as far back as 1971.

Edited from, Archaeology Magazine (14 July 2015)
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Bronze Age Greek city found underwater

A team of Greek and Swiss archaeologists have discovered what appears to be a significant coastal settlement now covered by the Mediterranean Sea and within sight of the nearby Lambayanna beach, in Kiladha Bay, on the Peloponnese Peninsula south of Athens. The remnants of an ancient Greek village of the 3rd millennium BCE were found by divers just under the surface of the bay that forms part of the Argolic Gulf of southern Greece.

Professor Julien Beck of the University of Geneva says, "The importance of our discovery is partly due to the large size of the establishment: at least 1.2 hectares were preserved," adding that the discovery is important also because of the quantity and quality of the artifacts.

The team of underwater archaeologists discovered stone defensive structures that are of a "massive nature, unknown in Greece until now," says Beck. The walls precede by one thousand years the first great Greek civilisation, the Mycenaean (1650-1100 BCE).

The buildings are characteristic of the Greek Bronze Age, which tend to be built on a rectilinear plan and circular or elliptical in shape. Paved surfaces, which could be streets or the remains of structures, were also found. Connected to the exterior fortifications were three significant stone structures - probably towers. Structures of this sort are unknown elsewhere in Greece. The team also found tools, including obsidian blades dating to the Helladic period (3200 to 2050 BCE). A map and drawings of the newly discovered village have yet to be drafted because of the sheer size of the find.
Along the shore near the site, archaeologists have found more than 6,000 objects, including fragments of the red ceramics that are characteristic of the area. Based on the style of the pottery, researchers believe that the site dates to the Early Helladic II phase, contemporaneous with the building of the famous Egyptian pyramids. Beck called the area an "archaeologist's paradise."

Edited from Spero News (27 August 2015)
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An international team of researchers has sequenced the first complete genome of an Iberian farmer, which is also the first from the Mediterranean. This opens a window on understanding the distinctive genetic changes that map Neolithic migration in southern Europe, which possibly led to the abandonment of the hunter-gatherer way of life.

So far, only genomic data of various individuals belonging to the inland route have been available. This is partly due to the climatic conditions in southern Europe, which hinder the conservation of genetic material.

The team, led by Carles Lalueza-Fox from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, has sequenced the complete genome of a Neolithic woman from a tooth dated to 7400 years ago, recovered from the Cardial levels of the Cova Bonica cave in Vallirana, near Barcelona (Spain). Thanks to this, researchers have been able to determine that farmers from both Mediterranean and inland routes are very homogeneous, and clearly derive from a common ancestral population, that most likely were the first farmers who entered Europe through Anatolia.

Analysis of the genome from Cova Bonica has made it possible to determine the appearance of these pioneer farmers, who had light skin and dark eyes and hair. Modern Iberians mostly derive from those farmers, with Sardinians and Basques preserving the farming genetic component to the largest extent. This contrasts with previous Mesolithic hunters who had blue eyes and a darker skin than current Europeans.
According to Carles Lalueza-Fox: "the Iberian Peninsula is crucial to understanding the final impact of population movements such as the Neolithic, or the later steppe migrations that entered Europe from the East."

Edited from Popular Archaeology (3 September 2015)
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Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a massive stone monument buried under a thick, grassy bank only 3 kilometers from Stonehenge (Wiltshire, England). The hidden arrangement of up to 90 huge standing stones formed part of a C-shaped Neolithic arena that bordered a dry valley facing directly towards the river Avon.

"What we are starting to see is the largest surviving stone monument, preserved underneath a bank, that has ever been discovered in Britain and possibly in Europe," said Vince Gaffney, an archaeologist at Bradford University who leads the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape project.

The stones are thought to have been hauled into position more than 4,500 years ago to form the southern edge of a ritual arena centered on a natural depression. The stones appear to have joined up with a chalk ridge that had been cut into, to accentuate the natural border.

Gaffney believes the stones were pushed over when the site was redeveloped by Neolithic builders. The recumbent stones became lost beneath a huge bank and were incorporated as a somewhat clumsy linear southern border to the otherwise circular "super-henge" known as Durrington Walls.

Paul Garwood, an archaeologist and lead historian on the project at the University of Birmingham, said the the new discoveries at Durrington Walls changed fundamentally how researchers understood Stonehenge and the world around it. "Everything written previously about the Stonehenge landscape and the ancient monuments within it will need to be rewritten," he said.

Edited from BBC News, The Guardian (7 September 2015)
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[2 videos, 1 image, 1 map]

Monday, August 24, 2015


The news that a prominent Syrian scholar has been brutally murdered by Islamic State militants has hit the arts community hard -- and has been condemned by Syria's antiquities chief, Maamoun Abdul Karim, as a "cowardly and criminal act of appalling brutality."

But the beheading of the 82-year-old Khaled Asaad, an archaeologist and researcher who for half a century has served as guardian of the exquisite ancient ruins at Palmyra, also demonstrates the great uncertainty facing the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Asaad's death is not a good omen for the future of this singular ancient city, an important Silk Road hub that bears Greco-Roman, Persian, Indian, Chinese and other influences -- some of which date back more than two millennia. Scholars around the world have been on edge about its future since May, when Islamic State militants invaded the area, killing hundreds of local residents. The militants are known as much for their violence against humans as for their destruction of historic sites -- from pre-Islamic pagan temples to Muslim shrines -- under the pretense that they are idolatrous.

While the militants largely left the ruins alone in the weeks following the invasion, by July, they had gotten around to destroying some of its statuary, including an important 2,000-year-old statue of a lion. At the time, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova described the destruction as being on an "industrial scale."

If the ruins at Palmyra were to be destroyed, the loss wouldn't just be a Syrian one. Palmyra was a place where East met West -- tied as much to Classical European civilizations as it was to the cultures of the Middle East and Asia. According to UNESCO, their destruction would be "an enormous loss to humanity."

The death of Asaad, in the meantime, represents the silencing of one of the ruins' most vaunted defenders. Asaad, who was born in Palmyra, had been director of the UNESCO heritage site for 50 years, from 1963 to 2003. Even after his retirement, he still worked as an expert with the antiquities and museum department.

Asaad had helped with the removal of many of the on-site museum's greatest treasures in anticipation of the invasion by Islamic State, and some experts theorize that is why he was killed. One Syrian source told the Guardian that the archaeologist had been interrogated by militants for about a month before his murder, likely about the location of Palmyra's treasures. But Asaad had refused to cooperate. His death is a tremendous loss. Asaad was intimately identified with Palmyra -- having been responsible for some of its most significant finds, including an intact third-century mosaic depicting a battle between human beings and mythical animals. Moreover, he had written countless texts on the history of the site.

"It's like you can't talk about Egyptology without talking about Howard Carter," one Syrian antiquities expert told the Guardian, in reference to the archaeologist who discovered Tutankhamun's tomb. "You can't write about Palmyra's history or anything to do with Palmyrian work without mentioning Khaled Asaad."

Asaad had refused to leave the city when Islamic State militants invaded this spring. As Abdul Karim recounted to the Daily Mail: "He told us, 'I am from Palmyra and I will stay here even if they kill me.'"

Sadly, that has now come to pass.


Khaled Asaad, 82, is beheaded by militants outside the museum where he worked for more than 50 years looking after the city's ancient artifacts. Isis militants tortured and executed the antiquities chief of the ancient city of Palmyra, according to Syrian officials and activists.

A graphic image posted online by Isis-affiliated social media accounts purported to show the decapitated body of 82-year-old Khaled Asaad, his distinctive glasses still placed on his head on the ground.

The head of Syria's department of antiquities said that militants later took Mr Asaad's body from the square where he was executed and hung it from a Roman column in one of the ruins he had dedicated more than 50 years of his life to restoring.

A placard attached to the remains pictured online reportedly claimed Mr Asaad had been killed for overseeing "idols" in the ancient city, attending "infidel" conferences as Syrian representative, and for staying in touch with his brother and with palace officials in the wake of Isis's takeover.

Maamoun Abdulkarim, based in Damascus, said Mr Asaad's family told him the scholar had been held and interrogated by Isis for at least the past month. He said Isis had tried to get information about the city's "treasures" from the expert, without success.


Excavations at the Central Anatolian province of Çorum’s Alacahöyük site, one of the significant centers of the ancient Hittite civilization and Turkey’s first national excavation field, have unearthed various artifacts in a 3,700 year-old mine factory.

Professor Aykut Çınaroğlu, the head of the excavations that are carried out by Ankara University, said work had been continuing since 2009 and this year they discovered two copper bullions, proving the existence of the mine factory.

Çınaroğlu said the bullions were used for the production of various artifacts, adding that the remains dated back to 3,700 years ago.

“At this factory, we work in new rooms and new sections every year. This year we have been working for some 20 days and found the walls of the factory. Although this place is a third-degree earthquake area, we were surprised at the smoothness and durableness of these walls. We will keep them as they are without doing any restoration,” he said, adding that excavations at the site are ongoing.


Cut marks on two 3.4-million-year-old animal bones from Ethiopia were thought to be evidence that the beasts had been trampled by other animals long ago, but new research suggests that's not the case.

The new results debunk one theory for how the bones got their marks, and support — but do not, on their own, definitively prove — the alternative hypothesis that ancient human ancestors cut the bones. If that latter hypothesis turns out to be true, it would mean hominins — the group of species that consists of humans and their relatives after the split from the chimpanzee lineage — were butchering animals 800,000 years earlier than scientists had previously thought.

Combined with recent evidence that human predecessors used stone tools about 3.3 million years ago, the new study could help change the picture of human ancestors of the genus Australopithecus, whose members include the famous "Lucy" skeleton. [In Photos: 'Little Foot' Human Ancestor Walked With Lucy]

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


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.”