Saturday, August 27, 2016

UNUSUAL SYNAGOGUE IN RURAL GAILEE OF THE 1ST CENTURY DATES BACK 2,000 YEARS -- COULD JESUS HAVE PREACHED HERE? --

Israeli archaeologists in northern Israel have uncovered the ruins of a rural synagogue that dates back some 2,000 years. The remains of the synagogue were found during an archaeological dig at Tel Rekhesh, near Mount Tabor in the lower Galilee, in what was an ancient Jewish village.

The find could lend weight to the New Testament narrative that Jesus visited villages in the area to preach.

Mordechai Aviam, an archaeologist at Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee who led the dig, estimated the synagogue was built between 20-40 AD and was used for a hundred years. No rural synagogues have been found from that time, he said.

“This is the first 1st century synagogue in rural Galilee of the first century,” he said.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

HOMO ERECTUS WALKED JUST AS WE DO -- NEW EVIDENCE OF BI-PEDAL GAIT


Recently discovered multiple assemblages of Homo erectus footprints in northern Kenya provide unique opportunities to understand our ancient ancestors. Using novel analytical techniques, researchers have demonstrated that the footprints preserve evidence of a modern human style of walking and a group structure consistent with human-like social behaviors.

Habitual bipedal motion is a defining feature of modern humans compared with other primates, and had profound effects on the biologies of our ancestors and relatives. There has been much debate over when and how a human-like bipedal gait first evolved, largely because of disagreements over how to infer biomechanics from skeletal shapes. Aspects of group structure and social behavior also distinguish humans from other primates, yet there is no consensus on how to detect these in the fossil or archaeological records.

In 2009, a set of 1.5-million-year-old hominin footprints was discovered near the town of Ileret, on the northeast shore of Lake Turkana, in the extreme northwest corner of Kenya - a trace fossil discovery of unprecedented scale for this time period, now extending to five distinct sites preserving a total of 97 tracks created by at least 20 different presumed Homo erectus individuals. Researchers found the shapes of these footprints indistinguishable from those of modern habitually barefoot people, most likely reflecting similar foot anatomies and mechanics.

Kevin Hatala, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and George Washington University, says: "Our analyses of these footprints provide some of the only direct evidence to support the common assumption that at least one of our fossil relatives at 1.5 million years ago walked in much the same way as we do today."

Based on experimentally derived estimates of body mass from the fossil tracks, the researchers have inferred the sexes of the individuals and, for the two most expansive excavated surfaces, developed hypotheses regarding the structure of the groups. For example, at each of these sites there is evidence of several adult males. Cooperation between males underlies many of the social behaviors that distinguish modern humans from other primates.

Edited from PhysOrg, Science Daily (12 July 2016)
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ORKNEY NEOLITHIC SOCIETIES WERE IN TWO HALVES -- EARLY AND LATER

The traditional understanding of the Neolithic period in Orkney has long been of a game of two halves, represented by completely different cultural packages: the early phase in the 4th millennium BCE, associated with single farmsteads, compartmented burial cairns, and shallow round-bottomed pottery with limited decoration; and the late Neolithic turn of the 3rd millennium BCE, associated with villages, passage-grave tombs, and flat-bottomed pottery with ornate decoration.

With no clear sign of a transition between these two, the arrival of a new group replacing the earlier culture was suggested, however new dating evidence confirms an idea originally suggested by Colin Renfrew, blurring the lines between early and late Neolithic categories.

The Cuween-Wideford Landscape Project was set up in 1994 to further explore this idea, initially focusing on Stonehall Farm, where a mid to late 4th millennium BCE dispersed settlement had graduated to a late Neolithic village in the late 3rd millennium BCE, and soon uncovering traces of similarly early activity at other sites. The program quickly expanded to the whole Bay of Firth, about 7 kilometers east of the Stenness-Brodgar ritual complex.

In 2002 the team realized there were traces of older timber structures beneath several Neolithic stone structures at Wideford Hill, and this pattern was repeated across Orkney - a completely unexpected development, as wooden structures were not previously thought to have been part of the Orcadian Neolithic. These discoveries also undermined the long-held belief that stalled cairns and stone houses came together to Neolithic Orkney - using the same architecture, dividing internal space using pairs of orthostats, mimicking domestic architecture and creating houses for the dead.

Radiocarbon dating places the earliest stalled cairns circa 3600-3500 BCE, but stone houses do not appear until around 300 years later - tomb-builders seem to have lived in the nearby timber houses. Burial cairns were not modeled on dwellings, but the other way around.

Building in wood gives any structure a finite lifespan. Those wooden structures excavated show frequently shifting footprints, and little sign of decayed posts being replaced. Building in stone roots a structure in one location. At several sites the team noted building materials being recycled again and again as the settlements expand.

The excavated stone structures are generally significantly larger than the timber buildings they replaced, and could have accommodated many more people. It seems likely we are seeing the results of cooperation between larger groups, a more collectivist style of living, and bigger social units being brought together.

Edited from Archaeology.co.uk (04 August 2016)
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IRON AGE FINDS NEAR MODERN DAY VILLAGE IN DORSET, ENGLAND

A major excavation is underway in rural Dorset (England), near the modern day village of Winter borne Kingston. The team of archaeologists from Bournemouth University are actually uncovering the remains of the original village settlement, which first occupied the site in approximately 100 BCE. They have named it Duropolis, in honour of the Durotriges, the Iron Age tribe that would have comprised its first inhabitants.

The site is quite large, covering approximately 4 hectares, and so far the team has uncovered most of the elements of a typical Iron Age settlement, including roundhouses, storage and animal enclosures. The presence of this unfortified settlement coincides with the decline and abandonment of nearby hill forts, heralding in a more peaceful era.

One of the co-Directors of this year's dig, Dr Miles Russell, is quoted as saying "People think that towns were introduced by the Romans in the 1sdt. Century CE and that's simply not true. What we've here are all the elements of an urban system a good hundred years before the Romans arrived and it seems to be continuing up until the point that they left".

However, the most exciting find in this year's dig is the discovery of the skeletal remains of 8 bodies, the significance of which is explained by the other co-Director, Paul Cheetham: "Understanding of our Iron Age past is significantly improved by this finds, given the advances in scientific investigation, such as DNA and isotope analysis, which provide an insight into population movements and ancestry. Accessing skeletal information from this date in the UK is extremely rare, as most pre Roman tribes either practiced cremation or placed bodies in rivers or bogs, so this data could completely change our understanding of the Iron Age".

Edited from Dorset Echo (7 July 2016)
http://tinyurl.com/zolnh75
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Monday, August 01, 2016

16,000 YEAR OLD TOOLS DISCOVERED IN TEXAS -- AMONG OLDEST FOUND IN THE WEST


Archaeologists in Texas thought they’d made an important discovery in the 1990s, when they unearthed a trove of stone tools dating back 13,000 years, revealing traces of the oldest widespread culture on the continent.

But then, years later, they made an even more powerful find in the same place — another layer of artifacts that were older still.

About a half-hour north of Austin and a meter deep in water-logged silty clay, researchers have uncovered evidence of human occupation dating back as much as 16,700 years, including fragments of human teeth and more than 90 stone tools.

THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA IS DISAPPEARING


The Great Wall is disappearing, brick by brick, and Chinese authorities have had enough. A new campaign has been launched to protect the ancient fortification that snakes for 13,000 miles (21,000 kilometers) across northern China from criminal damage. Built in different stages from the third century B.C. to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the wall was built to defend an empire but parts of it are now crumbling.
Bricks have been stolen to build houses, for agriculture or to sell as souvenirs to tourists -- exacerbating the natural erosion wrought by wind, rain and sandstorms.

Cultural Heritage (SACH) first outlined the new regulations earlier this year but the issue has been in the headlines after a video of a man kicking and vandalizing the wall went viral on Chinese social media last week.

Many China visitors associate the Great Wall with an extensively restored stretch of Ming era wall at Badaling near Beijing, but this is far from typical of most of the structure.

According to official statistics, around 30% of the Ming Dynasty section of the wall has already disappeared and less than 10% is considered well preserved.

"The Great Wall is a vast heritage site -- over 20,000 kilometers -- hence increasing the difficulty in preservation and restoration," Dong Yaohui, deputy director of the Great Wall of China Society, told CNN last year.

ROMAN STATUE AT THE GETTY IN LOS ANGLES HAS BEEN REUNITED -- HEAD TO BODY -- BY A CURATOR'S KEEN EYE

When you work with ancient objects, new discoveries are often small: a fragment of a vase, for example, or half an earring. But Jeffrey Spier, the Getty Villa’s senior curator of antiquities, recently stumbled upon something much bigger. This past spring, Spier was in New York and dropped by a gallery in midtown Manhattan. While there, he turned around and noticed the marble head of a stern-looking older woman mounted on a pedestal by the wall. “I immediately thought: That’s the head!” recalls Spier.

Decades of studying Greek and Roman art and a keen visual memory (an indispensible skill for any curator) snapped into place. Spier had just identified a carved marble head that had been mysteriously missing for decades from the body of the Getty’s 2,000-year-old Roman Statue of Draped Female. But as Spier explains, “Roman sculptors prided themselves in accurate and realistic portraits. Unlike the Greeks, they didn’t create idealized beauty. So once I saw a photograph of this sculpture’s missing head, I recognized it easily, the way you’d recognize a person you’d met before.” He laughed, “When I saw it I thought: Don’t I know you?” Spier took photos of the head on his phone and, when he returned to the Villa, shared them with his colleagues. All agreed that a fortuitous match had been made.

The whereabouts of the Roman woman’s head had been a mystery for decades. The statue was acquired by the Getty in 1972 and is currently in storage. About a year ago, Spier and associate curator Jens Daehner began going through the artworks in storage to assess them for the Villa collection’s coming reinstallation (scheduled for 2018). The headless Statue of Draped Female proved intriguing to them, and with the help of provenance researchers Judith Barr and Nicole Budrovich, they found documentation that confirmed the statue did have its original head while on the art market in the early 20th century. Yet sometime between before 1972, as the 7-foot-tall lady circulated through several European collections, she was decapitated.

But why? And by whom? Spier and his colleagues can only speculate on a motive: perhaps the neck partially broke in transit and then the owner decided to remove the head, or maybe a former owner felt they could make a larger profit selling two separate pieces rather than one tall statue.

Whoever deprived this Roman woman of her head wasn’t particularly careful about it. Associate conservator Eduardo Sanchez is pretty convinced that the head was broken off intentionally by use of a power tool drill in combination with hard impacts to the front of the neck. When the head was brought to the Getty Villa, Sanchez and fellow associate conservator Jeff Maish created a lightweight replica of the broken neck surface to test its fit to the neck break on the body. The fit was inarguably perfect, except for some missing fragments in the front of the neck.

The restoration of the head to Statue of Draped Female may not add much drama to its interpretation, but now that we can see her face it does provoke questions about who she was. Spier assumes the Roman woman must have had significant wealth and status to have such a large statue made of her. She could have been a wife of a Roman emperor, whose portraits were often on coins—yes, a hunt through coins of the period is on.

While the head and body are prepared for re-capitation (not a typical task for antiquities conservators) the Antiquities team is continuing to comb through 19th-century catalogues and travel guides in French, Italian, and Latin, trying to flesh out the details of the statue’s past, and to discover the identity of the Roman woman she was modeled after.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

5,000 YEAR OLD PAINTINGS FOUND HIGH IN THE FRENCH ALPS

British and French archaeologists used lasers to scan prehistoric paintings at a site more than 2,000 meters above sea level in Southern France. The Abri Faravel Rock shelter site, about 100 kilometers southeast of Grenoble in the Parc National des Ecrins, is believed to have been used as summer pasture from the Mesolithic to Medieval period, and is still used by shepherds today.

One of the paintings depicts a deer with a spear in its back, fending off a dog - a common motif in cave paintings. Researchers say that while other regions the Alps have examples of engraved rock art, painted rock art at high altitudes is extremely rare and the Abri Faravel paintings are the highest yet found.

In addition to revealing new detail about the ancient artwork, the scans have been used to make a digital model of the site - part of a larger project which the team has been working on since 1998, focusing activities above 2,000 meters in the Alps over the last 2,000 years.

Doctor Kevin Walsh, an archaeologist at University of York and lead researcher on the project, explains that "in the past, maybe 4,000 or 5,000 years ago, people were living and working in these landscapes and that's the kind of thing that our project has demonstrated, that the origins of activity of high altitude go back a very long time."

Researchers working at the site have uncovered a number of artifacts, including flint, pottery, metalwork, and even a Roman brooch.

Edited from Mail Online (25 May 2016)
http://tinyurl.com/gpzoyvx
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PALEOLITHIC CAVE ART FOUND DEEP UNDERGROUND IN SPAIN -- SOME 70 DRAWINGS

Spanish archaeologists say they have discovered an exceptional set of Paleolithic cave drawings that could rank among the best in a country which already boasts some of the world's most important cave art.

Chief site archaeologist Diego Garate says that an estimated 70 drawings were found on ledges 300 meters underground in the Atxurra cave in the northern Basque region, describing the site as being among the top 10 in Europe. The engravings and paintings feature horses, buffalo, goats, and deer, dating to between 12,500 and 14,500 years ago.

Garate says access to the area is so difficult and dangerous that it is unlikely to be open to the public. The cave was discovered in 1929 and first explored in 1934-35, but it was not until 2014 that Garate and his team resumed their investigations and the drawings were found.

"No one expected a discovery of this magnitude," said Jose Yravedra, a prehistory professor at Madrid's Complutense University. "There a lot of caves with drawings but very few have this much art and this much variety and quality." Garate says one buffalo drawing depicts what must be the most hunting lances of any in Europe. Most have four or five lances but this has almost 20.

Yravedra says that, given the cave's hidden location and the number, variety, and quality of its drawings, the site was being classified as a "sanctuary," or special Paleolithic meeting ritual place, like those at Altamira in Spain, or Lascaux in France. Regional officials hope to set up a 3-D display of the art so that the public can appreciate it.

Edited from Phys.org (27 May 2016)
http://tinyurl.com/gsy7gzd
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10,000 YEAR OLD DUGOUTCANOE DISCOVERED IN THE NETHERLANDS -- TWICE AS OLD AS PREVIOUSLY FOUND

In Europe, the oldest boat ever discovered is a 10,000 year-old dugout canoe from the Netherlands. The oldest plank-built vessels in the region are Bronze Age boats found at Dover and in Yorkshire, dated to between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago. At Bouldnor Cliff, 11 meters underwater off the northwest shore of the Isle of Wight in the south of England, Garry Momber and the Maritime Archaeology Trust have found something up to twice that age.

In 2005, at the bottom of a 7-metre high underwater cliff, Garry saw something. "Among the branches of an old tree was a collection of colored flints, some of which had been superheated."

Two years later the team had enough money to investigate further. Their 2 by 3 meter excavation revealed charcoal, flint tools, wood chippings, well-crafted functional items, and dozens of pieces of well-preserved timbers. Most of the timbers were oak, still in position where they had fallen over 8,000 years ago. Some had been shaped and trimmed, while others had been charred to make them easier to work.

One piece, just under 1 meter long and about 8,100 years old, had been split - a technique which doesn't appear elsewhere in the British archaeological record for another 2,500 years, when it was used during the Bronze Age to build deeper log boats, by removing 1/4 of the tree and hollowing out the remaining 3/4. When it was felled, the tree would have been a couple of meters wide and several tens of meters high.

The team also found a scalloped out end-piece, timbers that formed the end of the structure, and cord which would have united the various elements. Taken together, these would make Bouldnor Cliff the oldest known boat-building site in the world. "The trouble is we still need more evidence to be 100% certain," says Garry.

Garry and his team will return to the site in June. You can follow their progress at DigVentures on Facebook, and TheDigVenturers on Twitter.

Edited from DigVentures (2 June 2016)
http://tinyurl.com/j42j4vk
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UNIQUE 5,000 YEAR OLD PAINTINGS FROM SOMALILAND -- WILL THEY LAST?

Paintings at Laas Geel in the self-declared state of Somaliland retain their fresh brilliance some 5,000 years or more after Neolithic artists swirled red and white color on the cliffs of northern Somalia, painting antelopes, cattle, giraffes and hunters carrying bows and arrows.

Abdisalam Shabelleh, site manager from Somaliland's Ministry of Tourism, says: "These paintings are unique. This style cannot be found anywhere in Africa." Then he points to a corner, where the paint fades and peels off the rocks. "If nothing is done now, in 20 years it could all have disappeared."

Amazed by the remarkable condition of the paintings as well as their previously unknown style, Xavier Gutherz, the former head of the French archaeology team that discovered the site in 2002, asked for the cave's listing as a UNESCO world heritage site, but that was refused because Somaliland is not recognized as a separate nation. "Only state parties to the World Heritage Convention can nominate sites for World Heritage status," said a UNESCO spokesperson. Requests for funding from donor countries face the same legal and diplomatic headache.

The cave paintings have become one of the main attractions for visitors to Somaliland. Around a thousand visitors each year endure rugged terrain with armed escorts to reach Laas Geel, and numbers are growing. Archaeologists say that Laas Geel may only be one of many treasures awaiting discovery in the vast rocky plains stretching towards the tip of the Horn of Africa.

Edited from Mail Online, News24 (26 June 2016)
http://tinyurl.com/jdbbce3
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ANCIENT -- 10,000 BCE -- CAMPSITE FOUND IN NEW BRUNSWICK CANADA

In an area of New Brunswick the Canadian Department of Transportation had plans to construct a by-pass of Route 8 around the city of Fredericton, capital of the region.

As part of the investigations which are made for the planning of any major road, not just in Canada, an archaeological team was sent to see if there was anything of interest. What they found was actually so important that there was an immediate cessation of ground works and the by-pass would have to be permanently re-routed.

The find centered on a campsite, dated at 10,000 BCE, which would have been based on the shores of a long lost lake. So far over 600 artifacts have been unearthed, ranging from stone tools to arrow heads and a fire pit.

One of the First Nation tribes of this area of New Brunswick was the Maliseet and several members of the archaeological team were members of that tribe, including Shawna Goodall, who is quoted as saying "These are my ancestors. And just to be able to be the first one to hold things in 13,000 years - I get goose bumps every timer, (from) every single artifact. That never ores away, that feeling".

The other exciting part of the find is that it provides a missing link. Team Leader, Brent Suttie, is quoted as saying "We have a few sites down in the Pennfield area and then we have very famous sites in Debert, Nova Scotia that dates to 11,600 years old. We don't have anything between those two sites. This site just happens to fall within that".

Edited from CBC News, CTV News, Global News (23 June 2016)
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REDISCOVERED RARE 5,000 YEAR OLD FIGURINE FROM SKARA BRAE NOW BEING DISPLAYED FOR FIRST TIME

A 5,000-year-old figurine, discovered in the 1860's was recently rediscovered in the Stromness Museum collections by Dr. David Clark. The figurine was found among artifacts from Skaill House donated to the museum in the 1930's.

The figurine is made of whalebone measuring 9.5 cm in height and 7.5 cm in width, adorned with a mouth, eyes, and a navel with no other decorations. It was originally discovered by William G. Watt while excavating a stone bed in house 3 of the Neolithic village. It was originally seen as an 'idol' or 'fetish' and described as such in the 1867 Skara Brae report written by George Petrie.

The figurine represents the first Neolithic example of a representation of a human form, which are exceptionally rare in Britain. The figurine, nicknamed 'Skara Brae Buddo' is now being displayed for the first time in Stromness Museum alongside other artifacts from Skara Brae.

Edited from The Orcadian (15 June 2016), Live Science (21 June 2016)
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FARMING IN THE MIDDLE EAST WAS NOT JUST INVENTED ABOUT 11,000 YEARS AGO BY ONE GROUP ACCORDING TO GENOMES

A study of 44 people from the Middle East show that two populations invented farming independently, then spreading it to Europe, Africa, and Asia. The results were published on the bioRxiv preprint server, showing that it supports archaeological evidence of farming starting in multiple places.

The evidence is important as it is the first detailed look into the ancestry of individuals from the Neolithic revolution. During this period, some 11,000 years ago, humans living in the Fertile Crescent shifted from a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary lifestyle, which domesticated crops and transformed sheep, wild boars, and other creatures into domestic animals over thousands of years.

Previously it has been difficult to obtain DNA from this area due to the hot climates. Recent successes in extracting DNA from the petrous let Iosif Lazaridis and David Reich, population geneticists at Harvard Medieval School, analyze these genomes, which were 14,000 to 3,500 years old.

The genomes showed a stark difference between the populations from the southern Levant region and those living across the Zagros Mountains. The Zagros population were found to be closely related to hunter-gatherer populations, supporting the theory that farming was developed independently in the Southern Levant.

Roger Matthews, an Archaeologist from the University of Reading says that: "There has been a school of thought arguing that everything happens first in the southern Levant and everyone learns how to be farmers from this initial dispersal. But the archaeological evidence shows very strong local traditions that are clearly not in communication with each other, persisting for centuries if not millennia."

The farmers from Zagros domesticated goats and cereal such as emmer, while their counterparts in the west had barley and wheat. According to Rogers, Sometime 9,500 years ago, the traditions spread through the Middle East, possible mixing in eastern Turkey while seeking out materials for tools, such as obsidian. Rogers also states that more research is needed to find how farming spread to the east.

LaLueza-Fox sees that the ability to extract DNA from hotter climates as an important step for prehistoric research, "Retrieving genomic data from the ancient Near East is a palaeogenomic dream come true."

Edited from Nature magazine (20 June 2016)
http://tinyurl.com/j3f9uhm
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ANCIENT TEXTILES UNCOVERED FROM BRONZE AGE BRITAIN

Excavations at Must Farm, 50 kilometers north-west of Cambridge, have unearthed the earliest examples of superfine textiles ever found in Britain - among the most finely-made Bronze Age fabrics ever discovered in Europe. Finds include more than 100 fragments of textile, processed fiber and textile yarn - some of superfine quality, with some threads just 1/10 of a millimeter in diameter and some fabrics with 28 threads per centimeter, fine even by modern standards. Most of the superfine fabrics were made of linen, and hundreds of flax seeds have been found, some of which had been stored in containers. Timber fragments with delicate carpentry may be the remains of looms, and fired clay loom weights have been found.

Some of the textiles had been folded, some in up to 10 layers. These may have been large garments, potentially up to 3 meters square - capes, cloaks, or drapes.

As well as making ultra-fine fabrics, at least some of the inhabitants wore exotic jewellery made of blue, black, yellow and green glass manufactured in the eastern Mediterranean. They lived in well-built 6 to 8 meter diameter houses and had a wide range of tools and other possessions. Around 50 bronze axes, sickles, spears, swords, razors, hammers, tweezers and awls have been found along with some 60 wooden buckets, platters and troughs, as well as around 60 well preserved ceramic bowls, mugs and storage jars - the largest collection of complete bronze, wooden and ceramic artifacts ever found in a British Bronze Age settlement. Dug-out canoes, and two wooden wheels have also been unearthed.

Yet evidence suggests that this settlement was attacked, burnt and destroyed less than a year after it was built. In the five houses excavated so far, people have left all their possessions behind - meals half eaten, salted or dried meat hanging in the rafters, garments neatly folded on or around well-made wooden furniture. Excavation director Mark Knight says: "It's a bit discovering the Marie Celeste. Everything is exactly as it was left. Only the inhabitants are missing."

Saturday, April 30, 2016

BISON KILL SITE DATING TO 3,000 YEARS AGO FOUND IN SOUTHEASTERN ARIZONA --SURPRISING!


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

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

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

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

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

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

HUMANS IN IRELAND 2500 YEARS EARLIER THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT SHOWN BY NEW EVIDENCE


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

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

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

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



Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/bear-bone-adds-2500-years-history-humans-ireland-180958520/#MQEkxOQraoExH7ey.99

RECAPTURED PALMYRA AMPHITHEATER SHOWS WHERE TERROR GROUP MURDERED ITS VICTIMS

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

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

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


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3510336/Drone-footage-shows-blood-stained-ruins-Palmyra-Assad-s-Syrian-army-recaptures-ancient-Roman-city-ISIS.html#ixzz47L3wAfHC

KENYA SKELETONS MAY SHOW EARLIEST EVIDENCE OF HUMAN WARFARE -- DATING TO ABOUT 10,000 YEARS AGO

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

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

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

UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA LIBRARIES HAS WIDE RANGE OF HOLY LAND COLLECTIONS -- GREAT FOR RESEARCERS

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

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

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

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

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES IN ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT, ARE FACING RUIN


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFARENSIS, EARLY HOMINID OF ABOUT 3,000,000 YEARS AGO, LIVED EAST OF THE THE RIFT VALLEY -- JUST REALIZED

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

BEWARE OF ARTIFACTS FROM SYRIA AND IRAQ BEING SOLD BY ISIS

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-3527244/Islamic-State-nets-millions-antiquities-Russia.html#ixzz46D0xXrp2
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Sunday, April 17, 2016

ROMAN VILLA UNEARTHED BY CHANCE IN WILTSHIRE GARDEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

SYRIAN ANTIQUITY FOUND ON SALE FOR HUGE PRICE IN LONDON

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

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

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

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

PART OF THE GREAT CITY WALL OF NINEVEH HAS BEEN RUINED BY ISIS

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

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

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

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

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

THE TERRIBLE DESTRUCTION OF THE PALMYRA MUSEUM

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

ONE OF SADDAM HUSSEIN'S FORMER PALACES, BASED IN BASRA SOUTHERN IRAQ, WILL SOON BECOME A MUSEUM

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

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

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

WRITERS OF THE BIBLE MAY HAVE BEEN FAR MORE NUMEROUS THAN PREVIOUSLY BELIEVED BY A SERIES OF INSCRIPTIONS DATING TO 600 BC

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

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

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

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

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

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



Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3534317/Is-bible-ANTHOLOGY-Inscriptions-2-600-year-old-shards-ceramic-suggests-literacy-common-Judah-thought.html#ixzz4685gnBju
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OLDEST GLASSWORKS -- REMAINS OF A KILN AND CHUCKS OFRAW GLASS -- FOUND IN ISRAEL DATING TO 1600 YEARS AGO L

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

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

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


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3533731/Ancient-glassworks-discovered-Israel-Beautiful-pale-green-Judean-tableware-furnace-1-600-years-ago-used-Roman-Empire.html#ixzz4684FUY7Y
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A NEW LOOK AT HOW EARLY HUMANS DISCOVERED FIRE

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

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

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

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



Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-04-hypothesis-human-ancestors-advantage.html#jCp

QUESTIONS ABOUT NEWEST HUMAN SPECIES HOMO NALEDI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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