Saturday, March 07, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 27, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited from PhysOrg (10 February 2015)


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

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

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

Edited from Daily Post (16 February 2015)
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Friday, February 13, 2015


from the Wall St. Journal (Feb. 11, 2015):

This is a fabulous news article: for the full story, contact the Wall St. Journal!

On the Turkey/Syria border: in a hotel basement on the Turkish side of this combat scarred frontier, a group of unlikely warriors is training to fight on a little-known front of Syria's civil war: the battle for the country's cultural heritage. The recruits aren't grizzled fighters but graying academics, more at home on an archaeological dig than a battlefield. For months, they have journeyed across war-torn regions of Syria, braving shelling, smugglers and the jihadists of Islamic State. Their mission: to save ancient artifacts and imperiled archaeological sites from profiteers, desperate civilians and fundamentalists who have plundered Syria's rich artistic heritage to fund their war effort.

Art historians and intelligence officials say that antiquities smuggling by Islamic State has exploded in recent months, aggravating the pillaging by government forces and opposition factions. Looting, often with bulldozers, is now the militant group's second largest course of finance after oil, Western intelligence officials say.

"What started as opportunistic theft by some has turned into organized transnational business that is helping fund terror," said Michael Danti, an archaeologist at Boston University who is advising the U.S. State Dept. on how to tackle the problem

In sessions at this secret location, the loose-knit band of academics is being trained how to fight back. They are instructed on how to get to key sits and document both what is there and what is already missing. Another skill: how to hide precious objects that maybe be at risk of looting and record the GPS locations so they can be retrieved at a later date. The group also uses disguises: posing as antiques dealers to take photographs of looted artifacts....

In neighboring Iraq, Islamic State is also looting and destroying ancient sites on an alarming scale, according to satellite imagery, anthropologists and government officials. In recent days, the militants destroyed a large portion of the ancient city wall at Nineveh in Iraq which dates back 27i00 years and was once the capitol of the Assyrian Empire. ...

In Islamic State controlled territory around Mesopotamian city of Mari, a longtime trade hub ... more than 1,300 excavation pits have been dug in the past few months,...

Syria's monuments men, a group of academics, archaeologists and volunteers are seeking to halt the plunder at its source. Formed in 2012 by the Damascus University trained archaeologist and another Syrian archaeologist colleague, the group started informally cataloging damage to sites in battle scarred Idib and Aleppo provinces. The founders enlisted Syrian colleagues and friends from universities, museums and government directorates and later, European and American specialists joined as advisers..... The group is now a 200 strong network stretching across rebel-held Syria. ...
Just getting to the training camp was a challenge. At the border, the group was trapped between shellfire and warring Syrian factions and the rotating searchlights of Turkey's border guards. Dressed in suits, they sheltered face down in a muddy ditch for six hours before it was safe to be smuggled across the frontier into Turkey. ...

The Damascus trained archaeologist said lack of resources and the dangerous nature of their work has limits what they can achieve on the ground. "This isn't just about history, It's about our future," he said. "Saving our heritage is the only thing that can help us rebuild an inclusive SyriaThi after the war."

On Line: See more photos and a video on efforts to protect Syrian's cultural sites at

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


An early European settler in Australia described stories told by the Aboriginal people of a time when three islands off the southwest coast near Perth "formed part of the mainland, and that the intervening ground was thickly covered with trees." In one story those trees caught fire and burned "with such intensity that the ground split asunder with a great noise, and the sea rushed in between, cutting off these islands from the mainland." Researchers recently matched this and other Aboriginal stories to real events. The sea did rush in at the end of the last glacial period, about 7,500 to 8,900 years ago.

Another Aboriginal community tells of a time when the northeast shoreline reached to the Great Barrier Reef, recalling a river that flowed into the sea at what is now Fitzroy Island, near the city of Cairns. John Upton, writing for Climate Central, says: "The great gulf between today's shoreline and the reef suggests that the stories tell of a time when seas were more than 200 feet (60 meters) lower than they are today, placing the story's roots at as many as 12,600 years ago."

Nicholas Reid, a linguist specializing in Aboriginal Australian languages, told Upton. "It's almost unimaginable that people would transmit stories about things like islands that are currently underwater accurately across 400 G
generations." Reid worked with Patrick Nunn, a geography professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast, to match the stories with the land and how it has changed. A preliminary draft of their work makes the case for 18 Aboriginal stories describing coastal flooding at the end of the last ice age, and argues that researchers should look to old stories when building a picture of our world.

Edited from (26 January 2015)
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A quote out of the New York Times columnist Frank Bruni I think should be repeated for everyone and college students interested in archaeology and history:

And its dangerous in a democracy, college isn't just about making better engineers but about making better citizens, ones whose eyes have been opened in the sweep of history and the spectrum of civilizations.

Friday, February 06, 2015


A routine security check turned into a veritable treasure hunt, when the Antiquities Authority discovered a Beit Shemesh man had in his possession hundreds of ancient coins and artifacts, the has announced. According to the authority’s Robbery Prevention Unit, the unidentified man, who is in his 50s, was initially detained at an antiquities site in the Beit Shemesh area, when police determined he was carrying digging tools in his bag.

The suspect was taken for questioning at a nearby police station, where officers contacted the Robbery Prevention Unit, whose investigators proceeded to interrogate him. The man denied he was searching for antiquities and claimed to know nothing about ancient coins. However, a subsequent search of his home later that evening uncovered roughly 800 bronze coins, ancient bronze objects, jewelry and metal cleaning equipment, the authority said. “Among the coins found in the suspect’s home and identified by Antiquities Authority researchers were Persian coins from the 5th century BCE, and the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods,” the Robbery Prevention Unit said in a statement. Upon further questioning, the suspect confessed he was searching for the ancient coins using a metal detector, the authority said.

Dr. Ethan Klein, deputy director of the Robbery Prevention Unit, said searching for coins at ancient sites is a serious criminal offense. “Ancient coins provide archeologists with important information from history,” Klein said. “The most comprehensive information is embedded in them, including the date, name of the ruler at the time, and place of production.” Moreover, Klein said this valuable information provides archeologists with a glimpse of the historical events that took place in ancient times. “Displacing ancient coins causes irreparable harm and does not allow the recovery of information, and actually erases an entire chapter of the history of the ancient site,” he said.

Following the investigation, the suspect was released under restrictive conditions, the authority said, adding that in the coming days formal criminal charges will be brought against him.

According to the Robbery Prevention Unit, damage to an archeological site is punishable by up to five years in prison.


The subterranean settlement was discovered in the Nevşehir province of Turkey’s Central Anatolia region, in the historical area of Cappadocia. Cappadocia is famous in archaeological circles for its large number of underground settlement. But the site, located around the Nevşehir hill fort near the city of Kayseri, appears to dwarf all other finds to date. Mehmet Ergün Turan, the head of Turkey’s housing development administration, said the discovery was made during the groundwork for a housing project meant to develop the area.

Derinkuyu underground city, to the south of Nevşehir city “It is not a known underground city. Tunnel passages of seven kilometers are being discussed. We stopped the construction we were planning to do on these areas when an underground city was discovered,” Mr Turan told Turkish publication Hurriyet Daily News. The agency has already spent 90 million Turkish liras (£25m) on the development project, but the organization's head said he did not see the money spent as a loss due to the magnitude of the historical discovery. The upper reaches of the city were first spotted last year but it was not until now that the size of the discovery became apparent. The organization has so far taken 44 historical objects under preservation from the site.

Nevşehir province’s most renown underground settlement is Derinkuyu, a multi-level city large enough to house many thousands of people and their livestock. It lies within an hour’s drive south of the new discovery. The town of Nevşehir, on whose outskirts the new underground city was discovered Derinkuyu, believed to date to the 8th century BC, was most recently inhabited by Christians until 1923 when they were expelled during a population exchange with Greece.

It has since laid uninhabited and draws visitors from around the world.


The so-called Islamic State group is threatening to destroy the walls of Nineveh, the ancient capital of the Assyrian empire, in what would be its latest act of cultural vandalism.

People living in the Bab Nergal area of Mosul, close to the historic site of Nineveh, said militants told them they would destroy the walls if the Iraqi army attacked, a report claims. Nineveh was once the largest city in the world, with a population of as many as 150,000 people in 700 BC. Although it now lies ruins, it is still surrounded by a mostly intact 7.5-mile brick rampart.

Over the past month the Islamic State has seized hundreds of Assyrian relics from Mosul's cultural museum as well as destroyed Assyrian monuments in the city, which it claims 'distort Islam', AINSA reported. Assyrians believe themselves to be Iraq's original indigenous people, with a documented history stretching back to 4750BC. They now comprise 95 per cent of the country's Christian population.

Nearly 200,000 were forced to flee their homes around the Nineveh plain last summer as Islamic State made its lightning advance across Iraq. Most now live as refugees in Iraq's Kurdish areas.

Read more:


A total of 12,000 antiquities have been renovated to be displayed at the museum, Damaty said adding that other 5,000 pieces will be renovated within a period of six months. Mehleb praised the work done and said that “the museum location facing the Pyramids is one of finest places across the world.”

The museum is being built on an area of 117 acres on Cairo-Alexandria desert road. It’s scheduled to contain around 100,000 antiquities that show development of Pharaonic civilization. The project is being carried out through three phases at costs of around LE5 billion including a loan from Japan International Cooperation Agency which facilitated US$300 million to fund the third phase to be paid back 10 years after the opening of the museum at very low interests. The last phase will take around 40 months starting signing of the contract. The museum is set to be opened in an international ceremony in August.


Somewhere along the journey from ape to human, our ancestors developed hands that were better suited to holding tools than climbing trees. A new study suggests the transition took place as much as 3.2 million years ago — about 600,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Researchers studying the palm and thumb bones of early hominids in South Africa were surprised to find some distinctly human characteristics. Wear patterns in the bones suggested that the hominids had tightly gripped tools using an opposable thumb and fingers, much the way one would hold a hammer.

“It’s not just that they could oppose their fingers and thumbs, but that they could do it very forcefully and that they were doing it on a regular-enough basis to leave a signal inside the bone,” said Matthew Skinner, an anthropologist at the University of Kent and the lead author of the study. The result, he added, is similar to the wear seen in the hand bones of modern humans.

The earliest stone tools in the archaeological record are just 2.6 million years old. Those tools, unearthed in the 1950s, have long fueled the belief among scientists that hominids evolved the ability to use tools somewhere around that time. But that idea has been challenged in recent years by the discovery of 3.4-million-year-old animal bones with markings that seem to have been made by stone tools.

The current study, published in the journal Science, adds to the evidence that tools may have been in use at that time, Dr. Skinner said.


Anthropologists exploring a cave in Israel have uncovered a rare 55,000-year-old skull fossil that they say has a story to tell of a reverberating transition in human evolution, at a point when and where some early humans were moving out of Africa and apparently interbreeding with Neanderthals.

The story is of when the Levant was a corridor for anatomically modern humans who were expanding out of Africa and then across Eurasia, replacing all other forms of early human-related species. Given the scarcity of human fossils from that time, scholars say, these ancestors of present-day non-African populations had remained largely enigmatic.

From the new fossil find, which could be closely related to the first modern humans to colonize Stone Age Europe, it appears that these people already had physical traits a bit different from the Africans they were leaving behind and many other human inhabitants along the corridor.

The discovery in Manot Cave in western Galilee, made in 2008 and subjected to years of rigorous analysis, was reported recently in the journal Nature by an international team of researchers led by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University. They said this was “the first fossil evidence from the critical period when genetic and archaeological models predict that African modern humans successfully migrated out of Africa and colonized Eurasia.”

The researchers further concluded that the Manot specimen “provides important clues about the morphology of modern humans in close chronological proximity to a probable interbreeding event with Neanderthals.” They also noted that the shape of the cranium established this as a fully modern human at a time when warmer and wetter conditions were favorable for human migration out of Africa. In other words, Dr. Hershkovitz said in an interview, the Manot cranium “is the missing connection between African and European populations.”

Scientists not involved with the research team praised the “fascinating new fossil” and the cautious interpretation of its broader implications in understanding the early migrations into Eurasia. “This fossil fits previous predictions,” said Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York, “which is a nice rarity in our field.”

The partial skull, designated Manot 1, is of a fairly small adult individual, its sex undetermined. The distinctive bunlike shape at the base of the skull resembles modern African and European skulls but differs from other anatomically modern humans from the Levant, and is thus a strong clue that these were among the first humans to settle Europe, scientists said.

One concern is that the fossil skull is fairly small, with a somewhat lower braincase capacity than in modern humans. With only one specimen, it is hard to know whether this is normal for the general population, scientists said. And Dr. Delson said it would be interesting to test for DNA in the skull to support its possible hybrid status in a time of overlapping modern human-Neanderthal populations when early humans were making their way, as he phrased it, to “that small zoological backwater of Eurasia known as Europe.”

Excavations at Manot Cave are expected to continue through at least 2020, searching deeper for more fossils and artifacts from the migrating people. Israel, Dr. Hershkovitz said, “is like a Swiss cheese, lots of caves everywhere.”

Several caves in the vicinity of Manot were occupied for long times by Neanderthals between 65,000 and 50,000 years ago. In this respect, Dr. Hershkovitz said, Manot is an excellent place to search for possible hybrids, but they may be difficult to recognize from surface features. “Only DNA study will solve the problem,” he said.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Temple culture on Malta

Around one and a half millennia before the development of a complex culture of temple building which lasted for just over a millennium, settlers arrived on Malta from Sicily bringing agriculture and domestic animals and quickly deforesting the island.
The Temple Period civilization built the oldest free-standing stone structures in the world, covering the islands of Malta and Gozo with over 30 temple complexes during their 1100-year history, and leaving extensive evidence of complex rituals and animal sacrifices. Artwork flourished, and hundreds of statues have been discovered, around 15 percent of which are the famous 'fat ladies' - phallic and especially androgynous symbols are far more common.

Studies so far suggest the Temple-building culture did not suffer from any obvious disease, lack of food, or invasion. They simply came and left. "We cannot find a successor," says Professor Anthony Bonanno, of the University of Malta Department of Classics and Archaeology.

At a 1985 conference on Fertility Cults in the Mediterranean, amateur archaeologist Joseph Attard Tabone showed how he thought he had rediscovered the ancient Xaghra Stone circle, immortalized by the early 19th Century watercolor paintings of Charles de Brocktorff. Amazed by the revelation, world-leading archaeologist Colin Renfrew agreed to organize a dig.

By 1987, the British were back digging alongside a Maltese team. Seven years later, they had revealed a natural underground chamber enhanced by megalithic monuments, that probably lasted around 1500 years, until 2500 BCE - an extensive underground burial complex revealing a civilization whose complexity was unusual for its age.

Analysis of the bones shows the people were healthy. Trace elements left by eating copious amounts of fish or seafood are absent. Land snails seem to have been a preferred delicacy.

Accompanying all this was an overflow of art, with three forms of human representation. One is dressed, usually standing, and non-gendered, with elaborate hairstyles, belts, necklaces, and skirts. Another form is the naked fat figures, again mostly non-gendered though some are female. The last form includes phallic symbols, as well as domestic animals, reptiles and fish, birds, and other curious things.

Edited from Malta Today (22 December 2014)
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Remains of one of Scotland's oldest farming communities have been unearthed by diggers working on a tram line near Edinburgh Airport. The site is on a narrow ridge about 100 meters long, above the flood plain of the River Almond. Among the items discovered are flints from the Neolithic period, small blades of Arran pitchstone, and small quantities of pottery from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. Analysis of finds provides the most complete picture yet of the city's early settlement stretching back to almost 4,000 BCE - evidence of up to six phases of occupation.

Edinburgh City Council archaeology officer John Lawson says: "The excavations at Gogar have given us an important snapshot of how Edinburgh grew as it has given evidence from a wide range of periods, from early prehistoric Mesolithic hunter-gathering communities through to the medieval period.

Possibly the earliest evidence was pits containing hazelnut shells, which may be from Mesolithic hunter-gathers. These were found alongside a range of pits and post-holes dating from around the start of the Neolithic period in Scotland around 3,960 BCE, making it Edinburgh's - and one of Scotland's - first farming communities.

There then appears to be a large gap in occupation until the construction of a series of hut-circles around 2,200 to 2,000 BCE during the Early Bronze Age, then a 400-year gap to around 1,600-1,200 BCE. The largest site was a palisaded enclosure roughly 35 meters in diameter, dated to 700 to 540 BCE - the start of the Iron Age in that region."

Edited from The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News (28 December 2014)
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Under a conical hill in Turkey's central Anatolian province of Nevsehir is a city with tunnels wide enough for a car to pass. The city is thought to date back some 5,000 years and is located around the Nevsehir fortress. Escape galleries and hidden churches were also discovered inside the underground city. The area is known world-wide for its 'Fairy Chimneys' rock formations.

Ozcan Zakir, associate professor at the Geophysics Engineering department of the 18 March University and involved in the excavations of the underground city, says: "We believe that people, who were engaged in agriculture, were using the tunnels to carry agricultural products to the city. We also estimate that one of the tunnels passes under Nevsehir and reaches a faraway water source.

There is a fortress on top of a conical-shaped hill; it is alleged to belong to the Seljuks. We made geophysical measurements in an area of four square kilometers and the [underground] city was surrounding the fortress in circular forms." Zakir also says that two-thirds of the fortress seems to have been carved by means of the tunnels.

Edited from Hurriyet Daily News (7 January 2014)
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Archaeologists uncovered a 4,000-year-old copper crown in the village of Chandayan, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. According to Dr. Rakesh Tewari, the director general of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), this is only the second crown discovered at an Indus Valley site in either India or Pakistan.

"The person wearing the crown could be an important person of the society," said Dr. A.K. Pandey, the director of the excavation at Chandayan and a superintending archaeologist at ASI. "It is not known if in those days, people used it as a crown or just as a head gear," he said.

The copper crown, decorated with a Carnelian and a Fiance bead - both precious stones - was found on a skull and exposed by laborers while they extracting clay to make bricks in August 2014; ASI started excavating the site in early December.

During excavation, Pandey also found animal bones and mud pots at the same excavation depth as the burial site, but about 65 feet away. This suggests that an animal was sacrificed during a funeral ceremony for the person whose remains were found. According to Pandey, another piece of the same crown, a pelvic bone, and femur of the left leg of the person was unearthed along with 21 earthen pots. 150 feet away from the burial site, archaeologists also dug up a habitation site of the same period and found a compact floor, mud walls, and holes for fence posts

According to Pandey, the discovery is important because this is the first time evidence of a late Indus Civilization habitation was found so far east.

Edited from Epoch Times (1 January 2015)
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Sunday, January 25, 2015


In the biggest operation of its kind, Italian police have uncovered what they say is a treasure trove of more than 5,000 stolen antiquities.

The objects include splendidly decorated vases, delicate frescoes and statues, and fine bronze breastplates. The collection, which is believed to be worth more than 40m euros (£33m), was discovered during a series of raids on warehouses in Switzerland owned by a Sicilian art dealer.


A new study has used advanced imaging techniques to identify previously unknown tattoos on the ribcage of the 5300-year old man known as Ötzi, bringing his total number of tattoos to 61.


In September of 1991 hikers in the Ötzal Alps along the border of Austria and Italy happened upon the mummified corpse who became an archaeological celebrity. After Ötzi died at the hands of unknown attackers one late spring or early summer around 3500 BC, his body and belongings were left in a small gully where they were entombed beneath an alpine glacier. A combination of glacial meltwater and extreme cold resulted in natural mummification of his body.

Thanks to more than two decades of analysis, scientists arguably know more about Ötzi’s health and final days than those of any other ancient human. He died at around 45 years of age after being shot in the back with a stone-tipped arrow and bludgeoned. In the 12 hours preceding his death he climbed into the mountains from an Italian valley, and ate a last meal consisting of grains and ibex meat. Ötzi suffered a variety of ailments, including advanced gum disease, gallbladder stones, lyme disease, whipworms in his colon, and atherosclerosis. Researchers have sequenced Ötzi’s entire genome, identified a genetic predisposition to heart disease, and determined that he has 19 surviving male relatives in his genetic lineage. However, a new study shows the Iceman still has secrets left to reveal.


Ötzi was tattooed, and offers the earliest direct evidence that tattooing was practiced in Europe by at least the Chalcolithic period. However, until now it has been difficult to conclusively catalog all of his marks. Ötzi’s epidermis naturally darkened from prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures as he lay beneath the glacier, and as a result some of his tattoos became faint or invisible to the naked eye. Consequently previous studies have identified between 47 and 60 tattoos on the Iceman’s body.

For several decades scientists have recognized that advanced imaging techniques, and particularly the near-infrared spectral region, can be used to reveal faint or invisible tattoos on ancient mummified remains. These techniques are effective because the carbon that comprised most ancient tattoo ink absorbs certain wavelengths differently than the human epidermis. Therefore when mummified skin is illuminated using those wavelengths, carbon-based tattoos appears much darker than the surrounding untattooed skin.

The new examination of Ötzi by Marco Samadelli, Marcello Melis, Matteo Miccoli, Eduard Egarter Vigl, and Albert R. Zink consisted of non-invasive multispectral photographic imaging performed on the Iceman at his home in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. The researchers first slightly thawed Ötzi’s body, which is ordinarily kept at 21.2 °F, in order to eliminate the ice layer from his skin. On reaching 29.2 °F, he was photographed from all sides using a modified 36 MP digital SLR camera outfitted with filters to capture images in ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths. These images were then processed using specially-designed software capable of distinguishing and analyzing seven wavelength bands for every recorded pixel. This method, which the authors call “7-Band Hypercolorimetric Multispectral Imaging,” allows for detection of color differences even in the non-visible spectral range.

Samadelli and colleagues were able to detect a previously unrecorded group of tattoos on Ötzi’s lower right rib cage. Those marks consist of four parallel lines between 20 and 25 mm long and are invisible to the naked eye. According to the authors, these make up “the first tattoo … detected on the Iceman’s frontal part of the torso.”

The researchers also created a complete catalog of Ötzi’s tattoos. These include 19 groups of tattooed lines, for a total of 61 marks ranging from 1 to 3 mm in thickness and 7 to 40 mm in length. With the exception of perpendicular crosses on the right knee and left ankle, and parallel lines around the left wrist, the tattooed lines all run parallel to one another and to the longitudinal axis of the body. The greatest concentration of markings is found on his legs, which together bear 12 groups of lines.

While the different combinations of lines in Ötzi’s tattoos may have held some underlying symbolic meaning, it appears that their function was primarily medicinal or therapeutic. Previous research has revealed that 80% of the Iceman’s tattoos correspond to classic Chinese acupuncture points used to treat rheumatism, while other tattoos are located along acupuncture meridians used to treat ailments such as back pain and abdominal disorders, from which Ötzi also suffered.

The new study was published online this week in the Journal of Cultural Heritage.



Archaeologists in San Gabriel have uncovered an important piece of Southern California’s history: the foundation to an ancient water distribution system that has laid buried a few feet beneath the surface of the old Union Pacific Railroad tracks for more than century.Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority’s lead archaeologist John Dietler said the feature, a series of stone-lined ditches and reservoirs, is the missing piece of an important story behind the success of the San Gabriel Mission and ultimately the springboard to the growth of Los Angeles.

“What this represents in the bigger picture are the very roots of Los Angeles,” Dietler said. “Figuring out how to control water, bring it to people and to provide enough water to support a large population is really the key to the dense European settlement that ultimately flourished here in the Los Angeles Basin.”

Archaeologists believe what they’ve found is a precursor to Chapman’s Millrace, which was discovered during earlier phases of construction a few feet from the same site, located across the street from today’s mission building. “Some of the histories you read make it seem like Chapman showed up out of thin air and invented this idea, and basically he took something that was already here and just made it better — literally by stealing rocks from it and building right on top of it,” Dietler said.

In order to lay the groundwork for the ACE project, archaeologists have spent the past few years excavating a major trench through one of the most important archaeological sites in the entire country. Throughout the excavation process, archaeologists have discovered hundreds of thousands of artifacts and several features, including adobe brick foundations and water distribution systems.

With their findings, archaeologists are in the process of recreating a map to show how the community was laid out on the mission property, aside from the buildings that are still standing today. They have a list of more than 150 buildings, but the oldest map created 20 years after the mission closed shows only the location of three of them.

Although the artifacts will be documented and preserved, the features themselves will ultimately be destroyed. “These earlier things are unmortared cobbles. It’s big and impressive, but there’s nothing but dirt in between them,” Dietler said. “It would be virtually impossible to preserve them.”


Archaeologists working on the Micropasts public archaeology project hope to use a set of drawings and notes relating to artifacts from Wiltshire to create 3D models of some of the finest Bronze Age objects ever found in Britain. Jennifer Wexler, of the British Museum, where the Bronze Age Index set of cards is held, has examined more than 100 casual finds, lost items and objects from some of the famous barrow cemeteries on Salisbury Plain among the collection, providing detailed descriptions of antiquarian metalwork finds from the past two centuries.

“In the process of digitising the index we have come across a small collection of cards recording artifacts in the Wiltshire Museum,” she says. “These cards illustrate bronze objects found largely during 18th and 19th century antiquarian investigations of various barrow groups in the regions surrounding the monumental landscapes of Stonehenge and Avebury. “These include some of the famous barrow cemeteries found in Salisbury Plain, such as the Lake Down Group, Normanton Group bush barrow and Amesbury Curses.”

Researchers hope to recreate a rare crutch-headed bronze pin from the little-known Durrington site of Silk Hill, found with a skeleton and dated to between 2020 and 1770 BC. “We’ve got some of the best Bronze Age artifacts in the country here at Devizes, but Micropasts is interesting because it will benefit wider scholarship on the subject and people will be able to do some amazing things with the data,” predicts David Dawson, of the Wiltshire Museum.

“This information will eventually be integrated into the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, making it one of the largest records of prehistoric objects in the UK and the world.”