Sunday, September 14, 2014


Evidence that the outer stone circle at Stonehenge was once complete has been found - parch marks in the grass, in an area that had not been watered, have revealed places where two 'missing' huge sarsen stones may once have stood. Previous scientific techniques such as geophysics failed to find any evidence.

Historians have long debated whether Stonehenge was a full or incomplete circle, with some arguing a lack of stones in the south-west quadrant is proof it was never complete. A scientific paper which adds weight to the 'complete' theory has been published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity. The parch marks - areas where the grass does not grow as strongly as in other areas during hot, dry weather - were first noticed in July last year.

Susan Greaney, from English Heritage, said the discovery seemed to indicate the positions of missing stones. "If these stone holes actually held upright stones then we've got a complete circle," she said. "A lot of people assume we've excavated the entire site and everything we're ever going to know about the monument is known. But actually there's quite a lot we still don't know and there's quite a lot that can be discovered just through non-excavation methods," Ms Greaney added.

Ms Greaney said a high resolution geophysical survey conducted a few years ago had failed to pick up evidence of the holes. "It's great that people who know the site really well and look at it every day were able to spot these parch marks and recognize them for what they were. We maintain the grass with watering when it's very dry in the summer, but our hosepipe doesn't reach to the other side of the stone circle. If we'd had a longer hosepipe we might not have been able to see them," she concluded.

Tim Daw, the English Heritage steward who spotted the parch marks, said: "I was standing on the public path looking at the grass near the stones and thinking that we needed to find a longer hosepipe to get the parched patches to green up. A sudden light bulb moment in my head, and I remembered that the marks were where archaeologists had looked without success for signs that there had been stone holes, and that parch marks can signify them. Not being archaeologists we called in the professionals to evaluate them. I am still amazed and very pleased that simply really looking at something, that tens of thousands of people had unwittingly seen, can reveal secrets that sophisticated machinery can't."

Edited from BBC News (30 August 2014)
[2 images, 1 drawing]


The story of the inter-action and inter-breeding of Modern Man with Neanderthals is an ever changing one. As analytical techniques become more sophisticated and accurate then the picture becomes clearer. The latest technique to be applied uses ultra-filtering of samples, to eliminate any form of contamination, thus making the subsequent analysis more accurate.

Using this technique on analysis of samples of bone and charcoal from several Russian sites seems to shift the evidence to show that Neanderthals were actually starting to die out, before they inter-acted with Modern Man, who was not therefore, on this evidence, the cause of their extinction.

The decline started between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, with Modern Man appearing on the scene only 35,000 years ago. there was an overlapping period of about 2,500 years when both species co-existed and inter-bred. It is now hoped to widen the research to eastern Europe and Eurasia, to corroborate these findings.

Edited from LiveScience (20 August 2014)
[2 images]


The Central great Plains is a semi-arid Eco region of North America, covering large parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. A team from the University of Kansas, lead by Professor Rolfe Mandel, have been excavating in an area of Kansas, within this Eco region, to try ad find evidence of settlements by Clovis, and even Pre Clovis peoples.

The excavations are part of a project run by the University to give their undergraduates and graduates field experience. The team has concentrated its efforts in an area known as Tuttle Creek and several artifacts have been discovered, including projectiles and drills, The team is currently awaiting the results of the analysis of the sediment the artifacts were buried in. They are hoping that the official results will confirm their belief that these artifacts could be older than 13,500 years, which would make them the earliest finds so far within the Central Great Plains area.

Professor Mandel is quite excited by his team's finds and is quoted as saying "We all have inherent interest in history, so this tells us something about the early occupants of the Great Plains and this part of the Great Plains. It will tell us a lot about the history of the peopling of the Americas and in particular the peopling of the Great Plains, where it's been pretty much a black hole in terms of unraveling that story".

Edited from PhysOrg (29 August 2014)
[2 images, 1 video]

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


The Bureau of Land Management is offering up to $500 for information leading to the arrest/conviction of vandals responsible for defacing rock near rock art thousands of years old. The vandalism happened July 25-31, 2014.
Vandals spray-painted more than a dozen silhouette targets on rocks near Native American rock art at Utah County's Lake Mountain and then engaged in practice shooting with a large-caliber firearm.

The BLM said similar vandalism happened in 2011, prompting the federal agency to go to great lengths to remove the paint to prevent any more damage to the rock art.Native American rock art sites are protected under federal law by the Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1976. Violators causing damage to cultural resources on federal lands can face severe penalties including fines and jail time.

In May, a vandal etched initials and a date into the dark patina next to the prehistoric image known as the Pregnant Buffalo on a rock panel in Nine Mile Canyon.An investigation subsequently revealed that two youths from the Salt Lake City area were responsible for the Memorial Day weekend incident. A payment from the vandals for $1,500 helped to mitigate the damage, according to the BLM.

Anyone with information on this latest incident should call BLM ranger Randy Griffin at 801-977-4314.


Nobody would mistake the municipality of Savsjo for the borough of the Bronx.

Savsjo, surrounded by dense forests in southern Sweden between Stockholm and Malmo, has about 5,000 inhabitants (about one-tenth as many as the Co-op City section of the borough alone, but about 10 times as many as the number of Bronxites who claim Swedish heritage). Its medieval churches date to the 12th century (the oldest existing house in the Bronx was built in 1748). Savsjo’s best-known sports team plays handball, not baseball.

And yet the two localities share one largely forgotten favorite son, whose Swedish heritage has only recently been confirmed: Jonas Bronck. Bronck was born in 1600 just outside Savsjo (pronounced SEV-sho) in the hamlet of Komstad. He emigrated to Denmark, where he became a mariner, and then to the Netherlands, where he married a local woman. In 1639, after the local economy was roiled by a boom-and-bust mania for tulip bulbs, the couple sailed on the Fire of Troy for New Amsterdam.

The Broncks built a stone house they named Emmaus (after a site where Jesus appeared after his resurrection) at what would become East 132nd Street and Lincoln Avenue, on a bluff overlooking what would become a 680-acre farm flanked by the Harlem River, the Bronx Kill, which separates the borough from Randalls Island, and the Aquahung, which later became known as Bronck’s River.

The 375th anniversary of Bronck’s arrival and settlement as the first European in the Bronx will be celebrated this weekend in Savsjo by his descendants and dignitaries from both countries. (This year is also the centennial of Bronx County, New York State’s youngest.) “The invisible hand of the Almighty Father,” Bronck wrote to a friend in Amsterdam, “surely guided me to this beautiful country, a land covered with virgin forest and unlimited opportunities. It is a veritable paradise and needs but the industrious hand of man to make it the finest and most beautiful region in all the world.”

Bronck died childless at age 43 of unknown causes. His widow remarried and moved to what would be called upstate New York. Several descendants of his nephew or cousin Pieter, whose stone house in Coxsackie is now the headquarters of the Greene County Historical Society, plan to attend the commemoration.

“We have always been very proud of the fact that you do not go to Bronx but to the Bronx, meaning to visit that family or what remains of it,” said Audrey Bronk of Pinehurst, N.C., whose husband, Charles, 85, born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, a former salesman for a plumbing and heating company, is a 10th-generation descendant of Pieter. (The name, which gained an X from the Dutch, lost a C in English.)

The celebration was largely conceived by Brian G. Andersson, a Bronxite of Swedish ancestry. He is the former commissioner of records for New York City and a founding director of the Jonas Bronck Center in Savsjo, which is hosting the commemoration.

“The story behind Jonas Bronck will serve as a model and be the power behind Jonas Bronck Center’s goal — to make the cultural and historical treasure in Smaland and Savsjo, the focal point of tourism in this part of Sweden,” said Curt Wrigfors, the chairman of the center, which is also conducting historical and genealogical research. The center, a former hotel, also houses a Vietnamese restaurant and a tattoo parlor.

Until recently, when it has begun a modest rebound, the Bronx has been famous for the Yankees, the zoo and the New York Botanical Garden, but also disparaged for the Bronx cheer and Ogden Nash’s ultimate contumely (later retracted) “The Bronx? No thonx,” and mocked at home as a national symbol of urban blight (Howard Cosell: “The Bronx is burning;” Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities”).

So New Yorkers may be surprised that Jonas Bronck himself has been claimed as a native of Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and the Frisian and Faroe Islands. His Swedish roots were established only in the last few decades by Lloyd Ultan, the Bronx borough historian, and further authenticated by an Irish historian and Mr. Andersson.


Faint as the Avenue was, Vince Gaffney hustled along as if it were illuminated by runway lights. A short, sprightly archaeologist of 56, from Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England, he knows this landscape as well as anyone alive: has walked it, breathed it, studied it for uncounted hours. He has not lost his sense of wonder. Stopping to fix the monument in his eyeline, and reaching out toward the stones on the horizon, he said, “Look, it becomes cathedralesque.”

Gaffney’s latest research effort, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, is a four-year collaboration between a British team and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria that has produced the first detailed underground survey of the area surrounding Stonehenge, totaling more than four square miles.

The results are astonishing. The researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected. “There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded,” Gaffney told me, “a ring of the dead around a special area—to which few people might ever have been admitted....Perhaps there were priests, big men, whatever they were, inside Stonehenge having processions up the Avenue, doing...something extremely mysterious. Of course that sort of analysis depends on not knowing what’s actually in the area around Stonehenge itself. It was terra incognita, really.”

The huge bluestones each weigh between four and eight tons and were brought to the site from North Wales, 170 miles away. The Stonehenge landscape, the new evidence suggests, guided the movement of great crowds. The heelstone aligns with the rising sun on the summer solstice as seen from the stone circle, about 80 yards away. It is one of “an excessive number” of such features in the Stonehenge landscape. The massive stone monument rising from Salisbury Plain must have been an impressive sight to ancient visitors.

The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project used ground-penetrating radars and GPS-guided magnetometers (right) to produce what amounts to a 3-D map of a four-square-mile area. Nighttime only enhances the mystery of Stonehenge. Was it a temple? A graveyard? A healing place? Scholars believe the first stones were erected at Stonehenge around 2600 B.C. and that construction continued on the site for a millennia.

Nobody has yet put a spade in the ground to verify the new findings, which were painstakingly gathered by geophysicists and others wielding magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars that scan the ground to detect structures and objects several yards below the surface. But Gaffney has no doubt of the work’s value. “This is among the most important landscapes, and probably the most studied landscape, in the world,” he says. “And the area has been absolutely transformed by this survey. Won’t be the same again.”

Take the big question: Was Stonehenge predominantly a temple, a parliament or a graveyard? Was it a healing ground? We don’t know, for sure. We know that people were buried there, and that the stones are aligned in astronomically important ways. We also understand, because of the chemical composition of animal bones found nearby and the provenance of the stones, that people traveled hundreds of miles to visit Stonehenge. But we cannot say, with certainty, why.

See the wonderful photos in Smithsonian Magazine. Interested in a young adult book on Stonehenge? Caroline Malone and Nancy Bernard 's Stonehenge is still available through Amazon.

Read more:
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter


Escargot is more than just a modern delicacy: Ancient humans who lived 30,000 years ago ate the mollusks too, a new archaeological excavation has revealed. Archaeologists recently uncovered evidence of a fireplace and snail shells with evidence of burning in a rock shelter in Spain. The find, which dates to 30,000 years ago, suggests humans ate snails during the Paleolithic period.

Hundreds of burnt snail shells were found near fireplaces along with tools and other animal remains in rock shelters along a cliff in Spain. The finding suggests Paleolithic people on the Iberian Peninsula ate snails more than 10,000 years earlier than those who lived in the neighboring Mediterranean region.

The snails probably didn't make up a calorically significant part of these Paleolithic people's diet, but may have provided key vitamins and nutrients, said study lead author Javier Fernández-López de Pablo, an archaeologist at the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social in Spain

Monday, August 25, 2014


A monster mouth doorway, ruined pyramid temples and palace remains emerged from the Mexican jungle as archaeologists unearthed two ancient Mayan cities. Found in the southeastern part of the Mexican state of Campeche, in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, the cities were hidden in thick vegetation and hardly accessible. "Aerial photographs helped us in locating the sites," expedition leader Ivan Sprajc, of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU), said.

Sprajc and his team found the massive remains as they further explored the area around Chactun, a large Maya city discovered by the Slovenian archaeologist in 2013. No other site has so far been located in this area, which extends over some 1800 square miles, between the so-called Rio Bec and Chenes regions, both known for their characteristic architectural styles fashioned during the Late and Terminal Classic periods, around 600 - 1000 A.D. One of the cities featured an extraordinary facade with an entrance representing the open jaws of an earth monster.

The site was actually visited in the 1970s by the American archaeologist Eric Von Euw, who documented the facade and other stone monuments with yet unpublished drawings. However, the exact location of the city, referred to as Lagunita by Von Euw, remained lost. All the attempts at relocating it failed. "The information about Lagunita were vague and totally useless," Sprajc told Discovery News. "In the jungle you can be as little as 600 feet from a large site and do not even suspect it might be there; small mounds are all over the place, but they give you no idea about where an urban center might be," he added. Laguinita was identified only after the archaeologists compared the newly
found facade and monuments with Von Euw's drawings.

The monster-mouth facade turned to be one of the best preserved examples of this type of doorways, which are common in the Late-Terminal Classic Rio Bec architectural style, in the nearby region to the south. "It represents a Maya earth deity related with fertility. These doorways symbolize the entrance to a cave and, in general, to the watery underworld, place of mythological origin of maize and abode of ancestors," Sprajc said. He also found remains of a number of massive palace-like buildings arranged around four major plazas. A ball court and a temple pyramid almost 65 ft high also stood in the city, while 10 stelae (tall sculpted stone shafts) and three altars (low circular stones) featured well-preserved reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions.

Similar imposing was the other city unearthed by Sprajc. Previously unknown, the city was named Tamchen, which means "deep well" in Yucatec Maya. Indeed, more than 30 chultuns were found at the site. These are bottle-shaped underground chambers, largely intended for collecting rainwater. "Several chultuns were unusually deep, going down as far as 13 meters," Sprajc said.

Like in Laguinita, plazas were surrounded by large buildings. These include the remains of an acropolis supporting a courtyard with three temples on its sides. A pyramid temple with a rather well preserved sanctuary on top and a stela and an altar at its base was also unearthed. Tamchen appears to have been contemporaneous with Lagunita, although there is evidence for its settlement history going back to the Late Preclassic, between 300 B.C. and 250 A.D.

"Both cities open new questions about the diversity of Maya culture, the role of that largely unexplored area in the lowland Maya history, and its relations with other polities," Sprajc said.


Archaeologists in Greece have uncovered the entrance to a vast ancient tomb guarded by two sphinxes, adorned with frescoed walls, and surrounded by a nearly 500-meter long wall carved from marble, according to a news release
in the Greek Reporter. The unique burial monument, which dates from 325 to 300 BC, is the largest ancient tomb ever discovered in Greece and is believed to belong to a very important figure in history. Plans are to enter the tomb next month, when hopefully the identity of the tomb owner will be revealed.

Excavations on the massive burial mound, which is located on Kasta Hill, Amphipolis, in the country's Macedonian region about 100km northeast of Thessaloniki, first started in 2012, and have focused on uncovering the impressive marble wall surrounding the tomb. More recently, the archaeologists discovered a wide path leading to a tomb where the entrance is guarded by two statues of sphinxes carved from marble.

Experts believe a five-meter-tall lion sculpture, known as the Lion of Amphipolis, previously discovered nearby once stood atop the tomb. The famous lion monument, which was found in 1912 by the Greek Army in the Strymonas River, is one of the best preserved monuments from 4th century BC. Archaeologists believe that it once stood at the highest and most central point of the Kasta Hill mound. It now stands next to the old bridge over Strymónas River, on the street Amphipolis-Serraiki Akti.

Local media have been quick to speculate on the owner of the tomb, with Alexander the Great being the prime candidate. Alexander the Great died in 323 BC under mysterious circumstances and the location of his tomb is one of
the great mysteries of antiquity. However, a Culture Ministry official said there was no evidence to suggest a link to Alexander the Great. It could be possible that the tomb belongs to a Macedonian royal. Amphopolis was also the birthplace of three famous admirals from the Macedonian period - Nearchus, Androsthenes of Thasos, and Laomedon (a close friend of Alexander the Great).!bEWsqV


A six-year-old's discovery of a flint tool in a Neolithic ditch was the first of a "significant number" of thrilling finds at a Cardiff hill fort. Archaeologists hoping to discover Roman and Iron Age finds at a Welsh hillfort were shocked to unearth pottery and arrowheads predating their predicted finds by 4,000 years at the home of a powerful Iron Age community, including flint tools and weapons from 3,600 BC.

Caerau, an Iron Age residency on the outskirts of Cardiff, would have been a battleground more than 5,000 years ago according to the arrowheads, awls, scrapers and polished stone axe fragments found during the surprising excavation.

"Quite frankly, we were amazed," says Dr Dave Wyatt, the co-director of the dig, from Cardiff University. "Nobody predicted this. Our previous excavation [in 2013] yielded pottery and a mass of finds, including five large Roundhouses, showing Iron Age occupation, and there's evidence of Roman and medieval activity. "But no-one realized the site had been occupied as far back as the Neolithic - predating the construction of the Iron Age hillfort by several thousand years."

Oliver Davis, Dr Wyatt's colleague on the CAER project, says the ditches date from the early Neolithic period when communities first settled and farmed the landscape. "The location and number of Neolithic finds indicate that we have discovered a causewayed enclosure - a special place where small communities gathered together at certain important times of the year to celebrate, feast, exchange things and possibly find marriage partners," he believes. "Such sites are very rare in Wales with only five other known examples, mostly situated in the south.

"What's fascinating is that a number of the flint arrowheads we have found have been broken as a result of impact - this suggests some form of conflict occurred at this meeting place over 5,000 years ago." More than 250 community volunteers assisted an excavation visited by more than 1,200 people. "What's really great about this story is that we've made the Neolithic discoveries with the help of local people," says Dr Wyatt. Experts plan to use the finds and soil samples to draw conclusions about the occupation of the site and the stories of the people who lived there.


The ancient Egyptians began mummifying bodies as far back as 6,000 years ago, analysis of Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic funerary wrappings has revealed. The finding predates the origins of mummification in ancient Egypt by 1,500 years, indicating that resin-soaked textiles used in the prehistoric period (c. 4500 - 3350 B.C.) are the true antecedents of Egyptian mummification.

Experts have long assumed that in the 5th and 4th millennia B.C. preservation of soft tissues was due to natural processes, since buried bodies were naturally desiccated in the hot, dry desert sand.

The start of true Egyptian mummification is generally dated to the Old Kingdom (2500 B.C.), although the use of preservative resinous recipes became evident centuries later during the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000 - 1600 B.C.). Detailing their finding in the current issue of PLOS ONE journal, researchers from the Universities of York, Macquarie and Oxford report that complex embalming agents were soaked in linen wrappings covering bodies from Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic period tombs at Badari and Mostagedda in Upper Egypt. "In 2002, I examined samples of funerary textiles from these sites that had been sent to various museums in the United Kingdom through the 1930s from Egypt," Jana Jones of Macquarie University, Sydney, said.

Preliminary microscopic analysis by Jones revealed resins were likely to have been used. After a number of aborted attempts by other experts, Stephen Buckley, a Research Fellow at the University of York, was able to carry
successful biochemical analysis. Using a combination of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and sequential
thermal desorption-pyrolysis, Buckley examined 23 samples of wrappings from Mostagedda. Radiocarbon dating at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit confirmed the Late Neolithic and predynastic dating of the textiles, with the oldest wrappings dating between 4316-3986 B.C. Buckley identified a pine resin, an aromatic plant extract, a plant
gum/sugar, a natural petroleum source, and a plant oil/animal fat in the wrappings. "These are embalming agents," Buckley told Discovery News.

"Ingredients were brought from the North East Mediterranean. For example, the pine resin must have come from what is now south eastern Turkey," Buckley said. According to Buckley, the mixtures, which had antibacterial properties, show
the same ingredients used in approximately the same proportions in mummies from the pharaonic period some 3000 years later, when mummification was at its zenith. Buckley says there is no doubt prehistoric Egyptians experimented with
artificial mummification. Experts have previously described resin-impregnated linen being used to mold the shape of the bodies around 2800 B.C. as a forerunner to a more complex process, yet this research suggests the use of embalming agents in this way started over a millennia earlier.

He believes the resinous recipes probably started as something symbolic. Then, through observation and subsequent experimentation, the preservative qualities of the recipes would have appeared as vital for the body and the spirit in the afterlife. "The process evolved, by trial and error, rather than emerging from nowhere fully formed," Buckley said.


A Neolithic ditch which became a huge funerary monument when it was enlarged with an outer ring during the Bronze Age has been found on housing development grounds in Kent. Archaeologists suspect a "sacred way" could have led to a henge 6,000 years ago at Iwade Meadows, to the west of the Kent industrial town of Sittingbourne.

Positioned on a north-west slope, the 30-metre diameter structure is one of several prehistoric monuments on a north-west slope above the Ridham fleet stream running through the center of the site. "Its purpose is not known," says Dr Paul Wilkinson, of excavators SWAT Archaeology. "But it may be that the monument was reused as an enclosure for stock management at this time or could formally have been used as a 'sacred way' leading to the Neolithic 'henge'.
"The monuments are in a location that would have formerly had extensive views to the Swale Estuary and the Island of Sheppey beyond.

"The archaeological evidence suggests that the outer ditch may have originated in the Neolithic and been later transformed in the Bronze Age into a funerary monument with the addition of the inner ring." Archaeologists now hope to determine the exact date, phasing and character of the monuments. "The outer ring has an entrance facing north-east suggesting that it may have originated as a henge-type monument - a ceremonial gathering place of which Stonehenge is our most well known example," says Dr Wilkinson. "The inner ring appears to be later and is an unbroken circuit. This may be associated with a Bronze Age burial, as a barrow, though no burials have yet been found. "A second smaller monument lies close to the larger rings and may be a secondary barrow dating to the Bronze Age.

"The importance of the location in the Neolithic period is reinforced by the rare findings of a series of pits close to the monuments that may indicate the area was being used before the construction of the monument or represents activity associated with it."


Scientists at the Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) announced Tuesday they had found a 6,500-year-old skeleton in the museum basement. The bones belonged to a once well-muscled, 5'9" man estimated to be at least 50 years old. His remains had been lying in a coffin-like box for 85 years with no identifying documents. Since he likely outlived a great flood that, millennia later would be a precursor to the Biblical story, some are referring to the skeleton as "Noah."

Records revealed the complete skeleton was unearthed at the site of Ur, an ancient city near modern-day Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, in 1929-30. At that time, a joint Penn Museum/British Museum excavation team led by Sir Leonard Woolley excavated 48 graves in a floodplain, all dating to the Ubaid period. This was a culture characterized by large village settlements that originated on the alluvial plains of southern Mesopotamia around 5500 B.C. and lasted until roughly 4000 B.C.

Of all the bones found, only one skeleton was in good enough condition to recover. Buried with arms at his sides and hands over his abdomen, with pottery vessels at the feet, the skeleton is 2,000 years older than the famous Mesopotamian "royal tombs" that Woolley found in the same Ur location.

After Woolley discovered the Royal Cemetery, he kept digging. Around 40 feet down, he reached a layer of clean, water-lain silt. Digging further, he found graves cut into the silt and eventually another silt layer. This "flood layer" was more than 10 feet deep. Reaching below sea level, Woolley concluded that Ur had originally been a small island in a surrounding marsh. Then a great flood washed away the land. The burial that produced the Penn Museum skeleton was one of those cut into the deep silt. This indicates the man, as well as other people in Ur, had lived after the flood.

Archaeologists believe the disaster likely inspired stories of an epic flood which are the historic precursors of the biblical story written millennia later. As such, Penn researchers named the rediscovered skeleton "Noah." Though, since the skeleton is much older than the Bible, "Utnapishtim" would have been more appropriate. "He was named in the Gilgamesh epic as the man who survived the great flood," William Hafford, Ur Digitization Project Manager at Penn.

Hafford was able to reconstruct how the skeleton reached the museum. Woolley himself painstakingly removed the intact skeleton, covered it in wax, fastened it onto a piece of wood, and lifted it out with the surrounding dirt using a burlap sling. He shipped the remains to London for examination, and then on to Philadelphia. There, the skeleton rested in a wooden box with no catalog card, or identifying number, for 85 years -- one of 150,000 bone specimens
in the museums possession.

Complete skeletons from the Ubaid period are extremely rare. According to archaeologists, the re-discovered skeleton may open up new research possibilities. "Today's scientific techniques, unavailable in Woolley's time, may provide
new information about diet, ancestral origins, trauma, stress, and diseases of this poorly understood population," the Penn Museum said.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Archaeologists carrying out excavations in Arequipa in southern Peru were stunned to find a large geoglyph which resembles the famous Nazca lines, according to a report in Peru21. The massive geoglyph is the first of its kind discovered in the region. It has been linked to the pre-Inca Wari culture (1200-1300 AD), although it is not clear how the researchers reached this conclusion.

The geoglyph, which measures 60 meters by 40 meters, was discovered during archaeological investigations being carried out ahead of an irrigation project in the province of Caylloma. It consists of a large rectangular image with geometric shapes and lines within it and is similar to many of the geoglyphs found in Nazca.

The Nazca geoglyphs cover an incredible 450 km2 and are among archaeology's greatest enigmas because of their quantity, nature, size and continuity. The geoglyphs depict living creatures, stylized plants and imaginary beings, as
well as geometric figures several kilometers long. The startling feature of the Nazca geoglyphs is that they can only really be appreciated from the air, raising questions about how and why they were created.

While the Nazca geoglyphs date back to between 200 BC to 500 AD, to a time when a people referred to as the Nazca inhabited the region, archaeologists have dated the latest discovery in Arequipa to the later part of Wari culture (1200 - 1300 AD). However, no explanation has yet been given about why the geoglyph has been associated with the Wari and how it was dated.

The Wari (Spanish: Huari) civilization flourished from about 600 AD in the Andean highlands and forged a complex society widely regarded today as ancient Peru's first empire. Their Andean capital, Huari, became one of the world's great cities of the time. Relatively little is known about the Wari because no written record remains, although thousands of archaeological sites reveal much about their lives. If indeed the newly-discovered geoglyph was created by the Wari, the finding serves to shed new light on Wari cultural practices, which could have been influenced by the Nazca people.

Much to the annoyance of Consorcio Angostura-Siguas, the agroindustrial company executing the irrigation project, the finding now jeopardizes the continuity of the plan.

By April Holloway!bummJW


Archaeologists in Peru made a remarkable discovery when they found what they believe is a stone altar containing ancient petroglyphs dating back to 3,500 to 4,000 years ago, according to a news report in Andina. Researchers said
the engravings were used to track stars and therefore to forecast rain fall.

The discovery was made at the archaeological complex of Licurnique, located four hours from Olmos district in Peru's northern region of Lambayeque. The Lambayeque region is known for its archaeological finds and rich Moche and Chimú historical past. The name Lambayeque is a Spanish derivation of the god Yampellec, said to have been worshiped by the first Lambayeque king, Naymlap.

According to ancient legend, a great float of balsa rafts arrived at the beaches of the existing San José cove. Formed by a brilliant cortège of nine foreign warriors, this float was led by a man of great talent and courage, named Naymlap, the mythical founder of the first northwest civilization. Among the descendants of Naymlap were the Moche, the Wari', and the Chimú peoples.

Researchers Juan Martinez and Manuel Curo explained that the Licurnique archaeological site is unique because it combines prehistoric, Hispanic, and Andean influences. According to the report in Andina: "archaeologists found a petroglyph that consists of a lithic altar, an expression of religious superposition. It details and provides an understanding of Licurnique's inhabitants."

Although the archaeologists have not detailed the method they used to date the petroglyphs to the 4th millennium BC, they said that the astronomical functions that were engraved on the rock has successfully stood the test of time.

Featured image: Peruvian archaeologists found carvings that depict the stars and have lasted thousands of years. Photo: Silvia Depaz/Andina

By April Holloway!bummzk


A groundbreaking excavation of a prehistoric temple complex on the Scottish island of Orkney has revealed that the Neolithic inhabitants of the island were far more advanced than initially realized, according to a news release in The Scotsman. As well as a large collection of ancient artifacts that reflect a complex and culturally-rich society, archaeologists also discovered that the three major monumental structures on the island - the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stennes, and the Maes Howe tomb - were "inextricably linked in some grand theme".

The archaeological site, known as the Ness of Brodgar, covers an area of over 6 acres and consists of the remains of housing, remnants of slate roofs, paved walkways, colored facades, decorated stone slabs, a massive stone wall with foundations, and a large building described as a Neolithic 'cathedra' or 'palace', inhabited from at least 3,500 BC to the close of the Neolithic period more than a millennium and a half later.

"Their workmanship was impeccable. The imposing walls they built would have done credit to the Roman centurions who, some 30 centuries later, would erect Hadrian's Wall in another part of Britain. Cloistered within those walls were dozens of buildings, among them one of the largest roofed structures built in prehistoric northern Europe. It was more than 80ft long and 60ft wide, with walls 13ft thick," said Roff Smith, author of an article on the Ness of Brodgar to be released in the August edition of National Geographic.

The archaeological excavation, which has so far only unearthed around 10 per cent of the original site, has yielded thousands of incredible artifacts including ceremonial mace heads, polished stone axes, flint knives, a human
figurine, miniature thumb pots, beautifully crafted stone spatulas, highly-refined colored pottery, and more than 650 pieces of Neolithic art, by far the largest collection ever found in Britain.

The monumental sites of the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, and the Maes Howe tomb, all located within several miles of the Ness, used to be seen as isolated monuments with separate histories, but as excavations at the Ness have progressed, archaeologists have come to believe that the megalithic sites in the surrounding region were all connected in some way with the Ness of Brodgar, although its purpose remains unknown.

"What the Ness is telling us is that this was a much more integrated landscape than anyone ever suspected," said archaeologist Nick Card, excavation director with the Archaeology Institute at the University of the Highlands and Islands. "All these monuments are inextricably linked in some grand theme we can only guess at. The people who built all this were a far more complex and capable society than has usually been portrayed."

"Stand at the Ness today and several iconic Stone Age structures are within easy view, forming the core of a World Heritage site called the Heart of Neolithic Orkney," said Smith. "The Ness of Brodgar appears to be the anchor piece - the showpiece, if you will - that links these other great monuments into one great monumental landscape of a sort nobody had dreamed existed. And to have had it ­lying underfoot, unsuspected, for so many centuries only adds to the sense of wonder surrounding its discovery.

By April Holloway!bumltI


An archaeological team assigned to reconstruct the 5,200-year-old Burnt City, a recently listed World Heritage Site in Iran, have unearthed a series of unusual burials depicting ritualistic funerary practices, according to a report in the Tehran Times.

Located near Zabol in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, the ancient site of Shahr-i Sokhta ("Burnt City") is one of the largest and richest Bronze Age sites in Iran and the Middle East, and is believed by some to have been the capital of an ancient civilization that flourished on the banks of the Helmand River in around 3,200 BC.

Spanning more than 300,000 hectares, the Burnt City was once a trade center for merchants from Mesopotamia, Indus Valley and Central Asia and represents the emergence of the first complex societies in eastern Iran. Four civilizations lived Shahr-I Sokhata, which was burnt down three times and not rebuilt after the last fire in around 1800 BC. Despite the excavations and studies carried out at the site, the reasons for the unexpected rise and fall of the Burnt City still seem to remain a mystery.

In the last 40 years, archaeologists have uncovered more than 1,200 graves, some of which have revealed some amazing finds, such as the well-preserved remains of a woman in her late 20s who died between 2900 and 2800 B.C. She was buried with an ornate bronze mirror and what researchers believe is an artificial eyeball made of bitumen paste and gold that was once held in place with fine thread. Microscopic examination showed that the artificial eyeball left an imprint in her eye socket, a sign that it was there for a long period of time before her death.

In the latest excavations, researchers found the remains of a middle-aged man in the center of a circle-shaped grave with the skulls of two dogs placed above his head. In addition, 12 human skulls were located on the north side of the grave.

Due to the structure of the grave, and the fact that no other similar burials have been found like it, Team Director Seyyed Mansur Sajjadi believes the grave belongs to the people who migrated from Central Asia to the Iranian Plateau. "This kind of burial indicates strong relations between the people of the region and Central Asia," he said.

Another unique burial contained the remains of a young man whose head was separated from his body and placed at his lower right side, along with two daggers. The archaeologists surmise that the man was beheaded with the cutting tools.
Finally, grave 609 was found to contain six skulls with a large number of long human bones.

"All these burials raise a number of questions: Why were the men buried in such styles during the third millennium? Were the men buried in these styles by accident or on purpose? Were the men buried in such ways to save ground in the graveyard? Or are there other reasons behind these burial styles and we are unaware of them," Sajjadi asked.

Thousands of artifacts have been discovered among the ruins of the Burnt City in the course of 22 seasons of archaeological excavations, and it is hoped that further research will continue to shed light on the life and customs of the inhabitants of this ancient city.

By April Holloway!bumpAi


Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen have found an ancient fragment of ivory belonging to a 40,000 year old animal figurine. Both pieces were found in the Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany, which has yielded a number of remarkable works of art dating to the Ice Age. The mammoth ivory figurine depicting a lion was discovered during excavations around eighty years ago. The new fragment makes up one side of the figurine's head, and the sculpture may be viewed at the Tübingen University Museum from 30 July,2014

"The figurine depicts a lion," says Professor Nicholas Conard of Tübingen University's Institute of Prehistory and Medieval Archaeology, and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment Tübingen. "It is one of the most famous Ice Age works of art, and until now, we thought it was a relief, unique among these finds dating to the dawn of figurative art. The reconstructed figurine clearly is a three dimensional sculpture."

Vogelherd Cave, which covers an area of 170 square meters, is the richest of four caves in the region to have produced examples of the world's earliest figurative art, dating back to the time when the first modern humans settled in Europe. The faunal assemblages suggest that the cave was used over tens of thousands of years for butchering, processing and consuming game resources. It was first discovered when Stone Age artifacts turned up from a badger's burrow leading to a thorough exploration conducted by Gustav Riek in 1931.

The new fragment was discovered when today's archaeologists revisited the work of their predecessors from the 1930s. "We have been carrying out renewed excavations and analysis at Vogelherd Cave for nearly ten years," says Conard. "The site has yielded a wealth of objects that illuminate the development of early symbolic artifacts dating to the period when modern humans arrived in Europe and displaced the indigenous Neanderthals." He points out that the Vogelherd Cave has provided evidence of the world's earliest art and music and is a key element in the push to make the caves of the Swabian Jura a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Overall, Vogelherd Cave has yielded more than two dozen figurines and fragments of figurines made from mammoth ivory, including wild horse, bison, reindeer, rhinoceros, mammoth, snow leopard, and human statuette. According to archaeologist Nicholas J. Conard from the University of Tübingen, the figurines are "among the oldest and most impressive examples of figurative artworks from the Ice Age". They are in fact the oldest known pieces of art
and are currently considered key elements in definitions for modern human behavour and early cultural innovation.

By April Holloway!bumk7X


Excavations at an archaeological site at Kathu in the Northern Cape province of South Africa have produced tens of thousands of Earlier Stone Age artifacts, including hand axes and other tools. These discoveries were made by archaeologists from the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa and the University of Toronto (U of T), in collaboration with the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, South Africa.

The archaeologists' research on the Kathu Townlands site, one of the richest early prehistoric archaeological sites in South Africa, was published in the journal, PLOS ONE, on 24 July 2014. It is estimated that the site is between 700,000 and one million years old.

Steven James Walker from the Department of Archaeology at UCT, lead author of the journal paper, says: "The site is amazing and it is threatened. We've been working well with developers as well as the South African Heritage
Resources Agency to preserve it, but the town of Kathu is rapidly expanding around the site. It might get cut off on all sides by development and this would be regrettable."

Today, Kathu is a major iron mining center. Walker adds that the fact that such an extensive prehistoric site is located in the middle of a zone of intensive development poses a unique challenge for archaeologists and developers to find strategies to work cooperatively.

The Kathu Townlands site is one component of a grouping of prehistoric sites known as the Kathu Complex. Other sites in the complex include Kathu Pan 1 which has produced fossils of animals such as elephants and hippos, as well as the earliest known evidence of tools used as spears from a level dated to half a million years ago.

"We need to imagine a landscape around Kathu that supported large populations of human ancestors, as well as large animals like hippos. All indications suggest that Kathu was much wetter, maybe more like the Okavango than the Kalahari. There is no question that the Kathu Complex presents unique opportunities to investigate the evolution of human ancestors in Southern Africa."

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by University of Toronto.

Journal Reference:
Steven J. H. Walker, Vasa Lukich, Michael Chazan. Kathu Townlands: A High
Density Earlier Stone Age Locality in the Interior of South Africa. , July
24, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103436

Sunday, July 20, 2014


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Edited from Live Science (25 June 2014)
[2 images]


A 4,200-year-old necklace made of alternating black and white disc-shaped beads has helped British researchers devise a new method for the identification of shell species in archaeological artifacts.

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

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

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

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

Edited from Discovery News (19 June 2014)
[6 images]


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

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

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

Edited from Live Science (24 June 2014)
[1 image]

Thursday, July 10, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By April Holloway

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Edited from BBC News (2 June 2014)
[3 images]


Recent work by a team led by Mietje Germonpré, of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, uncovered evidence that some large carnivores at these sites were early domesticated dogs, not wolves.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Edited from The Sofia Globe (29 May 2014)
[1 image]


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

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

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

Edited from The Scotsman (3 June 2014), Culture24 (4 June 2014)
[1 image]
[1 image]


Vandals have destroyed prehistoric rock art in southern Libya, endangering a sprawling tableau of paintings and carvings classified by UNESCO as of 'outstanding universal value'.

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

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

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