Monday, January 25, 2016


Although I usually don't post book reviews, I'm in the midst of reading "Dictator"and find it fascinating so hope readers will find the following review an impetus to read the novel.


Cicero is one of the most famous figures from Roman history. Orator, legal advocate, writer, philosopher and politician, he lived from 106BC to 43BC during the turbulent era of the late Republic, which ended with the arrival of imperial Rome under the first emperor Augustus. Author Robert Harris has used Roman history in his fictional trilogy.

Dictator is Robert Harris' final book in his fictional trilogy on Marcus Tullius Cicero, which began with Imperium (2006), centering on Cicero's prosecution of Sicily's Roman governor, Verres, then Lustrum (2009), with the Catiline conspiracy its core. The dictator of the third book is Julius Caesar, whose shadow hovers throughout, while Pompey and Marcus Crassus, allies with Caesar in the trio's triumvirate, feature prominently.

Others of significance include political rabble-rousers Clodius and Milo, Mark Antony, the leading conspirators in Caesar's assassination, Cicero's family and Caesar's adopted son, Octavian. As in the first two books, Cicero's actual secretary, Tiro, narrates the story, playing his part through conversation, opinion and bearing witness to great events.

Dictator begins in 58 with Cicero exiled over the questionable legality of the execution of the Catilinarian conspirators during his consulship a few years earlier.Back in Italy and Rome in 57 he later serves a provincial governorship but returns to Italy in 49, with the civil war having begun between former confederates Caesar and Pompey, the anti-Caesareans' champion. After his victory over Pompey, Caesar pardons the "anti"-aligned Cicero, yet despite this he is sympathetic to Caesar's assassination in 44.

It is within and around these happenings Harris constructs his story and his Cicero, who in this third book feels he has been wronged by his exile and on his return despairs of his lot. Nonetheless, he still has many friends and admirers and does his best to navigate the increasingly dangerous political currents and deal with his uneven married and family life, these personal aspects compassionately couched.

Although Cicero, one suspects, would prefer to concentrate on his writing, of which he does much, he cannot resist politics, his enmity towards Antony proving unwise. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is Cicero's friendship with and mentoring of Octavian: a young man largely ignored and dismissed – fatally for some – by Rome's political elite.

Harris' Caesar is a much darker portrait than one might usually find in a fictional work (and in some historical accounts). This should not surprise, as Harris has described him as having been perhaps like "Napoleon or Hitler, a genocidal maniac, the archetypal psychopath". For me, this is drawing much too long a bow.

Harris has joined other well-known writers in using Roman history for their novels – Colleen McCullough with her Masters of Rome series, also set in the late Republic; Gore Vidal wrote Julian, about the fourth-century emperor of that name; while Robert Graves, in the 1930s, gave us I, Claudius and Claudius the God, about that first-century emperor.

As well as being rewarding novels in themselves, like Harris' Dictator, with its sympathetic portrayal of Cicero, they can introduce some readers to the ancient world for the first time and maybe whet their appetites for historical accounts. Given the echoes we find of our contemporary times, this can only be a good thing.


About 60 drawings and hieroglyphic inscriptions, dating back around 5,000 years, have been discovered at a site called Wadi Ameyra in Egypt’s Sinai Desert. Carved in stone, they were created by mining expeditions sent out by early Egyptian pharaohs, archaeologists say. They reveal new information on the early pharaohs. For instance, one inscription the researchers found tells of a queen named Neith-Hotep who ruled Egypt 5,000 years ago as regent to a young pharaoh named Djer.

Archaeologists estimate that the earliest carvings at Wadi Ameyra date back around 5,200 years, while the most recent date to the reign of a pharaoh named Nebre, who ruled about 4,800 years ago. The "inscriptions are probably a way to proclaim that the Egyptian state owned the area," team leader Pierre Tallet, a professor at Université Paris-Sorbonne, told Live Science. He explained that south of Wadi Ameyra, the ancient expeditions would have mined turquoise and copper. Sometime after Nebre's rule, the route of the expeditions changed, bypassing Wadi Ameyra, he said.

The inscriptions carved by a mining expedition show that queen Neith-Hotep stepped up as ruler about 5,000 years ago, millennia before Hatshepsut or Cleopatra VII ruled the country. While Egyptologists knew that Neith-Hotep existed, they believed she was married to a pharaoh named Narmer. "The inscriptions demonstrate that she [Neith-Hotep] was not the wife of Narmer, but a regent queen at the beginning of the reign of Djer," Tallet said.

An inscription found at Wadi Ameyra shows that Memphis, an ancient capital of Egypt that was also called "the White Walls," is older than originally believed. Ancient Greek and Roman writers claimed that Memphis was constructed by a mythical king named Menes, whom Egyptologists often consider to be a real-life pharaoh named Narmer, Tallet explained. The new inscription shows that Memphis actually existed before Narmer was even born.

"We have in Wadi Ameyra an inscription giving for the first time the name of this city, the White Walls,and it is associated to the name of Iry-Hor, a king who ruled Egypt two generations before Narmer," Tallet said. The inscription shows that the ancient capital was around during the time of Iry-Hor and could have been built before even he was pharaoh.


France’s Lascaux Cave, the site of breathtaking Paleolithic paintings dating from approximately 15,000 to 17,000 years ago, has been closed to the public since 1963. But there’s hope for the frustrated cave art aficionado: Agence France-Presse reports that French artists have just finished a spectacularly accurate reproduction.

The facsimile took more than three years of painstaking detail work, writes AFP. Artists used everything from high-tech projections to paintbrushes and dentist’s tools to recreate the cave, which will be installed in the International Center of Parietal Art located close to the site of the real-life cave. Twenty-five painters, sculptors, welders, molders, locksmiths and other artisans are responsible for the feat. The reproduction will be a highlight of the cave wall art-focused center when it opens this fall.

The Lascaux cave paintings have loomed large among anthropology circles since four French teenagers discovered it while looking for their lost dog. It contains some of the most stunning prehistoric art ever seen, including scenes of hunts and animal chases that immediately became iconic. The Lascaux became a victim of its own popularity: It drew in more than 1,500 visitors each day until it had to be shut down to prevent all that breath-produced carbon dioxide from damaging the art.

There are already other Lascaux reproductions out there: “Lascaux 2” lured in more than 10 million visitors, and “Lascaux 3” went on a world tour in 2012. But “Lascaux 4” is on a whole new scale: It’s a full-size facsimile of nearly the entire cave that will only be open to 30 visitors at a time. During busy times, tours will be guided, but visitors who arrive at the museum during slow times will be able to tour on their own with the help of a flashlight.

Can’t wait until fall to get a glimpse of the almost-real-life cave? The nearby Chauvet cave, which was discovered in 1994, has earned national recognition and a complex, expensive reproduction, too. But if you're interested in viewing the Lascaux, you can take a virtual tour of it here. And consider adding the new facsimile to your autumn itinerary—a triumph of ancient and modern artistry, it promises to be about the closest you can get to knowing what it was like to be a Paleolithic cave dweller.

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


Bronze ore smelting workshops, burial grounds, clay homes, stone tools and anvils are among the items unearthed during the past year in excavations by teams of international archaeologists at sites across Sharjah, on edge of the seven United Arab Emirates. In Mleiha, in the central region of the emirate, one group found remains of homes made of clay, pottery, and burial grounds.

Researchers at a Bronze Age site in Wadi Al Hilo - a center for smelting, near the eastern coast - found many hammers, anvils, and copper slag related to the metal working process. Carbon testing dated the finds between 8,000 BCE and the Islamic era.

Work continues at Tell Abraq, near the border with Umm Al Quwain, which has archaeological sites dating back to between 3,000 BCE and the Stone Age. Ongoing digs at a site in Dibba Al Hisn have revealed trade and commerce connecting the area with other parts of the ancient world. Excavations in Al Faya mountains and Suhaila have also unearthed stone tools that add valuable information to the prehistory of human beings in the area, some dating from up to half a million years ago.

Teams from the Department of Antiquities also worked on several sites in the central and eastern regions of the emirate. In Umm Al Quwain, about 500 tombs dating back 2,000 years was found at Ed-Dur, one of the largest archaeological sites in the country. Excavations also uncovered pearls, iron and bronze arrowheads, pottery and glassware. The antiquities found at Ed-Dur are being restored and will go on display at the local museum.

Edited from The National UAE (5 January 2016)
[2 images]


Proof of intentional killing is extremely rare among prehistoric hunter-gatherers, but the evidence found at Nataruk by Lake Turkana is clear-cut. Skeletons dating to 10,000 years ago, bearing marks of a violent death and possibly bondage, provides fresh evidence that prehistoric hunter-gatherers did not necessarily live in bonhomie. Disturbingly, two of the 12 people found by Lake Turkana, Kenya were not marked by signs of violence but seem to have died with their hands bound, a team of archaeologists reported in Nature.

"Evidence for inter-group violence among prehistoric hunter-gatherers is extremely rare," writes the team led by Marta Mirazón Lahr of Cambridge University. Yet she found some. She and her colleagues discovered the remains of at Nataruk, a site near the edge of Lake Turkana, in 2012. Among them were ten bodies with clear signs of lethal traumas.

One man had been bashed on the head twice, above the right eye and on the left of his skull, smashing the bone. Another had a small obsidian knife embedded in his skull, but what killed him was probably a completely different weapon, which was used to crush his face. Wounds found on the head and neck bones of others could have been caused by arrows, which indicates that the attackers were distant, suggesting inter-group conflict. Some suffered broken knee and hand bones. One body was of a woman in advanced pregnancy: the position of her body and limbs suggest she had her feet and hands bound. Stone tools were found too, 131 with the bodies and hundreds more right around them.

These ancient people, whom the authors date to 9,500-10,500 years ago, had not been lovingly buried: the bodies were not found in any orderly orientation or manner. Six of the dead were children. At least, observe the scientists, there was no evidence of 'trophy-taking' (such as scalping).

The Nataruk site is not the first or even the oldest evidence of actual inter-group war. In mid-2014 scientists from Bordeaux University in France reanalyzed bodies in a graveyard dating back roughly 13,000 years in today's Sudan, and concluded they had come across not only the oldest evidence of war, but racial war at that. The bodies were of two distinct types: One group involved in the ancient battles in Jebel Sahaba by the Nile River were tall with relatively short torsos, projecting features and broad noses. The other group was shorter, had longer torsos and flatter faces.

The Turkana finds show the battle in Sudan had not been a bad-tempered blip in the history of Neolithic man. The reason for the slaughter cannot be known; although Turkana is a fertile site, there are signs of early settlement, such as clay pottery, so one possibility is that that groups in the area were struggling over resources. Or maybe they all had plenty of resources but had violent tendencies toward outside groups.

So in any case, the archaeologists believe the Nataruk finds show "intentional killing" of a small band of foragers, which constitutes, they say, "unique evidence of a warfare event among hunter-gatherers in prehistory".

Edited from Haaretz (20 January 2016)
[10 images, 1 video]

Monday, January 18, 2016


Unauthorized excavations were discovered to be taking place on the Temple Mount, the Hebrew news site has been reported after photos of a bulldozer near the Dome of the Rock appeared on Arabic Facebook pages.

On one such page it was claimed that the digging was being done in order to repair a water canal that was leaking into one of the smaller domes of the compound. A posting on that page — called “Al-Aqsa Mosque” — also asserted that Israeli police attempted to put a stop to the work, prompting the Waqf (the Islamic trust that manages the Temple Mount) to intervene to allow it continue.

In response, an Israeli organization called “Students for the Temple Mount” called on Minster of Culture and Sport Miri Regev, who heads the Knesset committee dealing with rights of Jews on the Temple Mount, to intervene and put an end to “this flagrant contempt for Israel’s holy sites.” They also demanded the arrest and prosecution of those carrying out such unauthorized digs.

Excavation on the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, is an extremely sensitive matter. In the past, Waqf-authorized digs have destroyed historical remains reflecting the site’s Jewish origins. Palestinians, on the other hand, routinely accuse Israel of attempting to compromise the structural integrity of the Temple Mount’s mosques whenever it carries out archaeological excavations in the compound’s vicinity


Studies suggesting that prehistoric interbreeding between early humans and neanderthals could have resulted in modern allergies have been published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, a high-profile journal dedicated to the study of our genes. The theory states that unusual genes that can cause allergies were passed on to early humans when they bred with Neanderthals and Denisovans, a separate species of early hominid who lived in Asia, after humans migrated out of Africa.

The Neanderthals and Denisovans had been living in Europe and western Asia for hundreds of thousands of years before humans arrived, and thus had adapted to the local pathogens.Through breeding with these local species, humans eventually picked up Neanderthal and Denisovan genes, making them resistant to these pathogens too.
Through studying human DNA collected by the 1,000 Genomes Project, a team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany found three of these genes that still play a role in human 'innate immunity'. Picking up these important genes allowed humans to travel throughout the world and colonize new areas without being made extinct by diseases that they had no defense against.

However, even though these Neanderthal and Denisovan genes played an important role in our history, they create problems for people who still carry them. These genes which quickly react to harmful pathogens can also cause the immune system to overreact to certain things, such as pollen or animal hair, possibly leading to allergies developing in some carriers. As Janet Kelso from the Max Planck Institute told NPR, "I suppose that some of us can blame Neanderthals for our susceptibility to common allergies, like hayfever."

While the origins of our modern allergies may be interesting, the discovery is hugely significant in terms of understanding human history, as it sheds light on how much human breeding with other early species may have affected our evolution.


Scientists believe that they have identified the oldest known images of erupting volcanoes, daubed in red and white pigments over other cave paintings in south-eastern France around 36,000 years ago. The puzzling and apparently abstract images were first found in 1994 among startlingly precise paintings of lions, mammoths and other animals at a complex of caverns at Chauvet in the Ardèche.

A team of French scientists, ranging from geologists to palaeontologists, now believe that the surging, fountain-like images are the only example in Europe of prehistoric paintings of landscapes or natural phenomena. The oldest images of volcanoes previously identified were drawn 8,000 years ago at Catalhoyuk in central Turkey. The findings of the French team – published at the scientific website PLoS One – could transform conceptions about prehistoric art. The cave paintings at Chauvet are already among the oldest, most beautiful and most elaborate in the world.

Like all other known cave art in Europe, they depict animals and – in the case of Chauvet – human hands. If the volcano thesis is accepted, historians may have to revise their theories about the meaning and purpose of cave paintings.

The claims are based on a new geological survey which dates volcanic eruptions in the nearby Bas-Vivarais area to between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago – coinciding with the period when Chauvet was occupied by humans. Carbon-dating of drawings both beneath and above the separate crimson and white “volcano” images suggests that they were drawn during this time.

The team, led by Jean-Michel Geneste, head of archaeological research at Chauvet, wrote: “It is very likely that humans living in the Ardèche river area witnessed one or several eruptions. We propose that the spray-shape signs found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave could be the oldest known depiction of a volcanic eruption.” The nearest Vivarais volcano was 22 miles north-west of the Chauvet caves. Although volcanic eruptions take various forms, the Vivarais explosions are believed to have resembled a giant fireworks display – much as depicted in the paintings.

When the Chauvet complex was discovered in 1994, paleontologists were puzzled by the seemingly abstract images among detailed and anatomically accurate pictures of lions, mammoths , rhinoceros and deer. “Their irruption in the caves seemed unusual and anachronistic because they were not figurative,” Mr Geneste said. He and his team now believe that the Chauvet artists were doing what they usually did – creating art from the most extreme and dangerous manifestations of the natural world around them.


This week in the journal "Nature" there is a picture of a great many stone artifacts that were found lying scattered on a gravelly surface near Talepu on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi during the first deep excavations at the site in 2009. Scientists have discovered stone-age tools at least 118,000-years-old on an Indonesian island but no trace of the early humans that made them, according to a study recently released.

The research, published in the journal Nature, also points to a possible link with the first peoples to arrive in Australia.

Unearthed at four separate sites on Sulawesi, the trove of several hundred implements is likely to fuel a long-simmering debate about the identity of now-extinct human species that first came to the island chain. In 2003, fossil remains from a diminutive species of hominin—a terms that groups extinct lineages of early man and modern humans—was discovered in the neighboring island of Flores. Dubbed the "Hobbit", Homo floresiensis had arrived there at least a million years earlier, dating tests revealed.

The new find shows "that Flores was not the only island once inhabited by archaic humans before Homo sapiens"—a.k.a. modern man—"got there around 50,000 years ago," says lead author Gerrit van den Bergh, a researcher at the University of Wollongong in Australia.

Read more at:


(Because I wrote a book with Caroline Malone for Oxford University Press several years ago I'm always delighted to see new information on the site.)

Some 3,400 years before the A303 carriageway split the Stonehenge landscape in half, some people cut a beautiful pit a meter deep into the hard chalk using picks made of red deer antlers.

The newly discovered pit was neatly shaped to hold a huge wooden post. A trench links to a second equally impressive pit for another massive post. In the rolling chalk downland, these would have been visible for kilometers. The line of the trench seems to lead on towards the neighboring field, under a later bank but carefully avoiding an earlier long barrow.

Phil McMahon, Historic England archaeologist, and Nick Snashell, of the National Trust, speculate on the feature's purpose. "A gateway? A boundary marker? A palisade? The truth is we just don't know," Snashall said. "We won't even have a date until we get the lab results back."

Their survey - which includes aerial photography, ground penetrating radar, the study of old maps showing now-vanished monuments, and excavations - is assessing the route of a proposed tunnel to replace the present road. Tourists very rarely venture across the road, but thousands of monuments lie among the fields and clumps of woodland.

Many of the known sites have never been excavated, and the survey has revealed some new ones, including a puzzling square enclosure which could be prehistoric, Roman or medieval, almost on the shoulder of the road. The survey has also shown how intensively the landscape was farmed for thousands of years: one long barrow was completely ploughed out above ground by the time the Romans arrived.

While broad agreement about a new road plan has been reached between various government authorities, the Stonehenge Alliance - a group that includes local residents, landowners, historians, druids, and the Campaign to Protect Rural England - argue for a much longer tunnel with the entrance and exit placed well outside the world heritage site. The alliance believes that doing nothing about the present road would be much better than doing the wrong thing.

Edited from The Guardian (21 December 2015)
[2 images]


Excavations in Kurdistan at three sites along the Sirvan - a tributary of the Tigris - have led to the discovery of artifacts including stone tools, the bones of hunted animals, and the remains of hearths belonging to the middle, new, and post-Paleolithic eras.

According to Freydoun Biglari, head of the archaeological team, one of the key findings of the season was the identification and exploration of a rock shelter containing artifacts belonging to the middle Paleolithic era, probably aged between 40,000 to more than 70,000 years - the earliest evidence of human presence in the province.

"Given the fact that the human fossils from this period have been found in Bisitun and Shanidar caves, it is safe to assume that the residents of the area had most likely been from Neanderthal species that have become extinct about forty thousand years ago."

With the extinction of the Neanderthals, Biglari says a new homo sapiens entered this area, and the signs of their habitation have been discovered in two other locations there. Biglari says the finds suggest hunters inhabited the valley from 40,000 to 12,000 years ago, until the end of the last Ice Age, hunting mountain goats in the heights overlooking the valley.

Edited from Tasnim News Agency (29 December 2015), Mehr News Agency (30 December 2015)
[2 images]
[1 image]


A team of scientists have obtained or confirmed a date range between .9 and .85 Mya (million years ago) as a time when a species of Old World monkey (Theropithecus) and an early species of human occupied the cave site of Cueva Victoria in southeastern Spain.

The location is not far from where many scientists have hypothesized that humans may have crossed over into Europe from North Africa through the Strait of Gibraltar at a time when sea levels were low enough to provide a land bridge between the two continents.

Using paleomagnetism, uranium-thorium, and vertebrate biostratigraphy dating techniques, Luis Gibert of the University of Barcelona, Spain, and colleagues from several other institutions conducted testing on fossiliferous breccia samples and other deposit samples from the cave. Their results showed that the fossil evidence for the Theropithecus presence was constrained to a range between .9 and .85 Mya. Similar dates have been obtained through previous studies on the Cueva Negra cave in the same region of Spain, which contained evidence of early human (Homo) fossils associated with what is arguably considered to be the earliest Acheulean-type stone tools in Europe.

Friday, December 18, 2015

One of the most mysterious structures in the Middle East is easy to miss. The prehistoric stone monument went unnoticed for centuries in a bare expanse of field on the Golan Heights. After Israel captured the territory from Syria in a 1967 war, archaeologists studying an aerial survey spotted a pattern of stone circles not visible from the ground. Subsequent excavations revealed it was one of the oldest and largest structures in the region.

Known as Rujm el-Hiri in Arabic, meaning the 'stone heap of the wild cat', the complex has five concentric circles, the largest more than 500 feet (152 m) wide, and a massive burial chamber in the middle. Its Hebrew name Gilgal Refaim, or 'wheel of giants', refers to an ancient race of giants mentioned in the Bible.

The monument is up to 5,000 years old, according to most estimates, and is made of piles of thousands of smaller basalt rocks that together weigh over 40,000 tons. "It's an enigmatic site. We have bits of information, but not the whole picture," said Uri Berger, an expert on megalithic tombs with the Israel Antiquities Authority. No one knows who built it, Berger said. Some think it might have been a nomadic civilization that settled the area, but it would have required a tremendous support network that itinerants might not have had. There could be an astrological significance. On the shortest and longest days of the year the sunrise lines up with openings in the rocks, he said.

Shards of pottery and flint tools were found in various excavations to help date the site, Berger said. Scholars generally agree that construction started as early as 3,500 BCE and other parts may have been added to over the next two thousand years. The complex is in an area now used for training by Israel's military, but visitors can explore the walls and crawl into the 20-foot-long burial chamber on weekends and holidays.

Edited from Reuter, Yahoo! News (11 November 2015)
[1 image]

Monday, December 14, 2015


Dr Liu Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his international team have announced the discovery of human teeth between 80,000 and 120,000 years old from the newly excavated Fuyan Cave in Daoxian, southern China - by far the earliest evidence of fully modern humans outside Africa.

The cave is part of a large system of several connected and stacked caves, covering an area of more than 3,000 square meters. Excavations have yielded 47 human teeth and abundant mammalian fossils. The hominin and most of the animal elements consist exclusively of teeth. The mammalian fossils are typical of Late Pleistocene in southern China - 38 species including 5 extinct large mammals. The 47 human teeth came from at least 13 individuals.

The Daoxian teeth are generally smaller than other Late Pleistocene specimens from Africa and Asia, and closer to European Late Pleistocene samples and contemporary modern humans. "Our data fill a chronological and geographical gap that is relevant for understanding when Homo sapiens first appeared in southern Asia. The Daoxian teeth also support the hypothesis that during the same period, southern China was inhabited by more derived populations than central and northern China. This evidence is important for the study of dispersal routes of modern humans", says Liu Wu.

Although fully modern humans were already present in southern China at least as early as 80,000 years ago, there is no evidence that they entered Europe before 45,000 years ago. "Our species made it to southern China tens of thousands of years before colonizing Europe perhaps because of the entrenched presence of our hardy cousins, the Neanderthals, in Europe and the harsh, cold European climate", said Martinon-Torres of University College London, co-lead author of the study.

Edited from PhysOrg (25 November 2015)
[2 images]


The Cosquer Cave (near Marseille, France) was discovered in 1985 by scuba diver Henri Cosquer, but its paintings were not mentioned until 1991. Formerly several kilometers from the shore in an area of limestone hills, the cave's original entrance is now about 35 meters below sea level. From there, a gallery slopes upwards for about 110 meters, reaching a huge chamber that partly remained above the sea and where many prehistoric paintings and engravings are preserved, as well as charcoal from fires and torches, and a few flint tools. This is the only painted cave in the world with an entrance below present-day sea level where cave art has been preserved from rising sea levels following the last ice age.

Located in an area where no Palaeolithic art had ever been discovered, Cosquer's remaining riches highlight the disappearance of uncounted prehistoric caves all along the Mediterranean and other shores. Cosquer is among the few caves where more than 150 animal figures have been found. There are representations of many sea animals, and unusually numerous ibex and chamois. Known hand stencils now total 65, the third highest concentration in Europe.

Superimpositions of figures reveal two main phases in the art, the earlier one including the hand stencils and finger tracings, with most of the animal paintings and engravings belonging to the later phase. This was confirmed by radiocarbon dating, with dates mostly clustering around 19,000 BP and 27,000 BP.

In the summers of 2002 and 2003, all the drawings were measured, sketched, precisely located, and the characteristics of their surroundings recorded, correcting many earlier errors and discovering a number of additional images.

The total of animal figures is now 177, of 11 different species - 2 more species than Lascaux, and only 3 fewer than Chauvet. The 11 are horse, bison, aurochs, ibex, chamois, saiga antelope, red deer, megaloceros deer, feline, auk, and seal. There is one human with a seal's head, 65 hand stencils, 216 geometric signs, 20 unidentified animal figures, 3 composite animals, and other figures. In addition to a phallus, other male and female sexual symbols were found, including natural hollows on the walls marked with black, representing female sexual organs. Handprints of children have been observed 2+1/2 meters or more from the ground in even the deepest parts of the cave.

All accessible parts of the cave which where the sea did not reach are covered with engravings, finger flutings and drawings. No artwork survives in the 75 to 80% which is now under water, but Cosquer was once one of the most important cave art sites in Europe, comparable to Lascaux, Trois-Freres, Altamira, or Chauvet. There could originally have been 400 to 800 animal figures in the cave.

Edited from Bradshaw Foundation
[26 images]


As author of Stonehenge with Caroline Malone I'm always fascinated with new discoveries about Stonehenge!

It has long been known that the bluestones that form Stonehenge's inner horseshoe came from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire (Wales), around 140 miles from Salisbury Plain. Now archaeologists have discovered a series of recesses in the rocky outcrops of Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin, to the north of those hills, that match Stonehenge's bluestones in size and shape. They have also found similar stones that the prehistoric builders extracted but left behind, and 'a loading bay' from where the huge stones could be dragged away.

Prof Mike Parker Pearson, director of the project and professor of British later prehistory at University College London, said the finds were 'amazing'. "We have dates of around 3400 BCE for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BCE for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn't get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BCE" he said. "It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that's pretty improbable in my view. It's more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire."

The dating evidence suggests that Stonehenge could be older than previously thought, Parker Pearson said. "But we think it's more likely that they were building their own monument [in Wales], that somewhere near the quarries there is the first Stonehenge and that what we're seeing at Stonehenge is a second-hand monument." There is also the possibility that the stones were taken to Salisbury Plain around 3200 BCE and that the giant sarsens - silicified sandstone found within 20 miles of the site - were added much later.

Speaking of the quarry in Wales, Parker Pearson said: "It's the Ikea of Neolithic monument building. The nice thing about these particular outcrops is that the rock has formed 480m years ago as pillars. So prehistoric people don't have to go in there and bash away... All they have to do is get wedges into the cracks. You wet the wedge, it swells and the stone pops off the rock."

Prof Kate Welham, of Bournemouth University, said the ruins of a dismantled monument were likely to lie between the two megalith quarries. "We've been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising. We may find something big in 2016," she said.

Edited from The Guardian (7 December 2015)
[1 video, 1 image]9 December 2015


In very poor weather on Monday 7th December, four archaeologists ventured out to examine an eroding cairn on one of the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. What appeared to be the top of a substantial cairn of stones, and a circular spread of stones nearby, led to the unexpected find of a large number of plough points, stone mattocks, stone bars, hammer-stones and stone flaked knives, as well as sections of stone walls and uprights which were clearly once part of a Bronze Age house. Immediately another was seen just a few meters away, also covered with a mass of tools.

Walking along the sand, further Bronze Age features were found.

The houses are visible as differently shaped spreads of stones - 14 structures distributed over a kilometer, emerging from beneath massive sand-dunes formed in the second millennium BCE. An entire Bronze Age landscape, comprising both house structures and working areas. Professor Jane Downes, of the University of the Highlands and Islands, who specializes in the Bronze Age was stunned by the extent of the settlement area. "This must be one of the biggest complexes of Bronze Age settlement in the Scottish isles, rivaling the spreads of hut circles in other parts of mainland Scotland", she exclaimed.

The Bronze Age is probably the least understood period in Orcadian prehistory, and the vast quantity of plough points testifies to the dominance of arable agriculture at this time. It also confirms the strange practice of depositing numerous tools in houses after they were 'decommissioned'. Similar Bronze Age houses have recently been excavated on another of the islands, however the scale of this latest discovery is unparalleled in Orkney.

Professor Colin Richards of Manchester University, another of the group of discoverers, notes that "after a long history of excavating the large late Neolithic settlements or 'villages', most recently the Ness of Brodgar and Links of Noltland, we now possess a detailed understanding of Neolithic life in Orkney, but what happens in the following Bronze Age period is a bit of a mystery".

Edited from Archaeology Orkney (8 December 2015)
[1 image]


Archaeologists say they have proven for the first time that Julius Caesar set foot on what is now Dutch soil, destroying two Germanic tribes in a battle which left around 150,000 people dead. The two tribes were massacred in the fighting with the Roman emperor in 55 BC, on a battle site now at Kessel, in the southern province of Brabant. A wealth of skeletons, spearheads, swords and a helmet have been dug up at the site over the past three decades.

But now carbon dating as well as other historical and geo-chemical analysis had helped to prove they dated back to the 1st century BC, the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam said in a statement. "It is the first time that the presence of Caesar and his troops on Dutch soil has been explicitly shown," said archaeologist Nico Roymans.

The two tribes, the Tencteri and the Usipetes, had originally come from an area east of the Rhine and had asked Caesar for asylum. But Caesar refused and ordered his eight legions and calvary to destroy them, the Amsterdam university said.
The Roman emperor had written about the battle in his firsthand account of the Gallic wars, "De Bello Gallico", but the exact location had remained a mystery until now.


Taken from Syria and Iraq, some items are believed to stay within the Middle East, others travel to east Asia and Europe, and some treasures have also shown up in the U.S. Without an expert eye, the goods often pass right through security checks.

The multimillion-dollar antiquities black market in the United States is helping fund the terrorist group Islamic State, experts said on Wednesday, noting that whatever the group doesn't destroy in Syria and Iraq, it sells for a hefty profit.
Consequently, some people may not realize that they could be inadvertently helping the Sunni radical Islamist organization.

"They're benefiting not only from the sale but also from the trade itself," said Deborah Lehr, chair and co-founder of Washington-based Antiquities Coalition, which is formed by a group of worldwide experts fighting the illegal trade of antiquities by terrorist groups like ISIS.


Since the golden burial mask of King Tutankhamun was unearthed nearly a century ago, visitors from around the world have flocked to the Egyptian museum to view the famed relic. An icon of ancient Egypt, it has become one of the world's most famous works of art.

So in August 2014, when the beard attached to the 3,300-year-old mask was knocked off while being returned to its display case after workers replaced a burned out light, panic set. In a hasty attempt in the early morning hours, workers glued the beard back on with insoluble epoxy resin. That proved to be a major error.

"They did not attach it in its original position, the beard was slightly bent to the left side," Christian Eckmann, the archaeologist tasked with restoring the artifact, said in an interview in the garden of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
"They also put some glue onto the chin and beard, so it was visible. It was not adequately done, and then in January 2015 the press found out, and the whole case was a scandal somehow," Eckmann explains. He is a renowned restorer from the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Archaeological research institute in Mainz.

It was feared irreversible damage to Egypt's prized artifact had been done, but Eckmann was called in and said it could be fixed. Now, as he and a German-Egyptian team of specialists work to repair the mask, what could have been a disaster has turned into an unparalleled opportunity to carry out an extensive study of the mask that could help unlock some of ancient Egypt's oldest mysteries.

When Howard Carter discovered the mask in 1922, the beard was already broken "The beard didn't break, it was already broken when Howard Carter found the mask," said Eckmann, taking a break from his workshop inside Cairo's Egyptian Museum. "After excavation, when they brought the mask to the museum, they never reattached the beard until 1946."


Islamic State fighters have reportedly taken over the ancient Roman city of Sabratha in western Libya, raising concerns that the jihadist group may destroy the remnants of another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Members of the radical Islamist group were said to take over the coastal city, home to about 100,000 people and the ruins of a second and third century CE Roman city, Libyan Arabic news sources has reported.

Sabratha was a Phoenician trading post, like its more famous neighbor Carthage. The UN recognized it as a World Heritage site in 1982. It features some of the best preserved remains of ancient temples and churches, mosaics and baths, but most impressive is the Roman theater, with a wonderfully preserved three-story backdrop.

The English-language Libya Herald reported, however, that it wasn’t clear whether the troops that entered the archaeological site were Islamic State or Ansar al-Sharia. It says checkpoints and 30 vehicles with blacks appeared in the city after police arrested two men, one of whom was related to a member of the Islamic State.


Why the FLAT face? Our delicate features are an 'oddity' caused by a loss of bone. Scientists examined the skulls of several Neanderthals and early humans. They found by the age of five Neanderthals had considerable bone growth. Modern humans, by comparison, tend to reabsorb a lot of bone after birth. This gives Homo sapiens far flatter and more delicate facial features.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 12, 2015


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

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

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

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

Edited from Western Morning News (2 October 2015)
[5 images]


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

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

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

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

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

Edited from The Guardian, BBC News (21 September 2015)
[4 images]
[6 images]

As the co-author of Stonehenge with Caroline Malone in Cambridge U. Press' "Digging for the Past" Series, published in 2002, I wish we had known this amazing tale of how the British came to make this a national monument! Nancy Bernard

Sunday, October 11, 2015


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more and see illustrations:
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook