Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Temple culture on Malta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113319184/scan-finds-new-tattoos-on-5300-year-old-iceman-012215/#TEH4M4Wr7VK2fmkD.99


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Archaeologists from Beijing University have discovered a group of 30 tombs, 28 chariots and 49 pairs of horse skeletons dating back 2,800 years in Zaoyang city, Hubei Province in eastern China, 1,000 kilometers west of Shanghai.

The tombs date to the Spring and Autumn Period, 770 to 476 BCE. All the tombs have been found on the same piece of land, with a separate "mass grave" of at least 28 wooden chariots buried on their sides in a pit 33 meters long and 4 meters wide.

Liu Xu, a professor from the School of Archaeology and Museology of Beijing University, has said: "This chariot and horse pit is different from those discovered previously along the Yangtze River. The chariots and horses were densely buried. Many of the wheels were taken off and the [remaining] parts of the chariots were placed one by one."

In the three months they have been excavating, the archaeologists have also unearthed another pit, five meters away from the chariot pit, which holds at least 49 pairs of horse skeletons. Huang Wenxin, a researcher from the provincial archaeological institute, says that: "Judging from the way the horses were buried ...back to back, lying on their sides, it means that two horses pull one chariot."

So far over 400 pieces of bronze, pottery and other objects have been uncovered, including a bronze pot engraved with Old Chinese characters, a fine pottery container encircled by a dragon, and a thin flat metal item with Old Chinese characters painted on one side. Also discovered were some of the oldest musical instruments ever found in China, including a broken 25-string zither, and a 4.7 meter-long set of bronze chimes.

Edited from Intyernational Business Times (8 January 2015)
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A multi-purpose bone tool dating from the Neanderthal era has been discovered in France by University of Montreal researchers, throwing into question our current understanding of the evolution of human behavior.

"This is the first time a multi-purpose bone tool from this period has been discovered. It proves that Neanderthals were able to understand the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use it to make tools, abilities usually attributed to our species, Homo sapiens," said Luc Doyon of the university's Department of Anthropology, who participated in the digs.

Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia in the Middle Paleolithic between around 250,000 to 28,000 years ago,and production of bone tools by Neanderthals is open to debate. Prehistoric experts were reluctant to recognize the ability of this species to incorporate materials like bone into their technological know-how and likewise their ability to master the techniques needed to work bone. However, over the past two decades, many clues indicate the use of hard materials from animals by Neanderthals. "Our discovery is an additional indicator of bone work by Neanderthals and helps put into question the linear view of the evolution of human behaviour," Doyon said.

The tool in question was uncovered in June 2014 during the annual digs at the Grotte du Bison at Arcy-sur-Cure in Burgundy, France. Extremely well preserved, the tool comes from the left femur of an adult reindeer and its age is estimated between 55,000 and 60,000 years ago. Evidence of meat butchering and bone fracturing to extract marrow are evident on the tool. Percussion marks suggest the use of the bone fragment for carved sharpening the cutting edges of stone tools. Finally, chipping and a significant polish show the use of the bone as a scraper.

Edited from EurekAlert! (14 January 2015)
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Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Syria has seen damage to hundreds of historically significant cultural heritage sites since the outbreak of war three years ago, according to a new report released this week by the United Nations. The study finds that 290 culturally important areas in the Middle Eastern country have sustained damage or have been totally destroyed. The U.N. said the report is based on satellite analysis that started in June, and that the city of Aleppo could be "one of the worst affected metropolitan areas nationwide." The study team also relied on a large number of reports and media from inside Syria as well as videos on YouTube to help pinpoint exact locations. "It is very difficult, if not impossible, to gather evidence and information through traditional means. Large parts of the country are inaccessible to observers, as they are controlled by terrorist groups," the report said.

Among the 18 Syrian locations examined in the report are six UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Aleppo, which is believed to be about 7,000 years old. The report was created by the U.N. body known as UNOSAT, which uses satellite technology to aid in the research of geopolitical crises. The report counts 24 cultural heritage locations as being totally destroyed, including 22 in Aleppo alone. Sites experiencing severe damage number 107, and those with moderate damage 85. Among the damaged sites are the popular Carlton Hotel, the Aleppo National Museum and the Great Umayyad Mosque, which the U.N. said was founded in 715 A.D., making it one of the oldest mosques in the world. The capital city of Damascus has seen damage of various levels to 29 cultural sites, the report said.

The cultural areas examined in the report are historically significant for archaeological, architectural and religious reasons. Damage to sites has often been a result of shelling and other forms of bombardment. The war in Syria broke out in 2011, with rebel groups fighting against the government of President Bashar Assad. The fighting has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees.

In addition to structural damage, the looting of valuable artifacts continues to be a problem throughout the country. In September, an open letter signed by scholars around the world urged the U.N. Security Council to enact a ban on the trade of Syrian antiquities following widespread reports of looting. The Times ran an opinion piece in 2013 urging people not to purchase Syrian antiquities.


They are tattered yellowing fragments of bygone civilizations, ancient manuscripts that open a remarkable window on previous millennia, including the earliest days of Christianity. But papyrus scrolls are also now increasingly hot items in the distinctly 21st Century world of the online auction trade.

A rectangular scrap measuring about 4.5 inches by 1.5 inches and featuring 15 partial lines of Homer’s epic poem The Iliad in the elegant hand of a 4th Century Egyptian scribe was just [DEC] picked up by an unidentified European buyer for £16,000 after a feverish Internet auction battle. That price was way above the posted estimated but is typical of the sums that collectors will now spend to lay their hands on these fingerprints from the past.

When a fragmentary parchment sheet from the 3rd century AD featuring portions of Paul’s epistle to the Romans was bought at Sotheby’s for £301,000 auctioneers and antiquity experts alike were stunned. But although there is no suggestion of any impropriety in these particular sales, scholars are alarmed by the burgeoning online trade as some unscrupulous sellers also cash in. They portray a free-ranging trade, particularly on the online auction giant eBay, where precious documents are carved up for sale, potentially stolen goods are trafficked and forgers can flourish.

Brice Jones, a papyrologist and lecturer in New Testament and Early Christianity at Concordia University in Montreal, has become an online scrolls sleuth, scouring auction websites for manuscripts that are often incorrectly labeled or their provenance unclear. A few pieces are straightforward forgeries. Most famously, the papyrus fragment called the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife made headlines for apparently overturning nearly two millennia of theological teaching that Jesus was unmarried, but is now widely viewed as a forgery.

Much more distressingly, some sellers are dismembering papyrus books to sell items page-by-page, a financially profitable endeavor that amounts to little more than vandalism of ancient works. One eBay papyrus seller turned out to be two sisters who ran an online beauty supplies store. They had inherited a Book of Revelation from which they cut individual pages to sell on an ad hoc basis to fund the wedding costs for one. But Mr Jones has also identified a proliferation of scrolls being sold of which the origin and ownership is unknown or unclear.

“But when private collectors acquire papyri for personal enjoyment and restrict scholarly access to them, the immediate consequence is that we lose valuable historical information that would otherwise advance our knowledge about ancient people.”

However, the owner of a small specialist Internet auction company, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, pushed back against these criticisms. “We are scrupulous about making sure of ownership although not everyone is so fussy and it’s true that there are some people who know nothing who are out trying to make a buck in the wild West of the Internet,” he said. “Collectors play a crucial role in preserving these items with their interest. A lot of these items would remain hidden, forgotten, fading away, unknown to the scholars, if there was not a market for them.”

An eBay spokesman, however, said that its 150 million buyers and sellers “must ensure listings comply with our clear policy on artifacts. We work with regulators, law enforcement and other parties including the Egyptian Embassy to apply this policy, and if a listing of concern is identified we will require proof that it was legally exported and remove any listing where this proof is not provided.”

As a specialist who spends his life studying such scrolls, Mr Jones also has concerns for the preservation and conservation of sensitive centuries-old documents when they are handled by traders. He cited then example of the famous papyrus codex of the Gospel of Judas, which published in 2006. It was stored by one of its owners in a safe-deposit box on Long Island for sixteen years, and then placed in a freezer by a potential buyer who thought that was the best way to preserve it. “The results of these decisions were horrifying: the codex crumbled into many hundreds of tiny pieces and what was once a virtually complete codex was now badly deteriorated and difficult to restore,” he said.

The booming trade has clearly revealed to scholars how many papyri have survived down the centuries.
“This prompts the question: just how many ancient manuscripts are sitting in the basements, match boxes, drawers, safes, or shelves of private collectors around the globe?” Mr Jones asked recently.
“It is almost certain that many ancient manuscripts or fragments thereof are just sitting in the dark closets of their collectors, decaying and crumbling to pieces. The public needs to be aware of the importance of the preservation of antiquities, because once they are gone, they are gone forever.”


New research shows that modern human skeletons evolved into their lightly built form only relatively recently—after the start of the Holocene about 12,000 years ago and even more recently in some human populations.

The work, based on high-resolution imaging of bone joints from modern humans and chimpanzees as well as from fossils of extinct human species shows that for millions of years extinct humans had high bone density until a dramatic decrease in recent modern humans. Published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the findings reveal a higher decrease in the density of lower limbs than in that of the upper limbs, suggesting that the transformation may be linked to humans' shift from a foraging lifestyle to a sedentary agricultural one.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-12-lightweight-skeletons-modern-humans.html#jCp


Scientists have discovered the oldest recorded stone tool ever to be found in Turkey, revealing that humans passed through the gateway from Asia to Europe much earlier than previously thought, approximately 1.2 million years ago.

According to research published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, the chance find of a humanly-worked quartzite flake, in ancient deposits of the river Gediz, in western Turkey, provides a major new insight into when and how early humans dispersed out of Africa and Asia. Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, together with an international team from the UK, Turkey and the Netherlands, used high-precision equipment to date the deposits of the ancient river meander, giving the first accurate timeframe for when humans occupied the area.

Professor Danielle Schreve, from the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, said: "This discovery is critical for establishing the timing and route of early human dispersal into Europe. Our research suggests that the flake is the earliest securely-dated artefact from Turkey ever recorded and was dropped on the floodplain by an early hominin well over a million years ago."

The researchers used high-precision radioisotopic dating and palaeomagnetic measurements from lava flows, which both pre-date and post-date the meander, to establish that early humans were present in the area between approximately 1.24 million and 1.17 million years ago. Previously, the oldest hominin fossils in western Turkey were recovered in 2007 at Koçabas, but the dating of these and other stone tool finds were uncertain.

"The flake was an incredibly exciting find", Professor Schreve said. "I had been studying the sediments in the meander bend and my eye was drawn to a pinkish stone on the surface. When I turned it over for a better look, the features of a humanly-struck artifact were immediately apparent.

"By working together with geologists and dating specialists, we have been able to put a secure chronology to this find and shed new light on the behaviour of our most distant ancestors."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


An international collaboration between Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, and Institut de Recherche sur les Archéomatériaux (IRAMAT) at Orléans, France, has resulted in a striking discovery about the trade routes between Denmark and the ancient civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia in the Bronze Age 3,400 years ago. The discovery also gives us new knowledge about the sun cult in the Nordic Bronze Age.

Archeologists Jeanette Varberg from Moesgaard Museum and Flemming Kaul from the National Museum, and Bernard Gratuze, director of IRAMAT, analyzed the composition of some blue glass beads found on buried Bronze Age women in Denmark. The analyses revealed that the glass originated from the same glass workshops in Egypt that supplied the glass that the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun took with him to his grave in 1323 BCE.

Twenty-three glass beads from Denmark were analyzed using plasma-spectrometry. Without destroying the fragile beads, this technique makes it possible to compare the chemical composition of trace elements in the beads with reference material from Amarna in Egypt and Nippur in Mesopotamia, about 50 km south east of Baghdad in Iraq. The comparison showed that the chemical composition of the two sets of trace elements match.

The archaeologists can now also substantiate that there is a connection between the amber beads and the glass beads. It has been known for a long time that amber was exported in the Bronze Age from Nordic latitudes and southwards. Several Egyptian pharaohs had large amber chains in boxes in their burial chambers. It appears that glass and amber beads have been found together on sites from the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Germany to the Nordic latitudes.

Now the researchers are linking amber and glass together in an unexpected way. One property that both glass and amber have is that sunlight penetrates their surface. The archaeologists believe this could be proof of a link between the Egyptian sun cult and the Nordic sun cult. The old amber route to the countries in the Mediterranean thus now has a counterpart: the glass route to the North. So far, the researchers have shown that there was a trade connection to Egypt and Mesopotamia in the years 1400-1100 BCE. Finding out whether the route continued in the later Bronze Age is a future task for the Danish-French research team.

Edited from Science Nordic (8 December 2014)
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For years, archaeologists have been digging their way through prehistoric layers of Qesem Cave, near the town of Rosh Haayin 12 kilometres east of Tel Aviv (Israel). After 14 years, archaeologists have penetrated about 10 meters below what was the original ceiling. They have found thousands of recycled tools, including bone hammers and reworked flints.

Life in the region dates back at least 1.5 million years, but Professor Barkai says a dramatic change occurred 400,000 years ago, when the elephants that had served as a main food source disappeared. In the quest for survival, the cave dwellers began hunting fallow deer instead of elephants, and cooking the meat. Their ancestors probably ate their elephants raw.

The cave was occupied on and off from about 400,000 to 200,000 years ago. In a patch that once served as a hearth, layers of hardened ash date back 300,000 years. Here the earth is packed with bone fragments, including a horse's jaw with two front teeth. Though sporadic use of fire existed much earlier, Qesem Cave has been established as the site with the earliest evidence of the systematic use of fire for roasting meat on a daily, domestic basis.

On average, 80 deer were needed to make up the food provided by one elephant. The cave dwellers also gathered small fruit and nuts and collected wood for fires. The cave was organized with different areas serving as a kitchen, a workshop, and an area where children appeared to have practiced making flint tools of their own. The hearth also appears to have served as a kind of central campfire.

Professor Barkai said that evidence of some of the same behavior, technologies and methods had been found as far away as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and that there must have been communication between the early humans in the region.

Edited from The New York Times (1 December 2014)
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Excavations in Platamonas, Pieria, northern Greece, have unearthed an ancient settlement and burial ground that belongs in the late Bronze Age, around 1500 BCE. The discovery was made in parallel to the construction of the new national highway and was officially announced by archaeologist Sofia Koulidou, head of Pieria's Ephorate of Antiquities.

Archaeologists found 19 graves, some of them containing several objects such as Mycenaean style clay pots, bronze hoops, bone beads, bronze knives, clay flywheels, engraved stones and others. Some of the graves were very small and probably belong to children.

The remains of two arched buildings were also discovered, as suggested by the surrounding walls and the holes where the support beams used to be. The buildings were next to each other and it appears that there was a settlement next to the burial ground. The discovery of various household objects reinforces the archaeologists' assumption.

Archaeologists say that this type of rectangular, oblong, arched building belongs to the middle Bronze Age, early 2000 BCE, and are rare in the particular area. The Mycaenean style objects suggest that the settlement was part of the Thessaly-Euobea cultural circle. The first arch, along with the outbuilding, will be transferred to be highlighted in the Livithra Archaeological Park on east Mount Olympus.

Edited from Greek Reporter (13 December 2014)
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Recently research results were published by Griffith University (Australia) documenting the discovery of rock art in Sulawesi (Indonesia), dated at approximately 35,000 to 40,000 years old. At the time it was thought that rock art of this antiquity was rare, if not unique.

Now further research by Griffith University, led by Rock Art Professor Paul Tacon, has revealed that it was not unique at all and was in fact widespread across Southeast Asia. This type of rock art mainly comprises simple animal images and hand stencils. The team used various techniques to date their findings, including numerical dating and analysis & comparison of various styles.

Professor Tacon is quoted as saying "As with the early art of Europe, the oldest Southeast Asian images often incorporated, or were placed in relation to, natural features of rock surfaces. This shows a purposeful engagement with the new places early peoples arrived in for both symbolic and practical reasons. Essentially they humanized landscapes wherever they went, transforming them from wild places to cultural landscapes. This was the beginning of a process that continues to this day".

Edited from Griffith University PR (26 November 2014)
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Thrissur is currently the third largest populated city in Kerala (India) and is known as the Cultural Capital of the region. Megalithic dolmens were quite prevalent in the area, dating from between 1,000 BCE and 500 CE. These ranged in size and type from menhirs to Mushroom stones and Umbrella stones.

Despite being declared as protected monuments they have been under severe threat due to quarrying permits being granted in the forested areas where they are found. These Forest 'pattayam' (title deeds) are increasingly being used to allow widespread indiscriminate quarrying and these activities have resulted in only one of the eleven dolmens in the area remaining intact. A group called the Muniyattukunnu Protection Forum are lobbying the Kerala authorities to put a stop to what it is referring to as violations of the protected monument status of the area.

Edited from The Hindu (10 December 2014)
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Friday, December 12, 2014


ERBIL, IRAQ — The so-called Islamic State’s “cultural cleansing” of minority groups uprooted from their northern Iraq homelands has led to fears that entire cultures from the cradle of civilization are under the biggest threat in recorded history, the United Nation’s top cultural official warns.

“It can be compared to the Nazi methods, and here I think it goes all across the board,” says Irina Bokova, director general of the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “Either they conform to their views of religion or belief or they have to disappear. I don’t remember anything like that in contemporary history.”

She says Interpol and antiquities authorities are taking steps to halt a lucrative trade in the smuggled artifacts of these ancient civilizations, which the Islamic State (IS) uses to help fund its operations.

“We know there is looting of many of the monuments," she says. "We have seen some of this happening. Maybe there is also others and that is why we are very much focusing on the curb of trafficking of illegal objects from Iraq."

Some officials estimate that IS derives income from the sale of more than $200 million a year in looted antiquities. The UNESCO director general thinks it could be even more.

Bokova says UNESCO has asked the UN Security Council for new controls on the sale of antiquities, similar to those imposed after the 2003 war in Iraq when there was widespread looting of museums and ongoing looting of archaeological sites. The UN agency is working with the international law enforcement organization Interpol, national customs authorities, museums, and major auction houses to try to stop looted items from being sold.

“For the first time you have cultural cleansing,” says Saad Eskander, head of Iraq’s national archives. “For the Yazidis, religion is oral, nothing is written. By destroying their places of worship … you are killing cultural memory. It is the same with the Christians – it really is a threat beyond belief.” The Yazidis, one of Iraq’s oldest religious minorities, were driven out of their lands in the north of Iraq as IS militants killed men and enslaved women from the secretive religion.

The towns in the Nineveh plains between Mosul and the Kurdish region of northern Iraq are also home to some of the earliest Christian communities – some built around the shrines of prophets. Christian leaders say the IS takeover of Mosul marks the first time in 1,600 years that there has been no mass held in the city.

“I think it’s a tragedy,” says Bokova. “This cradle of civilization that has contributed so much to all of humanity – there have been conflicts, there have been invasions, empires disappearing – and still that cultural diversity was kept into the 21st century. To see this disappearing, I think, is a tragedy for all of us.”

Monday, November 17, 2014


Europe's first advanced civilization was local in origin and not imported from elsewhere, a study says. Analysis of DNA from ancient remains on the Greek island of Crete suggests the Minoans were indigenous Europeans, shedding new light on a debate over the provenance of this ancient culture.

The concept of the Minoan civilization was first developed by Sir Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist who unearthed the Bronze Age palace of Knossos on Crete. Evans named the people who built these cities after the legendary King Minos who, according to tradition, ordered the construction of a labyrinth on Crete to hold the mythical half-man, half-bull creature known as the minotaur.Evans was of the opinion that the real-life Bronze Age culture on Crete must have its origins elsewhere. And so, he suggested that the Minoans were refugees from Egypt's Nile delta, fleeing the region's conquest by a southern king some 5,000 years ago. "He was surprised to find this advanced civilization on Crete," said co-author George Stamatoyannopoulos, from the University of Washington in Seattle, US.

In this study, Prof Stamatoyannopoulos and colleagues analyzed the DNA of 37 individuals buried in a cave on the Lassithi plateau in the island's east. The majority of the burials are thought to date to the middle of the Minoan period - around 3,700 years ago. The analysis focused on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from the teeth of the skeletons, This type of DNA is stored in the cell's "batteries" and is passed down, more or less unchanged, from mother to child. They then compared the frequencies of distinct mtDNA lineages, known as "haplogroups", in this ancient Minoan set with similar data for 135 other populations, including ancient samples from Europe and Anatolia as well as modern peoples. The comparison seemed to rule out an origin for the Minoans in North Africa: the ancient Cretans showed little genetic similarity to Libyans, Egyptians or the Sudanese. They were also genetically distant from populations in the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudis, and Yemenis.

The ancient Minoan DNA was most similar to populations from western and northern Europe. The population showed particular genetic affinities with Bronze Age populations from Sardinia and Iberia and Neolithic samples from Scandinavia and France.They also resembled people who live on the Lassithi Plateau today, a population that has previously attracted attention from geneticists.

The authors therefore conclude that the Minoan civilisation was a local development, originated by inhabitants who probably reached the island around 9,000 years ago, in Neolithic times. "There has been all this controversy over the years. We have shown how the analysis of DNA can help archaeologists and historians put things straight," Prof Stamatoyannopoulos told BBC News.