Tuesday, February 04, 2020


A newly discovered cave in Sinai, Egypt, is the first of its kind in the region to be found decorated from floor to ceiling with colorful ancient paintings.

Egyptologists with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Arab Republic of Egypt discovered the cave in a region located 30 km (19 miles) north of the city St. Catherine and 60 km (38 miles) southeast from Sarabit el-Khadem, an ancient Egyptian city famous for its turquoise mines. The sandstone cave is located in a difficult-to-access area, measuring about 3 m deep (9.8 feet) by 3.5 meters wide (11.5 feet), said Dr. Mustafa Ministers, Secretary-General of the High Council of Antiquities in a Facebook post.

Dark red paintings of animals, including donkeys and mules, on the roof are considered the oldest, tracing back to between 5,500 and 10,000 BCE. The bodies of the animals from this era are consistent throughout the cave - five of the same animals are seen on the roof at the entrance of the shelter, as well as a set of human prints on the ceiling and on a rock at the center of the cave.

The second group of paintings is characterized by paintings that appear to be women and animals during the Chalcolithic Period, or Copper Age, the era between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages characterized as a transition between stone-tool use to metal-working.


Over 100,000 years ago at the Grotta dei Cavalli (Cave of Horses) on what is now the northwestern tip of Sicily, a group of Neanderthals made tools from clamshells - one of only three sites in the world where strong evidence has been found of systematic shell scraper manufacture by Neanderthals, another being the Grotta dei Moscerini (Cave of Gnats), a large seaside cave at the base of a cliff on the tip of Italy's boot-heel about 500 kilometres to the northeast.

The tools were found throughout multiple archaeological layers dating from 106,000 to 74,000 years ago, but were not distributed evenly throughout the Neanderthal-associated sequence; where shell tools were common, stone tools were not.

Neanderthals made stone tools, but their shell-based toolmaking is less well-known. In 1949, archaeologists found 171 at Moscerini. Another 136 were separately found at Cavalli, and much smaller numbers in other Neanderthal sites such as Kalamakia Cave in Greece.

The assumption had been that the Neanderthals picked up shells on the beach, but between a fifth and a quarter of the specimens found at the two sites in Italy seem to have been collected alive. All were made from the smooth clam, Callista chione. The shells are almost evenly thin from the bulge of the half-shell to its edge. Edges were shaped with stone hammers, and experiments demonstrate that unlike stone the cutting edges of the shells can be retouched two to three times without changing the cutting angle.

Studies show that Neanderthals preferred meat but also caught fish in shallow freshwater and ate shellfish. Neanderthals 115,000 years ago in what is now Spain bored holes into shells and colored and decorated them. Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St Louis, USA, reports evidence of "surfer's ear" in Neanderthal skulls - bony growths in the ear canal prevalent among humans who swim in cold water.

Monday, February 03, 2020


Grabbing a bite to eat in the days of the Roman Empire wasn’t all that different from sitting in an American diner, if the dishes described in a Roman cookbook are anything to go by. Milkshakes and waffles may not have been on the menu just yet, but one delicacy called isicia omentata bears a strong resemblance to a staple of modern cuisine – the hamburger.

The recipe appears in a book called Apicius, which contains 10 separate volumes relating to different categories of food, such as meat, seafood, birds, and vegetables. Thought to have been written in the 4th or 5th century, Apicius contains recipes dating all the way back to the 1st century, mostly using ingredients that would have been available to the wealthier classes living in and around Rome.

Like an extravagant burger, isicia omentata is essentially a minced meat patty that is flavored with pine nuts, peppercorns, and a fish-based sauce called garum, and accompanied by a bread roll that has been pre-soaked in white wine.

It’s not the sort of thing that would have been available to the lower classes, although Roman laborers did used to eat at fast food joints called thermopolia, which were kiosks that served ready-to-eat dishes to workers on their lunch break.

Monday, January 27, 2020


Extra sections of an ancient aquaculture system built by Indigenous people in south-west Victoria thousands of years ago have been discovered after a fire swept through the area over the past few weeks.

Parts of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape have been dated at 6,600 years old
Traditional owners are confident new sections of the eel-harvesting system have been revealed by the fire

The aquaculture system set up by Gunditjmara people was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List last year
The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, which includes an elaborate series of stone-lined channels and pools set up by the Gunditjmara people to harvest eels, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List last year.

Some parts of the landscape, which also features evidence of stone dwellings, have been dated back 6,600 years — older than Egypt's pyramids.



A team of researchers from the U.K., Belgium and Spain has found evidence that two groups of people in Late Neolithic Europe living approximately 5,500 years ago belonged to two distinct communities. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes their study of isotopes from two burial sites and what they found.

Several years ago, scientists studying the remains of two groups of Late Neolithic people living within four to six kilometers of one another in what is now the Rioja Alavesa region in Spain concluded that the two groups were actually just one group—they suggested the distance between the two groups was due to status and wealth. The researchers had come to this conclusion because of the way the two groups buried their dead. Those that lived in the foothills used caves. Those in the valley created megalithic gravesites. In this new effort, the researchers found evidence that suggests the two groups were actually separate communities.

The new work involved studying the molars of 27 adults who had been buried in the caves and graves—or more specifically, the isotopes they contained. Teeth, unlike bones, do not change their isotope signals as a person ages. That allows for tracking the lifestyle of the person under study, particularly the foods they ate.

The researchers found several differences in diet—the people buried in the megalithic graves ate more plants than did those buried in the caves, particularly when they were children. Conversely, those in the foothills ate more meat. Those living in the valley also had more cavities due to a diet richer in carbohydrates. Also, the children that had grown up in the cave community had more calcium in their teeth, suggesting they were weaned at a later age.

Taken together, the evidence suggests that the people in the groups lived apart for most, if not all of their lives, making them separate entities. The researchers suggest that the close proximity likely meant that people from the two communities interacted regularly, including sexually. They also note that it was likely that there were occasional violent encounters, as well—but not enough to justify building protective barriers.


A crude tiled floor laid down in geometric patterns, unearthed in a preclassical Hittite town in central Turkey, is the earliest-known mosaic in the world, reports Anacleto D’Agostino of the University of Pisa. Moreover, he adds, the settlement where the mosaic was found may be the lost Hittite city of Zippalanda.

Discovered during the excavation of prehistoric Usakli Hoyuk, the multichromatic patterned surface is in the courtyard of a public building – which archaeologists interpret to be a temple to the Storm God, D’Agostino writes in Antiquity, published by the Cambridge University Press. Made of stones of varying size and shape, the Late Bronze Age floor is also the earliest-known rendition in rock of geometric patterns.

Aerial photo, showing the postulated Storm God temple: the site of the mosaic is highlighted in yellow Usa kl Hyk Archaeologica
All the stones were laid flat, not quite touching one another, and formed geometric patterns in contrasting dark and light colors. The mosaic consists of three rectangular frames, each containing three rows of triangles of different colors, mainly white, light red and blue-black. Two stones are orange-yellow, D’Agostino notes. The mosaic was framed with perpendicularly positioned stones in white, black-blue and white again.

The mosaic and eastern wall of the building interpreted as a Storm God temple do not touch one another but have the same orientation, D’Agostino states: the mosaic’s frame runs precisely parallel to the wall. These two Bronze Age edifices are clearly contemporaneous, he concludes. Also, the building and mosaic are characterized by “high status architecture,” while later remains in the town (from the end of the Bronze and Iron ages) are not, lending to the theory that this town was Zippalanda – and therefore the temple would have been to the Storm God.

Sunday, January 12, 2020


- Many tourists witnessed on Monday morning a rare phenomenon when sunlight illuminates the sanctuary area of Deir el-Bahari, which was built by Queen Hatshepsut in the arms of the historic Qurna Mountain, on the western mainland of Luxor. In statements, Ayman Abu Zaid, the head of the Egyptian Society for Tourism and Archaeology Development in Luxor city, Upper Egypt, said that this phenomenon comes among many astronomical events related to the sun and its orthogonal rays on ancient Egyptian temples and cemeteries.

He added that the sun shone on the area at 6:36:41 a.m. after arising from the horizon line by an arc length and poured its brightness after nearly five minutes. Then, the phenomenon of orthogonality began as the rays sneaked through the main gate of the Hatshepsut Temple in an also rare astronomical phenomenon that happens twice a year to mark the summer and winter solstices.

Tourists gathered to watch the spectacle that has endured for thousands of years of Egyptian history. The religious complex of Karnak, in Luxor, is the largest ancient religious site in the world. Egyptologists say the solar alignment at the God Amun sanctum at Karnak coincided with the illumination of his sanctum at the Hatshepsut's temple near the Nile town of Luxor.

The event marks the beginning of winter solstice, an astronomical event that occurs in the northern hemisphere marking the longest night and shortest day of the year.

Sunday, January 05, 2020


Egypt's recent decision to transport ancient Pharaonic artifacts to Tahriri Square, the epicenter of Egypt's so-called Arab Spring uprising in 2011, has fueled fresh controversy over the government's handling of its archaeological heritage.

Cairo has some of the worst air pollution in the world, according to recent studies. Archaeologists and heritage experts fear vehicle exhaust will damage the four ram-headed sphinxes and an obelisk, currently en route to their new home in Tahrir Square.

"The sphinxes are made of sandstone, they are part of the dry environment in Luxor, when they would be moved to Tahrir Square with all the pollution, they will deteriorate as a result of the reactions with the carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air," Hanna told The Associated Press.

Tahrir Square was the epicenter of Egypt's so-called Arab Spring uprising in 2011. The square also contains the Egyptian Museum.

A centerpiece of the new museum is a towering statue of Ramses II. It once stood in a busy square near Cairo's main railway station, but was removed in the 1990s due to preservation concerns. The obelisk was recently moved to Cairo from the San el-Haggar archaeological site in the Nile Delta, the ministry said.

So. Africa 170,000 years ago early find

According to a statement released by the University of the Witwatersrand, researchers including scientists Lyn Wadley and Christine Sievers have found evidence that early modern humans collected and cooked starchy plant parts known as rhizomes some 170,000 years ago.

The charred rhizomes were recovered from fireplaces and ash dumps at South Africa’s Border Cave, which is located in the Lebombo Mountains, and identified with a scanning electron microscope as Hypoxis, a plant also known as the Yellow Star flower. The researchers suggests that a wooden digging stick discovered in the cave may have been used to dig such rhizomes out of the ground.

Wadley also explained that cooking the rhizomes would have made them easier to peel and digest. She thinks that since the rhizomes were cooked in the cave, rather than in the field, they may have been shared with others who shared the cave as a home base. Today, the plant is still valued for the nutrition, energy, and fiber it provides.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019


One of the largest collections of vertebrate animal tracks from the Ice Age can be found preserved on a dried lake bed called Alkali Flat, at White Sands National Monument in south central New Mexico USA, about 1,300 kilometres east of Los Angeles.

Locally referred to as 'ghost tracks' they're extremely difficult to see, but researchers using ground-penetrating radar at the site have now been able not only to identify and map tracks made by big animals such as mammoths and giant ground sloths, but also those of the humans that hunted them.

Examination of the radar images reveals something resembling 'hooks' below the bases of the mammoth footprints - possibly from compression of the sediment at the time the tracks were made - which could provide crucial information about the way the animals walked. The pressure data from the mammoth footprints closely resembles those of modern elephants.


An ancient relative of modern humans survived into comparatively recent times in South East Asia, a new study has revealed.

Homo erectus evolved around two million years ago, and was the first known human species to walk fully upright.

New dating evidence shows that it survived until just over 100,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Java - long after it had vanished elsewhere.

This means it was still around when our own species was walking the Earth. Details of the result are described in the journal Nature.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

7,000 year old seawall discovered off Israeli Coast

A 7,000-year-old seawall has been discovered off the Israeli coast, and it's now the oldest-known defense against rising sea levels. The seawall eventually failed, and the village had to be abandoned, in what's serving as an ominous lesson from the past.

The Tel Hreiz archaeological site is located off the Carmel coast of Israel and once hosted a vibrant Neolithic community. This Mediterranean settlement thrived for hundreds of years, as its villagers hunted gazelle and deer, farmed cows and pigs, fished for tilapia, raised their dogs, and manufactured copious amounts of olive oil. But with each passing generation, the villagers noticed something rather frightening: The waters of the Mediterranean were getting higher and higher.

The rising sea levels would have been noticeable across a person's lifespan, as they rose at an alarming rate of 4 to 7 mm each year, or around 70 cm (28 inches) every 100 years. Reluctant to leave their settlement, and to protect against the increasingly powerful waves and the destructive effects of erosion, the Tel Hreiz villagers decided to take matters into their own hands by constructing a 100 m long (330-foot) seawall that ran parallel to the shore.

The seawall, as the new research suggests, was nothing too fancy, having been built by piling large boulders atop each other. The seawall's length, the use of big boulders sourced from outside the community, and its careful arrangement on the shore "reflect the extensive effort invested by the Neolithic villagers in its conception, organisation and construction," wrote the authors in the study. The seawall may have helped for a while, but it ultimately failed, and the village - after nearly 500 years of continuous occupancy - had to be abandoned.

The seawall, which is today submerged under 3 meters of water, was constructed some 7,000 years ago, and it's now the oldest known coastal defense system in the archaeological record. It's an exceptional find, as infrastructure improvements such as these didn't start to appear in the region until the Bronze and Iron Ages. Importantly, the new research, led by archaeologist Ehud Galili from the University of Haifa, shows that humanity's battle against rising sea levels dates back for thousands of years.

Edited from The Times of Israel (18 December 2019), Gizmodo (20 December 2019)