Sunday, October 19, 2014


The two female statues guarding the massive burial complex in Amphipolis, in Greece's northeastern Macedonia region, can now be seen in all their glory from head to toe.Pictures released by Greece's Culture Ministry on Sunday show the 7.45-foot-tall statues standing on a marble pedestal with high-soled red and yellow shoes.

Carved in high relief of Thassos marble, the imposing twin statues, known as Caryatids, stand between two marble pillars supporting a beam. They were "buried" in the ground, sandwiched between two walls, one sealing the statues off and the other closing another chamber. Wearing a long chiton -- a sleeveless garment from the Archaic period -- and earrings, the statues feature long, thick hair covering their shoulders. While the face of one Caryatid survives almost intact, the other is missing, but archaeologists have found some fragments of the face, as well as some pieces of their missing hands.

The sculptures appear to slightly lift their chitons with the corresponding hand. As for the figures's alternated raised arms, the archaeologists have interpreted them as a sign to symbolically prevent anyone attempting to enter the grave.
The distance between the two pedestals on which the Caryatids stand is 5.5ft, which is the same as the door opening at the tomb's entrance. This is guarded by two headless, wingless sphinxes.

The excavation has so far uncovered three chambers in the tomb. Earlier today, the secretary of the Ministry of Culture Lina Mendoni said there might be a fourth chamber in the mysterious burial.
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Children as young as ten created the greatest treasures of the Bronze Age, exhausting their eyesight with microscopic gold studs and ultra-fine craftwork, new research suggests. Ornate jewellery and intricately decorated daggers, known today as the Stonehenge treasure, were unearthed in 1808 from a burial mound known as Bush Barrow near the iconic monument. The burial contained the skeleton of a clan leader who lived almost 4,000 years ago. He was laid to rest in regal splendor with the objects that showed his power and authority. On his chest was a gold lozenge that fastened his cloak and would have glinted in the sun, while a bronze dagger adorned with an intricate design hung from his belt.

Now on permanent display at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, 15 miles north of the megalithic stone circle, the Stonehenge treasure was re-examined as part of a BBC documentary. On this occasion, experts considered for the first time the human cost of Bronze Age micro gold-working. The ultra-fine craftwork was produced nearly 4,000 years ago — more than 1,000 years before the invention of any form of magnifying glass — and entailed extremely tiny components such as microscopic gold pins and gold wires. “Only children and teenagers, and those adults who had become myopic naturally or due to the nature of their work as children, would have been able to create and manufacture such tiny objects,” Ronald Rabbetts, one of the Britain’s leading authorities on the optics of the human eye, said.

The handle of the Bush Barrow dagger was originally decorated with 140,000 tiny studs, each thinner than a human hair. They were set into the wood at a density of over 1,000 per square centimeter to create a zig-zag pattern. “The size of the studs clearly shows they are too small for adults to have made and set into the dagger handle,” David Dawson, director of the Wiltshire Museum, told Discovery News. He estimated the entire operation to produce the dagger’s intricate decoration, from wire manufacture and stud-making to hole-making and stud positioning, would have taken at least 2,500 hours to complete and would have left the workers almost blind. Today only fragments of the original wooden dagger handle survive.

“The Bush Barrow dagger is far and away the most intricate, but the numbers suggest that the daggers were made in Brittany — where there are also sources of gold. Metal ingots were traded across the English Channel, but the dagger may have been a gift from one chieftain to another,” Dawson said. Within five years, the child workers’ eyes would have deteriorated, rendering the child very short-sighted. By the age of 20, many of them were likely almost blind, seeing anything more than 3 feet away as just a blur.


Hand painted art in an Indonesian cave dates to at least 39,900 years ago, making it among the oldest such images in the world, archaeologists have recently reported in a study that rewrites the history of art.

The discovery on the island of Sulawesi vastly expands the geography of the first cave artists, who were long thought to have appeared in prehistoric Europe around that time. Reported in the journal Nature, the cave art includes stencils of hands and a painting of a babirusa, or "pig-deer," which may be the world's oldest figurative art. "Overwhelmingly depicted in Europe and Sulawesi were large, and often dangerous, mammal species that possibly played major roles in the belief systems of these people," says archaeologist and study leader Maxime Aubert of Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

The finds from the Maros cave sites on Sulawesi raise the possibility that such art predates the exodus of modern humans from Africa 60,000 or more years ago. "I predict that even older examples of cave art will be discovered on Sulawesi, and in mainland Asia, and ultimately in our African homeland," says human origins expert Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, who was not on the study team.

Since the 1950s, scholars have reported hundreds of hand stencils and images of animals in caves on Sulawesi, which were assumed prehistoric but thought to be no more than 12,000 years old, dating to a hunter-gatherer migration to the island. In the new study, the researchers investigated mineral layers less than 0.4 inches (10 millimeters) thick covering images in seven caves, and in some cases sandwiching them. Trace amounts of radioactive uranium in these mineral layers reveal when water carried the minerals over the cave wall. Finding the ages of these deposits narrows down the time when the images were painted. The age discovered for the oldest hand stencil in the cave—39,900 years old—is therefore merely the minimum age of the minerals coating the image, meaning the art could be thousands of years older.

A red disk painted in Spain's El Castillo cave is at least 40,800 years old according to the same dating method, making it the oldest known cave art, and a hand stencil there is 37,300 years old. The Sulawesi cave paintings rival these finds in age and appear to belong to a tradition that persisted there as recently as 17,000 years ago. "We've been shown here that our views have been too 'Euro-centric' about the origins of cave painting," says archaeologist Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. "Absolutely this changes our views, and is going to make us ask a lot of questions about the causes rather than the origins of cave art."

The newly discovered cave painting suggests that art may have been universal among early modern people, including those who left Africa and traveled across southern Arabia to Indonesia and Australia within the past 50,000 years.Cave art may have left Africa with early modern humans, the study authors suggest, or possibly it sprang up independently among different groups. The earliest examples of other kinds of art are even older, such as decorative perforated shell beads and pigments that date to more than 75,000 years ago.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Lavishly frescoed rooms in the houses of the Roman Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia are opening for the first time to the public after years of painstaking restoration. The houses on Rome's Palatine hill where the emperor lived with his family are re-opening after a 2.5 million euro ($3.22 million) restoration to mark the 2,000 anniversary of Augustus's death -- with previously off-limit chambers on show for the first time.

From garlands of flowers on Pompeian red backgrounds to majestic temples and scenes of rural bliss, the rooms are adorned with vividly colored frescoes, many in an exceptional condition. Restorers said their task had been a complex one, with bad weather during excavation threatening the prized relics of a golden era in the Eternal City. "We had to tackle a host of problems which were all connected, from underground grottos to sewers -- and I'm talking about a sewer system stretching over 35 hectares (86 acres)," Mariarosaria Barbera, Rome's archaeological superintendent, told AFP.

To protect the site, tourists will have to book to join one of three daily groups of up to 20 people who will be taken around by a guide for a 15-minute visit. Cinzia Conti, head restorer, said the plan was to allow people to enjoy "a more intimate, more attentive exploration of Augustus's spaces." It will also mean "we restorers can keep an eye on and evaluate the consequences of the public walking through, for example the dust on their shoes and especially their breath," she said.

Augustus's decision to build his "domus" near a grotto where Romans worshiped Romulus -- one of the twins who legend has it founded Rome -- was no coincidence. A man of power The complex was intended to symbolize not only his power but that of his wife and adviser Livia, who is said to have wielded great influence over him and went on to play an important role in Roman politics after his death.

"Looking at the houses, the buildings he had built, we understand he was a man of power, of great strength, who knew what went into making a political man at the head of such a big empire," Conti said. The frescoes in Livia's house in particular are one of the most important examples of the period's style, according to Barbera.

The founder of the Roman Empire was born Caius Octavius in 63 BC on the Palatine hill. The great-nephew of Julius Caesar, he was adopted as his son shortly before the latter was assassinated. Caius Octavius went on to rule over Rome for 40 years, during which the Republic experienced an era of great wealth and relative peace. Livia, the love of his life, was his third wife, whom he married when she was pregnant with her first husband's child. He adopted the baby, Tiberius, who would succeed him after his death. Augustus died aged 75, after which the Senate raised him to the status of a god and appointed Livia his chief priestess. As part of the 2,000 year celebrations, the Palatine Museum has dedicated a room to Augustus with objects connected to his life on show.

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Tracking the cultural treasures of Syria and northern Iraq has become a heartbreaking task for archaeologists and antiquity scholars. And the list of destroyed, damaged or looted works has only grown longer as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, which seeks to create a caliphate, has pushed into northern Iraq. Sunni extremists like the Islamic State and others are deliberately wrecking shrines, statues, mosques, tombs and churches — anything they regard as idolatry.

“This region has been the center of the world for every great empire recorded in human history,” said Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. “We are talking about successive generations of history all in one place, all being destroyed at once.” In a speech at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in late September, Secretary of State John Kerry promised action. “Our heritage is literally in peril in this moment, and we believe it is imperative that we act now,” he said. “We do so knowing that our leadership, the leadership of the United States, can make a difference.”

But over the last three years of war, international groups have come up against the limits of their power and ability to intervene in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands. In several cases, the security of many antiquities has largely been left up to nearby residents, many of whom have taken huge risks to defend their cultural patrimony. Beyond trying to confirm the losses, antiquities guardians around the world are asking themselves this question: Is it better to raise the alarm about what’s in harm’s way — or keep quiet to avoid the militants’ gaze?

The question of what has been destroyed has few complete, sure answers, scholars say. The chaos of war has prevented a full accounting, and the Islamic State often issues false reports to exaggerate its conquests, while other groups may do so to draw international sympathy. But the State Department and officials in the Syrian government are trying to document the damage. And networks of scholars, from the West, Iraq and Syria, have studied satellite photographs and kept in touch with museum curators, archaeologists and others, by unreliable phone lines and email messages. “I find it so upsetting that I don’t always open these because it is too much,” said Sheila R. Canby, curator of the department of Islamic art of the Metropolitan Museum.

For many experts, the biggest catastrophe is in Aleppo, an ancient trading terminus and Syria’s largest city. Fire gutted most of the central souk, a vast and vibrant labyrinth of 17th-century shops, storehouses and ornate courtyards. It was the city’s commercial heart, important for understanding how people have lived since medieval times.
Fighting between Syrian government and anti-government forces damaged the Great Mosque in Aleppo, one of Syria’s oldest, burning its library containing thousands of rare religious manuscripts. Its famous minaret, which had stood for a thousand years, was toppled. Aleppo’s iconic citadel, one of the world’s oldest castles and an excavation site, built on a massive outcropping of rock, was also a target. It has been used by government forces as a base and was hit by rockets. Western experts are uncertain what has happened to a recently uncovered Bronze Age Neo-Hittite temple there.

Farther south, the war has damaged the Crac des Chevaliers, one of the world’s largest and best-preserved Crusader castles, a wonder of medieval engineering and a monument to the crossing currents of European and Islamic civilizations. As in Aleppo’s old city, much of the damage has been caused by the government’s decision to shell rebel positions, though repair work has begun, experts say.

Some of the widespread looting of Syrian archaeological sites may have been carried out or encouraged by the Islamic State or by broader criminal networks, but both government forces and the militants appear to be benefiting.

One of the most stripped places is Apamea in western Syria, which had been one of the largest and best-preserved Roman and Byzantine sites in the world, with a colonnaded street and famed mosaics. With all the looting pits, it now looks like the surface of the moon, according to experts who have viewed aerial images.“It has taken them four or five months to strip Apamea,” said Emma Cunliffe, a heritage consultant specializing in Syria. “There are lots of looters with earth-moving machines.”

Even more serious, perhaps, is the looting at Dura-Europos in eastern Syria. Founded on a plateau high above the Euphrates River, it was a fortified outpost of the Roman empire, and has yielded a cross-cultural trove of archaeological wealth, including a third-century synagogue and one of the oldest examples of a Christian “house-church,” an early form of church architecture. As with many of Syria’s archaeological sites, much of Dura had barely been explored.

But for all the looting damage, nothing scares scholars more than the Islamic State militants. “The speed with which they are moving into Iraq is really like the Mongols,” Ms. Canby of the Metropolitan Museum said. “It is brutal.”The Islamic State and other extremists are motivated by the idea of punishing “shirk,” or idolatry. As a result, they have smashed Shia and Sufi sites, statues of poets, Mesopotamian relics from Assyria and Babylonia, and Sunni shrines that are outside the bounds of their narrow beliefs. The destruction is also useful propaganda, proving their power, advertising their ideology and attracting international attention.

“ISIS uses heritage explicitly, tying it into history, providing a back story for itself and showing it is part of this massive unstoppable force to appeal to young fighters,” said Michael Danti, an archaeology professor at Boston University and co-director of the American Schools of Oriental Research Syrian Heritage Initiative, a project financed by the State Department that monitors sites at risk.

In this ideological war, extremists have attacked churches in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, one of the last places where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken; and damaged artifacts in Raqqa, an early Islamic city in northern Syria and an Islamic State stronghold, where they wrecked a statue of an Assyrian lion from the eighth century B.C. They have publicized the destruction in their own glossy magazine, Dabiq. Last month, they destroyed an Armenian church in Deir al-Zour, a city in eastern Syria.

In and around Mosul in northern Iraq, the militants have destroyed scores of smaller Sufi and Shia shrines, tombs, mosques and Ottoman period buildings, said Lamia Al-Gailani Werr, an Iraqi archaeologist living in London. As they have persecuted Christian and Yazidi communities, they have removed a cross from the historic St. Ephrem’s Cathedral, destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary and prompted refugees to “carry with them traditions and books we don’t know much about,” Mr. Jones of Penn State said.

What may be the most significant cultural casualty of its Iraqi campaign so far is a mosque, destroyed in July, that held what was believed to be the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah, whose story is part of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Jonah’s mosque, which had never properly been studied, had a medieval core with additions through the centuries, Ms. Werr said. Its minaret, for example, was built in 1924, she said. But the site, in the Nineveh section of Mosul, sat on a high mound that includes the remains of a Christian church and, beneath that, an Assyrian temple and palace.


I am currently looking at 25,000 objects from the Museum’s collection on my desk. These fantastic works detail an important part of human history in Africa and range from beautiful bas-relief cattle to stunning painted representations of women dancing.

Yet these items are not from the Museum’s storage facilities: they are saved on a hard drive, as part of the African rock art image project. The project team is cataloguing and uploading these 25,000 digital images of rock art from throughout the continent, so each one of them is being registered into the Museum’s collection as an object in its own right and made available through the Collection Online. Click on British museum Galvin's Collection on line to see the amazing collection.

Elizabeth Galvin, curator, British Museum


The so-called Levallois technique — which early humans used to make knives and other instruments by flaking off bits of stone — was long thought to have originated in Africa 500,000 to 600,000 years ago, then taken to Eurasia as part of an exodus from Africa. Now a study in the journal Science throws the second part of that assumption into doubt, suggesting that the technique evolved independently on each landmass — and, more broadly, challenging the notion that the movement of ancient humans can be tracked by the tools they used.

Levallois tools and less advanced ones, like hand axes, are almost never found together, so scientists thought that one type of tool replaced the other as the migrants moved north. But archaeologists working in Armenia have now unearthed Levallois tools in the same layer of soil as hand axes. The most likely conclusion, the researchers say, is that the Levallois method was not taken to Eurasia by African migrants, but evolved there gradually and independently.

Either that, or “you have two different groups of hominins with two totally different toolmaking traditions occupying the same landscape at the same time yet never intermixing,” said the study’s lead author, Daniel Adler, an anthropologist at the University of Connecticut. “We don’t find evidence for that sort of thing anywhere in prehistory.”

“Ancient humans from this time period were very technologically variable,” he went on. “They could make all kinds of different stone tools when they needed them. They weren’t just locked into making one kind.”

Saturday, October 11, 2014


The Museum of Human Evolution (MEH) in Spain has presented the new sculpture of Homo ‘antecessor’, made by the French paleo-artist Elizabeth Daynes, which has been added to another nine reproductions of many other species that represent the long and complex road to human evolution, represented in the Hominid Gallery of the Museum.

This new sculpture arrives four years after the inauguration of the Museum and has been made by the same author of the other figurines in the Gallery. The sculpture of the antecessor’s head is based on the jawbone ATD6-69, which belonged to a boy or girl of approximately 10 years. This fossil was complimented with a frontal bone (ATD6-15), which might have been from the same individual; both provide a very plausible idea of the facial aspect of the adolescent Homo antecessor.

To compliment these bones, they added the left mandible ATD6-96 of a very young woman. With this data, and the drawings made by Mauricio Anton (sketcher and anatomist), they have been able to reconstruct the head of the Homo antecessor. Also, scientific work in this area allowed investigators to find out that the face of this new species is very similar to ours. The size of the brain and the cranium’s head are still a mystery. However, employing indirect measurements of the frontal bone, investigators were able to find out that the cranium held a brain superior to 1000 centimeters cubed.

The following step was sculpting the body of said adolescent and finding out his stature and proportions, which was resolved with the aid of finely conserved remains of the post cranial skeleton and investigations developed by the team, and thus allowing the artist to get a clear idea of the stature, robustness, characteristics of its extremities, and the cranium’s shape.

The final result is the sculpture that is shown today, precisely in the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the Homo antecessor in the Gran Dolina de la Trinchera de la Sierra de Atapuerca site by Aurora Martin, MEH coordinator. Elizabeth Daynes is an international artist, presented as a paleo-artist or pre Historic sculptor. Her passionate work consists of “finding the identity of men in the past” through the found fossil remains, direct contact with investigators and using forensic techniques. This allows her to make sculptures of significant realism without losing the scientific rigor, thanks to distinct artistic differences such as: using silicone, natural hair and false eyes and such. Her reconstructions can be found in many international museums.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014


Deep in the jungle in the north of Guatemala, along deep-rutted 4x4 tracks, the pyramids of the great Maya city of Xultún are hidden under heavy vegetation and oddly symmetrical hills. But crudely cut tunnels in the sides of the hills signal a modern intrusion. The tunnels are the work of "huecheros"—the local slang term for antiquity looters, derived from the Maya word for armadillo. On a building overlooking an ancient plaza, the looters scrawl a message, brazen and taunting: "We, the huecheros, stuck it to this place."

Almost every pyramid in the sprawling site has a looter's tunnel on at least one side. Most of the hieroglyphic panels, the pottery, and the jade from tombs here have been raided and sold on the black market to wealthy foreigners. One of the tallest pyramids—a majestic building that slices high in the air like the Temple of the Great Jaguar—was actually cut in half by looters, making it look like a giant stone napkin holder.

Xultún is part of an international trade in Maya antiquities that spread across much of the region in the 1980s and '90s and has scraped away what little opportunity was left to modern scientists to understand the people who once lived here. This amputation of cultural history—in many ways stretching back to the conquest of the New World—has left us with far more questions than answers about the Maya. Looting continues to this day, though at a lower rate. Meanwhile, archaeologists, philanthropists, nongovernment organizations, and other leaders are grappling with the fallout from the country's cultural heritage being plundered for decades.

Excavation of the Los Arboles structure at Xultún uncovered numerous painted sculptures. Xultún is not alone, nor is it terribly unusual. The Mesoamerican antiquity trade goes back almost to the Spanish conquest. In the beginning, Maya sites were spared from looting because they were mostly unknown, but by the 20th century archaeologists were working in the region and uncovering beautiful cities in southern Mexico and Central America. This continued until the 1970s and '80s, when civil strife forced the scientists to abandon the sites. The workers they left behind, now expert in locating ancient tombs, turned to the only work they had left to them—raiding untouched sites for things to sell on the black market.

It takes about four hours to get to Xultún from civilization. From Flores, a small tourist city on Lake Petén Itzá, the road starts out on pavement but quickly turns to gravel, then dirt roads, and then muddy 4x4 tracks.

Monday, October 06, 2014


Evidence of an ancient conflict has been discovered at Caerau hill fort, on the outskirts of the present day city of Cardiff, in southeast Wales. Volunteers from the CAER Heritage Project began digging at the site in early July, expecting to recover only Roman and Iron Age finds. A six-year-old schoolboy was the first to spot what turned out to be a Neolithic arrow head, dating to 3,600 BCE.

As the excavation of prehistoric ditches proceeded, volunteers unearthed a plethora of early Neolithic finds, including flint tools and weapons, arrowheads, awls and scrapers, as well as fragments of polished stone axes and pottery.

A dig last year revealed that the fort had been the site of a powerful Iron Age community pre-dating the arrival of the Romans. The latest discovery pushes its history back a further 4,000 years.

"Nobody predicted this," said dig co-director Dr Dave Wyatt, from Cardiff University. "Our previous excavation yielded pottery and a mass of finds including five large roundhouses showing Iron Age occupation, and there's evidence of Roman and medieval activity, but no one realized the site had been occupied as far back as the Neolithic - predating the construction of the Iron Age hill fort by several thousand years."

Oliver Davis, co-director of the CAER project, explained: "The ditches appear to date to the early Neolithic, when communities first began to settle and farm the landscape. The location and number of Neolithic finds indicate that we have discovered a causewayed enclosure; a special place where small communities gathered together at certain important times of the year to celebrate, feast, exchange things and possibly find partners. Such sites are very rare in Wales, with only five other known examples, mostly situated in the south."

"What's fascinating is that a number of the flint arrowheads we have found have been broken as a result of impact - this suggests some form of conflict occurred at this meeting place over 5,000 years ago."

Edited from Wales Online (3 August 2014)
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On a site in Kirkhaugh, Northumberland (England) a local group with the lengthy title of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership's Altogether archaeology Project, had encouraged local school children to take part. This particular group of youngsters, ranging from 7 to 10 years old, uncovered what they thought was just a plain piece of plastic. On closer examination it actually proved to be made of gold! The piece they found is known as a hair tress and was worn as an ornament in the hair. as well as being identified and dated at approx. 2,300 BCE, it is also very rare to find, with only 10 other examples in the UK.

One of the young archaeologists, Sebastian, was quite excited "We did some work on the Copper Age at school, which was really interesting. But to take part in the actual excavation, and to find things, was awesome!" Paul Frodsham, leader of the project, put the find into a bit more perspective "All archaeological sites are important in their own way, but this is exceptional. It can be regarded as marking the very start of mineral exploitation in the North Penninnes, leading in due course to Roman exploitation of lead and silver".

Edited from Express, Daily Mail (4 August 2014)
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The biggest ever comparative study of stone tools dating to between 130,000 and 75,000 years ago found in the region between sub-Saharan Africa and Eurasia shows marked differences in the way stone tools were made, reflecting a diversity of cultural traditions. The study identified at least four distinct populations, each relatively isolated from each other with their own different cultural characteristics.

Researchers took over 300,000 measurements of stone tools from 17 archaeological sites across North Africa, including the Sahara, and combined the stone tool data with a model of the North African environment during that period which showed that the Sahara was then a patchwork of savannah, grasslands and water, interspersed with desert. They also mapped out known ancient rivers and major lakes. They were then able to draw new inferences on the contexts in which the ancient populations made and used their tools, showing how early populations of modern humans dispersed across the Sahara along the ancient rivers and watercourses.

Lead researcher Dr Eleanor Scerri, visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, says: "This is the first time that scientists have identified that early modern humans at the cusp of dispersal out of Africa were grouped in separate, isolated and local populations. Stone tools are the only form of preserved material culture for most of human history. These stone tools reveal how early populations of modern humans dispersed across the Sahara just before they left North Africa. While different populations were relatively isolated, we were interested to find that when connected by rivers, they share similarities in their tool-making suggesting some interaction with one another."

Dr Scerri continues: "Not much is known about the structure of early modern human populations in Africa, particularly at the time of their earliest dispersals into Eurasia. Our picture of modern human demography around 100,000 years ago is that there were a number of populations, varying in size and degree of genetic contact, distributed over a wide geographical area. This model of our population history supports other theories recently put forward that modern humans may have first successfully left Africa earlier than 60,000-50,000 years ago, which had been the common view among scholars. Our work provides important new evidence that sheds light on both the timing of early modern human dispersals out of Africa and the character of our interaction with other human species, such as Neanderthals."

Co-author Dr Huw Groucutt says: "The question of whether there was an early successful exit from Africa has become one of whether any of the populations discovered in this paper went in and out of Africa for some or all of this time. A crucial next step involves fieldwork in areas such as the Arabian Peninsula to understand how these populations spread into Eurasia."


A copper awl, the oldest metal object found to date in the Middle East, was discovered during excavations at Tel Tsaf. The tool dates to the late 6th or early 5th millennium BCE, moving the date that people of the region are known to have used metals back by several hundred years.

Tel Tsaf, a Middle Copper Age village dated to about 5200-4600 BCE, is near the Jordan River, south of the Sea of Galilee. The site was first documented in the 1950s, and excavations began at the end of the 1970s, revealing mud-brick buildings, and a large number of silos in which wheat and barley were stored. In the courtyards, many roasting ovens filled with burnt animal bones were discovered, along with numerous other artifacts - among them items made of obsidian from Anatolia or Armenia, shells from the Nile River in Egypt and other areas around the Mediterranean, figurines of people and animals, and pottery unlike that found almost anywhere else in the region.

The awl is only 4 centimeters long - a cone-shaped piece of copper, which would originally have been set in a wooden handle. It was found during a previous excavation, in the sealed grave of a woman about 40 years old, dug inside of a silo. Around her waist was a belt made of 1,668 ostrich-egg shell beads. The burial has been described as one of the most elaborate seen in the region from that era.

While the grave, the woman's skeleton, and the beaded belt were all previously reported in scientific journals, the little awl was only reported on recently, after its chemical components were analyzed. This artifact is important, because until now researchers believed that area residents began to use metals only in the Late Chalcolithic period - the second half of the 5th millennium BCE. Chemical examination shows the copper may have come from the Caucasus, some 1,000 kilometers from Tel Tsaf. The processing of a new raw material coming from such a distant location is unique to Tel Tsaf, and provides additional evidence of the importance of this site in the ancient world.

Sunday, October 05, 2014


Archaeologists have unveiled the most detailed map ever produced of the earth beneath Stonehenge and its surrounds. They combined different instruments to scan the area to a depth of three meters, with unprecedented resolution. Early results suggest that the iconic monument did not stand alone, but was accompanied by 17 neighboring shrines.

Among the surprises yielded by the research are traces of up to 60 huge stones or pillars which formed part of the 1.5km-wide 'super henge' previously identified at nearby Durrington Walls. "For the past four years we have been looking at this amazing monument to try and see what was around it," Prof Vincent Gaffney, from the University of Birmingham, said at the British Science Festival.

The team new three-dimensional map, which covers an area of 12 sq km, was created using six different techniques to scan the whole site at different depths below the surface. Amongst their instruments was a magnetometer, a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and a 3D laser scanner.

Under one of the numerous mounds, they identified a 33m-long timber building about 6,000 years old, probably used for ritual burials and related practices, possibly including excarnation (stripping flesh from bones). "[The building] has three rows of roof-bearing posts. It is around 300 square meters and slightly trapezoidal, which is interesting because in the same period on the continent, about 100 to 200 years earlier, we also find this type of trapezoidal building related to megaliths [giant stones]," said Prof Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, which was also involved in the research.

Another 17 mounds revealed previously unseen ritual monuments about the same age as Stonehenge itself. The dating was done based on their shape. "We know what some of these things look like, so we can classify them," Prof Gaffney explained.

A first inspection of the Cursus and the Durrington Walls, located north and north-east of Stonehenge, also revealed new insights. The work unveiled two additional pits inside the prehistoric Cursus, which is aligned in the East-West direction, and the pits were found one in each end, pointing to dusk and dawn. This particular alignment is closely related to the position and orientation of Stonehenge, which was built as we know it some 300 to 500 years later. The large separation in time indicates that both monuments were not conceived or planned as a whole. "The structures guide the builders. Once you have some things in place, other things happen because those already exist," explained Prof Gaffney.

He and his team also found evidence of huge stones or timber posts lying three meters below the mounds that form the Durrington Walls. "[These solid blocks] completely redefine the development of the Durrington Walls," he said. All of these preliminary findings reflect the complexity of the landscape's history and evolution, which will be slowly uncovered once the researchers start the in-depth analysis of the data. "We are starting to see the growth of fields encroaching on it. That's important because it tells us about changing relationships to Stonehenge," Prof Gaffney said.

Edited from BBC News (10 September 2014)
[3 images, 2 drawings]


Researchers using a robotic submarine off British Columbia's northern coast believe they may have found the earliest evidence of human habitation in Canada. The site, which could date back almost 14,000 years, lies beneath hundreds of meters of water in the ocean around the Haida Gwaii archipelago, south of Ketchikan, Alaska.

Archaeologist Quentin Mackie from the University of Victoria has studied the area for 15 years, and believes ancient residents would have harvested salmon near the coast of what was then a single island that stretched well across the strait toward the mainland. At the time, the sea level was about 100 meters lower than it is today, and the main island twice as large. He and his team used an autonomous underwater vehicle to scan 25 kilometers of what were once riverbeds. "We're not quite ready to say for sure that we found something," Mackie said.

Mackie is hopeful the images show at least one stone weir - a man-made channel used to corral fish. The scan suggests a wall of large stones in a line at a right angle to the stream - a fishing technique used by many other ancient cultures. Based on radiocarbon dating from another archeological site on the island, the weir could date back 13,800 years.

A geologist will now study the images to ensure the rocks are not a natural formation, then the team will return next summer to take samples of the sediment near the site and to look for stone tools. Ernie Gladstone, the superintendent of Gwaii Haanas, says Mackie's theory matches up with the oral history of the First Nations.

Edited from CBC News (23 September 2014)
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In 1908 the famous Venus of Willendorf was discovered during an excavation near the Austrian town of Melk. The statuette has been dated to 30,000 years ago, and is one of the world's earliest examples of figurative art.

Now a team of archaeologists has dated a number of stone tools recently excavated from the same site to 43,500 B.P. and identified the tools as belonging to the Aurignacian culture, making them significantly older than other known Aurignacian artifacts , which have been found all over Europe.

It is agreed that modern humans dispersed into Europe, and began to replace Neanderthals, at least 40,000 years ago. The new research pushes this date back to a time when temperatures north of the Alps were cool. "Recent finds at the Willendorf site contribute valuable new information to the debate about modern human colonization of Europe," says team leader Dr Philip Nigst of the University of Cambridge. "The remarkably early date of the finds shows that modern humans and Neanderthals overlapped for much longer than we thought and that modern humans coped well with a variety of climates. The date of the artifacts represents the oldest well-documented occurrence of modern humans in Europe." The tools include small 'bladelets', which were originally part of composite tools and may have been used as projectile points.

Dr Nigst concludes: "The picture emerging from our study is fascinating because we see significant changes in the material culture of the last Neanderthals - and these changes occur at the same time that modern humans were present at Willendorf. The timing of these events cannot be a coincidence."

Edited from Popular Archaeology (22 September 2014), University of Cambridge (23 September 2014)
[4 images]
[2 images]


More than 50 geoglyphs with various shapes and sizes have been discovered across northern Kazakhstan in central Asia. These sprawling structures, mostly earthen mounds, create a similar type of landscape art to that most famously seen in the Nazca region of Peru.

Discovered using Google Earth, the geoglyphs are designed in a variety of geometric shapes, including squares, rings, and crosses ranging from 90 to 400 meters in diameter. Over the past year, an archaeological expedition from Kazakhstan's Kostanay University, working in collaboration with Vilnius University in Lithuania, has been examining the geoglyphs. The team, which is conducting excavations, ground-penetrating radar surveys, aerial photography and dating, recently presented its initial results at the European Association of Archaeologists' annual meeting in Istanbul.

Archaeological excavations uncovered the remains of structures and hearths at the geoglyphs, suggesting that rituals took place there. Ancient tribes may also have used the geoglyphs to mark ownership of the land. While Peru's Nazca Lines are the world's most famous geoglyphs, archaeological research suggests that geoglyphs were constructed in numerous areas around the world by different cultures.

In the Middle East, archaeologists have found thousands of wheel-shaped structures that are easily visible from the sky, but hard to see on the ground. Also recently in Russia, archaeologists excavated a geoglyph shaped like an elk, which appears older than the Nazca Lines. Ancient geoglyphs have also been reported in many other countries, including the United Kingdom, Brazil and the Southwestern United States. The introduction of high-resolution Google Earth imagery over the last decade has helped both professional archaeologists and amateurs detect and study these enigmatic structures.

Edited from LiveScience (23 September 2014)
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Sunday, September 21, 2014


A 2,000-year-old story of terror and devastation has been brought to light during renovation work at an English department store, revealing one of the finest collections of Roman jewelry as well as human remains of people who were slaughtered at the site. The jewelry had been undisturbed since 61 A.D. in Colchester, some 50 miles northeast of London. It was found in a wooden box and bags under a department store in the town’s high street.

The small treasure includes three gold armlets, a silver chain necklace, two silver bracelets, a silver armlet, a small bag of coins and a small jewelry box containing two sets of gold earrings and four gold finger-rings. According to Philip Crummy, the director of Colchester Archaeological Trust who excavated the area, the jewelry belonged to a wealthy Roman woman who may not have survived to recover her treasure.

“The find is a particularly poignant one because of its historical context,” Crummy said in a statement. “It seems likely that the owner or perhaps one of her slaves buried the jewelry inside her house for safe-keeping during the early stages of the Boudican Revolt, when prospects looked bleak,” he added. The revolt against the Roman rule was led from 60-61 A.D. by the warrior Queen Boudicca of the Iceni, a British tribe. In her unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Romans, Boudicca, also known as Boadicea, managed to burn to the ground three towns. Colchester was her first target.

“The inhabitants knew a large British army was marching towards them and they knew that they were practically defenseless with only a small force of soldiers on hand and no town defenses,” Crummy said. “Imagine their panic and desperation when they learned of the massacre of a large part of the Roman Ninth Legion on its way to relieve them,” he added. Terrified, the Roman woman hastily hid her valuable jewelry in a small pit dug in the floor of her house, hoping to come back and recover her belongings. But after a two day siege, the fate of her home was sealed.

Near the jewelry, Crummy and his team found vivid evidence of the last dramatic moments in the house. Foodstuff including dates, figs, wheat, peas and grain lay burnt black on the floor with a collapsed wooden shelf. The ingredients were carbonized by the heat of the fire so their shapes were preserved perfectly. In the thick red and black debris layer left by the revolt, the archaeologists also found human remains which include part of a jaw and shin bone. They appear to have been cut by a sword.

As reported by the ancient historian Dio Cassius, during the sacking of Colchester the “noblest” of the women were taken to sacred groves where they were killed in a horrific way. “The quality of the jewelry suggests that the owner would have been in this category, although there is no direct evidence to indicate that she ended up in a sacred grove,” the statement said.

As the excavation continues, the archaeologists expect to find more artifacts.


As the author of Stonehenge with Caroline Malone (Oxford University Press) new facts astound me!!

The earliest known smiley face may lie under Stonehenge, according to a high tech survey of the enigmatic circle of giant stones and its surroundings. The unusual feature emerged as archaeologists from Birmingham and Bradford universities and from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Vienna scanned over a 7.4-square-mile area around Stonehenge.
The four-year project, which is the largest geophysical survey ever undertaken, used advanced geophysical technologies such as powerful ground-penetrating radar, which can detect buried features to a depth of up to 13 feet.

The survey was able to reveal in minute details 17 unknown henge-like religious monuments, some 20 enigmatic pits which appear to form astronomic alignments, and hundred of archaeological features around the Wiltshire monument.
The smiley-face-like feature dates to about the same period when Stonehenge achieved its iconic shape, between 3,000 and 2,500 B.C. It’s among some new types of monument never seen before at Stonehenge. According to archaeologists, the Stonehenge smiley is a prehistoric ring ditch with internal or earlier features. “The area around Stonehenge is teeming with previously unseen archaeology,” project leader Vincent Gaffney, chair in Landscape Archaeology and Geomatics at the University of Birmingham, said.

The new findings show the enigmatic stone circle wasn’t standing in splendid isolation on the edge of Salisbury Plain. On the contrary, it was the center of a rich ceremonial landscape that expanded over time. “You’ve got Stonehenge which is clearly a very large ritual structure which is attracting people from large parts of the country. But around it people are creating their own shrines and temples. We can see the whole landscape is being used in very complex ways,” Gaffney was reported as saying at the British Science Festival. In some cases, such as with the Stonehenge smiley, the magnetic data images revealed patterns of circles, spirals and lines. The images basically showed ancient ditches and post holes, all relatively small monuments between 32 and 65 ft across.

But the high tech survey also revealed much larger features. One of the most significant findings was made a short distance from Stonehenge at the Durrington Walls “superhenge,” the largest ritual monument of its type with a circumference of 0.93 miles. The survey showed this “superhenge” was originally flanked with a row of massive posts or stones, perhaps up to 10 feet high and up to 60 in number.“Some may still survive beneath the massive banks surrounding the monument,” the archaeologists said.

One of the most intriguing feature to emerge from the geophysical survey was a 108-foot-long burial mound. Dating to before Stonehenge, it contained a massive wooden building which was probably a house of the dead. The site housed bizarre burial rituals which included exposure of the dead bodies and defleshing on a large court. “New monuments have been revealed, as well as new types of monument that have previously never been seen by archaeologists. All of this information has been placed within a single digital map, which will guide how Stonehenge and its landscape are studied in the future,” Gaffney said.

“Stonehenge may never be the same again,” he concluded.


The situation might not have been pretty, but Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were both living in Europe at the same time for around 5,400 years, according to a new study that has many other implications. For starters, it’s now possible that Neanderthals and our species mated and otherwise interacted for some 20,000 years.

“Significant interbreeding between Neanderthals and early modern humans had probably already occurred in Asia more than 50,000 years ago, so the dating evidence now indicates that the two populations could have been in some kind of contact with each other for up to 20,000 years, first in Asia then later in Europe,” Chris Stringer, research leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum in London, explained. “This may support the idea that some of the changes in Neanderthal and early modern human technology after 60,000 years ago can be attributed to a process of acculturation between these two human groups,” Stringer said.

For the study, published in the latest issue of the journal Nature, project leader Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford and his colleagues obtained new radiocarbon dates for around 200 samples of bone, charcoal and shell from 40 key European archaeological sites ranging from Russia in the east to Spain in the west. The sites were either previously linked to the Neanderthal tool-making industry, known as Mousterian, or were so-called “transitional” sites containing stone tools associated with either our species or Neanderthals. The results showed that both human groups overlapped for a significant period, giving what Higham and his team say was “ample time” for interaction and interbreeding.

Stringer said, “Neanderthals are our closest-known relatives, and research has recently shown that nearly all humans alive today have a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes. This interbreeding probably occurred soon after small groups of early modern humans began to leave their African homeland about 60,000 years ago.” The “small percentage” isn’t necessarily because so few interbred. Also, other studies have concluded that one-fifth (and possibly more) of the Neanderthal genome survives in modern humans and influences skin color, hair color and texture, and other traits.

As for what happened to the Neanderthals afterward, researchers still aren’t entirely sure. The new chronology established by the paper suggests that Neanderthals may have survived in dwindling populations in pockets of Europe before they became extinct. “Extinct” is also somewhat of a loaded term, because Neanderthals and their culture were absorbed into the modern human population. Their distinctiveness as a separate species, however, bit the evolutionary dust. As Stringer said, “Neanderthals had largely, and perhaps entirely, vanished from their known range by 39,000 years ago.” He mentioned that this point in time intriguingly coincides with a long spell of miserable weather — cold and dry conditions — throughout much of Europe. The climactic event, he said, might have “delivered the coup de grâce to a Neanderthal population that was already low in numbers and genetic diversity, and trying to cope with economic competition from incoming groups of Homo sapiens.”


An engraving carved into dolomite stone more than 39,000 years old in a seaside Gibraltar cave suggests that Neanderthals were capable of symbolic thinking—once thought unique to modern humans, researchers reported recently.
Neanderthals, extinct human cousins who left genetic traces in modern people, seem to have vanished from Europe around 40,000 years ago. That was around the time early modern humans arrived.

Among the advantages that may have allowed those new arrivals to out-compete the Neanderthals were symbolic thought and language. But the cross-hatched cave carving, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, points to art and symbolic thought among Neanderthals as well.

"Originally, we could not quite believe what we had found and had to convince ourselves it was real," says Gibraltar Museum director Clive Finlayson, who headed the study team. "Is it art? Is it a doodle? I don't know, but it is clearly an abstract design." When Neanderthals lived inside what is now Gorham's Cave, the site of the discovery, the region was rich with prey, mostly deer, but also predators such as hyenas. The researchers discovered the engraving in excavations on a small ledge nearly 330 feet (100 meters) into the cave.

"We can definitely say it is more than 39,000 years old, a time when there were no modern humans near Gibraltar," Finlayson says. A soil layer above the bedrock ledge contains Neanderthal tools, the team reports, and chemical Analysis of the carving's patina points to its age. "I think that this will stir up an extremely lively controversy, and people will no doubt argue," says paleoanthropologist Gilliane Monnier of the University of Minnesota, an expert on ancient stone tools. She thinks it's likely that the engraving is the work of Neanderthals, and agrees it dates to their era.

Early modern people made cave art throughout Europe and traded shell beads as far back as 75,000 years ago in Africa. Neanderthals didn't leave much behind in the way of decoration, in contrast, although they did care for their infirm and bury their dead. What evidence exists for Neanderthal symbolic thought is much disputed—hints of ocher pigments seen at burial sites, for example, may have been left over from tanning hides. And debate has simmered for decades oover whether hand stencils and carvings from about 40,800 years ago in Spain's El Castillo cave were made by Neanderthals or early modern humans. No bones or tools remain at the site to help settle the dispute.

But now, underneath a layer of Neanderthal "rubbish" at Gorham's Cave, says Finlayson, the study team found the cross-hatched carving of lines roughly six inches (15 centimeters) long. "These are abstract, almost geometric shapes," he says. Tests with copies of Neanderthal stone points show that the carving was made by stone points being dragged across the ledge's hard dolomite at least 54 times. Experiments also show that cutting skins against the dolomite would not have produced the pointed grooves of the engraving.

The team suggests the ledge at the rear of the cave is where Neanderthals rested, protected behind fires at night from Europe's long-ago predators: lions, hyenas, and wolves. "It was a perfect place to rest and carve something," Finlayson says. No evidence exists that modern humans were in this region of Europe more than 39,000 years ago, which leaves only Neanderthals to explain the engraving.


The skull of an ancient human ancestor fails to show evidence of the type of brain expansion typically seen in modern human infants, according to a new study. The "Taung child" fossil is known as the first and best example of early brain evolution in hominins, the group containing humans and their extinct relatives.

A recent study had suggested that features of the specimen allowed the Taung child's brain to grow well into infancy, as occurs in modern human children. But new brain scans of the Taung fossil show it lacks these features, suggesting the postnatal brain growth seen in modern humans may not have evolved until the rise of the Homo species, states a new study published today (Aug. 25) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The Homo species evolved about 2.5 million years ago. [Top 10 Mysteries of the First Humans]

Australian anthropologist Raymond Dart, who worked at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, unearthed the Taung specimen in Taung, South Africa in 1924. The fossil, which is thought to be roughly 3 million to 4 million years old, is a well-preserved cast of the inside of the cranium, known as an endocast. It was the first known fossil of Australopithecus africanus, an extinct close hominid relative of humans. It's unusual to find such a well-preserved endocast, and juveniles are very rare in the hominin fossil record, so the Taung child remains a hot subject of study, Carlson told Live Science.

In the new study, Kristian Carlson (an anthropologist at the U. of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg) and his colleagues took the first computerized tomography, or CT, scans of the Taung fossil. The scans failed to find any sign of these human-infant skull features. What's more, the researchers say these features may not even result in the evolutionary benefits they supposedly confer, Carlson said. The researchers suggest other hominin fossils should be re-examined using the same scanning technology. "We've demonstrated the misdiagnosis in Taung, and we believe it would be prudent to assess whether the presence of these features — unfused metopic sutures and open anterior fontanelles — may have been misdiagnosed in the additional specimens," Carlson said.

The findings may be controversial, though Carlson suspects they will confirm what many people in the field already think. "But hopefully there will still be a lively debate to advance the science aspects forward," he said.