Sunday, February 24, 2008

Prehistoric links between Scotland and the Netherlands

Recent analysis of 4,000-year-old pots recovered during an excavation of two graves at Upper Largie, near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute (Scotland), has provided exciting evidence linking prehistoric Scotland with the Netherlands. Analysis of the pots by Alison Sheridan, of National Museums Scotland, has revealed early international-style Beakers of the type found around the lower Rhine, that is modern-day Netherlands and a strange hybrid of styles
that suggest Irish and Yorkshire influences.

"These finds are very rare," said Martin Cook, the AOC Archaeology Project Officer, who oversaw the excavations in 2005. " I think there are three or four other examples that early in Scotland.

The excavations revealed two graves within a complex Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual landscape composed of monuments including an Early Neolithic cursus (long earthwork) and an Early Bronze Age timber circle. Although no human remains were recovered in either grave –
bone does not survive in the sand and gravel and the only other artifacts recovered from the earlier grave were two flint knives – Martin believes a human body had been laid in the pit.

The construction of the grave shows strong Dutch parallels suggesting that its occupant may have been a Dutch immigrant. "The grave is so early and the style of ceramic is so rare for this period that it's either an immigrant or a first or second generation descendant who still knows these techniques," said Martin.

A ring ditch surrounding the grave was about 5.5 metres in diameter, with posts standing in it. Just to the south lay an associated arc of four larger pits that also held posts. At a later
date a second grave was dug, in which was placed a food vessel bowl of unique design. Its upper part is of classic Irish style from around 2150 BCE but the four feet at the bottom are a Yorkshire feature. This 'polypod' hybrid-design vessel is also rare and unique, and it neatly reflects some of the external contacts of the Kilmartin valley elite during the Early Bronze Age.

Travel at this time would have been difficult with few established tracks and thick forests covering much of the British Isles – much of it populated by some dangerous wild animals. Seaward travel to or from Yorkshire and Ireland to pick up these influences would have been the slightly easier option. For more information about the work of AOC Archaeology Group, see

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Monday, February 11, 2008

Archaeologists digging in a garden at the Santa Barbara Mission may have unearthed the complete stone foundation of a Chumash house.

The dig is expected to be completed shortly under the watchful eyes of American Indian representatives.

The foundation of the home is believed to be part of what's left of a Chumash village at the site, which is at the northeastern edge of an Indian pueblo at the mission.

Much of the village remains were destroyed over the years. In one instance, portions were graded to make way for a parking lot in the 1950s and 1960s.


The Olduvai Paleoanthropological and Paleoecological Project (TOPPP) in which the the Universidad Complutense de Madrid participated aims to expose the false presumptions made by previous studies which concluded that the first humans were scavengers. This is a well established model that has stood unchallenged until recently. The discussion is on.

The Olduvai Paleoanthropological and Paleoecological Project directed by Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Audax Mabulla from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Henry Bunn from the University of Wisconsin in the USA focuses on the excavation of the archaeological site I estimated to be two million years old and set at the famous Olduvai Gorge.

The contention with the Blumenschine team has led to discussions in magazines such as Nature nº 449 20th September 2007 and the Journal of Human Evolution nº 53, page. 427-433 October 2007, Domínguez-Rodrigo and his team have proved that what the other researchers interpreted as teeth marks made by carnivores on the fossils, are in reality biochemical marks with a very different origin, such as fungus and bacteria that were brought in to contact with the bones by the roots of plants that grew in the sediment in which they were buried.

Domínguez-Rodrigo and his team have been the first non American archaeologists to examine the fossil collection of Olduvai, and using recent taphonomic techniques they have reached conclusions that completely contradict the established hypothesis. This study, published in the aforementioned magazines and in a recent book (Deconstructing Olduvai, Springer, New York), invalidates the false scavenging hominid hypothesis. The new data also shows that most of the African archaeological sites of this period are in reality palimpsests in which hominids had in many cases very little to do with the formation of such registries. Therefore, the number of sites with a clear anthropic origin is small, and there are no indications of scavenging behavior in any of them.

These sites are among the best preserved archeological sites of that period and are essential for understanding the root of human behavior right at the origin of the Homo genus. They have been studied by a small number of researchers up to date. Mary Leakey discovered and excavated them for decades and all the fossils were studied by a selection of palaeontologists and archaeologists from England and America. It was the study of precisely these fossils that laid the foundations of the scavenging model that has been accepted until recently.

For the past twenty years the study of bed II of the Olduvai Gorge has been directed by R. Blumenschine from the University of Rutgers in USA and Fidelis Masao from the University of Dar es Salaam en Tanzania, and these researchers lead the group of archaeologists that concluded that the first members of our genus were passive scavengers of carrions left by felids, presuming that they lacked the intellectual and technological capacity for them to have been hunters. This interpretation is based on the many teeth marks found in one of the sites of Olduvai and attributed to carnivores consuming most of the flesh of those animals before the hominids got to them.

The team led by Domínguez-Rodrigo avoided conflict with Blumenschine´s team that had been working for over twenty years at bed II, by focusing their study on other beds from even older periods. They also presented a project for bed I, which has remained untouched for over fifty years since the pioneering excavations of M. Leakey. This project has started to re excavate FLK Zinj and FLK North, two of the most representative beds, where the rest of the hominids have been found. The new campaign of the year 2007, preceded by a previous campaign that found rests of hominids in another area of the gorge, has retrieved a large amount of archaeological and paleoecological information that will allow for the reconstruction of the environment of the first members of the Homo genus.

The TOPPP project is not free from difficulties and impediments outside the purely scientific area. The hominid fever that affects a many palaeontologists (as mentioned in the wonderful book by the reporter of the Science Magazine Ann Gibbons: The First Human; the Race to Discover our Earlier Ancestors, Anchor, New York, 2007) complicates the study of these matters during an ideal period for great discoveries about our past and our evolutive legacy. In spite of everything, TOPPP continues ahead with the support of all the Tanzanian institutions (that have supported their position in the conflict) and ensures astonishing results in the near future thanks to the discoveries made by this team over the past two years at the Olduvai Gorge.

Monday, February 18, 2008


People who migrated from Asia to the New World camped out for 20,000 years on land now submerged under the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia, according to a genetic analysis. A team at the University of Florida combined studies of DNA, archeological evidence, climate data and geological data to come up with their new theory, which describes a much longer migration than most other researchers have proposed. "We sort of went out onto a limb, incorporating all this nongenetic data," molecular anthropologist Connie Mulligan said.

Mulligan's team proposes that the people who left Central Asia to eventually populate the Americas passed quickly through Siberia, and then got stuck in Beringia - a former land mass that now lies under the frigid Bering Sea. There they stayed for 20,000 years, until glaciers melted about 15,000 years ago, opening a route to the Americas. "The reason there is no archeological evidence for that occupation is that the area is under water," Mulligan said.

The researchers used sequences of mitochondrial DNA taken from Asians and Native Americans for their analysis. This type of DNA is passed along virtually unchanged from mother to child. The small mutations that occur can be used as a genetic clock to track the descent and the sizes of ancient populations. "After a long period of little change in population size in greater Beringia, Amerinds (American Indians or native Americans) rapidly expanded into the
Americas less than 15,000 years ago either through an interior ice- free corridor or along the coast," they wrote in their report. "This rapid colonization of the New World was achieved by a founder group with an effective population size of 1,000 to 5,400 individuals."

The University of Florida's Michael Miyamoto said the DNA suggests a 20,000-year "waiting period" during which generations passed and genetic changes accumulated. "By looking at the kinds and frequencies of these mutations in modern populations, we can get an idea of when the mutations arose and how many people were around to carry them," he said. They were moving out of Asia and finally reached a landmass that was exposed because of lower sea levels during the last glacial maximum, but two major glaciers blocked their progress into the New World," Mulligan said in a statement. "So they basically stayed put for about 20,000 years. It wasn't paradise, but they survived. When the North American ice sheets started to melt and a passage into the New World opened, we think they left Beringia to go to a better place."

The study is available


Oldest African human sacrifice discovered in Sudan

French archaeologists in Sudan say they have uncovered the oldest proof of human sacrifice in Africa, hailing the discovery as the biggest Neolithic find on the continent for years. The tomb of a 5,500- year-old man surrounded by three sacrificed humans, two dogs and
exquisite ceramics were exhumed north of Khartoum by Neolithic expert Jacques Reinhold and his Austrian wife.

"This is the oldest proof of human sacrifice in Sudan, in Egypt, in Africa," Reinhold told reporters next to the remains in El Kadada village, a three-hour drive north of the Sudanese capital. "I don't know of another example in Africa at this level... We don't have anything as strong in other excavations in other countries," said Reinhold, as villagers in traditional white robes carefully scraped earth into buckets.

The archaeologist, who has led the excavation for several months, described the tomb as the most important Neolithic find in Africa since the 1990s. That period - which Reinhold calls the first global revolution - marks the period when man evolved from hunter gatherers into farmers and producers, forever changing the structure of human society. He says the find is nearly 1,000 years older what many consider Sudan's most spectacular discoveries of human sacrifice -- scores of bodies buried together.

Close to the Nile and highly fertile, the El Kadada area north of the modern town of Shendi would have been highly favourable for Neolithic settlers. The French team said that urns, materials used to grind wheat into flour, beeds and bracelets also uncovered at the site
will be donated to the National Museum in Khartoum.


Eastern Utah's Nine Mile Canyon holds more than 10,000 known American Indian rock-art images. But they may be no match for 800 gas wells. A Denver-based energy company's proposal to drill at least that many wells on the West Tavaputs Plateau threatens the thousand-year-old Anasazi ruins, where dust and chemicals are already corroding peerless rock art.
The famous Cottonwood Panel, also called The Great Hunt
The famous Cottonwood Panel, also called The Great Hunt

The Bill Barrett Corp. wants to drill some of those wells in wilderness study areas and critical habitat for deer, elk and sage grouse, as well as operate year-round instead of laying off for the winter as has been the tradition to accommodate wildlife needs.

Conservationists say the company's full-field development of the Stone Cabin and Peters Point gas fields would guarantee the end of Nine Mile Canyon as it has been for millennia. "This project, if approved, if implemented, will be the death blow for Nine Mile Canyon, for the cultural sites there and for the wilderness-quality areas there," said Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance attorney Steve Bloch.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has issued a draft environmental impact study of Bill Barrett's development plan, and acknowledges the potential harm to wildlife, air quality and scenery. But it was the ongoing and potential harm to archaeological treasures that prompted most public concern in the early days of environmental analyses. Responding to the outcry, the BLM crafted an alternative specifically addressing industrial traffic in the canyon.

Nine Mile Canyon supposedly is protected under the federal Antiquities Act and already among fewer than 70 comparable wonders listed on the BLM's National Backcountry Byway System. But Bill Barrett holds the leases, and those leases come with rights to explore
and develop a minimum of one well for each parcel, BLM officials said. The company estimates the project would yield about 1 trillion cubic feet of gas during more than three decades of drilling, when big rigs would make hundreds of trips every week for more than three decades up and down the narrow canyon road. The agency already knows that one of the biggest problems is dust and the chemicals used to tamp it down.

Check out the mission statement of the coalition:

Mission Statement

The Nine Mile Canyon Coalition exists to preserve and protect Nine Mile Canyon - in partnership with land holders; user groups; federal, state, and local agencies; and Native American organizations. To that end, the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition will foster educational and interpretive programs which include, but are not limited to: assisting in the coordination of canyon interests; promoting programs of scientific research in the canyon; helping with inventory of cultural and natural resources; raising funds - from earnings or gifts - for research, education, interpretive or preservation programs as such funds become available.

Contact Us

Mailing Address:
PO Box 402
Price, Utah 84501
Email Address:
Nine Mile Canyon Coalition Board Chair
Pam Miller

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


While digging for a ne sewer, Bath (Somerset, England)officials found new evidence that extends the history of the city back thousands of years before its famous Roman baths. At the very depths of the site of a new shopping centre in the heart of the ancient city, archaeologists found the first evidence of human activity near the banks of the River Avon dating back to 8,000 BC, that's before any kind of recorded history and even before the idea of farming had reached the British Isles.

The first "Bathonians" were hunter-gatherers, following herds of deer and other game along the river valley, attracted by the hot springs and the plentiful fish in the River Avon. And on the spot where people would later settle and use the hot springs, they made flint tools, fished and left scraps of archaeological evidence, according to Bath and North East Somerset archaeologist Richard Sermon.


Before Zeus hurled his first thunderbolt from Olympus, the pre-Greek people occupying the land presumably paid homage and offered sacrifices to their own gods and goddesses, whose nature and identities are unknown to scholars today. But archaeologists say they have now found the ashes, bones and other evidence of animal sacrifices to some pre-Zeus deity on the summit of Mount Lykaion, in the region of Greece known as Arcadia. The remains were uncovered last summer at an altar later devoted to Zeus.

Fragments of a coarse, undecorated pottery in the debris indicated that the sacrifices might have been made as early as 3000 BCE, the archaeologists concluded. That was about 900 years before Greek-speaking people arrived, probably from the north in the Balkans, and brought their religion with them. After reviewing the findings of pottery experts, geologists and other archaeologists, David Gilman Romano of the University of Pennsylvania concluded that material at the Lykaion altar "suggests that the tradition of devotion to some divinity on that spot is very ancient" and "very likely predates the introduction of Zeus in the Greek world."
"Evidence uncovered certainly points to activity at the altar in prehistoric times," said Jack Davis, director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, who visited the site several times. "We certainly know that Zeus and a female version of Zeus were worshiped in
prehistoric times," Dr. Davis continued. "The trick will be in defining the precise nature of the site itself before historical times."

At Lykaion, Dr. Romano's team mapped the altar site and dug a test trench, under the direction of Arthur Rhon, emeritus professor of anthropology at Wichita State University. Bones, mostly goats and sheep, were collected. A few bronze artifacts were recovered. Also a
seal stone with an image of a bull, suggesting influence at one time from Minoan Crete. Altar stones were burned and cracked from the sacrificial fires. Dr. Voyatzis said the potsherds were the most telling finds. Their undecorated style, gray color, the feel of the clay and the way it was fired, she said, were diagnostic of pottery 5,000 years ago. "You wouldn’t establish a settlement in a stark, fearful place like this," Dr. Voyatzis said. So the pottery, she added, was presumably there as part of ceremonies at the altar.

Source: New York Times (5 February 2008)

Monday, February 04, 2008


Toe bones from a cave in China suggest people were wearing shoes at least 40,000 years ago. Erik Trinkaus and Hong Shang, from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, measured the shape and density of toe bones from a 40,000-year-old skeleton found in Tianyuan cave near Beijing. They compared these bones with those from 20th century urban Americans, late-prehistoric Inuits and other late-prehistoric Native Americans.
Shoes alter the way a person walks. With a rigid sole the toes curl far less than when barefoot and less force is passed through the bones, leading to obvious differences in the three recent populations. "Modern shoe-wearing Americans have wimpy little toes," says Trinkaus.
Barefoot native Americans have strong, large toes. Shoe-wearing Inuits lie somewhere in between. Trinkaus and Shang found that the Tianyuan toe bones were most similar to the Inuits', indicating that this person regularly wore shoes.

Source: NewScientist (27 January 2008)