Friday, October 31, 2008


Experts believe that up to half of the prehistoric art in the Lascaux caves (France) is at risk. Efforts to combat a fungal invasion have been unsuccessful. Meanwhile Unesco, the world cultural body, has threatened to humiliate France by placing the Lascaux caves – known as the 'Sistine Chapel of prehistory' – on its list of endangered sites of universal importance.

The Unesco world heritage committee has given the French government six months to report on the success of its efforts to save the Lascaux cave paintings in Dordogne from an ugly, and potentially destructive, invasion of grey and black fungi.

At the same time, a scientific committee appointed by the French government has conceded that an elaborate treatment with a new fungicide in January failed to stop the mould advancing through one part of the caves. An independent pressure group of scientists and historians claims that up to half of the startlingly beautiful, 17,000- year-old images of bison, horses, wild cattle and ibex are now threatened by the fungal invasion – the second of its kind in eight years.

Officials from the French government's department of historic monuments and experts from all over the world have been quarrelling for years over the best way to preserve the Lascaux paintings. Some experts have accused the French authorities of a series of blunders, including a change in the air-conditioning system in 2000, the use of high-powered lights in the caves and allowing too many 'special' visits.

An independent body, the International Committee for the Protection of Lascaux, infuriated Paris by asking UNESCO to intervene last September. The French authorities initially denied that the Lascaux paintings themselves had been attacked by the second fungal invasion. They later admitted to some blotching on the paintings but no lasting damage. The independent protection committee, citing
information from experts who have visited the caves, insist that some of the images have been irreparably blurred or that their colours have faded.

Recently, the French authorities admitted a setback. A treatment with fungicide in January appeared to have been successful at first but the black and grey blotches are now spreading once again across one part of the paintings, according to an official statement. Marie-Anne Sire, the head curator of Lascaux,said that the news was disappointing but progress was being made. Studies had revealed that the air which used to circulate in the caves had become immobile. This might explain the fungal outbreaks – and to offer a possible solution, she said.

Family finds ancient axes in Brittany

The Museum of Prehistory in Carnac, Brittany, France has unveiled four long polished axes and a submerged menhir alighnement dating from the early Neolithic period.. They were found last year by a family who were collecting shellfish on the beach near Quiberon. Wouldn't that be a wonderful treasure for a chld to have discovered!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The historic Deir al-Sultan monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is in danger of collapse. The church is one of the most sacred sites in Christendom. By tradition, it is the site both of Golgotha where the New Testament says that Jesus was crucified,[2] and the place where Jesus was buried (the sepulchre).

The monastery's two chapels and the tiny rooms where its monks live could crumble, injuring the many tourists who visit the site, as well as the monks who live there, and even the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself.

An engineer who examined the structures recently said the complex was a "danger to human life." As long ago as 2004, before the situation worsened to its present emergency state, the Interior Ministry said it would pay for renovations. However, because of a long-standing dispute between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, whose clergy live at the site, and the Coptic Church, which claims ownership of it, the parties have not managed to reach an agreement that would allow renovations to proceed. The Interior Ministry has made clear to various church officials over the years that it would pay for the work only if the various ownership issues were resolved among the denominations.

The head of the Ethiopian Church in Jerusalem, Archbishop Matthias, sent a letter about 10 days ago to Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and to the minister in charge of Jerusalem affairs, Rafi Eitan, in which he warned of the sorry state of the complex as well as of his unwillingness to come to an agreement with the Copts. With regard to the Interior Ministry's demand that the two denominations come to terms, the archbishop said: "This condition is completely unacceptable to us, since we do not recognize any right of the Coptic church in the area in question. Moreover, it is inconceivable that the implementation of emergency repairs at the holy site would be conditioned on the consent of the Coptic church. Indeed, there is disagreement between us and the Coptic church regarding the rights at the site in question, but that is precisely the reason we are turning to the Israeli authorities, as a neutral factor, to carry out the necessary repairs."

Deir al-Sultan monastery contains 26 small rooms for the use of Ethiopian monks, four service and storage rooms, a large open courtyard and two chapels, one above the other, which are entered from the courtyard and exit into the entrance plaza of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre below.

This is far from the first dispute between the denominations that share space in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre regarding its maintenance and the use of its various areas. Three large denominations have control of the church: the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. Smaller denominations with rights in the church include the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Copts, as well as the Syriac Orthodox. One of the best known disputes between the communities surrounds the question of which denomination has the right to remove a ladder that was placed on a ledge outside an upper-floor window in the 19th century. Because no agreement has been concluded, the ladder stands there to this day, above the main entrance to the church!

Dates from China show early hominins left Africa 1.8 MYA

Over a million years ago, a band of early humans left their stone
tools and two front teeth near a stream in southwest China. This find
indicates that early humans left Africa 1.8 million years ago.

For decades, the precise age of the fossils has remained a mystery,
leaving open a central question in paleontology that how quickly
did our human ancestors reach China after leaving Africa?

Now, thanks to advanced dating techniques, scientists may finally
have the answer. Although the original hillside where the fossils
were found has been excavated, the discoverers recorded the layer
of sediment where they uncovered the teeth and tools.

The new team traced that sediment layer - or time horizon - throughout
the basin, collecting 318 rock samples from it. Now, a team of Chinese
and American researchers has redated the Yuanmou Basin site using
a paleomagnetic technique that relies on rock samples to determine
the direction of Earth's magnetic field when the rocks were formed.

Chinese paleontologists discovered the two incisors in 1965 and the
relatively simple stone tools in 1973 in the Yuanmou Basin.

The teeth came from a hominin, the group that includes humans and our
exclusive ancestors, and might be from the species Homo erectus,
a direct ancestor of humans that may have been the first human to
spread beyond Africa about 1.8 million years ago.

Lacking solid dates, researchers thought until a decade ago that
the earliest humans didn't reach Asia until 1 million years ago.
But a series of dates for fossils from one site in Java, Indonesia,
in particular, have recently shown that Homo erectus was there 1.66
million years ago and possibly earlier.

This has changed the old textbook view that human ancestors spread around
the globe only after they had big brains and more advanced stone hand
axes, which appear in Africa about 1.6 million years ago.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

10,000 year old Neolithic megalithic temple in Turkey

This is a very exciting site and you can find the full story in the November/December 2008 Archaeology Magazine with some excellent photos.

The oldest man-made place of worship yet discovered, Göbekli Tepe is "one of the most important monuments in the world," says Hassan Karabulut, associate curator of the nearby Urfa Museum. Göbekli Tepe's circles range from 30 to 100 feet in diameter and are surrounded by rectangular stone walls about six feet high. Many of the pillars are carved with elaborate animal figure reliefs. In addition to bulls, foxes, and cranes, representations of lions, ducks, scorpions, ants, spiders, and snakes appear on the pillars. Freestanding sculptures depicting the animals have also been found
within the circles. During the most recent excavation season, archaeologists uncovered a statue of a human and sculptures of a vulture's head and a boar.

It is likely the megaliths, limestone pillars, at this Neolithic site in southeast Turkey once supported roofs. Archaeologists have found floors constructed of burnt lime and clay within the stone circles - the earliest such floors ever discovered. The press is fond of calling the site 'the Turkish Stonehenge,' but the comparison hardly does justice to this 25-acre arrangement of at least seven stone circles. The first structures at Göbekli Tepe were built as early as 10,000 BCE, predating their famous British counterpart by about 7,000 years.

Excavations have revealed that Göbekli Tepe was constructed in two stages. The oldest structures belong to what archaeologists call the early Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period, which ended around 9000 BCE. Strangely enough, the later remains, which date to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period, or about 8000 BCE, are less elaborate.

The earliest levels contain most of the T-shaped pillars and animal sculptures. Archaeologist Klaus Schmidt and his colleagues estimate that at least 500 people were required to hew the 10- to 50-ton stone pillars from local quarries, move them from as far as a quarter-mile away, and erect them.

Before the discovery of Göbekli Tepe, archaeologists believed that societies in the early Neolithic were organized into small bands of hunter-gatherers and that the first complex religious practices were developed by groups that had already mastered agriculture. Scholars thought that the earliest monumental architecture was possible only after agriculture provided Neolithic people with food surpluses, freeing them from a constant focus on day-to-day survival. A site of unbelievable artistry and intricate detail, Göbekli Tepe has turned this theory on its head.

Archaeologist Schmidt who has worked at the site since 1994, believes the people who created these massive and enigmatic structures came from great distances. It seems certain that once pilgrims reached Göbekli Tepe, they made animal sacrifices. Schmidt and his team have found the bones of wild animals, including gazelles, red deer, boars, goats, sheep, and oxen, plus a dozen different bird species, such as vultures and ducks, scattered around the site. Most of these animals are depicted in the sculptures and reliefs at the site.

Schmidt has another theory about how Göbekli Tepe became a sacred place. Though he has yet to find them, he believes that the first stone circles on the hill of the navel marked graves of important people. Schmidt is reasonably confident that burials lie somewhere in the earliest layers of Göbekli Tepe. This leads him to suspect the pillars represent human beings and that the cult practices at this site may initially have focused on some sort of ancestor worship. The T-shaped pillars, he points out, look like human bodies with the upper part of the 'T' resembling a head in profile. Once, Schmidt says, they stood on the hillside "like a meeting of stone beings."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Copper Age in Balkans begins about 5th Millennium BC

Belgrade - Serbian archaeologists say a 7 500-year-old copper axe found at a Balkan site shows the metal was used in the Balkans hundreds of years earlier than previously thought. The find near the Serbian town of Prokuplje shifts the timeline of the Copper Age and the Stone Age's neolithic period, archaeologist Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic told the independent Beta news agency.

The Copper Age marks the first stage of humans' use of metal. It is thought to have started in about the 4th millennium BC in southeastern Europe and earlier in the Middle East. Archaeologists at the Plocnik site also found furnace and melting pots with traces of copper, suggesting the site may have been an important metal age
center of the Balkans.

"All this undeniably proves that human civilization in this area produced metal in the 5th millennium BC," said archaeologist Dusan Sljivar.

Vinca culture flourished from 6th to 3rd millennium BC in present-day Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia. Its name came from the village Vinca on the Danube river, some 14 kilometres downstream from Belgrade.,,2-13-1443_2405843,00.html


Until now it has been extremely difficult to pinpoint when prehistoric cave paintings and carvings were created, but a pioneering technique is allowing researchers to date cave art accurately for the first time and show how the works were crafted over thousands of years.

Dr Alistair Pike, an archaeologist at Bristol University who is leading the research, said: "The art gives us a really intimate window into the minds of the individuals who produced them, but what we don't know is exactly which individuals they were as we don't know exactly when the art was created. If we can date the art then we can relate that to the artifacts we find in the ground and start to link the symbolic thoughts of these individuals to where, when and how they were living."

Hundreds of caves have been discovered across Europe with elaborate prehistoric paintings and carvings on their walls. It is thought the designs, which often depict scenes of animals, like bison, grazing or hunting expeditions, were created up to 40,000 years ago - sometime after humans began moving from southern Europe into northern Europe during the last ice age.

Traditional dating techniques have relied on carbon dating the charcoal and other pigment used in the paintings, but this can be inaccurate as it only gives the date the charcoal was created not when the work was crafted. Taking samples for carbon dating also means destroying a bit of these precious paintings because you need to take away a bit of the pigment.

But in research published today by the Natural Environment Research Council's new website Planet Earth, Dr Pike discovered some of the paintings at Alta Mira, in Spain, were between 25,000 and 35,000 years old. The youngest paintings in the cave
were 11,000 years old.

Dr Pike said: "We have found that most of these caves were not painted in one go, but the painting spanned up to 20,000 years. "It is probably the case that people did not live in the caves they painted. It seems the caves they lived in were elsewhere and there was something special about the painted caves."

Dr Pike and his team were able to date the paintings using a technique known as uranium series dating, which was originally developed by geologists to date rock formations such as stalactites and stalagmites in caves.

As water seeps through a cave, it carries extremely low levels of dissolved
radioactive uranium along with the mineral calcium carbonate. Over time small amounts of calcium carbonate are deposited to form hard layer over the paintings and this layer also traps the uranium. Due to its radioactive properties, the uranium slowly decays to become another element known as thorium. By comparing the ratio of uranium to thorium in the thin layers on top of the cave art, the researchers were able to calculate the age of the paintings.

The researchers have also applied their technique to engravings found in rocks around Cresswell Crags in Derbyshire, which are Britain's only examples of ice age cave art. They proved the engravings were made at least 12,000 years ago.

Professor Pablo Arias, an expert on Palaeolithic cave art at University of Cantabria, Spain, said: "Until about ten years ago it was only possible to date cave art by using the style of the figures, but this new technique developed by Bristol allows that date to be accurately bracketed.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

US Ratifies Cultural Property Treaty

The United States Senate has voted to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. This international convention regulates the conduct of nations during war and military occupation in order to assure the protection of cultural sites, monuments and repositories, including museums, libraries and archives.

Although the United States signed the Convention soon after its writing, the Pentagon objected to ratification because of increasing Cold War tensions. Only with the collapse of the Soviet Union did the U.S. military withdraw its objections, and President Clinton transmitted it to the Senate in 1999.

The public attention given to the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, and the looting of archaeological sites in southern Iraq during the ensuing years revived interest in the Convention, and the Senate finally voted to give its advice and consent to ratification on September 25, 2008.

While U.S. policy has been to follow the principles of the Convention, ratification will raise the imperative of protecting cultural heritage during conflict, including the incorporation of heritage preservation into military planning, will clarify the
United States' obligations, and will encourage the training of military personnel in cultural heritage preservation and the recruitment of cultural heritage professionals into the military.

Patty Gerstenblith, President of the Lawyers' Committed for Cultural Heritage Preservation, cited among the advantages of ratification, "Most importantly, it sends a clear signal to other nations that the United States respects their cultural heritage and will facilitate U.S. cooperation with its allies and coalition partners in achieving more effective preservation efforts in areas of armed conflict."

The Archaeological Institute of America has advocated ratification of the Hague Convention for more than fifteen years. John Russell, Vice President for Professional Responsibilities of the AIA, commented that "By ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention, the U.S. has affirmed its commitment to protecting cultural property during armed
conflict. The Archaeological Institute of America will continue to work with the Department of Defense to integrate the Convention's provisions fully and consistently into the U.S. military training curriculum at all levels."

Saturday, October 04, 2008

PERU-new site near Nazca lines

A new remote sensing technology has peeled away layers of mud and rock near Peru's Cahuachi desert to reveal an ancient adobe pyramid, Italian researchers announced at a satellite imagery conference in Rome. Nicola Masini and Rosa Lasaponara of Italy's National Research Council (CNR) discovered the pyramid by analyzing images from the
satellite Quickbird, which they used to penetrate the Peruvian soil.

The researchers investigated a test area along the river Nazca. Covered by plants and grass, it was about a mile away from Cahuachi's archaeological site, which contains the remains of what is believed to be the world's biggest mud city. Via Quickbird, Masini and colleagues collected hi-resolution infrared and multispectral images. After the researchers optimized the images with special algorithms, the result was a detailed visualization of a pyramid extending over a 9,000-square-meter area.

The discovery doesn't come as a surprise to archaeologists, since some 40 mounds at Cahuachi are believed to contain the remains of important structures. "We know that many buildings are still buried under Cahuachi's sands, but until now, it was almost impossible to exactly locate them and detect their shape from an aerial view," Masini said. "The biggest problem was the very low contrast between adobe, which is sun-dried earth, and the background subsoil."

Cahuachi is the best-known site of the Nazca civilization, which flourished in Peru between the first century BCE and the fifth century CE and slid into oblivion by the time the Inca Empire rose to dominate the Andes. Famous for carving in the Peruvian desert hundreds of geometric lines and images of animals and birds that are best viewed from the air, the Nazca people built Cahuachi as a ceremonial center, molding pyramids, temples and plazas from the desert itself. There, priests led ceremonies including human sacrifices, drawing people from across the region.

Between 300 and 350 CE, two natural disasters - a powerful flood and a devastating earthquake - hit Cahuachi. The site lost its sacred power to the Nazca, who then abandoned the area. But before leaving, they sealed all monuments and buried them under the desert sand.

"Up to now, we have completely unearthed and restored a huge asymmetrical pyramid, known as the Grand Pyramid. A terraced temple and a smaller pyramid are in an advanced state of excavation,"
Source: Discovery News (3 October 2008)