Sunday, June 28, 2009


Topper dig is becoming a reknown archeological treasure trove

The Topper archaeological dig site is the subject of the second episode of the new PBS series "Time Team America." It is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. July 15.
An archaeologist who's been digging at the Topper Site in Allendale County for 11 years is uncovering new evidence that could rewrite America's history.

University of South Carolina archaeologist Albert Goodyear found artifacts at this rock quarry site near the Savannah River that indicate humans lived here 37,000 years before the Clovis people at 13,000 years ago.

The site is named for Beaufort County resident David Topper, a forester who led Goodyear to the site in the early 1980s. Goodyear only began intense examination of the site in 1998, after flooding of the Savannah River forced him from a nearby dig.
Goodyear believes it was a factory for the Clovis people, where they came to make tools.

So far, he's found two sets of artifacts at Topper:

• Stone flakes and tools made of flint and chert that date to the Clovis era.

• A fire pit containing plant remains that date to at least 50,000 years ago, which suggest man was in South Carolina long before the last ice age.

Goodyear finished his 12th dig at the site earlier this month and said he's found more artifacts there that were "undeniably human made" in the layers of dirt dating to pre-Clovis and Clovis eras.

Dennis Stanford, head of the archaeology division and director of the Paleo-Indian Program at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, visited Topper earlier this month to observe the excavation. "The Topper site is probably one of the most important sites being excavated in the country today," Stanford said in a news release. "It's a whole new chapter of history unfolding. ... The Smithsonian stands for the acquisition and dispersion of science and knowledge to human communities, and that's exactly what is happening here."

In the pre-Clovis layer, Goodyear found a "core," which is rock altered by human hands that would have been used to quarry or make tools. This year, he also found more flakes and stone chisel-like pieces.

In the Clovis layer, Goodyear found a scraper tool, which he has not seen before among Clovis artifacts. It suggests the people might have been skinning animal hides, which could mean they were living at Topper for a few months at a time, instead of just the few weeks they would need to make tools.

"What we are trying to get at is, how do these humans organize themselves across the South Carolina and Georgia landscape?" he said. "As we understand how the tools function and where they distribute, then we are going to be able to say, wow they were much more sedentary than we believed, or they're not and just use quarries to refill their gas tank." Goodyear said Clovis artifacts have been found as far as 100 miles away.

"We know they are moving," he said. "But the question is, are there places where they're staying for a while? We're just wondering if there might be more to Topper than we know so far based on all of our digging."

The answers to those questions will remain underground until next year's dig.


People were storing grain long before they learned to domesticate crops, a new study indicates. A structure used as a food granary discovered in recent excavations in Jordan dates to about 11,300 years ago, according to a report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That's as much as a thousand years before people in the Middle East domesticated grain, the research team led by anthropologist Ian Kuijt of the University of Notre Dame said.

Remains of wild barley were found in the structure, indicating that the grain was collected and saved even though formal cultivation had not yet developed. The granary was between two other structures used for grain processing and residences, discovered in excavations at Dhra', near the Dead Sea. The granary was round with walls of stone and mud. The researchers said it had a raised floor for air circulation and protection from rodents.

The ability to store food is essential for the development of farming, the researchers said. "The granaries represent a critical evolutionary shift in the relationship between people and plant foods, which precedes the emergence of domestication and large-scale sedentary communities by at least 1,000 years," they reported.

The research was funded by the British Academy, the Council for British Research in the Levant, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the University of Notre Dame.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Archeological Evidence Of Human Activity Found Beneath Lake Huron -- USA

A potential stone hunting blind beneath Lake Huron that is approximately 3.5 m across — More than 100 feet deep in Lake Huron, on a wide stoney ridge that 9,000 years ago was a land bridge, University of Michigan researchers have found the first archeological evidence of human activity preserved beneath the Great Lakes.

The researchers located what they believe to be caribou-hunting structures and camps used by the early hunters of the period.

"This is the first time we've identified structures like these on the lake bottom," said John O'Shea, curator of Great Lakes Archaeology in the Museum of Anthropology and professor in the Department of Anthropology. "Scientifically, it's important because the entire ancient landscape has been preserved and has not been modified by farming, or modern development. That has implications for ecology, archaeology and environmental modeling."

A paper about the findings is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors are O'Shea and Guy Meadows, director of the Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories and a professor in the departments of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.

O'Shea and Meadows found features that they believe to be hunting pits, camps, caribou drive lanes and stone piles used to attract the caribou to the drive lanes. Drive lanes are long rows of rocks used to channel caribou into ambushes. The 1,148-foot structure they believe is a drive lane closely resembles one on Victoria Island in the Canadian subarctic.

The hunting formations are on the 10-mile-wide Alpena-Amberley ridge that stretches more than 100 miles from Point Clark, Ontario to Presque Isle, Michigan. The ridge was a bridge between 10,000 and 7,500 years ago when water levels were much lower. Its surface is relatively unspoiled, unlike coastal areas where scientists believe other archeological sites exist. These coastal sites would now be deeply covered in sediment, so they're often considered lost forever.

O'Shea and Meadows used U-M's new, cutting-edge survey vessel Blue Traveler, sonar equipment and underwater remote-operated vehicles with video cameras to survey these areas. "The combination of these state-of-the art tools have made these underwater archeological investigations possible," Meadows said. "Without any one of these advanced tools, this discovery would not have happened."

Archaeologist will begin examining these areas this summer.

Perhaps more exciting than the hunting structures themselves is the hope they bring that intact settlements are preserved on the lake bottom. These settlements could contain organic artifacts that deteriorate in drier, acidic soils on land.

The research is funded by the National Science Foundation.


Incisions on ochre from a South African cave suggest modern human behavior emerged around 100,000 years ago. Geometric patterns incised on pieces of ancient pigment, such as these 100,000-year-old finds, may reveal the surprisingly ancient origins of modern human behavior.

Analyses of 13 chunks of decorated red ochre (an iron oxide pigment) from Blombos Cave indicate that a cultural tradition of creating meaningful geometric designs stretched from around 100,000 to 75,000 years ago in southern Africa, say anthropologist Christopher Henshilwood of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and his colleagues. Their report appears online and in an upcoming Journal of Human Evolution.

Much debate surrounds the issue of when and where language, religion, symbolic decorations and other facets of modern human behavior originated. Researchers such as Henshilwood hypothesize that modern human behavior developed gradually in Africa, beginning more than 100,000 years ago. Others posit that a brain-boosting genetic mutation around 50,000 years ago fostered modern behavior in Africa. Some researchers suspect that behavioral advances first appeared in Europe, Asia and Africa at that later time.

“What makes the Blombos engravings different is that some of them appear to represent a deliberate will to produce a complex abstract design,” Henshilwood says. “We have not before seen well-dated and unambiguous traces of this kind of behavior at 100,000 years ago.”

Even if the Blombos pigments contain intentional designs, fully modern human behavior — such as the use of figurative art (SN: 6/20/09, p. 11) — didn’t emerge until tens of thousands of years later, contends archaeologist Nicholas Conard of the University of Tuebingen, Germany.

Henshilwood and study coauthor Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux I in Talence, France, disagree. In their view, the Blombos pigments bear intentionally fashioned designs that held some sort of meaning and were passed down the generations for 25,000 years. Thus, the two researchers say, it’s likely that a 100,000-year-old society already steeped in symbolic behavior originally produced the ochre engravings.

In 2002, Henshilwood’s team described evidence of symbolic engravings on two other ochre pieces from Blombos Cave. Those 77,000-year-old finds were excavated in 1999 and 2000. Engraved chunks of pigment in the new analysis were unearthed during the same excavations. A microscopic analysis indicates that ochre designs were made by holding a piece of pigment with one hand while impressing lines into the pigment with the tip of a stone tool. On several pieces, patterns covered areas that had first been ground down. Geometric patterns on the ochre pieces include cross-hatched designs, branching lines, parallel lines and right angles.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Archaeologists have recently uncovered a 29,000 B.C. well-equipped kitchen where roasted gigantic mammoth was one of the last meals served.

The site, called Pavlov VI in the Czech Republic near the Austrian and Slovak Republic borders, provides a homespun look at the rich culture of some of Europe's first anatomically modern humans.

While contemporaneous populations near this region seemed to prefer reindeer meat, the Gravettian residents of this living complex, described in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity, appeared to seek out more super-sized fare.

"It seems that, in contrast to other Upper Paleolithic societies in Moravia,
these people depended heavily on mammoths," project leader Jiri Svoboda told
Discovery News.

Svoboda, a professor at the University of Brno and director of its Institute
of Archaeology, and colleagues recently excavated Pavlov VI, where they found the remains of a female mammoth and one mammoth calf near a 4-foot-wide roasting pit. Arctic fox, wolverine, bear and hare remains were also found, along with a few horse and reindeer bones.

The meats were cooked luau-style underground. Svoboda said, "We found the heating stones still within the pit and around." Boiling pits existed near the middle roaster. He thinks "the whole situation -- central roasting pit and the circle of boiling pits -- was sheltered by a teepee or yurt-like structure."

It's unclear if seafood was added to create a surf-and-turf meal, but multiple decorated shells were unearthed. Many showed signs of cut marks, along with red and black coloration. The scientists additionally found numerous stone tools, such as spatulas, blades and saws, which they suggest were good for carving mammoths.

Perforated, decorative pebbles, ceramic pieces and fragments of fired clay were also excavated. The living unit's occupants left their fingerprints on some of the clay pieces, which they decorated with impressions made from reindeer hair and textiles.

Archaeologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University supports the new study, saying the site was "excavated meticulously" by Svoboda and his team. "This is one more example, in this case from modern detailed excavation and analysis, of the incredibly rich human behavior from this time period," Trinkaus told Discovery News.


An explosion of art, music, jewelry and hunting technology appeared 45,000 years ago because of increased population density, rather than the evolution of the human brain, a recent study has proposed. Researchers used genetic estimates of ancient population sizes, archaeological artifacts and computer simulations of social learning. They found complex skills involving abstract thinking would be passed down through generations and across groups only when populations reach a critical level, according to a study published in the journal Science.

Increased interaction between groups, the sharing of ideas and the exchange of raw materials that led to the flowering of human culture may explain why concentrated centers of industry produce technological innovations, said Mark Thomas, a senior author of the study and a senior lecturer at University College London in England.
"Anything that we teach is going to be susceptible to loss, or to decay," added Thomas, "Unless there are plenty of people to adopt and carry on a new invention. So if there are more people in the population, then more complex skills can be maintained in that population without that decay. Essentially, a group needs to reach a certain threshold population before there are enough good learners and
teachers to guarantee that a new skill will be retained."

People learn from their parents or teachers in their group, and this model demonstrates you have to have a critical number of people learning to develop complexity," Adam Powell, a co-author of the study and a doctoral student at the London university. "The actual invention of all these technologies was probably very common, but was only passed on as density increased." Thomas says his mathematical model suggests that you need about 200 people living in an area of about 35 square miles to get that kind of learning community. But he says you don't need the math to get the idea.

The first widespread evidence of sustained symbolic behavior and abstract thinking emerged about 45,000 years ago. The findings include musical instruments, body decoration with shell beads and tattoos, bows and arrows and microlithic stone blades, according to the study.

Powell said his study may explain why modern human behavior appeared to emerge in different regions of the world at different times. Evidence was seen sporadically as far back as 90,000 years ago in sub-Saharan Africa, with a more sustained pattern 40,000 years ago, and in Europe and western Asia 45,000 years ago. Archaeological
samples indicating similar skills were found in eastern and southern Asia and Australia 30,000 years ago. Population densities would have reached a critical point in sub-Saharan Africa and Europe at about the same time periods, according to the study.

Not everyone is convinced the demographic model caused the behavioral change. Richard Klein, an anthropology and biology professor at Stanford University, said the study is flawed because the examples it cites of human behavior prior to 50,000 years ago are either misdated artifacts or are open to interpretation as to their
level of advancement. Klein is a proponent of a competing theory that attributes the development of modern human behavior to a genetic change to human brains 50,000 years ago. "These behaviors appear to have been part of a package that significantly enhanced human fitness - the ability to survive and reproduce," Klein wrote in a study that was published last year in the journal Evolutionary Anthropology. "It
is in this sense that they signal true evolutionary change as opposed to mere historical change."

Sources: Bloomberg (4 June 2009), NPR (5 June 2009)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


An Iron Age handle inscribed with the Hebrew name "Menachem," that was the name of an Israelite king, has been discovered in an excavation in Jerusalem.

The inscription also includes a partly intact letter, the Hebrew character "lamed," meaning "to." That suggests the jar was a gift to someone named Menachem, said Ron Beeri, who directed the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority. There is no indication the inscription refers to the king himself.

The name and similar variants have been found on Egyptian pottery dating back 3,500 years, and the Bible lists Menachem Ben Gadi as an ancient king of Israel. But this is the first time an artifact bearing the name has been unearthed in Jerusalem, Beeri said.

"It's important because it shows that they actually used the name Menachem during that period," Beeri said. "It's not just from the Bible, but it's also in the archaeological record." Based on the style of the inscription, he dated the handle to around 900 B.C., the time of the first Jewish Temple in Jerusalem as recounted in the Bible.

The vessel the handle was attached to did not survive, so it is impossible to tell what it was used for, Beeri said. Similar vessels were known to have held products like oil or wheat.

Construction workers uncovered the archaeological site while digging the foundation for a girl's school being built in the area, Beeri said. Excavators also uncovered storage vessels and implements from two earlier nomadic settlements, both dating to around 2,000 B.C., he said, as well as artifacts dating from the time of the Roman Empire around 2,000 years ago.

Archaeologists have completed their dig, and construction workers building the school are back on the job, Beeri said.

The Mount of Olives is just outside Jerusalem's Old City. The hill is important to Jews because of its proximity to the destroyed Temple and to Christians, who believe it is the site where Jesus ascended to heaven


In the June Natural History Magazine there's an interesting note:

Irene L Good of Harvard's Peabody Museum and two colleagues studied tiny bits of fiber attached to ancient copper jewelry fragments. The fragments came from Harappa and Chanhu-daro, two archaeological sits in present-day Pakistan that were part of the great Indus civilization that flourished from 2800 to 1900 BC.

Using an electron microscope, Good determined the Indus fibers to be silk (not from moths exploited in China ) but rather from two South Asian silk moths.

So, South Asians were apparently producing home-grown silk two millennia before the Chinese began officially exporting it, around 115 BC.