Sunday, January 31, 2010


Two British film-makers have discovered what they believe to be the source of the 1,900-year old aqueduct built by the emperor Trajan in the early second century AD.

The underground chambers were found - and filmed - after some years of research into Roman hydraulics by the documentary-makers Ted O'Neill and his father Michael O'Neill.

According to Ted, it took some perseverance to find the location, which was hidden beneath a disused church some 30-40km north-west of Rome. Despite difficulties and delays in getting access to the site, the O'Neills were finally able to enter the underground chambers of the church in June 2009.

While the aqueduct was used from Roman times until the ninth or tenth centuries, by the Renaissance period it had fallen out of use. It was rebuilt by Pope Paul V between 1605 and 1615 and renamed the Aqua Paola after him. It still carries spring water to Rome to this day (culminating at 'Il Fontanone' on the Janiculum Hill).

However, the source of the Aqua Traiana/Aqua Paola had fallen out of the public consciousness, despite the fact that it was known as recently as 1935. A reference to it in a book, The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome by Thomas Ashby, who was director of the British School at Rome between 1906 and 1925, helped lead the O'Neill team to the right spot near the ruined chapel of Santa Fiore, on the shores of Lake Martignano (near Lake Bracciano).

The source is right in ancient Etruria - the area of northern Lazio and southern Tuscany today - and was also an important water source for the Etruscans. The Romans, under emperor Trajan at the start of the second century AD, then built a nymphaeum at the site and built their aqueduct to take the water to Rome.

"The water was also important as a domestic source. Trajan went to great lengths to collect very pure spring water, which enabled a big improvement in hygiene and sanitation, as well as drinking water. I don't think it's a coincidence that at the time, the empire was able to grow to its greatest extent, while the city of Rome also had a population of as many as 1.5 million."

The team was researching and filming another Roman aqueduct at the time - the Aqua Alsietina, which also begins at Lake Martignano. Ted O'Neill said: "We've been very interested in aqueducts from the north of Rome - although those that come into Rome from Tivoli and from the Castelli Romani are more commonly talked about."

The shores of both Lake Bracciano and Lake Martignano were known to the ancient Romans as a leisure retreat from the city. The Aqua Alsietina transported water into the Trastevere area of Rome (to Augustus's 'naumachia' -a man-made lake where the Romans could re-enact sea battles).

The O'Neills run a small production company making documentaries and films. Film-makers by trade, their work has led them to some in-depth research into the aqueducts of Rome since they first became interested in the Aqua Vergine Nuova some time ago. They are interested in documenting these ancient structures from an historical viewpoint, as well as covering the Renaissance restorations and the modern state and use of the aqueducts.


New from Professor João Zilhão and colleagues, builds on his earlier research which proposed that, south of the Cantabro-Pyrenean mountain chain,Neanderthals survived for several millennia after being replaced or assimilated by anatomically modern humans everywhere else in Europe.

Although the reality of this 'Ebro Frontier' pattern has gained wide acceptance since it was first proposed by Professor Zilhão some twenty years ago, two important aspects of the model have remained the object of unresolved controversy: the exact duration of the frontier; and the causes underlying the eventual disappearance of those refugial Neanderthal populations (ecology and climate, or competition with modern humanimmigrants).

Professor Zilhão and colleagues now report new dating evidence for the Late Aurignacian of Portugal, an archaeological culture unquestionably associated with modern humans, that firmly constrains the age of the last Neanderthals of southern and western Iberia to no younger than some 37,000 years ago.

This new evidence therefore puts at five millennia the duration of the Iberian Neanderthal refugium, and counters speculations that Neanderthal populations could have remained in the Gibraltar area until 28,000 years ago.

These findings have important implications for the understanding of the archaic features found in the anatomy of a 30,000 year old child unearthed at Lagar Velho, Portugal. With the last of the Iberian Neanderthals dating to many millennia before the child was born, 'freak' crossbreeding between immediate ancestors drawn from distinct 'modern' and 'Neanderthal' gene pools cannot be a viable explanation. The skeleton's archaic features must therefore represent evolutionarily significant admixture at the time of contact, as suggested by the team who excavated and studied the fossil.

Professor Zilhão said: "I believe the 'Ebro frontier' pattern was generated by both climatic and demographic factors, as it coincides with a period of globally milder climate during which oak and pine woodlands expanded significantly along the west façade of Iberia.

"Then, as environments opened up again for large herbivore herds and their hunters as a result of the return to colder conditions, interaction and movement across the previous boundary must have ensued, and the last of the Neanderthals underwent the same processes of assimilation or replacement that underpin their demise elsewhere in Europe five millennia earlier."

Professor Wild, head of the 14C program at VERA (Vienna Environmental Research Accelerator) said: "Accurate 14C dating was crucial for this study. For layer 2 of the cave sediment we achieved this by selecting teeth for 14C dating and by comparing the 14C results of the same sample after different, elaborate sample pre-treatments. Agreement between the results obtained with different methods provides a proof for accurate dating."

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Since I am the co-author of Oxford University Press "Digging for the Past" book titled Stonehenge (with Cambridge Don Caroline Malone) I am delighted to note the following. Just hope this is a final approval!

In the latest chapter in the 20 year-long saga surrounding the English Heritage-backed project, Wiltshire County Council approved the £20 million proposals for the Airman's Corner site 2.5km west of Stonehenge. Plans for the closure of the A344 adjacent to the stones will now be submitted for approval.

Following a lengthy consultation and extensive technical assessments, the Prime Minister announced on 13 May last year that Airman's Corner would be the location for new Stonehenge visitor facilities. Together with proposals for the closure of the A344, the scheme will enhance the monument's setting by removing the existing visitor facilities (including car parking) and improving the visitor experience with new exhibition and education facilities. A fully accessible transit system will run from the new visitor centre to a drop-off near the Stones.

Airman's Corner is about 1.5 miles (2.5km) west from Stonehenge, on the junction of the A344 and A360. It is at the edge of the World Heritage Site and is easily accessible by road. The land is currently used for farming, with very few residents living close to the site.

Sources: Andover Advertiser, The Architects' Journal (21 January 2010)
[7 images]


A giraffe depicted on the walls of Inanke has been called the finest animal painting in Zimbabwe. It's just one of the many treasures found in the Inanke cave.
Fundamental to San beliefs is the concept of "potency," a measure of spiritual essence that is represented in the paintings by the stippled ovals from which the giant rises. While possibly related to beehives prized by the San, these intricately crafted shapes are largely abstract evocations of spiritual forces unifying all of nature. Scattered across the frieze and clustered at the center of Inanke, they suggest a huge reservoir representing an entire community's potency and its integration with the bounteous wildlife thronging around and over it. The dense, overlapping paintings of Inanke probably accumulated over centuries, if not millennia, and do not constitute a continuous narrative in the sense of Western art; yet their very longevity and diversity make them especially compelling expressions of San cosmology. As Mr. Garlake wrote: "For visitors able to reach Inanke, the reward is unsurpassed."

Check out the following to see the images:

Source: The Wall Street Journal (23 January 2010)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


For more on this fascinating story -- be sure and read The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Geometric shapes dug into the earth were first noticed by a Finnish archeologist flying over the Amazon. The shapes are made up of a series of trenches topped by banks and connected by a network of straight roads. The geometric shapes are thought to be the remains of roads, bridges. moats and squares: the basis for a civilization spanning 155 miles.

Since the time of the conquistadors, the legend of an ancient, lost civilisation deep in the Amazon forest has beguiled hundreds of explorers and led many to their deaths. Some called their dream El Dorado. Others, most notably Colonel Percy Fawcett, the gloriously moustached British explorer (and real-life model for Indiana Jones) named it the City of Z. But no one has ever returned from the Amazon with conclusive proof that such a place existed.

Three scientists have now come close to doing just that. The journal Antiquity has published a report showing more than 200 massive earthworks in the upper Amazon basin near Brazil’s border with Bolivia. From the sky it looks as if a series of geometric figures has been carved into the earth, but the archeologists and historians who published the report believe these shapes are the remains of roads, bridges, moats, avenues and squares that formed the basis for a sophisticated civilization spanning 155 miles, which could have supported a population of 60,000. The remains date from AD 200 to 1283.

It is an astonishing find — one that builds on recent archeological work in Brazil and northern Bolivia and the availability of Google Earth images of deforested sections of the Amazon. Since the 1980s anthropologists have begun to uncover evidence of advanced civilizations who lived in the Amazon basin: this latest development trumps them all.

David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z, believes the importance of this discovery cannot be overstated. “It shatters the prevailing notions of what the Amazon looked like before the arrival of Christopher Columbus,” he says.

The dream of finding lost civilizations in South America has persisted for centuries, largely because of a couple of earth-shattering early successes. As John Hemming, a former director of the Royal Geographical Society, recounts in his 1978 book, The Search For El Dorado, it was the conquistadors who started the craze. In 1519 Hernan Cortes and his soldiers discovered the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, in Mexico. In the early 1530s, Francisco Pizarro conquered the Incan empire, in what is now Peru. The idea of a “golden city” somewhere deeper in the unexplored wilds was lodged in the European imagination and never released its hold.

In 1925 Percy Fawcett, near-destitute at the time, set out on his second and last expedition to find the City of Z. He wrote to his wife: “You need have no fear of any failure.” But he was never seen again. In 1927 he was declared missing by the Royal Geographical Society. Two subsequent missions attempted to find him, but with no success.

Nearly a century after Fawcett’s disappearance, his instincts appear to have been proved correct. “Although he expected the City of Z to be built of stone, and although by the end of his life he had a more fantastical notion of what it would look like, these discoveries show that he was, in many ways, extraordinarily prescient,” says Grann.

Others are not convinced. Hemming says that while the paper in Antiquity is “significant work by serious people ... none of this has anything remotely to do with El Dorado or that racist, incompetent nutter Percy Fawcett. It’s as though someone tried to link a discovery at Stonehenge with, say, Edward Lear’s travels in the Balkans”.

The authors published one report in 2003 and then waited for three years for permission to start excavating the area. The use of Google Earth satellite images in pinpointing the exact sites has made their job easier than previous archeological work in the region. But their find is, by any measure, impressive.

Grann believes this discovery will lead not only to a reassessment of the potential of pre-Christopher Columbus Amazon peoples, but also to an increasing archeological interest in the region. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “The authors of the latest study estimate that scientists have found, in this particular area, only 10% of the geometric earthworks and ruins that are actually there. It will take decades for scientists to uncover the full extent of this and other ancient Amazonian civilisations.”

The worlds of archeology and science may take longer to acknowledge the eccentric explorer. But, whatever Fawcett’s foibles, he does appear to have been broadly right. Moreover, his memory will be prolonged by a film adaptation of The Lost City of Z in which he will be played by Brad Pitt. Talk about a comeback.


Although I usually leave these stories to the Egypt BLOGS, this is important!

Archaeologists in Egypt have said they have discovered the largest known tomb in the ancient necropolis of Sakkara, to the south of Cairo.

The tomb dates back 2,500 years to the 26th Dynasty and contains important artifacts, including mummified eagles.

It is one of two newly discovered tombs found by an Egyptian team working close to the entrance of Sakkara, the burial ground for Egypt's ancient capital.

There are a number of small rooms and passageways where ancient coffins, skeletons and well-preserved clay pots were discovered, as well as the mummies of eagles.

Egypt's chief archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, who announced the discovery, said that early investigations showed that although the tomb dated back to the 26th Dynasty, it had been used several times. He said it was most likely to have been robbed at the end of the Roman period.


Experts on prehistoric man are rethinking their dates after a find in a southern French valley that suggests our ancestors may have reached Europe 1.57 million years ago: 200,000 earlier than we thought.

What provoked the recount was a pile of fossilized bones and teeth uncovered 15 years ago by local man Jean Rouvier in a basalt quarry at Lezignan la Cebe, in the Herault valley, Languedoc.

In the summer of 2008, Rouvier mentioned his find to Jerome Ivorra, an archaeological researcher at France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The subsequent dig uncovered not just a large variety of ancient animal bones but, about 10 meters (yards) down and under the basalt layer, 20 or so tools, most of which bore traces of use.

The surprise came when argon dating showed the site went back 1.57 million years -- substantially older than many other prehistoric sites -- according to a paper published in the specialist journal, Comptes Rendus Palevol.

It is older, for example, than the Spanish site at Atapuerca, which dates back a mere 1.2 to 1.1 million years.

More digs were planned for 2010 to discover more about the site, the statement added.


Recent excavations in Israel appear to show that Stone Age ancestors began at a surprisingly early stage to organize their open-air living spaces into separate clusters for different activities. One area was primarily for preparing and eating food and another, more than 25 feet away, for most of their manufacturing of stone tools.

Archaeologists who reported the findings said that having the discrete areas for different activities indicated “a formalized conceptualization of a living space, often considered to reflect sophisticated cognition.”

And the surprise, they said, was to find the evidence for it at an encampment that was occupied as early as 790,000 years ago. Such living and working patterns were previously thought to be associated only with modern Homo sapiens and thus a behavior that emerged in the last 200,000 years.

In the journal report, Nira Alperson-Afil and her colleagues noted, “Modern use of space requires social organization and communication between group members, and is thought to involve kinship, gender, status and skill.”

Dr. Alperson-Afil, an archaeologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and researchers from Germany, Israel and the United States analyzed the remains from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, in the northern Jordan River Valley, where human ancestors had lived on the shore of an ancient lake. Superimposed levels of artifacts indicated the site was occupied over a period of 100,000 years.

Excavations directed by Naama Goren-Inbar, also of Hebrew University, had already exposed evidence, reported a year ago, that occupants of the site had the ability to make and control fire. If correct, this is the first definitive example of fire-making mastery.

“This is an extraordinary site,” said Alison S. Brooks, an anthropology professor at George Washington University, who was not involved in the research. “There are very, very few such sites from that time in Africa, the Middle East or anywhere.”

The identity of the occupants of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov is unknown; none of their skeletal remains have been found there. Scientists said they could have been Homo erectus, a species that presumably left Africa more than a million years earlier, or a more recent intermediate species in the human family.

Dr. Alperson-Afil’s team reported that the occupants “skillfully produced stone tools, systematically butchered and exploited animals, gathered plant food and controlled fire.” Burned flint, wood and other organic material showed the presence of fires in hearths at specific places.

Dr. Goren-Inbar and Dr. Sharon said, “The fact that we recognized activity zones and defined some of the activities that took place there is a breakthrough by itself.”

Monday, January 18, 2010


Note: I heard this presentation at the Archaeological Institute of America Annual meeting and was quite convinced.

Stone hand axes unearthed on the Mediterranean island of Crete indicate that an ancient Homo species - perhaps Homo erectus - had used rafts or other seagoing vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe via at least some of the larger islands in between, says archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island.

Several hundred double-edged cutting implements discovered at nine sites in southwestern Crete date to at least 130,000 years ago and probably much earlier said Strasser in his talk.

Many of these finds closely resemble hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by H. erectus, he says. It was around that time that H. erectus spread from Africa to parts of Asia and Europe.

Until now, the oldest known human settlements on Crete dated to around 9,000 years ago. Traditional theories hold that early farming groups in southern Europe and the Middle East first navigated vessels to Crete and other Mediterranean islands at that time.

Questions remain about whether African hominids used Crete as a stepping stone to reach Europe or accidentally ended up on Crete from time to time when close-to-shore rafts were blown out to sea, remarks archaeologist Robert Tykot of the University of South Florida in Tampa. Only in the past decade have researchers
established that people reached Crete before 6,000 years ago, Tykot says.

In excavations conducted near Crete's southwestern coast during 2008 and 2009, Strasser's team unearthed hand axes at caves and rock shelters. Most
of these sites were situated in an area called Preveli Gorge, where a river
has gouged through many layers of rocky sediment.

At Preveli Gorge, Stone Age artifacts were excavated from four terraces
along a rocky outcrop that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Tectonic activity has pushed older sediment above younger sediment on Crete, so 130,000-year-old artifacts emerged from the uppermost terrace. Other terraces received age estimates of 110,000 years, 80,000 years and 45,000 years.

Intriguingly, he notes, hand axes found on Crete were made from local quartz but display a style typical of ancient African artifacts.

Strasser has conducted excavations on Crete for the past 20 years. He had been searching for relatively small implements that would have been made from chunks of chert no more than 11,000 years ago. But a current team member, archaeologist Curtis Runnels of Boston University, pointed out that Stone Age folk would likely have favored quartz for their larger implements. "Once we started looking for quartz tools, everything changed," Strasser says.


An agreement signed is aimed at safeguarding thousands of prehistoric American Indian drawings and carvings from truckers' dust in a famed Utah canyon (USA) near where a Colorado company wants to dramatically increase energy development. The pact signed at the Utah Capitol is the first major attempt to address concerns over dust in Nine Mile Canyon, whose miles of decorated walls are sometimes called the world's longest art gallery.

The canyon has been the focus of intense debate for several years after Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp. proposed developing 800 natural gas wells on West Tavaputs Plateau, which sits above Nine Mile Canyon.

The Bureau of Land Management has not made a final decision on Bill Barrett's proposal. The primary concern has been concern over dust from the unpaved road being kicked up by an increasing number of trucks ferrying equipment and workers. Some worry the dust could hurt the ancient art panels depicting bighorn sheep, owls, a two-headed snake, spear-wielding hunters and warriors engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

The agreement is meant to lay out protections for the rock art if Bill Barrett's proposal is approved. It was signed by BLM officials, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Bill Barrett Corp., as well as environmental and archaeological groups and advocates for the 78-mile-long canyon. The deal, affecting some 233 square miles, including the canyon and the West Tavaputs Plateau, includes a list of tasks such as more dust suppression and studies to determine if the rock art is being harmed.

Pam Miller, chair of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, said she's happy to see efforts to tamp down dust and study its potentially adverse effects. Whether the BLM cracks down when problems crop up will be something her group will be watching for. "We haven't always been listened to before when we've reported problems," Miller said. "But we're hopeful. We sincerely hopes it's going to work."


Professor Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa has deciphered an inscription on a pottery shard discovered in the Elah valley dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David's reign), and has shown that this is a Hebrew inscription. The discovery makes this the earliest known Hebrew writing.

The significance of this breakthrough relates to the fact that at least some of the biblical scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates presented today in research.

Friday, January 01, 2010


Winter solstice sunrise at the famous Neolithic monument at Newgrange, Co Meath (Ireland), is, as always, welcome and rich in symbolism. An attempt to recreate the Solstice phenomenon at Newgrange has been made by student archaeologists as the annual 'dawn watch' began at the east Meath national monument. They built a replica of the megalithic tomb creating a lightbox that allowed light into the chamber at dawn and the entire experiment has been broadcast on RTE television.

Meanwhile, 52 people who won a place in the tomb at Newgrange in a raffle earlier this year joined the 2009 'dawn watch'. Groups of people gathered in the tomb for 5 mornings to wait for the light to enter the tomb at dawn. Among those who won the opportunity were people who traveled to Meath from Los Angeles and other parts of
the US, France, Sweden, Portugal, Austria, the UK and all over Ireland. The names of the winners were drawn from 32,995 entries by children from Slane, Knockcommon and Donore National Schools in September.

On the actual winter solstice, invited guests included Dr. Ed Krupp of Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, a renowned arhaeological astronomer, and other dignitaries. Also on the same morning, hundreds of visitors waited outside the tomb to watch the sunrise.


Recent work at Neanderthal sites has demonstrated that our evolutionary cousins divided up their living spaces into activity areas. New research at rock shelters like Abric Romaní in Spain and Tor Faraj in Jordan, where Neandertals lived between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago - before modern humans migrated into Europe and Asia - has demonstrated spatial organization at times indistinguishable from that
typical of H. sapiens.

Now, a team working at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov (GBY), a 790,000-year-old site in northern Israel's Hula Valley, claims that a much older species also showed tendencies toward tidiness. Analysis of the spatial distribution of the findings there reveals a pattern of specific areas in which various activities were carried out. This kind of designation indicates a formalized conceptualization of living space, requiring social organization and communication between group members. Such organizational skills are thought to be unique to modern humans.

The new Hebrew University study describes an Acheulian (an early stone tools Culture) layer at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov that has been dated to about 750,000 years ago. The evidence found there consists of numerous stone tools, animal bones and a rich collection of botanical remains.

Analyses of the spatial distribution of all these finds revealed two activity areas in the layer: the first area is characterized by abundant evidence of flint tool manufacturing. A high density of fish remains in this area also suggests that the processing and consumption of many fish were carried out in this area. In the second area,identified evidence indicates a greater variation of activities all of which took place in the vicinity of a hearth. Processing of basalt and limestone was spatially restricted to the hearth area, where activities indicate the use of large stone tools such as hand axes, chopping tools, scrapers, and awls. The presence of stone hammers, and in particular of pitted anvils (used as nutting stones), suggest that nut processing was carried out near the hearth and may have involved the use of nut roasting. In addition, fish and crabs were probably consumed near the hearth.

The team concludes, in its report on the findings, that the GBY hominins' division of their living space into designated activity areas is a sign of 'sophisticated cognition' once thought to be the special preserve of modern humans.

Clive Gamble, an archaeologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, says the new work confirms other research showing that H. heidelbergensis "was a very tidy Species." At the 500,000-year-old site of Boxgrove in southern England, Gamble points out, "across a landscape with no hearths they followed rules about where to get, make, and throw away their stone tools. There was nothing random in these activities, and GBY now extends this pattern back in time."


The team who worked on the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2009 are to return to their findings to explain the eating habits of the people who built and worshipped at the stone circle over four thousand years ago. Once again led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson from the University of Sheffield, the new 'Feeding Stonehenge' project will analyse a range of materials including cattle bones and plant residue.

At the time of the Winter Solstice experts believe people would have brought livestock with them to Stonehenge for a solstice feast. Initial research suggests the animals were brought considerable distances to the ceremonial site at this time of year. "One of the unforeseen outcomes (of the Stonehenge Riverside Project) is the vast quantity of new material - flint tools, animal bones, pottery, plant
remains, survey data, and chemical samples - which now needs analyzing," explained Professor Parker Pearson. "We are going to know so much about the lives of the people who built Stonehenge - how they lived, what they ate, where they came from."

The research will also offer a better understanding of the dressing of the famous sarsen stones of Stonehenge and insights into how the public and private spaces at
Durrington Walls and Stonehenge differ from each other. Researchers will also try and ascertain whether Britain's Copper Age started 50 years earlier than first thought. Circumstantial evidence points to copper tools being in use at Durrington Walls earlier than originally thought. Cut-marks on animal bones should reveal whether they were made by copper daggers as opposed to flint tools.

"I've always thought when we admire monuments like Stonehenge, not enough attention has been given to who made the sandwiches and the cups of tea for the builders," said Parker Pearson. "The logistics of the operation were extraordinary. Not just food for hundreds of people but antler picks, hide ropes, all the infrastructure needed to supply the materials and supplies needed. Where did they get all this food from? This is what we hope to discover."
'Feeding Stonehenge', will take place over the next three years. Find out more about the Stonehenge Riverside Project at:


Hundreds of people celebrated the winter solstice at Stonehenge, braving snowy travel conditions and a morning fog. About 700 people saw the sun rise at the ancient site near Salisbury, England. Peter Carson, Stonehenge's director, said it "was really looking picture-postcard perfect." Summer solstice is also observed at the site, but
Carson said the winter celebrations are increasingly popular. He said there's a "better understanding that Stonehenge was a monument more significant at the winter rather than summer solstice."

Happy New Year -- A perfect moment to discuss Neolithic people alcohol origins

Humankind's first encounters with alcohol in the form of fermented fruit probably occurred in just an accidental fashion. But once they were familiar with the effect, archaeologist Patrick McGovern believes, humans stopped at nothing in their pursuit of frequent intoxication. A secure supply of alcohol appears to have been part of
the human community's basic requirements much earlier than was long believed. As early as around 9,000 years ago, inhabitants of the Neolithic village Jiahu in China were brewing a type of mead with an alcohol content of 10 percent, McGovern discovered recently.

McGovern analyzed clay shards found during excavations in China's Yellow River Valley at his Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. It appears that prehistoric humans in China combined fruit and honey into an intoxicating brew. Additionally,
plant sterols point to wild rice as an ingredient.

Lacking any knowledge of chemistry, prehistoric humans eager for the intoxicating
effects of alcohol apparently mixed clumps of rice with saliva in their mouths to break down the starches in the grain and convert them into malt sugar. These pioneering brewers would then spit the chewed up rice into their brew. Husks and yeasty foam floated on top of the liquid, so they used long straws to drink from narrow necked jugs. Alcohol is still consumed this way in some regions of China.

The most recent finds from China are consistent with McGovern's chain of evidence, which suggests that the craft of making alcohol spread rapidly to various locations around the world during the Neolithic period. His bold thesis, which he lays out in his book Uncorking the Past. The Quest for Wine, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverage, states that agriculture - and with it
the entire Neolithic Revolution, which began about 11,000 years ago - are ultimately results of the irrepressible impulse toward drinking and intoxication.

"Available evidence suggests that our ancestors in Asia, Mexico,and Africa cultivated wheat, rice, corn, barley, and millet primarily for the purpose of producing alcoholic beverages," McGovern explains. While they were at it, he believes, drink-loving early civilizations managed to ensure their basic survival. According to McGovern, prehistoric humans didn't initially have the ability to master the very complicated process of brewing beer. It's likely that early
farmers first enriched their diet with a hybrid swill - half fruit wine and half mead - that was actually quite nutritious. Neolithic drinkers were devoted to this precious liquid.

At the excavation site of Hajji Firuz Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of northwestern Iran, McGovern discovered prehistoric wine racks used to store airtight carafes. Inhabitants of the village seasoned their alcohol with resin from Atlantic pistachio trees. This ingredient was said to have healing properties, for example for infections, and was used as an early antibiotic.

The village's Neolithic residents lived comfortably in spacious mud brick huts, and the archaeologist and his team found remnants of wine vessels in the kitchens of nearly all the dwellings. "Drinking wasn't just a privilege of the wealthy in the village," McGovern posits.

In Iran the American scientist found vessels containing the first evidence of prehistoric beer. A little later, the Sumerians were paying homage to their fertility goddess Nin-Harra, whom they considered to be the inventor of beer. The main ingredient in their variety of beer was emmer, a variety of wheat that has since nearly disappeared. "Moderate alcohol consumption was advantageous for our early ancestors," McGovern speculates, "and they adapted to it biologically."