Sunday, October 24, 2010


Over 10,000 exquisite ancient rock paintings and characters carved in stones were discovered in Xinjiang's Qiemo County, reporters learned from the Bureau of Culture and Sports of Qiemo recently.

Discovered in Aqiang Town, located in southern Xinjiang, Qiemo County is at the southeastern edge of the Tarim Basin and near the northern foot of Altun Mountain. The county connects with Tibet to the south and extends northwards into the Taklimakan Desert. Qiemo's county town is 1,200 kilometers from Urumqi.

An officer from the Qiemo County Cultural Relics Management Office, who participated in the on-site investigation, said the team set off from Qiemo County and drove two days and nights to reach a place at the altitude of 4,546 meters where four of eight team members had to return because of serious altitude sickness. The rest of the four team members finally found the rock paintings and took many photos.

"According to the appearance of the rock paintings, they were all created on red rocks and were exposed to wind abrasions and collapsed. There are some animal patterns, such as bulls, deer and sheep on one side of some large rocks and there is nothing but a smooth surface on the other side," Yang said. It has not been made clear which ancient ethnic group created these exquisite rock paintings and the paintings are already under the protection of the local government.

The website contributes to this report.


Archaeologists in the Swiss city of Zurich have found what may be the oldest ever found in Europe. Chief archaeologist Niels Bleicher says the ancient poplar wood door is "solid and elegant" with well-preserved hinges and a "remarkable" design for holding the boards together. The door has been dated to around 3,100-years B.C.

The door was part of a settlement of so-called "stilt houses" frequently found near lakes about a thousand years after agriculture and animal husbandry were first introduced to the pre-Alpine region. Archaeologists have found traces of at least five Neolithic villages believed to have existed at the site between 3,700 and 2,500 years B.C., including objects such as a flint dagger from what is now Italy and an elaborate hunting bow.

Harsh climatic conditions at the time meant people had to build solid houses that would keep out much of the cold wind that blew across Lake Zurich.

It is similar to another door found in nearby Pfaeffikon, while a third — made from one solid piece of wood — is believed to be even older, possibly dating back to 3,700 B.C., said Bleicher.

The latest find was discovered at the dig for what is intended to be a new underground car park for Zurich's opera house.



Between 214 to 212 B.C., the Romans took siege of the city of Syracuse, located on what is known today as the island of Sicily. Greek and Roman historians have written that Archimedes -- the Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer -- attempted to thwart the invasion by designing a large mirror that was able to concentrate sunlight onto the Roman ships in the harbor and burn them.

Attempts to prove whether this was possible or not have been tried over and over again by a variety of people, including students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who repeated their test with Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters.

But Savage and Hyneman must not have been satisfied with their results (busted) from that episode because it looks like they're conducting the test again and this time with President Obama. The President announced his cameo today at the White House Science Fair. He said, “I'm pleased to welcome Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, known as the Mybusters. I can announce today that I taped a special guest appearance for their show, although I didn't get blow anything up… I was a little frustrated about that.”

Adam and Jamie were present in November 2009 for the President's 'Educate to Innovate' event, which kicked off the Administration's campaign for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) awareness. The December 8 Mythbusters episode is part of a sweeping, multi-platform initiative launched by Discovery Communications called “Be the Future,” which also includes such commitments as Head Rush, a commercial-free science block for kids that launched in August on Science Channel, and several initiatives of Discovery Education, which will make this special episode of Mythbusters available to students and educators across the country through Discovery Education's curriculum-based digital resources.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


LONDON.- The Crosby Garrett Helmet sold today at the auction of Antiquities at Christie’s South Kensington for £2,281,250 / $3,629,469 / €2,593,781 (estimate: £200,000 to £300,000). An exceptional survival from Roman Britain, the helmet was discovered by a metal detectorist in Cumbria in May 2010 and dates from the late 1st-2nd Century A.D. It was bought by an anonymous telephone bidder.

Georgiana Aitken, Head of Antiquities at Christie’s, London: “When the helmet was first brought to Christie’s and I saw it first hand, I could scarcely believe my eyes. This is an exceptional object – an extraordinary and haunting face from the past – and it has captured the imagination and the enthusiasm of everyone who has come to Christie’s to admire it over the past few weeks.

With its enigmatic features, the Crosby-Garrett Helmet is an extraordinary example of Roman metalwork at its zenith. It is one of only three Roman Cavalry Parade helmets that have been discovered in Britain complete with face-masks, the others being the Ribchester Helmet, found in 1796 and now in the British Museum, and the Newstead Helmet, in the Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh, found circa 1905.

The Crosby Garrett Helmet sets itself apart by virtue of its beauty, workmanship and completeness, particularly the face-mask, which was found virtually intact. In addition, the remarkable Phrygian-style peak surmounted by its elaborate bronze griffin crest appears unprecedented.

These helmets were not for combative use, but worn for hippika gymnasia (cavalry sports events). The polished white-metal surface of the Crosby Garrett face-mask would have provided a striking contrast to the original golden-bronze colour of the hair and Phrygian cap. In addition, colorful streamers may have been attached to the rings along the back ridge and on the griffin crest.

Arrian of Nicomedia, a Roman provincial governor under Hadrian, provides us with the only surviving contemporary source of information on cavalry sports events. He describes how the cavalrymen were divided into two teams which took turns to attack and defend. He suggests that the wearing of these helmets was a mark of rank or excellence in horsemanship. Participants would also carry a light, elaborately painted shield, and wear an embroidered tunic and possibly thigh-guards and greaves, all of which would contribute to the impressive spectacle.

These events may well have accompanied religious festivals celebrated by the Roman army and were probably also put on for the benefit of visiting officials. The displays would also have been intended to demonstrate the outstanding equestrian skill and marksmanship of the Roman soldier and the wealth of the great empire he represented.

Check it out -- wasn't able to reproduce photo but it is truly spectacular!


In the arid plains of Wyoming (USA), early humans left their mark. Legend Rock, named by the Shoshone Indians who live nearby, towers 200 feet above the valley floor and extends 800 yards across.

For 11,000 years it was a canvas for the native peoples. Animals and human figures have been chipped into the rock face. Some are tiny, but some are over 5 feet in height. The oldest date to approximately 11,000 years BPE. They show an antelope, a human and an adult human hand. The chipping out of the rock created tiny depression that have collected minerals throughout the millenia. It is this accumulation that has allowed scientists to date the carvings. The hand print is estimated to be 10,700 years old plus or minus 1,400 years.

It was thought that the Shoshone had lived in the valley for only a few hundred years prior to the arrival of the Europeans. More recent archaeological and linguistic research has shown that the arrival was thousands of years earlier. The Shoshone or their predecessors may have created the rock art. It has played a large part in the ritual and religion of the tribe, who believe that the figures were carved by spirits who reside within the stone.

Legend Rock was made a National Historic site in 1973.

Edited from The Wall Street Journal (18 September 2010)
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A large number of stone tools and weapons said dating back to more than 80,000 years ago were unearthed from a dry lake bed in Singadivakkam (Tamil Nadu, India). Located in a remote hamlet some 65 km south of Chennai, the cache could signal a major find in the area.

The discovery was made by Professor S. Rama Krishna Pisipaty and his student S. Shanmugavelu of the department of Sanskrit and culture at Sri Chandrasekaharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya. It was part of an ongoing excavation that is partly funded by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The artifacts uncovered so far include hand-axes, choppers, scrappers and borers, as well as microlithic tools (small stone implements) and pointed tools of different sizes and shapes. Most of the tools could have been used for hunting and fishing.

Professor Pisipaty said that the huge number of tools (over 200) found at the one-hectare-site indicates that it could have hosted a large human settlement. Many of the settlers may have migrated from the northern parts of the country, he added. "The settlement, as can be gauged from the tools found, shows transition from early to middle Paleolithic age," Prof. Pisipaty noted.

Prof Pisipaty stated that unlike other similar finds, including the first Paleolithic tool (a hand axe) discovered at Pallavaram in 1863 by British geo-archeologist Robert Bruce Foote, the one at Singadivakkam is unique for at least one reason; the site has evidence in the form of tools and weapons showing the transition from the Stone Age to the modern age. In the rest of the Paleolithic sites discovered so far, he noted, there had been a break in the sequence. That makes this site the largest Paleolithic settlement near Chennai, he said.

Professor Pisipaty and Shanmugavelu, have been conducting excavations at the site since February 2009, "Kancheepuram was ideal for early settlers with its large number of safe water bodies a lifeline for any human settlement," Pisipaty said.

Edited from The Times of India (25 September 2010)


A 4000-year-old burial chamber in Perthshire has been described as Scotland's 'Valley of the Kings.' Excavation of the site at Forteviot began in earnest last year and has been regarded as something of an archaeological jewel. It was uncovered by the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project, run by archaeologists from Glasgow, Aberdeen and Chester universities, and the results of the project's first three years have just been published by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust.

Researchers first discovered the four-tonne capstone slab covering the burial
chamber in 2008, but had to wait until last year to organize the resources to lift it. The team had hoped there was a burial chamber beneath but had no idea it would prove to be one of the best preserved sites in Britain, almost undamaged by the passage of time. The high quality of preservation proved to be 'virtually unique' and archaeologists were soon claiming the early Bronze Age grave as a site of 'exceptional importance.'

At the entrance, a stone sealed the grave so well that organic materials survived, with a leather bag, unidentified wooden objects, plant matter and a distinctive bronze dagger with a gold hilt band among the items found. The plant matter was later identified as meadowsweet blossoms and was hailed as the first proof that people in the Bronze Age laid flowers upon the graves of loved ones. Together with carvings on the underside of the capstone, the findings were taken as evidence that the grave was that of a significant person.

The team returned this year to reveal more impressive burials and monuments, indicating that the site was a significant center of ceremony and burial in the early prehistoric and Pictish periods. Excavations explored part of a massive Neolithic timber enclosure - the monument required over 200 huge timber posts which needed a ramp to hoist them into position.

The site continued as a major burial location and ritual landscape into the Bronze Age. There are also square barrow cemeteries from the Pictish period and although these burial mounds have not yet been dated, their form suggests they are early, demonstrating that people in the Dark Ages were using the prehistoric earthworks as a sacred place for burial in the period around the formation of the Pictish kingdom.

The full story, along with illustrations and photographs, is revealed in a new 60-page Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust publication, Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot Project Report 2006-2009. The booklet is available from the trust's office, Perth Museum and Art Gallery and the AK Bell Library.

Edited from The Courier (25 September 2010)
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The battle for the preservation of Louisiana State University mounds has been won by football fans for now. LSU administrators opted to remove ropes and poles which had been barricading the historic native American mounds on school grounds for safety reasons, LSU associate vice chancellor for communications Herb Vincent said. Fans and children had overcome the barriers the week before the first home football game.

This decision came less than two weeks after LSU announced plans to block off what are commonly known as the 'Indian Mounds' for preservation purposes on high-traffic football game days. LSU archeologists and anthropologists who were out protecting the mounds and handing out literature said they felt abandoned by the LSU administration.

Rebecca Saunders, archaeology professor and associate curator of the LSU Museum of Natural Science, said the preservationists were 'dumbfounded' the barricades were removed by the university without their knowledge. "It certainly is not very honorable and it doesn't teach the students a good lesson when they put in all this work," Saunders said of the protection and education efforts. "It certainly never occurred to us we'd meet this kind of resistance."

The mounds, which are more than 6,000 years old, were made by prehistoric American Indian tribes - they are believed to have been used for ceremonial and marking-point purposes. Rob Mann, southeast regional archaeologist in LSU's geography and anthropology department, said the repeated trouncing, sledding and biking on the mounds, especially on tailgating weekends, is tearing them down. "These mounds are in danger of coming apart," Mann said. "The preservation and protection of these mounds is something we need to be proactive in." Mann said many people obeyed the barricades initially, but that, by the afternoon, a combination of alcohol consumption and growing crowds created a 'critical mass' that resulted in people ignoring the ropes.

"Change is not easy," Mann said of traditions of tailgating and children playing by the mounds. "It would be nice if people would not just think of the mounds as big piles of dirt."

Edited from 2the (28 September 2010)
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Anthropology professor Vance T. Holliday and others take issue with claims that a comet strike led to the demise of Paleoindian megafauna hunters during the Pleistocene. The notion of an object such as a comet or asteroid striking the Earth and wiping out entire species is compelling, and sometimes there's good evidence for it. Most scientists now agree that a very large object from space crashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico 65 million years ago, altering climate patterns sufficiently to end the age of the dinosaurs. The theory was backed up by supporting evidence, and while not everyone in the scientific community was on board at first, it's now generally accepted.

For about three years, a similar controversy has been brewing about the end of the Pleistocene, when ice sheets covered large parts of the planet and animal behemoths foraged the landscape. Prehistoric hunters developed sophisticated strategies and tool kits for bringing down mammoths and other megafauna. But did a comet striking one of those ice fields in North America nearly 13,000 years ago sufficiently alter climate enough to wipe out these animals and collapse the cultures that hunted them?

A new study published in Current Anthropology argues that whether or not such an extraterrestrial event occurred, nothing in the archaeological record indicates that the Clovis hunters suddenly disappeared along with the animals.

Vance T. Holliday, a professor in the University of Arizona School of Anthropology and the department of geosciences, and David J. Meltzer, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University, studied evidence from a number of archaeological sites and concluded that it was more likely that hunting populations shifted their subsistence patterns to hunting other animals.

Supporters of the comet theory point out that few Clovis sites continued to be occupied after their inhabitants stopped making large projectile points. Those few old Clovis sites that are reoccupied by post-Clovis people also show a significant passage of time – as much as five centuries – between them.

Holliday and Meltzer, bolstered by radiocarbon dates from more than 40 sites, counter that most prehistoric sites are kill sites where game was dispatched and butchered, and not likely to be continuously occupied. Gaps across time and the disappearance of Clovis points, they said, were more likely the result of shifting settlement patterns brought about by the nature of a nomadic existence.

"Whether or not the proposed extraterrestrial impact occurred is a matter for empirical testing in the geological record," Holliday writes. "Insofar as concerns the archaeological record, an extraterrestrial impact is an unnecessary solution for an archaeological problem that does not exist."

Sunday, October 03, 2010


[In that I co-authored a book called Stonehenge, with Cambridge Don Caroline Malone, for Oxford University Press, I'm always intrigued by new information on the site.]

A wealthy young teenager buried near Britain's Stonehenge monument came from the Mediterranean hundreds of miles away, scientists said Wednesday, proof of the site's importance as a travel destination in prehistoric times.

The teen — dubbed "The Boy with the Amber Necklace" because he was unearthed with a cluster of amber beads around his neck — is one of several sets of foreign remains found around the ancient ring of imposing stones.

The British Geological Survey's Jane Evans said that the find, radiocarbon dated to 1,550 B.C., "highlights the diversity of people who came to Stonehenge from across Europe," a statement backed by Bournemouth University's Timothy Darvill, a Stonehenge scholar uninvolved with the discovery.

The skeleton, thought to be that of a 14- or 15-year-old, was unearthed about two miles (3 kilometers) southeast of Stonehenge, in southern England.

Clues to the adolescent's foreign origins could be found in the necklace, which isn't a recognized British type. But he was traced to the area around the Mediterranean Sea by a technique known as isotope analysis, which in this case measured the ratio of strontium and oxygen isotopes in his tooth enamel.

The teen, whose necklace suggests he came from a rich family, is one of several long-distance travelers found near Stonehenge. The "Amesbury Archer," so-called because of the stone arrowheads he was found with, was buried three miles (5 kilometers) from Stonehenge but is thought to have come from the Alpine foothills of central Europe. The "Boscombe Bowmen," also found nearby, are thought to have come from Wales or possibly Brittany.

It isn't clear precisely what drew these people to Stonehenge, a site which has existed in various forms for some 5,000 years. It clearly had an important ceremonial function, and the area around it is dotted with the remains of prehistoric monuments and tombs. Darvill and others have proposed it might have been an important healing site, drawing pilgrims from across Europe like a prehistoric version of Lourdes.



French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, treated themselves to a visit to the most secretive - and most threatened - art gallery in the world: the Lascaux cave in the Dordogne.

The visit of an eight-strong presidential party to the fragile underground chambers, which contain 900 of the most perfect surviving examples of prehistoric art, was controversial. The caves, banned to the public since 1963, have been menaced in recent years by a series of unexplained, and only partially controlled, fungal invasions. [The caves were opened a group of 6 in the 1990s. I know because I led a group within on a visit in 1995 and we were allowed only 20 minutes inside.]

Any human presence in the caves is regarded as potentially destructive. {again this is recent only since the foul up of an air-conditioning system -- see below.]

Normally, they are entered only once a week by one security guard for a few minutes at a time. However, the eight people in the presidential party spent 30 minutes in the 200-meter-long complex of caves. They were under strict instructions to keep moving and to avoid staring at individual paintings. To 'compensate' for the heat and humidity of their presence.

Mr Sarkozy appeared to be deeply moved by his visit, that marked the 70th anniversary of the accidental discovery of the site by four 13-year-old boys and a dog in September 1940. The paintings at Lascaux, now perhaps the best known of all cave paintings, exceed in quality and quantity anything that had previously been found in Europe. [Alta Mira, in Northern Spain, would run a close second.]

Lascaux was closed [on a limited basis-see my experience above] to the public in 1963 to protect the caves from just the kind of fungal infections which have appeared in the last nine years. In February 2009, UNESCO threatened to humiliate France by placing Lascaux on its list of endangered sites of universal importance. This followed a series of botched, and then partially successful, attempts to fight off first white, and then ugly gray and black fungi, which began to creep over the paintings in 2001.

Ms Léauté-Beasley's independent committee of concerned scientists has complained that the French government has imposed an omerta, or veil of secrecy, on the site. A new curator appointed last year, Muriel Mauriac, says that the stricter controls on climate within the caves have begun to remove the fungi. "But we have still a long way to go before we understand the origins of this crisis," she said.

Edited from The Independent (13 September 2010)
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Saturday, October 02, 2010


Striking prehistoric rock art created up to 5,000 years ago has been discovered at almost 100 sites in Somaliland on the Gulf of Aden in eastern Africa.

A local team headed by Dr Sada Mire, of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London (UCL), made the finds, which include a man on horseback, painted around 4,000 years ago – one of the earliest known depictions of a mounted hunter.

Leaping antelopes, prancing giraffes and snakes poised to strike are among animals and reptiles depicted with astonishing clarity. Such is the quality of the paintings that at least 10 sites, scattered across semi-desert terrain, are likely to be given World Heritage status.

Mire, who has just become a UN consultant for Somaliland, said: "These are among the best prehistoric paintings in the world. Somaliland is in the northern part of Somalia, an area slightly larger than England but with a population of just 3.5m. More than half are nomads.

"Yet Somaliland is a country whose history is totally hidden. With wars, droughts and piracy in Somalia, hardly anyone has researched the archaeology until now. But it's absolutely full of extraordinarily well-preserved rock art."

Dhambalin, about 40 miles from the Red Sea, features horned cattle, sheep and goats painted about 5,000 years ago. The animals have distinctive bands around their backs and bellies, which suggests farming or ritual traditions. The pictures also depict animals, such as giraffes, no longer found in Somaliland.

Mire, who is Somali-born, has been struck by paintings of "eerie headless creatures". She said: "Sometimes the cattle are represented as necks or horns, a pictorial shorthand that was evidently sufficient to convey meaning." Other paintings are more mysterious, such as the 2,000-year-old colourful images of the full moon, half-moon and geometric signs at Dawa'aleh. Mire believes these depict the ancient artists' view of the world, time and space.

Once part of the Ottoman Empire, it was a British colony from 1884 until 1960. Although it declared itself independent of Somalia in 1991 and has a separate government, it is yet to be recognized as a separate state.

Mire said: "Whereas Somalia has suffered with an ongoing civil war and piracy, Somaliland has remained peaceful. "Yet despite boasting a stable, grass-roots democracy, the country has not been recognised by the UN and so does not formally exist, leaving it a breakaway state teetering on the edge of a violent region.

The discovery of the 100 sites follows that of cave paintings at Laas Geel in 2000. For centuries, they were known only to nomads, who believed the site was haunted by evil spirits.

Mire's research study will be published this month in Current World Archaeology.