Saturday, October 29, 2011


Archaeologists have excavated a 100,000-year-old paint pot including all tools an ancient artist needed in the Blombos Cave in South Africa. Researchers discovered red and yellow pigments, shell containers, and grinding cobbles and bone spatulas to mix up a paste, MailOnline reported.

“This discovery represents an important benchmark in the evolution of complex human cognition,” said head of the archaeology team Professor Christopher Henshilwood, from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. “It shows humans had the conceptual ability to source, combine and store substances that were then possibly used to enhance their social practices,” he added.

Researchers claim that the tool kits were evidence of early technological development, rudimentary knowledge of chemistry and long-term planning. The findings indicate that humans were certainly thinking in a modern, cognitively-advanced way. “It's possible the paint was used to paint bodies, human skin. It could have been used to paint designs on leather or other objects,” Henshilwood stated.

The southern Cape Coast cave, situated 200 miles east of Cape Town, has been attracting scientists with a plethora of treasures since the early 1990s.


About 5 years ago I visited Libya on an Archaeological Institute of America tour. Even then we were concerned about the lack of conservation of some wonderful Greek and Roman sites. We had to walk right on top of stunning mosaics so I was most interested in the following:

Libya's ancient treasures have so far largely survived civil war intact, but with the death of Muammar Gaddafi they could be at greater risk than ever from looters and unrest, the U.N. cultural agency said on Friday. Speaking at a conference on safeguarding Libya's heritage, UNESCO chief Irina Bokova warned delegates that death of Muammar Gaddafi could herald a risk to Libyan treasures just as thousands of archaeological pieces vanished after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Conquered by most of the civilizations that held sway over the Mediterranean, Libya has a rich legacy that includes five sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List, such as the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna and the ancient Phoenician trading post of Sabratha. According to a fact-finding mission that went to Libya in September to assess the damage inflicted from the seven-month conflict, many of the country's accessible treasures have survived unscathed thanks in part to UNESCO providing the NATO-led alliance with geographic coordinates of key cultural sites. So far, Libya has only seen one major theft -- a collection of 8,000 coins and other precious aritifacts -- whose disappearance Bokova described as a "natural disaster."

The coastal country has all the makings for a vibrant tourism business with warm weather, beaches, antiquities and proximity to Europe -- all factors that helped its neighbors build thriving tourism industries. But unlike Tunisia and Egypt's antiquities, which millions of tourists visit each year, Libya's treasures have been seen by few foreigners since Gaddafi's 1969 revolution. Tourism could help Libya diversify its economy away from dependency on oil and gas.

"To pick oneself up and reconcile, the Libyan people will now need to count on their strongest assets," Bokova said. "World heritage sites, and more generally its cultural sites and wealth, are part of its engine of reconstruction." The new government needs to inform its people about their cultural heritage, said Hafed Walda, a Libyan who advises the country's department of antiquities and was part of the recent mission.

"Libyans aren't really aware of the importance of their heritage and it's up to the new government to make them understand the splendor of their country from the Sahara to the Mediterranean ... the true Libyan identity," he said.


If the eyes are the romantic's window to the soul, then teeth are the anthropologist's trick door to the stomach.

Scientists have relied on the size and shape of teeth and skulls to figure out what our early human ancestors ate on a regular basis; certain teeth appear ideal for grinding nuts and seeds, while others seem to have evolved for slicing meat or leaves. Now two researchers have taken this approach a step further, examining the microscopic wear and tear on individual teeth to see what different hominins, like members of Australopithecus, Paranthropus and our own genus, Homo, were really munching on. Think of these markings as "foodprints" that reveal evidence of an individual's last few meals.

As it turns out, many of these early human ancestors bit off a lot more than we thought they could chew. Paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas explains the work he did with Matt Sponheimer of the University of Colorado at Boulder, which was published this month in the journal Science.

We're trying to understand the ecology of human ancestors: what they did for a living, how they interacted with their environment. We wanted to know what the actual behavior of our ancestors was. But then we looked at the microscopic wear on the teeth. It's like a footprint — certain foods cause scratches, certain foods cause pits. The pattern of wear tells you about the foods. Then we look at the chemistry of the teeth — in particular the carbon — which is the result of the foods you eat. Different kinds of foods have different kinds of carbon. For example, if you look at grasses — tropical grasses and sedges have one kind of carbon, but trees and bushes have a different kind of carbon because they each have a different kind of photosynthesis.

The best example is not with a direct human ancestor but one of our near cousins, called Paranthropus. There are different species of Paranthropus, and we looked at two of them: one from southern Africa and one from eastern Africa. Like us, they walked on two legs when on the ground, and their brains were a bit larger than chimpanzees'. We used to believe they were dietary specialists because they had big crests on their skulls, which would have anchored large chewing muscles, and big teeth. We thought these animals ate nuts, fruits and seeds. So for the microscopic wear on the teeth, if these were hard-object specialists their teeth should be pitted-up like the moon. Also, their carbon should be a particular type that typically comes from tree products, such as nuts and seeds. But when we looked at eastern African Paranthropus, it was nothing like that. The teeth had a different kind of carbon, and they were loaded with scratches, not pits. It looks like they were specializing on grass, not nuts and fruit seeds. So it was the exact opposite of what we expected to find.

How will this change the way we study ancient diets? It's a completely new and different way of looking at these things. It's thinking about ecology rather than old dry bones — thinking about the animals as they were in life. This tells us what different species were eating. So can this reveal what the environment looked like back then? Absolutely. Sponheimer and I have been working on rodents — they're great at fossil human sites because they live in a small area and their diets are very influenced by their environments. So if a bunch of rodents are loaded up on the kind of carbon in tropical grasses and they're in the same place as a human ancestor, we know that human ancestor lived in a tropical grassland.


The UK mainland's first fully intact Viking boat burial site has been uncovered in the west Highlands, archaeologists have said. The site, at Ardnamurchan, is thought to be more than 1,000 years old. Artifacts buried alongside the Viking in his boat suggest he was a high-ranking warrior. Archaeologist Dr Hannah Cobb from the University of Manchester said the "artifacts and preservation make this one of the most important Norse graves ever excavated in Britain". She has been excavating artifacts in Ardnamurchan for six years. The universities of Manchester, Leicester, Newcastle and Glasgow worked on, identified, or funded the excavation. Archaeology Scotland and East Lothian-based CFA Archaeology have also been involved in the project which led to the find.

The term "fully-intact", used to describe the find, means the remains of the body along with objects buried with it and evidence of the boat used were found and recovered. The Ardnamurchan Viking was found buried with an axe, a sword with a decorated hilt, a spear, a shield boss and a bronze ring pin. About 200 rivets - the remains of the boat he was laid in - were also found. Previously, boat burials in such a condition have been excavated at sites on Orkney. Other finds in the 5m-long (16ft) grave in Ardnamurchan included a knife, what could be the tip of a bronze drinking horn, a whetstone from Norway, a ring pin from Ireland and Viking pottery.

The finds were made as part of the Ardnamurchan Transition Project (ATP) which has been examining social change in the area from the first farmers 6,000 years ago to the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries. Viking specialist Dr Colleen Batey, from the University of Glasgow, has said the boat was likely to be from the 10th Century AD.
video at:


A team of Mexican archaeologists has discovered hundreds of
rudimentary man-made tools and artifacts dating back to the Early Holocene
era (between 8,000-11,000 years ago) in the northwestern state of Baja
California Sur, the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH,

The objects were found at an archaeological site known as El Coyote, located
in the Los Cabos region, the INAH said, adding that they "bolster the
hypothesis" that the first colonists of the hemisphere populated the region
via watercraft migration, following coastlines from northeast Asia southward
into the Americas.

The researchers found cut and polished seashells, fishing devices and stone
tools used for cutting and scraping (choppers, percussive devices, planes,
scrapers and knives) that date back between 8,600 and 9,300 years.

Those tools were used to work with plant fibers and wood, as well as for
prying open mollusk shells.

Archaeologists have found similar artifacts in that region over the past
three years, leading them to believe that the first settlers of the Americas
moved down the coast and arrived what is today known as the Baja California

Human skeletons have not yet been discovered and therefore it is "impossible
to know to which ethnic group (the inhabitants of El Coyote) belonged," the
INAH said.