Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The tip of a girl’s 40,000-year-old pinky finger found in a cold Siberian cave, paired with faster and cheaper genetic sequencing technology, is helping scientists draw a surprisingly complex new picture of human origins.
The new view is fast supplanting the traditional idea that modern humans triumphantly marched out of Africa about 50,000 years ago, replacing all other types that had gone before.

Instead, the genetic analysis shows, modern humans encountered and bred with at least two groups of ancient humans in relatively recent times: the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe and Asia, dying out roughly 30,000 years ago, and a mysterious group known as the Denisovans, who lived in Asia and most likely vanished around the same time.

Their DNA lives on in us even though they are extinct. “In a sense, we are a hybrid species,” Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist who is the research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said in an interview.

The Denisovans (pronounced dun-EE-suh-vinz) were first described a year ago in a groundbreaking paper in the journal Nature made possible by genetic sequencing of the girl’s pinky bone and of an oddly shaped molar from a young adult.
Those findings have unleashed a spate of new analyses. Scientists are trying to envision the ancient couplings and their consequences: when and where they took place, how they happened, how many produced offspring and what effect the archaic genes have on humans today. Other scientists are trying to learn more about the Denisovans: who they were, where they lived and how they became extinct.

A revolutionary increase in the speed and a decline in the cost of gene-sequencing technology have enabled scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, to map the genomes of both the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. Comparing genomes, scientists concluded that today’s humans outside Africa carry an average of 2.5 percent Neanderthal DNA, and that people from parts of Oceania also carry about 5 percent Denisovan DNA. A study published in November found that Southeast Asians carry about 1 percent Denisovan DNA in addition to their Neanderthal genes. It is unclear whether Denisovans and Neanderthals also interbred.

A third group of extinct humans, Homo floresiensis, nicknamed “the hobbits” because they were so small, also walked the earth until about 17,000 years ago. It is not known whether modern humans bred with them because the hot, humid climate of the Indonesian island of Flores, where their remains were found, impairs the preservation of DNA.

This means that our modern era, since H. floresiensis died out, is the only time in the four-million-year human history that just one type of human has been alive, said David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who was the lead author of the Nature paper on the Denisovans.

For many scientists, the epicenter of the emerging story on human origins is the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, where the girl’s finger bone was discovered. It is the only known place on the planet where three types of humans — Denisovan, Neanderthal and modern — lived, probably not all at once. John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose lab is examining the archaic genomes, visited the cave in July. It has a high arched roof like a Gothic cathedral and a chimney to the sky, he said, adding that being there was like walking in the footsteps of our ancestors. The cave has been open to the elements for a quarter of a million years and is rich with layers of sediments that may contain other surprises. Some of its chambers are unexplored, and excavators are still finding human remains that are not yet identified. The average temperature for a year, 32 degrees Fahrenheit, bodes well for the preservation of archaic DNA.

Dr. Reich and his team have determined through the patterns of archaic DNA replications that a small number of half-Neanderthal, half-modern human hybrids walked the earth between 46,000 and 67,000 years ago, he said in an interview. The half-Denisovan, half-modern humans that contributed to our DNA were more recent. And Peter Parham, an immunologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, has used an analysis of modern and ancient immune-system genetic components — alleles — to figure out that one of the Denisovan-modern couplings most likely took place in what is now southeastern China. He has also found some evidence that a Neanderthal-modern pair mated in west Asia. He stressed, however, that his study was just the first step in trying to reconstruct where the mating took place.

The value of the interbreeding shows up in the immune system, Dr. Parham’s analysis suggests. The Neanderthals and Denisovans had lived in Europe and Asia for many thousands of years before modern humans showed up and had developed ways to fight the diseases there, he said in an interview. When modern humans mated with them, they got an injection of helpful genetic immune material, so useful that it remains in the genome today. This suggests that modern humans needed the archaic DNA to survive. The downside of archaic immune material is that it may be responsible for autoimmune diseases like diabetes, arthritis and multiple sclerosis, Dr. Parham said, stressing that these are preliminary results.

Although little is known about the Denisovans — the only remains so far are the pinky bone and the tooth, and there are no artifacts like tools. Dr. Reich and others suggest that they were once scattered widely across Asia, from the cold northern cave to the tropical south. The evidence is that modern populations in Oceania, including aboriginal Australians, carry Denisovan genes. Dr. Reich and others suggest that the interbreeding that led to this phenomenon probably occurred in the south, rather than in Siberia. If so, the Denisovans were more widely dispersed than Neanderthals, and possibly more successful.

But the questions of how many Denisovans there were and how they became extinct have yet to be answered. Right now, as Dr. Reich put it, they are “a genome in search of an archaeology.”

Monday, January 30, 2012


For 1,600 years, this city - Turkey's largest - has been builtand destroyed, erected and erased, as layer upon layer of life has thrived on its seven hills. Today, Istanbul is a city of 13 million, spread far beyond those hills. And
on a long-farmed peninsula jutting into Lake Kucukcekmece, 13 miles west of the city center, archaeologists have made an extraordinary find.

The find is Bathonea, a substantial harbor town dating from the second century B.C. Discovered in 2007 after a drought lowered the lake's water table, it has been yielding a trove of relics from the fourth to the sixth centuries A.D., a period that parallels Istanbul's founding and its rise as Constantinople, a seat of power in the Eastern Roman/Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.

While there are some historical records of this early period, precious few physical artifacts exist. The slim offerings in the Istanbul section of the Archaeological Museums here reflect that, paling in comparison with the
riches on display from Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Lebanon.

So Bathonea (pronounced bath-oh-NAY-uh) has the potential to become a "library of Constantinople," says Sengul Aydingun, the archaeologist who made the initial discovery.

After the drought exposed parts of a well-preserved sea wall nearly two and a half miles long, Dr. Aydingun and her team soon saw that the harbor had been equipped with docks, buildings and a jetty, probably dating to the fourth century. Other discoveries rapidly followed. In the last dig season alone, the archaeologists uncovered port walls, elaborate buildings, an enormous cistern, a Byzantine church and stone roads spanning more than 1,000 years of occupation.

"The fieldwork Sengul has conducted over the last few years is spectacular," said Volker Heyd, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol in England who surveyed Bathonea for two field seasons. "The discoveries made are now
shedding a completely new light to the wider urbanized area of Constantinopolis. A fantastic story begins to unveil."

In 2008, for example, Hakan Oniz, an archaeologist from Eastern Mediterranean University who specializes in underwater research, investigated a structure in the lake that local lore held was some kind of mystical minaret that appeared and disappeared in relation to the rate of sinful behavior by nearby villagers. The ruins, about 800 feet from shore, may have been a lighthouse.

Since then, Dr. Aydingun's team and researchers from eight foreign universities have found a second, older port on the peninsula's eastern side, its Greek influences suggesting that it dated to about the second century B.C.

Nearby, atop the round foundations of a Greek temple, they found the remains of a fifth- or sixth-century Byzantine church and cemetery with 20 burials, and a large stone relief of a Byzantine cross. Coins, pottery and other
artifacts indicate that the church suffered damage in the devastating earthquake of 557 but was in use until 1037, when a tremor leveled it - crushing three men whose bodies were found beneath a collapsed wall, along with a coin bearing the image of a minor emperor who ruled during the year of the quake.

Because the archaeologists are at the beginning of a multiyear dig at a site not known from historical sources, they are hesitant to draw many conclusions. Even the name Bathonea is a placeholder, inspired by two ancient references: the first-century historian Pliny the Elder's "Natural History," which refers to the river feeding the lake as Bathynias; and a work by a ninth-century Byzantine monk, Theophanes, who called the region Bathyasos.

The archaeologists know this much: The site was large. It sprawled across at least three square miles, and its sea wall is nearly half the length of the one that surrounded Constantinople itself. It was moderately wealthy; the
region was a country retreat for the urban elite, drawn by its fertile hunting grounds and Lake Kucukcekmece itself, the freshwater body closest to the city. They built villas and palaces all around the region.

Bathonea was also well connected. Some pottery was made as far away as Palestine and Syria, typical of places with access to foreign goods. It had wide stone roads, the earliest dating to the Roman era.

But its relationship to Constantinople is still unclear. "I like the idea of Bathonea as a satellite port of a major city," said Bradley A. Ault, a classical archaeologist with the University at Buffalo who has studied ancient port cities in Greece and Cyprus. "It falls in line with Athens and Piraeus, Rome and Ostia."

The Bathonea archaeologists also hope to uncover more artifacts dating to the earliest days of civilization. In 2007, Dr. Aydingun and Emre Guldogan of Istanbul University found 9,000-year-old flint tools at the site that could be evidence of the earliest pre-pottery farming settlement in Europe. Bathonea's role - and its real name - can be determined only through further study, Dr. Aydingun said.

Ground-penetrating radar has indicated that extensive structures remain beneath the soil. And as all of their efforts have been focused on the waterfront, the archaeologists have yet to investigate the patches of trees and brush farther inland that farmers have long avoided because their plows cannot cut through them.

Dr. Aydingun suspects there is a good reason for that. "I think all of these buildings continue," she said. "Can you imagine?"


Sunday, January 29, 2012


A dog skull unearthed in a Siberian cave presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and suggests modern dogs may be descended from multiple ancestors

An ancient dog skull, preserved in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia for 33,000 years, presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with equally ancient dog remains from a cave in Belgium, indicates that domestication of dogs may have occurred repeatedly in different geographic locations rather than with a single domestication event.

"Both the Belgian find and the Siberian find are domesticated species based on morphological characteristics," said Greg Hodgins, a researcher at the University of Arizona's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and co-author of the study that reports the find. "Essentially, wolves have long thin snouts and their teeth are not crowded, and domestication results in this shortening of the snout and widening of the jaws and crowding of the teeth."

The Altai Mountain skull is extraordinarily well preserved, said Hodgins, enabling scientists to make multiple measurements of the skull, teeth and mandibles that might not be possible on less well-preserved remains. "The
argument that it is domesticated is pretty solid," said Hodgins. "What's interesting is that it doesn't appear to be an ancestor of modern dogs."

At 33,000 years old, the Siberian skull predates a period known as the Last Glacial Maximum, or LGM, which occurred between about 26,000 and 19,000 years ago when the ice sheets of Earth's last ice age reached their greatest extent and severely disrupted the living patterns of humans and animals alive during that time. Neither the Belgian nor the Siberian domesticated lineages appear to have survived the LGM.

However, the two skulls indicate that the domestication of dogs by humans occurred repeatedly throughout early human history at different geographical locations, which could mean that modern dogs have multiple ancestors rather than a single common ancestor. "In terms of human history, before the last glacial maximum people were living with wolves or canid species in widely separated geographical areas of Euro-Asia, and had been living with them long enough that they were actually changing evolutionarily," said Hodgins. "And then climate change happened, human habitation patterns changed and those relationships with those particular lineages of animals apparently didn't survive."


Tuesday, January 24, 2012


During September of 1961, three famous inscribed tablets were unearthed during Nicolae Vlassa’s excavation of the archaeological site of Tãrtãria. Since their discovery, these Transylvanian artifacts kindled a wave of controversy regarding the possibility that Southeastern Europe developed an archaic script in Neolithic times.

Unfortunately, most studies separate the inscriptions from the context of the ritual pit-grave of the magic-religious practitioner buried with the tablets (Milady Tãrtãria). However, this composite burial made of her osseous remains, her tools/adornments/identifiers, and the tablets was a sacralized unity intended to consecrate her as a respected ancestor for an early Vinèa community.

TÃRTÃRIA AND THE SACRED TABLETS (2011) is authored by Gheorghe Lazarovici, Cornelia-Magda Lazarovici, and Marco Merlini in recognition of the 50th anniversary of Nicolae Vlassa’s excavation of Tãrtãria. These three authoritative archaeologists redact this archaeo-semiotic investigation where archaeological context – observed in conjunction with other related information – provides insights for examining the sign system employed at Tãrtãria. Sign analysis is, in turn, utilized as a filter for archaeological data.

New, extended excavations at Tãrtãria have recently begun. They are organized by the Lucian Blaga University – IPCTE at Sibiu and directed by Sabin Adrian Luca.

TÃRTÃRIA AND THE SACRED TABLETS is offered as a free download thanks to EURO INNOVANET (Rome, Italy) and the Institute of Archaeomythology (Sebastopol, CA, USA).

In order to download the book for free, go to http://www.prehistory.it/ and follow the instructions.


The deforestation that has stripped the Amazon since the 1970s has also exposed a long-hidden secret lurking underneath thick rain forest: flawlessly designed geometric shapes spanning hundreds of yards in diameter.

Alceu Ranzi, a Brazilian scholar who helped discover the squares, octagons, circles, rectangles and ovals that make up the land carvings, said these geoglyphs found on deforested land were as significant as the famous Nazca lines, the enigmatic animal symbols visible from the air in southern Peru.

"What impressed me the most about these geoglyphs was their geometric precision, and how they emerged from forest we had all been taught was untouched except by a few nomadic tribes," said Mr. Ranzi, a paleontologist who first saw the geoglyphs in the 1970s and, years later, surveyed them by plane.

Instead of being pristine forests, barely inhabited by people, parts of the Amazon may have been home for centuries to large populations numbering well into the thousands and living in dozens of towns connected by road networks,
explains the American writer Charles C. Mann. In fact, according to Mr Mann, the British explorer Percy Fawcett vanished on his 1925 quest to find the lost "City of Z" in the Xingu, one area with such urban settlements.

In addition to parts of the Amazon being "much more thickly populated than previously thought," Mr. Mann, the author of "1491," a groundbreaking book about the Americas before the arrival of Columbus, said, "these people purposefully modified their environment in long-lasting ways."

As a result of long stretches of such human habitation, South America's colossal forests may have been a lot smaller at times, with big areasresembling relatively empty savannas. Such revelations do not fit comfortably into today's politically charged debate over razing parts of the forests, with some environmentalists opposed to allowing any large-scale agriculture, like cattle ranching and soybean cultivation, to advance further into Amazonia.

Scientists here say they, too, oppose wholesale burning of the forests, even if research suggests that the Amazon supported intensive agriculture in the past. Indeed, they say other swaths of the tropics, notably in Africa, could
potentially benefit from strategies once used in the Amazon to overcome soil constraints.

While researchers piece together the Amazon's ecological history, mystery still shrouds the origins of the geoglyphs and the people who made them. So far, 290 such earthworks have been found in Acre, along with about 70 others in Bolivia and 30 in the Brazilian states of Amazonas and Rondônia. Researchers first viewed the geoglyphs in the 1970s, after Brazil's military dictatorship encouraged settlers to move to Acre and other parts of the Amazon, using the nationalist slogan "occupy to avoid surrendering" to justify the settlement that resulted in deforestation.

But little scientific attention was paid to the discovery until Mr. Ranzi, the Brazilian scientist, began his surveys in the late 1990s, and Brazilian, Finnish and American researchers began finding more geoglyphs by using
high-resolution satellite imagery and small planes to fly over the Amazon. Denise Schaan, an archaeologist at the Federal University of Pará in Brazil who now leads research on the geoglyphs, said radiocarbon testing indicated
that they were built 1,000 to 2,000 years ago, and might have been rebuilt several times during that period.

Researchers now believe that the geoglyphs may have held ceremonial importance, similar, perhaps, to the medieval cathedrals in Europe. This spiritual role, said William Balée, an anthropologist at Tulane University, could have been one that involved "geometry and gigantism." Still, the geoglyphs, located at a crossroads between Andean and Amazonian cultures, remain an enigma.

For Brazil's scientists and researchers, Ms. Schaan said, the earthworks are "one of the most important discoveries of our time." But the repopulation of this part of the Amazon threatens the survival of the geoglyphs, after being
hidden for centuries. Forests still cover most of Acre, but in cleared areas where the geoglyphs are found, dirt roads already cut through some of the earthworks. People live in wooden shacks inside others. Electricity poles dot the geoglyphs. Some ranchers use their trenches as watering holes for cattle. "It's a disgrace that our patrimony is treated this way," said Tiago Juruá, the author of a new book here about protecting archaeological sites including the earthworks.

"This is a new frontier for exploration and science," Mr. Juruá said. "The challenge now is to make more discoveries in forests that are still standing, with the hope that they won't soon be destroyed."



Seafaring before the Neolithic - circa 7th millennium BCE - is a controversial issue in the Mediterranean. However, evidence from different parts of the Aegean is gradually changing this, revealing the importance of early coastal and island environments. The site of Ouriakos on the island of Lemnos (Greece) tentatively dates to the end of the Pleistocene and possibly the beginning of the Holocene, circa 12,000 BP.

A team formed by N. Laskaris, A. Sampson and I. Liritzis from the Laboratory of Archaeometry, University of the Aegean, Department of Mediterranean Studies, Rhodes; and F. Mavridis from the Ephorate of Palaeo-anthropology and Speleology of Southern Greece suggested that obsidian sources on the island of Melos in the Cyclades could have been
exploited earlier. Studies of material from Franchthi cave in the Argolid indicated Melos as its origin, but obsidian hydration dating was not applied to the artifacts recovered.

Obsidian, or 'volcanic glass', has been a preferred material for stone tools wherever it is found or traded. It also absorbs water vapor when exposed to air - for instance, when it is shaped into a tool - and absolute or relative dates can be determined for that event by measuring the depth of water penetration. In 10,000 years, the expected hydration depth is about 10 mm from the tool surface.

Two routes for the obsidian found at Franchthi have been considered: a direct one of around 120 kilometers with islets in between, and another one through Attica including crossings of 15 to 20 kilometers between islands.
The presence of obsidian in mainland and island sites indicates that these voyages included successful return journeys.

Sites in Ikaria, in Sporades, and on Kythnos demonstrate that, during the Mesolithic, a well established system of obsidian exploitation and circulation existed - a phenomenon that has its routes even earlier, as dates from sites in Attica indicate. Furthermore, obsidian artifacts have recently been found in two other Mesolithic sites in Greece, one in the island of Naxos and the other one in the small island of Halki. Exchange systems therefore brought obsidian to the eastern and the north-west Aegean, and even reached coastal inland sites of mainland Greece such as Attica, though not yet found in mainland sites. Possibly through sites in this latter region obsidian was also brought to the Peloponnese.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Local archaeologists and volunteers are removing decades of dense overgrowth from prehistoric Native American earthworks in Indian Mounds Park (Quincy, Illinois, USA) - one of the best preserved complexes still evident in the Upper Mississippi River valley. The project began in November and will continue into spring. The mounds and nearby earthworks date from 200 BCE to 1000 CE. The state may have had as many as 10,000 mounds, but only about 500 are left - many on private land.

Work has so far revealed a terraced embankment with an enclosure surrounding three of the mounds that was only hinted at in University of Chicago archaeologist survey work done in the 1920s. Steve Tieken, president of the Quincy-based North American Archaeological Institute, says there are 23 mounds within Quincy's park system. "We did discover one large major mound that was previously undocumented and the remnants of two to three mounds". Concerned with the overall condition of the mounds and their long-term future, Tieken led an effort to reclaim them beginning in 2009.

Volunteers tried to assess the mounds, scaling ladders and trees to get the most accurate measurements. "It was an arduous process to measure, to see how they've changed. Even though they're protected, natural factors take their toll," says Dave Nolan, of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey. "One can only imagine what the terraced enclosure must have looked like as you approached up and down river along the Mississippi. It would have been visible for miles and been an awe-inspiring landmark."

Nolan adds, "People can now come to Quincy and view these spectacular earthen monuments in a manner closer to that envisioned by the original builders".

Edited from Quincy Herald-Wing (26 December 2011)
[1 image]


The president of the Cave Art Peruvian Association, Gori Echevarria reported the finding of cave paintings depicting humans, animals and geometric figures (circa 8-12,000 years old) in the province of Churcampa, located in the Peru's central Huancavelica region.

Echevarria said six cave paintings were identified in a 20-meter stone wall which depict humans in hunting positions. The cave is located at some 3,200 meters above sea level in Torongana mountain.

The 'Quilcas', which is the native name for this art form, are painted in red, white and black and are believed to be at least 8 to 12,000 years old, the archaeologist said. "This finding confirms the great cognitive development of ancient Peru and establishes a reference its pictorial tradition. Most important is the variation and extension of the motifs and scenes," he added.

Edited from Andina (29 December 2011)
[1 image]


China's extraordinary historical treasures are under threat from increasingly aggressive and sophisticated tomb raiders. The thieves use dynamite and even bulldozers to break into the deepest chambers, and night vision goggles and oxygen canisters to search them. The size and value of the relics demonstrates the audacity of the raiders - last year, Chinese authorities recovered a 27-ton sarcophagus stolen from Xi'an and shipped to the USA.

"Before, China had a large number of valuable ancient tombs and although it was really depressing to see a tomb raided, it was still possible to run into a similar one in the future," said Professor Wei Zheng, an archaeologist at Peking University. "Nowadays too many have been destroyed. Once one is raided, it is really difficult to find a similar one. Archaeologists are now simply chasing after tomb raiders."

With thousands of sites - many in remote locations - the scope of China's heritage poses a particular challenge. The problem became worse as China's economy opened up, with domestic and international collectors creating a huge market for thieves. One researcher estimated that 100,000 people were involved in the trade nationally.

Luo Xizhe of the Shaanxi provincial cultural relics bureau told China Daily: "If we don't take immediate and effective steps to protect these artifacts, there will be none of these things left to protect in 10 years." Police have already stepped up their campaign against the criminals and the government is devoting extra resources to protecting sites and tracing offenders. This year it set up a national information center to tackle such crimes.

Edited from The Guardian (1 January 2012)
[1 image


Mexican archaeologists found some 3,000 cave paintings, some almost 2,000 years old, in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. The discoveries were made between August and October 2011, but were not announced until specialists confirmed their antiquity and completed their analysis.

The paintings came to light through the Rupestral Art Project of the Victoria River Basin - which includes semi-desert regions in the states of Queretaro and Guanajuato - developed by experts and directed by archaeologist Carlos Viramontes. The pictographs were found at 40 rock sites. The oldest images refer to rites of passage, healing, prayers for rain and mountain worship, and were created by ancient hunter-gatherer societies that occupied the area during the first centuries CE. These paintings, with yellow, red and black as the predominating colors, generally represent human figures. Often in hunting and battle scenes they carry bows and arrows. "A great diversity of animals is also to be seen, and radiating circles that probably represent the sun," Viramontes said.

The expert said that the ancient hunter-gatherers who "created images on rockfaces were doing more than just leaving an imprint of their collective memory of historic, climatic and ritual occurrences - they painted the exposed fronts and sheltered backs of boulders as points of contact between the material and spiritual world."

The discoveries are added to the more than 70 rock-art locations discovered in Guanajuato since the late 1980s. The oldest rupestral art documented in Mexico up to now is in Baja California and dates back some 7,400 years.

Sunday, January 08, 2012


THE discovery of a Stone Age temple on Orkney looks set to rewrite the archeological records of ancient Britain with evidence emerging it was built centuries before Stonehenge.

Archeologists have so far found undisturbed artifacts including wall decorations, pigments and paint pots, which are already increasing their understanding of the Neolithic people. Experts believe the huge outer wall suggests the site was not domestic, while the layout of the buildings has reinforced the view it might have been a major religious site. Archaeologists think the temple was built 500 years before Stonehenge, regarded as the center of Stone Age Britain.

However, only 10% of the site at Ness of Brodgar has been excavated and it could be years before the scale and age of the discovery is fully understood. It sits close to the existing Ring of Brodgar stone circles and the standing
stones of Stenness, near to the town of Stromness.

The uncovered wall around the edges of the site was built with 10,000 tonnes of quarried rock and may have been up to 10 ft high. Thermal technology also indicates the site could cover the same area as five football pitches, with some parts potentially older than Stonehenge, in south-west England, by as much as 800 years. Charcoal samples from beneath the wall indicate it was built around 3200 BC. A 30mm high figurine with a head, body and two eyes, and called the "Brodgar Boy", was also unearthed in the rubble of one of the structures.

About 18 months ago, a remarkable rock colored red, orange and yellow was unearthed. This is the first discovery in Britain of evidence that Neolithic peoples used paint to decorate their buildings. Project manager Nick Card said the discoveries are unparalleled in British prehistory and that the complexity of finds is changing the "whole vision of what the landscape was 5000 years ago." He said it was of "a scale that almost relates to the classical period in the Mediterranean with walled enclosure and precincts". Mr Card added: "It's a huge discovery; in terms of scale and complexity there really is nothing else quite like it.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012


There is a vast complex of Stonehenge-style megalithic circles called Gobekli Tepe in the Urfa, Turkey countryside as reported by Elif Batuman in a fascinating article in the New Yorker. Gobekli is estimated to be 11,000 years old (6 1/2 thousand years older than the Great Pyramid, 5 1/2 thousand years older than the earliest cuneiform texts and about a thousand years older than the walls of Jericho.)

The site comprises more than 60 multi-ton T-shaped limestone pillars, most of them engraved with bas-reliefs of dangerous animals. Interestingly, the site has yielded no traces of habitation. And then, strangely, the pillars appear to have been buried deliberately and all at once around 8,200 B.C., some 1300 years after their construction.

Ms Batuman goes on to say: The idea of a religious monument built by hunter-gatherers contradicts most of what we thought we knew about religious monuments and about hunter-gatherers ... Formal religion, meanwhile, is suppose to have appeared only after agriculture produced such hierarchical social relations as required a cosmic back-story to keep them going and supplied a template for the power relationship between gods and mortals. The findings at Gobekli Tepe suggest that we have the story backward -- that it was actually the need to build a sacred site that first obliged hunter-gatherers to organize themselves as a workforce, to spend long periods of time in one place, to secure a stable food supply and eventually to invent agriculture.

Do read the rest of the article on pages 72 -85 of the Dec 19-26 New Yorker Magazine --- fascinating!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


Featuring numerous temples, an amphitheater, a large forum with associated buildings, gladiator schools, massive fortifications and several necropolises, casual observers might think that they were walking among ruins not far from the center of ancient Imperial Rome herself. But this site is located on a plain at the foot of the Retezat Mountains in Southern Transylvania, Romania. Here, archaeologists have been systematically uncovering an ancient Roman center that, during its heyday in the 2nd century A.D., commanded the countryside as the capital of the conquered Dacian provinces.

After the mighty Dacians were finally defeated in 106 A.D. by the forces of Trajan's legions, a city was built upon the very location where a major battle between the Roman legions and the Dacian troops took place. Known as
Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, with an area of 30 ha, it sported a population of perhaps as many as 25,000 people during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, built on the rich commerce of gold, iron, and copper, among the other resources of
Dacia. Its monuments were constructed of high quality limestone and marble, valued so highly over the centuries that Medieval churches and castles to this day still display fragments from the Roman Sarmizegetusa bas-reliefs
and statues that once graced the original city. The forum itself was quarried for lime for more than a hundred years, as later Medieval builders began to construct more with cement and less with brick.

Archaeologists first begun excavating the site from 1924 to 1936 under the direction of Prof. C. Daicoviciu. Beginning again in 1973, excavations continued under Daicoviciu, along with professors D. Alicu and I. Piso. Most
recently, investigations have been carried out by the Archaeological Techniques and Research Centre (ArchaeoTek - Canada) and the Center for Roman Studies (University Babes-Bolyai in Cluj, Romania) under the direction
of professors Andre Gonciar and Ioan Piso. Their team of professionals and students will return during the summer of 2012 to explore more of its features.

Ancient structures already identified include the Amphitheater, a gladiator school, the Goddess Nemesis Temple, the Liber Pater Temple, temples to Aesculap and Hygia, a temple basilica, the "Big Temple", a temple to the god Silvanus, glass blowers workshops, the Horreum, thermae, the Forum, and a procurator's office. Virtual econstruction examples of excavated structures provided by Reconstituiri.ro are shown below.

ArchaeoTek is currently seeking students and volunteers who would be interested in becoming a part of the current excavations, taking place from July 8 to August 11, 2012. Those interested should visit the website at

Monday, January 02, 2012


Geologists announced this week: Some of the volcanic bluestones in the inner ring of Stonehenge officially
match an outcrop in Wales that's 160 miles (257 kilometers) from the world-famous site.

The discovery leaves two big ideas standing about how the massive pieces of the monument arrived at Salisbury Plain: entirely by human hand, or partly by glacier. As it looks today, 5,000-year-old Stonehenge has an outer ring of 20- to 30-ton sandstone blocks and an inner ring and horseshoe of 3- to 5-ton volcanic bluestone blocks.

The monument's larger outer blocks, called the Sarsen stones, were likely quarried some 20 to 30 miles (32 to 48 kilometers) away in what's now England, where sandstone is a common material.

The origin of the bluestones, however, has weighed heavy on the hearts of archaeologists. Rocks resembling the material under a microscope haven't been found anywhere relatively near Stonehenge-at least until now. Pinpointing the stones' origins is crucial to understanding how so many heavy hunks of rock made their way to the open plain where Stonehenge now stands.

For about two decades, Ixer and study co-author Richard Bevins, of the National Museum of Wales, have searched for the origins of the bluestones in outcrops around Wales. As late as two years ago, the pair thought the blocks couldn't have come from the country-no samples from Welsh outcrops matched the Stonehenge blocks. But not all of the samples collected over 20 years had yet been prepared for examination under a microscope. To be absolutely certain, the geologists began slicing up their remaining rocks.

The rocky outcrop fingered by the duo's analysis is called Craig Rhos-y-Felin, which is now located on private land near a sheep farm. The site is a long, bush-covered set of crags the size of four double-decker buses. The new find leaves two prominent theories for how the Welsh rocks got to Salisbury.

Humans could have quarried the site and dragged the blocks on wooden rafts. Or a giant glacier may have chiseled off the blocks and ferried them about a hundred miles (160 kilometers) toward Stonehenge, with humans dragging them
the rest of the way. If humans did the digging, archaeologists might detect marks left by tools or some other evidence. But if signs of human quarrying are lacking, the glacier idea might gain the upper hand.