Monday, February 27, 2012


Shelters date to Stone Age
Hunter-gatherers hung out in huts long before farmers built villages
By Bruce Bower
Web edition : Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

The remains of a couple of nearly 20,000-year-old huts, excavated in a
These new discoveries come from a time of social transition, when mobile hunter-gatherers hunkered down for months at a time in spots that featured rivers, lakes and plentiful game, say archaeologist Lisa Maher of the University of California, Berkeley and her colleagues. Discoveries in and around hut remnants at a Stone Age site called Kharaneh IV include hearths, animal bones and caches of pierced seashells and other apparently ritual items, Maher's team reports in a paper published online February 15 in PLoS ONE.

Graves containing human skeletons were previously excavated beneath what have now been identified as hut floors covered by burned wood and shrubs that once served as walls. Maher expects evidence of additional four- to five-person huts will turn up at the site, which is about the size of four U.S. football fields. Over a 1,000-year span, groups totaling between 50 and 100 people spent about half of each year at Kharaneh IV, she estimates.

Ancient huts at Kharaneh IV join a handful of other Stone Age hunter-gatherer structures excavated in the Middle East. Remains of six brushwood huts at Israel's Ohalo II site, along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, date to as early as 23,000 years ago.

The ancient huts at Ohalo II were probably occupied year-round, based on extensive plant and animal finds at that site, says Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef. In his view, those huts - but not the Kharaneh
IV huts - were precursors of 14,500-year-old oval structures with stone foundations built at several Middle Eastern locations by the Natufians, the first foraging society known to inhabit permanent settlements.

New Kharaneh IV finds show that, by 20,000 years ago, "perishable brush huts were common from the lush Sea of Galilee basin into now-arid plains to the east," says archaeologist Dani Nadel of the University of Haifa in Israel,
who directs Ohalo II excavations.

Ancient hunter-gatherers may not have lived at Kharaneh IV permanently, but they returned annually for long stretches over many generations, Maher says. Gazelle hunting was a prime draw, along with opportunities for trading
goods, forming alliances and arranging marriages, she suggests.


New findings from an international team of researchers show that most Neanderthals in Europe died off around 50,000
years ago. The previously held view of a Europe populated by a stable Neanderthal population for hundreds of thousands of years up until modern humans arrived must therefore be revised. This new perspective on the Neanderthals comes from a study of ancient DNA published February 25 in Molecular Biology and Evolution.

The results indicate that most Neanderthals in Europe died off as early as 50,000 years ago. After that, a small group of Neanderthals recolonized central and western Europe, where they survived for another 10,000 years before modern humans entered the picture. The study is the result of an international project led by Swedish and Spanish researchers in Uppsala, Stockholm and Madrid.

"The fact that Neanderthals in Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered, and that all this took place long before they came into contact with modern humans came as a complete surprise to us. This indicates that the Neanderthals may have been more sensitive to the dramatic climate changes that took place in the last Ice Age than was previously thought", says Love Dalén, associate professor at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm.

In connection with work on DNA from Neanderthal fossils in Northern Spain, the researchers noted that the genetic variation among European Neanderthals was extremely limited during the last ten thousand years before the
Neanderthals disappeared.

Older European Neanderthal fossils, as well as fossils from Asia, had much greater genetic variation, on par with the amount of variation that might be expected from a species that had been abundant in an area for a long period
of time. "The amount of genetic variation in geologically older Neanderthals as well as in Asian Neanderthals was just as great as in modern humans as a species, whereas the variation among later European Neanderthals was not
even as high as that of modern humans in Iceland", says Anders Götherström, associate professor at Uppsala University.

The results presented in the study are based entirely on severely degraded DNA, and the analysis have therefore required both advanced laboratory and computational methods. The research team has involved experts from a number
of countries, including statisticians, experts on modern DNA sequencing and paleoanthropologists from Denmark, Spain and the US.

Only when all members of the international research team had reviewed the findings could they feel certain that the available genetic data actually reveals an important and previously unknown part of Neanderthal history. "This type of interdisciplinary study is extremely valuable in advancing research about our evolutionary history. DNA from prehistoric people has led to a number of unexpected findings in recent years, and it will be really exciting to see what further discoveries are made in the coming years", says Juan Luis Arsuaga, professor of human paleontology at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid.


The colorful pebble bearing a sequence of lines dates back 100,000 years and may be the first evidence of abstract art. The object, which will be described in the April issue of the Journal of Archaeology, dates back approximately 100,000 years ago and could also be the world's oldest known abstract art. It was recovered from Klasies River Cave in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.

"Associated human remains indicate that the engraved piece was certainly made by Homo sapiens," co-author Riaan Rifkin of the University of Witwatersrand's Institute for Human Evolution told Discovery News. Rifkin and colleagues Francesco d'Errico and Renata Garcia Moreno performed extensive non-invasive analysis of the object. Methods like X-ray fluorescence and microscopic analysis enabled the researchers to examine every minute detail of the ocher pebble, which appears to have split off from a once larger piece. The scientists conclude that humans intentionally made the sub-parallel linear incisions on the Middle Stone Age pebble.

"Upon engraving the piece with a sharp lithic implement, it is likely to have produced a markedly bright and dark red-maroon powder," Rifkin said. "The design may therefore have been strikingly visible shortly after it was produced." Ocher is a mineral-rich, naturally tinted clay that primarily consists of hydrated iron oxide. Ocher was among the earliest pigments used by humans and possibly other hominids for artistic purposes.

The Klasies River object measures close to 3 inches in length and contains a series of seven "deep broad engraved lines and several, about 16 or so, narrower and somewhat shallower linear features," Rifkin said. "The fragment is a remnant of a formerly semi-circular ocher pebble that likely contained a much more extensive engraved design on its surface."

Of particular interest now is whether or not the engraver made the design with symbolic intent. Use of symbols and meaningful images is thought to have been a significant breakthrough in human development. Language, math and countless other studies are tied to this basic skill, in addition to improved communication. To this day, art permits communication of identity and other things among diverse cultures.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


A total of 23 pre-Columbian stone plaques dating back approximately 550 years, with carvings illustrating such Aztec myths as the birth of the god of war Huitzilopochtli, were discovered by archaeologists in front of the Great Temple of Tinochtitlan in downtown Mexico City, the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, said.

Bas-relief sculptures on slabs of tezontle (volcanic rock) relate the mythological origins of the ancient Mexica culture through representations of serpents, captives, ornaments, warriors and other figures, the INAH said
in a statement. The pre-Columbian remains are of great archaeological value because this is the first time such pieces have been found within the sacred grounds of Tenochtitlan and can be read "as an iconographic document narrating certain myths of that ancient civilization," archaeologist Raul Barrera said.

The Great Temple was the most important center of the Mexicas' religious life, built in what is today the great square of the Mexican capital known as the Zocalo.

The stone carvings focus on the myths of Huitzilopochtli's birth and the beginning of the Holy War. They were placed facing what was the center of Huitzilopochtli worship, which means that, like the flooring of pink andesite and slabs of basalt, they date back to the fourth stage of the Great Temple's construction (1440-1469), Barrera said.

According to the myth of Huitzilopochtli's birth, the goddess of the earth and fertility, Coatlicue, was impregnated by a feather that entered her womb as she was sweeping. But the pregnancy angered her children, so the 400 warriors from southern Mexico and the goddess Coyolxauhqui decided to go up Coatepec mountain where Coatlicue lived and kill her, Barrera said. The legend about the beginning of the Holy War among the Mexicas says that during the journey the southern warriors made from Aztlan to Texcoco Lake in the Valley of Mexico, where they founded the city, star warriors from the north, called Mimixcoas in Nahuatl, descended from the heavens. "Both myths include the concept of a star war, in which the god of war and the sun Huitzilopochtli defeats the 400 warriors from the south and
Coyolxauhqui, a clash that left in its wake the stars and the moon," Barrera said.

Archaeologist Lorena Vazquez Vallin, for her part, said that another of the images carved on the stone slabs is a dart with smoke along its sides, in front of which an obsidian arrowhead was found.Another shows a star warrior carrying his chimalli (shield) in one hand and in the other a weapon for shooting darts, the same that Huitzilopochtli used to conquer Coyolxauhqui.

One stone slab is sculpted with a figure of a captive on his knees and his hands tied behind his back. A tear falls from his eye and he might be speaking, Vazquez Vallin said. On another of the pre-Columbian pieces is the profile of a man wearing a feather headdress with an earflap. He has been decapitated.


Archaeologists and conservation experts on the Italian island of Sardinia have succeeded in re-assembling literally thousands of fragments of smashed sculpture to recreate a small yet unique army of life-size stone warriors which were originally destroyed by enemy action in the middle of the first millennium BC.

It's the only group of sculpted life-sized warriors ever found in Europe. Though consisting of a much smaller number of figures than China's famous Terracotta Army, the Sardinia example is 500 years older and is made of
stone rather than pottery. After an eight year conservation and reconstruction program, 25 of the original 33 sculpted stone warriors - archers, shield-holding 'boxers' and probable swordsmen - have now been substantially re-assembled.

The warriors were originally sculpted and placed on guard over the graves of elite Iron Age Sardinians, buried in the 8 century BC. The stone guardians are thought to have represented the dead individuals or to have acted as their eternal body-guards and retainers.

However, within a few centuries, the Carthaginians (from what is now Tunisia) invaded Sardinia - and archaeologists suspect that it was they who smashed the stone warriors (and stone models of native fortress shrines) into five thousand fragments. It's likely that the small sculpted army - and the graves they were guarding - were seen by the invaders as important symbols of indigenous power and status.

The site was abandoned and forgotten. Carthaginian control of Sardinia gave way to Roman, then Vandal, then Byzantine, Pisan, Aragonese, Spanish, Austrian, Savoyard and finally Italian rule.

The thousands of fragments were rediscovered only in the 1970s - and were excavated in the early 1980s by Italian archaeologist Carlo Troncheti. Two of the statues were then re-assembled - but the vast majority of the material was put into a local museum store where it stayed until 2004 when re-assembly work on the fragments was re-started by conservators in Sassari, northern Sardinia.

Sardinia's newly recreated 'stone army' is set to focus attention on one of the world's least known yet most impressive ancient civilizations - the so-called Nuragic culture which dominated the island from the 16 century BC
to the late 6 century BC. Its Bronze Age heyday was in the mid second millennium BC - roughly from the 16 to the 13 century BC, when it constructed some of the most impressive architectural monuments ever produced in prehistory.
Even today, the remains of 7000 Nuragic fortresses (the oldest castles in Europe) still dominate the landscape of Sardinia. Several dozen have stood the test of time exceptionally well - and give an extraordinary impression
of what Sardinian Bronze Age military architecture looked like.

The re-assembled stone army is expected to go on display from this summer at southern Sardinia's Cagliari Museum, 70 miles south-east of the find site, Monte Prama in central Sardinia.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Millennia before modern-day Americans made fun of their politicians or cracked crude jokes over a cold one, people in ancient Mesopotamia were doing much the same thing. The evidence of sex, politics and beer-drinking comes from a newly translated tablet, dating back more than 3,500 years, which reveals a series of riddles.

The text is fragmentary in parts and appears to have been written by an inexperienced hand, possibly a student. The researchers aren't sure where the tablet originates, though they suspect its scribe lived in the southern part of Mesopotamia, near the Persian Gulf.

The translation, by Nathan Wasserman, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, and Michael Streck, a professor with the Altorientalisches Institut at Universität Leipzig, is detailed in the most recent edition of the journal Iraq.


Numerous archaeological excavations are underway at a huge site in Anatolia which will uncover an ancient and rich
yet forgotten kingdom known as Tuwana from the darkness of history, which will be featured in an open-air museum.

The news was reported by Lorenzo d'Alfonso, an Italian archaeologist leading the joint mission by the University of Pavia and NYU, who provided details on the excavation campaign in a press conference in Istanbul this month, during which the details of the Italian archaeological missions in Turkey were explained. This "new discovery" from the pre-classical age which "needs to be continued" in southern Cappadocia took place in Kinik Hoyuk, the scholar said, referring to a site mainly involving the beginning of the first millennium BC.

The area is "fully" part of the "forgotten kingdom" of Tuwana, said d'Alfonso,known until now through hieroglyphics and from several sources from the Assyrian Empire, but "never studied archaeologically": "A completely intact
site that has been left untouched", trying to "place it historically to understand which civilization belonged to and what it's role was in the region".

Kinik Hoyuk, the archaeologist said, is "one of the major sites" in terms of size in pre-classical Anatolia, if you leave the capital of the Hittites out: the most conservative estimates say that it spans 24 hectares"but topographers say that it could cover 81 hectares". "...its importance emerged in a campaign that we conducted," said d'Alfonso, who said that "southern Cappadocia is important because it controlled the Cilician Gates, or the passageway between the East and the West and between Europe and Asia": essentially, "one of the most important junctions" in the world during that period and at the "center" of which lies Kinik Koyuk.

Tuwana was a small buffer state between the Phrygian kingdom and the Assyrian Empire "and this is why it was particularly rich": "one ofthe great subjects of our study involves the cultural richness of this kingdom," said D'Alfonso, referring mainly to the development of the alphabet. He pointed out that three steles from the Iron Age were uncovered in the area, "which are not very well preserved", but which do say a lot "about the importance that the site had".

The strategy of the excavation, said the archaeologist, was guided by "geomagnetic surveys in 2010 which revealed particularly significant remains of the acropolis wall and buildings at the centre of the acropolis itself": "monumental" walls excavated "to a height of 6 metres" in an outstanding state of preservation. The excavation campaign was "planned from the very beginning to be transformed into an open-air museum": Kinik Hoyuk, underlined D'Alfonso, is "easily accessible". Its "strength" is that it is only 45 minutes from the major tourist attractions in Cappadocia (and less than 2km from one of the major 4-lane roads in the region).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Traces of the paint, made from ocher, were dug up in the Netherlands and dated to a quarter of a million years ago.
Scientists are keeping an open mind as to what the sub-species of humans did with it back then although it is often considered a sign of symbolic behavior such as artwork and body painting.

Scientists examined small quantities of red material on well-preserved flint and bones dug up from an archaeological site in Maastricht in the Netherlands, reports the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. State-of-the-art X-ray techniques revealed the presence of an iron oxide called hematite, a metal that was not part of the sedimentary environment and probably entered as drops from an ocher-rich liquid. They believe it was brought to the site from dozens of miles away.

Saturday, February 04, 2012


An ancient spearpoint was found at an excavation site in Connecticut (USA) during a Norwalk Community College-sponsored archaeology dig. Chelsea Dean, senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, took the Introduction to Archaeology course with Professor Ernest Wiegand last fall as part of the schools avocation program. During the last dig of the semester, Chelsea found a spearpoint more than 4,000 years old.

"It's like an arrowhead. The section I was working on had a lot of stuff coming up, but nothing was complete. When the actual projectile point came up, it was the first intact artifact I found," she said. "One of the things I learned taking the course is that I want to continue with archaeology, whether it's a career or recreational," Chelsea said

Mr. Wiegand, coordinator of the college's archaeology club, said Chelsea discovered a spearpoint made of white quartz. This type of ancient artifact is known as a Burwell projectile point and was probably used as the tip of a spear. The excavation at Gallows Hill Rd. has been a 10-year project by Mr. Wiegand and his students. "The point type is the first of its kind found at the site," he said. "It is one more clue to tell us as to who was there." The artifact is being kept with other findings from the Gallows Hill site, where dig will continue when Mr. Wiegand and his students return in the spring.

Edited from The Redding Pilot (25 January 2012)
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Sandy Gerrard, a former English Heritage designation officer for 20 years, reported the discovery of an ancient stone row on the site of a proposed wind farm in Wales. It seems that the row at the Mynydd y Betws wind farm development went unnoticed by archaeologists researching the site prior to work starting. There are two roads scheduled to cross the stone row but work has now stopped in the area around the row pending clarification by archaeologists working for Cambrian Renewable Energy Limited, the company building the wind farm.

Mr. Gerrard: "There are currently three scheduled monuments on Bancbryn and we decided to head straight there. Within moments we had identified several sites including a number of stoney mounds, a few hollows, a line of pits with associated banks and leading into and returning out from the fenced off area - a line of stones. In amongst these archaeological features but significantly not actually touching any of them were the scars of archaeological trenches indicating that excavation had indeed happened but appeared to have missed all the visible archaeology," said Mr Gerrard. "Our visit confirmed there were indeed archaeological remains and we are confident that future work will demonstrate that they are of some importance," he added.

Mr Gerrard said that the stone row is probably the most important of the features found and as it is associated with over 30 cairns, some of which are curbed, it seems to form the focus of an incredibly important ceremonial landscape where the form of space between the numerous earthwork and built elements are as integral and important as the earthworks themselves. Mr Gerrard has spent much of his archaeological working life on Dartmoor and he believes the form of the newly discovered stone row is so identical to the same rows in England as to suggest a definite and tangible link between these people. The small size of the stones reflects what was available and even on Dartmoor some of the rows are formed by similar sized stones.

"The discovery of this exciting monument has been tempered by the realisation that it is being cut into three parts by the new roads and the feeling that if it had been known about before it could have perhaps been saved in its entirety," said Gerrard. "The site is delicate and the huge diggers which have been trundling across it have already caused irreparable damage. It is to be hoped that the row will survive its amputation and outlast its temporary ignominy. To this end I have asked Cadw to schedule the monument as a matter of priority to ensure that any straying diggers do not complete the destruction," he concluded.

Do check out the images in the original articles below:

Edited from Heritage Action News (26 and 29 January 2012)
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