Friday, June 29, 2012


A 280-foot section of a road built by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago has been discovered by archaeologists in Thessaloniki, Greece's 2nd largest city.

The marble paved road was once the city's main travel artery. It was unearthed during excavations for a subway project that is due to be completed in 2016. Now the road will be raised and put on permanent display when the subway opens.

Some of the road's large paving stones were etched with the designs of children's board games and others bore the marks of cart wheels. Remnants of lamps, tools and bases of marble columns were also found. The road dates to the first century A.D. There was evidence of another road built by the ancient Greeks some 500 years earlier below the Roman road.

Other finds were made in 2008 as the subway project got under way. They included more than 1,000 graves, some filled with jewelry, coins and piece of art.

from the NY Times Arts Briefly section, June 28, 2012

Sunday, June 24, 2012


A team of experts from the Archeological Institute of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU) and the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade have
discovered necropolis located at the Maniste dig in the village of Ranutovac, three
kilometers north of Vranje, on the route of Corridor 10.

Aleksandar Bulatovic, the coordinator of a project of archeological research and preservation on the Corridor 10 route, said the necropolis contained remains of the deceased who were burned in funeral pyres.

"The necropolis dates back to the Early Bronze Age - based on our initial assessments between 2,000 and 1,800 BC, and it is significant because it is the only fully preserved necropolis from this period in the central Balkans," he explained.

"At the same site, we found multiple ceramic objects, which look quite unusual for this area, and several containers whose use is unknown," said Bulatovic. The archeological material is being processed at the National Museum in Vranje, where it will later be exhibited.

The Serbian section of Corridor 10, stretching from Grabovnica near Leskovac
to Presevo on the Macedonian border, has 33 registered archeological sites,
five of which are yet to be explored.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Because I teach prehistory to 6th graders in an enrichment program in the Tri-State (NY,CT and NJ) area of the U.S. I was especially interested in the following story that appeared in the NY Times by John Noble Wilford this week.

Stone Age artists were painting red disks, handprints, clublike symbols and geometric patterns on European cave walls long before previously thought, in some cases more than 40,000 years ago, scientists recently reported after completing more reliable dating tests that raised a possibility that Neanderthals were the artists.
A more likely situation, the researchers said, is that the art — 50 samples from 11 caves in northwestern Spain — was created by anatomically modern humans fairly soon after their arrival in Europe.

The findings seem to put an exclamation point to a run of recent discoveries: direct evidence from fossils that Homo sapiens populations were living in England 41,500 to 44,200 years ago and in Italy 43,000 to 45,000 years ago, and that they were making flutes in German caves about 42,000 years ago. Then there is the new genetic evidence of modern human-Neanderthal interbreeding, suggesting a closer relationship than had been generally thought.

The successful application of a newly refined uranium-thorium dating technique is also expected to send other scientists to other caves to see if they can reclaim prehistoric bragging rights. In the new research, an international team led by Alistair W. G. Pike of the University of Bristol in England determined that the red disk in the cave known as El Castillo was part of the earliest known wall decorations, at a minimum of 40,800 years old. That makes it the earliest cave art found so far in Europe, perhaps 4,000 years older than the paintings at Grotte Chauvet in France.

The handprints common at several of the Spanish caves were stencils, probably made by blowing pigment on a hand placed against the cave wall. The oldest example, at El Castillo, proved to be at least 37,300 years old, which the scientists said “considerably increases the antiquity of this motif and implies that depictions of the human hand were among the oldest art known in Europe.”

At Altamira, the researchers obtained a date of at least 35,600 years for a red club-shaped symbol. Archaeologists said this indicated that Altamira’s artistic tradition started about 10,000 years earlier than once estimated, and the cave appeared to have been revisited and painted many times over a span of 20,000 years.

In a report published online in the journal Science, Dr. Pike and his colleagues noted that the oldest dated art is “nonfigurative and monochrome (red), supporting the notion that the earliest expression of art in Western Europe was less concerned with animal depiction and characterized by red dots, disks, line and hand stencils.” The more stunning murals of bison and horses came gradually, later. Although the early dates coincide with recent evidence of a Homo sapiens presence in Europe, the scientists wrote that because 40,800 is only a minimum age, “it cannot be ruled out that the earliest paintings were symbolic expressions of the Neanderthals,” who were living in that part of Spain until at least 42,000 years ago. These close relatives of modern humans had lived in Europe and parts of Asia since at least 250,000 years ago, becoming extinct about 30,000 years ago.

In a teleconference for reporters on Wednesday, Dr. Pike said the older dates suggested three possible interpretations. One: Homo sapiens entered Europe with the tradition of cave art already part of the culture. Another possibility is that this artistic culture arose shortly after modern humans reached Europe. “It might have been the result of competition for resources with Neanderthals,” Dr. Pike said. “The rate of cultural innovation was accelerating, and this was a byproduct.” The third possibility, which the scientists said they had not anticipated at the start of their project, is that some of these earliest works of cave art might be attributed to Neanderthals. Until recently, archaeologists usually saw Neanderthals as incapable of creating artistic works much beyond simple abstract markings and personal ornamentation.

Other scientists were expected to be skeptical, pending more evidence of even earlier dates for cave art or of painting associated with Neanderthal tools or fossils. Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York, said, “There is no need to hypothesize that Neanderthals created these paintings, as we have evidence of artistic Homo sapiens already in Western Europe.”

The research is “most important,” Dr. Delson said, because it introduces a significant advance in techniques for more reliable, precise and older dating of antiquities, especially cave art that in most cases does not lend itself to reliable dating by radiocarbon methods. Dr. Hellstrom, in his article, recommended a wider application of the improved uranium-thorium dating method.

It is actually a 50-year-old technique, but a vastly improved one. Cave art is typically found in limestone terrain. Water seeping into caves leaves deposits of calcium carbonate, or calcite, as stalactites and stalagmites or simpler crusts cover cave surfaces. To date a painting under such a crust, researchers remove a piece of the calcite, dissolve the sample and extract the traces of uranium and thorium atoms. Over time, the uranium in the crust decays into thorium. A measure of the ratio of uranium to thorium gives the minimum age of the art beneath the crust.

This is an improvement over radiocarbon dating, which becomes less reliable at ages over 30,000 years and is not usable in dating art unless the pigment contained carbon. The uranium-thorium method has been made more sensitive, so that calcite samples about as small as a grain of rice can do the job.

Asked how the Neanderthal question could be resolved, Dr. Pike said, “Simply go back and date more of these samples and find something that predates modern humans in Europe


A spectacular 2,000 year-old gold and silver hoard has been uncovered in an archaeological excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Qiryat Gat region. A rich and extraordinary hoard that includes jewelry and silver and gold coins from the Roman period was recently exposed in a salvage excavation in the vicinity of Qiryat Gat. The treasure trove comprising some 140 gold and silver coins together with gold jewelry was probably hidden by a wealthy lady at a time of impending danger during the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

The rooms of a building dating to the Roman and Byzantine period were exposed during the course of the excavation. A pit that was dug in the earth and refilled was discerned in the building's courtyard. To the archaeologist's surprise, a spectacular treasure trove of exquisite quality was discovered in the pit wrapped in a cloth fabric, of which only several pieces remained on the artifacts.

According to archaeologist, Emil Aladjem, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "The magnificent hoard includes gold jewelry, among them an earring crafted by a jeweler in the shape of a flower and a ring with a precious stone on which there is a seal of a winged-goddess, two sticks of silver that were probably kohl sticks, as well as some 140 gold and silver coins."

The coins that were discovered date to the reigns of the Roman emperors Nero, Nerva and Trajan who ruled the Roman Empire from 54-117 CE. The coins are adorned with the images of the emperors and on their reverse are cultic portrayals of the emperor, symbols of the brotherhood of warriors and mythological gods such as Jupiter seated on a throne or Jupiter grasping a lightning bolt in his hand."

Saar Ganor, District Archaeologist of Ashkelon and the Western Negev for the Israel Antiquities Authority, adds, "The composition of the numismatic artifacts and their quality are consistent with treasure troves that were previously attributed to the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. During the uprising, between 132-135 CE, the Jews under Roman rule would re-strike coins of the emperor Trajan with symbols of the revolt.

This hoard includes silver and gold coins of different denominations, most of which date to the reign of the emperor Trajan. This is probably an emergency cache that was
concealed at the time of impending danger by a wealthy woman who wrapped her jewelry and money in a cloth and hid them deep in the ground prior to or during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. It is now clear that the owner of the hoard never returned to claim it."

The treasure trove was removed from the field and transferred for treatment to the laboratories of the Artifacts Treatment Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem.


The Great Wall of China is more than twice as long as originally believed, according to the first definitive archaeological survey of the iconic ancient defensive structure. Released by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), the survey began in 2007, mapping every trace of the wall across 15 Chinese provinces.

It emerged that the wall is much longer than previously thought. Indeed, it measures 13,170.6956 miles, or 21,196.18 km. A preliminary study released in 2009 estimated the wall to snake 5,500 miles, or 8,850 km across the country. A total of 43,721 heritage sites were identified during the survey, "including stretches of the wall, defense works and passes, as well as other related Great Wall facilities and ruins," Tongo Mingkang, SACH deputy chief, said.

Known to the Chinese as the "Long Wall of 10,000 Li", the Great Wall is the world's largest human-made structure -- a series often overlapping fortifications made of stone, bricks and earthen works whose construction begun as early as the 7th century BC. The defensive structure was first linked up under Emperor Qin Shi Huang in about 220 BC. to protect the ancient Chinese empire from marauding tribes from the north.
Since then, many dynasties have maintained and renovated the wall. The majority of the existing structure was reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Today, only 8.2 percent of the wall built during the Ming Dynasty is intact, with the rest in poor condition, said the report. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987, the wall has been heavily damaged from human activities, infrastructure development and tourism. A large amount of the wall has collapsed and in some sections, only its foundation remains, the five-year survey concluded.

By 2015, the SACH will establish general guideline for protection of the Great Wall and set up a monitoring system to ensure an effective preservation, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.


The reconstruction of 27 complete human limb bones found in Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain) has helped to determine the height of various species of the Pleistocene era. Homo heilderbergensis, like Neanderthals, were similar in height to the current population of the Mediterranean. Along with its enormous quantity of fossils, one of the most important features of the Sima de los Huesos (SH) site in Atapuerca, Burgos, is the splendid state of the findings. They are so well conserved that the 27
complete bones from some 500,000 years ago have been reconstructed.

"The incredible collection allows us to estimate the height of species such as Homo heidelbergensis, who inhabited Europe during the Middle Pleistocene era and is the ancestor of the Neanderthal. Such estimations are based solely on analysis of the large complete bones, like those from the arm and the leg," as explained to SINC by José Miguel Carretero Díaz, researcher at the Laboratory of Human Evolution of the University of Burgos and lead author of the study that has been published in the 'Journal of Human Evolution' journal.

In addition, since bones were complete, the researchers were able to determine whether they belonged to a male or female and thus calculate the height of both men and women. The results suggest that both men and women in the Sima de los Huesos
population were on average slightly higher than Neanderthal men and women. "Neither can be described as being short and both are placed in the medium and above-medium height categories. But, both species featured tall individuals," assured the experts.

The height of these two species is similar to that of modern day population of mid-latitudes, like in the case of Central Europe and the Mediterranean. Height remained the same for some 2 million years until the appearance of a "ground-breaking species in this sense" in Africa just 200,000 years ago. These were the Homo sapiens, who were initially significantly taller than any other species that existed at the time. "The explanation is found in the overall morphological change in the body biotype that prevailed in our species compared to our ancestors. The Homo
sapiens had a slimmer body, lighter bones, longer legs and were taller,"
adds the researcher. A lighter body aided survival

This type of anatomy could have been highly advantageous in terms of survival in Eurasia during the Upper Pleistocene Era when two intelligent human species (the light-bodied Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals) had to face difficult climatic conditions, drastic changes in ecosystems and ecological competition.


The ancestors of humans, apes and monkeys evolved first in Asia before moving on to Africa, suggests a new fossil find from Myanmar. Remains of a newly found primate, Afrasia djijidae, show this monkey-like animal lived 37 million years ago and was a likely ancestor of anthropoids -- the group including humans, apes and monkeys.

Christopher Beard, a Carnegie Museum of Natural History vertebrate paleontologist who co-authored a study about the fossil find in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says "Our paper is the logical precursor to that, because we are showing how the anthropoid ancestors of humans made their way 'Into Africa."

Beard, project leader Jean-Jacques Jaeger of the University of Poitiers, and their colleagues analyzed the tooth remains of Afrasia. They found that it is very similar to, but more primitive than, another early anthropoid, Afrotarsius libycus, recently discovered at a site of similar age in the Sahara Desert of Libya. (The term "anthropoid" is used instead of "primate" because all anthropoids are primates, but not all primates are anthropoids. Lemurs, for example, fall into that latter group.)

The tooth size of Afrasia and Afrotarsius indicates that in life, both animals only weighed around 3.5 ounces. They likely fed mostly on insects and probably resembled small monkeys, Beard said. It remains a mystery as to how the small Asian animals came to Africa. "What we do know is that they had to cross a much larger version of the Mediterranean Sea (the ancient body of water was called the Tethys Sea) in order to go from Asia to Africa," Beard said. "At that time, Africa was an island continent like Australia is today."

He and his colleagues suspect that this branch eventually went extinct. It is likely that multiple Asian anthropoid species were able to colonize Africa 38-37 million years ago, with one species evolving many years later into Homo sapiens.

Scientists have long wondered why anthropoids just seemed to suddenly appear in Africa, with no apparent ancestry there. Afrasia's discovery helps to solve that mystery by opening up a new pre-chapter set in Asia.

"For years, we thought the African fossil record was simply bad," Jaeger
said. "The fact that similar anthropoids lived at the same time in Myanmar
and Libya suggests that the gap in early African anthropoid evolution is
actually real. Anthropoids didn't arrive in Africa until right before we
find their fossils in Libya."