Sunday, August 26, 2012


Alexander The Great: 2000 years of Treasures celebrates the man, his journey and legacy of one of history’s most enigmatic and important figures through objects and works of art.

More than 4,000 objects from the life of Alexander The Great, from the State Hermitage in Russia, will be at display from Nov. 24 until April 29, 2013 in what is one of the biggest exhibitions ever staged in Australia. The exhibition will feature objects, spanning more than 2000 years, many coming to Australia for the first time.

Alexander The Great created one of the largest empires of the ancient world by the time he was only 32 years old just before he died. His accomplishments and influence on culture, religion and military strategy changed the world. Alexander The Great: 2000 years of Treasures celebrates the man, his journey and legacy of one of history’s most enigmatic and important figures through objects and works of art.

A preview can be seen and tickets are available at:


Mt. Vesuvius is erupting, Pliny the Elder just said. On Twitter.

Destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman town of Pompeii was buried deep beneath ash and preserved following the catastrophe on Aug. 24 in the year AD 79. The city remained untouched for nearly 1,700 years, preserved as if in a time capsule.

Now, 1,933 years later, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is bringing the events back to life.

The museum began Tweeting a first-hand account of the events at Pompeii as seen by Pliny the Elder, the famous Roman historian, nationalist, and commander of the Roman fleet at Misenium.

"A strange cloud is rising in the distance," he wrote on the messaging service. “The gods must be roaming the earth. I felt the ground shake this morning,” he wrote earlier.

The Twitter feed promises a real-time look at where Pliny was, with links to current images showing the exact locations the historian was seeing. It will offer his eyewitness account hour by hour.

Read more:


Archaeologists are investigating the discovery of a gilded bronze lion found off the coast of Calabria not far from where the famed Riace Bronzes were discovered 40 years ago.

Armour in bronze and copper was also found by a diver and two tourists in the area that is now closed to the public as investigators probe the details of the find. One of the divers who made the discovery said there may be a ship and other important artifacts there as well. "When I went into the water, I saw a statue that was stuck between the rocks and a piece of the ship," explained Bruno Bruzzaniti. "The tides, however, cover everything and then you must be really fortunate to be able to see other items that are still at the bottom of the sea."

The discovery sounds similar to that of the iconic Riace Bronzes, 2,500-year-old statues representing ancient warriors which were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holidaymaker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast. That find turned out to be one of Italy's most important archaeological discoveries in the last 100 years. Those statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two metrers, they are larger than life.

The newly discovered bronze lion is said to be about 50 centimeters high and weighs 15 kilograms. Also found in the area of the lion were remains of vases and other statues. An early hypothesis suggests that all these newly found items were aboard a ship that sank just off the Calabrian coast.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Researchers from Israel say that mysterious clay and stone artifacts from Neolithic times could be the earliest known 'matches'. Although the cylindrical objects have been known about for some time, they had previously been interpreted as 'cultic' phallic symbols. The researchers' new interpretation means these could be the earliest evidence - being almost 8,000 years old - of how fires were ignited.

Although evidence of 'pyrotechnology' in Eurasia is known from three quarters of a million years ago, this evidence usually takes the form of remnants of fire itself. "We have fire evidence in modern humans and Neanderthals, from charcoal, ashes and hearths, but there was nothing ever found that was connected with how you ignite the fire," lead author Prof Naama Goren-Inbar of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said.

But on a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Professor Goren-Inbar recognized the shape of structures discovered at the Sha'ar HaGolan archaeological site as that found in tools used for purposes other than simply cultural ones. "I saw this object and immediately it came to my mind that this was very, very similar to all the sticks that you see [used as] 'fire drills'. I made the connection and it slowly developed," she said.

By using electro-microscopy techniques, Prof Goren-Inbar and her colleagues identified linear marks, or striations, at the conical ends of the cylinders which they interpret as being generated by spinning the 'matches' within sockets found on 'fire boards', which are known from other sites. Burn-coloration reminiscent of scorch-marks was also found, as well as grooves evident higher up the objects, which may have been generated by a bow, used to spin the cylinders.

This evidence, the researchers write, is supported by known cultural evidence from the Neolithic as well as knowledge of traditional fire ignition techniques. This new interpretation highlights the technological sophistication of the Sha'ar HaGolan inhabitants at this time, and the prevalence of these structures around a wide area of the Eastern Mediterranean may further indicate that clay matches were common at an earlier time period than other ignition technologies.

Edited from BBC News (8 August 2012)
[2 images]


In the last two years, a number of studies have suggested that modern humans and Neanderthals had at some point interbred. Genetic evidence shows that on average Eurasians and Neanderthals share between 1-4 per cent of their DNA. In contrast, Africans have almost none of the Neanderthal genome. The previous studies concluded that these differences could be explained by hybridization which occurred as modern humans exited Africa and bred with the Neanderthals who already inhabited Europe.

However, a new study funded by the BBSRC and the Leverhulme Trust has provided an alternative explanation for the genetic similarities. The scientists found that common ancestry, without any hybridization, explains the genetic similarities between Neanderthals and modern humans. In other words, the DNA that Neanderthal and modern humans share can all be attributed to their common origin, without any recent influx of Neanderthal DNA into modern humans.

Dr Andrea Manica, from the University of Cambridge, who led the study said: "Our work shows clearly that the patterns currently seen in the Neanderthal genome are not exceptional, and are in line with our expectations of what we would see without hybridization. So, if any hybridization happened - it's difficult to conclusively prove it never happened - then it would have been minimal and much less than what people are claiming now."

Neanderthals and modern humans once shared a common ancestor who is thought to have spanned Africa and Europe about half a million years ago. Just as there are very different populations across Europe today, populations of that common ancestor would not have been completely mixed across continents, but rather closer populations would have been more genetically similar to each other than populations further apart.

Then, about 350-300 thousand years ago, the European range and the African range became separated. The European range evolved into Neanderthal, the African range eventually turned into modern humans. However, because the populations within each continent were not freely mixing, the DNA of the modern human population in Africa that were ancestrally closer to Europe would have retained more of the ancestral DNA (specifically, genetic variants) that is also shared with Neanderthals.

On this basis, the scientists created a model to determine whether the differences in genetic similarities with Neanderthal among modern human populations, which had been attributed to hybridization, could be down to the proximity of modern humans in northern Africa (who would have later gone on to populate Europe) to Neanderthals. By examining the different genetic makeup among modern human populations, the scientists' model was able to infer how much genetic similarity there would have been between distinct populations within a continent. The researchers then simulated a large number of populations representing Africa and Eurasia over the last half a million years, and estimated how much similarity would be expected between a random Neanderthal individual and modern humans in Africa and Eurasia.

The scientists concluded that when modern humans expanded out of Africa 60-70.000 years ago, they would have brought out that additional genetic similarity with them, making Europeans and Asians more similar to Neanderthals than Africans are on average - undermining the theory that hybridization, and not common ancestry, explained these differences.

Edited from EurekAlert! (13 August 2012)


A new book has been published entitled 'Death and Dying in Neolithic Near East'. In it the author, Dr Karina Croucher, concludes that Neolithic man was not the female bashing dominant hunter gatherer that popular belief would lead us to imagine.

Her book centers around the discovery of a 'Death Pit' at a site known as Domuztepe in the south-eastern corner of Turkey, near the borders with Iran and Iraq. The 'Death Pit' was excavated over a period of 6 years in the late 1990s and included signs of feasting (animal bones) covered by the remains of up to 40 people, both male and female, in roughly equal numbers, which may have been cannibalized.

In addition, the skull of a teenage girl was found (nicknamed as 'Kim' by the excavation team), near the edge of the Pit, and which appeared to have been cared for by the same people who looked after the Pit, preventing scavenging animals from picking over the bones.

From this, and other evidence, Dr Croucher concluded that a cross gender compassion had been demonstrated. She is quoted as saying "In the Death Pit a specific choice was made to inter these human remains - including 'Kim' - within its context, and that undoubtedly required care and effort, not only in its construction, but additionally in keeping the area protected and clear of scavengers.

Even the cannibalism was probably seen by these people as a compassionate act". She goes on to say "The stereotypical and inaccurate view of male hunters dominating their more submissive female counterparts is an articulation of male bias in archaeology". The book is currently published in hardback by Oxford University Press.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Chinese archaeologists say they have proved that the famous Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) terra cotta army in Xi'an was robbed of its weapons and figures broken and burned. Xiang Yu, a military leader who overthrew the dynasty, is the prime suspect for the arson and looting, officials from the Museum of the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shi Huang said recently.

"We have found large quantities of red clay and charcoal along with holes for robbing in the major pit of terra cotta warriors," said Shen Maosheng, leader of the archeological team on the No.1 pit. "These are evidence of arson and looting."

Archaeologists were publicizing the results of the third excavation since 2009 on the pits where thousands of life-sized terra cotta warriors and horses have been uncovered from three pits. The figures were discovered in 1974 by farmers in Lintong District, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, near the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC), the First Emperor who united warring China.

More than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses have been unearthed from the pits covering a total of 14,000 square meters. The majority of the site is still buried, the museum said.

Most original weapons the figures held, such as spears, swords and crossbows, had disappeared, said Cao Wei, deputy curator of the museum."Rebel leader Xiang was the person with the power, time and motive to destroy the terra cotta warriors," Shen said. Xiang hated the First Emperor, so had a motive to destroy the spiritual protectors of his tomb, said Shen. He also needed weapons in order to fight the army of Qin Dynasty, as they had banned all weapons throughout the country.

The large holes into the pits gave another clue, said Shen. They could only have been dug by a large group of people - such as Xiang's army, he said. Experts had long speculated the pits had been destroyed by human intervention, but had never found evidence before.

Dubbed "one of the eight wonders in the world," and the "most splendid archaeological find" of the 20th century, the terra cotta figures are life-sized and vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank.


“I believe that this ministry could double or triple the number of archaeologists it hires — and the number of guards — and still be understaffed,” said Pavlos Geroulanos, Greece’s culture and tourism minister until the May 6 elections brought in a caretaker government. Mr. Geroulanos has overseen the layoffs and forced retirements as his annual operating budget has dwindled 30 percent over the last three years. “There’s so much out there, and so much work to be done,” he said.

But now Greece’s already hidebound and inefficient archaeological bureaucracy, for years among the largest in Europe (where the state plays a central role in the field in many countries), is confronting a drop in resources so sharp that it is beginning to cede the responsibility for cultural heritage it has had for more than 150 years.

In Messenia, on the Peloponnesian peninsula, excavation work has come to a halt on a fifth- or sixth-century B.C. mountaintop temple discovered in 2010 not far from the well-known Temple of Apollo Epicurius, a Unesco World Heritage site. Xeni Arapogianni, the state archaeologist who oversaw the region and directed the initial excavation of the newly discovered temple, was forced into early retirement last fall before she could complete research for publications about the find.
“There’s still work that needs to be done there, but no one goes to do it,” Ms. Arapogianni said in an interview. “A department cannot function without a director.” She added that the temple was not important simply as another place that might someday dot a tourist map but because the history of fifth-century temple cults in the region is still an emerging field of research, and the site could provide crucial insights. “This is not just another temple,” she said.

To many Greek archaeologists and university colleagues from other countries who dig with the government’s permission, an even more troubling repercussion of the austerity budget is that research leaves of absence for government archaeologists are being canceled, and money for their research excavations is no longer being provided unless they can find other sources to share the cost.

One effect is that Greek archaeologists are being pushed to focus almost exclusively on the more bureaucratic side of their jobs: inspecting construction sites for the presence of buried antiquities. It is a crucial task, but one that, even with the slowdown of development during the crisis, consumes almost all their time now. This means that scholarship is put on indefinite, and in some cases probably permanent, hold.

An American archaeologist with decades of experience in Greece, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of alienating government officials at such an uncertain time, said: “Nobody in Greece digs nearly as much as the government archaeological service. And if they aren’t able to publish what they find, they might as well not be doing it at all; they might as well just rebury it.”

Despite its relatively low pay, the profession of archaeology has long been held in high esteem in Greece; it is a job that children aspire to, like becoming a doctor. And in a country where the public sector has been plagued for decades with corruption, archaeologists have retained a reputation as generally honorable and hard-working.

Veteran Greek archaeologists tend to view the crisis with a grim resolve to make do with the resources at hand. But many in the next generation are unable to do even that. The archaeological service has all but stopped hiring, and the hundreds of young archaeologists who work on part-time contracts are finding those contracts renewed more infrequently.

Even with the ministry’s budget falling every year of his tenure, he said, it has been able to complete important projects, like modernizing the facilities at more than 100 publicly accessible ancient sites. Over the last three years Greece has also managed to compete successfully for tens of millions of euros from the European Union available for archaeological projects. But critics of austerity say these few bright spots pale against the irreversible damage already under way.

On the island of Kythira, Mr. Tsaravopoulos recently visited a plot of sparsely wooded field, acting on a tip from a friend that a bulldozer had been at work there without a permit or antiquities inspection. He arrived to find a makeshift dirt road freshly carved into a hillside, scattered with dozens of broken pieces of glazed pottery dating to Hellenic and early Roman times. As he was leaving, the owner of the land arrived with his family, and he and Mr. Tsaravopoulos, who knew him, had a curt discussion in the middle of the road before the man walked on.

“He told me he didn’t realize he’d damaged any artifacts and that he was sorry,” Mr. Tsaravopoulos said later. “Then he told me very nicely: ‘Oh Aris, I heard the news that you had to retire. I’m very sorry about that.’ He knows that I have no power anymore to prevent people from digging wherever they want.”


The oldest known written ancient Hebrew other than the Bible has emerged as laws to protect slaves, widows, orphans and foreigners, according to the German theologian who translated the script. The five lines of ancient Hebrew were painted onto a clay pot about 3,000 years ago. Their author is thought to have been a trainee court official – they were instructed to write out important laws over and over again to improve their writing skills.

Archaeologists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem discovered the inscription-covered clay slab in 2008 while excavating the site of a ancient city known to have existed in 10 BC, Khirbet Qeiyafa, which lies 25 kilometres south-west of Jerusalem. They sent copies to experts in ancient languages, who all had a go at translating the ancient scripture.

Professor of Protestant theology at the University of Münster, Dr. Reinhard Achenbach's final interpretation was published recently in the French-language Hebrew studies journal Semitica. "The language seems to be ancient Hebrew, but it is closely related to other west-semitic canaanite languages," the Old Testament expert has reported.

The tablet’s significance lay in its instructions to take care of the disadvantaged of ancient Israeli society. This is visible in the second and third lines which read: “Give rights to slaves and to widows! Give rights to orphans and foreigners! Protect the rights of the poor and protect the rights of minors!” These were likely to be some of the first laws implemented, he said, adding that the tablet was probably a copied version made by a royal official given the task to learn the laws.

"The form of the letters is older than the oldest Israelite text we have known until now, the "Gezer calendar". This points to the 10th century BC," Achenbach added.


The smooth curves and fine details in the paintings of bears, rhinoceroses and horses in the Chauvet cave in southern France are so advanced that some scholars thought they dated from 12,000 to 17,000 years ago. That would place them as relics of the Magdalenian culture, in which human ancestors used tools of stone and bone and created increasingly advanced art as time went on. But scientists have previously shown through radiocarbon dating evidence of rock art, charcoal and animal bones in the Chauvet cave that the drawings are older than that, likely between 30,000-32,000 years old, befuddling some who believed that early art took on more primitive forms.

Now, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a US journal, French scientists believe they have confirmation that the paintings are 'the oldest and most elaborate ever discovered.' Their findings are based on an analysis - called geomorphological and chlorine-36 dating - of the rockslide surfaces around what is believed to be the cave's only entrance.

The research shows that an overhanging cliff began collapsing 29,000 years ago and did so repeatedly over time, definitively sealing the entrance to humans around 21,000 years ago. That would mean the drawings had to have been done before that, bolstering the notion that they were created by people in the Aurignacian culture, which lived 28,000 to 40,000 years ago.

According to lead author Benjamin Sadier, the findings put an end to any debate over when the drawings may have been done based on their style. "What our work shows, and other work that will soon be published, is that the method of dating by style is no longer valid," he said. "By proving that this cave was closed for good 21,500 years ago, we completely eradicate the hypothesis of a more recent painting of the cave, and we also confirm the age of the cave which was already known through radiocarbon dating," he added.

The cave and its remarkably well-preserved paintings were closed to human access by the rockfalls and were only recently rediscovered in 1994.

Edited from PhysOrg (7 May 2012)
[1 image, 1 graph]

Monday, August 13, 2012


Archaeologists in Peru are getting ready to fly an unmanned craft that could radically speed up data gathering at historical sites. New technology developed by archaeologists and engineers from Vanderbilt University, in the US, should accelerate this process. The device will be tested later this month at the Mawchu Llacta site.

By including cameras, Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies and programming specific flight algorithms to an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Aurora Flight Sciences, Professors Julie Adams and Steven Wernke hope to three-dimensionally map the archaeological site.

Mapping areas is often labor intensive and the site where the system will be tested would usually take about six months over several years to document. The new UAV should enable the team to map the area in minutes, once the system is perfected. The site will be a test of the UAV's flight capabilities.

"Mawchu Llacta is located at [a] high altitude of 4,100m (13,450ft), [making it] a good site for testing the upper altitude limits of current UAV technology," Prof Wernke said.

Archaeologically, mapping the area will help researchers understand the area, which was once the site of one of the largest forced resettlement programs in world history, as Spanish colonials moved 1.5 million native Andeans into planned towns in the 1570s. Urban and architectural planning were at the core of what the Spanish thought they were doing to 'civilize', convert, and subjugate the native Andean populace," he said.

In addition to enabling the researchers to quickly detail ancient landscape features, such as canals and roads, it will also allow 3D digital versions of the sites to be created. These, aside from assisting the process of discovery, would enable the team to "virtually" preserve the site.

"Given the rate of looting and destruction of archaeological sites globally, it is also exciting as a means of recording a digital archival registry," co-developer Prof Julie Adams explained to BBC News. Small enough to fit in a backpack, Professor Adams hopes the device would be able to be used by any researchers.


I have walked up to the historic citadel so this news story made me sad!

Shelling by the Syrian army has damaged Aleppo’s historic citadel, part of a world heritage site in the heart of the commercial capital, the exiled opposition said Friday “Photographs by activists and archaeological associations show that the Aleppo citadel ... has been damaged,” the Syrian National Council said in a statement. “The way in which the shell hit the main entrance of the fortress and broke the marble panel bearing its name suggests that the Syrian regime intentionally targeted the site,” the SNC charged. “Only regime loyalists have the kind of shell that hit.”

Aleppo’s old city has been listed by the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a World Heritage Site since 1986. The listing says that the 13th-century citadel, 12th-century Great Mosque and 17th-century Islamic schools, palaces, caravanserais and bathhouses are of “outstanding universal value.”

“The monumental citadel of Aleppo, rising above the souks, mosques and madrasas of the old walled city, is testament to Arab military might from the 12th to the 14th centuries,” it says.

It was not immediately possible to independently verify the opposition’s claim of damage to the citadel. The Syrian army has shelled the area around the fortress several times in recent days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::


The consumption of a varied diet, including meat, may have led to the development of brain capacity in human ancestors researchers believe.

According to research published recently, research shed light on the diet of early hominims belonging to three different genera, Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Homo line.
The scientists found that Australopithecus had a more varied diet than either early humans or Paranthropus.

Scientists conducted an analysis of fossil teeth found in areas such as Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Kromdraai in South Africa's "Cradle of Humankind" before publishing their findings in the journal Nature, the University of Witwatersrand said.

Among the scientists who co-published the research was Professor Francis Thackeray of the Wits Institute for Human Evolution. Thackeray believes the results of the study show that Paranthropus had a diet that was primarily plant-based, while early humans ate more meat.

"Thackeray states that the greater consumption of meat in the diet of early forms of Homo could have contributed to the increase in brain size in this genus," read the statement.

Australopithecus was also omnivorous, eating both meat and the leaves and fruits of woody plants. This diet may have varied seasonally.

Friday, August 10, 2012


The discovery of three new fossil specimens, recently announced, is the most compelling evidence yet for multiple lines of evolution in our own genus, Homo, scientists said. The fossils showed that there were at least two contemporary Homo species, in addition to Homo erectus, living in East Africa as early as two million years ago.

Uncovered from sandstone at Koobi Fora, badlands near Lake Turkana in Kenya, the specimens included a well-preserved skull of a late juvenile with a relatively large braincase and a long, flat face, which has been designated KNM-ER 62000 (62000 for short). It bears a striking resemblance to the enigmatic cranium known as 1470, the center of debate over multiple lineages since its discovery in the same area in 1972.

If the 62000 skull showed that 1470 was not a single odd individual, the other two specimens seemed to provide a vital piece of evidence that had been missing. The specimen 1470 had no mandible, or lower jaw. The new finds included an almost complete lower jaw (60000) — considered to be the most complete mandible of an early Homo yet found — and a part of another lower jaw (62000).

The fossils were collected between 2007 and 2009 by a team led by Meave and Louise Leakey, the mother-and-daughter paleoanthropologists of the Koobi Fora Research Project and members of the famous African fossil-hunting family. Dr. Meave Leakey is the wife of Richard Leakey, a son of Louis and Mary Leakey, who produced the early evidence supporting Africa’s central place in early human origins. Mr. Leakey divides his time between Stony Brook University on Long Island, where he is a professor of anthropology, and the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya.

After looking “long and hard” for fossils to confirm the intriguing features of 1470’s face and show what its teeth and lower jaw were like, Dr. Meave Leakey said this week, “At last we have some answers.”

The real crux of matter, said Susan C. Antón of New York University, a member of the team, is how the discovery shapes the interpretation of 1470’s place in the early world of Homo. “These fossils are anatomically like 1470, and we now have some teeth,” she said. “We are more certain that 1470 was not a one-off, and not everything 1470 is big.”

In their first formal report, Dr. Leakey and her colleagues wrote in the journal Nature, “These three specimens will greatly aid the reassessment of the systematics and early radiation of the genus Homo.”

They, however, chose not to assign the fossils to any existing or new species until more analysis is conducted on contemporary hominids. The 1470 specimen was two million years old; the new face and fragmentary jaw are 1.9 million to 1.95 million years old; the better-preserved lower jaw is younger still, at 1.83 million years old.

Fred Spoor, a member of the discovery team who directed the laboratory analysis, said in a news teleconference that the research showed clearly that “human evolution is not this straight line it was once thought to be.” Instead, East Africa, he said, “was quite a crowded place, with multiple species” with presumably different diets.

Dr. Spoor is a paleoanthropologist at University College London and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The lab work was supported by the institute. The fieldwork was financed by the National Geographic Society, and the dating of the fossils, mainly by Craig S. Feibel of Rutgers University, was supported by the Leakey Foundation.

Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum of London, who had no part in the research, agreed that it looked as if the new discoveries “confirm the distinctiveness of 1470” and “therefore confirm the existence of a distinctive kind of early human around 1.8 to 2.0 million years ago.” But he noted that “there remain many uncertainties” about the 1470 fossil “and whether it might still be just a large specimen of Homo habilis.”

Another problem, Dr. Stringer said, is that in the last three decades, as the number of fossils attributed to habilis has grown, it has become unclear how to define what is and is not a member of that Homo species. Determining if the new fossils belong to rudolfensis or habilis, he said, “would depend on ongoing comparisons with the original fossil assemblage” at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where the first and many other habilis and contemporary specimens have been excavated.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


Eighteen rock art sites dating back over 4,000 years have been discovered by archaeologists in northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region. The prehistoric art was discovered in the Yinshan Mountains in Urad Middle Banner (an administration division of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region), said Liu Binjie, head of the Cultural Relics Bureau of Urad Middle Banner.

The rock art is still clear and Liu added that they are the finest of their kind that have been unearthed so far. Among the carvings, seven faces were exaggerated and monstrous, and have been interpreted as the seven stars of the 'Big Dipper' (Ursa Major) constellation.

Liu concluded that these may have been drawn by prehistoric people for worship. So far, over 10,000 rock art sites have been discovered in the Yinshan Mountains, according to the archaeologists.

Liu said that carvings of faces found on Yinshan Mountains cliffs are similar to those in the Helan Mountains, located on the boundary between Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. They are also similar to those in eastern Russia, showing close connections with ancient peoples' migration patterns, showing similar worship ceremonies. Local government and relevant departments have made efforts to protect the rock art in this area, including restrictions on grazing and the installation of monitoring equipment.

Edited from China Daily (22 April 2012)


I usually don't publish obituaries but Mellaart influenced me about the Near East and his famous site Catal Huyuk is still making news.

James Mellaart, who has died aged 86, ranked among the most controversial archaeologists of the 20th century after claiming to have uncovered priceless royal artifacts plundered from Dorak, near the ancient city of Troy, which he said had been missing since the site was first excavated in the 1920s.

He later played a prominent part in the discovery and excavation of the world’s oldest known cities at Hacilar and Çatal Hüyük in Turkey. These Neolithic settlements contained not only the earliest textiles and pottery known to man but also the earliest paintings found on walls (as distinct from caves).

While there was no doubt about the importance of these finds, some 20 years later, in the 1980s, Mellaart attracted further controversy by attempting to pass off watercolors he had made as representations of other, poorly preserved frescoes supposedly found at Çatal Hüyük. Mellaart explained that the original murals had proved impossible to remove or preserve. They were damaged, he said, and been impossible to photograph before they crumbled to plaster dust. Indeed, the only evidence of their existence were hurried sketches made by Mellaart and not released to public examination until 1989, when they only added to the debate.

If his work at Hacilar and Çatal Hüyük proved contentious, however, it was as nothing to the mysterious, faintly sinister, Dorak affair, which dogged Mellaart’s career. In 1959 he had astounded historians of the ancient world by claiming that he had been shown a hoard of treasure — gold and silver bracelets, jewellery and a fabulous collection of bronze and silver figurines — that had been illegally dug up at Dorak during the Turko-Greek war (1919-1922) from two royal tombs of the Yortans, neighbours of the Trojans.

The circumstances of Mellaart’s disputed discovery of these treasures were, in their way, no less remarkable. In 1958 he had been traveling by train to Izmir (the ancient city of Smyrna) when, as recounted by the British traveler and journalist Lord Kinross, “he picked up, or was picked up by, an attractive girl wearing a gold bracelet of a type that had been found only at Troy”.

Responding with “a nose for a site that amounts to genius,” Mellaart told the young woman he was an archaeologist, and was invited to her home. There he found a trove of similar objects taken from ancient tombs at Dorak. Although having no camera, and forbidden by his new acquaintance from hiring a photographer, Mellaart spent four days sketching the objects and taking rubbings.

But when his findings were published by the Illustrated London News, a Turkish newspaper accused Mellaart of having robbed the tombs himself and smuggled the treasure out. Despite Mellaart’s protestations of innocence, a search for the young woman proved fruitless. The name she had given – Anna Papastrati – turned out to be unknown and her address did not exist. A letter he produced that contained her name appeared on examination to have been typed by Mellaart’s Turkish-born wife Arlette.

British journalists believed Mellaart’s story, however, and cast him as the victim of unfounded Turkish suspicions that Mellaart had been involved in the antiquities black market.

The Turkish secret police compiled a dossier on him, and after three years of clamor in the Turkish press about the smuggling of artifacts abroad — some objects apparently from Mellaart’s sites had turned up outside Turkey — the authorities in Ankara announced that Mellaart was part of a plot to smuggle £48 million-worth of Dorak “national treasures” out of Turkey.

Although a criminal case against him was dropped in a general amnesty in 1965, Turkey’s Department of Antiquities cancelled Mellaart’s permit to dig.

Some experts have suggested that the mysterious girl was a honeytrap working for a gang of dealers seeking authentication for their treasure from a respected archaeologist before selling it to a wealthy collector. Mellaart, who stoutly maintained the truth of his story, was inclined to agree. Another theory held that while the Dorak treasure did exist in whole or in part, Anna Papastrati did not.

In 2005 the Scottish archaeologist Professor David Stronach, who conducted excavations with Mellaart at Hacilar, was quoted by an American journalist, Suzan Mazur, as saying that Mellaart had invented the whole story, calling it a “dreamlike episode”. But as another American, the author Michael Balter, noted after investigating the Dorak affair: “Unless the treasure shows up one day, the mystery is likely to remain unsolved.”

James Mellaart was born on November 14 1925 in London. His Dutch immigrant father, descended from Scottish migrants called Maclarty (a division of the Clan Macdonald), was an expert in Dutch Old Master paintings and drawings.

When Jimmy was six, the family moved to Holland following a downturn in the art market. When he was 11 an uncle gave him a book on ancient Egypt. He was spellbound; as a teenager he taught himself Ancient Egyptian, followed by Ancient Greek and Latin.

At the outbreak of war he was drafted to serve in the slave labor force of the occupying Nazis. But his father managed to secure him a job in the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden which, as James recalled, “kept me out of German hands”. Surrounded by archaeological finds from around the world Mellaart sealed his fascination with antiquities. In 1947 he became a student of Ancient History and Egyptology at University College, London, graduating in 1951.

Even as a boy he seemed to have had an sixth-sense for ancient remains: he found an Iron Age brooch on a seemingly barren hill fort in Herefordshire, and, on a trip to Cyprus, a hoard of Mycenaean bronze. In what was then Palestine, he was sent out one morning into the Biblical city of Jericho to look for tombs by the archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, a pupil of the celebrated Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Mellaart returned at lunchtime to say he had found one, intact.

When Kenyon left for the weekend, having dug down to what she believed was the extremity of the bedrock outside the city’s famous walls, Mellaart rashly seized the opportunity to dig down further still. On her return, Mellaart explained that he knew they could dig no further because instead of pottery fragments he had found fish fossils.

Appointed assistant director of the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara, Mellaart helped to direct excavations on Turkish archaeological sites , leading his first dig at Hacilar (1957–60) before turning his attention to Çatal Hüyük (1961-63). There, with almost the first slice of the spade, he discovered the ruins of a Neolithic city. Under a huge mound 20 metres high, 13 layers of habitation were revealed that dated back 9,000 years and housed up to 10,000 people.

Inside the mud brick houses and shrines – so densely packed that they had no front doors but were entered through the roof – Mellaart and his team found bull’s heads, skeletons, mirrors of black obsidian and plaster reliefs, as well as the wall paintings that would prove so contentious.

Mellaart’s triumph at Çatal Hüyük earned him both academic and popular acclaim, and his book Çatal Hüyük, a Neolithic Town in Anatolia (1967) became an classic. He was for two years a lecturer at Istanbul University, but as pressure against him mounted in Turkey he left, in 1964, to take an appointment to lecture in Anatolian archaeology at the University of London, where he remained until 1991.

Considered charming but naive — “an innocent duped” was one authoritative verdict — Mellaart remained sanguine about his notoriety, which he ascribed to the rivalry and jealousies besetting the archaeological world. “As for all the unpleasantness, I’ll just say this: honi soit qui mal y pense.”

Mellaart was the author of several books, as well as chapters in Cambridge Ancient History (1964) and numerous scholarly articles in Anatolian Studies and other learned and specialist journals.

He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1980.

He married, in 1954, Arlette Meryem Cenani, with whom he had a son.


For seven and a half months, Dr. Hatice Pamir, a professor of classical archaeology at Antakya’s Mustafa Kemal University, led almost 30 scientists from around the world, aided by about 100 workers, in a massive dig funded by Asfuroğlu.

With its long history involving the ancient Greeks, Romans, early Christians, Byzantines and Ottoman Turks – Turkey is full of layers of ancient culture. The modern city of Antakya was the ancient city of Antioch, one of the great cities of the Roman world that rivaled Alexandria during its heyday. It was also a center of early Christianity: St. Peter the Apostle, one of the founders of the Roman Catholic Church, was said to have lived and preached there for some time.

This city, known for the Cave Church of St. Peter (widely believe to be the first Christian church anywhere) and for fabulous Roman-era tile mosaics unearthed during excavations in the 1930s, now has another gem.

Experts believe they uncovered one of the largest intact tile mosaic floors in the world, measuring just over 9,000 square feet. In the course of the excavations, they also uncovered the remains of buildings and dwellings that go back perhaps 2,300 years.

There are a number of mosaics on the ancient floor. The largest probably belonged to a 6th century public building, possibly a house of government, according to Pamir. The floor is a series of nine side-by-side panels, each panel decorated by a wide variety of geometric patterns in different colors.

Right now the mosaic is covered over and not available for viewing by the public. Neither Pamir nor the Asforoglus have rights to release photos of the finds … so the anticipation builds.


Several metal objects and over 280 silver coins were discovered by archeologists on the track of the future Sibiu – Nadlac highway in Romania. One of the discoveries, a small iron replica of a chariot was deemed unique in the region. The objects discovered in the nine archeological sites, dating from the early Neolithic to the Medieval Ages, will most likely be restored within a year. A first exhibition including some of the objects will be open in May 2013.

A team of 40 Romanian and foreign archeologists searched around 40 kilometers on the future highway track in three counties, Sibiu, Alba and Hunedoara. This was one of the biggest archeological digs ever undertaken in Romania, according to Sabin Luca, director of the Brukenthal National Museum.

Researchers discovered a Bronze age settlement and “the first level of colonization which could be connected to our ancestors dates from the Celtic era, in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC,” according to Sabin Luca. The small iron chariot discovered will most likely be unique, he went on to say. In Celtic areas, the iron chariot is usually buried with the full size chariot, but in this case it was buried separately. The piece was in 80 pieces and its restoration took three weeks.

The archeologists found weapons, tools, weapon tips, heels and a stash of 280 silver coins, including Ancient Greek and Roman examples. “There are hundreds of this kind of silver hoard from that period, but they are rarely found in archeological sites by researchers. Discoveries are usually accidental,” the Brukenthal museum director explained.


A newly discovered statue of a curly-haired man gripping a spear and a sheath of wheat once guarded the upper citadel of an ancient kingdom's capital.

The enormous sculpture, which is intact from about the waist up, stands almost 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, suggesting that its full height with legs would have been between 11 and 13 feet (3.5 to 4 m). Alongside the statue, archaeologists found another carving, a semicircular column base bearing the images of a sphinx and a winged bull.

The pieces date back to about 1000 B.C. to 738 B.C. and belong to the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina in what is now southeastern Turkey. They were found at what would have been a gate to the upper citadel of the capital, Kunulua. An international team of archaeologists on the Tayinat Archaeological Project are excavating the ruins.


The following is a shocking first person account from the New York Times By HOLLAND COTTER

DJENNE-DJENNO, one of the best-known archaeological sites in sub-Saharan Africa, spreads over several acres of rutted fields near the present city of Djenne in central Mali. The ruts are partly caused by erosion, but they’re also scars from decades of digging, by archaeologists in search of history and looters looking for art to sell.

When I was there last fall, a few archaeology students were in evidence. These days, with Mali in the throes of political chaos, it’s unlikely that anyone is doing much work at all at the site, though history and art are visible everywhere. Ancient pottery shards litter the ground. Here and there the mouths of large clay urns, of a kind once used for food storage or human burial, emerge from the earth’s surface, the vessels themselves still submerged.

The image of an abandoned battlefield comes to mind, but that’s only half-accurate. Physical assaults on Djenne-Djenno may be, at least temporarily, in abeyance. But ethical battles surrounding the ownership of, and right to control and dispose of, art from the past rage on in Africa, as in other parts of the world.

A few weeks ago the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, announced the acquisition of an American private collection of 32 exquisite bronze and ivory sculptures produced in what is now Nigeria between the 13th and 16th centuries. Within days the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments claimed, via an Internet statement, that the objects had been pillaged by the British military in the late 19th century and should be given back.

More chilling were reports last month of cultural property being destroyed in Timbuktu, Mali, some 200 miles north of Djenne. Islamist groups, affiliated with Al Qaeda, have singled out Sufism, a moderate, mystical form of Islam widespread in Mali, for attack. In Timbuktu, with its Koranic schools and manuscript libraries, they have begun leveling the tombs of Sufi saints, objects of popular devotion.

At least some of the complications surrounding the story of art found and lost has played out at Djenne-Djenno over the past 35 years. In 1977 the American archaeologists Roderick and Susan McIntosh, husband and wife at the time, began excavating the site and gradually revealed the traces of a sizable settlement. Its origins dated to the third century B.C., but by A.D. 450 it had produced a complex urban society, one that engaged in long-distance trade. The long-held assumption was that both developments came to Africa with the Arab arrival in the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. With new knowledge the continent’s past suddenly deepened.

And the history of its art was expanded. In the upper strata of the excavation at Djenne-Djenno and at the many related neighboring sites in the Inner Niger Delta archaeologists found terra-cotta sculptures of human and animal figures: men riding horses or entwined by serpents, figures sitting or kneeling, their bodies covered with what looked like blisters or welts.

The revelation was finding the sculptures in situ, in their historical context, though the figures themselves were of a familiar type. Numbers of similar terra-cotta sculptures had already been showing up for sale, as tourist souvenirs in Africa and as fine-art collectibles in the West.

By the late 1960s the supply of wood sculptures that had defined the field for most collectors was growing thin. Malian terra-cottas became the new available “classical“ African art to collect.

To meet the demand Malian diggers, or teams of diggers, in the hire of middleman dealers, were trenching sites in the Djenne-Djenno area and pulling figures out of the ground, in the process destroying the historical record. The workers were paid a pittance for their labor, but in the 1970s Mali was gripped by famine; any money was better than none. The objects were subsequently sent out of Africa, to Western dealers and collectors, increasing in cash value as they went.

Technically, unauthorized trade in such art had been illegal since 1970, when Unesco drew up its Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. But the digging went on, and getting art out of the country — through porous borders, with a payment of bribes — was (and still is) easy.

Certain archaeologists, the McIntoshes among them, were aghast at the ruinous plundering and took action. They were convinced that any Western attention paid to Malian antiquities increased the market value and encouraged looting. With this in mind they proposed an information blackout on any and all “orphaned“ Inland Niger Delta objects, meaning any that had not been scientifically excavated — most of those in circulation.

They urged dealers abroad not to sell such objects, collectors not to buy them, museums not to exhibit them, art historians not to publish images of them or write about them, certainly not in seductively aesthetic terms. The main objective was to protect objects that were still in the ground by drawing attention away from this art. Noncompliance with their strictures was punished by public shaming, with its implied threat of professional ostracism.

A hard line had been drawn. On the other side of it stood the dealers, collectors and museum personnel, whose livelihood and identity depended on a continuous flow of art, wherever it came from. Also on that side, though ambivalently aligned with it, were art historians, who didn’t need to own objects but did require some contact with them in order to learn how they were made and to learn how to distinguish genuine ones from fakes. (A large percentage of Djenne-Djenno pieces on the market were, and are, fakes.)

Unsurprisingly, given the negative charge surrounding all but a limited number of sculptures, art historians began to turn their attention to theory-based critical studies. Today, decades later, the standoff among the various factions still, to some extent, holds. Archaeologists have gained a reputation as fanatical heroes, ethics geeks. And, it turns out, their anti-market position has been backed up with laws, a series of national and international treaties that limit the market and monitor art’s movements.

After my autumn visit to Djenne-Djenno I went on to the city of Mopti, about 50 miles to the north, where a local dealer in beads and antiquities showed me his choicest wares. There were three sculptures, each small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. Two were terra-cotta heads. One had a melancholy look, the other was fierce, scowling, a combatant. Genuine Nok, the dealer assured me, though naturally I had my doubts. And anyway I couldn’t even think of buying: Nok is contraband.

The third piece was stone, and a mystery. It looked rubbed into shape rather than carved, like a melting, featureless Willendorf Venus. Its flawless smooth surface felt calming to the hand. I couldn’t place it, relate it to any art I recognized, African or otherwise. Did he know where it came from? No. Or who might have made it? No. Its age? Don’t know. Price? Not for sale. Just beautiful. Yes.

Sunday, August 05, 2012


Evidence has been found in the northwest USA that an early stone implement technology, known as 'Western Stemmed' projectile points, were manufactured at least 11,070 to 11,340 radiocarbon years ago, making them concurrent with or possibly earlier than the Clovis culture (dated to 13,000 calendar years ago) in North America.

The early occupants of the Paisley caves in Oregon had ancestral Siberia-East Asian origins, and were using the caves at least as far back as 12,450 radiocarbon years ago.
The broad, concave-based, fluted Clovis projectile points often associated with early Americans who lived about 12,000 to 13,000 years ago were not found in the caves.

The dating of the Western Stemmed projectile points to possibly pre-Clovis times adds to the debate about different technologies overlapping in time and whether or not they developed separately. The results suggest that the Clovis culture may have developed or originated in the southeastern United States and moved westward, while the Western Stemmed tradition originated in the west and moved eastward.

Clovis technology has only been found in the New World, whereas Western Stemmed technology is similar to stone technology seen in northeastern Asia. At least three other Western USA sites also contain only Western Stemmed points in deposits of this early period.

Edited from EurekAlert!, Popular Archaeology (12 July 2012)
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The Neolithic site of La Draga, near the lake of Banyoles in northeast Spain, has yielded a complete bow dating between 5400 and 5200 BCE, corresponding to the earliest period of settlement. It is the first bow to be found intact at the site, and can be considered the most ancient bow of the Neolithic period found in Europe.

The bow is 108 centimeters long, D-shaped in section, and is made of yew wood - as were the majority of Neolithic bows in Europe. In previous digs at the same site, fragments of two bows were found from the same period.

La Draga is one of the first farming communities settled in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula. The site is on the eastern part of the Banyoles Lake, dates to 5400-5000 BCE, occupies 8000 square meters, and is partly submerged. La Draga is considered one of the oldest settlements of the Neolithic period existing in the Iberian Peninsula - an open-air site with a fairly continuous occupation.

The archaeological levels favor the conservation of organic material, making La Draga unique in all of the Iberian Peninsula. Together with Dispilo in Greece and La Marmotta in Italy, it is one of the few lake settlements in Europe from the 6th millennium BCE.

Edited from EurekAlert! (29 June 2012)
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