Sunday, March 31, 2013


British archaeologists have discovered a previously unknown palace or temple near the ancient city of Ur in the first foreign excavation at the site in southern Iraq since the 1930s. A small team of archaeologists working from satellite images hinting at a buried structure have uncovered the corner of a monumental complex with rows of rooms around a large courtyard, believed to be about 4,000 years old.

“The size is breathtaking,” says Jane Moon, a University of Manchester archaeologist who heads the expedition. Ms. Moon says the walls of the structure are almost nine feet thick, indicating that the building was of great importance or indicated great wealth. The discovery is even more significant because of its location more than 10 miles from Ur, on what would then have been the banks of the Euphrates River – the first major archaeological find that far from the city.

Ur, the last capital of the Sumerian empire, was invaded and collapsed in about 2000 BC before being rebuilt. The city was dedicated to the moon god and is famous for its ziggurat (a stepped temple). Many believe it is the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, known as the father of monotheistic religion. The last major excavation at Ur was performed by a British-American team led by Sir Charles Leonard Woolley in the 1920s and the 1930s. After the 1950s revolution, which toppled Iraq’s monarchy, a nearby military air base put the area off limits to foreign archaeologists for the next half century.

Moon says it’s impossible to tell whether the new site might contain similar finds as were uncovered at Ur. “Ultimately we’re not looking for objects we’re looking for information.… I guess it’s always a possibility. In archaeology you can always be surprised.” She says modern methods, such as examining very thin slices of soil hardened with resin under a microscope, can shed light on details like whether there were carpets on the floor or whether a surface was used for cutting. Putting samples of earth through a wet sieving machine can provide information about climate and agriculture by revealing bone fragments from rodents or lizards.

“You can really look at the ancient economy and that’s the kind of thing they couldn’t do when they last found big buildings like this,” says Moon, who last worked in Iraq in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, documenting archaeological sites in the north before they were submerged by Saddam Hussein’s dam-building projects.

Her team, which has struggled for both funding and visas, consists of six British archaeologists, an Iraqi archaeologist, and two Iraqi trainees. It is funded mostly by a Swiss benefactor, with participation by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, the successor to an organization founded in 1932 in honor of Gertrude Bell. “Miss Bell,” as she is still known in Iraq, was the British administrator of Iraq after World War II and the founder of the Iraq Museum.


Ancient humans and Neanderthals walked or ran far greater distances than any human groups that followed, including more recent hunter-gatherers and today's long-distance runners, a new study has found. Fossils of humans and neanderthals display signs of extremely extended travel that occurred roughly between 120,000 and 10,000 years ago, according to two new studies published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Researchers Colin Shaw and Jay Stock, biological anthropologists at the University of Cambridge, conclude that the Stone Age crowd moved around considerably more than southern Africans from a few thousand years ago who hunted over an area of 5,200 to 7,800 square kilometers. Even the highly trained athletes today who run 130 to 160 kilometers every week come in third in this mobility comparison, 'Science News' reported.

The study supports an argument for extreme mobility among ancient people and Neanderthals that has been championed over the last 15 years by Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St Louis and Christopher Ruff of Johns Hopkins University. According to Trinkaus, clues come from exceptionally robust leg bones, a dearth of older individuals in fossil samples, suggesting that life spans were limited due to the rigors of constant travel, and an absence of skeletal injuries in excavated fossils that would have prevented vigorous movement.

Researchers used a calculation of the lower leg's ability to withstand twisting and other forces to compare Stone Age hominids' leg strength with that of human groups with known activity levels. The researchers suggest that ancient human and Neanderthal legs substantially overpowered those of the hunter-gatherers, who had stronger legs than the other groups. Anthropologists do not know what kept ancient people and Neanderthals in constant motion. It could have been the hunt for sources of rock for their tools.


The skeletal remains of an individual living in northern Italy 40,000-30,000 years ago are believed to be that of a human/Neanderthal hybrid, according to a paper in PLoS ONE. If further analysis proves the theory correct, the remains belonged to the first known such hybrid, providing direct evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred. Prior genetic research determined the DNA of people with European and Asian ancestry is 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal. The present study focuses on the individual’s jaw, which was unearthed at a rock-shelter called Riparo di Mezzena in the Monti Lessini region of Italy. Both Neanderthals and modern humans inhabited Europe at the time.

“From the morphology of the lower jaw, the face of the Mezzena individual would have looked somehow intermediate between classic Neanderthals, who had a rather receding lower jaw (no chin), and the modern humans, who present a projecting lower jaw with a strongly developed chin,” co-author Silvana Condemi, an anthropologist, told Discovery News. Condemi is the CNRS research director at the University of Ai-Marseille. She and her colleagues studied the remains via DNA analysis and 3D imaging. They then compared those results with the same features from Homo sapiens.

The genetic analysis shows that the individual’s mitochondrial DNA is Neanderthal. Since this DNA is transmitted from a mother to her child, the researchers conclude that it was a “female Neanderthal who mated with male Homo sapiens.”

By the time modern humans arrived in the area, the Neanderthals had already established their own culture, Mousterian, which lasted some 200,000 years. Numerous flint tools, such as axes and spear points, have been associated with the Mousterian. The artifacts are typically found in rock shelters, such as the Riparo di Mezzena, and caves throughout Europe. The researchers found that, although the hybridization between the two hominid species likely took place, the Neanderthals continued to uphold their own cultural traditions. That's an intriguing clue, because it suggests that the two populations did not simply meet, mate and merge into a single group.

As Condemi and her colleagues wrote, the mandible supports the theory of "a slow process of replacement of Neanderthals by the invading modern human populations, as well as additional evidence of the upholding of the Neanderthals' cultural identity.”

Neanderthal culture and purebred Neanderthals all died out 35,000-30,000 years ago.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


A team of archaeologists led by Professor Florin Drasovean made an impressive archaeological discovery in the the highway section Lugoj - Deva in Romania. The 50 tombs discovered in the village of Pru represent the largest Bronze Age necropolis ever found in Romania. Pottery and stone grinders used in funerary rituals, hundreds of homes dating back the 13th century BCE were also discovered by archaeologists.

Research conducted during last summer led to the discovery of more than six sites on the highway's segment Belint-Traian Vuia. Specialists from Banat Museum have already started studying the finds. The site found in Pru village is one of the most important sites discovered so far. This site dates back to the Bronze Age (12th-13th Century BCE) as it was dated by conventional methods.

"Particularly important are the graves that shed new light on the funerary ritual at the end of the Bronze Age in north-eastern Banat. It was found that the dead were deposited on a pyre where items from the grave goods were also burned." This included "a table-altar of clay on which they brought funerary offerings, stone grinders and various pots that were used for the funeral banquet. Modern methods of radioactive carbon dating method shows that the necropolis at Pru dates between 1300 and 1200 BCE," Ph.D. Florin Drasovean said.

So far, it is not decided whether the site at Pru will be opened for tourists in the near future, but most probably the findings will be displayed on archaeological museums in the area.

Edited from Argophilia (20 February 2013)
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An Australian team of archaeologists have uncovered evidence of human burials and early settlement in the Northern Marianas islands group, which includes Guam and Saipan and many other open Pacific islands in western Micronesia, north of the equator - part of a very large migration of human populations about 3,500 years ago from South East Asia, eventually reaching New Zealand, Easter Island, and Hawaii.

Peter Bellwood, Professor of Archaeology at the Australian National University, says Saipan is important because it was one of the first places to be reached by colonizing humans.

Micronesians, and a little further south the Polynesians, were migrating at the same time. Originating from China and moving through Taiwan and the Philippines, they probably reached Tinian about 3,500 years ago. In the Western Pacific Islands, migrations were moving through areas that were already settled. There were people in Australia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands possibly 40 to 50 thousand years ago.

The 'House of Targa' site on Tinian Island dates back 3400 years. Discoveries of wooden house posts, a cooking hearth, pottery and other artefacts paint a picture of the island's earliest inhabitants. They lived in houses raised above the coastal tidal area on stilts, as many people still do in parts of South East Asia. They made very beautiful red-coated pottery with finely impressed designs. The pottery from Tinian is very similar both to that in northern Luzon, in the Philippines, and to pottery found south of the equator in the western Pacific, in islands east of New Guinea, thought to be part of the ancestry of the Melanesian and Polynesian islanders much further to the south.

Sites in the Marianas Islands appear to be 100 or 200 years older than those south of the equator - a passage from the Philippines of almost 2,300 kilometers. There is some debate as to whether people traveled directly, or went through some islands further to the south, which could have been one of the first movements. We now know that some of the Polynesians possibly reached as far as South America. They didn't settle in South America, but they certainly had contacts right on the other side of the Pacific.

Edited from Islands Business (27 February 2013)


Four Neolithic houses found in a Berkshire quarry are thought to make up one of the oldest permanent settlements ever found in England. Archaeologists unearthed the 5,700-year-old foundations at Kingsmead Quarry, near Windsor. Researchers said it was the first time more than one house from this time had been found on a single site in England.

Dr Alistair Barclay, of Wessex Archaeology, which has been excavating on the site for 10 years, said: "Unfortunately only the ground plans have survived as any timber would have rotted away long ago. However, we have a good idea of what these structures may have looked like from the many house finds in Ireland, from experimental work reconstructing prehistoric buildings, and from wood working techniques from timber-built walkways of the same date."

Dr Barclay said excavations were still ongoing and there could be more houses within the settlement that have not yet been discovered. All four houses were rectangular in shape, with the largest being 50ft by 23ft and situated close to the River Colne. Two were constructed out of upright oak planks set into foundation trenches, while the others were built using wooden posts.

Pottery, flint tools, arrowheads, rubbing stones for grinding corn and charred food remains, including cereal and hazelnut shell, were recovered from the buildings, indicating the inhabitants were farmers. Radiocarbon results for one of the houses showed it dated from between 3,800 and 3,640 BCE.

Edited from BBC News (11 March 2013)
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In the middle of the Bronze Age, around 1000 BCE, the amount of metal objects increased dramatically in the Baltic Sea region. Around the same time, a new type of stone monument, arranged in the form of ships, started to appear along the coasts. New research from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) shows that the stone ships were built by maritime groups. These groups were part of a network that extended across large parts of northern Europe and the network was maintained because of the strong dependence on bronze.

Archaeologists have long assumed that bronze was imported to Scandinavia from the south, and recent analyses have been able to confirm this notion. The distribution of bronze objects has been discussed frequently, with most analyses focusing on the links in the networks. The people behind the networks, however, are only rarely addressed, not to mention their meeting places. "One reason why the meeting places of the Bronze Age are not discussed very often is that we haven't been able to find them," says the author of the thesis Joakim Wehlin from the University of Gothenburg and Gotland University.

In his thesis, Wehlin has analyzed the archaeological material from the Bronze Age stone ships and their placement in the landscape. The stone ships can be found across the entire Baltic Sea region and especially on the larger islands, with a significant cluster on the Swedish island of Gotland. The ships have long been thought to have served as graves for one or several individuals, and have for this reason often been viewed as death ships intended to take the deceased to the afterlife.

"My study shows a different picture," says Wehlin. "It seems like the whole body was typically not buried in the ship, and some stone ships don't even have graves in them. Instead, they sometimes show remains of other types of activities. So with the absence of the dead, the traces of the survivors tend to appear." One of Wehlin's conclusions is that the stone ships and the activities that took place there point to people who were strongly focused on maritime practice. Details in the ships indicate that they were built to represent real ships. Wehlin says that the stone ships give clues about the ship-building techniques of the time and therefore about the ships that sailed on the Baltic Sea during the Bronze Age.

Edited from ScienceDaily (21 March 2013)
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Sunday, March 24, 2013


Southeast of Kabul lies Logar, the latest province to backslide into the clutches of insurgency and Taliban rule. Upon the region's barren landscape sits a cluster of rocky foothills known collectively as Mes Aynak. To the Afghan and Chinese governments, Mes Aynak is the site of massive copper reserves, the world's second largest, with an estimated worth exceeding $100bn (£66bn). To others, it is a site of enormous historical importance, a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age which includes a 100-acre ancient monastery complex, and a mere 10 per cent of which has been excavated. Its destruction would see Afghan society robbed of a unique link to its rich heritage.

Decades of conflict mean Afghans have already lost countless historical artifacts from heritage sites and museums. In 2012, a single consignment handed over by the British Armed Forces to the National Museum of Afghanistan saw the return of more than 800 items that were carried illegally into the UK. This slow leak compounds catastrophic losses such as the Taliban's demolition of the 35- and 53-metre tall Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001.

Mes Aynak is the latest piece of heritage facing an existential threat, only this time the threat is government sponsored. The Ministry of Mines sold rights to the copper reserves directly below and around the archaeological site to the Chinese state-owned China Metallurgical Group (MCC) roughly four years ago. This despite international experts repeatedly describing it, since its rediscovery in the 1960s, as a hugely important cradle of Bronze Age, Buddhist and Islamic heritage.

Mes Aynak also satisfies the criteria for becoming a Unesco World Heritage Site. Yet, unlike at Bamiyan, the process has never been initiated. Campaigners insist it is not too late. However, a valid proposal can only come from government officials, and herein lies the tragedy. No one with the power to save Mes Aynak will or, perhaps, can defy the Ministry of Mines to contact Unesco or another conservation body, such as the International Council on Monuments and Sites.

It is hard to explain how echoes of Mes Aynak's magnificence bewitch its self-appointed protectors and increasingly rare visitors. Imagine an intricate complex of Buddhist monasteries and settlements, bustling with a religious and civil life, as early as the 1st century BC, that thrived for a millennium.

Now consider these centuries of vigorous and diverse human activity lying excellently preserved, above and well below ground, mere miles from the capital. Lastly, bear in mind that general lack of access, resources and time mean that, to this day, no one knows how far the site extends or how revelatory its historical secrets could prove. The only firm conclusion to be drawn so far is that Mes Aynak represents a people's history waiting to be discovered which could, perhaps, reinforce an embattled national identity and pride.

A report released by the National Museum of Afghanistan in 2011, in collaboration with European experts, says that only 10 per cent of the Buddhist settlement has so far been excavated. Of that, much has been subject to the harsh procedures of "rescue" or "salvage" archaeology, which is necessary when time constraints and other pressures – in this case mostly security related – prevent the painstaking processes of conventional archaeology.

Expert consensus currently holds that at least 30 years is needed, from now, to carry out a satisfactory excavation of the entire site. Current rumor – for clarity and transparency have never prevailed in this process – suggests that the woefully under-resourced team on site now has only until June of this year before time is called on archaeology at Mes Aynak forever.

Yet even the relatively tiny area haphazardly excavated so far has been found bursting with archaeological treasures. A cursory glance over initial surveys shows mention of over 100 clay statues of Buddha – many measured in meters not centimeers, ornate engravings, extremely rare manuscripts and huge quantities of smaller icons, coins, pot shards and tools.

A 2012 report by the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (Arch), a US non-profit group, in collaboration with international experts, states that the site is "one of the most intriguing ancient mining sites in Central Asia, if not the world". It goes on: "While the Buddhist aspect is important, what makes the site special is this continuity of habitation across millennia … Over 5,000 years old, this is a site where early technology and society unfolded."

The Arch report does acknowledge the need for economic development in the region, saying: "Mes Aynak can become a model case with a win-win outcome, pioneering methods for the extraction of resources in a way that is ecologically, culturally and historically responsible while meeting the needs of social development and the global economy." This approach would necessarily be slow and carefully managed by parties with motivations other than profit.

Documentary filmmaker Brent Huffman is one of those fighting desperately to raise awareness of Mes Aynak's historical significance before the bulldozers roll in. He has only just learned of the rumors spreading among Afghan archaeologists working for the Ministry of Culture, that the deadline to halt excavation has been brought forward to this June. After this date, with the mining company's base camp already well established on site, it would not take long for the ancient foothills, along with their bounty of cultural heritage, to be replaced by a gargantuan hole in the ground. Huffman's campaigning film, The Buddhas of Mes Aynak, was recently shown at UCLA and is almost ready for general release. He does not think a film alone can save Mes Aynak, but seeing the site close up changed everything for him, and he hopes if enough people are shown what is at stake, the momentum behind this issue might shift in favor of the preservation campaign. "What the film is doing is getting people to fall in love, to see why it's important and the incredible things that are found there."

Then, in a momentary capitulation to the enormity of the battle conservationists face, he admits to a humbler motivation, "at least if Mes Aynak is destroyed, I can capture it on film and provide some kind of visual record of what happened. To tell the story of Mes Aynak and the people who fought hard to try to save it."

The lack of a local champion and the overwhelming dearth of international awareness are just two of many factors fueling Huffman's greatest fear. Namely, that Afghans themselves will never realize what they stand to lose at Mes Aynak. He says: "It's almost that Afghanistan doesn't have its own history because so much of it has been destroyed. Afghanistan could really take ownership of its history and its importance through protecting sites like Mes Aynak. It could become a point of pride for Afghans. This is how they influenced the world. That history has not been told."

When asked about heritage preservation at Mes Aynak, the Afghan Ministry for Culture and Information's responses were vague. The minister, Sayed Makhdoom Raheen, said: "We have made different suggestions to Unesco for historical sites to be included in the World Heritage list. I'm not sure about this one but there are many other sites."

A search of Unesco's site lists, both proposed and tentative, shows no references to Mes Aynak. Ministry adviser Jalal Noorani said: "There is continuing work. This department sent archaeologists to Mes Aynak. They have found some historical things … so, we should protect these." He acknowledged the existence of a mining contract with MCC, but insisted that, "They will begin when we have finished our archaeological work. Maybe next year. We need another one year."

It is unclear how official this timescale is, but either way, it falls well short of the 30 years deemed necessary by international experts. In addition, the work Mr Noorani described fits the definition of salvage archaeology, involving the deconstruction and removal, usually to Kabul, of archaeological material. There are many artifacts and structures that on-site archeologists say are too fragile to ever be relocated.

NYU Professor Rita Wright will be giving a talk on Mes Aynak April 18, 2013 to the Archaeological Associates of Greenwich (CT)


Dated to 590-580 BC, this is actually the most ancient Greek hippodrome, and it is second in importance after the –today lost- hippodrome at ancient Olympia. It is at Delphi that have competed with their chariots prominent political leaders, such as Kleisthenis, tyrant of Sikyon, and the tyrant of Syracuse, Hieron. Also, renowned Charioteer, the bronze statue in the Delphi Museum, has most probably taken part and was victorious in the chariot race during the 474 BC Pythian Games.

The Delphi hippodrome, a monument sought by archaeologists for over two centuries, was revealed just a year ago by Professor of Classical Archaeology Panos Valavanis. The Professor gave a talk about this extremely important find last Thursday, at the Athens University, facing a big audience.

“ ‘Gonia’, the site suggested for the Delphi hippodrome, at the west end of the olive grove, nearly 1.5 km northeastern of Itea, running parallel and being adjacent to the Kefali mountain range, between the Aghioi Anargyroi and Gla hills, satisfies every physical precondition for a hippodrome and agrees with the data offered by ancient sources. Besides, this site belongs to the sacred land of Delphi and it is in immediate contact with the Sanctuary, a most important point for the symbolic association of the distant athletic installation to the worship center of the Sanctuary”, said Prof. Valavanis.

“Back in 2005, in a book whose title was “The archaeological sites of Parnassis”, I happened to read an article by civil engineer Nikos Arapopoulos on the Itea antiquities. It is in there I found a rather hesitant mention of the possibility that the ancient hippodrome at Delphi could be located at the “Gonia” site. This was the starting point of my research. The author told me that he had copied this information from an older book on Itea’s history, written by the obstetrician gynecologist Demetrios Kolovos, whom I was then unable to contact. I abandoned the hippodrome question and the pursuit of the initial source of information”, Professor Valavanis stated.

The pursuit “revived” almost a year ago, in April 2012, as he was climbing the Aghioi Anargyroi hill, north of Itea’s cemetery. He then came in view of “Gonia”, a flat area surrounded by the Kefali mountain grange and the two hills of Aghioi Anargyroi and Gla. Prof. Valavanis pointed that both sites, which rise and dominate the field, bear traces of prehistoric installation.

Carrying on with his lecture, Prof. Valavanis took his audience by surprise when he revealed the name of the person who first located the new site of the till now unidentified monument. “Five days ago, having already finished my paper, after many unsuccessful tries I get at last Mr Kolovos on the phone. The 85 years old physician told me that the idea of placing the hippodrome at the “Gonia” site as mentioned in his book comes from “Amfissa’s History”, a book by journalist and printer Theocharis Melissaris, originating in Amfissa himself. The book was written in 1923. Disposing of such an archaeological piece of information that gets copied and survives for almost a hundred years in books written by history researchers while it is not taken to advantage by archeologists, it is strange indeed”, he stressed.



Neanderthal brains were adapted to allow them to see better and maintain larger bodies, according to new research by the University of Oxford and the Natural History Museum, London.

Although Neanderthals' brains were similar in size to their contemporary modern human counterparts, fresh analysis of fossil data suggests that their brain structure was rather different. Results imply that larger areas of the Neanderthal brain, compared to the modern human brain, were given over to vision and movement and this left less room for the higher level thinking required to form large social groups.

The analysis was conducted by Eiluned Pearce and Professor Robin Dunbar at the University of Oxford and Professor Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum, London, and is published in the online version of the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Looking at data from 27,000-75,000-year-old fossils, mostly from Europe and the Near East, they compared the skulls of 32 anatomically modern humans and 13 Neanderthals to examine brain size and organization. In a subset of these fossils, they found that Neanderthals had significantly larger eye sockets, and therefore eyes, than modern humans.

Previous research by the Oxford scientists shows that modern humans living at higher latitudes evolved bigger vision areas in the brain to cope with the low light levels. This latest study builds on that research, suggesting that Neanderthals probably had larger eyes than contemporary humans because they evolved in Europe, whereas contemporary humans had only recently emerged from lower latitude Africa.

'Since Neanderthals evolved at higher latitudes and also have bigger bodies than modern humans, more of the Neanderthal brain would have been dedicated to vision and body control, leaving less brain to deal with other functions like social networking,' explains lead author Eiluned Pearce from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford.

'Smaller social groups might have made Neanderthals less able to cope with the difficulties of their harsh Eurasian environments because they would have had fewer friends to help them out in times of need. Overall, differences in brain organizsation and social cognition may go a long way towards explaining why Neanderthals went extinct whereas modern humans survived.'

'The large brains of Neanderthals have been a source of debate from the time of the first fossil discoveries of this group, but getting any real idea of the "quality" of their brains has been very problematic,' says Professor Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum and co-author on the paper. 'Hence discussion has cenered on their material culture and supposed way of life as indirect signs of the level of complexity of their brains in comparison with ours.

'Our study provides a more direct approach by estimating how much of their brain was allocated to cognitive functions, including the regulation of social group size; a smaller size for the latter would have had implications for their level of social complexity and their ability to create, conserve and build on innovations.'

Professor Robin Dunbar observes: 'Having less brain available to manage the social world has profound implications for the Neanderthals' ability to maintain extended trading networks, and are likely also to have resulted in less well developed material culture -- which, between them, may have left them more exposed than modern humans when facing the ecological challenges of the Ice Ages.'

The relationship between absolute brain size and higher cognitive abilities has long been controversial, and this new study could explain why Neanderthal culture appears less developed than that of early modern humans, for example in relation to symbolism, ornamentation and art.


Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have made the data available as a free download from their website. The group will present a paper describing the genome later this year. 'But we make the genome sequence freely available now to allow other scientists to profit from it even before it is published' said Dr Svante Pääbo, who led the project.

Dr Pääbo and his colleagues in 2010 presented the first draft of the Neanderthal genome from data collected from three bones found in a cave in Croatia. They have now used a toe bone excavated in 2010 in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia to generate a high-quality genome from a single Neanderthal individual. The Leipzig team used sensitive techniques developed there over the past two years to sequence every position in the genome about 50 times over, using DNA extracted from 0.038 grams of the bone.

The analysis of the genome together with partial genome sequences from other Neanderthals, and the genome from a small finger bone discovered in the same cave, shows that the individual is closely related to other Neanderthals in Europe and western Russia. Remarkably, Neanderthals and their relatives, Denisovans, were both present in this unique cave in the Altai Mountains on the border between Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

In the 2010 draft version of the Neanderthal genome, each position was determined, on average, once. In the now-completed version of the genome every position was determined on average 50 times over. This allows even the small differences between the copies of genes that this individual inherited from its mother and father to be distinguished. This family tree relates this genome to the genomes of Neanderthals from Croatia, Germany and the Caucasus as well as the Denisovan genome recovered from a finger bone also excavated at Deniosva Cave

The Neanderthal genome was sequenced thanks to the discovery of just a toe bone, and it was an even tinier fragment of finger that allowed the same researchers to map out the entire genetic code of Denisovan man. Evidence suggests that the Denisovans, a little-known ancient cousin of modern humans who lived in Siberia around 50,000 years ago, had dark skin, brown hair and brown eyes. The existence of the Denisovans was only confirmed in 2010, but previous research has already suggested they co-existed with Neanderthals and interbred with our own species, Homo sapiens. The scientists found that the Denisovans were most genetically similar to Australian aborigines and island populations from south-east Asia.

The bone used to sequence the genome was discovered by Professor Anatoly Derevianko and Professor Michael Shunkov from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2010 during excavations at the Denisova Cave. The cave is a unique archaeological site which contains cultural layers indicating is has been occupied by humans and our ancestors from as early as 280,000 years ago.

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Friday, March 22, 2013


Scientists have found a pre-Viking tunic in a thawing glacier, a discovery they say highlights a rare advantage of global climate change. Reuters reports that the woolen garment was uncovered in 2011 in south Norway, 6,560 feet above sea level on what is believed to have been a Roman-era trade route. Carbon dating revealed that the greenish-brown tunic was made around the year 300.

The 1,700-year-old tunic used as warm outer coat was found beside a thawing glacier shows how global warming is proving something of a boon for archaeology according to scientists, Though melting glaciers demonstrate the very real environmental threat facing the earth, this recent finding shows the benefit of climate change to the field of archaeology.

"It's worrying that glaciers are melting, but it's exciting for us archaeologists," Lars Piloe, a Danish archaeologist who works on Norway's glaciers, told Reuters.

The past few years have seen many such discoveries in the melting mountains of Norway. In a 2010 interview with Reuters, Piloe noted the uncovering of more than 600 ancient artifacts, including hunting sticks, bows and arrows, and a 3,400-year-old leather shoe.