Sunday, April 28, 2013


Australia's colonization may have been an organized affair rather than an accident, a new analysis suggests. Some 50,000 years ago, aboriginal human settlers arrived on the continent, but how many people it took to found Australia's population is unknown. The new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that about 1,000 to 3,000 individuals originally landed on Australia's shores.

"This is largely speculative, but I think this suggests something more than accidental colonization by a small group on a raft of vegetation or other unplanned voyage," study researcher Alan Williams, a doctoral candidate at The Australian National University, wrote in an email. "For me, this suggests a deliberate attempt at exploration (if not migration) more akin to those we see in the recent past from Hawaii and other Pacific islands."


Archaeologists in Greece's northern metropolis Thessaloniki were already overjoyed in 2006 when a 2,300-year-old avenue was found during construction work on the city's new underground rail network. But a decision to keep in situ the superbly preserved ancient neighborhood described as "Thessaloniki's Pompeii" has been hailed as a major win for preservationists in the cash-strapped country that has been forced to make unprecedented cuts to cultural spending. "This is a great victory," says Aristotelis Mentzos, a professor of Byzantine Archaeology at the city's Aristotelio University."Such finds exist in other Roman cities but what they lack is duration of continuous use," which in the case of Thessaloniki was unbroken for seven centuries,said Mentzos.

The rescue excavation has unearthed significant evidence of the city's urban life between the fourth and nine centuries AD, five meters beneath the city's modern highway. In addition to a 76-meter (83-yard) stretch of marble avenue (decumanus) originally paved in the third century BC that led to the harbor, there is a monumental Roman-style gate and the remains of public buildings, offering a rare glimpse into social, commercial and daily life during the early Byzantine Empire.

"This was a central crossroads where the city's central market and public buildings were located," said Despoina Koutsoumba, head of the association of Greek archaeologists. "The area has retained the same character today, it remains the heart of the city's society," she said. Several contemporary texts from lay and ecclesiastical authors specifically refer to this ancient avenue, known at the time as Thessaloniki's 'Middle road'.

To the archaeologists' shock, the state company overseeing the underground rail construction demanded that the avenue and buildings be uprooted and relocated, deeming their preservation "technically unfeasible." "Can you imagine moving the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben from their original place?" the archaeologists said in a petition signed by over 12,000 people, including many prominent academics. With the help of the city's local council and the university, which put forward alternative technical studies, the rail company backed down.

The current plan envisages retaining up to 84 percent of the finds in place, where a rail station is to be built. Working ahead of the rail construction drills, archaeologists have recovered over 100,000 objects in the area, including over 50,000 coins. Vessels, lamps, vials and jewels of various types have also been found -- in keeping with the area's trading character -- in addition to 2,500 graves of Hellenistic and Roman times.

A key Balkan port fought over by Greeks, Romans, Slavs and Turks for centuries, Thessaloniki was founded in the fourth century BC by king Cassander of Macedon, who named the city after his wife, the sister of Alexander the Great. It was later home to a prosperous Jewish community that was eradicated during Greece's occupation by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.


Archaeologists are studying evidence of a 60,000-ton stone structure at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee in Israel that could denote an ancient burial ground. The giant cone-shaped configuration is formed by basalt cobbles and boulders up to four feet in diameter and its base lies roughly 40 feet beneath the surface, reports CNN.

Researcher Yitzhak Paz, of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ben-Gurion University, told Live Science that the mound could date back more than 4,000 years. “The more logical possibility is that it belongs to the third millennium B.C., because there are other megalithic phenomena [from the same time] that are found close by,” he said. Although researchers carrying out a sonar survey of the sea first discovered the 30-foot-tall ‘monument’ in 2003, divers have only now been down to investigate further. Their findings have just been published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

“This is such a huge structure that it truly is something unusual,” Dani Nadel, an archeologist from the University of Haifa, told CNN. “It could have been a big ceremonial structure, or a ramp. The truth is we don’t know how it was constructed, what its exact age is, how it was used, or how long ago it was used. We have several speculations, but we don’t know much except that it’s there and it’s huge.”

Other explanations include the possibility that it was created below the surface as a fish nursery, as similar smaller structures have already been discovered that were built for that purpose .But the main theory is that the 230-f00t-wide structure — larger than a Boeing 747 — was built on dry land and then became submerged as the water level rose. Underwater archaeological excavations are now being planned in order to find associated artifacts that might reveal more about its true function, according to the Daily Mail.

The Sea of Galilee is actually a freshwater lake — the largest in Israel and lowest on the planet — and measures roughly 64 square miles with a maximum depth of 141 feet. It plays a key role in the New Testament — Jesus would often teach by its shores — and remains a major destination for Christian pilgrims.


The minaret of one of Syria's most famous mosques has been destroyed during clashes in the northern city of Aleppo.The state news agency Sana accused rebels of blowing up the 11th-Century minaret of the Umayyad Mosque. However, activists say the minaret was hit by Syrian army tank fire.

The mosque, which is a Unesco world heritage site, has been in rebel hands since earlier this year but the area around it is still contested.
Last October Unesco appealed for the protection of the site, which it described as "one of the most beautiful mosques in the Muslim world".
Images posted on the internet showed the minaret reduced to a pile of rubble in the mosque's tiled courtyard.

The Great Mosque, at the heart of the Old City of Aleppo, was founded by the Umayyad dynasty in 715 on the site of a Byzantine church. The mosque had to be rebuilt after being damaged by a fire in 1159, and again following the Mongol invasion in 1260. The oldest surviving part was the 45m (148ft) minaret, which dated back to 1090.

Unesco describes the world-heritage-listed mosque as one of the most beautiful in the Muslim world. The mosque was badly damaged by fire during heavy fighting in the Old City in October 2012.Other parts of the mosque complex - which dates mostly from the 12th Century - have been badly damaged by gunfire and shell hits.

The mosque has suffered extensive damage during months of fighting, with antique furnishings and intricately sculpted colonnades affected.
Reports say some ancient artifacts have also been looted, including a box purported to contain a strand of the Prophet Muhammad's hair.
However, rebels said they had salvaged ancient handwritten Koranic manuscripts and hidden them.


Palestinian Authority Tourism and Antiquities police on Thursday seized 900 artifacts as they were being smuggled out of Bethlehem, police said. Bethlehem police chief Alaa al-Shalabi said they received a tip-off from the Ministry of Tourism that a man from Jerusalem was smuggling the antiques out, which are illegal to own or sell under Palestinian law.

The suspected was detained at the scene, where police found 830 metal coins from the Byzantine, Roman and Islamic area, as well as 70 works of pottery dating back to the Cannanite area, among other antiques, al-Shalabi said. Police also found a ceremonial coffin from the Roman period that is estimated to be over 3,500 years old. The coffin formed part of the Roman burial tradition, he said.

Under Palestinian law, antiques and artifacts belong to the Palestinian Authority for the preservation of heritage and culture.


Egypt's Archaeological Unit for Confiscated Antiquities (AUCA), in collaboration with the tourism and antiquities police, aborted an attempt at Cairo International Airport to smuggle a collection of Graeco-Roman and Ottoman-era coins out of Egypt. The smuggler, an Egyptian citizen, hid the coins within his luggage in an attempt to smuggle them first to Dubai and then on to Europe, where they might be sold to collectors.

Hassan Rasmi, head of the AUCA's central administration, said "that the coins were in "very good condition." The collection includes 30 coins from the Graeco-Roman period (with some dating from the reign of Alexander the Great); 30 from the Ottoman period; 54 from the reign of Egypt's King Farouk; 11 from the reign of Sultan Hassan; and 20 from the reign of King Fouad I, according to Rasmi. The coins will remain in the possession of the authorities until investigations are completed and the perpetrator convicted.


At the base of a brush-covered hill in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, a massive stone outcropping marks the entrance to one of humanity’s oldest known dwelling places. Humans and our apelike ancestors have lived in Wonderwerk Cave for 2 million years — most recently in the early 1900s, when a farm couple and their 14 children called it home. Wonderwerk holds another distinction as well: The cave contains the earliest solid evidence that our ancient human forebears (probably Homo erectus) were using fire.

Like many archaeological discoveries, this one was accidental. Researchers weren’t looking for signs of prehistoric fire; they were trying to determine the age of sediments in a section of the cave where other researchers had found primitive stone tools. In the process, the team unearthed what appeared to be the remains of campfires from a million years ago — 200,000 years older than any other firm evidence of human-controlled fire. Their findings also fanned the flames of a decade-old debate over the influence of fire, particularly cooking, on the evolution of our species’s relatively capacious brains.

At Wonderwerk, Boston University archaeologist Paul Goldberg — a specialist in soil micromorphology, or the small-scale study of sediments — dug chunks of compacted dirt from the old excavation area. He then dried them out and soaked them in a polyester resin so they would harden to a rocklike consistency. Once the blocks solidified, researchers sawed them into wafer-thin slices. The “eureka” moment came later, as the slices were examined under a microscope at Israel’s Weizmann Institute. “Holy cow!” Goldberg exclaimed. “There’s ashes in there!”

He and his colleagues saw carbonized leaf and twig fragments. Looking more closely, they identified burned bits of animal bones as well. The bones’ sharp edges, and the excellent preservation of the plant ash, indicated that neither wind nor rain had ushered in the burnt material. The burning clearly had occurred inside the cave.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


According to reports from the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, serious damage to elements of the outer boundary of the world famous Nazca lines has been caused by heavy machinery belonging to a quarry firm removing limestone from the area. The damaged lines are located near the Panamericana Sur Highway and an adjacent area has also been affected. There are hundreds if not thousands of these lines and trapezoids on the Nazca plain with many of the most famous geogylphs such as the spider, hummingbird and monkey, etc. all undamaged.

So far, irreparable damage has been done to a number of lines up to 150 meters in length, along with the total loss of a trapezoid almost 60 meters long. Archaeological assessments carried out over four months ago warned that damage to the lines would continue with the effect being a serious alteration to the cultural landscape. The report noted this archaeological area is situated within a reserve and should therefore fall under the legal framework for protection and conservation of the cultural heritage of the nation.

“The limestone firm responsible has not been sanctioned or supervised by the authorities of the Regional Directorate of Culture of Ica, despite being in this great archaeological reserve,” said Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre, director of research at Ojos de Condor, according to reporting by Peru This Week. It was considered unlikely the Peruvian government would be able to act on this serious damage to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Over four millennia ago, the fortress town of Gonur-Tepe might have been a rare advanced civilization before it was buried for centuries under the dust of the Kara Kum desert in remote western Turkmenistan. After being uncovered by Soviet archaeologists in the last century, Gonur-Tepe, once home to thousands of people and the centre of a thriving region, is gradually revealing its mysteries with new artifacts being uncovered every summer.

The scale of the huge complex which spans some 30 hectares can only be properly appreciated from the air, from where the former buildings look like a maze in the desert surrounded by vast walls. Just 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the celebrated ancient city of Merv outside the modern city of Mary, the ruins of Gonur-Tepe are an indication of the archeological riches of Turkmenistan, one of the most isolated countries in the world.

Around 2,000 BC, Gonur-Tepe was the main settlement of the Margush or Margiana region that was home to one of the most sophisticated, but little-known Bronze Age civilizations. The site -- which until the last century was covered by desert and scrub -- was uncovered in Soviet times by the celebrated archeologist Viktor Sarianidi who, at the age of 84, is about to spend another summer working on the site. Every digging season at Gonur-Tepe yields new discoveries showing the quality of the craftsmanship of the Bronze Age artisans in the town which at the time would likely have been home to thousands of residents. The town's craftsmen could mold metal, make silver and gold trinkets, create materials for cult worship and carve bone and stone."This year, Gonur has given us another surprise, a fantastic mosaic," said one archaeologist, noting that such an object pre-dated the standard era of mosaic-making in Greek and Roman antiquity.

The ruins of Gonur-Tepe are the centerpiece of a network of towns and settlements in the delta region of the river Morghab that flows through Turkmenistan from its source in Afghanistan. Gonur-Tepe is a three-hour drive from the provincial center of Mary -- two hours along a bumpy asphalt road that passes former collective farms that have now fallen into disuse, and then another hour-long slog through the desert scrub. Mary, 380 kilometers from the capital Ashgabat, is a typical Turkmen provincial city, home to 200,000 people and largely built in the Soviet style with a railway connection and low-rise apartment buildings. Some 30 kilometers (19 miles) outside Mary lies the other great glory of the region -- the great ruined city of Merv, whose importance goes back to the time of the Achaemenid Persians and reached a peak under Turkic rule in the 12th century AD. Merv went into terminal decline after it was sacked by the Mongols in 1221 in a deadly conquest that left tens of thousands dead. Its ruins are as deserted as those of Gonur-Tepe. Its greatest treasure is the still preserved mausoleum of the Seljuk Sultan Sanjar under whose rule Merv was a city of 200,000 people and briefly one of the most heavily populated settlements in the world.

Archaeologists have only just begun to scratch the surface of the huge riches of the Mary region, said Viktor Turik, a historian who works at the Mary history museum. "In the region there are 354 archeological monuments, 95 percent of which have, until now, not been studied by experts," he said. Turkmenistan remains one of the most isolated countries in the world but still sees a trickle of foreign tourists every year, mostly on organized special interest tours. Meanwhile the question remains about what to do with the extraordinary silver and gold artifacts that are being unearthed in the region but which need painstaking restoration and conservation.

An employee of Turkmenistan's national heritage department said a joint project had been mooted with the antiquities department of the Louvre in Paris, but had fallen through. "Many unique discoveries which are like nothing in the world are waiting their moments in the storage departments of Turkmen museums," said the employee who asked not to be named.


The millennium-old oasis city of Palmyra is being damaged in clashes between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels fighting for his overthrow in the midst of the precious archaeological site, a resident said on Wednesday. Shaky amateur footage filmed by the resident shows the facade of the first century Temple of Baal with a large circle where a mortar bomb has blasted the sandstone. The columns of the great colonnade that extends from the temple have been chipped by shrapnel. "The rebels are around the town," said the resident, who asked not to be named for fear of imprisonment. "They hide in the desert, some to the east and some to the west." The groups attack government positions in the town at night, he said.

Hiding in the palm groves behind the ruins, the militants creep towards the ancient site, once a vital stopping point for caravans crossing the Syrian desert carrying spices, silks and perfumes, and the modern town of Tadmur behind it. The government responds with mortar bombs, artillery shells and rockets, the resident said. "For the past two months we have had shelling every night," said the resident, who supports the opposition movement. "The army have positioned themselves in the museum, between the town and the ruins."

Soldiers camp out in the luxury hotels once popular with tourists. The army has also entered the Roman theatre and positioned snipers behind its stone walls, he said. Tadmur's residents took to the streets in March 2011 to call for democratic reforms and an end to the dynastic, four-decade rule of the Assad family. But as in other cities, police and security forces suppressed the uprising, leading to an armed revolt and civil war in which more than 70,000 have been killed and millions displaced around the Middle Eastern state. Large swathes of Syria have fallen into rebel hands but the government has managed to retain control of Palmyra.



Scores of archaeologists working in a waterlogged trench through the wettest summer and coldest winter in living memory have recovered more than 10,000 objects from Roman London, including writing tablets, amber, a well with ritual deposits of pewter, coins and cow Skulls, thousands of pieces of pottery, a unique piece of padded and stitched leather - and the largest collection of lucky charms in the shape of phalluses ever found on a single site.

Sophie Jackson, of Museum of London Archaeology, said: "The waterlogged conditions left by the Walbrook stream have given us layer upon layer of Roman timber buildings, fences and yards, all beautifully preserved and containing amazing personal items, clothes and even documents - all of which will transform our understanding of the people of Roman London."

The horrible working conditions, in a sodden trench up to 7 meters deep along the buried river, resulted in startling preservation of timber - including massive foundations for buildings, fencing still standing to shoulder height, and remains of a complex Roman drainage system, as well as the largest collection of leather from any London Roman site, bone and even a straw basket, which would all have crumbled into dust centuries ago on a drier site.

The most puzzling object is an elaborately worked piece of leather, padded and stitched with an image of a gladiator fighting mythical creatures. The archaeologists believe it may have come from a chariot, but are only guessing since nothing like it has ever been found.
Other finds include an amber charm in the shape of a gladiator's helmet, which may have been a good luck charm for an actual gladiator; a horse harness ornament combining two lucky symbols, a fist and a phallus, plus clappers to make a jingling sound as the horse moved; and a set of fine-quality pewter bowls and cups, which were deliberately thrown into a
deep well.

The site at Queen Victoria Street was at the heart of the Roman city of London. It is now being redeveloped as a new headquarters for Bloomberg designed by Lord Foster, but after the second world war, when Victorian buildings were cleared for an office block, it became internationally famous when a buried Temple of Mithras was found. Crowds queued around the block to see the remains, which were preserved after a public outcry led to questions in parliament over the threat of their destruction. The temple was reconstructed on top of a car park, but as part of the present project is being moved back to its original site, where it and many of the finds will eventually be on display to the public.

Up to 60 archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology worked on the site, digging by hand through 3,500 tonnes of soil. The site, which includes the longest surviving stretch of the Walbrook, covers the entire period of Roman London, from very soon after the invasion to the 5th century.
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Destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, Pompeii survived excavation starting in the 18th century and has stoically borne the wear and tear of millions of modern-day tourists. But now, its deep-hued frescoes, brick walls and elegant tile mosaics appear to be at risk from an even greater threat: the bureaucracy of the Italian state. In recent years, collapses at the site have alarmed conservationists, who warn that this ancient Roman city is dangerously exposed to the elements — and is poorly served by the red tape, the lack of strategic planning and the limited personnel of the site’s troubled management.

The site’s decline has captured the attention of the European Union, which began a $137 million effort in February that aims to balance preservation with accessibility to tourists. Called the Great Pompeii Project, the effort also seeks to foster a culture-driven economy in an area dominated by the Neapolitan Mafia. In a telling juxtaposition, however, a day before the project was initiated in February, the police arrested the head of a construction company hired to modify an ancient theater at Pompeii on charges of inflating costs and violating the terms of an earlier preservation project. And last week, a team of law-enforcement officers and labor inspectors conducted a surprise inspection to make sure that the local Mafia had not strong-armed its way into the restoration work.

Pompeii’s problems stem from its status as “one of the biggest and most important sites in the world,” and its location “in one of the areas with the highest concentration of organized crime in all of Europe,” said Fabrizio Barca, the minister for territorial cohesion in the caretaker government of Prime Minister Mario Monti. “The project is going to reshape the way things are dealt with,” he said. “If we don’t preserve Pompeii, then the state has failed.”

Since the 1990s, a series of special administrations have been put in charge of Pompeii. In 2008, the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi named a special commissioner for the site, giving him powers to subvert routine bureaucracy. But the post was dissolved in 2010. This year, one commissioner was placed under judicial investigation on suspicion of using state money for projects that went beyond maintenance, like renovating an ancient theater for performances.Watchdogs also question why several new buildings were built at Pompeii at great expense and with unclear scope, and whether a 2010 project, now defunct, to allow visitors to adopt some of the many stray dogs at the site was the best way to use part of the emergency prevention financing. The investigations have also blocked some tourist-friendly initiatives, including plans to convert a villa on the grounds into a restaurant and another building into a museum.

Pompeii has “always been an emergency” since it was first excavated in 1748, said Grete Stefani, the current archaeological director of the site. The most recent crisis phase began in November 2010, when the so-called Schola Armaturarum, which housed an ancient military order, crumbled into the street after a period of torrential rain.

In Pompeii, about 10 houses, out of dozens on the site, are always open to the public, with a handful of others on a rotating basis. Conservators are repeatedly forced to shore up crumbling walls and water-damaged frescoes rather than plan the systematic maintenance of the 163-acre site to prevent sudden collapses.

“The fact is that Pompeii has been underfunded for 50 years, and gorging on funds every once in a while doesn’t help if you need to eat every day,” said Mr. De Caro, who is now director general of the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, or Iccrom, based in Rome. There are also rogue employees and wildcat strikes. In recent years, several of the about 150 custodians have been sanctioned for asking tourists for money to show them areas closed to the public, the site’s management said. Under the terms of a 10-year-old outsourcing bid, the private company that runs the ticket office does not allow the use of credit cards, creating headaches for tourists and raising concerns about fraud.

On a recent sunny afternoon, the volcanic peak of Mount Vesuvius rose in the distance. Crowds of school groups traipsed through the site, which draws more than 2.3 million tourists each year, many of them cruise ship passengers on day trips. Ms. Stefani, the site’s archaeological director, summed up the challenges as she showed off a recent, stunning renovation of the House of the Gilded Cupids, whose many frescoed rooms face a central courtyard in the classic Pompeian style. “This is a city without living inhabitants to carry out the day-to-day care that any home requires,” she said. Conservation has been hindered by a hiring freeze, particularly of skilled restorers but also of lower-level maintenance workers. “It’s been a situation with lots of generals but no troops,” said Valerio Papaccio, an architect currently overseeing preservation. Under the new works project, the Culture Ministry has hired more archaeologists and architects with an eye toward the future.

“The E.U. funding is a good starting point to overcome this situation, but it’s not enough to save the site,” said Teresa Elena Cinquantaquattro, the site’s superintendent since 2010. “The new hires are vital, and by programming restorations year by year we can overcome the emergency.” She says that critics have ignored the challenges in maintaining a vast, open-air site, and that many hard-working staff members toil in silence and anonymity to keep the site functioning. “I don’t deny that there are problems, but there’s also been a lot of hard work done here,” she said. “Pompeii is so vast that it requires enormous efforts.”

But some veteran observers doubt whether Italy will ever be able to finish the job. “The city has been excavated to an extent that it cannot be properly preserved, so we should just rebury parts of it,” said Mr. De Caro of Iccrom. “This way isn’t working, and to maintain things the way they are means certain death.”


At least 17 previously unrecorded petroglyphs were uncovered nearly two years ago on the northern edge of Rombald's Moor, in the north of England. The carvings were found after uncovering a previously undiscovered cairn circle, close to the well known 'Twelve Apostles' stone circle. It was noticed that a small opening in the near horizon highlighted a rise in the landscape barely 1600 meters away. The gap is not visible 20 meters or so either side of the cairn circle, but very notable at the circle itself.

Within minutes of exploring the area, local rock art expert Paul Bennett and his fellow ramblers found a couple of previously unrecorded cup-marked stones of simple design, in line with the cairn circle. In the direction of the circle, a cluster of small stones were noticed on the slope. One had what looked like a single cup-mark near its edge. Peeling back the vegetation, Bennett revealed cups-and-rings and carved lines covering most of its surface.

The group called it the 'Fraggle Rock' after noticing the two main cup-and-rings resemble large eyes above a down-turning natural 'mouth' feature, similar to faces on some creatures from the children's television show of the same name. The primary design consists of at least 3 cup-and-rings, 2 partial cup-and-rings, 28 cups and several carved lines along which some cup-markings are linked to others. The most notable of the carved lines is the longest, running from a single cup-mark almost straight and parallel with a natural ridge or dip along the rock, until it meets the largest of the cup-and-rings.

Paul Bennett is the author of 'Circles, Standing Stones & Legendary Rocks of West Yorkshire', 'The Twelve Apostles Stone Circle, Ilkley Moor', 'The Old Stones of Elmet', and co-author of 'The Old Stones of Rollright and District'. Paul lectures on prehistoric rock art and the folklore and archaeology of ancient sites, and offers guided walks in West Yorkshire.

Edited from Megalithix blog (24 February 2013)
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The Burrup Peninsula of Western Australia and surrounding Dampier Archipelago have the highest concentration of rock art in the world. The carvings include depictions of human-like figures, human faces and animals that no longer inhabited the region, including the Tasmanian tiger. Archaeologists haven't been able to date engravings directly, but have previously estimated some of them to be up to 30,000 years old based on the style of the art and weathering patterns.

A new study, led by Professor Brad Pillans, a geologist at the Australian National University, shows that rocks here have some of the lowest recorded rates of erosion in the world. "The combination of hard rock and low rainfall means low erosion, so we have the potential for preserving rock art for much longer periods of time than in many other places," he said.

The study published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews shows that the deepest engravings could theoretically survive on these rock surfaces for up to 60,000 years, although the researchers do not claim they are this old. Brad and his co-author Professor L. Keith Fifield came to that conclusion by measuring levels of Berylllium 10. This is a radioactive isotope that accumulates in the surfaces of rocks because of radiation from space and indicates how long they have been exposed to the elements.

These findings support the idea that some of the rock art predates the last ice age, which occurred around 22,000 years ago, says Dr Ken Mulvaney, an archaeologist with Rio Tinto who produced the most recent age estimates based on the style of the art and weathering patterns. The erosion "is such a slow process that the petroglyphs could remain visible for 60,000 years," says Ken, who adds that neither he nor Brad think the rock art actually is that old. Based on current evidence people only arrived in this part of Australia sometime between 35,000 and 42,000 years ago, he says.

Edited from Australian Geographic (18 April 2013)
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I'm always excited with new news about Stonehenge because a few years ago British archaeologist Caroline Malone and I wrote a young people's book called Stonehenge. It's still available from Amazon.

New archaeological evidence from Amesbury in Wiltshire (England) reveals traces of human settlement 3,000 years before Stonehenge was even built. The archaeological dig, a mile from the stones, has revealed that people have occupied the area since 7,500 BCE. The findings, uncovered by volunteers on a shoestring budget, are 5,000 years earlier than previously thought. The people occupying the site would likely have been responsible for erecting the first monument at Stonehenge, the Mesolithic posts, between the 9th and 7th millennia BC.

Instead of being seen as a site which was abandoned by Mesolithic humans and occupied by Neolithic men thousands of years later, Stonehenge should be recognized as a place where one culture merged with the other, researchers said. The small-scale project has been led by Open University archaeologist David Jacques, who had to plough his redundancy money into it to make it happen. He first spotted the Amesbury site in aerial photographs as a student. The photographs, in an archive at Cambridge University, showed a site known as Vespasian's Camp just a mile from Stonehenge.

Assumed to have been completely landscaped in the 18th Century, Mr Jacques realized the area had not been and decided to investigate. "The whole landscape is full of prehistoric monuments and it is extraordinary in a way that this has been such a blind spot for so long archaeologically," he said. "But in 1999 a group of student friends and myself started to survey this area of Amesbury."

The site, which contains a natural spring, is the nearest source of fresh water to Stonehenge. And Mr Jacques, with the theory it may have been a water supply for early man, believed there could be pristine and ancient archaeology waiting to be discovered. "I suppose what my team did, which is a slightly fresher version, was look at natural places. Places in the landscape where you would imagine animals might have gone to, to have a drink," he said. "My thinking was where you find wild animals, you tend to find people, certainly hunter gatherer groups coming afterwards."

Professor Peter Rowley-Conwy, from Durham University, said: "The site has the potential to become one of the most important Mesolithic sites in north-western Europe." And Dr Pollard, from the Stonehenge Riverside Project, said "The team have found the community who put the first monument up at Stonehenge. The significance of David's work lies in finding substantial evidence of Mesolithic settlement in the Stonehenge landscape [which was] previously largely lacking, apart from the enigmatic posts, and being able to demonstrate that there were repeated visits to this area from the 9th to the 5th millennia BCE."

Edited from BBC News, The Telegraph (19 April 2013)
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Monday, April 15, 2013


A contested auction of sacred Hopi Indian artifacts went forward on April 12, 2013 in Paris and generated more than $1 million in sales, despite the presence of protesters inside and outside the auction house who urged patrons not to take part.

One featured item, a headdress known as the Crow Mother, drew intense interest. Bidding on this 1880s artifact, which had a high estimate of $80,000, soared to $210,000, drawing applause from a crowd of some 200 people in the sales room and protest from a woman who stood up and shouted: “Don’t purchase that. It is a sacred being.”

The sale of American Indian artifacts generated $1.2 million, including the buyer’s premium (the auction house’s fee), according to a spokeswoman for the seller, Néret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou. That is roughly what the house had estimated the sale would bring before the Hopi tribe lodged its complaints and the auction became the object of international scrutiny and diplomatic talks between the United States and French officials.

Five of the 70 items did not sell, and many pieces sold below the low estimate, but whatever hesitancy buyers showed toward some items was offset by the enthusiasm shown toward the featured piece.

A few hours before the sale, a Paris municipal court judge had ruled that it could go forward, finding that the masklike objects, despite their divine status among the Hopis, could not be likened to dead or alive beings. A lawyer for the Hopis had argued that the tribe believes that the works embody living spirits, making it immoral to sell them under French law. The Hopis say the artifacts, known as Katsinam, or “friends,” were stolen from tribal lands in Arizona. Many are more than a century old. The auction house has said that a French collector obtained them legally decades ago.

In a statement, the Hopi tribal chairman, LeRoy N. Shingoitewa, said: “Given the importance of these ceremonial objects to Hopi religion, you can understand why Hopis regard this — or any sale — as sacrilege, and why we regard an auction not as homage but as a desecration to our religion.” Before starting, the auctioneer, Gilles Néret-Minet, told the crowd that the sale had been found by a judge to be perfectly legal, and that the objects were no longer sacred but had become “important works of art.” He added, “In France you cannot just up and seize the property of a person that is lawfully his.”

Bo Lomahquahu, a Hopi tribe member and university exchange student who stood outside the auction, said the atmosphere inside was “very surreal and heartbreaking.”

Monday, April 08, 2013


Archaeologists have discovered ancient remains after they were 'brought back to life' by the snow covering the landscape in Wales. Settlements dating back 4,000 years were only found because just the right amount of snow fell on the countryside.

Experts were flying over the landscape in a light aircraft when they spotted a series of ancient remains. A combination of the snow and the low sun in the sky at this time of year provided ideal conditions to plot the sites for the first time. Archaeologist Dr Toby Driver said: "The snow provides breathtaking conditions for our aerial reconnaissance. Snow evens out the colors of the landscape allowing complex earthwork monuments to be seen more clearly and precisely."

The experts on board the four-seater Cessna identified up to 40 ancient earthworks hidden beneath centuries of growth in Mid and South Wales. They included a 20-metre wide burial mound on common land at Ogmore-by-Sea near Bridgend and a moated site at Llangorse lake near Brecon. The new discoveries were recorded by the experts from the Aberystwyth-based Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.

The Royal Commission has been using aerial reconnaissance to identify ancient sites for the last 25 years. But the recent Arctic conditions which have seen snow laying on the Welsh hills for weeks have given the team a new way of unlocking the mysteries which cannot be seen from the ground. Dr Driver said: "So far well over 5,000 new archaeological sites have been discovered across Wales in 25 years of flying. We can now appreciate that Wales was intensively farmed and settled from the Neolithic era 6,000 years ago."

Edited from WalesOnline (28 March 2013)
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A trove of Neanderthal bones of children and adults, discovered in a cave in Greece hints the area may have been a key crossroad for ancient humans, researchers say. The remains suggests Neanderthals and humans may have at least had the opportunity to interact, or cross paths, there, the researchers added.

"Greece lies directly on the most likely route of dispersals of early modern humans and earlier hominins into Europe from Africa via the Near East," paleoanthropologist Katerina Harvati at the University of Tübingen in Germany said. "It also lies at the heart of one of the three Mediterranean peninsulae of Europe, which acted as refugia for plant and animal species, including human populations, during glacial times - that is, areas where species and populations were able to survive during the worst climatic deteriorations.

Harvati and colleagues from Greece and France analyzed remains from a site known as Kalamakia, a cave stretching about 65 feet (20m) deep into limestone cliffs on the western coast of the Mani Peninsula on the mainland of Greece. They excavated the cave over the course of 13 years. The archaeological deposits of the cave date back to between about 39,000 and 100,000 years ago to the Middle Paleolithic period. In the cave, the researchers found tools such as scrapers made of flint, quartz and seashells. The stone tools were all shaped, or knapped, in a way typical of Neanderthal artifacts.

"Kalamakia, together with the single human tooth from the nearby cave site of Lakonis, are the first Neanderthal remains to be identified from Greece," Harvati said. The discoveries are "confirmation of a thriving and long-standing Neanderthal population in the region." These findings suggest "the fossil record from Greece potentially holds answers about the earliest dispersal of modern humans and earlier hominins into Europe, about possible late survival of Neanderthals and about one of the first instances where the two might have had the opportunity to interact," Harvati said.

Edited from LiveScience (1 April 2013)
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