Wednesday, May 29, 2013


The Minoans, the builders of Europe's first advanced civilization, really were European, new research suggests. The conclusion, published today (May 14, 2013) in the journal Nature Communications, was drawn by comparing DNA from 4,000-year-old Minoan skeletons with genetic material from people living throughout Europe and Africa in the past and today.

"We now know that the founders of the first advanced European civilization were European," said study co-author George Stamatoyannopoulos, a human geneticist at the University of Washington. "They were very similar to Neolithic Europeans and very similar to present day-Cretans," residents of the Mediterranean island of Crete. While that may sound intuitive, the findings challenge a long-held theory that the ancient Minoans came from Egypt.

The Minoan culture emerged on Crete, which is now part of Greece, and flourished from about 2,700 B.C. to 1,420 B.C. Some believe that a massive eruption from the Volcano Thera on the island of Santorini doomed the Bronze Age civilization, while others argue that invading Mycenaeans toppled the once-great power. When British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans discovered the Minoan palace of
Knossos more than 100 years ago, he was dumbstruck by its beauty. He also noticed an eerie similarity between Minoan and Egyptian art, and didn't believe that the culture was homegrown. "That's why Evans postulated the civilization was imported from Egypt or Libya," Stamatoyannopoulos told LiveScience.

To test that idea, the research team analyzed DNA from ancient Minoan skeletons that were sealed in a cave in Crete's Lassithi Plateau between 3,700 and 4,400 years ago. They then compared the skeletal mitochondrial DNA, which is stored in the energy powerhouses of cells and passed on through the maternal line, with that found in a sample of 135 modern and ancient populations from around Europe and Africa.
The researchers found that the Minoan skeletons were genetically very similar to modern-day Europeans - and especially close to modern-day Cretans, particularly those from the Lassithi Plateau. They were also genetically similar to Neolithic Europeans, but distinct from Egyptian or Libyan populations.

The findings suggest that the ancient Minoans were likely descended from a branch of agriculturalists in Anatolia (what is now modern-day Turkey and Iraq) that fanned out into Europe about 9,000 years ago. If so, the Minoans may have spoken a proto-Indo-European language derived from the one possibly spoken by those Anatolian farmers, the researchers speculate. Knowing that the Minoan language has Indo-European roots could help archaeologists decipher a mysterious Minoan writing system, known as Linear A, Stamatoyannopoulos said.

The analysis of DNA from the Lassithi cave is a "valuable contribution," said Colin Renfrew, an archaeologist from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the study. However, to make a clearer connection to the Anatolian migration, the researchers should have compared the Minoan DNA with more DNA samples from modern and ancient Anatolia, he said.


Anthropologists have discovered a beautiful Greek waterfront paradise once inhabited by generations of Neanderthals up to 100,000 years ago, according to a new study. This particular population was based at what is known as The Kalamakia Middle Paleolithic Cave site on the Mani peninsula of southern Greece. Previously, only one other Neanderthal tooth suggested that the now-extinct hominids settled in Greece.

Katerina Harvati, head of paleoanthropology at the University of Tübingen's Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and paleo environments, studied the remains and identified multiple Neanderthals representing a child, a teen and both male and female adults. It is unclear if all were related.The Neanderthals chose a scenic place to live, with the Mani area to this day drawing tourists. "The site is currently very close to the sea," said Harvati, lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Human Evolution. "During glacial times the sea level was lower, so there likely would have been a coastal plain exposed in front of the site. This habitat would be ideal for the kinds of animals that humans hunted."

Fallow deer and ibex were two such animals eaten by Neanderthals and, later, modern humans. The Neanderthals seemed to have a particular fondness for tortoise meat. The shells -- from shellfish too -- mostly were all recycled into tools, such as implements for scraping.
Dental wear suggests that the Neanderthals enjoyed a varied diet consisting of seafood, meat and plants. Studies on Neanderthals from other locations suggest they were primarily carnivorous, but it appears they just took advantage of whatever foods were available. The remains further suggest that Neanderthals inhabited caves whenever possible, perhaps cave-hopping along the western coast of the Mani


Darryl de Ruiter, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, and colleagues from Binghamton University (the State University of New York) and researchers from Spain and Italy have published their work in the current issue of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science).

The team examined the skull of a hominin believed to be about 1.9 million years old and found in a cave called Swartkrans, in South Africa. Of particular interest to the team were bones found in the middle ear, especially one called the malleus. It and the other ear bones - the incus and the stapes - together show a mixture of ape-like and human-like features, and represent the first time all three bones have been found together in one skull.

The malleus appears to be very human-like, the findings show, while the incus and stapes resemble those of a more chimpanzee-like, or Ape-like creature. Since both modern humans and our early ancestors share this human-like malleus, the changes in this bone must have occurred very early in our evolutionary history.

"The discovery is important for two reasons," de Ruiter explains."First, ear ossicles are fully formed and adult-sized at birth, and they do
not undergo any type of anatomical change in an individual lifetime. Thus, they are a very close representation of genetic expression. Second, these bones show that their hearing ability was different from that of humans not necessarily better or worse, but certainly different. "They are among the rarest of fossils that can be recovered," de Ruiter adds.


Researchers found a tooth from the new found species Nsungwepithecus gunnelli, the oldest member of the primate group that contains Old World monkeys (cercopithecoids). The team also found a jawbone from the new found species Rukwapithecus fleaglei, an early member of the hominoids, the group containing the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and humans) and lesser apes (gibbons).

The fossil remnants of these two primate species date back to 25 million years ago, filling a gap in the fossil record that reveals when apes and monkeys first diverged. "These discoveries are important because they offer the earliest fossil evidence for either of these primate groups," said lead study author Nancy Stevens, an anthropologist at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. DNA evidence has long suggested that apes and Old World monkeys diverged from a common ancestor between 25 million and 30 million years ago. But until now, no fossils older than 20 million years had been found.

The age of the new specimens extends the origin of apes and Old World monkeys into the Oligocene Epoch, which lasted from 34 million to 23 million years ago. Previously, only three primate species were known from the late Oligocene globally, Stevens said.

The fossils were found in a layer of the Rukwa Rift in Tanzania. The region is part of the East African Rift, a tectonic-plate boundary where the Earth's crust is being pulled apart. Changes in the African landscape due to tectonic activity may have influenced the evolutionary split between apes and Old World monkeys, the researchers say.

The fossils themselves are only fragments, but they nonetheless provide important information about evolutionary relationships, Stevens said. The Nsungwepithecus fossil is a jaw fragment containing a lone molar tooth, whose shape and other dimensions suggest it came from a species related to other early cercopithecoids. Rukwapithecus had a more complete partial jaw containing one premolar and three molars; preliminary analysis suggests they came from hominoids in the nyanzapithecine group.

Rukwapithecus would have weighed about 26 lbs. (12 kilograms), the researchers estimate. Because Nsungwepithecus is so fragmented, its size is harder to estimate, but it would probably have been slightly smaller than Rukwapithecus, Stevens said. The findings were detailed online today (May 15, 2013) in the journal Nature.

Thursday, May 02, 2013


According to Bai Yunxiang, deputy director of the archaeological institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, over 100 stone molds, as well as foundry pits, wells and blast pipes have been unearthed at the site in a village near Zibo city, Xinhua reported.

The workshop is believed to have been active in the early period of the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), when the once-costly bronze mirrors gradually became household objects, said Bai. "It's the first time that a bronze mirror workshop has been discovered, providing precious insights into technologies used for China's ancient mirror making," Bai said. The items are made entirely of bronze, with a reflection given by the metal.

The artifacts are representative of mirror fashions in the dynasty, including a mold with patterns incorporating "panchi", a dragon-shaped
monster that was commonly used in mirror decoration at the start of the era and another with a grass-leaf design that became popular in the early Han Dynasty, the archaeologist said.

Discovered in 2011, it is believed that the workshop formed part of the "industrial zone" of the ancient city of Linzi, which flourished as a
commercial hub from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC - 221 BC). A dozen coins and ironware workshops have also been found in the area.


A team of Inrap archaeologists recently uncovered an exceptionally preserved necropolis dating to the 4th - 3rd centuries BC in Buchères, north central France. The team uncovered fifteen spectacular funerary enclosures, quadrangular,circular and horseshoe in shape dating from both the pre-Celtic Bronze Age and early Iron Age. Two sets of tombs belong to the early European Iron-age, La Tène culture.

Of the 14 tombs excavated so far, archaeologists have unearthed five that contain warriors. These men are armed with a sheathed sword and spear and two of them have shields made of wood and leather (which has rotted away, leaving only the iron edge and central spine).

In the burials that contained women all wear necklaces and bronze bracelets showing clear gender separation in grave both sexes are buried with large chest brooches of iron or bronze, sometimes decorated with coral. Significantly, there are no children contained within these graves.

This exceptional funerary complex is a very rare find for the area and differs from the few others found in the region. For example, less than 1 km from the Buchères necropolis the 4th-3rd centuries BC dead were buried in underground silos. A little further north, in the Marne, the graves from this period did not contain dishes, storage vessels or meat to accompany the dead to the afterlife.


The temple's name derives from the Latin words "with him who stops" used to invoke the ancient god to give the armies of Rome the strength to resist in the face of an enemy. Romulus built the temple after a battle at the Roman Forum against the Sabines during which the Romans had to retreat uphill on the Via Sacra.

Romulus prayed to Jupiter at the Porta Mugonia, vowing that he would dedicate a temple to the deity if he would stem the Sabine advance into the king's Palatine residence. The Romans were then able to regroup and held their ground against the Sabines, who they defeated. Romulus built the temple nearby c. 750 BC and a cult developed around it that the god enforced the Romans' military might.

Archaeologists did not know the exact location of the temple, which is referred to in ancient texts. For years, they thought that it on the slopes of the Velia hill facing the Palatine. A team from Rome University team discovered the shrine near the Porta Mugonia at the foot of the Palatine Hill. The temple is a sacred open area and archaeologists assume that the shrine was rebuilt after the great fire of Rome in 64 AD, when the Palatine was destroyed.

Excavations also revealed the remains of a prestigious dwelling near the sacred area in front of the Porta Mugonia, dating to the second and first century BC. Experts suggest it may have been House of Caesar, where he spent the last days of life, and which he left on the Ides of March in 44 BC, on his way to the Senate where he was assassinated.