Monday, June 24, 2013


The discovery was announced late on Monday in a peer-reviewed paper released early by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. The laser scanning revealed a previously undocumented formal urban planned landscape integrating the 1,200-year-old temples. The Angkor temple complex, Cambodia's top tourist destination and one of Asia's most famous landmarks, was constructed in the 12th century. Angkor Wat is a point of deep pride for Cambodians, appearing on the national flag, and was named a UNESCO world heritage site.

Archaeologists had long suspected that the city of Mahendraparvata lay hidden beneath a canopy of dense vegetation atop Phnom Kulen mountain in Siem Reap province. But the airborne lasers produced the first detailed map of a vast cityscape, including highways and previously undiscovered temples. "No one had ever mapped the city in any kind of detail before, and so it was a real revelation to see the city revealed in such clarity," University of Sydney archaeologist Damian Evans, the study's lead author, said by phone from Cambodia. "It's really remarkable to see these traces of human activity still inscribed into the forest floor many, many centuries after the city ceased to function and was overgrown."

The technology, known as lidar, works by firing laser pulses from an aircraft to the ground and measuring the distance to create a detailed, three-dimensional map of the area. It is a useful tool for archaeologists because the lasers can penetrate dense vegetation and cover swaths of ground far faster than they could be analysed on foot. Lidar has been used to explore other archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge.

In April 2012, researchers loaded the equipment on to a helicopter, which spent days crisscrossing the dense forests from 800 meters above the ground. A team of Australian and French archaeologists then confirmed the findings with an expedition on foot through the jungle. Archaeologists had already spent years doing ground research to map a 3.5 sq mile section of the city's downtown area. But the lidar revealed the section was much bigger – at least 14 sq miles – and more heavily populated than once believed.

"The real revelation is to find that the downtown area is densely inhabited, formally-planned and bigger than previously thought," Evans said. "To see the extent of things we missed before has completely changed our understanding of how these cities were structured." The next step for researchers involves excavating the site, which Evans hopes will reveal clues about how many people once lived in the city.

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Airborne laser scanning has revealed the remnants of a vast urban structure in the vicinity of Angkor Wat, a famous temple in Cambodia. The study, which will be published soon in the journal PNAS, follows a previous one that showed Angkor Wat to have been one of the world’s most complex preindustrial cities.

Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) is making it easier for archeologists to explore human settlements in tropical vegetation; previous LIDAR work has found evidence of new cities in Central America (see “A Lost City, Found With Lasers”), as well as further enhancing the layout of known settlements such as the Mayan city of Caracol.

For the new study, the researchers used a LIDAR setup emitting up to 200,000 laser pulses each second from a helicopter. Amazingly, the entire operation for the data collection spanned just 2 days in April 2012 for a total 20 hours of flight time, capturing imagery that would have taken many years to assemble from the ground, if at all. The LIDAR analysis also appears to have discovered what could be an older city beside Angkor Wat.

The study has revealed new canals, temples, and still unidentified manmade features, confirming a metropolitan area that housed many thousands of people, much as the Giza Plateau Mapping Project is doing for cities surrounding the Pyramids’ construction in Egypt.

As LIDAR technology gets cheaper, it will accelerate our understanding of early human settlements from the lingering geographic footprints we left, traces which can be almost as shallow as a footprint itself. As the authors write in their PNAS paper: “LIDAR technology has recently matured to the point where it has become cost-effective for archaeologists…with sufficient accuracy and precision to identify archaeological features of only a few centimeters in size.”

Lost cities in Central America found with LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging)

The city was found using an aerial remote sensing technique known as LIDAR, for Light Detection and Ranging. It works by bouncing a laser off the ground from an aircraft and recording how long it takes for the laser to return back. In post processing on a computer, the area’s topography can be determined down to the tiniest details: in some cases, features several centimeters in size. The laser wavelength determines the spatial resolution.

Similar remote sensing technology has been used to determine the underwater topography, or bathymetry, of water bodies, but it is only recently being applied to searching for jungle ruins. In 2009, a similar study mapped the Mayan ruins of Caracol in Belize and discovered agricultural fields and several undiscovered building remnants.

Many media reports emphasize that this latest finding could be the location of Ciudad Blanca, the legendary city of gold, but this is pure speculation: the ruins cannot be dated and identified until archaeologists actually visit the site on the ground. The study was carried out by scientists at the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and the University of Houston.

LIDAR's first use is written up in an engaging article "The El Dorado Machine" by Douglas Preston in the May 6,2013 issue of The New Yorker.


The British Museum has said 1,000 cinemas across the world will screen a recording of Pompeii Live, a tour of its exhibition of Roman life before a devastating volcanic eruption. The museum said 70% of tickets have been sold for the live screening in the UK and Ireland on 18 June. The event will be replayed in cinemas in 51 countries later in the year.

It features objects recovered from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both wiped out by Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. The exhibition, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, closes on 29 September. It received five-star reviews from critics in March - with the Daily Telegraph noting "the quality of much of what has come to London beggars belief".

The exhibition has proved a hit with patrons, with more than 260,500 tickets sold and the museum's opening hours extended to cope with demand. Countries that have signed up to the later showings include China, Colombia, India, Israel, Malta and Norway.

"This kind of innovative broadcasting - unthinkable even five years ago - has opened up new ways of sharing knowledge and accessing objects for adult and young audiences alike," said MacGregor.

Monday, June 17, 2013


In 1889, an Italian librarian's faulty identification sentenced to archival obscurity an antique Torah scroll that has turned out to be the oldest complete such scroll in existence. The University of Bologna Professor Mauro Perani has announced the results of carbon-14 tests authenticating the scroll's age as roughly 800 years old. The scroll dates to between 1155 and 1225, making it the oldest complete Torah scroll on record.

Like all Torah scrolls, this one contains the full text of the five Books of Moses in Hebrew and is prepared according to strict standards for use during religious services. What a 19th-century cataloguer had interpreted as clumsy mistakes by what he guessed was an awkward 17th-century scribe provided the very clues that led Perani to investigate further.

In 2012, a colleague and I decided to write a new catalog of the [University of Bologna] library's Hebrew manuscript collection. The original librarian and cataloguer from 1889, Leonello Modona, was an educated man but not a scholar. He had dated this scroll to the 17th century with a question mark. I consulted with other colleagues and experts who agreed that this scroll originated from some time between the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 14th century. I then pursued carbon-14 testing at the University of Sorrento; the results showed a date of between [the] second half of the 12th century to [the] beginning of the 13th century. In addition, a second
carbon-14 test at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign confirmed the first result.

At the end of the 12th century Maimonides [a famous rabbinic authority] set down the rules for how to copy Torah scrolls, and those fixed rules have been followed ever since. This scroll's copyist did not know of those rules. Those rules would have forbidden him from using some of the graphical elements found here, such as use of compression of letters, line justification, and which letters can have [decorative] "crowns" on top. There is more freedom here. There are also passages whose graphical layout is identical to that of the Aleppo Codex [a Bible in book form], which dates to the 10th century. This all means that either the Torah scroll was made before the death of Maimonides, who died in 1204, or the copyist had not yet learned of those rules.

This scroll has been at the University of Bologna library for centuries. It's very possible that at some time it came into the possession of a monastery, was later taken to Paris after Napoleon suppressed the monastic and religious orders, and finally restored to Bologna after Napoleon's collapse. This is important because this is the entire Torah scroll, the most ancient entire scroll that we know of. We have fragments of other Torah scrolls from the Cairo Geniza that date to the same time or earlier, and they show identical styles to this copyist. Maybe we will find another Torah scroll that is older, but for now this is it.


Twenty tombs from the Han dynasty (206 B.C-220 A.D.) have been discovered close to Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric
power station, in the southwest Chinese municipality of Chongqing, reported the official news agency Xinhua.

According to the Chongqing Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, archaeologists came upon the burial sites in Ma'anshan on the banks of the Yangtze River in the Fengdu region. Discovered inside the tombs were 430 objects, from ceramics to works in iron
and bronze.

The discovery will provide Chinese archaeologists with important data about the funerary customs, economic conditions and social structure at the time of the Han dynasty, the source said.


An ancient limestone platform dating back to 425 B.C is the oldest wine press ever discovered on French soil. The press is the first evidence of winemaking in what is now modern-day France, according to new research published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The evidence suggests inhabitants of the region of Etruria got the ancient residents of France hooked. (Etruria covered parts of modern-day Tuscany, Latium and Umbria in Italy.)

"Now we know that the ancient Etruscans lured the Gauls into the Mediterranean wine culture by importing wine into southern France," study researcher Patrick McGovern, who directs the Bimolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, said in a statement. "This built up a demand that could only be met by establishing a native Industry."

Humans first domesticated the Eurasian grapevine some 9,000 years ago in the Near East, perhaps in what is now Turkey or Iran. Gradually, the intoxicating beverage spread across the Mediterranean Sea, conveyed by Phoenicians and Greeks. By 800 B.C., the Phoenicians were trading wine with the Etruscans, storing it in large jars called amphoras.

Shipwrecks from around 600 B.C. are filled with these Etruscan amphoras, suggesting that residents of the area that is now Italy were by then exporting their own wine. In the coastal town of Lattara, near modern-day Lattes, France, a merchant storage complex full of these amphoras has been found, dating back to the town's heyday of 525 B.C. to 475 B.C.

McGovern and his colleagues analyzed three of these amphoras to find out if they really contained wine. They also analyzed an odd limestone discovery shaped like a rounded platform with a spout, thought to be a press of some sort. Whether the locals used the press to smash olives or grapes was unknown. The researchers followed careful standards for the artifacts they analyzed: Amphoras had to be excavated undisturbed and sealed, with their bases intact and available for analysis. They also had to be unwashed and had to contain
possible residue. Only 13 jars met those standards. The researchers chose three representative amphoras for molecular testing, and also tested two later amphoras that almost certainly contained wine for comparison. The analysis revealed tartaric acid, which is found naturally in grapes and is a major component of wine. Other wine-related acids - including succinic acid, malic acid and citric acid - were all present.

Of course, ancient wines weren't just for recreational quaffing; they were also used as medicinal mixtures, McGovern said. More importantly, the limestone press contained traces of tartaric acid, revealing that the residents of Lattara not only imported wine, but also made it. The press was in use by about 425 B.C. to 400 B.C., making it the first known evidence of winemaking in what is now France.

"France's rise to world prominence in the wine culture has been well documented, especially since the 12th century, when the Cistercian monks determined by trial-and-error that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were the best cultivars to grow in Burgundy," McGovern said. "What we haven't had is clear chemical evidence, combined with botanical and archaeological data, showing how wine was introduced into France and initiated a native industry."


An ancient Egyptian iron bead found inside a 5,000-year-old tomb was crafted from a meteorite, new research shows. The tube-shaped Piece of jewelry was first discovered in 1911 at the Gerzeh cemetery, roughly 40 miles (70 kilometers) south of Cairo. Dating between
3350 B.C. and 3600 B.C., beads found at the burial site represent the first known examples of iron use in ancient Egypt, thousands of years before Egypt's Iron Age. And their cosmic origins were suspected from the start.

Soon after the beads were discovered, researchers showed that the metal jewelry was rich in nickel, a signature of iron meteorites. But in the 1980s, academics cast doubt on the beads' celestial source, arguing that the high nickel content could have been the result of smelting. Scientists from the Open University and the University of Manchester recently analyzed one of the beads with an electron microscope and an X-ray CT scanner. They say the nickel-rich chemical composition of the bead's original metal confirms its meteorite origins.

What's more, the researchers say the bead had a Widmanstätten pattern, a distinctive crystal structure found only in meteorites that cooled at an extremely slow rate inside asteroids when the solar system was forming, according to Nature. Further investigation also showed that the bead was not molded under heat, but rather hammered into shape by cold-working. The iron beads' inclusion in burials also suggests this material was deeply important to ancient Egyptians, Tyldesley added. Strange as the find may seem, it's not the first time scientists have
uncovered the cosmic origins of an ancient artifact.

Back in September, German researchers found that a heavy Buddha statue brought to Europe by the Nazis was carved from a meteorite between the eighth and 10th centuries. They even linked it to a specific space rock - the Chinga meteorite, which scientists believe fell to Earth 10,000 to 20,000 years ago and left a scattering of space rocks around the Siberian and Mongolian border.

The new research on the Egyptian bead was detailed on May 20 in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science.


The oldest known fossil primate skeleton, dating to 55 million years ago reveals that one of our earliest ancestors was a scrappy tree dweller with an unusual combination of features. The discovery, made in central China's Hubei Province and reported in the journal Nature, strengthens the theory that Asia was the center of primate evolution. The new species, Archicebus achilles, also suggests that our earliest ancestors were very small.

"Archicebus was a tiny primate weighing less than 1 ounce," co-author Daniel Gebo of Northern Illinois University told Discovery News. "It would easily fit in the palm of your hand. Its eye orbits were not large, suggesting it was active during the daytime." He added, "Archicebus likely bounced and climbed around the canopy, being entirely arboreal, looking for food items out on the terminal branches of trees. It had incredibly long legs and was an adept leaper. Think of little lemurs moving through the branches of trees within a rainforest setting."

Analysis, including state-of-the-art Synchrotron CT scanning, determined that the skeleton of Archicebus is about 7 million years older than the oldest fossil primate skeletons known previously, which include Darwinius from Germany and Notharctus from Wyoming. The tiny primate lived close to the evolutionary divergence between the lineage leading to modern monkeys, apes and humans (collectively known as
anthropoids) and the lineage leading to living tarsiers. Gebo thinks the split might have happened as "each lineage tried to make
themselves anatomically and ecologically different to avoid direct competition with each other, since this leads to extinction."

"Archicebus is a quite odd creature," lead author Xijun Ni of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Discovery News. "It has many features that support its tarsiform (like tarsiers) affinity, but also has many features typically seen in anthropoids." It had the feet of a small monkey, but the arms, legs, skull and teeth of a
very primitive primate. The researchers were surprised that it had such small eyes. Modern tarsiers have some of the largest eyes, relative to body size, in the animal kingdom. They allow the tiny primates to see well at night.

Although Archicebus hailed from Asia, the earliest known humans came from Africa. "This suggests that a primitive anthropoid colonized Africa from Asia, and from these early African anthropoids all later catarrhines (monkeys, apes and humans) evolved," Gebo said.

Eric Delson is a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College. When sent the study, Delson told Discovery News, "Archicebus is a fantastic new fossil, which preserves more details of its anatomy than anything of a similar age." Delson expects more very early primates to be found in Asia, particularly in central China.

Monday, June 03, 2013


The celebrated over-life-size bronze statue Boxer at Rest-an exceptionally realistic ancient Greek sculpture created between the late fourth and the second century B.C., on loan from the Museo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo alle Terme-will be shown outside Europe for the first time beginning Saturday, June 1,2013. This extraordinary work will be on view for six weeks only.

The exhibition is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, and the Museo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Support is provided by Eni, the main sponsor of the exhibition. The event is part of 2013 - Year of Italian Culture in the United States, an initiative held under the auspices of the President of the Italian Republic, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Italy in Washington, D.C., with the support of the Corporate Ambassadors Eni and Intesa Sanpaolo.

The statue was excavated in Rome in 1885 on the south slope of the Quirinal Hill near the ancient Baths of Constantine, where it is thought to have been displayed. The sculpture was buried intentionally in late antiquity, possibly to preserve it against the barbarian invasions that ravaged Rome in the fifth century A.D. The broad-shouldered, lanky pugilist is shown seated, resting after a match. His gloves-which are highly detailed-identify him as a boxer.

The athlete's many head wounds are consistent with ancient boxing techniques, in which the head was the main target. The copper inlays, indicating blood, heighten the effect. The boxer's right eye is swollen, his nose is broken, and he breathes through his mouth, probably because his nostrils are blocked by blood. His scarred lips are sunken, suggesting missing teeth. The ears, swollen from blows, indicate possible hearing loss. Drops of blood from the wounds on his head have trickled down his right arm and leg. Wear on the foot and hands suggests that they were touched frequently in antiquity, possibly in veneration.

Because the iconography is related to statues of Herakles sculpted by Lysippos in the fourth century B.C., the Boxer at Rest may have been meant to celebrate a mythical-or real-boxer, who was glorified for his endurance and courage. Scholars have long debated the date of the statue, placing it anywhere from the middle of the fourth century B.C. to the middle of the first century B.C. The sculpture is an exceptional work in bronze from the Hellenistic period (323-31 B.C.) and is of outstanding artistry.


The following report, dated May 28, 2013 by Stuart Ramsey, Chief correspondent for Sky News is appalling:

A shaft of sunlight through the broken roof of a covered alleyway frames three Free Syrian Army snipers as they change shift in the midst of rubble strewn in every direction. In Aleppo there has been a stalemate between the regime forces and the opposition lasting months, but the snipers never stop fighting. The crack of high velocity rounds passing nearby is a constant if you venture near the front lines.

But I'm not in any ordinary battlefield. I am in one of the most important archaeological sites in the world - the 4,000-year-old Citadel of Aleppo with its mosques and covered markets. Day by day it is being destroyed.

Sky News is the first foreign organization allowed inside Aleppo's Great Mosque since it was taken over by the opposition forces. It is the frontline. The government forces now hold the Citadel, but they are surrounded. Huge prayer rooms and its central prayer area are strewn with rubble or destroyed. The once magnificent minaret is a heap of rubble. All that is left is a tourist guide photograph hanging on a wall attesting to its former beauty.

In the Great Hall sheets and rugs have been strung up to protect the rebel fighters from government snipers. They take no chances, running, ducking and hiding behind ancient giant pillars as they show us around. "We tried to keep our areas safe when we took them but the government attacked us with mortars and jets and destroyed everything," a rebel commander, who didn't want to be named, told me. "Every time we took an area over and the regime withdrew they attacked and there was nothing we could do to stop the fires," he said.

This is a World Heritage Site and Unesco has been uncertain about the fate of this entire ancient complex. They now know the truth and it is as bad as anyone had predicted.Surrounding the mosques and the citadel are truly magnificent covered markets, or at least they were. In the fighting and bombing they have been, in many places, completely gutted. Some of the most intense fighting took place in the narrow pathways linking the market areas. Entire streets are now choked with rubble and living there are the rebel fighters. To get around the most exposed parts of the old city they have dug through walls linking the streets. The destruction here is not complete and it can likely be restored in due course. But this war is claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people and shows no sign of abating.

Those losses, the human cost to this nation, will never be repaired.


The Star Carr finds are exhibited together for the first time. Deer skull head-dresses, a wooden paddle, bone harpoons, and amber and shale jewellery - some of the most remarkable and complete finds from Britain's Stone Age - will be assembled for the first time in a special exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum, in York (England), began in May 2013.

On loan from museums all over the country, the objects all come from Star Carr - the type-site for understanding hunter-gatherer communities of the Mesolithic period in Europe, where a number of settlements once stood on the shores of prehistoric Lake Flixton. The exhibition coincides with the publication of "Star Carr: Life in Britain After the Ice Age" by the Council for British Archaeology, telling the story of excavations at the site, which was buried in a deep layer of peat.

Professor Nicky Milner, of the University of York, co-director of excavations at Star Carr since 2004, said: "This site is incredibly important and it is fantastic that people will get a chance to see the amazing finds which tell the story of how people lived 11,000 years ago."

'After the Ice' is the first in a series of displays forming part of a three-year 'Prehistory in Yorkshire' research and exhibition project. This first year focuses on the Mesolithic period and the site of Star Carr, the second will look at Yorkshire's Bronze Age, and the third at its Iron Age.

Edited from Scarborough News (18 May 2013)
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Archaeologists are completing a 10-year dig in Tianluo Mountain - one of the cradles of Chinese civilization. Sun Guoping, captain of the exploration team, said: "It is so far the best preserved site of the Hemudu culture. We can see a clear wooden structure of the living and working areas of a tribe. There were walls, food stores, paddy fields and even piles of rice husks."

The Hemudu was accidentally discovered in 2001 by locals who were trying to drill a well. The site records activities from 7000 to 5000 BCE - one of China's earliest Neolithic sites - and covers more than 3 hectares, with 6 layers. Some 1800 square meters has been explored during the past 10 years of exploration, and more than 7,000 relics recovered.

Yao Xiaoqiang, deputy curator of the Hemudu Cultural Site Museum, said that the Tianluo Mountain site had well-preserved paddy fields from the early and late Hemudu period. "You can see the complete layout of primitive paddy fields, which is of great research value," Yao said, adding that many of the discoveries were the first of their kind in 40 years of exploration of Hemudu culture. These include ancient ladders made from a single piece of wood, big houses for ritual activities, wood-carved ritual wares with birds, and wooden swords.

Edited from China Daily (18 May 2013)


Evidence has been brought to light that our Stone Age ancestors developed techniques in hunter-scavenging, to fuel their evolution. The research study was carried out by a team from Baylor University (USA). The theory proposed by the team is that increases noted in brain size and body dimensions required more energy to fuel their increased activity. This led to wider ranging activities to gather the food required.

The study centered around a two million year old site in Kenya, known as Kanjera South. The inhabitants at that time are commonly known as Oldowan hominin. The team measured the gradual growth in brain and frame size and noted some interesting facts about the fossil evidence found at the site. The first sets of fossils were of a type of small antelope. Not remarkable in itself but, when you take into account the fact that all the bones were found, from the top of the head to the hoof, the conclusion being drawn that the animals were hunted and brought back to be butchered and eaten.

So how did they conclude that they also scavenged? Well other remains belonged to a much larger wildebeest sized animal, but only the head. Normally, after a kill in the wild by carnivorous animals, the entire carcass would be devoured, including the bones. But no animal could penetrate the thick skull. A tool-wielding hominin could and the heads were scavenged to enable them to extract the highly nutritious brain.

The study is deemed to be so important that Joseph Ferraro, assistant professor of anthropology at Baylor University is quoted as saying "Considered in total, this study provides important early archaeological evidence for meat eating, hunting and scavenging behaviors - cornerstone adaptations that likely facilitated brain expansion in human evolution, movement of hominins out of Africa and into Eurasia, as well as important shifts in our social behavior, anatomy and physiology".

Edited from ScienceDaily (10 May 2013)
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Becky Wragg Sykes, a postdoctoral researcher working on Neanderthal archaeology, reveals some of the history of clothing. People were already making finely worked bone needles 20,000 years ago - probably as much for embroidery as for sewing animal skins. Thousands of ivory beads and fox teeth covered the bodies of a girl and a boy buried at Sunghir, Russia, around 28,000 years ago.

We've known since the 1990s that people were weaving fabric back then, as revealed by impressions in baked clay from sites in the Czech Republic. We don't know for sure that these were used for clothes, but the materials were not heavy duty, and the variety in weaving styles suggests a long tradition. At Dzudzuana Cave in Georgia, 30,000 year old spun plant fibers were found which had been dyed pink, black and turquoise blue.

There is physical evidence that Neanderthals were tanning animal skins more than 100,000 years ago. Although they lacked fine needles of the sort found much later, their abilities to make stone and wood tools were easily enough to produce a sharp piercing object for lacing.

Further back in time things get really interesting. Body lice are adapted to living in clothes, so must have evolved after humans started to wear them, and DNA evidence suggests this happened at least 170,000 years ago.

The earliest examples of jewellery keep getting pushed back in time: they currently stand at about 75,000 years ago, and maybe as much as 100,000 years ago. At one site in South Africa, we even have the first evidence of style as we know it, with a shift in the way shell beads were strung together over time. Beads aren't clothing in the strict sense, but they are a kind of fashion. Although we can't be sure exactly who wore the first clothes or when, the history of human adornment goes back a very long time.

Edited from The Guardian (20 May 2013)
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Analysis of ancient dog burials finds that the typical prehistoric dog owner ate a lot of fish, had spiritual beliefs, and wore jewellery. The study is one of the first to directly test if there was a clear relationship between the practice of dog burial and human behaviors.
"Dog burials appear to be more common in areas where diets were rich in aquatic foods, because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries," says lead author Robert Losey, an anthropologist at the University of Alberta (Canada).

The discovery negates speculation that dogs back were just work animals brought along on hunting trips. "If the practice of burying dogs was solely related to their importance in procuring terrestrial game, we would expect to see them in the Early Holocene (around 9000 years ago), when human subsistence practices were focused on these animals," Losey continued. "Further, we would expect to see them in later periods in areas where fish were never really major components of the diet and deer were the primary focus, but they are rare or absent in these regions."

Losey and his team researched dog burials worldwide, but focused particularly on ones in Eastern Siberia. The earliest known domesticated dog found there dates to 33,000 years ago. Dog burials in the region span a 10,000-year period. Most occurred during the Early Neolithic, 7000 to 8000 years ago. Dogs were only buried when human hunter-gatherers were also being buried. All of the hunter-gatherer dogs were similar to modern Siberian huskies. Later pastoralists did not bury dogs, though they did occasionally sacrifice them. "I think the hunter-gatherers here saw some of their dogs as being nearly the same as themselves, even at a spiritual level," Losey said. "People came to know them as unique, special individuals."

The burials reflect that association. One dog was laid to rest "much like it is sleeping." A man was buried with two dogs, one carefully placed to the left of his body, and the other to the right. A dog was buried with a round pebble, possibly a toy or meaningful symbol, placed in its mouth. Other dogs were buried with ornaments, and implements such as spoons and stone knives. One of the most interesting burials contains a dog wearing a necklace made with four pendant red-deer teeth. Such necklaces appear to have been a trend at the time, since people wore them as well.

Edited from Discovery News (22 May 2013)
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A new study by archaeologists at the University of York (UK) challenges evolutionary theories behind the development of our earliest ancestors from tree dwelling quadrupeds to upright bipeds capable of walking and scrambling. The researchers say our upright gait may have its origins in the rugged landscape of East and South Africa, which was shaped during the Pliocene epoch by volcanoes and shifting tectonic plates.

Hominins, our early forebears, would have been attracted to the terrain of rocky outcrops and gorges because it offered shelter and O
0pportunities to trap prey. But it also required more upright scrambling and climbing gaits, prompting the emergence of bipedalism.

The York research challenges traditional hypotheses which suggest our early forebears were forced out of the trees and onto two feet when climate change reduced tree cover. Dr Isabelle Winder, one of the paper's authors, said: "The broken, disrupted terrain offered benefits for hominins in terms of security and food, but it also proved a motivation to improve their locomotor skills by climbing, balancing, scrambling and moving swiftly over broken ground - types of movement encouraging a more upright gait."

Dr Winder continues: "Our hypothesis offers a new, viable alternative to traditional vegetation or climate change hypotheses. It explains all the key processes in hominin evolution and offers a more convincing scenario than traditional hypotheses."

Edited from The University of York, Red Orbit (24 May 2013), World News Australia (25 May 2013)