Thursday, August 22, 2013


A sharp drop in rainfall may have led to the collapse of several eastern Mediterranean civilizations, including ancient Greece, around 3,200 years ago. The resulting famine and conflict may help explain why the entire Hittite culture, chariot-riding people who ruled most of the region of Anatolia, vanished from the planet, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Even during the heyday of Classical Greek civilization, there were hints of an earlier culture that was lost. Homer's "Iliad," written in the eighth century B.C. about a legendary war between Sparta and Troy, paints a picture of sophisticated Greek city-states, which archaeological evidence suggests once existed.

The ancient Hittite empire of Anatolia began a precipitous decline around 3,300 B.C. Around the same time, the Egyptian empire was invaded by marauding sea bandits, called the Sea People, and the ancient Mycenaean culture of Greece collapsed. Over the next 400 years, ancient cities were burned to the ground and were never rebuilt, Drake said.

But the cause of this Bronze Age collapse has been shrouded in mystery. Some archaeologists believed economic hardships caused the demise, while others proposed that massive tsunamis, earthquakes or a mega-drought was the cause. Past studies looking for drought typically only found evidence showing it occurred for short periods of time, making it hard to make conclusions about the whole period, Drake said.

Toward that end, David Kaniewski, an archaeologist at the University of Paul Sabatier-Toulouse in France, and his colleagues collected ancient sediment cores from Larnaca Salt Lake, near Hala Sultan Tekke in Cyprus. The lake was once a harbor, but became landlocked thousands of years ago. A decline in marine plankton and pollen from marine sea grass revealed that the lake was once a harbor that opened to the sea until around 1450 B.C., when the harbor transformed over 100 years into a landlocked lagoon. Pollen
also revealed that by 1200 B.C., agriculture in the area dwindled and didn't rebound until about 850 B.C. "This climate shift caused crop failures, dearth and famine, which
precipitated or hastened socioeconomic crises and forced regional human migrations," the authors write in the paper. The results bolster the notion that a massive drought caused the Bronze Age collapse, Drake said.

As ancient cultures battled for dwindling resources, they burned the great cities of the day to the ground. In the heart of these dark ages, the ancient Mycenaens lost their writing system, called Linear B, and correspondence between countries slowed to a trickle, Drake said. Ironically, those who suffered through those dark times may not have
realized the cause of their misery.


Small carved stones unearthed in a nearly 5,000-year-old burial could represent the earliest gaming tokens ever found, according to Turkish archaeologists who are excavating early Bronze Age graves. Found in a burial at Basur Höyük, a 820- by 492-foot mound near Siirt in southeast Turkey, the elaborate pieces consist of 49 small stones sculpted in different shapes and painted in green, red, blue, black and white.

"Some depict pigs, dogs and pyramids, others feature round and bullet shapes. We also found dice as well as three circular tokens made of white shell and topped with a black round stone," Haluk Saglamtimur of Ege University in Izmir, Turkey, told Discovery News.

According to the archaeologist, who presented his finding at the annual symposium of excavations, surveys and archaeometry in Mugla, similar pieces were previously found in Tell Brak and Jemdet Nasr, two settlement mounds in northeastern Syria and in Iraq respectively. "But they were found as isolated, single objects, therefore they were
believed to be counting stones," Saglamtimur said. "On the contrary, our gaming pieces were found all together in the same cluster. It's a unique finding, a rather complete set of a chess like game. We are puzzling over its strategy," he added.

The find confirms that board games likely originated and spread from the Fertile Crescent regions and Egypt more than 5,000 years ago (Senet from predynastic Egypt is considered the world's oldest game board). The tokens were accompanied by badly preserved wooden pieces or sticks. Saglamtimur hopes they'll provide some hints on the rules and logic behind the game. "According to distribution, shape and numbers of the stone pieces, it
appears that the game is based on the number 4," he said.

Archaeological records indicate that board games were widely played in Mesopotamia. Several beautifully crafted boards were found by British archaeologist Leonard Wooley in the Royal cemetery of Ur, the ancient Sumerian city near the modern Iraqi city of Nasiriya which many consider the cradle of civilization.

The newly discovered gaming stones were recovered from one of nine graves found at Basur Höyük. The site was inhabited as early as from 7,000 B.C. and was on a trade route between Mesopotamia and East Anatolia. Overall, the graves revealed a unique treasure made of painted and unpainted pottery, bronze spearhead, various ritual artifacts, seals with geometric motifs and about 300 well-preserved amorphous bronze artifacts. Tens of thousands of beads made of mountain crystal and other types of stones were also recovered from the burials. "The gaming pieces, thousands of beads, hundreds of complete pots and metal artifacts indicate those graves were not ordinary burials but most probably belonged to individuals of a ruling class," Saglamtimur said.

"The findings at Basur Höyük add to our knowledge as they reveal a coexistence of traditions and a continuity of relationships between the settlements in the northern mountains and the Mesopotamia sites," Marcella Frangipane, a professor of prehistoric archaeology at Rome's La Sapienza, told Discovery News. Frangipane is the director of excavations at Arslantepe, a remote site near the town of Malatya and the source of the Euphrates in south-eastern Turkey, some 250 miles west from Basur Höyük.

"The study of these findings, along with other discoveries in east-Anatolian sites, will allow us to reconstruct a new history of this region which is indeed the meeting point of the most ancient Near East civilizations," Frangipane said.


Ancient symbols etched onto the sides of boulders lying along the western edge of a desiccated lake in Nevada are the oldest confirmed rock carvings in North America-possibly dating back to the first peopling of the New World, scientists say.

The so-called petroglyphs, carved in soft limestone millennia ago, range from simple lines, pits, and swirls to more complex and ambiguous shapes that resemble diamonds, trees, flowers, and veins in a leaf. They range from about 8 inches (20 centimeters) up to about 3 feet (1 meter) in width.

In a new study, published in this month's issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, geochemist Larry Benson and his team concluded that the petroglyphs, located about 35 miles (56 kilometers) northeast of Reno at Winnemucca Lake, are at least 10,500 years old, and perhaps as much as 14,800 years old.

"Whether they turn out to be as old as 14,800 years ago or as recent as 10,500 years ago, they are still the oldest petroglyphs that have been dated in North America," Benson, who is at the University of Colorado Natural History Museum in Boulder, said in a statement. (See video of rock art in Arizona.)

To date the petroglyphs, Benson and his colleagues began by figuring out just when they could have been made. Though Winnemucca Lake is dried up now, it was once so full of water that the boulders upon which the petroglyphs are etched were submerged. As the water levels slowly dropped, crusts of a mineral called carbonate formed on the boulders. Radiocarbon testing of these carbonate layers revealed them to range in age from about 14,800 to 10,300 years old.

The carbonate ages, combined with an analysis of sediment cores taken from neighboring Pyramid Lake, suggest that the boulders were exposed to air-and thus accessible for carving by humans-between about 14,800 to 13,100 years ago, and again from about 11,300 to 10,500 years ago. In between the two time periods, the boulders were submerged, the scientists say.

It's unknown what method was used to create the petroglyphs, but one possibility is the artists used hard volcanic rock to chip away at the carbonate, which is porous and relatively soft, said Benson, who conducted the dating research while with the U.S. Geological Survey. As a result, the rock art would not have taken very long to carve, but
"whether all of them were done within a short period of time or over a span of hundreds of years, I don't know," Benson said in an interview.

Benson obtained permission to non-invasively examine the carvings from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which owns the land. Prior to the new dating of the Lake Winnemucca petroglyphs, the oldest rock art in North America was thought to be carvings found at Long Lake in Oregon that date to roughly 7,300 years ago.

This date is close to when scientists think humans first began settling the Americas. In a new study published in this week's issue of the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say they have found genetic evidence that a first wave of migrants crossed into the Americas from Asia about 15,000 to 18,000 years ago by slowly creeping down the continent's coasts. A few thousand years later, according to the study, a second wave of humans entered North America, this time by slipping across the Bering Strait into Alaska and then crossing through an ice-free corridor into Canada.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Russian archaeologists found the intact burial chamber of a noblewoman from a tribe that roamed the Eurasian steppes 2,500 years ago. The burial site found near the village of Filippovka in southern Russia dates to the time of the Sarmatians, a group of Persian-speaking tribes that ruled in what are now parts of southern Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia from around 500 BCE until 400 CE.

The Sarmatians, often mentioned by ancient Greek historians, left tombs filled with golden and bronze artifacts that were often looted by gravediggers. But the burial site found near Filippovka has not been robbed, Gulnara Obydennova of the Institute of History and Legal Education in the city of Ufa said. "The find is really sensational also because the burial vault was intact - the objects and jewelry in it were found the way they had been placed by the ancient nomads," she said.

The woman's skeleton, in a vault 13 feet underground, was still covered with jewelry and decorations, and her left hand held a silver mirror with an ornamented golden handle, Obydennova said. Modern-day descendants of the Sarmatians include Ossetians, an ethnic group living in the Caucasus region that speaks a language similar to Persian.

Edited from (7 August 2013)
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The remains of two large halls, both deliberately burnt down and their remains incorporated in two prehistoric burial mounds, have been discovered in Herefordshire (England). Likely to have been long structures - with aisles framed by upright posts, and with internal partitions - they are thought to have been constructed between 4000 and 3600 BCE.

Julian Thomas, professor of archaeology from the University of Manchester and co-director of the excavation, said: "These early Neolithic halls are already extremely rare, but to find them within a long barrow is the discovery of a lifetime."

In addition to the two long mounds, the site has provided evidence for a series of later burials and other deliberate deposits, including a cremation burial and a pit containing a flint axe and a finely-flaked flint knife - objects with close affinities to artifacts found in eastern Yorkshire in the Late Neolithic (circa 2600 BCE).

Doctor Keith Ray, the other co-director of the excavation and Herefordshire Council's County Archaeologist, said: "The axe and knife may not have been traded, but placed there as part of a ceremony or an ancestral pilgrimage from what is now East Yorkshire.

Edited from BBC News, EurekAlert!, PhysOrg (30 July 2013)
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A rare Archaic Period campsite has been discovered along the Minnesota River (USA). Artifacts were found 3 to 4 meers below the ground in an area mostly covered by peat, cat-tails and swamp.

Frank Florin, principal archaeologist at the site, says, "Basically, it's like a time capsule - a very well-preserved record left pretty much intact of where it was deposited. It's exciting to know that you're looking at things as they were 8000 years ago, essentially."

Florin said some of the stones used as tools appear to have come from North Dakota or western Wisconsin, suggesting that the native people traveled some distance in their hunting, or interacted and traded with other groups. Campsites in the river valley were occupied in a drier period of history, said Minnesota state archaeologist Scott Anfinson. Over the centuries, the climate became wetter, river bluffs eroded and the campsites were covered with silt and soil and filled in as wetlands. That's why ancient sites are so rare.

Craig Johnson, archaeologist for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said: "We don't have more than about a half a dozen of these archaeological sites from this period that are known in the Minnesota River Valley, so this is pretty significant," he said.

The native people buried their dead high on the bluffs, but camped on the river banks. Florin and crew found artifacts in several spots along a 360-metre stretch. There is at least one buried campsite, and perhaps remnants of others. "We found evidence for making stone tools, butchering and processing animals, and we found one fire hearth," Florin said. "Since we know so little about this time period, even small campsites are very important for what they tell us about people's diet, what their tools were and how they lived." The crew also unearthed spear-point fragments, hide-scraping tools, and animal remains that included turtles, fish and bison.

Edited from StarTribune, South Metro (29 July 2013)
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Newly discovered engravings at the Ness of Brodgar on the Scottish island of Orkney are finer and more complex than previous examples of its Neolithic art. Described by site director Nick Card as "inspiring" and "one of the finest pieces of art from this period found at Ness of Brodgar, if not the United Kingdom," the engraved stone was found in Structure 10, and consists of two sides carved with intricate etched designs.

Examination has revealed a finely incised chevron design and small cup marks, as well as a main design of interconnecting triangles. Decoration on stones from Orkney from the Neolithic period is almost entirely angular, and shares a commonality with the decoration found on Grooved Ware ceramics.

This new find highlights the life of ritual and decoration that occupied the people of Orkney five millennia ago. Nick Card reveals that, "Until now, Skara Brae had the most recorded Neolithic art in the UK, with about 70 panels. But we have already discovered 450 here. A new piece of decorative art comes up every day. We now have the largest collection in the UK."

Only a small part of the 2.5 hectare site has been excavated so far. It lies between the world famous sites of Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness.

Edited from Orkneyjar (31 July 2013), Past Horizons (1 August 2013)
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The mummified remains of a body found in a Laois bog two years ago have been found to date back to 2000 BCE, making it the oldest "bog body" discovered anywhere in the world.
Eamonn Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, said previously the earliest bog body discovered in Ireland dated to around 1300 BCE, but "Cashel man" substantially predates this period, making one of the most significant finds in recent times.

The remains are those of a young adult male which were placed in a crouched position and covered by peat, probably on the surface of the bog. The man's arm was broken by a blow and there were deep cuts to his back which appear to have been inflicted by a blade. Unfortunately the head, neck, and chest were damaged when the body was discovered, making it impossible to determine the exact cause of death.

Kelly believes the wounds on the body, combined with the fact that it was marked by wooden stakes and placed in proximity to an inauguration site, point to the individual being the victim of a ritual sacrifice. "It seems to be same type of ritual that we've observed in later Iron Age finds. What's surprising here is that it's so much earlier. We believe that the victims of these ritual killings are kings that have failed in their kingship and have been sacrificed as a consequence."

Edited from Irish Times (2 August 2013)
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Sunday, August 11, 2013


“The Rocks Don’t Lie” A Geologist investigates Noah’s Flood
By David R. Montgomery
Professor Montgomery (a Genius Award winner) does a terrific job with his chapters that highlight various floods that happened in ancient all the way up to fairly modern times. He has visited many of geology’s interesting sites including the Grand Canyon, Tibet, and the Black Sea. He does a great explanation of Wegener’s struggle to explain the earth’s movement with the concept of Continental Drift. He brings to light the silliness of the Creation Museum that “sheds light on the 20th century resurrection of creationism.” However, there’s almost too much of the creationists in America (where they mostly hang out)although he does an excellent job as an overview of geology for the layman. And he sums up: “a literal reading of the Bible still leaves a lot of room for creative interpretation.” His closing sentence: “We may argue endlessly about how to interpret the Bible, but the rocks don’t lie. They tell it like it was.”