Thursday, January 30, 2014

"ARDI" (Ardipithecus ramidus) -- 4.4 MYA OLD SPECIES -- ON HUMAN LINE

One of the most hotly debated issues in current human origins research focuses on how the 4.4 million-year-old African species Ardipithecus ramidus is related to the human lineage. "Ardi" was an unusual primate. Though it possessed a tiny brain and a grasping big toe used for clambering in the trees, it had small, humanlike canine teeth and an upper pelvis modified for bipedal walking on the ground.

Scientists have disagreed about where this mixture of features positions Ardipithecus ramidus on the tree of human and ape relationships. Was Ardi an ape with a few humanlike features retained from an ancestor near in time (between 6 and 8 million years ago, according to DNA evidence) to the split between the chimpanzee and human lines? Or was it a true relative of the human line that had yet to shed many signs of its remote tree-dwelling ancestry?

New research led by Arizona State University paleoanthropologist William Kimbel confirms Ardi's close evolutionary relationship to humans. Kimbel and his collaborators turned to the underside (or base) of a beautifully preserved partial cranium of Ardi. Their study revealed a pattern of
similarity that links Ardi to Australopithecus and modern humans, but not to apes.

Kimbel is director of the ASU Institute of Human Origins, a research center of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Joining ASU's Kimbel as co-authors are Gen Suwa (University of Tokyo Museum), Berhane Asfaw (Rift Valley Research Service, Addis Ababa), Yoel Rak (Tel Aviv University) and Tim White (University of California at Berkeley).

White's field-research team has been recovering fossil remains of Ardipithecus ramidus in the Middle Awash research area, Ethiopia since the 1990s. The most recent study of the Ardi skull, led by Suwa, was published in Science in 2009, whose work (with the Middle Awash team) first revealed
humanlike aspects of its base. Kimbel co-leads the team that recovered the earliest known Australopithecus skulls from the Hadar site, home of the "Lucy" skeleton, in Ethiopia.

"Given the very tiny size of the Ardi skull, the similarity of its cranial base to a human's is astonishing," says Kimbel.

The cranial base is a valuable resource for studying phylogenetic, or natural evolutionary relationships, because its anatomical complexity and association with the brain, posture and chewing system have provided numerous opportunities for adaptive evolution over time. The human cranial base, accordingly, differs profoundly from that of apes and other primates.

In humans, the structures marking the articulation of the spine with the skull are more forwardly located than in apes, where the base is shorter from front to back and the openings on each side for passage of blood vessels and nerves are more widely separated. These shape differences affect the way the bones are arranged on the skull base, such that it is fairly easy to tell apart even isolated fragments of ape and human basicrania.

The new work expands the catalogue of anatomical similarities linking humans, Australopithecus and Ardipithecus on the tree of life, and shows that the human cranial base pattern is at least a million years older than Lucy's species, A. afarensis.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Arizona State University. The original article was written by Julie Russ, Institute Of Human Origins.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


In a verdant valley east of Rome, Fabrizio Baldi admires a forgotten stretch of a two-tier Roman aqueduct, a stunning example of the emperor Hadrian's 2nd century drive to divert water from rural springs to his ever-thirstier capital.
But Baldi, 36, is less interested in the graceful arches than in where the aqueduct's span ends, hidden in a wooded slope across a stream, halfway up the side of the valley. Scrambling through thick brambles, he comes across a large hole in the ground that appears to be the start of a tunnel.

Baldi is one of about 80 amateur speleologists who spend their weekends crawling down underground channels with laser scanners and GPS in an effort to conclusively map the city's network of 11 ancient aqueducts for the first time in modern history. In doing so, they have turned up underground stretches that nobody remembered. The group, which has been exploring underground Rome since 1996, has completed about 40% of its mission to map the aqueducts. "The famous arched, over-ground aqueducts we see today are just the tip of the iceberg; 95% of the network ran underground," says Marco Placidi, head of the speleologists group, which is sharing its results with Italy's culture ministry. Slaking the thirst of the fast-growing imperial capital meant linking it to springs many miles from the city. The ancient Roman engineers were equal to the task, supplying a quantity of water that modern engineers didn't manage to match until the 1930s.

Rome's emperors had the aqueducts built quickly, employing thousands of slave laborers. In the 1st century, Claudius completed his 60-mile effort in two years. The structures are unusually solid, with cement and crushed pottery used as building material. One of the aqueducts, the Aqua Virgo, is still in use today, keeping Rome parks and even the Trevi fountain supplied. Others were damaged by invading German tribes in the waning days of the empire.

"Interest in what the Romans did underground is growing fast," Placidi says. "Experts now understand they are the best-preserved remains and truly reveal how the Romans made things on the surface work. This is the new frontier of archaeology."

The tract of the Anio Vetus aqueduct was mapped by British archaeologist Thomas Ashby, whose 1935 book, "The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome," remains a bible for the cavers. "But Ashby just followed the maintenance shafts along the surface and didn't get down underground, so where there are no shafts, we are finding things he didn't," Placidi said.
That includes an underground stretch, just over half a mile long, of the Anio Vetus dating to the 3rd century BC that fell into disuse when Hadrian spanned the valley with his arched bridge in the 2nd century.

"We have found Roman dams we didn't know about, branch lines taking water to waterfalls built in private villas, and even aqueducts driven underneath" streams, Placidi said. "We are able to get up close and [feel we are] right back at the moment the slaves were digging." They have also found risque graffiti underneath the San Cosimato convent near Rome, where the Claudio and Marcio aqueducts run parallel. The words date to 18th century monks, who were jealously accusing one another of having liaisons with other monks.

Apart from the aqueducts, the team has been called on to map chambers deep beneath Palatine Hill in Rome and to explore the tunnels under the Baths of Caracalla there and at Hadrian's Villa near Tivoli. Beneath the heart of Rome, Placidi's volunteers explored the Cloaca Maxima, the massive Roman sewer that still serves the city.

The cavers, young and old, rarely get paid for their work by the cash-strapped Italian government, even if their results are happily being collated by archaeological authorities. Placidi combines his speleology with work as a webmaster; Baldi is an unemployed car parts dealer. Placidi predicts that will change. "Now you have amateur cavers becoming experts on archaeology, but in 20 years' time the archaeologists will be training up as cavers," he said.,0,2669673.story#ixzz2qUX6YBjE

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


About 2,000 years ago in the Ohio Valley, the indigenous American Indians must have had certain magi carefully observing the heavens because they aligned their most magnificent earthen monuments to the rising and setting of the Sun and Moon. The Newark Earthworks (Ohio, USA) showcase how astronomical alignments were woven into the designs of Hopewell culture architecture. They extend across nearly 5 square miles and include the Great Circle, the Octagon Earthworks, a large square enclosure and an oval earthwork surrounding numerous burial mounds. Only the Great Circle and the Octagon Earthworks survive largely intact.

In 1982, Ray Hively and Robert Horn, professors at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., showed that the Octagon Earthworks encoded the 18.6-year cycle of moonrises and moonsets into its walls. The duo's latest research, published this year, suggests the Newark magi made their incredibly precise astronomical observations from the tops of prominent hills surrounding the earthworks.

Hively and Horn identified four key hilltops overlooking the earthworks that offer unobstructed views to the horizon. From one of these you can see directly across the center of the Octagon Earthworks to where the Moon rises at its northernmost point on the eastern horizon. From that same hilltop, you can look across the center of Newark's Great Circle to a point about 14 degrees to the south, which marks the minimum northern moonrise. The three other prominent hilltops provide vantage points for observing alignments of key elements of the earthworks with the southern maximum and minimum moonrises and the four moonsets that, together with the four moonrise alignments, encompass the entire 18.6-year lunar cycle.

Astonishingly, sightlines between these four hilltops mark the sunrises and sunsets on both the summer and winter solstices. Those alignments intersect at the approximate center of the earthworks at a point that is midway between the Great Circle and the large circle at the Octagon Earthworks.

Edited from The Columbus Dispatch (22 December 2013)


The oldest human footprints in North America have been dated for the first time and could help scientists to understand what Mexico's climate was like 7000 years ago.

The new climate data, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, comes from two sets of footprints found in the Chihuahuan desert in north-eastern Mexico. The first of these sets was discovered in 1961 after workmen stumbled across them while building a road. At the time they were removed and placed in a museum where, despite being described in detail, their provenance was lost.

A team of researchers, from John Moores University in Liverpool, who were interested in where these prints came from began interviewing local people to see if they could find more. Eventually, in 2006, another track was found in a quarry. "When we discovered these new prints, they were preserved in the same material as the ones in the museum. So we presumed it was a rediscovery of these lost footprints as opposed to a new discovery," explains Dr Nick Felstead now of Durham University, lead researcher on the project.

To see if the two sets of prints were from the same track the teams needed to work out their age. So, they used oxygen and carbon isotopes in the surrounding material to work out when our ancestors made the prints. "The age of the prints in the museum had been given a best-guess at being around 10 to 15,000 years old, but they had never actually been dated," says Felstead. "The two sets of dates came back at 10.5 thousand years and seven thousand years old, so by age alone we knew they were separate; they couldn't have been same trackways."

Having dated the two sets of footprints the scientists decided to look at what the climate was like when these humans laid down these trackways. The prints were preserved in sediments known as travertine - a mineral that precipitates out when water percolates through limestone rocks - so the scientists knew the area must have been far wetter than it is today. The water which formed the travertine also contains minute traces of uranium, and it was this that enabled the team to date the footprints. Over time uranium decays and turns into thorium, by measuring the ratio of uranium to thorium the scientists were able to determine how old the footprints were.

"It's in the middle of the Chihuahua desert, everyone always thinks that deserts are hot, arid and hostile but these footprints show us that during the Holocene, the desert was just coming out of a period of glaciation and had only just started to dry out," Felstead says. "It's a window into a time when the desert was wet enough to support a much greater range of life."

Edited from PhysOrg (2 January 2014)
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An archeological dig in the suburbs south of Minneapolis (Minnesota, USA) is turning up artifacts thousands of years old at the future site of a bridge project. Before work begins, federal historic preservation laws require scientists to find out what's beneath the dirt, so archaeologists began digging on the border of Shakopee and Chanhassen.

"Cold weather's good because we're working in a wetland and it helps to freeze the ground and make it easier to work with," explained Frank Florin, Florin Cultural Resource Services LLC. The crew has been at it for six weeks now and as traffic passes by the site, 8,000 years ago it was a place hunters and gatherers stopped. "There's very few sites in Minnesota that are that old and this well preserved," said Florin. "This site, a lot of it is capped below six to ten feet of more recent sediment so it's quite well preserved."

One of the finds is a spear point that's believed to be about 8,000-years-old; all of the artifacts found will be given to the Minnesota Historical Society. The crew has another two weeks of work. They'll be back in the spring at another nearby site and then construction will begin on the road nearby.

Edited from Kare 11 (3 January 2014)
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Excavations by Lolland-Falster Museum archaeologists are currently ongoing in advance of the upcoming construction of a new crossing from Denmark to Germany. Work began in August 2013, and since then an array of stunning archaeological finds have been recovered. The area was extremely attractive to a Neolithic population 5-6,000 years ago, as fishing in the low-lying and protected lagoon was a safe environment with rich marine resources. Included among some of the remarkably well preserved materials recovered from the site was part of a wattle fence from a fish trap.

When excavation began, it quickly became apparent that the area had for many thousands of years often been inundated by the sea and a favored settlement location. The water table lies only half a meter down and the Neolithic layer appears beneath this in an anaerobic and sealed environment that is favorable for the preservation of organic material.

All these coastal settlement activities dated to the period 5000-3000 BCE, when agriculture first gained a foothold in Denmark. Among the most spectacular finds was a section of paddle, jammed deep in the mud and snapped off at the handle, and an 86 cm long arrow that still bears traces of the pitch that held the feathers fletches in place. These finds east of Rødbyhavn suggest that the first farmers were also fishermen and coastal hunters. The unique findings will help to understand the shift from hunting to farming that happened around 4000 BCE.

"This excavation provides a unique opportunity to gain an insight into prehistoric life and learn about the different activities that are going on in the area," said archaeologist Lars Ewald Jensen from the Lolland-Falster Museum.

Edited from Past Horizons (3 January 2014)
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Monday, January 06, 2014


More than 100 American Indian artifacts were about to go on sale at the Drouot auction house, including 24 pieces, resembling masks, that are held sacred by the Hopi of Arizona. The tribe, United States officials and others had tried unsuccessfully to block the sale in a French court, arguing that the items were religious objects that had been stolen many years ago.

Now the Annenberg Foundation decided to get involved from its offices in Los Angeles. It hoped to buy all of the Hopi artifacts, plus three more sought by the San Carlos Apaches, at the Dec. 18 sale and return them to the tribes. To prevent prices from rising, the foundation kept its plan a secret, even from the Hopis, in part to protect the tribe from potential disappointment. Given the nine-hour time difference, the foundation put together a team that could work well into the night, bidding by phone in the auction in France. The foundation had never done something like this before — a repatriation effort — and the logistics were tricky, to say the least.

Two staff members in Los Angeles, one a French speaker, were assigned to the job. The foundation also quietly arranged for a Paris lawyer, Pierre Servan-Schreiber, who had represented the Hopi pro bono in the court proceeding, to serve as lookout in the auction room. He stood in the back, on the phone to the foundation. Whispering updates to him was Philip J. Breeden, a cultural attaché from the United States Embassy.

But camouflaging the role of the foundation was crucial. “I knew nothing good would come out of it if the house knew there were people out to get the whole thing,” he said. “I was sure that would jack up the prices.”

The sale had been assembled by the auction house EVE with pieces from a variety of American tribes that were held by a number of French collectors, all of whom said they had owned the items for many years and had good title to them. Several collectors said they had been impressed by prices realized at an April auction of 70 Hopi artifacts. The tribe had been angered by the earlier sale as well, which like this auction featured vibrantly decorated Hopi headdresses, known as Katsinam. The tribe, which had gone to court to block both sales, believes the items are not simply religious, but living entities with divine spirits.

Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, vice president and director of the foundation who lives in Paris, had followed the legal battle in the French news media. After the Hopi lost in court on Dec. 6, he went to the auction house to preview the artifacts, all of which are more than a century old. “These are not trophies to have on one’s mantel,” Mr. Weingarten would say later. “They are truly sacred works for the Native Americans. They do not belong in auction houses or private collections.”

Mr. Weingarten had his California staff tally the pre-sale estimates from the auction catalog and confirm that the objects were authentic. The staff members also became familiar with the Hopi belief system and built a database that would allow them to follow online the bidding on the objects they wanted. Mr. Weingarten approved a budget of $500,000 to $1 million to buy all 27 disputed Native American lots — the 24 masklike Hopi artifacts and three items of divine significance to the San Carlos Apache, also in Arizona. To do so he tapped into a discretionary fund set aside for individual projects.

“It was a leap-of-faith kind of moment for us,” said Leonard J. Aube, executive director of the foundation, which was founded by Walter H. Annenberg, the publisher, philanthropist and diplomat. “Not a lot of foundations are geared up for this kind of clandestine, late-night activity.”


TITUSVILLE, Fla. - Tucked behind a leafy oak hammock near this Brevard County city, a murky blackwater bog containing some of the world's rarest archaeological treasures will remain protected from a potential housing development. The vegetated 8.5-acre upland buffer bordering the Windover Archaeological Site has been purchased for $90,000 by The Archaeological Conservancy. This New Mexico-based organization has acquired and preserved more than 465 historic sites across the United States.

A backhoe operator stumbled upon the prehistoric burial ground in 1982. Since then, scientists have excavated 168 remarkably preserved skeletons dating to the Early Archaic period from Windover's swamp - including some of the oldest brain DNA samples ever found on the planet. Radiocarbon dating of these bones goes back as far back as 8,120 years, thousands of years before the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built.

The threat of land-clearing construction had encroached the renowned archaeological site the past four years, specifically single-family housing. A financially struggling landowner, the Rockledge-based Preservation and Education Trust (PET), nearly placed these five undeveloped housing lots accessing the National Historic Landmark on the real estate market.

Windover's prehistoric inhabitants may have descended from the Asian migrants who crossed the Bering land bridge into North America during the last Ice Age.

Excavation at the Windover Archaeological Site occurred from 1984-86. Scientists unearthed semi-domesticated plants; the skeleton of a boy with spina bifida who lived to about age 15; and some of the Western Hemisphere's oldest textile fabrics. These discoveries forced archaeologists to revise their theories of North America's early inhabitants, who were thought to be nomadic hunter-gatherers. Key finds included 91 skulls containing brain tissue; hammers fashioned from manatee ribs; and knives and scrapers made using shark and wolf teeth.

Cocoa resident Rachel Wentz, a Florida Public Archaeology Network regional director, worked about a decade analyzing Windover skeletons at a Florida State University laboratory. Her book Life and Death at Windover: Excavations of a 7,000-year-old Pond Cemetery was published last year. She recently toured the bygone burial bog with a camera crew for an upcoming History Channel program.


The study found that thousands of years ago, several cities in the Indus Valley, in what is today Pakistan and India, created a trade network that became a multicultural, multilingual civilization, and not a society founded on centralized authoritarian rule as previously believed. Many characteristics of this ancient civilization can be seen today in societies of southern Asia, and these links between the ancient and the modern are arousing researchers' interest.

The fresh image of the Indus civilization is being painted by a team of researchers led by Professor Emeritus Toshiki Osada of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, which is based in Kyoto. The results of five years of research, known as the Indus Project, were published in October by the Kyoto University Press as "Indus: Exploring the Fundamental World of South Asia" and "The Riddle of the Indus Civilization," both compiled by Osada.

The Japanese-led research team consisted of around 40 researchers from various countries. Two Indus civilization sites in India were excavated for the first time by a Japanese expedition. The team focused on changes to the ancient environment. Osada's conclusion from the research has been that "different regional communities created a loose network through trade."

Two of the more well-known ruins of the Indus civilization are Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, both in Pakistan. Currently, most researchers focus on the ruins of five major urban centers: the two famous sites; Pakistan's Ganeriwala, which is in a desert; India's Dholavira, which is on an island in a marsh; and Rakhigarhi, also in India.

The common view is that the desert sites used to have rivers other than the Indus flowing nearby. Researchers, led by Hideaki Maemoku, a physical geography expert and professor at Japan's Hosei University, examined the area around the desert ruins with a dating method based on mineral crystals. They learned that sand dunes in the area were shaped by a great river long before the Indus civilization existed. The conclusion is that the cities were built on these dunes only after the river was long gone.

At Dholavira, artifacts have been found that suggest thriving maritime trade. The most likely candidates for this trade are the ancient societies in Mesopotamia, which could have been reached via the Arabian Sea. The Indus Project used computers to plot changes to the coastline over the centuries to figure out where ancient shorelines would have been. Geological features were also studied and changes in terrain were estimated. All of this found that sea levels were around 2 meters higher and the coastline was much deeper inland. This suggests that many of the ruins in the area were along the ancient shoreline and that this part of the Indus civilization was dependent on the ocean.

The research has also tried to find out when and why the Indus civilization declined. When changes in the distribution of ruins are traced using what is called a geographic information system, ruins start to concentrate in northern India at the decline of the civilization. Tezukayama University professor Takao Uno, an expert in archaeological geographical information systems, points out: "Perhaps they abandoned cities and migrated in order to avoid changes in the environment. As a result, the role of various elements of the cities that supported their network may have waned, leading to the decline of cities."

European and U.S. researchers are also eager to learn more about the Indus civilization. Indus script has yet to be deciphered, which means there is much more to learn.


The process of wild cats turning into rodent-hunters, then pampered pets, and, eventually, enthusiastic Roomba riders, is poorly understood. But a new archaeological study suggests cats were domesticated much earlier, and over a much broader area, than previously believed.

Data on cat domestication is sparse. Remains of a wild cat were buried near a human on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus 9,500 years ago, but the oldest evidence of domestic cats comes from Egypt, 4,000 years ago. What cats were up to in the five millennia between the two discoveries is almost a complete mystery (though we suspect napping took up a good deal of that time).

In the new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers examined 5,300-year-old feline bones found in the excavated Neolithic village of Quanhucun, China. They determined that the animals were within the size range of modern domestic cats, rather than the larger Near Eastern wild cats from which domestic cats descended.

That discovery pushes back the earliest domestication of cats in China from approximately 2,000 years ago to over 5,000 years ago. This suggests that the cat-human relationship developed in the Near East and dispersed across Eurasia thousands of years earlier than previously believed.


It takes a lot of devotion to Egyptiana to earn the nickname “Mr. Mummy,” as Bob Brier has. His books and documentaries cover subjects from pyramids, mummies and tombs to the murder of King Tut (film rights optioned by the director of “Godzilla”), and he is an avid collector of the paraphernalia he calls Egyptotrash. So “Egyptomania” promises to be the most accessible, entertaining and kitschiest of his books so far.

But in 2011, Mr. Brier told a reporter for The New York Times that he was working on a book about the transportation of Egyptian obelisks to Paris, London and New York. This was a painstaking business, and “Egyptomania” covers it in detail. Each trip involved daunting feats of engineering, not to mention quick thinking. A lot of the book turns out to be about the pulleys, pontoons, windlasses, wooden supports and iron strapings that were needed to transport these artifacts. By far the most dramatic journey was the turbulent sea voyage of Cleopatra’s Needle from Egypt to its present home at Greywacke Knoll in Central Park, near the Metropolitan Museum.

Our organization the Archaeological Associates of Greenwich was delighted to hear the story about NYC's Central Park obelisk in 2013. On May 15, 2014, Mr. Mummy will return to the Bruce Museum in Greenwich to talk about this new book.


The Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) announced a state of emergency at all archaeological sites and museums in Egypt in order to deal with the possibility of terrorist attacks and sabotage by Muslim Brotherhood members, after the group was designated a terrorist organisation by the government.

Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim asked Major General Mumtaz Fathi, director of the general administration of the Tourism and Antiquities Police, to take all required measures to tighten security at Egyptian heritage sites.

Ibrahim also said that all vehicles will be prohibited from entering any archaeological site or from parking close to sites or museums.


In the last 20 years, some scientists have come to believe that Neanderthals had the ability to communicate with each other using speech, and new analysis of a fosilised hyoid bone has added weight to their claims.

The horseshoe-shaped bone in the neck looks like a modern human’s and now computer modelling has revealed that it was probably used in a similar way.

Read more:


The discovery of an ancient bone at a burial site in Kenya puts the origin of human hand dexterity more than half a million years earlier than previously thought.

In all ways, the bone - a well-preserved metacarpal that connects to the middle finger - resembles that of modern man, PNAS journal reports.

It is the earliest fossilised evidence of when humans developed a strong enough grip to start using tools.

Most important discoveries in 2013

Check out Scientific American's most important new information on ancient 'almost' and early human fossils that happened in 2013 at

too long for Archaeology Briefs!! But Happy New Year -- 2014!