Sunday, September 21, 2014


A 2,000-year-old story of terror and devastation has been brought to light during renovation work at an English department store, revealing one of the finest collections of Roman jewelry as well as human remains of people who were slaughtered at the site. The jewelry had been undisturbed since 61 A.D. in Colchester, some 50 miles northeast of London. It was found in a wooden box and bags under a department store in the town’s high street.

The small treasure includes three gold armlets, a silver chain necklace, two silver bracelets, a silver armlet, a small bag of coins and a small jewelry box containing two sets of gold earrings and four gold finger-rings. According to Philip Crummy, the director of Colchester Archaeological Trust who excavated the area, the jewelry belonged to a wealthy Roman woman who may not have survived to recover her treasure.

“The find is a particularly poignant one because of its historical context,” Crummy said in a statement. “It seems likely that the owner or perhaps one of her slaves buried the jewelry inside her house for safe-keeping during the early stages of the Boudican Revolt, when prospects looked bleak,” he added. The revolt against the Roman rule was led from 60-61 A.D. by the warrior Queen Boudicca of the Iceni, a British tribe. In her unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Romans, Boudicca, also known as Boadicea, managed to burn to the ground three towns. Colchester was her first target.

“The inhabitants knew a large British army was marching towards them and they knew that they were practically defenseless with only a small force of soldiers on hand and no town defenses,” Crummy said. “Imagine their panic and desperation when they learned of the massacre of a large part of the Roman Ninth Legion on its way to relieve them,” he added. Terrified, the Roman woman hastily hid her valuable jewelry in a small pit dug in the floor of her house, hoping to come back and recover her belongings. But after a two day siege, the fate of her home was sealed.

Near the jewelry, Crummy and his team found vivid evidence of the last dramatic moments in the house. Foodstuff including dates, figs, wheat, peas and grain lay burnt black on the floor with a collapsed wooden shelf. The ingredients were carbonized by the heat of the fire so their shapes were preserved perfectly. In the thick red and black debris layer left by the revolt, the archaeologists also found human remains which include part of a jaw and shin bone. They appear to have been cut by a sword.

As reported by the ancient historian Dio Cassius, during the sacking of Colchester the “noblest” of the women were taken to sacred groves where they were killed in a horrific way. “The quality of the jewelry suggests that the owner would have been in this category, although there is no direct evidence to indicate that she ended up in a sacred grove,” the statement said.

As the excavation continues, the archaeologists expect to find more artifacts.


As the author of Stonehenge with Caroline Malone (Oxford University Press) new facts astound me!!

The earliest known smiley face may lie under Stonehenge, according to a high tech survey of the enigmatic circle of giant stones and its surroundings. The unusual feature emerged as archaeologists from Birmingham and Bradford universities and from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute in Vienna scanned over a 7.4-square-mile area around Stonehenge.
The four-year project, which is the largest geophysical survey ever undertaken, used advanced geophysical technologies such as powerful ground-penetrating radar, which can detect buried features to a depth of up to 13 feet.

The survey was able to reveal in minute details 17 unknown henge-like religious monuments, some 20 enigmatic pits which appear to form astronomic alignments, and hundred of archaeological features around the Wiltshire monument.
The smiley-face-like feature dates to about the same period when Stonehenge achieved its iconic shape, between 3,000 and 2,500 B.C. It’s among some new types of monument never seen before at Stonehenge. According to archaeologists, the Stonehenge smiley is a prehistoric ring ditch with internal or earlier features. “The area around Stonehenge is teeming with previously unseen archaeology,” project leader Vincent Gaffney, chair in Landscape Archaeology and Geomatics at the University of Birmingham, said.

The new findings show the enigmatic stone circle wasn’t standing in splendid isolation on the edge of Salisbury Plain. On the contrary, it was the center of a rich ceremonial landscape that expanded over time. “You’ve got Stonehenge which is clearly a very large ritual structure which is attracting people from large parts of the country. But around it people are creating their own shrines and temples. We can see the whole landscape is being used in very complex ways,” Gaffney was reported as saying at the British Science Festival. In some cases, such as with the Stonehenge smiley, the magnetic data images revealed patterns of circles, spirals and lines. The images basically showed ancient ditches and post holes, all relatively small monuments between 32 and 65 ft across.

But the high tech survey also revealed much larger features. One of the most significant findings was made a short distance from Stonehenge at the Durrington Walls “superhenge,” the largest ritual monument of its type with a circumference of 0.93 miles. The survey showed this “superhenge” was originally flanked with a row of massive posts or stones, perhaps up to 10 feet high and up to 60 in number.“Some may still survive beneath the massive banks surrounding the monument,” the archaeologists said.

One of the most intriguing feature to emerge from the geophysical survey was a 108-foot-long burial mound. Dating to before Stonehenge, it contained a massive wooden building which was probably a house of the dead. The site housed bizarre burial rituals which included exposure of the dead bodies and defleshing on a large court. “New monuments have been revealed, as well as new types of monument that have previously never been seen by archaeologists. All of this information has been placed within a single digital map, which will guide how Stonehenge and its landscape are studied in the future,” Gaffney said.

“Stonehenge may never be the same again,” he concluded.


The situation might not have been pretty, but Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were both living in Europe at the same time for around 5,400 years, according to a new study that has many other implications. For starters, it’s now possible that Neanderthals and our species mated and otherwise interacted for some 20,000 years.

“Significant interbreeding between Neanderthals and early modern humans had probably already occurred in Asia more than 50,000 years ago, so the dating evidence now indicates that the two populations could have been in some kind of contact with each other for up to 20,000 years, first in Asia then later in Europe,” Chris Stringer, research leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum in London, explained. “This may support the idea that some of the changes in Neanderthal and early modern human technology after 60,000 years ago can be attributed to a process of acculturation between these two human groups,” Stringer said.

For the study, published in the latest issue of the journal Nature, project leader Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford and his colleagues obtained new radiocarbon dates for around 200 samples of bone, charcoal and shell from 40 key European archaeological sites ranging from Russia in the east to Spain in the west. The sites were either previously linked to the Neanderthal tool-making industry, known as Mousterian, or were so-called “transitional” sites containing stone tools associated with either our species or Neanderthals. The results showed that both human groups overlapped for a significant period, giving what Higham and his team say was “ample time” for interaction and interbreeding.

Stringer said, “Neanderthals are our closest-known relatives, and research has recently shown that nearly all humans alive today have a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes. This interbreeding probably occurred soon after small groups of early modern humans began to leave their African homeland about 60,000 years ago.” The “small percentage” isn’t necessarily because so few interbred. Also, other studies have concluded that one-fifth (and possibly more) of the Neanderthal genome survives in modern humans and influences skin color, hair color and texture, and other traits.

As for what happened to the Neanderthals afterward, researchers still aren’t entirely sure. The new chronology established by the paper suggests that Neanderthals may have survived in dwindling populations in pockets of Europe before they became extinct. “Extinct” is also somewhat of a loaded term, because Neanderthals and their culture were absorbed into the modern human population. Their distinctiveness as a separate species, however, bit the evolutionary dust. As Stringer said, “Neanderthals had largely, and perhaps entirely, vanished from their known range by 39,000 years ago.” He mentioned that this point in time intriguingly coincides with a long spell of miserable weather — cold and dry conditions — throughout much of Europe. The climactic event, he said, might have “delivered the coup de grâce to a Neanderthal population that was already low in numbers and genetic diversity, and trying to cope with economic competition from incoming groups of Homo sapiens.”


An engraving carved into dolomite stone more than 39,000 years old in a seaside Gibraltar cave suggests that Neanderthals were capable of symbolic thinking—once thought unique to modern humans, researchers reported recently.
Neanderthals, extinct human cousins who left genetic traces in modern people, seem to have vanished from Europe around 40,000 years ago. That was around the time early modern humans arrived.

Among the advantages that may have allowed those new arrivals to out-compete the Neanderthals were symbolic thought and language. But the cross-hatched cave carving, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, points to art and symbolic thought among Neanderthals as well.

"Originally, we could not quite believe what we had found and had to convince ourselves it was real," says Gibraltar Museum director Clive Finlayson, who headed the study team. "Is it art? Is it a doodle? I don't know, but it is clearly an abstract design." When Neanderthals lived inside what is now Gorham's Cave, the site of the discovery, the region was rich with prey, mostly deer, but also predators such as hyenas. The researchers discovered the engraving in excavations on a small ledge nearly 330 feet (100 meters) into the cave.

"We can definitely say it is more than 39,000 years old, a time when there were no modern humans near Gibraltar," Finlayson says. A soil layer above the bedrock ledge contains Neanderthal tools, the team reports, and chemical Analysis of the carving's patina points to its age. "I think that this will stir up an extremely lively controversy, and people will no doubt argue," says paleoanthropologist Gilliane Monnier of the University of Minnesota, an expert on ancient stone tools. She thinks it's likely that the engraving is the work of Neanderthals, and agrees it dates to their era.

Early modern people made cave art throughout Europe and traded shell beads as far back as 75,000 years ago in Africa. Neanderthals didn't leave much behind in the way of decoration, in contrast, although they did care for their infirm and bury their dead. What evidence exists for Neanderthal symbolic thought is much disputed—hints of ocher pigments seen at burial sites, for example, may have been left over from tanning hides. And debate has simmered for decades oover whether hand stencils and carvings from about 40,800 years ago in Spain's El Castillo cave were made by Neanderthals or early modern humans. No bones or tools remain at the site to help settle the dispute.

But now, underneath a layer of Neanderthal "rubbish" at Gorham's Cave, says Finlayson, the study team found the cross-hatched carving of lines roughly six inches (15 centimeters) long. "These are abstract, almost geometric shapes," he says. Tests with copies of Neanderthal stone points show that the carving was made by stone points being dragged across the ledge's hard dolomite at least 54 times. Experiments also show that cutting skins against the dolomite would not have produced the pointed grooves of the engraving.

The team suggests the ledge at the rear of the cave is where Neanderthals rested, protected behind fires at night from Europe's long-ago predators: lions, hyenas, and wolves. "It was a perfect place to rest and carve something," Finlayson says. No evidence exists that modern humans were in this region of Europe more than 39,000 years ago, which leaves only Neanderthals to explain the engraving.


The skull of an ancient human ancestor fails to show evidence of the type of brain expansion typically seen in modern human infants, according to a new study. The "Taung child" fossil is known as the first and best example of early brain evolution in hominins, the group containing humans and their extinct relatives.

A recent study had suggested that features of the specimen allowed the Taung child's brain to grow well into infancy, as occurs in modern human children. But new brain scans of the Taung fossil show it lacks these features, suggesting the postnatal brain growth seen in modern humans may not have evolved until the rise of the Homo species, states a new study published today (Aug. 25) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The Homo species evolved about 2.5 million years ago. [Top 10 Mysteries of the First Humans]

Australian anthropologist Raymond Dart, who worked at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, unearthed the Taung specimen in Taung, South Africa in 1924. The fossil, which is thought to be roughly 3 million to 4 million years old, is a well-preserved cast of the inside of the cranium, known as an endocast. It was the first known fossil of Australopithecus africanus, an extinct close hominid relative of humans. It's unusual to find such a well-preserved endocast, and juveniles are very rare in the hominin fossil record, so the Taung child remains a hot subject of study, Carlson told Live Science.

In the new study, Kristian Carlson (an anthropologist at the U. of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg) and his colleagues took the first computerized tomography, or CT, scans of the Taung fossil. The scans failed to find any sign of these human-infant skull features. What's more, the researchers say these features may not even result in the evolutionary benefits they supposedly confer, Carlson said. The researchers suggest other hominin fossils should be re-examined using the same scanning technology. "We've demonstrated the misdiagnosis in Taung, and we believe it would be prudent to assess whether the presence of these features — unfused metopic sutures and open anterior fontanelles — may have been misdiagnosed in the additional specimens," Carlson said.

The findings may be controversial, though Carlson suspects they will confirm what many people in the field already think. "But hopefully there will still be a lively debate to advance the science aspects forward," he said.

Friday, September 19, 2014


Nick Bellantoni, the Connecticut State Archaeologist, who recently stepped down after over 30 years of digging up the past across the Nutmeg state, was in town last night for a talk at the Bruce Museum on his participation in the exhumation, forensic work, and final repatriation of a Lakota Sioux Indian to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

According to Nancy Bernard, of the Archaeological Associates of Greenwich, the group that hosted him, Bellantoni’s talk was “fabulous.”

Before Bellantoni’s talk there was a moment to ask him a question begging to be asked. With all the deep digging that goes on in Greenwich, both for housing and for commercial sites, what if old relics or historic objects are found? What is the law of the land? Are these items routinely delivered over to Town authorities? What is his experience in this area?

“I’m called in only if human remains are found at construction sites,” he says. Other countries like England and France, etc, he says, stop construction when any relics or bones or pottery chards are uncovered.

The modus operandi in Connecticut towns Bellantoni says is if there’s any expectation a site will deliver important artifacts or early habitation, the Planning and Zoning is to be notified before any digging is done.

Bellantoni reported he will continue to teach – this semester he’ll be at the University of Connecticut teaching an introductory course in anthropology. But he’ll doubtfully not put more miles on his Chevy 10 truck which had accumulated 223,000 miles in his exploratory work across the state.

Reporter: Anne Semmes of the Greenwich Time.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Evidence that the outer stone circle at Stonehenge was once complete has been found - parch marks in the grass, in an area that had not been watered, have revealed places where two 'missing' huge sarsen stones may once have stood. Previous scientific techniques such as geophysics failed to find any evidence.

Historians have long debated whether Stonehenge was a full or incomplete circle, with some arguing a lack of stones in the south-west quadrant is proof it was never complete. A scientific paper which adds weight to the 'complete' theory has been published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity. The parch marks - areas where the grass does not grow as strongly as in other areas during hot, dry weather - were first noticed in July last year.

Susan Greaney, from English Heritage, said the discovery seemed to indicate the positions of missing stones. "If these stone holes actually held upright stones then we've got a complete circle," she said. "A lot of people assume we've excavated the entire site and everything we're ever going to know about the monument is known. But actually there's quite a lot we still don't know and there's quite a lot that can be discovered just through non-excavation methods," Ms Greaney added.

Ms Greaney said a high resolution geophysical survey conducted a few years ago had failed to pick up evidence of the holes. "It's great that people who know the site really well and look at it every day were able to spot these parch marks and recognize them for what they were. We maintain the grass with watering when it's very dry in the summer, but our hosepipe doesn't reach to the other side of the stone circle. If we'd had a longer hosepipe we might not have been able to see them," she concluded.

Tim Daw, the English Heritage steward who spotted the parch marks, said: "I was standing on the public path looking at the grass near the stones and thinking that we needed to find a longer hosepipe to get the parched patches to green up. A sudden light bulb moment in my head, and I remembered that the marks were where archaeologists had looked without success for signs that there had been stone holes, and that parch marks can signify them. Not being archaeologists we called in the professionals to evaluate them. I am still amazed and very pleased that simply really looking at something, that tens of thousands of people had unwittingly seen, can reveal secrets that sophisticated machinery can't."

Edited from BBC News (30 August 2014)
[2 images, 1 drawing]


The story of the inter-action and inter-breeding of Modern Man with Neanderthals is an ever changing one. As analytical techniques become more sophisticated and accurate then the picture becomes clearer. The latest technique to be applied uses ultra-filtering of samples, to eliminate any form of contamination, thus making the subsequent analysis more accurate.

Using this technique on analysis of samples of bone and charcoal from several Russian sites seems to shift the evidence to show that Neanderthals were actually starting to die out, before they inter-acted with Modern Man, who was not therefore, on this evidence, the cause of their extinction.

The decline started between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, with Modern Man appearing on the scene only 35,000 years ago. there was an overlapping period of about 2,500 years when both species co-existed and inter-bred. It is now hoped to widen the research to eastern Europe and Eurasia, to corroborate these findings.

Edited from LiveScience (20 August 2014)
[2 images]


The Central great Plains is a semi-arid Eco region of North America, covering large parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. A team from the University of Kansas, lead by Professor Rolfe Mandel, have been excavating in an area of Kansas, within this Eco region, to try ad find evidence of settlements by Clovis, and even Pre Clovis peoples.

The excavations are part of a project run by the University to give their undergraduates and graduates field experience. The team has concentrated its efforts in an area known as Tuttle Creek and several artifacts have been discovered, including projectiles and drills, The team is currently awaiting the results of the analysis of the sediment the artifacts were buried in. They are hoping that the official results will confirm their belief that these artifacts could be older than 13,500 years, which would make them the earliest finds so far within the Central Great Plains area.

Professor Mandel is quite excited by his team's finds and is quoted as saying "We all have inherent interest in history, so this tells us something about the early occupants of the Great Plains and this part of the Great Plains. It will tell us a lot about the history of the peopling of the Americas and in particular the peopling of the Great Plains, where it's been pretty much a black hole in terms of unraveling that story".

Edited from PhysOrg (29 August 2014)
[2 images, 1 video]