Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Temple culture on Malta

Around one and a half millennia before the development of a complex culture of temple building which lasted for just over a millennium, settlers arrived on Malta from Sicily bringing agriculture and domestic animals and quickly deforesting the island.
The Temple Period civilization built the oldest free-standing stone structures in the world, covering the islands of Malta and Gozo with over 30 temple complexes during their 1100-year history, and leaving extensive evidence of complex rituals and animal sacrifices. Artwork flourished, and hundreds of statues have been discovered, around 15 percent of which are the famous 'fat ladies' - phallic and especially androgynous symbols are far more common.

Studies so far suggest the Temple-building culture did not suffer from any obvious disease, lack of food, or invasion. They simply came and left. "We cannot find a successor," says Professor Anthony Bonanno, of the University of Malta Department of Classics and Archaeology.

At a 1985 conference on Fertility Cults in the Mediterranean, amateur archaeologist Joseph Attard Tabone showed how he thought he had rediscovered the ancient Xaghra Stone circle, immortalized by the early 19th Century watercolor paintings of Charles de Brocktorff. Amazed by the revelation, world-leading archaeologist Colin Renfrew agreed to organize a dig.

By 1987, the British were back digging alongside a Maltese team. Seven years later, they had revealed a natural underground chamber enhanced by megalithic monuments, that probably lasted around 1500 years, until 2500 BCE - an extensive underground burial complex revealing a civilization whose complexity was unusual for its age.

Analysis of the bones shows the people were healthy. Trace elements left by eating copious amounts of fish or seafood are absent. Land snails seem to have been a preferred delicacy.

Accompanying all this was an overflow of art, with three forms of human representation. One is dressed, usually standing, and non-gendered, with elaborate hairstyles, belts, necklaces, and skirts. Another form is the naked fat figures, again mostly non-gendered though some are female. The last form includes phallic symbols, as well as domestic animals, reptiles and fish, birds, and other curious things.

Edited from Malta Today (22 December 2014)
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Remains of one of Scotland's oldest farming communities have been unearthed by diggers working on a tram line near Edinburgh Airport. The site is on a narrow ridge about 100 meters long, above the flood plain of the River Almond. Among the items discovered are flints from the Neolithic period, small blades of Arran pitchstone, and small quantities of pottery from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. Analysis of finds provides the most complete picture yet of the city's early settlement stretching back to almost 4,000 BCE - evidence of up to six phases of occupation.

Edinburgh City Council archaeology officer John Lawson says: "The excavations at Gogar have given us an important snapshot of how Edinburgh grew as it has given evidence from a wide range of periods, from early prehistoric Mesolithic hunter-gathering communities through to the medieval period.

Possibly the earliest evidence was pits containing hazelnut shells, which may be from Mesolithic hunter-gathers. These were found alongside a range of pits and post-holes dating from around the start of the Neolithic period in Scotland around 3,960 BCE, making it Edinburgh's - and one of Scotland's - first farming communities.

There then appears to be a large gap in occupation until the construction of a series of hut-circles around 2,200 to 2,000 BCE during the Early Bronze Age, then a 400-year gap to around 1,600-1,200 BCE. The largest site was a palisaded enclosure roughly 35 meters in diameter, dated to 700 to 540 BCE - the start of the Iron Age in that region."

Edited from The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News (28 December 2014)
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Under a conical hill in Turkey's central Anatolian province of Nevsehir is a city with tunnels wide enough for a car to pass. The city is thought to date back some 5,000 years and is located around the Nevsehir fortress. Escape galleries and hidden churches were also discovered inside the underground city. The area is known world-wide for its 'Fairy Chimneys' rock formations.

Ozcan Zakir, associate professor at the Geophysics Engineering department of the 18 March University and involved in the excavations of the underground city, says: "We believe that people, who were engaged in agriculture, were using the tunnels to carry agricultural products to the city. We also estimate that one of the tunnels passes under Nevsehir and reaches a faraway water source.

There is a fortress on top of a conical-shaped hill; it is alleged to belong to the Seljuks. We made geophysical measurements in an area of four square kilometers and the [underground] city was surrounding the fortress in circular forms." Zakir also says that two-thirds of the fortress seems to have been carved by means of the tunnels.

Edited from Hurriyet Daily News (7 January 2014)
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Archaeologists uncovered a 4,000-year-old copper crown in the village of Chandayan, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. According to Dr. Rakesh Tewari, the director general of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), this is only the second crown discovered at an Indus Valley site in either India or Pakistan.

"The person wearing the crown could be an important person of the society," said Dr. A.K. Pandey, the director of the excavation at Chandayan and a superintending archaeologist at ASI. "It is not known if in those days, people used it as a crown or just as a head gear," he said.

The copper crown, decorated with a Carnelian and a Fiance bead - both precious stones - was found on a skull and exposed by laborers while they extracting clay to make bricks in August 2014; ASI started excavating the site in early December.

During excavation, Pandey also found animal bones and mud pots at the same excavation depth as the burial site, but about 65 feet away. This suggests that an animal was sacrificed during a funeral ceremony for the person whose remains were found. According to Pandey, another piece of the same crown, a pelvic bone, and femur of the left leg of the person was unearthed along with 21 earthen pots. 150 feet away from the burial site, archaeologists also dug up a habitation site of the same period and found a compact floor, mud walls, and holes for fence posts

According to Pandey, the discovery is important because this is the first time evidence of a late Indus Civilization habitation was found so far east.

Edited from Epoch Times (1 January 2015)
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Sunday, January 25, 2015


In the biggest operation of its kind, Italian police have uncovered what they say is a treasure trove of more than 5,000 stolen antiquities.

The objects include splendidly decorated vases, delicate frescoes and statues, and fine bronze breastplates. The collection, which is believed to be worth more than 40m euros (£33m), was discovered during a series of raids on warehouses in Switzerland owned by a Sicilian art dealer.


A new study has used advanced imaging techniques to identify previously unknown tattoos on the ribcage of the 5300-year old man known as Ötzi, bringing his total number of tattoos to 61.


In September of 1991 hikers in the Ötzal Alps along the border of Austria and Italy happened upon the mummified corpse who became an archaeological celebrity. After Ötzi died at the hands of unknown attackers one late spring or early summer around 3500 BC, his body and belongings were left in a small gully where they were entombed beneath an alpine glacier. A combination of glacial meltwater and extreme cold resulted in natural mummification of his body.

Thanks to more than two decades of analysis, scientists arguably know more about Ötzi’s health and final days than those of any other ancient human. He died at around 45 years of age after being shot in the back with a stone-tipped arrow and bludgeoned. In the 12 hours preceding his death he climbed into the mountains from an Italian valley, and ate a last meal consisting of grains and ibex meat. Ötzi suffered a variety of ailments, including advanced gum disease, gallbladder stones, lyme disease, whipworms in his colon, and atherosclerosis. Researchers have sequenced Ötzi’s entire genome, identified a genetic predisposition to heart disease, and determined that he has 19 surviving male relatives in his genetic lineage. However, a new study shows the Iceman still has secrets left to reveal.


Ötzi was tattooed, and offers the earliest direct evidence that tattooing was practiced in Europe by at least the Chalcolithic period. However, until now it has been difficult to conclusively catalog all of his marks. Ötzi’s epidermis naturally darkened from prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures as he lay beneath the glacier, and as a result some of his tattoos became faint or invisible to the naked eye. Consequently previous studies have identified between 47 and 60 tattoos on the Iceman’s body.

For several decades scientists have recognized that advanced imaging techniques, and particularly the near-infrared spectral region, can be used to reveal faint or invisible tattoos on ancient mummified remains. These techniques are effective because the carbon that comprised most ancient tattoo ink absorbs certain wavelengths differently than the human epidermis. Therefore when mummified skin is illuminated using those wavelengths, carbon-based tattoos appears much darker than the surrounding untattooed skin.

The new examination of Ötzi by Marco Samadelli, Marcello Melis, Matteo Miccoli, Eduard Egarter Vigl, and Albert R. Zink consisted of non-invasive multispectral photographic imaging performed on the Iceman at his home in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. The researchers first slightly thawed Ötzi’s body, which is ordinarily kept at 21.2 °F, in order to eliminate the ice layer from his skin. On reaching 29.2 °F, he was photographed from all sides using a modified 36 MP digital SLR camera outfitted with filters to capture images in ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelengths. These images were then processed using specially-designed software capable of distinguishing and analyzing seven wavelength bands for every recorded pixel. This method, which the authors call “7-Band Hypercolorimetric Multispectral Imaging,” allows for detection of color differences even in the non-visible spectral range.

Samadelli and colleagues were able to detect a previously unrecorded group of tattoos on Ötzi’s lower right rib cage. Those marks consist of four parallel lines between 20 and 25 mm long and are invisible to the naked eye. According to the authors, these make up “the first tattoo … detected on the Iceman’s frontal part of the torso.”

The researchers also created a complete catalog of Ötzi’s tattoos. These include 19 groups of tattooed lines, for a total of 61 marks ranging from 1 to 3 mm in thickness and 7 to 40 mm in length. With the exception of perpendicular crosses on the right knee and left ankle, and parallel lines around the left wrist, the tattooed lines all run parallel to one another and to the longitudinal axis of the body. The greatest concentration of markings is found on his legs, which together bear 12 groups of lines.

While the different combinations of lines in Ötzi’s tattoos may have held some underlying symbolic meaning, it appears that their function was primarily medicinal or therapeutic. Previous research has revealed that 80% of the Iceman’s tattoos correspond to classic Chinese acupuncture points used to treat rheumatism, while other tattoos are located along acupuncture meridians used to treat ailments such as back pain and abdominal disorders, from which Ötzi also suffered.

The new study was published online this week in the Journal of Cultural Heritage.

Read more at http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113319184/scan-finds-new-tattoos-on-5300-year-old-iceman-012215/#TEH4M4Wr7VK2fmkD.99


Archaeologists in San Gabriel have uncovered an important piece of Southern California’s history: the foundation to an ancient water distribution system that has laid buried a few feet beneath the surface of the old Union Pacific Railroad tracks for more than century.Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority’s lead archaeologist John Dietler said the feature, a series of stone-lined ditches and reservoirs, is the missing piece of an important story behind the success of the San Gabriel Mission and ultimately the springboard to the growth of Los Angeles.

“What this represents in the bigger picture are the very roots of Los Angeles,” Dietler said. “Figuring out how to control water, bring it to people and to provide enough water to support a large population is really the key to the dense European settlement that ultimately flourished here in the Los Angeles Basin.”

Archaeologists believe what they’ve found is a precursor to Chapman’s Millrace, which was discovered during earlier phases of construction a few feet from the same site, located across the street from today’s mission building. “Some of the histories you read make it seem like Chapman showed up out of thin air and invented this idea, and basically he took something that was already here and just made it better — literally by stealing rocks from it and building right on top of it,” Dietler said.

In order to lay the groundwork for the ACE project, archaeologists have spent the past few years excavating a major trench through one of the most important archaeological sites in the entire country. Throughout the excavation process, archaeologists have discovered hundreds of thousands of artifacts and several features, including adobe brick foundations and water distribution systems.

With their findings, archaeologists are in the process of recreating a map to show how the community was laid out on the mission property, aside from the buildings that are still standing today. They have a list of more than 150 buildings, but the oldest map created 20 years after the mission closed shows only the location of three of them.

Although the artifacts will be documented and preserved, the features themselves will ultimately be destroyed. “These earlier things are unmortared cobbles. It’s big and impressive, but there’s nothing but dirt in between them,” Dietler said. “It would be virtually impossible to preserve them.”


Archaeologists working on the Micropasts public archaeology project hope to use a set of drawings and notes relating to artifacts from Wiltshire to create 3D models of some of the finest Bronze Age objects ever found in Britain. Jennifer Wexler, of the British Museum, where the Bronze Age Index set of cards is held, has examined more than 100 casual finds, lost items and objects from some of the famous barrow cemeteries on Salisbury Plain among the collection, providing detailed descriptions of antiquarian metalwork finds from the past two centuries.

“In the process of digitising the index we have come across a small collection of cards recording artifacts in the Wiltshire Museum,” she says. “These cards illustrate bronze objects found largely during 18th and 19th century antiquarian investigations of various barrow groups in the regions surrounding the monumental landscapes of Stonehenge and Avebury. “These include some of the famous barrow cemeteries found in Salisbury Plain, such as the Lake Down Group, Normanton Group bush barrow and Amesbury Curses.”

Researchers hope to recreate a rare crutch-headed bronze pin from the little-known Durrington site of Silk Hill, found with a skeleton and dated to between 2020 and 1770 BC. “We’ve got some of the best Bronze Age artifacts in the country here at Devizes, but Micropasts is interesting because it will benefit wider scholarship on the subject and people will be able to do some amazing things with the data,” predicts David Dawson, of the Wiltshire Museum.

“This information will eventually be integrated into the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, making it one of the largest records of prehistoric objects in the UK and the world.”

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Archaeologists from Beijing University have discovered a group of 30 tombs, 28 chariots and 49 pairs of horse skeletons dating back 2,800 years in Zaoyang city, Hubei Province in eastern China, 1,000 kilometers west of Shanghai.

The tombs date to the Spring and Autumn Period, 770 to 476 BCE. All the tombs have been found on the same piece of land, with a separate "mass grave" of at least 28 wooden chariots buried on their sides in a pit 33 meters long and 4 meters wide.

Liu Xu, a professor from the School of Archaeology and Museology of Beijing University, has said: "This chariot and horse pit is different from those discovered previously along the Yangtze River. The chariots and horses were densely buried. Many of the wheels were taken off and the [remaining] parts of the chariots were placed one by one."

In the three months they have been excavating, the archaeologists have also unearthed another pit, five meters away from the chariot pit, which holds at least 49 pairs of horse skeletons. Huang Wenxin, a researcher from the provincial archaeological institute, says that: "Judging from the way the horses were buried ...back to back, lying on their sides, it means that two horses pull one chariot."

So far over 400 pieces of bronze, pottery and other objects have been uncovered, including a bronze pot engraved with Old Chinese characters, a fine pottery container encircled by a dragon, and a thin flat metal item with Old Chinese characters painted on one side. Also discovered were some of the oldest musical instruments ever found in China, including a broken 25-string zither, and a 4.7 meter-long set of bronze chimes.

Edited from Intyernational Business Times (8 January 2015)
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A multi-purpose bone tool dating from the Neanderthal era has been discovered in France by University of Montreal researchers, throwing into question our current understanding of the evolution of human behavior.

"This is the first time a multi-purpose bone tool from this period has been discovered. It proves that Neanderthals were able to understand the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use it to make tools, abilities usually attributed to our species, Homo sapiens," said Luc Doyon of the university's Department of Anthropology, who participated in the digs.

Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia in the Middle Paleolithic between around 250,000 to 28,000 years ago,and production of bone tools by Neanderthals is open to debate. Prehistoric experts were reluctant to recognize the ability of this species to incorporate materials like bone into their technological know-how and likewise their ability to master the techniques needed to work bone. However, over the past two decades, many clues indicate the use of hard materials from animals by Neanderthals. "Our discovery is an additional indicator of bone work by Neanderthals and helps put into question the linear view of the evolution of human behaviour," Doyon said.

The tool in question was uncovered in June 2014 during the annual digs at the Grotte du Bison at Arcy-sur-Cure in Burgundy, France. Extremely well preserved, the tool comes from the left femur of an adult reindeer and its age is estimated between 55,000 and 60,000 years ago. Evidence of meat butchering and bone fracturing to extract marrow are evident on the tool. Percussion marks suggest the use of the bone fragment for carved sharpening the cutting edges of stone tools. Finally, chipping and a significant polish show the use of the bone as a scraper.

Edited from EurekAlert! (14 January 2015)
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