Friday, February 27, 2015


A rare Neolithic-era find of the skeletons of a couple embracing was found in excavations by the northern entrance of the Alepotrypa ('Foxhole') cave in southern Greece, on the Peloponnese peninsula. The Greek Culture Ministry now informs that DNA analyses show that the remains belong to a young couple, a man and a woman, both aged between 20 and 25, dating back almost 6,000 years and discovered next to numerous arrow heads.

The find is significant due to the corpses' antiquity and the fact that the man and woman were found entwined in an interlocking embrace, a very unusual position in archeological remains from this era. The researchers do not know how the couple died, but the fact they were buried together in this way suggests they died either at the same time, or during a similar time frame.

Both burials are part of a Neolithic cemetery in the greater area of the Neolithic Diros Cave, in western Mani, where excavations have yielded burials of children, embryos and adults dated from 4200 to 3800 BCE. According to most recent data and analyses, the cave appears to have been in use from Early to Final Neolithic (6000-3200 BCE) and served throughout as settlement and cemetery. At the end of the Final Neolithic (3200 BCE), a severe earthquake sealed the entrance of the cave and the remains of its inhabitants inside. The site has previously been linked with sparking myths about the Greek underworld god Hades.

Excavations began after an accidental discovery by speleologists Yiannis and Anna Petrocheilos in 1958. Excavations in the area were continued in 2014 under the honorary ephor of antiquities George Papathanassopoulos heading a committee of the Paleoanthropology Ephorate of Antiquities and the Speleological Society of Northern Greece.

Commenting on the finds, Dr. Papathanassopoulos said: "The type of burial in the foetal position is common in the Neolithic era, but the specific double burial in embrace is one of the earliest known examples. At some point, they will be exhibited in the museum."

Edited from Latin American Herald Tribune, EuroNews, Mail Online, Greece Reporter (13 February 2015)
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More than 30 years ago archaeologist Jonathan Driver was part of the team that uncovered one of the rarest finds in Canadian history - evidence of human occupation in northern British Columbia dating to the end of the last ice age.

Charlie Lake cave contained some of the oldest human remains in western Canada, as well as specialized weapons used to hunt large mammals, and animal skeletons suggesting ceremonial practices. The cave itself is not threatened by the planned construction of a dam and 83 kilometer long reservoir on the Peace River, starting in the summer of 2015, however hundreds of other sites will be flooded.

Dr Driver, a professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University, says: "The Peace River was a well-travelled route between the lowlands and the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains. It goes down deep, so you can follow the history of people in the Peace River just as the ice age is ending and the first animals and plants and then people are moving into a brand new land, and at this site you can follow that for 12,000 years."

Field work to create a heritage inventory in 2010 found 26 Class 1 palaeontology finds - rare or especially well-preserved and diverse fossils - as well as almost 300 archaeological sites, plus heritage sites of the earliest European settlers. Sites and artifacts which cannot be saved will be studied. The prehistory of the area is still being pieced together. Recently, a local farmer donated boxes of artefacts including 8,000-year-old pieces of obsidian from faraway quarries, indicating a vast trading network.

The province has approved construction knowing that what it terms 'heritage resources' will disappear. With construction set to begin in June, there is little time left to preserve this part of British Columbia's history.

Edited from The Globe and Mail (1 February 2015)
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A team of scientists has developed a mathematical technique that can work out how and when changes occurred to words in different languages, giving researchers the potential to turn the clock of human speech back thousands of years.

A leading evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading (UK) working with colleagues from the Santa Fe Institute (USA), professor Mark Pagel has detected these 'concerted sound changes', where a specific sound changes to another sound simultaneously in many different words. His team use statistical estimates of rates of lexical replacement for a range of vocabulary items in the Indo-European languages. The variation in replacement rates makes the most common vocabulary items promising candidates for estimating the divergence between pairs of languages.

The model was tested on the evolution of Turkic, a family of at least 35 languages spoken by peoples from southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Siberia and Western China, identifying more than 70 regular sound changes that occurred throughout the 2000 year history of the language group.

Pagel says: "Intriguingly, this concerted linguistic change has a parallel in genetics where the same changes can happen to several different genes simultaneously."

Pagel's research offers a fascinating picture of how our 7,000 living idioms have evolved, documenting shared patterns in the way we use language, and exploring the reasons why some words succeed and others become obsolete. His results suggest that forms of some common words used by Ice Age people living in Europe 15,000 years ago could still be recognized today.

Edited from PhysOrg (10 February 2015)


In 1891 a civil engineer from Bacup, Lancashire (England) was excavating in the Little Orme: one of two promontories which flank the town beach at Llandudno, on the coast of North Wales. What he discovered was a Neolithic female skeleton, dated at approximately 3,500 BCE. For whatever reason, the skeleton returned with the engineer to Bacup and it has remained there ever since.

Affectionately titled 'Blodwen', paying respect to her native Wales, research of her bones suggests she died between the age of 54 and 63 - which was remarkable for its time - was about 5ft (1.52m), of robust build, and probably from a farming community. She had arthritis in both her spine and knees and at the time of her death she was also suffering from secondary cancer.

For several years a Welsh historian, Frank Dibble, campaigned for the return of the ancient remains but sadly he passed away before he could achieve his ambition. Now the Stone Age skeleton is returning home after spending 120 years in England. Although the return is a permanent donation from the Bacup Natural History Society, there is still quite a cost involved in housing the exhibition. Fortunately the funds needed have been raised from a variety of sources and it is expected that a permanent exhibition will be opened to the public in April 2015, and will depict Llandudno in Neolithic times, with the skeleton as a centerpiece.

Edited from Daily Post (16 February 2015)
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Friday, February 13, 2015


from the Wall St. Journal (Feb. 11, 2015):

This is a fabulous news article: for the full story, contact the Wall St. Journal!

On the Turkey/Syria border: in a hotel basement on the Turkish side of this combat scarred frontier, a group of unlikely warriors is training to fight on a little-known front of Syria's civil war: the battle for the country's cultural heritage. The recruits aren't grizzled fighters but graying academics, more at home on an archaeological dig than a battlefield. For months, they have journeyed across war-torn regions of Syria, braving shelling, smugglers and the jihadists of Islamic State. Their mission: to save ancient artifacts and imperiled archaeological sites from profiteers, desperate civilians and fundamentalists who have plundered Syria's rich artistic heritage to fund their war effort.

Art historians and intelligence officials say that antiquities smuggling by Islamic State has exploded in recent months, aggravating the pillaging by government forces and opposition factions. Looting, often with bulldozers, is now the militant group's second largest course of finance after oil, Western intelligence officials say.

"What started as opportunistic theft by some has turned into organized transnational business that is helping fund terror," said Michael Danti, an archaeologist at Boston University who is advising the U.S. State Dept. on how to tackle the problem

In sessions at this secret location, the loose-knit band of academics is being trained how to fight back. They are instructed on how to get to key sits and document both what is there and what is already missing. Another skill: how to hide precious objects that maybe be at risk of looting and record the GPS locations so they can be retrieved at a later date. The group also uses disguises: posing as antiques dealers to take photographs of looted artifacts....

In neighboring Iraq, Islamic State is also looting and destroying ancient sites on an alarming scale, according to satellite imagery, anthropologists and government officials. In recent days, the militants destroyed a large portion of the ancient city wall at Nineveh in Iraq which dates back 27i00 years and was once the capitol of the Assyrian Empire. ...

In Islamic State controlled territory around Mesopotamian city of Mari, a longtime trade hub ... more than 1,300 excavation pits have been dug in the past few months,...

Syria's monuments men, a group of academics, archaeologists and volunteers are seeking to halt the plunder at its source. Formed in 2012 by the Damascus University trained archaeologist and another Syrian archaeologist colleague, the group started informally cataloging damage to sites in battle scarred Idib and Aleppo provinces. The founders enlisted Syrian colleagues and friends from universities, museums and government directorates and later, European and American specialists joined as advisers..... The group is now a 200 strong network stretching across rebel-held Syria. ...
Just getting to the training camp was a challenge. At the border, the group was trapped between shellfire and warring Syrian factions and the rotating searchlights of Turkey's border guards. Dressed in suits, they sheltered face down in a muddy ditch for six hours before it was safe to be smuggled across the frontier into Turkey. ...

The Damascus trained archaeologist said lack of resources and the dangerous nature of their work has limits what they can achieve on the ground. "This isn't just about history, It's about our future," he said. "Saving our heritage is the only thing that can help us rebuild an inclusive SyriaThi after the war."

On Line: See more photos and a video on efforts to protect Syrian's cultural sites at

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


An early European settler in Australia described stories told by the Aboriginal people of a time when three islands off the southwest coast near Perth "formed part of the mainland, and that the intervening ground was thickly covered with trees." In one story those trees caught fire and burned "with such intensity that the ground split asunder with a great noise, and the sea rushed in between, cutting off these islands from the mainland." Researchers recently matched this and other Aboriginal stories to real events. The sea did rush in at the end of the last glacial period, about 7,500 to 8,900 years ago.

Another Aboriginal community tells of a time when the northeast shoreline reached to the Great Barrier Reef, recalling a river that flowed into the sea at what is now Fitzroy Island, near the city of Cairns. John Upton, writing for Climate Central, says: "The great gulf between today's shoreline and the reef suggests that the stories tell of a time when seas were more than 200 feet (60 meters) lower than they are today, placing the story's roots at as many as 12,600 years ago."

Nicholas Reid, a linguist specializing in Aboriginal Australian languages, told Upton. "It's almost unimaginable that people would transmit stories about things like islands that are currently underwater accurately across 400 G
generations." Reid worked with Patrick Nunn, a geography professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast, to match the stories with the land and how it has changed. A preliminary draft of their work makes the case for 18 Aboriginal stories describing coastal flooding at the end of the last ice age, and argues that researchers should look to old stories when building a picture of our world.

Edited from (26 January 2015)
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A quote out of the New York Times columnist Frank Bruni I think should be repeated for everyone and college students interested in archaeology and history:

And its dangerous in a democracy, college isn't just about making better engineers but about making better citizens, ones whose eyes have been opened in the sweep of history and the spectrum of civilizations.

Friday, February 06, 2015


A routine security check turned into a veritable treasure hunt, when the Antiquities Authority discovered a Beit Shemesh man had in his possession hundreds of ancient coins and artifacts, the has announced. According to the authority’s Robbery Prevention Unit, the unidentified man, who is in his 50s, was initially detained at an antiquities site in the Beit Shemesh area, when police determined he was carrying digging tools in his bag.

The suspect was taken for questioning at a nearby police station, where officers contacted the Robbery Prevention Unit, whose investigators proceeded to interrogate him. The man denied he was searching for antiquities and claimed to know nothing about ancient coins. However, a subsequent search of his home later that evening uncovered roughly 800 bronze coins, ancient bronze objects, jewelry and metal cleaning equipment, the authority said. “Among the coins found in the suspect’s home and identified by Antiquities Authority researchers were Persian coins from the 5th century BCE, and the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods,” the Robbery Prevention Unit said in a statement. Upon further questioning, the suspect confessed he was searching for the ancient coins using a metal detector, the authority said.

Dr. Ethan Klein, deputy director of the Robbery Prevention Unit, said searching for coins at ancient sites is a serious criminal offense. “Ancient coins provide archeologists with important information from history,” Klein said. “The most comprehensive information is embedded in them, including the date, name of the ruler at the time, and place of production.” Moreover, Klein said this valuable information provides archeologists with a glimpse of the historical events that took place in ancient times. “Displacing ancient coins causes irreparable harm and does not allow the recovery of information, and actually erases an entire chapter of the history of the ancient site,” he said.

Following the investigation, the suspect was released under restrictive conditions, the authority said, adding that in the coming days formal criminal charges will be brought against him.

According to the Robbery Prevention Unit, damage to an archeological site is punishable by up to five years in prison.


The subterranean settlement was discovered in the Nevşehir province of Turkey’s Central Anatolia region, in the historical area of Cappadocia. Cappadocia is famous in archaeological circles for its large number of underground settlement. But the site, located around the Nevşehir hill fort near the city of Kayseri, appears to dwarf all other finds to date. Mehmet Ergün Turan, the head of Turkey’s housing development administration, said the discovery was made during the groundwork for a housing project meant to develop the area.

Derinkuyu underground city, to the south of Nevşehir city “It is not a known underground city. Tunnel passages of seven kilometers are being discussed. We stopped the construction we were planning to do on these areas when an underground city was discovered,” Mr Turan told Turkish publication Hurriyet Daily News. The agency has already spent 90 million Turkish liras (£25m) on the development project, but the organization's head said he did not see the money spent as a loss due to the magnitude of the historical discovery. The upper reaches of the city were first spotted last year but it was not until now that the size of the discovery became apparent. The organization has so far taken 44 historical objects under preservation from the site.

Nevşehir province’s most renown underground settlement is Derinkuyu, a multi-level city large enough to house many thousands of people and their livestock. It lies within an hour’s drive south of the new discovery. The town of Nevşehir, on whose outskirts the new underground city was discovered Derinkuyu, believed to date to the 8th century BC, was most recently inhabited by Christians until 1923 when they were expelled during a population exchange with Greece.

It has since laid uninhabited and draws visitors from around the world.


The so-called Islamic State group is threatening to destroy the walls of Nineveh, the ancient capital of the Assyrian empire, in what would be its latest act of cultural vandalism.

People living in the Bab Nergal area of Mosul, close to the historic site of Nineveh, said militants told them they would destroy the walls if the Iraqi army attacked, a report claims. Nineveh was once the largest city in the world, with a population of as many as 150,000 people in 700 BC. Although it now lies ruins, it is still surrounded by a mostly intact 7.5-mile brick rampart.

Over the past month the Islamic State has seized hundreds of Assyrian relics from Mosul's cultural museum as well as destroyed Assyrian monuments in the city, which it claims 'distort Islam', AINSA reported. Assyrians believe themselves to be Iraq's original indigenous people, with a documented history stretching back to 4750BC. They now comprise 95 per cent of the country's Christian population.

Nearly 200,000 were forced to flee their homes around the Nineveh plain last summer as Islamic State made its lightning advance across Iraq. Most now live as refugees in Iraq's Kurdish areas.

Read more:


A total of 12,000 antiquities have been renovated to be displayed at the museum, Damaty said adding that other 5,000 pieces will be renovated within a period of six months. Mehleb praised the work done and said that “the museum location facing the Pyramids is one of finest places across the world.”

The museum is being built on an area of 117 acres on Cairo-Alexandria desert road. It’s scheduled to contain around 100,000 antiquities that show development of Pharaonic civilization. The project is being carried out through three phases at costs of around LE5 billion including a loan from Japan International Cooperation Agency which facilitated US$300 million to fund the third phase to be paid back 10 years after the opening of the museum at very low interests. The last phase will take around 40 months starting signing of the contract. The museum is set to be opened in an international ceremony in August.


Somewhere along the journey from ape to human, our ancestors developed hands that were better suited to holding tools than climbing trees. A new study suggests the transition took place as much as 3.2 million years ago — about 600,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Researchers studying the palm and thumb bones of early hominids in South Africa were surprised to find some distinctly human characteristics. Wear patterns in the bones suggested that the hominids had tightly gripped tools using an opposable thumb and fingers, much the way one would hold a hammer.

“It’s not just that they could oppose their fingers and thumbs, but that they could do it very forcefully and that they were doing it on a regular-enough basis to leave a signal inside the bone,” said Matthew Skinner, an anthropologist at the University of Kent and the lead author of the study. The result, he added, is similar to the wear seen in the hand bones of modern humans.

The earliest stone tools in the archaeological record are just 2.6 million years old. Those tools, unearthed in the 1950s, have long fueled the belief among scientists that hominids evolved the ability to use tools somewhere around that time. But that idea has been challenged in recent years by the discovery of 3.4-million-year-old animal bones with markings that seem to have been made by stone tools.

The current study, published in the journal Science, adds to the evidence that tools may have been in use at that time, Dr. Skinner said.


Anthropologists exploring a cave in Israel have uncovered a rare 55,000-year-old skull fossil that they say has a story to tell of a reverberating transition in human evolution, at a point when and where some early humans were moving out of Africa and apparently interbreeding with Neanderthals.

The story is of when the Levant was a corridor for anatomically modern humans who were expanding out of Africa and then across Eurasia, replacing all other forms of early human-related species. Given the scarcity of human fossils from that time, scholars say, these ancestors of present-day non-African populations had remained largely enigmatic.

From the new fossil find, which could be closely related to the first modern humans to colonize Stone Age Europe, it appears that these people already had physical traits a bit different from the Africans they were leaving behind and many other human inhabitants along the corridor.

The discovery in Manot Cave in western Galilee, made in 2008 and subjected to years of rigorous analysis, was reported recently in the journal Nature by an international team of researchers led by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University. They said this was “the first fossil evidence from the critical period when genetic and archaeological models predict that African modern humans successfully migrated out of Africa and colonized Eurasia.”

The researchers further concluded that the Manot specimen “provides important clues about the morphology of modern humans in close chronological proximity to a probable interbreeding event with Neanderthals.” They also noted that the shape of the cranium established this as a fully modern human at a time when warmer and wetter conditions were favorable for human migration out of Africa. In other words, Dr. Hershkovitz said in an interview, the Manot cranium “is the missing connection between African and European populations.”

Scientists not involved with the research team praised the “fascinating new fossil” and the cautious interpretation of its broader implications in understanding the early migrations into Eurasia. “This fossil fits previous predictions,” said Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York, “which is a nice rarity in our field.”

The partial skull, designated Manot 1, is of a fairly small adult individual, its sex undetermined. The distinctive bunlike shape at the base of the skull resembles modern African and European skulls but differs from other anatomically modern humans from the Levant, and is thus a strong clue that these were among the first humans to settle Europe, scientists said.

One concern is that the fossil skull is fairly small, with a somewhat lower braincase capacity than in modern humans. With only one specimen, it is hard to know whether this is normal for the general population, scientists said. And Dr. Delson said it would be interesting to test for DNA in the skull to support its possible hybrid status in a time of overlapping modern human-Neanderthal populations when early humans were making their way, as he phrased it, to “that small zoological backwater of Eurasia known as Europe.”

Excavations at Manot Cave are expected to continue through at least 2020, searching deeper for more fossils and artifacts from the migrating people. Israel, Dr. Hershkovitz said, “is like a Swiss cheese, lots of caves everywhere.”

Several caves in the vicinity of Manot were occupied for long times by Neanderthals between 65,000 and 50,000 years ago. In this respect, Dr. Hershkovitz said, Manot is an excellent place to search for possible hybrids, but they may be difficult to recognize from surface features. “Only DNA study will solve the problem,” he said.