Monday, September 05, 2016


Recently discovered multiple assemblages of Homo erectus footprints in northern Kenya provide unique opportunities to understand our ancient ancestors. Using novel analytical techniques, researchers have demonstrated that the footprints preserve evidence of a modern human style of walking and a group structure consistent with human-like social behaviors.

Habitual bipedal motion is a defining feature of modern humans compared with other primates, and had profound effects on the biologies of our ancestors and relatives. There has been much debate over when and how a human-like bipedal gait first evolved, largely because of disagreements over how to infer biomechanics from skeletal shapes. Aspects of group structure and social behavior also distinguish humans from other primates, yet there is no consensus on how to detect these in the fossil or archaeological records.

In 2009, a set of 1.5-million-year-old hominin footprints was discovered near the town of Ileret, on the northeast shore of Lake Turkana, in the extreme northwest corner of Kenya - a trace fossil discovery of unprecedented scale for this time period, now extending to five distinct sites preserving a total of 97 tracks created by at least 20 different presumed Homo erectus individuals. Researchers found the shapes of these footprints indistinguishable from those of modern habitually barefoot people, most likely reflecting similar foot anatomies and mechanics.

Kevin Hatala, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and George Washington University, says: "Our analyses of these footprints provide some of the only direct evidence to support the common assumption that at least one of our fossil relatives at 1.5 million years ago walked in much the same way as we do today."

Based on experimentally derived estimates of body mass from the fossil tracks, the researchers have inferred the sexes of the individuals and, for the two most expansive excavated surfaces, developed hypotheses regarding the structure of the groups. For example, at each of these sites there is evidence of several adult males. Cooperation between males underlies many of the social behaviors that distinguish modern humans from other primates.

Edited from PhysOrg, Science Daily (12 July 2016)
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Sunday, September 04, 2016


Located on the Salisbury Island, which lie 60km off the southern coast of Western Australia, are a series of caves, which contain Aboriginal artifacts and is patrolled by sharks. Besides the archaeologists, traditional owners, abalone divers, and filmmakers have helped search for the archaeological artifacts.

David Guilfoyle, who works for Applied Archaeology Australia, is the leader of the project has that: "The present-day mainland is 60 kilometers to the north of the island, and has documented evidence of human occupation in granite caves, extending at least 13,000 years before present,î adding that "So we know people were living here when they could walk to this limestone ridge

The area around the island rises from between 80m to 100m above the flat coastal plan, and would have been a distinctive feature for the inhabitants of the region in the late Pleistocene period. At the height of the ice age 18,000 years ago the caves, which are now underwater, would have offered shelter for these people. However, in the modern period the area is almost patrolled by sharks, who feed on the local wildlife.

The research has been described by Doc Reynolds, a traditional owner and senior heritage director for the Esperance Tjaltjaak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation: "This place would have looked like Uluru in the red center of Australia, a massive feature surrounded by low, flat bush land and rocky outcrops. It would have drawn my ancestors here for the many resources it provided. From an Aboriginal perspective, it's been a mind-blowing cultural experience, to actually stand on an island that used to be joined to the mainland all those years ago, and you think that I may be the first Aboriginal person to stand on that island since."

Edited from ABC AU News (20 June 2016)
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For the past five years archaeologists have been tracking a series of rock art findings in north-central Chile’s Limari Valley. The experts involved say finding traces of the visual language used by the area’s inhabitants has been difficult; the paintings are highly deteriorated and cannot be identified with the naked eye. But with the help of digital technology including high-resolution cameras, tablets and specialized software, researchers have been able to detect the presence of paintings that time and erosion have almost erased.

The team of Chilean anthropologists and archaeologists found more than 150 paintings. They were probably created by hunter-gatherers between 2000 BC and 500 AD in the Coquimbo Region, an area south of the Atacama Desert that extends to about 400 kilometers north of the Chilean capital, Santiago.

During the study photos were taken of the target rocks and the resulting images were analyzed with DStretch software, which detects colors and patterns difficult to observe with the naked eye. "This program has algorithms predefined for working with rock art," says study leader Andres Troncoso, an archaeologist at the University of Chile.

"These new technologies are allowing us to account for a universe of representations that were poorly known because the conservation status of these paintings is bad," says Marcela Sepulveda, an archaeologist at the University of Tarapaca, who has done studies on rock art in northern Chile.

From the captured images, researchers singled out those from stones still bearing some sort of noticeable archaeological evidence such as pigment. They further considered designs consistent with rock art that was already known to be from the area and that had undoubtedly been produced by humans.

The newly discovered paintings consist mainly of lines, circles and squares of different colors. It is believed that the pigments were derived from locally available minerals, probably combined with animal fat. It remains unclear what tools were used to create their art. According to Troncoso the painters could have used brushes, fingers or a combination of both. But there is more certainty about the materials they used for each color: Red was made with hematite, green with copper, yellow with goethite and black with coal.

"We were lucky that the black paintings were made with coal," Troncoso says. Thanks to that, researchers were able to perform radiocarbon analysis to date the paintings more accurately. "If you look at the archaeological literature globally, there are very few absolute dates for rock art," he explains, emphasizing the importance of this finding.

The study results, published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, suggest that the paintings belong to different groups of pre-Hispanic inhabitants of the Limari area: people from the coastal area and others from the mountains. While the art produced by both communities has similarities—such as the absence of animal and human figures—the study concludes that the design composition and use of color is different in both groups. "Down (on the coast) there are parallel lines that are not present up (in the mountains)," Troncoso says, adding that those who lived on the mountains also displayed art with a greater variety of colors.

Determining the meaning of rock art is a very complex task. This study suggests that the Chilean paintings helped generate a sense of identity and belonging within communities. "Ultimately it comes down to marking which is my territory and which is not my territory," Troncoso says. "It's like saying, 'Those of us who occupy this territory are in the same group and we paint this way.'" Archaeologist Marcos Biskupovic agrees. Marcos, with the Archaeological Museum of La Serena, who was not involved in this study, says that these paintings "can be badges for a particular social identity."

Several questions about the findings remain unanswered, including how this rock art evolved over 2,500 years and whether there were other kinds of social transformations in these communities of hunter-gatherers. There is also the matter of what might have been going on in the valleys adjacent to the study area, which covers 115 square kilometers, and how far these communities and their paintings reached into neighboring areas. "Outlining these aspects would help us delineate the socio-political reality of these hunter-gatherers," Troncoso says.

For now, the discovery of the paintings provides at least a little more of a glimpse into the visual language used by the pre-Hispanic inhabitants in this part of Latin America. "This research has allowed us to organize pieces of information that until now were widely dispersed, and to discover new sites that were previously unknown," Sepulveda says.


Close to three-quarters of the artifacts seized in anti-smuggling operations in Syria and neighboring Lebanon this year have proved to be fakes, Syria’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim tells The Art Newspaper. Speaking ahead of his visit to Edinburgh’s International Cultural Summit this week, the director general for antiquities and museums also gives a relatively optimistic view of restoration work in Palmyra, and shares his pressing concerns over the devastating crisis in Aleppo.

There have been growing questions over the extent of illicit digging and antiquities trafficking in Syria by militant groups including Isis. Abdulkarim says that while 7,000 objects have been seized by authorities in Syria since 2013, the proportion of fakes has risen from 30% to closer to 70%, both inside the country and in neighboring Lebanon.

Objects seized by police in Damascus include 30 fake ancient Bibles, as well as Korans. Another haul was 450 gold Medieval coins, all discovered to be fake, along with scores of fake mosaic tableaus and statues. Some items were poorly made fakes that were quickly weeded out, but sometimes it was difficult to distinguish between the real artifacts and the copies. “I hope the originals are stopped and the fakes go to the market place,” Abdulkarim says.

From Lebanon, 89 big objects including 20 Palmyran statues, 18 mosaics, and Roman capitals and architectural pieces, were returned to Damascus in 2014 after they were examined by a Syrian delegation, he says. Lebanon is the only country that has worked with Syria during this time to investigate suspected looted objects, he adds, while Turkey and Jordan have refused any contact. “I don’t ask that they return all objects to Syria, because I know there will be a negative response,” Abdulkarim says, but he appealed to those countries to publicly report what they had seized, and provide figures and details to UNESCO and Interpol.

Turning to recovery efforts in Palmyra, Abdulkarim says that almost all of the ancient city’s artifacts have been secured since it was recaptured from Isil’s control in March, and most of the stones from damaged structures are reusable. "I can confirm that more than 90% of the collection in Palmyra is safe; 10% is damaged.” He says: “We didn’t lose Palmyra’s art.”

“We need about five years to finish our work,” Abdulkarim adds. Emergency repairs in Palmyra are now focused on two temples blown up by Isil—the Temple of Baalshamin and most of the Temple of Bel—and the Triumphal Arch. In terms of artifacts, 38 gold coins from the Islamic, Byzantine and Roman periods were lost in the rushed evacuation. But the unique Zenobia Antonius bronze coin, bearing the image of the third-century Palmyrene Queen, was removed to Damascus and is safe.

There are some 400 to 500 statues and tens of thousands of lesser objects now in Damascus awaiting restoration, Abdulkarim says. Three truckloads were evacuated just before Isil occupied Palmyra in June 2015 and many more pieces have been moved since. These include the 15-tonne remnants of the second-century Lion of al-Lat statue, which was blown up by the extremist group. While Isil beheaded many of the statues that could not be moved, “the majority were in a good situation,” Abdulkarim says, with heads left lying at the site.


Research has for the first time statistically proven that the earliest standing stone monuments of Britain were oriented with the Sun and Moon. The study details the use of innovative 2D and 3D technology to test the patterns of alignment.

Project leader and University of Adelaide Visiting Research Fellow Dr Gail Higginbottom, says: "Nobody before this has ever statistically determined that a single stone circle was constructed with astronomical phenomena in mind - it was all supposition."

Examining the oldest great stone circles built in Scotland - Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis, and Stenness, Isle of Orkney - the researchers found a great concentration of alignments towards the Sun and Moon at different times of their cycles, and 2000 years later, much simpler monuments were still being built in Scotland that had at least one of the same astronomical alignments found at the great circles. The researchers discovered a complex relationship between the alignment of the stones, the surrounding landscape and horizon, and the movements of the Sun and the Moon across that landscape.

Dr Higginbottom explains that: "This research is finally proof that the ancient Britons connected the Earth to the sky with their earliest standing stones, and that this practice continued in the same way for 2000 years."

At about half of the sites the northern horizon is relatively higher and closer, and the summer solstice Sun rises out of the highest peak in the north. At the other half it is the exact opposite - higher and closer southern horizon, out of which rises the winter solstice Sun.

Dr Higginbottom concludes: "These people chose to erect these great stones very precisely within the landscape and in relation to the astronomy they knew. They invested a tremendous amount of effort and work to do so. It tells us about their strong connection with their environment, and how important it must have been to them, for their culture and for their culture's survival."

Edited from EurekaAlert!, ScienceDaily (17 August 2016)
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Archaeologists have uncovered traces of buildings from about 2500 years ago on the small Hebridean island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, including the remains of a two-meter defensive wall. Excavations have also revealed pottery, flints, and other prehistoric material, indicating a prehistoric village.

Archaeologist Hugh McBrien, of the West of Scotland Archaeology Service, says: "When we find something unexpected, as in this case, we have to stop and reconsider what we previously understood about the site. What is becoming clear is that when the ice sheets rolled back off Scotland some 10-12,000 years ago the Mesolithic hunter gatherers moved onto the islands and followed the retreating ice."

The team discovered two different periods of building on top of the original village mound of more than 1,000 years, and a previously unknown extension to the medieval vallum, all in a shallow ditch next to the local school.

Dr Clare Ellis, who led the site work, says: "What is most exciting to me is that the lines of the property that exist now are very similar to the property lines that existed more than 2,000 years ago," adding that she is keen to get back onto the site later in the year and carry out further investigations.

Edited from Herald Scotland, Archaeology Magazine (19 August 2016)
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