Saturday, October 08, 2016


A prehistoric stone panel said to be the 'most important in Europe' had been unearthed for the first time in more than 50 years in Clydebank (West Dunbartonshire, Scotland). The Cochno Stone dates to 3000 BCE and is described as one of the best examples of Neolithic or Bronze Age cup and ring markings in Europe.

Located next to a housing estate, the stone excavation work lasted three weeks and allowed archaeologists to use 3D-imaging technology to make a detailed digital record of the site.

Dr Kenny Brophy, from Glasgow University, who is leading the dig next to Cochno farm, said: "This is the biggest and, I would argue, one of the most important Neolithic art panels in Europe. The cup and ring marks are extensive but the site just happens to be in the middle of an urban housing scheme in Clydebank. It was last fully open to the elements and the public up until 1965. Sadly, as it was neglected it was also being damaged through vandalism and people just traipsing all over it." A trial excavation last year indicated modern graffiti is "probably extensive" over the stone's surface.

The joint project between the University of Glasgow archaeology department and the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation aims to produce also a lifesize copy of the 8m by 13m stone using the recorded digital data and historical sources, including the graffiti as well as the prehistoric surface.

The rock art panel has been reburied to protect the national treasure. "Perhaps in the future this site could be turned into a major tourist attraction in Scotland, with a visitor center, who knows," Brophy said.

Edited from BBC News (7 September 2016), PhysOrg (23 September 2016)
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One of Orkney's most popular ancient landmarks is to be closed to the public due to concerns over safety. Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has announced that Maes Howe, the biggest and most impressive of Orkney's Neolithic chambered cairns, will be shut down by the end of September,2016.

The site attracts around 25,000 visitors annually and the temporary closure has been ordered because of dangers in accessing the site, with visitors using its car park having to cross one of the Orkney mainland's busiest roads. HES has been monitoring safety issues relating to vehicle movements around the 5,000-year-old tomb, and concluded there are significant risks to staff and visitors that cannot currently be overcome. It has been decided that the site will close from 26 September, with staff being redeployed to other roles. Maes Howe will not reopen until the issues have been addressed

Dr David Mitchell, acting chief executive and director of conservation at HES, said: "This is not a decision we take lightly, but our primary focus must be the safety of our staff and visitor. The HES board recently considered a development proposal which looked at the site infrastructure. They wish to discuss the project further with Orkney Islands Council. This was a catalyst for us to reassess the risks associated with the site, and in consequence we have decided to effect a temporary site closure until the identified risk can be mitigated to a satisfactory level." He added: "In the longer term, we are absolutely committed to finding a long-term solution for this site and working with our partners to conserve and share the wonderful heritage assets in Orkney."

Edited from The Scotsman (8 September 2016)
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We know what Oetzi was wearing when he died more than 5,000 years ago. We know how many tattoos he had. Now scientists have recreated the "best possible approximation" of his voice.

Lead researcher Rolando Fuestoes explains: "We can't say we have reconstructed Oetzi's original voice, because we miss some crucial information from the mummy. But with two measurements, the length of both the vocal tract and the vocal cords, we have been able to recreate a fairly reliable approximation of the mummy's voice."

Oetzi was found by two German hikers in 1991, frozen and mummified in the Oetzal Alps in South Tyrol, and is Europe's oldest known natural mummy, providing researchers with an unprecedented glimpse into what life was like around 3,300 BCE, during the Copper Age.

Oetzi was murdered - he most likely died from an arrow wound to his shoulder. He was dressed in a mix of sheep, goat, and cow skins, and carried a deerskin quiver and a bearskin cap. His 61 tattoos have been studied in detail. By reconstructing his voice, researchers hope to gain more insight into what humans might have sounded like.

Francesco Avanzini, one of the researchers, says: "Of course, we don't know what language he spoke 5,000 years ago. But we should be able to recreate the timbre of his vowel sounds and, I hope, even create simulation of consonants."

They've now succeeded with the vowel reconstruction. CT scans were used to map Oetzi's internal structure, since MRI scans could have damaged the mummy. One difficulty is that Oetzi's arm is covering his throat, and the hyoid - or tongue-bone - is party absorbed and dislocated. The tension and density of the vocal cords and the thickness and composition of the throat tissue were simulated using mathematical models.

The team predicts that Oetzi's voice had a frequency between 100 and 150 Hz, which is similar to average males today.

Edited from Science Alert (22 September 2016)
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A three year project documenting, analyzing, and dating more than 200 rock art sites in the northwest Kimberley region of Western Australia has identified what may be the longest, most impressive rock art sequence anywhere in the world, challenging Western Europe as the location for the production of the world's earliest rock art.

Lead author and University of New England archaeologist Doctor June Ross says the new timeline for the beginning of rock art in Sulawesi in Indonesia around 39,000 years ago, together with evidence from excavations in Kimberley show that humans with sophisticated artistic skills settled along the northern coastline as early as 36,000 years ago.

Doctor Ross says that: "Our results demonstrate that at least some phases of Kimberley art are of great antiquity - and may date to a time when sea levels were lower, the continent was much larger and environmental conditions were more challenging - perhaps the oldest art is now submerged off the Kimberley coastline."

Using optically-stimulated luminescence applied to sand grains found within mud wasp nests, researchers were able to date when the artwork was created. Geochronologist Kira Westaway from Macquarie University says mud wasps stuck their nests onto many of the art motifs, and these became fossilized over time: "They build nests on top of the art using grains of sand that can be used for dating without damaging the art itself."

Cathy Goonack, Chair of the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation, said the rock art brings visitors from all around the world to the Mitchell Plateau. "They want to look at our art and hear our stories; now we've got a good science story that we can tell people as well. We'll also use this information to help us look after our art," she said.

Edited from Perth Now (31 August 2016)
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Archaeological investigations have been taking place since late last year across Sherford, a new town on the eastern edge of Plymouth, 300 kilometers southwest of London on the south coast of England.

A team from Wessex Archaeology discovered features such as roundhouses, which functioned as homes for large family groups in prehistoric farming communities. Artifacts found include a rare decorated bone weaving comb. The excavation also revealed two Early Bronze Age burial mounds dating to between 2400 and 1600 BCE - one of which contained the cremated remains of an individual, likely of high importance, in a decorated pottery vessel.

Notable recent finds includes flint work dating to 8500-4000 BCE, indicating that Neolithic hunters and gatherers thrived in the area long before the first communities arrived.

Archaeologist Andy Mayes calls the site: "one of the most fascinating large-scale archaeological projects we have worked on to date," adding that, "The prehistoric landscape of Devon is poorly understood, and our findings at Sherford have national significance, expanding our historic understanding of the local area."

Bill Horner, Devon County Archaeologist, says: "Developments of this size are very rare in Devon and it gives us a unique opportunity to look at archaeology on a landscape scale."

Edited from The Herald (13 September 2016)
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