Sunday, June 25, 2017


Human remains more than 13,000 years old in the earliest middens and fishhooks in North America, the Channel Islands National Park off the California coast, are a treasure trove of information about early North American people. Recently, when national park workers began to restore a more recent piece of history on one of the islands, they uncovered a taste of something ancient: a prehistoric Native American site buried underneath the site of a ranch.

National Parks Traveler reports the unexpected trove was discovered on Santa Rosa Island. Workers found the site when they began rehabilitating a 19th-century house on what used to be a cattle ranch on the island. When they lifted it up to build a new foundation, they found stone tools that would have been used by Native Americans to hunt and fish on the island thousands of years ago. According to the Ventura County Star’s Cheri Carlson, the site's tools are representative of those made 8,000 to 13,000 years ago.

The Chumash, whose ancestors lived all over California’s coast and who relied on hunting, gathering and fishing for food, were the island’s original inhabitants.

When Spanish settlers reached the Channel Islands, disease wiped out many native inhabitants. Those who survived were forced to move to the mainland, where they lived in missions and were “loaned out to soldiers and settlers, any return for their labor going to the mission,” writes Campbell Grant in his book, Rock Paintings of the Chumash.

Carlson reports that Chumash representatives will rebury most of the artifacts, but will allow some pieces to be studied.

Will the newfound site disrupt the cultural preservation that was originally scheduled to take place on top of it? Not according to the National Park Service. “Our goal is to preserve both of these important and irreplaceable cultural


Live Science reports that a monument in Avebury, England, located about 23 miles away from Stonehenge, may be 800 years older than had been previously thought. The monument, which resembled a pair of eyeglasses outlined with tall, wooden posts, was first dated to 2500 B.C., or about the time that Stonehenge was built.

Researchers recently employed new radiocarbon-dating techniques on pottery, animal bones, and charred remains of posts found in the monument’s post holes to arrive at the new, older date.

“It’s much too large to be a stock enclosure; it’s got to be a ceremonial enclosure,” explained statistical archaeologist Alex Bayliss of Historic England. He thinks one enclosure may have been for men, and the other for women. Both were burned to the ground in what Bayliss called an “amazing spectacle.”

Few remains of human occupation from the time have been found in the area, but later, Neolithic housing has been uncovered, suggesting that people returned to the site after the fire. They may even have been involved with the construction of the nearby chalk mound known as Silbury Hill. For more, go to “Quarrying Stonehenge.”


One of the many tragedies that have unfolded in the wake of the Islamic State (IS) is their smashing of statues and the destruction of ancient archaeological sites. Indeed, the rapid and terrifying advance of the IS has proved fatal for much invaluable heritage.

They toppled priceless statues at the Mosul Museum in northern Iraq. They used sledgehammers and power tools to deface giant winged-bull statues at Nineveh on the outskirts of Mosul. At Nimrud, IS detonated explosives, turning the site into a giant, brown, mushroom cloud. They used assault rifles and pickaxes to destroy invaluable carvings at Hatra; and at Palmyra in Syria they blew up the 2,000-year-old temples dedicated to the pagan gods Baal Shamin and Bel.

It’s difficult to interpret the unprecedented scale of this heritage destruction. The global media and politicians have tended to frame these events as random casualties of wanton terror or as moments of unrestrained barbarism.

UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director General Irina Bokova, for instance, reacted to the destruction of Nimrud by arguing that such attacks were underpinned by “propaganda and hatred”. There is, she said, “absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage”.

However, in an article published recently in the International Journal of Heritage Studies, we argue that the acts of heritage destruction undertaken by IS are much more than mere moments of propaganda devoid of political or religious justification.We found that the heritage destruction wrought by IS was not only very deliberate and carefully staged, but underpinned by three specific and clearly articulated frameworks.


Firstly, the IS have gone to great theological (if selective) lengths to justify their iconoclasm. For example, an Al-Hayat film documenting the destruction at the Mosul Museum and Nineveh.


Secondly, the IS make frequent reference to key historical figures to justify their iconoclasm. These include the Prophet Abraham’s destruction of idols and the Prophet Muhammad’s iconoclasm at the Ka’ba, the centerpiece of Mecca’s mosque.


Finally, and often overlooked, the IS have used political reasoning to justify the destruction. Such brash assertions made by IS clearly demonstrate that their heritage destruction cannot be dismissed as being simple propaganda. Instead, as we have shown, the heritage destruction undertaken by the IS are not only very carefully planned and executed, but also couched within a broader religious, historical and political framework that seeks to justify their violent iconoclasm.

Understanding the complex layers that drive such iconoclasm are a step towards developing better responses to the destruction of our shared cultural heritage.


According to a report in The Times of Israel, a Neanderthal upper molar and Neanderthal lower limb bones have been found at a 60,000-year-old open-air site in northern Israel by an international team of scientists led by Ella Been of Ono Academic College and Erella Hovers of Hebrew University.

The lower limb bones were found in a layer that also contained flint tools, animal bones, marine shells, pigments, and deer antlers. It had been previously thought that Neanderthals lived primarily in caves, since that is where their remains are usually recovered. But the study suggests that Neanderthals repeatedly visited the open-air site, known as Ein Qashish, and thus had adapted to living in diverse environments by the time Homo sapiens arrived in the Near East.


This summer, the State Conservation and Rescue Archaeology Program—or SCRAP—will host a field school, in which volunteers can take up shovels and brushes to help uncover artifacts at two different dig sites. New Hampshire State Archaeologist Richard Boisvert will be directing field work this summer, and he spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello about SCRAP.

Describe for us these two archaeological sites that you’ll be digging into.

They’re quite different. The one in Jefferson, in the North Country, is a 12,000-year-old campsite that was used by people hunting caribou. What they left behind was small bits of stone, some arrangements of rocks for a fireplace or something like that, and it’s a rather subtle presence. It’s in the backyard of a bed and breakfast, and if you didn’t know the site was there, you wouldn’t have a clue.

The other project is in Livermore Falls, a state-owned forest. It’s located in the towns of Plymouth, Holderness, and Campton. This was an active place for industrial purposes for almost two hundred years. Because of the waterfalls there, it was used as a source of energy. One after another, mills would come in, they would thrive, they would go out of business in one way or another—some of them burned, some of the mills failed because of the economy and so forth—and eventually it went back to a near-natural state.

You can still see foundations of the mills and houses out there. It’s a history that we know in part, but there’s a lot that we don’t know.

In that first site, what kinds of things might you expect to find there?

We always hope to find the tools, particularly the spear points and the scrapers and so forth. We do routinely find them, but not in huge numbers.

This would be 12,000 years ago. They were ancestral to the Native Americans of the Northeast, including the Abenaki and all the other tribes. Because of the passage of time and groups moving in and out, they weren’t the sole ancestors of the Abenaki, but they were the first people to live on the landscape after the glacier left.

Archaeologists have uncovered rare 5,000-year old tools in Moscow during the city’s ongoing construction project to renovate pedestrian zones, the mayor’s office said recently.

The scientists discovered a silicic cutter from the Neolithic era or New Stone Age (5,000-3,000 BC) on Sretenka Street and a fragment of a scraper of the Mesolithic era or Middle Stone Age (7,000 BC) on Pokrovsky Boulevard.

"This ancient finding is very important for archaeologists. It confirms our theory that these territories had been developed as far back as pre-historic times. We understand that this area was inhabited by ancient peoples long before any streets and houses were built here," Head of Moscow’s Cultural Heritage Department Alexei Yemelyanov said.

The scientists believe the artifacts could have penetrated the much older cultural layers 400 or 500 years ago during digging efforts. Now specialists are studying the finding, which may be later handed over to a museum to be featured in exhibitions devoted to Moscow’s archaeology.


he J. Paul Getty Museum announced its intention to voluntarily return to Italy a marble statuette dating to the 1st century BC.The “Statue of Zeus Enthroned” is a 29-inch-high piece thought to have been Greek in origin. Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts said the Italian government came into possession of a fragment that it believed joined the sculpture at the Getty. Italian officials tested their theory on a visit to the museum in 2014.

“The fragment gave every indication that it was a part of the sculpture we had,” Potts said in an interview. “It came from the general region of Naples, so it meant this object had come from there.” This, coupled with the fact that there was no documentation of export, led to the decision to repatriate the statuette.

The sculpture is thought to have originally been housed in the private shrine of a rich Greek or Roman home. It appears to have spent a good deal of time in the ocean, as it is partially covered with marine incrustations.

The Getty purchased “Zeus Enthroned” from Americans Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman in 1992. The Times’ 1997 obituary for Lawrence Fleischman noted that the couple agreed to donate the bulk of their collection, valued at $60 million, to the Getty in 1996. The museum agreed to purchase another portion of the collection.

At that time “Zeus Enthroned” was acquired, the museum’s senior antiquities curator was Marion True, who was later indicted by the Italian government for conspiracy to traffic in illegal antiquities. True resigned from the museum in 2005, and in 2007 then-director Michael Brand announced the museum would return a number of disputed objects to Italy. Dozens have been repatriated to Italy and Greece, while prosecutors did not pursue the case against True.

The Getty’s policy is that when a foreign government submits compelling evidence that an object in its collection was put on the antiquities market illegally, the museum will seek to return the object.


The SCTH will organize the three-day event in cooperation with the King Abdul Aziz Research Center (Darah), the ministries of municipal and rural affairs, culture and information, and education, and other government agencies. The forum will be under the umbrella of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Program for Care of Cultural Heritage.SCTH President Prince Sultan bin Salman said the event comes in the framework of care given by the king to all efforts related to national heritage.

It will involve local and foreign archeologists, workshops, initiatives and projects related to antiquities, Prince Sultan added.
The forum aims to raise public awareness of the importance of antiquities, to familiarize attendees with Saudi history, civilization and documentation of archeological work, and to make antiquities a community responsibility.

Papers will be presented spanning the pre-historic era up to the end of the 20th century. Workshops will address topics such as modern technologies in dealing with antiquities, the role of the media in awareness campaigns, antiquity protection and counterfeiting. There will also be specialized books and documentaries on antiquities


The International Business Times reports that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens may have crossed paths some 40,000 years ago in the Moravia region of the Czech Republic.

Duncan Wright of Australian National University said that he and his team recovered more than 20,000 artifacts from Pod Hradem Cave. The oldest layers of the cave, dating back to 50,000 years ago, contained artifacts made from local stone, but in the layer dating to about 40,000 years ago, they found a bead made from a mammal bone. Wright said the bead could signal the arrival of modern humans, who are thought to have entered Europe about 45,000 years ago.

Some of the artifacts in the cave dated to between 40,000 and 48,000 years ago were made of materials obtained more than 50 miles away. Could they have been crafted by Homo sapiens who had been exploring a new environment? Sediments from the cave will be tested for information about how the climate changed over time and for traces of Neanderthal and modern human DNA.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Fossils discovered in Morocco are the oldest known remains of Homo sapiens, scientists reported in early June, 2017, a finding that rewrites the story of mankind’s origins and suggests that our species evolved in multiple locations across the African continent.

“We did not evolve from a single ‘cradle of mankind’ somewhere in East Africa,” said Philipp Gunz, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a co-author of two new studies on the fossils, published in the journal Nature. “We evolved on the African continent.” See the full story in Nature.

Until now, the oldest known fossils of our species dated back just 195,000 years. The Moroccan fossils, by contrast, are roughly 300,000 years old. Remarkably, they indicate that early Homo sapiens had faces much like our own, although their brains differed in fundamental ways.

Today, the closest living relatives to Homo sapiens are chimpanzees and bonobos, with whom we share a common ancestor that lived over six million years ago. After the split from this ancestor, our ancient forebears evolved into many different species, known as hominins.

In 1961, miners in Morocco dug up a few pieces of a skull at a site called Jebel Irhoud. Later digs revealed a few more bones, along with flint blades. Using crude techniques, researchers estimated the remains to be 40,000 years old. In the 1980s, however, a paleoanthropologist named Jean-Jacques Hublin took a closer look at one jawbone.

The teeth bore some resemblance to those of living humans, but the shape seemed strangely primitive. “It did not make sense,” Dr. Hublin, now at the Max Planck Institute, recalled in an interview.

Since 2004, Dr. Hublin and his colleagues have been working through layers of rocks on a desert hillside at Jebel Irhoud. They have found a wealth of fossils, including skull bones from five individuals who all died around the same time. Just as important, the scientists discovered flint blades in the same sedimentary layer as the skulls. The people of Jebel Irhoud most likely made them for many purposes, putting some on wooden handles to fashion spears. Many of the flint blades showed signs of having been burned. The people at Jebel Irhoud probably lit fires to cook food, heating discarded blades buried in the ground below. This accident of history made it possible to use the flints as historical clocks.

Dr. Hublin and his colleagues used a method called thermoluminescence to calculate how much time had passed since the blades were burned. They estimated that the blades were roughly 300,000 years old. The skulls, discovered in the same rock layer, must have been the same age.