Sunday, January 28, 2018


A large international research team, led by Israel Hershkovitz from Tel Aviv University and including Rolf Quam from Binghamton University, State University of New York, has discovered the earliest modern human fossil ever found outside of Africa. The finding suggests that modern humans left the continent at least 50,000 years earlier than previously thought.

"Misliya is an exciting discovery," says Rolf Quam, Binghamton University anthropology professor and a coauthor of the study. "It provides the clearest evidence yet that our ancestors first migrated out of Africa much earlier than we previously believed. It also means that modern humans were potentially meeting and interacting during a longer period of time with other archaic human groups, providing more opportunity for cultural and biological exchanges."

The fossil, an upper jawbone with several teeth, was found at a site called Misliya Cave in Israel, one of several prehistoric cave sites located on Mount Carmel. Several dating techniques applied to archaeological materials and the fossil itself suggest the jawbone is between 175,000-200,000 years old, pushing back the modern human migration out of Africa by at least 50,000 years.

Researchers analyzed the fossil remains relying on microCT scans and 3D virtual models and compared it with other hominin fossils from Africa, Europe and Asia.

"While all of the anatomical details in the Misliya fossil are fully consistent with modern humans, some features are also found in Neandertals and other human groups," said Quam, associate professor of anthropology at Binghamton. "One of the challenges in this study was identifying features in Misliya that are found only in modern humans. These are the features that provide the clearest signal of what species the Misliya fossil represents."

The archaeological evidence reveals that the inhabitants of Misliya Cave were capable hunters of large game species, controlled the production of fire and were associated with an Early Middle Paleolithic stone tool kit, similar to that found with the earliest modern humans in Africa.

While older fossils of modern humans have been found in Africa, the timing and routes of modern human migration out of Africa are key issues for understanding the evolution of our own species, said the researchers. The region of the Middle East represents a major corridor for hominin migrations during the Pleistocene and has been occupied at different times by both modern humans

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Saturday, January 27, 2018


In 1957 a team of archaeologists working in the Shanidar caves in Iraqi Kurdistan, discovered the bones of a 50,000 year old Neanderthal, nicknamed Shanidar 1. Nothing extra remarkable in that you may think, however the individual was aged between 40 and 50 (from dental analysis) and had several things wrong, including a fractured skull, amputated forearm, together with other multiple signs of ageing. These all made the fact that he had survived into his 40s quite a considerable achievement.

Now a new team headed up by the French National Center for Scientific Research has conducted some more investigations on the remains, with astounding results.

They examined the skull in minute detail and noticed some serious deformities in the bones of both ears. As Sebastien Villotte, from the Research center explains "It would have been essentially impossible for Shanidar 1 to maintain a sufficiently clear canal for adequate sound transmission. He would therefore have been effectively deaf in his right ear and he likely had at least partial CHL [conductive hearing loss] in his left ear".

Couple this with his other physical disabilities and survival in a brutal environment was near impossible without the help and assistance of other tribe members. So he must have received some social support. This theory is given credence by other Neanderthal traits such as burying their dead, which shows that they lived in socially caring and supportive groups.

Edited from PhysOrg (23 October 2017) and Gizmodo (24 October 2017)
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Archaeologists and activists are seriously concerned that a valuable Bronze Age site on the outskirts of Gaza City (Palestine) is under threat of destruction.

The site was first identified in 1998 and is believed to be the remains of a fortified Canaanite city, dating back to between 3,200 BCE and 2,000 BCE. Further archaeological excavation works were carried out between 1999 and 2000 on what is basically a mound with a diameter of approximately 300 metres, located at Tell es-Sakan near Gaza.

Over the intervening years since the first excavations several attempts to flatten the site have been thwarted, as this area has been zoned by the local authority for housing projects. Ironically, it was the first attempt to bulldoze the area that alerted archaeologists to its potential and significance.

Even though the latest demolition attempt had been halted, Palestinian archaeologists are still extremely concerned over the site's future. Before the bulldozing had been stopped serious damage had already been inflicted, as advised by Moain Sadeeq, the Palestinian archaeologist who first uncovered the potential back in 1998, who is quoted as saying "The damage is very, very significant. Ancient dwelling structures and sections of the ramparts have been destroyed. Moveable artefacts have been taken away". When questioned on whether he thought that the Gaza housing authority would keep to their word and leave the site alone, he replied "I'm not sure it will last forever".

Edited from PhysOrg (24 October 2017)
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Geologists from the University of Camerino, using a thermal imaging camera mounted on a drone, found thermal anomalies traceable to important structures that were buried around 2,700 years ago, stretching from "Temple M" downwards towards the port, said geoarchaeologist Fabio Pallotta, a consultant to the University of Camerino and the Selinunte Archaeological Park.

"It was likely a succession of temples and tubs full of clear spring water that flowed towards the African sea offering precious refreshment to travelers at the border," Pallotta said.

"From these thermal images, everyone can see how the heat gradient delineates perfect geometric designs in the area surrounding the ruins of Temple M, which is now located along the right-hand shore of the Selino River, but originally came forth in all of its beauty from the far west promontory of the enchanting lagoon," he said.

Thus far, fourteen flights have been undertaken by a hexacopter, a six-armed drone, which revealed temperatures of both living and chemically inactive materials.
Selinunte Archaeological Park Director Enrico Caruso said the discovery will allow the park to find better solutions for protecting the heritage of Selinunte, one of Europe's largest archaeological parks.

"There are still many structures to investigate," Caruso said. "We need to understand the geological structure of the area and why the Selinuntites chose it for their settlement. The city is certainly much larger than its modern-day counterpart," he said.

While giving a tour of the area to members of the Italian and international press, Caruso also announced other discoveries from the site.
"In Selinunte we have found pipes built by the Greeks that provided homes with running water, new domestic areas devoted to religion such as cylindrical altars, and the most ancient depiction in the entire Greek world of Hekate, a figure of pre-Indo-European origin who was depicted in Greek mythology.
Ecate, or Hekate, reigned over evil demons, the night, and the moon," he said


The ancient image of a two-humped camel has been discovered in the Kapova cave (Southern Urals). With the dating of cave painting being estimated to between 14,500 and 37,7000 years ago this artwork confirms the belief that artists in the Upper Paleolithic could migrate over long distances, especially as camels were not native to this region during this time.

The discovery was made by Eudald Guillamet, a restorative specialist from Andorra, who was invited by the State Office of Protection of Cultural Heritage of Bashikira to clean graffiti from the cave.

V.S. Zhitenev, who is the head of Moscow's State University's South Ural archaeological expedition and leading researcher for the Kapova and Ignatievskaya caves, commented: "This painting, cleared on the polychrome panel 'Horses and Signs', which has been well-known since the late 1970s, has no analogues in the art complexes of the caves of France and Spain, but does have some resemblance to the camel painting from the Ignatievskaya cave. Now it will probably become a significant image in the Upper Paleolithic cave bestiary of the Southern Urals,"

The long evolution of cave art in this region is supported by several factors, among which is the cave paintings depicting images of horses, bisons, mammoths, and wooly rhinoceroses, as well as local fauna, with analysis of stone tools confirming this assumption. The presence of the camel also confirms the Volga-Caspian direction of the connections made by people who sought shelter in the cave, which was earlier grounded in fossil shell ornaments form the Caspian Region.
In December, the archaeologists from Moscow State University will continue researching the Paleolithic art in the caves. This is due to the walls being much drier, making it easier to reveal the smallest details of the paintings. Further monitoring will also be done to study the dynamic factors surrounding the underground environment on geochemical processes related to the destruction of wall paintings.

Edited from EurekAlert! (27 November 2017)


Around 15,000 years ago, the Natufian culture appeared in what is today's Middle East. This culture, which straddled the border between nomadic and settled lifestyles, had diverse, complex origins. This finding arises from new research by a team of scientists and archaeologists from the Weizmann Institute of Science and the University of Copenhagen.

The hunter-gatherers of the Natufian culture were spread over modern-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria around 14,500 - 11,500 years ago. They were some of the first people to build permanent houses and tend to edible plants. These innovations were most likely crucial to the subsequent emergence of agriculture during the Neolithic era. Previous research had suggested that the center of this culture was the Mount Carmel and Galilee region, and that it had spread from there to other parts of the region. The new study by the Copenhagen-Weizmann team, challenges this 'core region' theory.

Excavations of the Shubayqa 1 site uncovered a well-preserved Natufian site, which included, among other things, a large assemblage of charred plant remains. These kinds of botanical remains enabled the Weizmann-Copenhagen team to obtain the largest number of dates for any Natufian site yet in Israel or Jordan. The dating was undertaken by Prof. Elisabetta Boaretto at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Over twenty samples from different layers of the site were dated, showing that the site was first settled not long after the earliest dates obtained for northern Israel. Either Natufians expanded very rapidly into the region (which is the less-likely explanation), or the settlement patterns emerged more or less simultaneously in different parts of the region.

"The early date of Shubayqa 1 shows that Natufian hunter-gatherers were more versatile than previously thought. Past research had linked the emergence of Natufian culture to the rich habitat of the Mediterranean woodland zone. But the early dates from Shubayqa show that these late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers were also able to live quite comfortably in more open parkland steppe zones further east," says Dr.Tobias Richter, who led the excavations at the site from 2012 to 2015. Some of their subsistence appears to have relied heavily on the exploitation of club rush tubers, as well as other wild plants and the hunting of birds, gazelle and other animals.

These new dates do not always jibe with the idea that climate change was the main driver of abandonment or resettlement, although it clearly played a role. Boaretto says that the 'core area' theory may have come about, in part, because the Mt. Carmel sites have been the best preserved and studied, until now. In addition to calling into question the idea of the Natufian beginning in one settlement and spreading outwards, the study suggests that the hunter-gatherers who lived 15,000 to 12,000 years ago were ingenious and resourceful. They learned to make use of numerous plants and animals where ever they were, and to tend them in a way that led to early settlement. The authors say that this supports a view in which there were many pathways to agriculture and "the 'Neolithic way of life' was a highly variable and complex process that cannot be explained on the basis of single-cause models."

Edited from EurekAlert! (7 December 2017)
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Sunday, January 14, 2018


12 JANUARY 2018 • 8:05PM
The French chateau where Richard the Lionheart died after being hit by a bolt from a crossbow has quietly been put on the market with a small ad offering this remarkable piece of Anglo-French history for well under a million pounds. The castle of Châlus-Chabrol, about 110 miles northeast of Bordeaux, has been for sale on France's most popular classified ads website Le Bon Coin since December 30th at the price of €996,400, or £884,000. The title of the ad states merely that a “15-room, 600 square metre castle” is available. The historic import of the chateau is only revealed by the text below the photos showing run-down buildings that are “in need of restoration.”

In March 1199, Richard the Lionheart – Duke of Aquitaine and Normandy, Count of Anjou, and King of England – was at Châlus-Chabrol to inspect a siege organised by his faithful mercenary, Mercadier. A crossbow bolt hit his left shoulder, penetrating deep into the flesh. Richard, one of the most popular kings in England history, ripped the sharpened metal out, but poor medical care soon saw the wound turn gangrenous. On learning who was injured, the castle’s defenders surrendered, and opened their facilities for the care of the king. When it became clear that Richard would die, his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, arrived from Fontevraud to receive his last wishes.

Richard died from the wound on 6 April 1199, two days after being hit by the bolt.

The castle today boasts 15 rooms, a dungeon and “is located in the heart of (the village of) Chalus, with the whole of the domain offering unparallelled views over the entire region,” according to the ad. It consists of two parts, one private and the other at times open to the public. The current owners are believed to be three Dutch nationals.

In line with Richard’s wishes, his body, crown, and regalia were buried in the royal abbey at Fontevraud, next to his father, King Henry II of England. His heart went to Rouen cathedral, to honor his love of Normandy. Recent analysis shows it was embalmed with frankincense, myrtle, mint, poplar, bellflower, and lime. His entrails were buried in the Limousin region, whose knights had been his most faithful companions-in-arms, and whose language he had favoured for his poetry.

One chronicle tradition noted that, before dying, Richard forgave Pierre Basile, the man who fired the crossbow, for killing him, and presented him with a bag of money. But Mercadier, Richard’s stalwart lieutenant, had other ideas. Once Richard was dead, Pierre was skinned alive, then hanged.


A joint Italian-Palestinian team has been conducting archaeological digs at the site of Tell es-Sultan since 1997.

During their latest excavation season, the team made an extraordinary discovery in a home occupied some 5,000 years ago: five mother of pearl shells, stacked one on top of the other, that could only have come from the Nile. Two of the shells still contained the residue of a dark substance, which a laboratory analysis identified as manganese oxide. That powdered mineral was the main component of a cosmetic known as kohl, used as an eyeliner in ancient times.

Researchers think the powder probably came from the Sinai Peninsula, where manganese mines that the ancient Egyptians once exploited have been found. "The discovery confirms a close commercial relationship, already in the early third millennium BCE, between the ancient city in Palestine and Egypt," says lead archaeologist Lorenzo Nigro of the Sapienza University of Rome. "It also shows the rise of a sophisticated local elite in Jericho."

The city of Jericho, in what is today the West Bank, grew around an abundant spring. As far back as 10,500 BCE, people began to gather at this oasis. Eventually they settled down, cultivated crops, and domesticated animals. At the beginning of the third millennium a fortified city arose, and then a ruler's palace.

The latest excavation season also revealed evidence of continuing ties between Jericho and Egypt several centuries later than the cosmetic find: a unique burial dating to about 1,800 BCE. Unlike earlier excavations, which have uncovered groups of wealthy graves, very likely royal, in the area encircled by the palace walls, the Italian-Palestinian team found a distinctly different burial right below the palace floor, an indication of special status.

This elite burial chamber held the remains of two people: a 9- or 10-year-old girl adorned with jewelry, and an adult female who was presumably an attendant. The bones of two young sacrificed animals as well as six pottery vessels were also discovered by the archaeologists. The most interesting vessel was a small black burnished jug that contained a perfume or an ointment and may have been left in this spot so the deceased could smell sweet aromas throughout eternity.

The young aristocrat's ornaments included two pairs of bronze earrings, a bronze bracelet, a bronze pin on the left shoulder, a bead necklace with a carnelian set between pairs of rock crystals, and a bronze signet ring with a local type of scarab that was inscribed with protective signs. A second stone scarab, resting on the girl's chest, bore hieroglyphics that testify to Egypt's cultural influence on Jericho's elites.

The end of this thriving, international era at Jericho came in about 1,550 BCE, when a violent attack reduced the city to a heap of smoldering ruins. Its destruction was so violent that it became embedded in the collective memory of the Canaanite peoples, resounding in the biblical narrative of Joshua and his destruction of the city according to God's command.

Edited from National Geographic (19 December 2017)
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Parliament's Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee is preparing a report on an amendment proposed by the government to the antiquities protection law.

The amendment is to toughen punishment for smuggling antiquities up to a life sentence and a fine of LE10 million (about $0.56 million).

Minister of Antiquities Khaled Anani said in a statement in December that 329 ancient coins were seized with an Egyptian passenger at Cairo International Airport while trying to smuggle them to France.

According to police reports in November, the Egyptian Tourism and Antiquities Police managed to seize 464 artifacts including Ushabtis and statues, made of rare blue ceramic, from illegal antiquities merchants in Fayoum.


A burial ground dating back to Roman times and containing hundreds of graves has been uncovered at a site earmarked for housing.

Professional archaeologists have been at the site on the fringes of the village of Yatton to carry out a detailed excavation.


​An astonishing discovery in Jaljulia: a rare and important prehistoric site, roughly half of a million years old, extending over about 10 dunams, was uncovered during the last few months in a joint archaeological excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in cooperation with the Archaeological Department of Tel Aviv University. The archaeological excavation was funded by the Israel Land Authority, towards the expansion of Jaljulia.

The excavation revealed a rich lithic industry, including hundreds of flint hand axes, typical tools of the ancient Acheulian culture.

According to Maayan Shemer, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Prof. Ran Barkai, head of the Archaeology Department at Tel Aviv University: “The extraordinary quantity of flint tools uncovered in the excavation provides significant information about the lifeways of prehistoric humans during the Lower Paleolithic period. It seems that half a million years ago, the conditions here in Jaljulia were such, that this became a favored locality, subject to repeated human activity. We associate the industry found on site to the Homo Erectus – a direct ancestor of the Homo Sapiens, the human species living today. A geological reconstruction of the prehistoric environment, shows that the human activity took place in a dynamic environment, on the banks of an ancient stream (possibly Nahal Qaneh, which now flows approximately 500 m' south of the site). This environment is considered to have been rich with vegetation and herding animals, a ‘green spot’ in the landscape.

In this place, three basic needs of the ancient hunter gatherers were met: clear water, a variety of food sources (plants and animals) and flint nodules, of which tools were made. The fact that the site was occupied repeatedly indicates that prehistoric humans possessed a geographic memory of the place, and could have returned here as a part of a seasonal cycle.”

Handaxes, found at the site in relatively large quantities, are very impressive tools, their shape somewhat reminding a teardrop. The production of these tools require careful and meticulous work, and a deep familiarity of the raw material in use. In Jaljulia handaxes were made of a variety of flint types, and we also observe a differentiation in the production quality. Almost as if some of the handaxes were made by a master craftsmen and others- by someone less qualified.

Hand axes were used as dominant tools by prehistoric humans for more than a million years. Yet, its particular use is still debated. Some scholars suggest that these were the tools used to dismember large animals such as elephants. Others say that handaxes were the “Swiss Army knife” of the Stone Age and had additional uses such as hunting, hide working and the working plant and vegetal material. Large quantities of additional flint artifacts attest to technological innovation, development and creativity.

Maayan Shemer, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: “Coming to work in Jaljulia, nobody expected to find evidence of such an ancient site, let alone one so extensive and with such impressive finds. There are only two sites whose estimated age is close to Jaljulia in the Sharon, or central Israel: one in Kibbutz Eyal, approximately 5 km to the north, and the other, dated to a slightly later cultural phase, at Qesem Cave located approximately 5 km to the south. The findings are amazing, both in their preservation state and in their implications about our understanding of this ancient material culture. We see here a wide technological variety, and there is no doubt that researching these finds in-depth will contribute greatly to the understanding of the lifestyle and human behavior during the period in which Homo Erectus inhabited our area.

Prof. Ran Barkai, head of the Archaeology Department of Tel Aviv University: “It’s hard to believe that between Jaljulia and highway 6, five meters below the surface, an ancient landscape some half of a million years old has been so amazingly preserved. This extraordinary site will enable us to trace the behavior of our direct prehistoric ancestors, and reconstruct their lifestyle and behavior on the very long journey of human existence. The past of all of us, of all human beings, is buried in the earth, and we have a one-time opportunity to travel back half a million years and better get to know the ancient humans who lived here before us, between Jaljulia and road 6.”