23 August 2016
4,500 years old grave discovered in Siberia
The intriguing find of the remains of a 'noblewoman' from the ancient Okunev Culture was made at the Itkol II burial site, in the Shira district of the Republic of Khakassia (Eastern Siberia).
The Okunev is a Bronze Age culture dated to the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE in Minusinsk Hollow of southern Siberia. Okunev people are considered as the Siberian ethnic grouping most closely related to Native Americans.
Undisturbed by pillaging grave robbers, the burial site of the woman, also containing the remains of a child, offers a wealth of clues about the life of these ancient people.
The head of the expedition Dr Andrey Polyakov said the grave of the 'noblewoman' dated back to the Early Bronze Age, between the 25th and 18th centuries BCE. "For such an ancient epoch, this woman has a lot of items in her grave," he said. "We have not encountered anything like this in other burials from this time, and it leads us to suggest that the items in her grave had some ritual meaning. We hope to get even more rare and spectacular finds next year, when will continue to study this unique (burial) mound and open the central burial plot," Polyakov added.
Archeologists believe the woman enjoyed a special status during her lifetime, as indicated by around 100 decorations made from the teeth of different animals, items carved from bone and horn, two jars, cases with bone needles inside, a bronze knife, and more than 1,500 beads that embellished her funeral costume.
There is particular excitement about an incense burner found in the grave because it contains sun-shaped faces which match previously discovered ancient rock art in Siberia. "The clay incense burner bearing three sun-shaped facial images, recovered from the grave, is the most important find of all," Polyakov said. "All such images previously discovered had been found only on cliffs or separate stones. Now there is the prospect to find out when they were made."
Excavations at the as the Itkol II burial site began in 2008 - with some 560 finds in total so far - but there is a sense that the best is yet to come. Another find is a stone slab with a rare image of a bull having a long rectangular body. These are not common in southern Siberia, but are known on the territory of modern-day Kazakhstan. Archeologists see this as an indication that Okunev people may have migrated to Khakassia from the south. Does this mean modern-day Native Americans originated from Kazakhstan and not southern Siberia, as previously thought? More scientific evidence is needed.
Edited from Siberian Times (19 August 2016)
Ancient camping site unearthed in India
A camping site dating back to 8500 BCE has been unearthed in Ladakh, in Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The newly discovered site indicates that humans were as interested in camping 10,500 years ago as they are now.
An official statement stated that the site was discovered 14,000 feet above sea level on the way from Saser La to Ladakh. A charcoal sample collected from the excavation site was sent to Florida for carbon-dating. More samples derived from upper and lower deposits sent for dating indicated two radiocarbon dates of 8500 BCE and 7300 BCE respectively - both of which are a sign of frequent human activity at the site for nearly eight hundred years.
"The research so far carried out has proved the antiquity and nature of human activities to an extent, but their camping patterns, extent of camping area, tools and other cultural aspects are yet to be traced," experts said.
Edited from India Times (19 August 2016)
First Bell Beaker earthwork enclosure found in Spain
Archaeologists from the Tübingen collaborative research center ResourceCultures have discovered an earthwork enclosure in southern Spain dating from the Bell Beaker period of 2,600 to 2,200 BCE. The complex of concentric rings may have been used for holding rituals; such earthwork enclosures have previously only been found in the northern half of Europe.
Archaeologists have known since the middle of the nineteenth century that today's Valencina de la Concepción outside Seville was at the heart of an important Copper Age settlement. In 1860, the Dolmen de la Pastora was first identified. It was the region's first big find from the Copper Age or Chalcolithic, which preceded the Bronze Age. The nearby settlement of Valencina was supported by farming and stockraising on the fertile coastal plain. It is Spain's largest known Copper Age settlement, of over 400 hectares. Grave goods found at the site show that the people of Valencina traded with Copper Age cultures far away.
Tübingen archaeologists headed by Professor Martin Bartelheim discovered the earthwork enclosure some 50 kilometers east of Valencina. Surveying the land in August 2015, they found circular earthworks enclosing about six hectares. Excavations at the site yielded bones, sherds and jewelry; radiocarbon dating and comparative analysis confirmed the site was used during the Bell Beaker Culture.
Just what the site was used for is still a mystery. It consists of several circular trenches with entrance-like openings at regular intervals. In the center was a deep, circular hole some 19 meters wide. In it, the archaeologists found large clay bricks with burn marks on it which may have served a ritual purpose. But they did not find human remains or indications of continuous settlement after the Copper Age, suggesting the site was used intensively for a relatively short period.
Doctoral candidate in the CultureResources group, Javier Escudero Carrillo, says: "The structure is very unusual for Spain, other circular earthworks like this are only found north of the Alps; but most are more than a thousand years older than this site. The stony ground here is not good for farming, but the site is strategically located near an ancient fort on the Guadalquivir River near the ore-rich Sierra Morena mountains, where copper and other valuable minerals were mined. Trails link the site with the fertile plain of Carmona, so that we may assume it was used by many passing through. That fits well with the interpretation of a site used for religious purposes."
Stone tools such as grinding stones and axe heads found at the site will be analyzed to discover how far away the material came from and how the tools were worked. Further information will be gathered from analyses of sediment and pollen as well as the isotopic analyses of animal bone samples, which will give clues as to the diet and lifestyle of the site's inhabitants more than four thousand years ago.
Edited from ScienceDaily (9 August 2016)
Large Bronze Age mound discovered in northwest China
Archaeologists in Xinjiang (northwest China) discovered a Bronze Age stone mound that is probably the largest and best preserved of its kind.
Wu Xinhua, the team's leading archaeologist, said that the mound is made of cobbles and mud and shaped like a cone surrounded by two stone walls. The diameter of the outermost wall reached 114 meters. The site, with a minor damage at its top, is one of the important sites yet discovered in Xinjiang, where archaeologists are studying the ancient nomadic culture that used to live in the vast prairie of the region.
The mound can be dated back to 2,500 to 3,000 years ago in the late Bronze Age, or even a bit earlier, a claim supported by aerial photography and data calculated from sites and burial graves discovered last year in Russia's Republic of Tuva and Mt. Tianshan in eastern Xinjiang.
Li Jun, deputy director of Xinjiang's Cultural Heritage Administration, said that the discovery will probably help to prove the peaceful interconnection of ancient cultures along the Silk Road, as the site discovered in Xinjiang showed many resemblances to those of other countries and regions in Central Asia.
Edited from China.org.cn (9 August 2016)
Ancient remains found in Peru
In the hillsides of Lima's northern district of Los Olivos (Peru), a team of researchers, led by archaeologist Luis Angel Flores Blanco, uncovered skeletal remains bundled up in a funerary blanket, that date back more than 6,000 years.
The archaeologist explained that research began in April this year with the help of the city of Los Olivos, volunteers and archeology students. Ruth Shady, discoverer of Caral, the oldest civilization in America, inaugurated the project and presented the excavation plan at a public event.
So far, preliminary excavations have revealed the presence of two buildings (terraced pyramids) which would be the most important in the valley and would make the hill called Cerro Pacifico the epicenter of this ancient civilization.
The mayor of Los Olivos, Pedro del Rosario, said the municipality will start the necessary procedures with the Ministry of Culture to declare the Cerro Pacifico a site of Cultural Heritage for the Nation. He also asked for the government's support to continue the excavations and subsequent investigation of the site.
The samples were sent to private museums in the United States and Japan for carbon-14 testing.
Edited from Living in Peru (8 August 2016)
22 August 2016
Was China the cradle of modern man, not Africa?
Back in 1929, in caves just outside the Chinese capital of Beijing, an amazing discovery was made of a 500,000 year old skull, which was rapidly nicknamed Peking Man (the name for Beijing in the early 20th. Century). At that time experts believed that the discovery meant that modern humanity had first evolved in the Far East. More recent discoveries had, however, subsequently swung opinion to the evolutionary chain having its origins in Africa, which is the current consensus.
The strength and depth of evidence pointing to the source being African was not even dented with the re-aging of Peking Man, using modern techniques, to over 780,000 years old. Despite this the mystery surrounding Peking Man and his place in modern evolution has puzzled and challenged Chinese palaeontologists and the discovery across eastern China of more early hominids in the intervening years, with ages varying from 80,000 to 1,700,000 years old, has only added to the confusion and contradictory claims.
There has even been some unsubstantiated claims by Western researchers that their Chinese counterparts have been manipulating data to favour evolutionary origins in China and nor Africa. These claims have been strongly rebuffed by the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology & Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) (Beijing), leading palaeontologist, Wu Xinzhi, who is quoted as saying: "This has nothing to do with nationalism. It's all about the evidence - the transitional fossils and archaeological artefacts. Everything points to continuous evolution in China from Homo Erectus to modern man".
Despite these claims and counter-claims the wealth of evidence now emerging from China is fascinating and exciting researchers around the world and will continue to do so as more and more evidence is uncovered. Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist from Oxford University (UK) is convinced there is more to come "The centre of gravity is shifting eastwards," he says.
Edited from PhysOrg (15 July 2016)
14 August 2016
What drove northern European Neanderthals to cannibalism?
An intriguing puzzle is unravelling around the collection of bones which have accumulated over numerous digs over two centuries, from the Troisieme caverne de Goyet, in Belgium.
State of the art techniques, including DNA and chemical analyses of the bones are yielding some interesting results. So far the remains of at least 5 individual Neanderthals have been identified, mixed in with the remains of other animals, including reindeer and horses.
The study team from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural sciences and California State University (USA) have concluded that there is evidence of cannibalism from the Neanderthal bone fragments, identified by the smashing of bones to extract the marrow and the sharpening of some bone fragments to act as tools.
But was this part of a ritual or a matter of survival? Some evidence of malnutrition (hinting at starvation levels) may point to the latter, but this cannot be totally conclusive as other discoveries on other sites prove, Neanderthal tribes led complex and widely differing practices, even within relatively short distances of each other.
Anthropologist and study author, Helene Rougier, is quoted as saying "[Cannibalism] scares people, it doesn't mean that Neanderthals weren't a complex culture. We cannot treat them too simply"
Edited from NPR (14 July 2016)
Rare skeletal remains found in Iron Age village
A major excavation is underway in rural Dorset (England), near the modern day village of Winter borne Kingston. The team of archaeologists from Bournemouth University are actually uncovering the remains of the original village settlement, which first occupied the site in approximately 100 BCE. They have named it Duropolis, in honour of the Durotriges, the Iron Age tribe that would have comprised its first inhabitants.
The site is quite large, covering approximately 4 hectares, and so far the team has uncovered most of the elements of a typical Iron Age settlement, including roundhouses, storage and animal enclosures. The presence of this unfortified settlement coincides with the decline and abandonment of nearby hill forts, heralding in a more peaceful era.
One of the co-Directors of this year's dig, Dr Miles Russell, is quoted as saying "People think that towns were introduced by the Romans in the 1sdt. Century CE and that's simply not true. What we've here are all the elements of an urban system a good hundred years before the Romans arrived and it seems to be continuing up until the point that they left".
However, the most exciting find in this year's dig is the discovery of the skeletal remains of 8 bodies, the significance of which is explained by the other co-Director, Paul Cheetham: "Understanding of our Iron Age past is significantly improved by this finds, given the advances in scientific investigation, such as DNA and isotope analysis, which provide an insight into population movements and ancestry. Accessing skeletal information from this date in the UK is extremely rare, as most pre Roman tribes either practised cremation or placed bodies in rivers or bogs, so this data could completely change our understanding of the Iron Age".
Edited from Dorset Echo (7 July 2016)
9 August 2016
Evolution of Neolithic societies in Orkney
The traditional understanding of the Neolithic period in Orkney has long been of a game of two halves, represented by completely different cultural packages: the early phase in the 4th millennium BCE, associated with single farmsteads, compartmented burial cairns, and shallow round-bottomed pottery with limited decoration; and the late Neolithic turn of the 3rd millennium BCE, associated with villages, passage-grave tombs, and flat-bottomed pottery with ornate decoration. With no clear sign of a transition between these two, the arrival of a new group replacing the earlier culture was suggested, however new dating evidence confirms an idea originally suggested by Colin Renfrew, blurring the lines between early and late Neolithic categories.
The Cuween-Wideford Landscape Project was set up in 1994 to further explore this idea, initially focusing on Stonehall Farm, where a mid to late 4th millennium BCE dispersed settlement had graduated to a late Neolithic village in the late 3rd millennium BCE, and soon uncovering traces of similarly early activity at other sites. The programme quickly expanded to the whole Bay of Firth, about 7 kilometres east of the Stenness-Brodgar ritual complex.
In 2002 the team realised there were traces of older timber structures beneath several Neolithic stone structures at Wideford Hill, and this pattern was repeated across Orkney - a completely unexpected development, as wooden structures were not previously thought to have been part of the Orcadian Neolithic. These discoveries also undermined the long-held belief that stalled cairns and stone houses came together to Neolithic Orkney - using the same architecture, dividing internal space using pairs of orthostats, mimicking domestic architecture and creating houses for the dead.
Radiocarbon dating places the earliest stalled cairns circa 3600-3500 BCE, but stone houses do not appear until around 300 years later - tomb-builders seem to have lived in the nearby timber houses. Burial cairns were not modelled on dwellings, but the other way around.
Building in wood gives any structure a finite lifespan. Those wooden structures excavated show frequently shifting footprints, and little sign of decayed posts being replaced. Building in stone roots a structure in one location. At several sites the team noted building materials being recycled again and again as the settlements expand.
The excavated stone structures are generally significantly larger than the timber buildings they replaced, and could have accommodated many more people. It seems likely we are seeing the results of cooperation between larger groups, a more collectivist style of living, and bigger social units being brought together.
Edited from Archaeology.co.uk (04 August 2016)
24 July 2016
Holding hands for 5,000 years, a couple with jade rings and dagger
The grave of a couple believed to be from the Bronze Age Glazkov culture has been excavated in Siberia. "In the grave we found male and female skeletons, lying on their backs, heads to the west, hand in hand," says archeologist Dr Dmitry Kichigin.
The burial is located at a cape on Maloe More, the strait separating the mainland and the Olkhon island, close to Chernorud, some 260 kilometres north-east of Irkutsk. Overlooking the waters of Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, the site is a sacred burial place since Neolithic times and likely to contain more burials, possibly older than this one. The precise location is secret.
Bone samples have been sent for radiocarbon analysis, but the Russian team involved in the excavations believe the couple to be 4,500 to 5,000 years old.
The male skeleton is complete but rodents destroyed the upper part of the female. Near the woman was a large knife made of jade, some 13 centimetres in length and 7 centimetres in width. The man's skeleton had a ring made of rare white jade over one eye socket. Three more rings were on his chest. Pendants of red deer and musk deer teeth were found on the man's skull and around his feet, which likely decorated the hat and footwear.
"We also found some metal implement in a small leather bag between male's kneecaps," Adds Kichigin. "We can expect a lot of interesting discoveries on this archaeological site, so we plan to continue our work next year." Analysis of this summer's finds will begin in the autumn.
Edited from The Siberian Times (13 July 2016)
Homo erectus walked as we do
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 behaviours.
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 behaviour 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 behaviours that distinguish modern humans from other primates.
Edited from PhysOrg, Science Daily (12 July 2016)
Digs uncover buildings in Cyprus' 11,000-year-old village
Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of more than 20 round buildings between 3 and 6 metres in diameter at the site of Ayios Tychonas-Klimonas in Limassol, the earliest known village in Cyprus, on the southern coast of the island. The buildings were constructed on small terraces cut into a gentle slope facing the sea. The walls were built with earth and strengthened with wooden poles, and the floors were often plastered. Most buildings contain large hearths, sometimes accompanied by a millstone weighing between 30 and 50 kilograms. The buildings were probably frequently reconstructed, as multiple layers of remains were found on the terraces.
The buildings are situated around a 10 metre diameter circular communal building dating to between 11,200 and 10,600 years BP, that was excavated between 2011 and 2012. More recent surveys and excavations show that the village would have covered an area of at least half a hectare.
Animal bones indicate the presence of domestic dogs and cats, and that villagers hunted wild boar and birds, and there is strong evidence for the cultivation of emmer wheat - a primitive cereal introduced from the continent. Large quantities of stone tools, stone vessels, and stone and shell beads or pendants were also found. At this time, the villagers did not produce pottery.
The organisation of the village, its architecture, the stone tools and the presence of agriculture and hunting are elements that are very similar to those already been identified in the early Pre-Pottery Neolithic Levant, between 11,500 and 10,500 years BP.
A statement by the Department of Antiquities describes the site as the earliest known manifestation of an agricultural and village way of life worldwide, demonstrating that although Cyprus was more than 70 kilometres from the mainland, the island was part of broader Near Eastern Neolithic developments.
Edited from Cyprus Mail, PhysOrg (12 July 2016)
23 July 2016
Megalithic structures unearthed in northeastern India
Prehistoric megaliths and tools discovered in Meghalaya's Ri-Bhoi district, in the northeastern India state of Assam, indicate that the Khasi tribe, one of the major tribes in the state, had made the area their home since around 1200 BCE.
Archaeologist Marco Mitri and a team from the North Eastern Hills University excavated the site near Lummawbuh village on the northern slopes of Sohpetbneng (heaven's navel) peak. Mitri said they found megalithic stone structures and iron implements dating to the prehistoric period spread over a 1.5 kilometre area on the ridge.
The excavation at Lummawbuh is the first one of a Neolithic site in Meghalaya. Radiocarbon tests confirm their finds dated to 12th century BCE.
The megalithic structures are used in the traditional mortuary practice which was popular among the tribesmen until a few decades ago.
"These Neolithic structures were first discovered in 2004 and it took at least a decade to confirm the existence of a settlement in the area till about 200 years ago," Mitri said.
Mitri's work, "Outline of Neolithic Culture of Khasi and Jaintia Hills" was published in 2009 by The British Archaeological Reports. Mitri also edited the 2010 book, "Cultural-Historical Interaction and the Tribes of North East India".
Edited from The Indian Express (11 July 2016)
Early Pacific islanders may have used obsidian to make tattoos
Skin normally decays, leading to a lack of evidence of tattooing in ancient peoples. Some researchers have looked for the tools which might have been used, yet many are assumed to have been made of biodegradable material such as fish bone. Now three researchers from Australia have found evidence of obsidian tools being crafted for use in creating tattoos approximately 3,000 years ago by South Pacific Islanders.
Nina Kononenko and Robin Torrence of the University of Sydney and Peter Sheppard of the University of Auckland conducted experiments using cut obsidian - an obvious choice, due to its sharp, glass-like features. They focused on the Solomon Islands as a possible site of early tattooing activities for several reasons, including the region's long history of tattooing, easy access to obsidian, and obsidian artefacts suitable for creating tattoos found at a site called Nanggu dating back around 3,000 years. Prior research had suggested obsidian tools were used to tan hides, but a lack of large animals would have meant there were no hides to tan. To test the possibility that the artefacts had been used to create tattoos, the researchers gathered obsidian samples from island sites, fashioned them into roughly the same shapes as the artefacts and used them to create tattoos on pigskin, afterwards comparing microscopic views of both sets of tools.
The sample tools they created looked remarkably similar under the microscope to the artefacts, with characteristic chipping, rounding and blunting as well as thin scratches. In addition, the artefacts carried traces of ochre, charcoal, and blood - strong evidence of obsidian tools being used by early islanders to create tattoos.
Edited from PhysOrg (11 July 2016)
22 July 2016
Aboriginal history revealed in caves
Located on the Salisbury Island, which lie 60km off the southern coast of Western Australia, are a series of caves, which contain Aboriginal artefacts and is patrolled by sharks. Besides the archaeologists, traditional owners, ablone divers, and filmmakers have helped search for the archaeological artefacts.
David Guilfoyle, who works for Applied Archaeology Australia, is the leader of the project has that: "The present-day mainland is 60 kilometres 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.î
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 centre of Australia ó a massive feature surrounded by low, flat bushland 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)