16 June 2017
Oldest human-made object from South America discovered
A small, ancient, and rectangular copper mask was found in the southern Andes in Argentina, and dated to be about 3,000 years old. According to archaeologists, it has been determined to be amongst the oldest human made objects from South America, challenging the consensus that metalworking started in Peru.
The mask has been dated to about 1,000 BCE and was found in an area commonly associated with the burial of women and children. The mask is marked with holes for the eye and mouth, as well as openings for attaching the mask.
A local copper ore source lies within 44 miles (70 kilometres) of where the mask was uncovered, suggesting a local production. This makes it likely that metal production in Peru was contemporary with the production in Argentina.
Other metal objects found in South America have been discovered in souther Peru and estimated to be nearly 4,000 years old. Bronze objects dated to 1,000 CE have also been discovered in the Peruvian Andes, though determining the origin of the finds has been difficult.
The mask was uncovered due to a summer rainy season, which also uncovered a collection of human bones in a tomb near the La Quebrada village in Northwestern Argentina. The total amount of bodies is estimated to about 14 with the bones being mixed and the mask lying in one corner.
The mask measures about 7 inches long and 6 inches wide (18 centimetres x 15 centimetres). It is at least 99% pure copper and would have been cold hammered and then reheated. Due to the mask's shape and the age of the object, it strongly suggests a much older metal production than previously thought.
"Proof of copper smelting and annealing [a process of cooling metal slowly to make it stronger] further highlights the northwest Argentinian valleys and northern Chile as early centers in the production of copper," the researchers wrote, adding that "This data is essential to any narrative that seeks to understand the emergence of Andean metallurgy."
Edited from LiveScience (6 June 2017)
Scientists solve prehistoric bison hunt mystery
In the summer of 2002 archaeologists excavated an area of Bear Creek in Stanton County (Kansas, USA), who uncovered a mystery buried within the grey soil. They uncovered a thick bed of white bone that stretched 40 yards with skeletons were bunched up shoulder to shoulder. According to Rolfe Mandel, geoarchaeologist from the University of Kansas: "What we found was more than a great story. It is a window in time - and an ancient testament to human daring."
The bison grave predates the invention of the bow and arrow, meaning that these bison were killed from an arm's length distance. This was incredibly dangerous, so the hunters used to kill the bison worked as an ambush team.
The hunters are referred to as Paleo Indians, i.e. pre Native American populations, and are known to be hunter-gatherers working in bands of no more than 30 people. In these bands, they followed bison on foot, walking hundreds of miles every year. The bison were found 50 years west of an alfalfa-covered depression, called a playa, common in western Kansas that are often carved by wind and then fill with water, which would attract bison.
It is believed that the hunters did not wander around blindly, but targeted the playas where prey would gather. Once the prey was spotted, the group would divide into two teams, spear throwers and the drivers. The drivers mission would be to scare the bison into moving and eventually push them back into the bank, where the bison could not move, where they would be easy targets. From the excavations, they could determine that the spear throwers would have been on the other side of the bank.
This was a specialized band of hunters, as noted by University of Kansas anthropologist Jack Hofman: "Bisons are so hard to hunt on foot that you probably need to specialize. You don't just live along a rover gathering mussels, and one day pick up a sharp stick and hunt bison."
Edited from The Wichita Eagle (27 May 2017)
13,000-year-old arrowhead discovered in Massachusetts
Archaeologists from Northampton discovered what they believe to be the oldest artefact ever found within Massachusetts (USA). Investigations have focused on how this artefact could provide information for a broader study of prehistoric life in the valley.
Richard Gamly, an archaeologist from North Andover and leader of the team of research, said that "This is just the very beginning of what will probably prove to be a very important archaeological site." The research began in 2015 following the discovery of a supposed Clovis point arrowhead that could be more than 12,800 years old, referring to a specific Native American culture known for its stonework.
The arrowhead was found by Jason Lovett of Vermont, special educator and amateur archaeologist, during metal detecting. Lovett immediately knew what he had found and met with Gramly who returned the find to the farm's owner, who then allowed further search of his fields.
Gramly has noted that "While no more arrowheads have been found, the team has discovered items suggesting that native peoples hunted here in prehistoric times." The most recent trip to field revealed not only quartz flakes but also Hudsen River Valley flint, known to be the material used for Clovis tools.
The historic utility is revealed by the shape of the rock, according to Barbara L. Calogero, being shaped to optimize the piercing effects of the arrowhead. "The fluting that was found is very diagnostic of folks who were here 12,000 years ago," According to Calogero. The amount of flakes discovered point to the area being used as a springtime hunting ground, the riverbanks providing natural sustenance for humans for thousands of years.
Due to the constant agricultural activity in the area, finds are constantly being pulled to the surface.
Edited from Daily Hampshire Gazette (25 May 2017)
15 June 2017
Bones in Israel rewrite Neanderthal history
Previously known only from cave sites, the recent discovery from about 60,000 years ago of Neanderthal remains and material culture at an open-air site at Ein Kashish, on the banks of the Kishon river in northern Israel, counters the assumption that Neanderthals were mostly cave-dwellers on the verge of extinction when Homo sapiens arrived about 55,000 years ago. It is the first such discovery in the Levant.
Humans are known to have reached the Levant between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago, but that group evidently died out. Neanderthals were in the Levant between about 80,000 and 55,000 years ago.
This discovery of remains from two individuals is the first in the Levant to be found in an open-air context and proven to be Neanderthal. Of one, only a single back tooth was found, in association with flint tools and animal bones. The second was a teenager or young man about 164 centimetres tall, who had injuries that would have caused him to limp. His five lower limb bones were found with multiple artifacts, including flint tools, animal bones, a roe deer antler, a seashell, and some unusual finds for this period, such as ochre.
The remains were dated to the late Middle Paleolithic period, between 70,000 and 60,000 years ago, roughly when modern man is believed to have passed through here moving north from Africa. Genetic evidence shows that modern humans cross-bred with Neanderthals after leaving Africa, and many believe this happened in the Levant.
Doctor Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority, says: "One hypothesis among some anthropologists had been that when modern man arrived, Neanderthals were already weakened and would have died out anyway. But they were not at that point in danger of extinction. They ruled the area. If they were already growing scarce, their remains from the time wouldn't have been found at so many sites in Israel."
The Levant is the only known region where the two populations existed during the Middle Paleolithic. One explanation for Neanderthals disappearance is the increasing dry climate of the period. The finds from Ein Kashish suggest Neanderthal groups repeatedly returned to the open-air sites during this time.
Edited from Israel Antiquities Authority (June 2017), The Jerusalem Post (7 June 2017), Haaretz (8 June 2017)
Bamboo raft to explore 30,000-year-old sea route
A traditional bamboo raft was recently launched in Taimali in Taitung County, Taiwan, as part of a Taiwan-Japan project to explore a sea route between Taiwan and Okinawa which may have been traveled 30,000 years ago.
Rowers from Taiwan and Japan used paddles made in Yonaguni, Okinawa Prefecture, to test the Amis-style raft in waters off Taiwan's east coast. They plan to cross the Kuroshio Current and the 33 kilometres to Green Island in June, and then on to Yonaguni, 110 kilometres east of Taiwan. Archeologists will study whether humans traveled between Taiwan and Okinawa on similar vessels in the Palaeolithic period.
The Amis are the largest of sixteen recognised indigenous peoples of Taiwan - primarily fisherman, and traditionally matrilineal, with relatively large villages of 500 to 1,000 inhabitants.
Lee Yu-fen, director of the Taiwanese museum, said Taiwan has been a hub for migration in East Asia since ancient times, and the voyage will help scholars revisit how humans could have moved around. According to Japanese archaeologists, the early inhabitants of Japan tens of thousands of years ago most likely traveled from eastern Siberia to Hokkaido, from the Korean Peninsula to Kyushu and Honshu, and from Taiwan to the Ryukyu Islands.
Stone tools found in Taitung's Changbin Township indicate a human presence there about 50,000 to 5,000 years ago in the late Paleolithic. Lin says that since no human remains were found in Changbin, it is difficult to determine if the inhabitants made any sea voyages.
Edited from Publicnow.com (6 June 2017), Wikipedia
14 June 2017
Neolithic tomb in Wales stars in new CGI film
Work has been completed on an innovative film that will bring to life one of the most evocative archaeological sites in Britain. Bryon Celli Ddu is a 5,000-year-old passage grave on Ynys Mon (Anglesey), in the extreme northwest of Wales, and the only known site in Wales where the sun casts a beam of light into the monument on the summer solstice, which occurs this year on Wednesday June 21st.
Part of the Bryn Celli Ddu landscape project, the film shows how the site may have looked during the Neolithic period, and sheds light on the newly-discovered rock art panels and the Bronze Age cairn which surrounds the monument.
Using computer generated imagery, a range of three-dimensional models, and laser scanning techniques, the film reconstructs the monument, as well as eleven rock art panels which stood in the immediate landscape thousands of years ago.
The animation allows viewers to 'see' the site development from the Mesolithic through to its late Neolithic heyday, viewing the chamber, the passage, and the original setting of the famous pattern stone.
Dr Ffion Reynolds, Heritage and Arts Manager for Cadw, the history and environment service of the Welsh government, says the reconstruction is based on data, documentary evidence and archaeological discoveries.
Special events are planned to mark the beginning of the project's third season of excavation. On Friday June 16th, stargazers are invited to bring telescopes or binoculars to the site, and on Saturday June 17th an open day celebrates the Neolithic period in Wales, including live tours of the monument and the open archaeological trenches, flint knapping demonstrations, and hands-on pottery making, with the full summer schedule on their website: gov.wales/cadw
Edited from Tinkinswood Archaeology (9 June 2017)
West Kennet timber circles older than previously thought
New dates for two massive circular wooden enclosures built at West Kennet, close to Avebury (Wiltshire, England), show they predate the first stones erected at nearby Stonehenge by about 800 years. Archaeologists think they were used for only a short time about 5,300 years ago, then purposely burned.
Study co-author Alex Bayliss, a statistical archaeologist with Historic England, says: "It's completely unlike anything we've ever found in the British prehistory."
The area around Stonehenge is saturated with ancient sites. Bones found near Stonehenge suggest that the area was a wild-auroch hunting ground long before the monument was built. Avebury has its own henge monument. Silbury Hill, the largest prehistoric artificial chalk mound, stands nearby. The remains of a Neolithic settlement called Durrington Walls shows signs of ancient feasting, and may have been where the builders of Stonehenge lived while working there.
The wooden circles at West Kennet were discovered when a pipeline was being laid in the 1960s and 70s. In the late 80s and early 90s, Cardiff University archaeologist Alasdair Whittle led a small excavation which found charred remains, and deduced that two immense circles had been built side-by-side with only a small gap between them. One was a single ring about 250 metres in diameter, the other a concentric double ring about 200 metres in diameter.
The enclosures were probably built by digging ditches and placing oak posts into sockets in the ground creating a huge palisade. The posts were very closely set; around 4,000 trees would have been needed.
Whittle's team originally carbon-dated a shard of pottery found in one of the post holes to around 2500 BCE. Improved techniques available to Bayliss' team push the dates for charred remains from post holes, animal bones, and fragments of pottery back a further 800 years to 3,300 BCE - a period for which relatively little archaeological evidence exists.
Her team suspects the two enclosures were used as a gathering place, but not for long; few other remains of human occupation dating to the period were found.
Edited from BBC News, LiveScience (8 June 2017)
Prehistoric site discovered off California coast
A crew working on a rehabilitation project of the historic Main Ranch House on Santa Rosa Island have discovered an ancient Native American site beneath the building. Santa Rosa is the second-largest of California's Channel Islands, about 100 kilometres west of Los Angeles. It is part of the Channel Islands National Park.
The house was constructed sometime after 1869 and served as a sheep and cattle ranch for more than 150 years. It had been lifted to allow construction of a foundation. Within a few days of tunneling, the archaeological monitor found stone flakes, and work was suspended while an archeological team conducted an investigation in consultation with elders of the local Chumash tribe, who call the island Wima, meaning 'driftwood'.
Gary Brown, National Park Service archaeologist, says: "there are intact paleocoastal deposits from the south end of the house to the opposite end on the north." He and his team first found a distinctive stone called a Channel Islands barbed point, and later a crescent - two types of stone tools made from local chert. Both likely would have been used to hunt and fish, and represent a sophisticated technology of early tool making on the islands. They are between 8,000 and 16,000 years old.
Speaking about the tools, Jon Erlandson, University of Oregon Archeologist and leading expert on Paleocoastal archeology, reveals: "Usually, when we find the two of them together, the site is at least 10,000 years old and could be 12,000 years old or older." Erlandson says the Chumash people and their ancestors have been on the islands for thousands of years. "That suggests that these were some of the very earliest peoples along the Pacific Coast. We know now that they were on the islands as early as they were practically anywhere in the new world. The Channel Islands, especially the northern islands, are emerging as one of the central places in understanding the peopling of the new world."
Santa Rosa Island is also where the "Arlington Man" was discovered - the oldest known human remains found in North America, dating back about 13,000 years. The team hopes to find clues about the prey being hunted then.
Edited from Ventura County Star (5 June 2017), Keyt.com (6 June 2017)
13 June 2017
Clava Cairns site in Scotland vandalised
One of Scotland's ancient burial sites has been vandalised. Stones have been dislodged and graffiti written on a rock at the 4,000-year-old Clava Cairns near Culloden in the Highlands. The cairns have been an inspiration for Diana Gabaldon's Outlander stories, and the ancient cemetery was a used as a sacred place for 1,000 years.
The recent damage to the site was highlighted by local group Inverness Outlanders. A spokesman for Historic Environment Scotland, which manages the site, said: "We are aware of the recent vandalism to Clava Cairns and remedial work is scheduled to remove it. Thankfully incidents such as this are rare, however, we'd ask that members of the public refrain from graffiti at our sites and remind them that it is a criminal offence to cause reckless or deliberate damage to a scheduled monument."
Seventeen years ago, a Belgian tourist took a stone from one of the cairns as a souvenir before returning it after complaining it had cursed his family. Surprised staff at Inverness Tourist Centre received a parcel containing the stone and a letter which urged them to return it to its rightful place at Clava Cairns. The man said that since taking the stone his daughter had broken her leg, his wife had become very ill, and he had lost his job and broken his arm. A tourist official returned the "cursed stone" to Clava Cairns.
Edited from BBC News (7 June 2017)
Prehistoric henge uncovered in Warwickshire
A prehistoric henge, dating back almost 6,000 years, has been uncovered on farmland in Warwickshire (England). The site, in Newbold-on-Stour, is earmarked for a housing development.
A geophysical survey led to an initial dig in 2016, but archaeologists have been 'excited' to discover what was originally thought to be a burial mound is in fact a ritual gathering place. Unlike Stonehenge, the site in Newbold consists only of a circular space, surrounded by a mound and ditch.
Dating back to between 4,000 and 3,000 BCE, its exact purpose is unclear, but Nigel Page, from Archaeology Warwickshire, said it was "very clearly ritual".
Five skeletons, believed to date to the late Bronze Age, were found in the ditch. Dating on those is expected to be be completed in mid June, but Mr Page said they were in themselves a surprising find. "Surviving skeletons in this area is so rare, because the soil conditions just sort of eat the bones," he said.
Edited from BBC News (20 May 2017)
Stirling's lost Iron Age roundhouse rediscovered?
Archaeologists believe they have found part of the remains of an Iron Age roundhouse, known as a broch, in Stirling (Scotland). It was first discovered and described by a local archaeologist Christian Maclagan in the 1870s. Attitudes towards women at the time meant her academic paper on the broch was only accepted after it was transcribed by a man.
Maclagan's discovery in Wester Livilands was lost under a landscaped garden, but on the afternoon of the last day of last summer's excavation, stones were found that suggested archaeologists were digging in the right place. Two weeks ago, further work was done and revealed what is believed to be part of the interior and wall of the broch.
Maclagan's discovery is important because the broch is the only known example to date of an Iron Age roundhouse in an urban setting. The stone-built towers are more commonly found in rural and remote parts of the north of Scotland, including Caithness, Glenelg on the west Highland coast and Orkney.
A crowdfunding campaign is expected to be launched to help fund a proper excavation.
Edited from BBC News (20 May 2017)
Prehistoric site uncovered around a Shrewsbury church
An archaeological dig around a Shrewsbury church (Shropshire, England) has revealed it is the earliest known sacred site that is still in use in Britain today - dating back 4,050 years. Carbon dating of a wooden post, extracted from the dig at the Church of the Holy Fathers, on Oteley Road, Sutton in February, has shown it was first placed in the ground in 2033 BCE.
The recent archaeological dig shows that the late 12th /early 13th century 10-metre long church was originally three times its current size and that it was built directly over the remains of an earlier Anglo-Saxon church and Neolithic/early Bronze Age structures. Its finds correspond directly with earlier archaeological excavations by Philip Barker and Ernie Jenks in the 1960s. Barker and Jenks discovered prehistoric burial mounds and cremations, slots for standing stones and two rows of Neolithic post holes and a ditch, known as a cursus, which they interpreted as a processional way. It was aligned east to west, extending towards the current church building.
"The current church appears to have incorporated and deliberately built over late Neolithic/early Bronze Age remains. The 15-inch section of post we found was sticking up into the Medieval foundations," said Janey Green, of Baskerville Archaeological Services. "It is an incredibly complex site and appears to have been used and re-used for religious purposes for over 4,000 years. It is well known that Christians liked to build churches over pagan sites," said Green.
"More work needs to be done but early interpretations indicate that it is the earliest known sacred site in Britain that is still in use today. The only other site of a Christian church that is known to date back to the late Neolithic period is at Cranborne Chase, in Dorset, but it is a disused Norman church," the archaeologist added. "This is a living monument. People are still worshipping here. The earliest sacred development on the site was probably a stone circle with a cursus," Green concluded.
Other significant finds from the recent dig include a carved Saxon stone, the remains of what is thought to be an Anglo-Saxon apse, a prehistoric flint and a Neolithic counting disc. Some animal burials were also found in the dig although these are still to be dated.
Edited from Shropshire Star (18 May 2017)
6 June 2017
Siberian island provides earliest evidence for dog breeding
9,000 years ago, the hunter-gatherers of the Zhokov Island survived frigid temperatures in animal-skin tents, some 500 kilometres north of Russian mainland. These people successfully hunted large numbers of polar bears without any firearms. Recent research has also shown that they may have been the first humans to ever breed dogs for a particular purpose, pulling sleds.
The research was done by Melinda Zeder, an archaeozoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. She believes that the evidence of breeding may give an indication as to why ancient populations originally domesticated dogs. As Angela Perri, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, notes "It fills in a missing piece of the puzzle of early human-dog relationships, and even domestication itself."
Like many areas in Europe the Zhokov Island was once connected to modern Siberian before the sea rose. In this area the Zhokhovians not only hunted polar bears, but also reindeer hundreds of kilometres across vast plains. Vladimir Pitulko, an archaeologist at the Russian Academy of Sceinces in St. Petersburg supports the theory of dogs being bred for sleds, as he notes "They needed a means of transportation." Pitulko has been excavating Zhokov Island since 1989, finding both bog bones and wooden sled remains, but it was unclear whether the dogs were bred for sledding.
With the help of Aleksey Kasparov, an archaeologist at the same institute as Pitulko, they were able to determine that the bones were indeed canine in nature, though one appeared to be a wolf-dog hybrid. The Zhokhovian dogs were "reconstructed" from fossil bones of 11 individuals and were determined to weigh between 16 and 25 kilograms and most closely resemble modern Siberian Huskies. The wolf-dog Hybrid weighed about 29 kilograms and may have more closely resembled an Alaskan Malamute. Pitulko notes that dogs of this size are big enough to pull sleds without overheating like larger dogs. His theory is that they may have bred smaller dogs for pulling sleds and larger ones to hunt the polar bears, "They were clearly shaping these animals to do something special."
The reason for domestication and eventual breeding of dogs has been discussed for some time. While scientists do not agree on when the domestication of dogs happened, it has been suggested that it started at least 15,000 years ago. This fits well with climate changes leading to less large game, such as mammoths, and more small game like reindeer. Here dogs could help hunt the smaller prey or even provide means for ancient peoples to track them.
The team will reveal the full results in the next Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
Edited from Science Mag 26 May 2017
Ochre use in Ethiopian cave persisted over thousands of years
Ochre was used by the inhabitants of the Porc-Epic cave - in Ethiopia, two kilometers south of the town Dire Dawa - for at least 4,500 according to a recent study done by Daniela Rosso from the University of Barcelona and the University of Bordeaux. The results were recently published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.
Ochre is an iron-rich rock, characterized by its red or yellow color and has been found at many Middle Stone Age sites, with the largest collection found at Porc-Epic and weighs in at 40 kg. The assemblage has been dated back to 40,000 years ago. The authors' of the paper present their detailed study of 3,792 piece of ochre, which were studied using microscopy and experimental reproduction of processing techniques to assess how they were produced over the 4,500-year timespan.
One of the more interesting finds from this study is how the processing techniques changed over the long period, with the amount of modifications decreasing over time. Flaking and scraping of ochre pieces is shown to have increased over time while the act of grinding the tools decreased over time. This change in production overtime has been interpreted as a form of cultural drift.
Overall, some of the modified ochre show that some of the ochre pieces were worked with different grindstones at different times. It is believed that some of these stones were used to produce ochre powder, which would have been used in symbolic activities. The authors believe that their analysis of ochre treatment reflects a "cohesive behavioral system shared by all community members and consistently transmitted through time."
Edited from PhysOrg 24 May 2017
Tool sharpens focus on network in ancient Middle East
A stone tool discovered in Syria some 80 years ago is helping archaeologists gain a greater understanding of networks in the Stone Age. The stone itself is small enough to fit in an adult's hand as is dated to between 41,000 and 32,000 year ago, according to archaeologists Ellery Frahm and Thomas Hauck.
The tool was fashioned out of volcanic outcrops found in central Turkey, which lies at least 700 kilometres from the artefact's site. This makes the stone almost 30,000 to 20,000 year older than the obsidian stone that was thought to be the earliest of its type to be transported. According to Fahm of Yale University and Hauck of the University of Cologne in Germany, the tool was most likely shaped into a useable tool near its Turkish source. They also believe the tool was passed from one mobile group to the next before reaching its deposition site at the Yabroud II rock-shelter.
Even though the shortest route between the two sites about 700 kilometres, hunter-gatherers are known to have meandered so it is believed that it travelled further. "They didn't type 'Yabroud' into a GPS unit and make their way to the rock-shelter as fast as possible," Frahm says.
The tool was found at the Yabroud sites between 1930 and 1933, though its inclusion was thought to be a mistake until it was noted in the lead excavator's book that it was found in sediment layers dated to around the time of Neanderthals and ancient humans. Frahm and Hauck used a portable x-ray device to determine the chemical composition of the tool and 230 obsidian samples from other sites in southwestern Asia, which led them to the Turkish source.
The transportation of obsidian tools outside of Middle East have occurred in Stone Age Eurasia based on the discovery of obsidian pieces found in 1966 in Iraq's Shanidar Cave, which originated some 450 kilometres north of the cave. "That analysis used an earlier technique for measuring a stone's chemical composition. Shanidar's obsidian finds date to about the same time as that of the Yabroud II obsidian tool, perhaps to as early as 48,000 years ago," Frahm says.
Edited from ScienceNews 23 May 2017