26 May 2015
Bronze Age Egtved girl was not from Denmark
Egtved Girl was a Nordic Bronze Age girl whose well-preserved remains were discovered outside Egtved, Denmark in 1921. Aged 16 to 18 at death, she was slim, 160 centimetres tall, had blonde hair and well-trimmed nails. Recent analyses show she was born and raised outside Denmark's current borders, and travelled great distances the last two years of her life.
The wool from the her clothing, the blanket she was covered with, and the oxhide she was laid to rest on all originate from the Black Forest, 800 kilometres away in southwest Germany - as do the cremated remains of a six-year-old child who was buried with the her. The girl's oak coffin dates the burial to the summer of 1370 BCE.
Senior researcher Karin Margarita Frei, from the National Museum of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen, traced the last two years of the Egtved Girl's life by examining the strontium isotopic signatures in the girl's 23-centimetre-long hair. The analysis shows that she had been on a long journey shortly before she died.
Kristian Kristiansen, of the University of Gothenburg and the University of Copenhagen, says: "In Bronze Age Western Europe, Southern Germany and Denmark were the two dominant centres of power, very similar to kingdoms. We find many direct connections between the two in the archaeological evidence, and my guess is that the Egtved Girl was a Southern German girl who was given in marriage to a man in Jutland so as to forge an alliance between two powerful families."
Denmark was rich in amber and traded amber for bronze. In Mycenaean Greece and in the Middle East, Baltic amber was as coveted as gold, and, through middlemen in Southern Germany, large quantities of amber were transported to the Mediterranean, and large quantities of bronze came to Denmark as payment. In the Bronze Age, bronze was as valuable a raw material, so Denmark became one of the richest areas of Northern Europe.
A great number of Danish Bronze Age graves contain human remains as well-preserved as those found in the Egtved Girl's grave. Karin Margarita Frei and Kristian Kristiansen plan to examine these remains with a view to analysing their strontium isotope signatures.
Edited from Phys.org (21 May 2015), Wikipedia
Hundreds of gaming pieces found in Utah cave
A cave on the shore of Utah's Great Salt Lake is giving archaeologists a rare glimpse into prehistoric gambling. Cave 1 has proven to hold a profusion of artefacts, most of which date to a span of just 20 to 40 years in the late 13th century CE, belonging to members of an obscure culture known as the Promontory. Researchers believe the Promontory people migrated from the Canadian Subarctic to the American Southwest.
Heaps of animal remains and children's footwear unearthed in the cave suggest this group was thriving in the late 1200s, when cultures like the nearby Fremont, who lived just a few kilometres away, had given up farming and were struggling to forage during a time of drought.
"The numbers and diversity of gaming artefacts that we see in the Promontory record are unparalleled in western North America," said Dr John Ives, an archaeologist who has been researching the cave complex for years.
Most of the game pieces are dice, made from split pieces of cane, one side decorated with cut or burned lines, the other side plain. Many were discovered near the entrance of the cave, around a large central hearth.
According to Alberta doctoral student Gabriel Yanicki, who is collaborating on the research, dice games were typically played only by women, for small stakes, or to allocate tasks like cooking.
Based on historical accounts, the pieces may have been used in a game in which three to eight dice were thrown to score points based on how many of the marked sides fell face-up, won by the first player to reach a predetermined score. While men usually didn't take part in dice games themselves, they often bet on the results.
The greatest significance of Cave 1's game pieces may not just be in how they were used, but in where they came from. The artefacts include gambling tools from nearly every part of the ancient American West.
The cane dice are similar to those found throughout much of the Southwest, but not elsewhere in the Great Basin. Researchers also discovered a die made from a beaver tooth wrapped in sinew, of a type used by the Klamath culture on the Oregon coast, 1400 kilometres to the west. "A spiral-incised stick looks similar to objects used in a guessing game played by a number of peoples in northern British Columbia," Yanicki says. A small sinew-netted hoop and feathered dart are indicative of gambling traditions from the Great Plains to the Colorado Plateau.
In a previous study of 200 moccasins found in the cave, Ives determined that the majority were in a style typical of the Canadian Subarctic. This and other clues suggest that the Promontory had only recently migrated to the Great Basin before settling in the cave, eventually giving rise to cultures that include the Apache and the Navajo.
Edited from Western Digs (18 May 2015)
25 May 2015
World's oldest stone tools
A recently published study reveals that stone tools found almost by accident on the shore of Lake Turkana, in Kenya, in 2011, are by far the oldest known.
The discovery challenges the notion that the things that made humans unique among primates all evolved around the same time, and suggests that other, more distant relatives knew how to fashion their own tools out of stone at least 3.3 million years ago.
Lead study author Sonia Harmand, of Stony Brook University and the Universite Paris Ouest Nanterre, says: "Our discovery instantly pushed back the beginning of the archaeological record by 700,000 years, or over a quarter of humanity's previously known material cultural history."
Many primates use items like sticks as tools, and other species even use rocks as tools, but actually making a tool was thought to be something exclusive to members of the genus Homo, which is believed to have appeared roughly 2.8 million years ago, and includes modern humans. The traditional view was that stone tool making, along with other key human traits such as language and meat-eating, evolved at that time.
It remains unknown what species made these stone tools. They could have been created by an undiscovered extinct human species, or by Australopithecus, which is currently the leading contender for the ancestor of the human lineage, or by Kenyanthropus, a 3.3-million-year-old skull of which was discovered in 1999 about 1 kilometre from where the tools were later found.
Analysis of carbon isotopes in the soil and animal fossils at the site revealed a partially wooded, shrubby palaeo-environment.
Replicating the toolmaking process, the researchers conclude the techniques used may represent a stage between the pounding used by earlier hominins and the knapping of later toolmakers. This discovery also has implications for understanding the evolution of the human brain.
Scientists are now looking at the surfaces and edges of the tools and studying the sediment in which they were found to try to reconstruct how they were used.
Edited from LiveScience (20 May 2015), CNBC (21 May 2015)
Most European men descended from just three ancestors
Using new methods for analysing DNA variation that provide a less biased picture of diversity, and a better estimate of the timing of population events, a team led by Professor Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester's Department of Genetics sequenced a large part of the Y chromosome, passed exclusively from fathers to sons, in 334 men from 17 European and Middle Eastern populations. The genealogical tree they traced reveals three very young branches, whose shapes indicate recent expansions which account for the Y chromosomes of 64 percent of the men studied.
Estimates of past population sizes show populations from the Balkans to the British Isles underwent an explosion in population during the Bronze Age, between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago. This contrasts with earlier results for the Y chromosome, and also with the picture presented by maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA, which suggests much more ancient population growth.
Previous research has focused on the proportion of modern Europeans descending from Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer populations or more recent Neolithic farmers, reflecting a transition that began about 10,000 years ago.
Chiara Batini, also from the University of Leicester's Department of Genetics, and lead author of the study, adds: "Given the cultural complexity of the Bronze Age, it's difficult to link a particular event to the population growth that we infer. But Y-chromosome DNA sequences from skeletal remains are becoming available, and this will help us to understand what happened, and when."
Edited from Popular ARchaeology (19 May 2015), The Telegraph (20 May 2015)
21 May 2015
Newgrange to be X-rayed
The base of the 5,000- year-old Neolithic monument at Newgrange, Co Meath (Ireland), is to be X-rayed by a researcher in a bid to determine the origin of its granite boulders.
Dr Ian G Meighan of the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, who holds an honorary research position in Trinity College Dublin, is determining whether the boulders come from Newry or Mourne. He said work would get under way before the end of the year, using technology formerly used at Tara mines and now in the possession of Trinity College.
Speaking at the launch of 'First Light: the Origins of Newgrange' by Office of Public Works archaeologist Dr Robert Hensey, Dr Meighan said the X-rays would detect and quantify trace metals and identify the source of the granite. Newry and Mourne granite were "like chalk and cheese", he said.
'First Light: the Origins of Newgrange' is published as part of the 'Insights in Archaeology' series, by Oxbow Books, Oxford.
Edited from The Irish Times (20 May 2015)
19 May 2015
Declining mobility drove humans' shift to lighter bones
A new study of the bones of hundreds of humans who lived during the past 33,000 years in Europe finds the rise of agriculture and a corresponding fall in mobility drove a shift to lighter bones, rather than urbanization, nutrition or other factors. The discovery sheds light, researchers say, on a monumental change that has left modern humans susceptible to osteoporosis, a condition marked by brittle and thinning bones.
At the root of the finding is the knowledge that putting bones under the 'stress' of walking, lifting and running leads them to pack on more calcium and grow stronger. "There was a lot of evidence that earlier humans had stronger bones and that weight-bearing exercise in modern humans prevents bone loss, but we didn't know whether the shift to weaker bones over the past 30,000 years or so was driven by the rise in agriculture, diet, urbanization, domestication of the horse or other lifestyle changes," says Christopher Ruff, Ph.D. , a professor of functional anatomy and evolution at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "By analyzing many arm and leg bone samples from throughout that time span, we found that European humans' bones grew weaker gradually as they developed and adopted agriculture and settled down to a more sedentary lifestyle, and that moving into cities and other factors had little impact," Ruff added.
The researchers took molds of bones from museums' collections and used a portable X-ray machine to scan them, focusing on the tibia, femur, and humerus from 1,842 people from sites throughout Europe as old as 33,000 years and as recent as the 20th century. "By comparing the lower limbs with the upper limbs, which are little affected by how much walking or running a person does, we could determine whether the changes we saw were due to mobility or to something else, like nutrition," Ruff says.
The researchers found a decline in leg bone strength between the Mesolithic era, which began about 10,000 years ago, and the age of the Roman Empire, which began about 2,500 years ago. Arm bone strength, however, remained fairly steady. "The decline continued for thousands of years, suggesting that people had a very long transition from the start of agriculture to a completely settled lifestyle," Ruff says. "The difference in bone strength between a professional tennis player's arms is about the same as that between us and Paleolithic humans," he says.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (18 May 2015)
Volunteers help repair ancient cairn in Ireland
A group of volunteers has helped to repair a 5,000-year-old burial cairn on one of Northern Ireland's most significant mountains. Around 30 of them trekked to the top of Slieve Gullion in south Armagh to carry out the work, under the supervision of an archaeologist. They helped to fix damage done to the huge passage grave by the weather and increasing numbers of hill walkers. As a result, the entrance to the site was in danger of being blocked.
Archaeologist Martin Keery, who oversaw the work, praised the enthusiasm of the volunteers who climbed the mountain to help repair what is Ireland's highest passage grave. "This is the highest mountain in this area, so this would have been a prestigious site," Mr Keery said. He said its prominence and size meant the burial chamber would have been used for the cremation of important figures of the period.
The work was organised by the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership which was established to conserve and promote the environment in the area. The mountain also features prominently in Irish mythology. The legendary warrior, Cu Chulainn, is said to have been given his name there after he killed a ferocious guard dog which had attacked him.
Edited from BBC News (18 May 2015)
Cahokia's rise and fall linked to river flooding
At its peak, between around 1050 and 1200 CE, Cahokia - the famous complex of earthen mounds about 500 kilometres southwest of Chicago, USA - wielded economic power and religious influence from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
Until about 1,400 years ago, the area was prone to frequent and severe floods, with the Mississippi River rising at least 10 meters. Beginning around 600 CE big floods became less frequent. Indigenous peoples moved into the floodplain and began to farm more intensively.
Around 900 CE, people in the area began to cultivate maize and their population exploded, shown by the number and size of buildings and structures that sprang up in the region. By the mid-11th century these settlements had grown into a metropolis with a population of at least 10,000 in its central district.
Starting around 1200 CE, the climate became wetter again, and large floods returned with increasing frequency. Sediment cores show evidence of at least eight major flood events in the central Mississippi River valley. Layers above and below flood sediments allowed researchers to date the events.
Dr Sissel Schroeder, a Wisconsin archaeologist who collaborated in the research, says the return of the floods coincides closely with many signs of political instability and social upheaval: "We see some important changes in the archaeology of the site at this time, including a wooden wall that is built around the central precinct of Cahokia. There are shifts in craft production, house size and shape, and other signals in material production that indicate political, social, and economic changes that may be associated with social unrest."
Sam Munoz, a geographer at the University of Wisconsin and lead author of the study, was originally looking for signs of prehistoric land use on ancient forests. He chose Cahokia because it was such a large site. At one point, tens of thousands of people lived in and around Cahokia. If there was anywhere that ancient peoples would have altered the landscape, it was around Cahokia.
Munoz adds that: "Beyond the Cahokia site, our results demonstrate how sensitive large rivers like the Mississippi are to climatic variability - and how dependent human societies are on rivers."
Edited from Popular Archaeology, Western Digs (4 May 2015)
18 May 2015
A Late Glacial family at Trollesgave, Denmark
On a sandy plateau near a lake in Denmark, Trollesgave preserves evidence of human occupation identified with the Bromme Culture - a Late Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer society that extended across present-day Denmark, southern Sweden, northern Germany, possibly parts of England and Poland, and likely in once-dry areas now covered by the Baltic and North Seas. Typical stone tool finds consist of flint flakes, blades, burins and scrapers. The people hunted reindeer, moose, wolverine, and beaver.
Re-examining stone artefacts previously recovered from Trollesgave, Randolph Donahue of the University of Bradford, and Anders Fischer of the Danish Agency of Culture, report that the Bromme had easy access to fishing, hunting, and large flint nodules of good quality for tool making.
The site dates to a latter part of the climatically mild Allerod biozone, circa 12,700 BP, making Trollesgave the only well-dated site from the Bromme Culture - the northernmost extension of Late Glacial human habitation currently known in northwestern Europe.
Excavations revealed a single hearth, a possible dwelling, and several flint workshops, all dated to the Late Palaeolithic. Recently, Donahue and Fischer microscopically examined a total of 307 stone tool artefacts, including end scrapers for processing hides, burins for working bone and antler, and tanged projectile points. Many of the worked stones were clearly the product of at least one experienced, skilled knapper, others of a person with intermediate abilities, and still others from an unskilled individual - presumably a child.
The researchers report that: "The predominance of dry hide scraping over fresh hide working indicates that the assemblage was produced by a residential group, and not a task group," concluding that this typical Bromme Culture settlement was the residence of a single family hunting unit.
Edited from Journal of Archaeological Science (February 2015), Popular Archaeology (10 May 2015)
Alaska researchers turn up 12,300-year-old artwork
At the edge of a spruce forest in eastern central Alaska, archaeologists have unearthed bone pendants that might be the first examples of artwork in northern North America.
Ice-age sites scattered throughout Interior Alaska are often hilltops or cliff sides used by hunters. Teams led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Ben Potter have expanded the Mead Site, a white spruce bench north of Delta Junction, 500 kilometres northeast of Anchorage. Within the site, researchers have found what they believe are tent outlines. Inside the oval of what 12,300 years ago was probably a hide-covered structure, a student found a tiny bone pendant with delicate crosshatching on the edge.
"We think it might be a pendant, an ornament, maybe worn near the face," Potter says. A second pair found at the site look like tiny fish tails. At the tapered end of each are broken remainders of a round opening, like the eye of a sewing needle.
No weapon fragments common to hunting and weapon-maintenance sites have been found within these living areas, but the team have found worked bone fragments, the size and shape of which suggest they were possibly on their way to becoming pendants. They have also found a brown bear jawbone with its pointy canine tooth removed.
Interior Alaska is a good place to find artefacts. For thousands of years, strong glacial winds have covered campsites with loess, a fine dust that flows out of glaciers, sealing off bone and other material that would rot if exposed to acid-rich soils. The flour-like dirt created layers showing that people used the same sites again and again.
Potter and others think that, at the time, this area of ice-age Alaska was colder and windier than today, with more poplar trees, grasses and sedges, and more game animals than are present now.
Potter and his colleagues are also finding bird bones, and fish bones, including those of salmon.
Edited from News Miner.com (9 May 2015)
Stone bracelet is oldest ever found
Discovered in the Altai Mountains of Siberia in 2008, detailed analysis by Russian experts confirms an intricately made polished green stone bracelet dates to as long ago as 40,000 years.
Anatoly Derevyanko, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says: "The bracelet is stunning - in bright sunlight it reflects the sun rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green."
Made of chlorite, the bracelet was found inside the famous Denisova Cave, in the same layer as remains of some of the extinct species of humans who were genetically distinct from both Neanderthals and modern humans. Chlorite was not found near the cave, and is thought to have come from a distance of at least 200 kilometres. Inside the cave, 66 different types of mammals have been discovered, and 50 bird species. Further examination of the site found other artefacts dating back as much as 125,000 years.
The bracelet is in two fragments, 27 millimetres wide and 9 millimetres thick. The estimated diameter of the complete piece is 70 millimetres. Near one of the broken edges is a drilled hole with a diameter of about 8 millimetres.
According to Dr Derevyanko, "The ancient master was skilled in techniques previously considered not characteristic for the Palaeolithic era, such as drilling with an implement, boring tool type rasp, grinding and polishing with a leather and skins of varying degrees of tanning. Next to the hole on the outer surface of the bracelet can be seen clearly a limited polished zone of intensive contact with some soft organic material. Scientists have suggested that it was a leather strap with some charm, and this charm was rather heavy. The location of the polished section made it possible to identify the top and bottom of the bracelet, and to establish that it was worn on the right hand."
Mikhail Shunkov, deputy director of the Institute, says: "In the same layer, where we found a Denisovan bone, were found interesting things... symbolic items, such as jewellery - including the stone bracelet, as well as a ring carved out of marble.
While bracelets have been found pre-dating this discovery, Russian experts say this is the oldest known jewellery of its kind made of stone.
Edited from The Siberian Times (7 May 2015)
17 May 2015
More evidence found for Neanderthal adaptability
There is a cave in Northern Israel which is known locally as the Amud Cave. This cave was occupied at various times over the millennia but most notably during two Ice Ages, separated by 10,000 years. The caves have previously provided evidence of Neanderthal occupation, including one specimen which had the largest cranial capacity of any Neanderthal found so far.
An international group of researchers have been examining the remains of gazelle found in the caves, to gather more information on Neanderthal hunting patterns. The periods they researched covered two distinct Ice Ages. The first is known as Marine Isotope Stage 4 (69,000 - 127,000 BCE) and the second is known as Marine Isotope Stage 3 (55,000 - 68,000 BCE).
By analysis of tooth enamel (oxygen, carbon and strontium isotopes) they worked out that the gazelle had grazed on the higher slopes, above the cave, during the earlier Ice Age, which had been drier and so grazing was restricted to higher altitudes, but tat they had foraged much closer, on the lower slopes during the later one, when food was more abundant.
Team Leader, Gideon Hartman of the University of Connecticut (USA) is quoted as saying "This study shows that Neanderthals adjusted their hunting territories considerably in relation to varying environmental conditions over the course of occupation in the Amud Caves".
Edited from Popular Archaeology (7 May 2015)
The oldest toy in Europe?
In Southern Bulgaria there is a region known as the Rhodope Mountains, where is located the town of Yagnevo. For some time now a local businessman, Alexander Mitushov, has been collecting local artefacts and encouraging local residents to bring him anything they find. One of these finds is now the centre of considerable interest. The artefact in question is made of bronze and consists of a tripod of legs with a hollow top, with, what can only be described as a stork's head with in set carnelian eyes, freely rotating and nodding within the socket of the hollow top.
The artefact has been examined by local archaeologists and historians, including the renown Associate Professor Krasimir Leshtakov, from Sofia University. It has been dated at approximately 1,500 BCE and of Thracian design. It is believed it is possibly a child's toy but its exact use is not known.
Archaeologist Nikolay Ovcharov is quoted as saying "It is hard to say what exactly it was used for. It may have been a regular children's toy but it is also quite possible that this item had some kind of a function in the religious practices of the Ancient Thracians, for example, with clairvoyance. However, we have no way of knowing much about that because this period, the second millennium BCE, was a time devoid of the written word".
The Ancient Thracians were clearly active in that part of Bulgaria, as evidenced by other finds in the area, including a Late Bronze Age Thracian ritual knife. Alexander Mitushov is now funding a series of excavations, this coming summer, in the area around Yagnevo and Maglyane.
Edited from Archaeology in Bulgaria (5 May 2015)
Schoolboy spots bird carved on ancient stone
The phrases 'hidden in plain sight' and 'cannot see the wood for the trees' have been applied to many situations over time but never, it is thought, with respect to Neolithic stones before.
The Calderstones are thought to be the oldest monument in Liverpool and can be found in the Harthill Greenhouse at Calderstones Park in Allerton, Liverpool (England). The stones, originally situated at the junction of Druids Cross Lane and Menlove Avenue are said to be remnants of a burial chamber used for a local Neolithic community approximately 5,000 years ago.
A school party from Calderstones School in Liverpool were on a field trip to view the six ancient Calderstones, after which their school was named. A budding archaeologist, 13 year old Connor Hannaway, was taking some note when he dropped his pencil. As he picked it up he spotted the outline of what he thought was a bird, engraved into the stone. Connor mentioned this to their guide for the day, Richard MacDonald, Heritage Stories Maker at The Reader Organisation, but his question was dismissed out of hand. But Connor persisted in his questioning and eventually Richard MacDonald had to admit that he was right.
Richard said "I'd read all the academic papers and what the historians had said about the stones and no one mentioned a bird carving. When Connor asked me what the bird meant I just thought, it doesn't matter because we haven't got one! It just goes to show how the untrained eye can spot things experts miss" He went on to say "After Connor made the discovery I wanted to make sure the carvings hadn't been mentioned anywhere. I spoke to an expert in Bristol who was totally unaware of it and said it was remarkable. It just goes to show there are things out there still to be discovered".
Although the stones themselves date to approximately 2,800 BCE it is thought that the carvings were not added until 5th - 15th Centuries CE.
Edited from Liverpool echo (17 April 2015)
15 May 2015
The unique social structure of hunter-gatherers
Sex equality in residential decision-making explains the unique social structure of hunter-gatherers, a new University College London (UCL) study reveals.
Previous research has noted the low level of relatedness in hunter-gatherer bands. This is surprising because humans depend on close kin to raise offspring, so generally exhibit a strong preference for living close to parents, siblings and grandparents.
The new study is the first to demonstrate the relationship between sex equality in residential decision-making and group composition.
In work conducted over two years, researchers from the Hunter-Gatherer Resilience Project in UCL Anthropology lived among populations of hunter-gatherers in Congo and the Philippines. They collected genealogical data on kinship relations, between-camp mobility and residence patterns by interviewing hundreds of people. Despite living in small communities, these hunter-gatherers were found to be living with a large number of individuals with whom they had no kinship ties.
The authors constructed a computer model to simulate the process of camp assortment. In the model, individuals populated an empty camp with their close kin - siblings, parents and children. When only one sex had influence over this process, as is typically the case in male-dominated pastoral or horticultural societies, camp relatedness was high. However, group relatedness is much lower when both men and women have influence - as is the case among many hunter-gatherer societies, where families tend to alternate between moving to camps where husbands have close kin and camps where wives have close kin.
First author of the study, Mark Dyble (UCL Anthropology), said: "It is not that individuals are not interested in living with kin. Rather, if all individuals seek to live with as many kin as possible, no-one ends up living with many kin at all."
Although hunter-gatherer societies are increasingly under pressure from external forces, they offer the closest extant examples of human lifestyles and social organisation in the past, offering important insights into human evolutionary history. Senior author, Dr Andrea Migliano (UCL Anthropology), said: "Sex equality suggests a scenario where unique human traits such as cooperation with unrelated individuals could have emerged in our evolutionary past".
Edited from Popular Archaeology (14 May 2015)