19 January 2015
Mysterious stone construction investigated in Israel
Israeli archeologists originally thought that a stone feature, located in Northern Israel and known as the Jethro Cairn, was part of an ancient city found near the Sea of Galilee. Israeli archeologist Ido Wachtel now says that the 5,000 year old wall is likely paying tribute to a Mesopotamian-era moon god.
The structure forms a 150 metre long massive crescent, and may have taken almost a hundred years to build. It is located 29 kilometres from Bet Yareh, which means "house of the moon god".
Wachtel, a student of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, writes: "The proposed interpretation for this site is that it constituted a prominent landmark in its natural landscape, serving to mark possession and to assert authority and rights over natural resources by a local rural or pastoral population."
Not long ago a very unusual cairn of stones was found in the Sea of Galilee, and more recently a well and other features have been discovered underwater.
Edited from Green Prophet (19 January 2015)
Dairy was an important food source in the Irish Neolithic
New research from the University of Bristol in southwest England reveals that dairy farming in Ireland dates back approximately 6,000 years.
Dr Jessica Smyth of Bristol's School of Chemistry led the study which analysed nearly 500 pots from the Neolithic period, when people switched from hunting and gathering to farming. In Britain and Ireland, this change occurred around 4,000 BCE, more than 1,000 years later than on the European Continent.
Dr Smyth says: "We know from previous research that dairying was an important part of many early farming economies, but what was a big surprise was the prevalence of dairy residues in Irish pots. It looks to have been a very important food source."
Ninety per cent of the residues tested for fat origin were found to be dairy fats, with ten per cent found to be meat fats, or a mixture of milk and meat.
Dr Smyth adds: "People can obviously cook meat in other ways than boiling it in pots, and there is plenty of evidence for cereal processing at this time, but the Irish dairy signal remains very striking... Ireland really does seem to go mad for milk in the Neolithic."
Such results are even more significant given the fact that domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and goats had to be physically shipped to Ireland as part of the process, as these animals were not native to the island.
It would appear that the Irish love of dairy products is very ancient, and the suitability of the island for dairy farming was recognised early in prehistory.
Edited from Past Horizons (17 January 2015)
18 January 2015
Neanderthals were able to make advanced tools
A multi-purpose bone tool dating from the Neanderthal era has been discovered in France by University of Montreal researchers, throwing into question our current understanding of the evolution of human behaviour.
"This is the first time a multi-purpose bone tool from this period has been discovered. It proves that Neanderthals were able to understand the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use it to make tools, abilities usually attributed to our species, Homo sapiens," said Luc Doyon of the university's Department of Anthropology, who participated in the digs.
Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia in the Middle Paleolithic between around 250,000 to 28,000 years ago,and production of bone tools by Neanderthals is open to debate. Prehistoric experts were reluctant to recognize the ability of this species to incorporate materials like bone into their technological know-how and likewise their ability to master the techniques needed to work bone. However, over the past two decades, many clues indicate the use of hard materials from animals by Neanderthals. "Our discovery is an additional indicator of bone work by Neanderthals and helps put into question the linear view of the evolution of human behaviour," Doyon said.
The tool in question was uncovered in June 2014 during the annual digs at the Grotte du Bison at Arcy-sur-Cure in Burgundy, France. Extremely well preserved, the tool comes from the left femur of an adult reindeer and its age is estimated between 55,000 and 60,000 years ago. Evidence of meat butchering and bone fracturing to extract marrow are evident on the tool. Percussion marks suggest the use of the bone fragment for carved sharpening the cutting edges of stone tools. Finally, chipping and a significant polish show the use of the bone as a scraper.
"The presence of this tool at a context where stone tools are abundant suggests an opportunistic choice of the bone fragment and its intentional modification into a tool by Neanderthals," Doyon said. "It was long thought that before Homo sapiens, other species did not have the cognitive ability to produce this type of artefact. This discovery reduces the presumed gap between the two species and prevents us from saying that one was technically superior to the other."
Edited from EurekAlert! (14 January 2015)
Artefact production ceased when Hopewell culture collapsed
The Hopewell Culture was a centre for cultural excellence for Native Americans in the northeast and Midwest of USA, across the period ranging from 200 BCE to 500 CE. At its peak it extended its influence as far as south-eastern USA and the south-eastern parts of Canada.
The greatest amount of culture activity and exchanges, as you would expect, appears to be along the region's waterways and rivers and a great deal of local material was moved and exchanged in this way. One of the main artefact production centres which benefited from this exchange was in Ohio, where a large number of flint tools were manufactured and distributed right across the Cultures zone of influence, largely based on the high quality quarries located at Flint Ridge in Licking County, Ohio.
Two notable local archaeologists, Marvin Kay and Robert Mainfort Jr, have been investigating and analysing the flint production. They identified the fact that these flint tools, known as bladelets, symbolised the Hopewell Culture more than any other aspect or artefact. So much so that when the Hopewell Culture eventually disappeared, of which there is much speculation over the cause, then so did the flint production.
Edited from The Columbus Dispatch (7 December 2014)
17 January 2015
Discovery of 5000-year old archeological site in Iran
An archeological site dated to three millennia BCE has been identified and primary archeological examination conducted at Badoroud, a suburb of the city of Natanz, on the western edge of the central desert of Iran, in the north of Isfahan Province, between the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea.
Hossein Yazdanmehr, head of the provincial Cultural Heritage Department, said preliminary studies show a high volume of surface remains such as clay works, tools such as clay trays for stripping grains, a metal cutting device, pottery kilns, and metal furnaces.
Edited from IRNA (11 January 2015)
30 tombs, 28 chariots, 98 horse skeletons found in China
Archaeologists from Beijing University have discovered a group of 30 tombs, 28 chariots and 49 pairs of horse skeletons dating back 2,800 years in Zaoyang city, Hubei Province in eastern China, 1,000 kilometres west of Shanghai. The tombs date to the Spring and Autumn Period, 770 to 476 BCE. All the tombs have been found on the same piece of land, with a separate "mass grave" of at least 28 wooden chariots buried on their sides in a pit 33 metres long and 4 metres wide.
Liu Xu, a professor from the School of Archaeology and Museology of Beijing University, has said: "This chariot and horse pit is different from those discovered previously along the Yangtze River. The chariots and horses were densely buried. Many of the wheels were taken off and the [remaining] parts of the chariots were placed one by one.
In the three months they have been excavating, the archaeologists have also unearthed another pit, five metres away from the chariot pit, which holds at least 49 pairs of horse skeletons. Huang Wenxin, a researcher from the provincial archaeological institute, says that: "Judging from the way the horses were buried ...back to back, lying on their sides, it means that two horses pull one chariot."
So far over 400 pieces of bronze, pottery and other objects have been uncovered, including a bronze pot engraved with Old Chinese characters, a fine pottery container encircled by a dragon, and a thin flat metal item with Old Chinese characters painted on one side. Also discovered were some of the oldest musical instruments ever found in China, including a broken 25-string zither, and a 4.7 metre-long set of bronze chimes.
Edited from Intyernational Business Times (8 January 2015)
The origins of ancient dogs in the Americas
A new study suggests that dogs may have first arrived in the Americas only about 10,000 years ago, thousands of years after the first human migrants. The largest analysis so far of ancient dogs in the Americas compared the genetic characteristics of 84 individual dogs from more than a dozen sites in North and South America.
University of Illinois graduate student Kelsey Witt, who led the new analysis with anthropology professor Ripan Malhi, says that dogs' long association with humans makes them a promising subject for the study of ancient human behaviour, including migratory behaviour.
Previous studies of ancient dogs in the Americas focused on the dogs' mitochondrial DNA, which is easier to obtain from ancient remains than nuclear DNA, and is inherited only from the mother. The new study also focused on mitochondrial DNA, but included a much larger sample of dogs than had been analysed before.
As previous studies had done, the Illinois team analysed genetic signals in a special region of the genome. The researchers found four never-before-seen genetic signatures, suggesting greater ancient dog diversity in the Americas than previously thought. They also found unusually low diversity in some dog populations, suggesting that humans in those regions may have engaged in dog breeding. In some samples, the team found significant similarities with American wolves, indicating that some of the dogs interbred with or were domesticated from their wild relatives.
"Dog genetic diversity in the Americas may date back to only about 10,000 years ago," Witt reveals. "This also is about the same time as the oldest dog burial found in the Americas," says Malhi, adding that the current study likely provides an incomplete picture of ancient dog diversity in the Americas.
More studies of ancient dogs are in the works. Witt has already sequenced the full mitochondrial genomes of 20 ancient dogs, and more are planned.
Edited from EurekAlert! (7 January 2015)
13 January 2015
Study casts doubt on mammoth-killing cosmic impact
The latest study to discredit the controversial theory that a cosmic impact 12,900 years ago triggered the Younger Dryas cold period comes from the University of California, Davis.
The Younger Dryas lasted a thousand years between two major glaciations, and coincided with the extinction of mammoths and the disappearance of the Clovis culture. In the 1980s, some researchers put forward the idea that the period began when a comet or meteor struck North America.
In the new study, scientists analysed soil samples from four sites in northern Syria dating back 10,000 to 13,000 years, comparing them to similar droplets previously suggested to be the result of a cosmic impact at the onset of the Younger Dryas.
"For the Syria side, the impact theory is out," says lead author Peter Thy, a project scientist in the UC Davis Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
Several findings support that conclusion. The composition of the droplets was related to the local soil, not to soil from other continents as one would expect from an intercontinental impact. The texture, thermodynamic modelling, and other analyses showed the droplets were formed by short-lived heating events of modest temperatures, and not by the intense, high temperatures expected from a large impact event. Finally, the samples were collected from archaeological sites spanning 3,000 years. "If there was one cosmic impact," Thy said, "they should be connected by one date and not a period of 3,000 years."
Where did the droplets come from? House fires. The study area in modern Syria was associated with early agricultural settlements along the Euphrates River. Most of the locations include mud-brick structures, some of which show signs of intense fire and melting. The study concludes that the droplets formed when fires destroyed buildings made of a mixture of soil and straw.
Edited from PhysOrg (6 January 2015)
8,000 year old remains of olive oil found in Israel
Today we take olive oil for granted, being widely used and available in both supermarkets and local shops, but have you ever stopped to think how long we may have been using it and who first came up with the idea of producing it? Now recent research and excavation in Lower Galilee (Israel) may push its origins back over 8,000 years.
A team from the Israeli Antiquities Authority, under the guidance of Dr Ianir Milveski and Nimrod Getzov, have been working the site at Ein Tzipori since 2011. They analysed fragments of pottery, not only for radiocarbon dating but also for the organic material which had been absorbed into the pottery. 2 of the 20 pieces examined contained olive oil and dated back to the Early Chalcolithic period.
A statement by the Antiquities Authority said "Together with the Kfar Samir [Haifa] discovery, this is the earliest evidence of olive oil production in the country, and possibly the entire Mediterranean basin." The statement went on to say "Although it is impossible to say for sure, this might be an olive species that was domesticated and joined grain and legumes - the other kind of field crops that we know were grown then".
Edited from Jerusalem Post (17 December 2014)
11 January 2015
Scottish Iron Age farm had commanding view
Ravelrig Hill is a prominent feature of the Edinburgh landscape, with stunning views over Edinburgh and the Forth Estuary. Back in the late 18th Century the Rev William Nisbet identified what he believed to be a Roman station located there. More recent and accurate radiocarbon dating identifies the hill fort (commonly known as Kaimes Hill) as dating from approximately 400 BCE.
This hill fort is situated immediately southwest of an Iron Age settlement, which was originally investigated back in 2009 by the now defunct Glasgow University Archaeological Research division. This settlement comprises a single large roundhouse with an outer enclosure surrounded by a palisade. The settlement was built on bedrock and the outline of the roundhouse and palisade can be clearly seen, identified by grooves cut into the rock.
The initial investigations were prompted by the expansion of a nearby quarry and the full findings have only just been published. The main roundhouse was a wooden frame with wattle and daub walls, and of a similar design to others found in Eastern Scotland. It dates from approximately 600 – 400 BCE and may well have been abandoned in favour of the more secure nearby Kaimes hill fort. Analysis of waste found within the site confirms that it was an arable settlement although livestock farming was probably more common in that area at that time.
Edited from Past Horizons (11 December 2014)
7 January 2015
4,000-year-old copper crown unearthed in India
Archaeologists uncovered a 4,000-year-old copper crown in the village of Chandayan, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. According to Dr. Rakesh Tewari, the director general of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), this is only the second crown discovered at an Indus Valley site in either India or Pakistan.
"The person wearing the crown could be an important person of the society," said Dr. A.K. Pandey, the director of the excavation at Chandayan and a superintending archaeologist at ASI. "It is not known if in those days, people used it as a crown or just as a head gear," he said.
The copper crown, decorated with a Carnelian and a Fiance bead - both precious stones - was found on a skull and exposed by laborers while they extracting clay to make bricks in August 2014; ASI started excavating the site in early December. "Our objective was to undertake a salvage operation, just to look into what could be found around the site of the skeletal remain," Tewari said.
During excavation, Pandey also found animal bones and mud pots at the same excavation depth as the burial site, but about 65 feet away. This suggests that an animal was sacrificed during a funeral ceremony for the person whose remains were found. According to Pandey, another piece of the same crown, a pelvic bone, and femur of the left leg of the person was unearthed along with 21 earthen pots. 150 feet away from the burial site, archaeologists also dug up a habitation site of the same period and found a compact floor, mud walls, and holes for fence posts.
According to Pandey, the discovery is important because this is the first time evidence of a late Indus Civilization habitation was found so far east.
Edited from Epoch Times (1 January 2015)
Evidence of sacrificial practices found at 6,000 year old temple in Ukraine
Archaeologists exploring the remains of a 6,000 year old temple in Ukraine have found evidence of complex sacrificial practices at the site. The temple, thought to belong to the ancient Trypillian - Cucuteni culture, was found near the modern-day city of Nebelivka and originally unearthed in 2009.
A new generation of geophysical prospection methods used to investigate mega-sites has revealed uncommonly large Trypillia structures which merit the name 'mega-structures'. According to the researchers, the building, covering an area of 600 m2, must rank as one of the largest structures ever built in prehistoric Europe.
Burnt bones of lambs were found lying on the remains of stone altars, suggesting sacrifices had taken place on the site. The building, which was two stories high, was part of a vast 288 acre prehistoric settlement which may have contained as many as 1,200 buildings. The temple itself measures 60 metres by 20 metres and was made of wood and clay. It included a gallery and a courtyard.
The researchers, from the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, speculated that the floors and walls of the upstairs rooms appear to have been decorated with red paint in order to inspire a sense of sacrificial awe in its occupants. In these rooms, altars took pride of place. Clay figures of humans were found, scattered around the ceremonial areas, with pottery fragments and human hair decorations also found.
An academic paper describing the finds at the temple was published by John Chapman, Mikhail Yu. Videiko, Bisserka Gaydarska, Natalia Burdo, Duncan Hale in the Journal of Neolithic Archaeology late last month.
Edited from Journal of Neolithic Archaeology (24 November 2014), The Independent (29 December 2014)
Massive ancient underground city discovery in Turkey
Under a conical hill in Turkey's central Anatolian province of Nevsehir is a city with tunnels wide enough for a car to pass. The city is thought to date back some 5,000 years and is located around the Nevsehir fortress. Escape galleries and hidden churches were also discovered inside the underground city. The area is known world-wide for its 'Fairy Chimneys' rock formations.
Ozcan Zakır, associate professor at the Geophysics Engineering department of the 18 March University and involved in the excavations of the underground city, says: "We believe that people, who were engaged in agriculture, were using the tunnels to carry agricultural products to the city. We also estimate that one of the tunnels passes under Nevsehir and reaches a faraway water source. There is a fortress on top of a conical-shaped hill; it is alleged to belong to the Seljuks. We made geophysical measurements in an area of four square kilometres and the [underground] city was surrounding the fortress in circular forms." Zakir also says that two-thirds of the fortress seems to have been carved by means of the tunnels.
Edited from Hurriyet Daily News (7 January 2014)
4 January 2015
Mystery of ancient chinese civilisation's disappearance
An archaeological site unearthed in China in 1986 revealed a lost Chinese civilisation called Sanxingdui. A new theory suggests the ancient culture may have moved 3,000 years ago after catastrophic landslides coinciding with a major earthquake altered the flow of the city's river.
Study co-author Niannian Fan, a river sciences researcher at Tsinghua University in Chengdu, thinks the people may have resettled along the river's new course.
In 1929, a peasant in Sichuan province uncovered jade and stone artefacts about 40 kilometres from Chengdu, but their significance wasn't understood until 1986, when archaeologists unearthed two pits of Bronze Age treasures such as jades, elephant tusks, and stunning 2.4 metre tall bronze sculptures. The treasures, which had been deliberately broken and buried, came from the remains of a walled city on the banks of the Minjiang River.
About 14 years ago, archaeologists found the remains of another ancient city called Jinsha near Chengdu. The site contained none of the impressive bronzes, but did have a gold crown bearing a motif of fish, arrows, and birds similar to that on a golden staff found at the earlier site.
Some historical records support the hypothesis. In 1099 BCE, ancient writers recorded an earthquake in the capital of the Zhou dynasty in Shaanxi province, roughly 400 kilometres from the historic site of Sanxingdui. Around the same time, geological sediments suggest massive flooding occurred, and a later Han dynasty document records ancient floods pouring from a mountain in a spot which suggests the river's flow being rerouted. The team found clues high up in the mountains, where the modern-day river cuts through a ravine about 3,800 metres above sea level. The ravine was carved by glaciers, yet telltale signs of glacial erosion are absent for a long stretch. The team hypothesises that an earthquake caused an avalanche that erased some of the glacier's track.
Edited from LiveScience (24 December 2014)
Farming made human bones fragile
A team of researchers has shown that human bones have become significantly lighter and weaker since the advent of farming, when humans experienced a dramatic shift from foraging to a more sedentary lifestyle.
The study shows the bones from hunter-gatherers of around 7,000 years ago were around 20 percent heavier than the bones of farmers from the same area more than 6,000 years later. The team has ruled out changes in diet and body size, saying a reduction in physical activity was the root cause.
Two types of tissue form bone: the hard cortical shell which coats the outside, and the honeycomb-like trabecular mesh on the inside - the part most vulnerable to fractures.
The researchers x-rayed samples of human thigh bones along with those from other primates, focusing on the ball which forms part of the hip joint. They examined four distinct human populations in central North America representing hunter-gatherers and sedentary agriculturalists, paying particular attention to changes in the softer core bone. According to the study, hunter-gatherers had a much higher density of actual bone.
"Trabecular bone has much greater plasticity than other bone, changing shape and direction depending on the loads imposed on it," said co-author Colin Shaw from the University of Cambridge. "In the hunter-gatherer bones, everything was thickened." Stresses imposed on bones by hunting and gathering caused the bone mesh to grow thicker and stronger, which helped protect against age-related deterioration.
The researchers say their findings support the notion that exercise rather than diet is the key to preventing heightened risk of fractures, as well as conditions such as osteoporosis.
"You can absolutely morph even your bones so that they deal with stress and strain more effectively," says Shaw. "Hip fractures, for example, don't have to happen simply because you get older if you build your bone strength up earlier in life."
Interestingly, while the foragers of 7,000 years ago had stronger bones than the farmers of 700 years ago, Shaw says neither competes with hominids from around 150,000 years ago.
Edited from Science Alert (27 December 2014)