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)
17 July 2016
Ancient textiles shows importance of fashion to Bronze Age Britons
Excavations at Must Farm, 50 kilometres north-west of Cambridge, have unearthed the earliest examples of superfine textiles ever found in Britain - among the most finely-made Bronze Age fabrics ever discovered in Europe. Finds include more than 100 fragments of textile, processed fibre and textile yarn - some of superfine quality, with some threads just 1/10 of a millimetre in diameter and some fabrics with 28 threads per centimetre, fine even by modern standards. Most of the superfine fabrics were made of linen, and hundreds of flax seeds have been found, some of which had been stored in containers. Timber fragments with delicate carpentry may be the remains of looms, and fired clay loom weights have been found.
Some of the textiles had been folded, some in up to 10 layers. These may have been large garments, potentially up to 3 metres square - capes, cloaks, or drapes.
Archaeologists have also discovered a different type of fabric made of processed wild nettle stems from a locally available non-stinging subspecies known as fen nettles. Well-made nettle textile was often particularly fine and silky. In ancient folklore, nettles were often regarded as having magical powers, able to protect humans and animals from sorcery and witchcraft. In one of Europe's most famous folktales, the Wild Swans, shirts made of nettle yarn break a witch's spell.
So far no evidence of any extensive patterns or coloured dyes have been found on any of the textile fragments, although the edge of one seems to have been decorated with fringes, rows of knots, and strips featuring different styles of weave.
As well as making ultra-fine fabrics, at least some of the inhabitants wore exotic jewellery made of blue, black, yellow and green glass manufactured in the eastern Mediterranean. They lived in well-built 6 to 8 metre diameter houses and had a wide range of tools and other possessions. Around 50 bronze axes, sickles, spears, swords, razors, hammers, tweezers and awls have been found along with some 60 wooden buckets, platters and troughs, as well as around 60 well preserved ceramic bowls, mugs and storage jars - the largest collection of complete bronze, wooden and ceramic artefacts ever found in a British Bronze Age settlement.
Dug-out canoes, and two wooden wheels have also been unearthed.
Yet evidence suggests that this settlement was attacked, burnt and destroyed less than a year after it was built. In the five houses excavated so far, people have left all their possessions behind - meals half eaten, salted or dried meat hanging in the rafters, garments neatly folded on or around well-made wooden furniture.
Excavation director Mark Knight says: "It's a bit like discovering the Marie Celeste. Everything is exactly as it was left. Only the inhabitants are missing."
Edited from The Independent (14 July 2016)
Genomes reveal double invention of farming in Middle East
A study of 44 people from the Middle East show that two populations invented farming independently, then spreading it to Europe, Africa, and Asia. The results were published on the bioRxiv preprint server, showing that it supports archaeological evidence of farming starting in multiple places.
The evidence is important as it is the first detailed look into the ancestry of individuals from the Neolithic revolution. During this period, some 11,000 years ago, humans living in the Fertile Crescent shifted from a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary lifestyle, which domesticated crops and transformed sheep, wild boars, and other creatures into domestic animals over thousands of years.
Previously it has been difficult to obtain DNA from this area due to the hot climates. Recent successes in extracting DNA from the petrous let Iosif Lazaridis and David Reich, population geneticists at Harvard Medieval School, analyse these genomes, which were 14,000 to 3,500 years old.
The genomes showed a stark difference between the populations from the southern Levant region and those living across the Zagros Mountains. The Zagros population were found to be closely related to hunter-gatherer populations, supporting the theory that farming was developed independently in the Southern Leva.
Roger Matthews, an Archaeologist from the University of Reading says that: "There has been a school of thought arguing that everything happens first in the southern Levant and everyone learns how to be farmers from this initial dispersal. But the archaeological evidence shows very strong local traditions that are clearly not in communication with each other, persisting for centuries if not millennia."
The farmers from Zagros domesticated goats and cereal such as emmer, while their counterparts in the west had barley and wheat. According to Rogers, Sometime 9,500 years ago, the traditions spread through the Middle East, possible mixing in eastern Turkey while seeking out materials for tools, such as obsidian. Rogers also states that more research is needed to find how farming spread to the east.
LaLueza-Fox sees that the ability to extract DNA from hotter climates as an important step for prehistoric research, "Retrieving genomic data from the ancient Near East is a palaeogenomic dream come true."
Edited from Nature magazine (20 June 2016)
Wine used in ceremonies 5000 years ago in Georgia
100 kilometers west from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, an expedition led by Elena Rova from Cà Foscari University of Venice and Iulon Gagoshidze from the Goergian National Museum Tbilisi have found traces of wine inside animal-shaped vessels from ca 3000 BCE.
The site reveal two of these zoomorphic vessels, which are unique to this region, found with a Kura-Araxes jar, which were found in a rectangular area that could possibly be a shrine for cultic activities. Radiocarbon dating places the date of the items to between 3000-2900 BCE.
Palynologist Eviso Kvavadze studied the vessels and found pollen of Vitis vinifera (common grape vine), this underlines the strategic role wine took in Kura-Araxes for ritualistic drinking. Professor Rova states that this is significant "because the context of discovery suggests that wine was drawn from the jar and offered to the gods or commonly consumed by the participants to the ceremony."
Wine has been cultivated in Georgia since the Neolithic period, with this new discovery in the Kura-Araxes period; the wine culture has been pushed back more than 5,000 years ago. The wine would have been drunk from the animal horns as part of the supra, a traditional Georgian banquet.
The excavation at Caí Foscari started in 2013 and has already made impressive discoveries, with help from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the 2015 campaign, 27 researchers and students from Italy and Georgia took part in the excavation and helped uncover these vessels. The 2016 season will run from June 17 until July 31.
Edited from ScienceDaily (14 June 2016)
16 July 2016
5,000-year-old figurine from Skara Brae rediscovered
A 5,000-year-old figurine, discovered in the 1860's was recently rediscovered in the Stromness Museum collections by Dr. David Clark. The figurine was found among artefacts from Skaill House donated to the museum in the 1930's.
The figurine is made of whalebone measuring 9.5 cm in height and 7.5 cm in width, adorned with a mouth, eyes, and a navel with no other decorations. It was originally discovered by William G. Watt while excavating a stone bed in house 3 of the Neolithic village. It was originally seen as an 'idol' or 'fetish' and described as such in the 1867
Skara Brae report written by George Petrie.
The figurine represents the first Neolithic example of a representation of a human form, which are exceptionally rare in Britain. The figurine, nicknamed 'Skara Brae Buddo' is now being displayed for the first time in Stromness Museum alongside other artefacts from Skara Brae.
Edited from The Orcadian (15 June 2016), Live Science (21 June 2016)
Prehistory of Palawan island explored
Since 2004, archaeologists from the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) have been systematically excavation and processing human remains from Palawan Island. These remains have showed a heavy diversity in burial and other cultural practices over the past 10,000 years. The cave is located in the Northern Palawan Province and contains skeletons ranging in date from late Palaeolithic (9,000 BP) to the Neolithic and Metal periods, ca. 4,000 and 1,000 BP respectively, and even the late millennium.
Humans from the latest period of the cave are buried as whole bodies, on their backs and directed towards the cave opening. Meanwhile the Metal Periods show a more dispersed burial, though this could be due to disturbance from other burials or re-burying done in later stages. Two bodies from the Neolithic Period were buried in a completely different manner, being covered by large rocks. The bodies of the Palaeolithic Period showed a completely different burial practice, the bodies being cremated and
then deposited as piles of bone fragments.
Dr. Victor J. Paz, leader of the project and part of the Archaeological Studies Program at UPD, states that the aim of the project is further study of the human remains, including age-at-death, sex, disease, and other cultural modifications: "Describing these variables will help us understand the diversity of mortuary practices". The team will also provide data for comparing finds from other archaeological sites in South-East Asia.
Edited from PhysOrg (21 June 2016)
Human skeletons reveal ancient hunting techniques
800,000 years ago, a small hunting party enclosed on a herd of antelope, leaving only behind their footprints. These were recently discovered by anthropologists and determined to be 'multiple' individuals of the Homo erectus species in a desert located in southern Eritrea.
The footprints cover an area of 280 square feet (26 square metres) on a stone slab of sandstone, where they represent the oldest footprints discovered in the area. It is hoped that these footprints will reveal how Homo erectus walked. It is believed that this species is the first to have walked upright on two legs and be recognizable as human. The footprints were discovered in the middle of the Danakil desert at a site near Buia, which is thought to have been home to a Homo erectus community living there up to one million years ago.
The excavations at the site are being lead by Professor Alfredo Coppa, from La Sapienza University in Rome. The prints were found to be moving north/south parallel to prints left by a now extinct species of antelope.
Professor Coppa said that: "The footprints were made by more than one individual and could reveal new details about the foot anatomy and movement of these human ancestors." Adding that "Due to their ephemeral nature in soft sediments, footprints tend to be altered and eroded very quickly."
The footprints also give a unique glimpse into the lives of Homo erectus individuals in motions with their contemporary ecosystem hundreds of thousand years ago. This specific species is a key part in the human evolution. The footprints themselves were found to resemble those of modern humans, which could indicate a more modern way of movements and walking.
Professor Coppa has stated that: "We will return in November to try to have a broader and more detailed documentation that can look at body mass, height, weight and sociability of the group." His team has also recovered several teeth and part of a skull at two sites in the Danakil past, also having found five or six individuals.
Whether or not the hunters in question caught their prey is uncertain, but the archaeological evidence left behind has withstood the test of time.
Edited from Mail Online (20 June 2016), Australian Network News (22 June 2016)
7 July 2016
Ancient campsite found in Canada
In an area of New Brunswick (Canada) the Canadian Department of Transportation had plans to construct a by-pass of Route 8 around the city of Fredericton, capital of the region.
As part of the investigations which are made for the planning of any major road, not just in Canada, an archaeological team was sent to see if there was anything of interest. What they found was actually so important that there was an immediate cessation of ground works and the by-pass would have to be permanently re-routed.
The find centred on a campsite, dated at 10,000 BCE, which would have been based on the shores of a long lost lake. So far over 600 artefacts have been unearthed, ranging from stone tools to arrow heads and a fire pit.
One of the First Nation tribes of this area of New Brunswick was the Maliseet and several members of the archaeological team were members of that tribe, including Shawna Goodall, who is quoted as saying "These are my ancestors. And just to be able to be the first one to hold things in 13,000 years - I get goose bumps every timer, (from) every single artefact. That never ores away, that feeling".
The other exciting part of the find is that it provides a missing link. Team Leader, Brent Suttie, is quoted as saying "We have a few sites down in the Pennfield area and then we have very famous sites in Debert, Nova Scotia that dates to 11,600 years old. We don't have anything between those two sites. This site just happens to fall within that".
Edited from CBC News, CTV News, Global News (23 June 2016)
New insight into the construction of Stonehenge
A recent discovery of a Y-shaped wooden sledge at a megalithic site in Japan has lead a team of students from the Institute of Archaeology at London University's University College (UCL), to re-think how the Stonehenge stones were transported to the site.
Previous ideas had centred on the impractical use of tree trunks as rollers. Experiments using these failed badly as, unless the trunks were exactly the same diameter as each other and perfectly round, the immense weight of the stones rolling over them would either crush them or push them into the ground.
This new technique uses static 'rollers' with a smooth, low friction wooden sled being pulled over them. The experiment involved a slab of stone weighing a mere 1 ton and a team of 10 managed to pull it easily, at a steady speed of 1.6 km/hour. This lead to the belief that the 2 ton bluestones from the Preseli Hills in West Wales could have been transported in this way.
It was not possible to confirm if the same technique could have been used for the much larger (32 ton) sarsen stones, albeit the journey would have been much shorter. Even the organisers were surprised with the ease with which the experiment worked.
Event organiser, Barney Harris, from the Institute of Archaeology, is quoted as saying "All we can really tell from experiments like this is the minimum number of people involved. My preliminary calculations led me to believe it would take slightly more people. In the event, what I thought would take 15 people, at a minimum, actually needed only 10 people".
More experimentation, over a variety of surfaces (this experiment was conducted over the smooth manicured grass of Gordon Square, adjacent to UCL) before a more accurate, revised estimate of the construction period for Stonehenge can be made
Edited from Live Science (17 June 2016)
Evidence uncovered of a thriving community in the Gobi desert
The Gobi desert is a vast area of 1,295,000 square kilometres, spread across northern China and Mongolia. It is an inhospitable, barren area, home only to hardy nomadic tribes who can withstand the harsh extremes of -43° C to +38° C. However, 40,000 years ago it painted a totally different picture, home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, interspersed with large lakes, which have long ago dried up under desertification. This period coincide with the Pleistocene and early Holocene occupation of the region.
A team of archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology, University of Wroclaw (Poland), has been conduction research across the southern end of the Gobi with amazing results. Not only have they found large, stone covered Iron Age tombs but also a variety of stone tools and a group of several items made of jasper, on what would have been a lookout point on one of the mountains.
Professor Szykulski, leader of the project, is quoted as saying "The accumulation of certainly valuable material in one place proves that it had great importance for the inhabitants of the region. Perhaps the discovery is related to a rite".
The aim of the project is to chart pre-history for this semi-arid area, between the Altai Mountains and the Gobi desert. Restricting the area to this region reduces the area to be covered but even so it stretches to a vast 50,000 square kilometres.
Edited from Science & Scholarship in Poland (10 June 2016)
6 July 2016
Sub-Saharan Africa's 4000-year legacy of migrations
Researchers from the University of Oxford have revealed that the genetic ancestries of many of sub-Saharan Africa's populations are the result of historical DNA mixing events within the last 4000 years.
Lead author George Busby, Statistical Geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, says: "As Africa has few written records of its history, it is somewhat unknown what important movements of people generated the populations in the continent today. Looking at and comparing the differences in the genomes of people alive today can help us better understand and reconstruct the historical interactions that brought their ancestors together."
The team used DNA analysis to characterise the structure of genetic diversity and gene flow - the transfer of genes between different populations - in a collection of 48 sub-Saharan African groups. They discovered that most sub-Saharan populations share ancestry with groups from outside their current geographic region as a result of gene flow within the last 4000 years.
Dr Busby explains: "Our research provides further genetic evidence that the spread of Bantu languages and agricultural technology from Central West Africa, known as the Bantu expansion, was likely to be accompanied by people who moved from Cameroon to the south and east within the last 2500 years. Additionally, we revealed that coastal populations in western, eastern, and southern Africa experienced small influxes of Eurasian genes as a result of different events over the last 3000 years. These findings show that groups from similar parts of Africa experienced admixture events at similar times and involving similar sources, suggesting that genetic variation in these areas of the continent has been shaped by shared historical events. It is also clear that our ancestors have always moved about and traces of these migrations are left in the DNA of people alive today."
Edited from PhysOrg (21 June 2016)
Neolithic livestock pens in Spain
Livestock enclosures dating back over 6,000 years to the Ancient Neolithic have previously been documented at other sites on Spain's Sierra de Cantabria, about 300 kilometres north-northeast of Madrid, and around 100 kilometres south of the Bay of Biscay. A new study by the same team looks at ancient activities inside these shelters during the Copper Age, about 5,000 years ago.
Ana Polo-Diaz, a researcher at the University of the Basque Country explains: "This is a piece of pioneering work in the studies on agro-pastoral communities on the Iberian Peninsula. We have evidence that the human groups that occupied San Cristobal during the Chacolithic used the shelter as a pen for goats and/or sheep and that this use, although repetitive throughout hundreds of years, was not ongoing but of a temporary nature linked to a seasonal exploitation of the rich natural resources available on the Sierra de Cantabria. We also know thanks to the microscopic study of the sediments that every now and again they used to burn the debris that had built up, probably to clean up the space that had been occupied and that this combustion process was carried out in line with some specific habits: they used to pile up the debris and on top of them pile up woody remains, perhaps to help to get the fire going before going on to burn the debris."
Analyses of micro-sediments and mineral remains of the skeleton of plants makes it possible to determine the grazing available around the shelter. Pollen reveals that a forest grew in the immediate surroundings of San Cristobal during the period, in which hazelnut trees predominated along with deciduous oaks, and grazing areas and farmland fairly close to the shelter.
Charcoal remains indicate a clear change in the selection of woody materials: during the oldest phase a predominance of pine followed by yew, in the latter phase increased use of species such as oak, holm oak, the rose family, and box.
Correlating data with that from neighbouring sites and the immediate area reveals that San Cristobal was part of a network of shelters and enclosures, and the people were very likely the same ones using the dolmens of the Rioja Alavesa region.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (9 June 2016)
3 July 2016
New origins for farmed rice
The earliest evidence of domesticated rice has been found in China, and it's about 9,000 years old.
Working with three researchers from the Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Zhejiang Province, China, anthropological archaeologist and University of Toronto Mississauga professor Gary Crawford found the ancient domesticated rice fragments in a probable ditch in the lower Yangtze valley, south and southwest of Shanghai. The remains document an early stage of rice domestication and the ecological setting in which early cultivation was taking place. The rice plant remains also had characteristics of japonica rice, the short grain rice used in sushi that today is cultivated in Japan and Korea - the first confirmation that it grew in this region of China.
Archaeological evidence for the initial steps leading to domesticated rice in China is elusive.
Crawford and his colleagues spent about three years exploring the five-hectare site, called Huxi, situated in a flat basin about 100 metres above sea level. Digging 1.5 metres below the ground, the team also unearthed sophisticated pottery and stone tools, as well as animal bones, charcoal and other plant seeds.
This study builds on Crawford's previous research into early agriculture in China, in which he examines ancient settlements, tools, and plant and animal management efforts in different regions of the country, to better understand the transition from hunters and gatherers to farmers.
"The question I ultimately want to answer is, what pushed them to move wholeheartedly into the farming regime? Why did they reduce their emphasis on hunting and expand into crop production?" Crawford says. "People did what they needed to do to make their lives more manageable and sustainable, and the unintended consequence was farming. With this rice discovery, we're seeing the first stages of that shift."
Edited from EurekAlert!, PhysOrg (22 June 2016), Nature (21 June 2016)