26 September 2016
New research throws light on ancient stone artifacts
A mixed team of archaeologists and scientists at the Indiana University (USA) have been throwing some very sophisticated analytical study at a group of stones, collectively dating from 1.8 million to 70,000 years old, which were found at an archaeological site in South Africa, known as the Cave of Hearths.
Originally it was conjectured that these stones, roughly the size of a tennis ball, were used to shape or grind other objects. Now, the new theory revolves around them being used as a thrown weapon. Using computational tools and theoretical modelling the team has concluded that, based on what is known about the physical strength of humans at that time, the optimal distance at which these stones could be accurately thrown, to hit a specific target with enough power to cause damage, ranged between 20 and 30 metres, well within biomechanical and visual properties (to gauge distance).
Whilst this research is conjecture, albeit based on strong models, Professor Geoffrey Bingham, of the Indiana University Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychological and Brain Science, is very upbeat about their findings, "Our study suggests that the throwing of stones played a key role in the evolution of hunting. We don't think that throwing is the sole, or even primary function of these spheroids, but these results show that this function is an option that warrants reconsidering as a potential use for this long-lived, multipurpose tool".
Edited from EurekAlert, PhysOrg (18 August 2016)
Oetzi the Iceman was an agropastorialist, as well as a hunter
Ever since his discovery in the Italian Alps in 1991, scientists and researchers have been working on the remains of Oetzi the Iceman, trying to elicit as much information as possible from this 5,300 year old mummified body.
Now a paper has been published in Scientific Reports, detailing the findings of a team from University College Dublin (Ireland) into the clothing that Oetzi was wearing. Surprisingly they cam from the furs of various animals, ranging from wild to farmed, leading to the description of Oetzi as an agropastorialist as well as a hunter, as the majority of his food and clothing were from domesticated animals such as goats, sheep and cattle, with some additional items from wild animals (e.g. hat from a brown bear and quiver from a roe deer). His coat is more interesting, being made from the fur os several animals, intimating perhaps that it had been repaired many times. Vast leaps of progress in DNA analysis have made these discoveries possible.
Niall O'Sullivan, from the University College team, is quoted s saying "25 years ago the study of ancient DNA was in its infancy. It would not have been possible to infer, to the same extent, the species of origin or how domesticated the leathers were. We analysed nine samples and for each one we were able to reconstruct either a whole mitogenome or a partial mitogenome. We are very happy with that".
Edited from BBC News, The Guardian (18 August 2016)
Significant Bronze age burial find in Cyprus
A team of archaeologists from Sweden's University of Gothenburg have been carrying out excavations and research in Cyprus for the last seven years. This season they have made a substantial discovery near to the site of the Bronze Age city of Hala Sultan Tekke.
Following a geophysical survey of a farmer's fields, several pits were revealed approximately two metres below the surface. Whilst most proved to be the site of wells, one image, approximately 4 metres x 3 metres turned out to be that of a family tomb, with the remains of 8 children and 9 adults.
Whilst this find in itself was interesting, what was really getting the team excited was the discovery of the nearby offerings pit. In this they found objects with origins as far away as Greece, Crete, Turkey, Syria and Egypt. This was obviously the burial site of a wealthy and influential family but, intriguingly, it was not located within the walls of the city but nearby, in what must have been an even older part of the city which has yet to be excavated.
So far they have catalogued and identified over 140 complete ceramic vessels with stunning decoration, and amongst the vast array of other objects are two gold mounted stone scarabs that they are hoping to link to a specific historic character. As is common with a lot of other historic sites the team is up against the demands of modern farming techniques.
Peter Fischer, professor of Cypriot archaeology at the University of Gothenburg is in no doubts of the dangers "In spring 2017 we will continue our uncovering of parts of the city and the burial site. As the integrity of both areas is threatened by agricultural activities there is a need for quick action to secure our shared cultural heritage before it is destroyed forever".
Edited from ScienceDaily (9 August 2016) EurekAlert (10 August 2016)
30 August 2016
Prehistoric settlement unearthed on Scottish island
Archaeologists have uncovered traces of buildings from about 2500 years ago on the small Hebridean island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, including the remains of a two-metre defensive wall. Excavations have also revealed pottery, flints, and other prehistoric material, indicating a prehistoric village.
Archaeologist Hugh McBrien, of the West of Scotland Archaeology Service, says: "When we find something unexpected, as in this case, we have to stop and reconsider what we previously understood about the site. What is becoming clear is that when the ice sheets rolled back off Scotland some 10-12,000 years ago the Mesolithic hunter gatherers moved onto the islands and followed the retreating ice."
The team discovered two different periods of building on top of the original village mound of more than 1,000 years, and a previously unknown extension to the medieval vallum, all in a shallow ditch next to the local school.
Dr Clare Ellis, who led the site work, says: "What is most exciting to me is that the lines of the property that exist now are very similar to the property lines that existed more than 2,000 years ago," adding that she is keen to get back onto the site later in the year and carry out further investigations.
Edited from Herald Scotland, Archaeology Magazine (19 August 2016)
Astronomy shown to be set in ancient stone monuments
Research has for the first time statistically proven that the earliest standing stone monuments of Britain were oriented with the Sun and Moon. The study details the use of innovative 2D and 3D technology to test the patterns of alignment.
Project leader and University of Adelaide Visiting Research Fellow Dr Gail Higginbottom, says: "Nobody before this has ever statistically determined that a single stone circle was constructed with astronomical phenomena in mind - it was all supposition."
Examining the oldest great stone circles built in Scotland - Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis, and Stenness, Isle of Orkney - the researchers found a great concentration of alignments towards the Sun and Moon at different times of their cycles, and 2000 years later, much simpler monuments were still being built in Scotland that had at least one of the same astronomical alignments found at the great circles.
The researchers discovered a complex relationship between the alignment of the stones, the surrounding landscape and horizon, and the movements of the Sun and the Moon across that landscape.
Dr Higginbottom explains that: "This research is finally proof that the ancient Britons connected the Earth to the sky with their earliest standing stones, and that this practice continued in the same way for 2000 years."
At about half of the sites the northern horizon is relatively higher and closer, and the summer solstice Sun rises out of the highest peak in the north. At the other half it is the exact opposite - higher and closer southern horizon, out of which rises the winter solstice Sun.
Dr Higginbottom concludes: "These people chose to erect these great stones very precisely within the landscape and in relation to the astronomy they knew. They invested a tremendous amount of effort and work to do so. It tells us about their strong connection with their environment, and how important it must have been to them, for their culture and for their culture's survival."
Edited from EurekaAlert!, ScienceDaily (17 August 2016)
28 August 2016
Bronze Age mausoleum unearthed in Kazakhstan
The discovery of a 3,000-year-old pyramid-shaped mausoleum in northern Kazakhstan has gone viral, with several media outlets proclaiming the structure to be the world's first pyramid. Archaeologists say the structure, which contains a series of five walls that gradually get higher toward the centre, is not nearly as old as these news reports claim.
The mausoleum is 2 meters high and about 15 metres square.
Viktor Novozhenov, an archaeologist with the Saryarka Archaeological Institute at Karaganda State University in Kazakhstan who helped excavate the mausoleum says: "It's made from stone, earth and fortified by slabs in the outer side."
While the exact age of the structure is uncertain, it likely was built during the late Bronze Age, more than 3,000 years ago - more than 1,000 years after the Egyptians built the step pyramid of Djoser.
Although the mausoleum's burial chamber had been robbed, nearby graves contained the remains of pottery, a knife, and bronze objects. Before the mausoleum was robbed, it would have held the burial of a clan leader.
The design of the mausoleum, with its five ascending walls, is similar in some ways to the far larger and older step pyramid of Djoser, which has six layers forming a flat-topped pyramid.
Novozhenov adds that a lot more work needs to be done. "We need a lot of additional analyses and hard work for interpretation." The excavation is being led by Igor Kukushkin, also from the Saryarka Archaeological Institute at Karaganda State University in Kazakhstan.
Edited from Archaeology Magazine, Live Science (17 August 2016), Archaeology Magazine (18 August 2016)
Britain's last hunter-gatherers discovered
Using an innovative new bone collagen analysis technique, archaeologists from the Universities of York, Cambridge, and University College London have identified rare human bones dating to the Late Mesolithic era, around 4000 BCE, just prior to the arrival of farming in Britain.
There is a near absence of human remains in Britain from this period, however the remains of six human individuals have been found on the small island of Oronsay, in the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland.
Analysing tiny pieces of bone from the site of Cnoc Coig on Oronsay (Scottish Inner Hebrides), researchers determined the species of 20 previously unidentifiable fragments, confirming 14 of them as human. Further tests were made to probe the diet of Britain's last forager groups, their relationship to the earliest evidence for agriculture, and the transition from hunter-gatherer-fishers to farmers.
Based on previous findings, it was assumed that hunter-gatherer foraging was fairly rapidly replaced with the arrival of agriculture in Britain, resulting in a sudden dietary shift, however this recent discovery suggests that in some parts of the UK, diets were based largely on marine foods even after the arrival of agriculture.
Lead author Doctor Sophy Charlton states that: "Analysing previously unidentified bone fragments shows us that both hunter-gatherer-fisher and farming lifestyles potentially co-existed on the West coast of Scotland for several hundred years. Further analysis has the potential to greatly clarify our understanding of the transition to agriculture in Western Scotland and more broadly across Britain. Our findings also illustrate how information can be obtained from previously overlooked material. So much research potential lies dormant within 'unidentifiable' prehistoric bone fragments, and there is consequently significant potential for the future application of this method to other prehistoric sites."
Edited from ScienceDirect, EurekAlert!, PhysOrg (11 August 2016)
250,000-year-old butchering tools found in Jordan
New research reveals surprisingly sophisticated adaptations by early humans living 250,000 years ago in a former oasis near what is now Azraq, in northwest Jordan, where stone tools bear the oldest evidence of residue from butchered animals including horse, rhinoceros, wild cattle, and duck, thousands of years before Homo sapiens first evolved in Africa.
The team excavated 10,000 stone tools from what was once a wetland, became increasingly arid 250,000 years ago, and is now desert. After closely examining 7,000 of these tools - including scrapers, flakes, projectile points, and hand axes - 44 were selected, and 17 of those tested positive for protein residue.
Team leader and palaeo-anthropologist April Nowell of the University of Victoria says: "Researchers have known for decades about carnivorous behaviours by tool-making hominins dating back 2.5 million years, but now, for the first time, we have direct evidence of exploitation by our Stone Age ancestors of specific animals for subsistence, The hominins in this region were clearly adaptable and capable of taking advantage of a wide range of available prey, from rhinoceros to ducks, in an extremely challenging environment."
Nowell adds: "What this tells us about their lives and complex strategies for survival, such as the highly variable techniques for prey exploitation, as well as predator avoidance and protection of carcasses for food, significantly diverges from what we might expect from this extinct species. It opens up our ability to ask questions about how Middle Pleistocene hominins lived in this region and it might be a key to understanding the nature of interbreeding and population dispersals across Eurasia with modern humans and archaic populations such as Neanderthals."
The technique demonstrates the potential to revolutionise what researchers know about early hominin diets.
Nowell explains: "Other researchers with tools as old or older than these tools from sites in a variety of different environmental settings may also have success when applying the same technique to their tools, especially in the absence of animal remains at those sites."
Edited from Journal of Archaeological Science, PhysOrg (8 August 2016)
23 August 2016
4,500 years old grave discovered in Siberia
The intriguing find of the remains of a 'noblewoman' from the ancient Okunev Culture was made at the Itkol II burial site, in the Shira district of the Republic of Khakassia (Eastern Siberia).
The Okunev is a Bronze Age culture dated to the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE in Minusinsk Hollow of southern Siberia. Okunev people are considered as the Siberian ethnic grouping most closely related to Native Americans.
Undisturbed by pillaging grave robbers, the burial site of the woman, also containing the remains of a child, offers a wealth of clues about the life of these ancient people.
The head of the expedition Dr Andrey Polyakov said the grave of the 'noblewoman' dated back to the Early Bronze Age, between the 25th and 18th centuries BCE. "For such an ancient epoch, this woman has a lot of items in her grave," he said. "We have not encountered anything like this in other burials from this time, and it leads us to suggest that the items in her grave had some ritual meaning. We hope to get even more rare and spectacular finds next year, when will continue to study this unique (burial) mound and open the central burial plot," Polyakov added.
Archeologists believe the woman enjoyed a special status during her lifetime, as indicated by around 100 decorations made from the teeth of different animals, items carved from bone and horn, two jars, cases with bone needles inside, a bronze knife, and more than 1,500 beads that embellished her funeral costume.
There is particular excitement about an incense burner found in the grave because it contains sun-shaped faces which match previously discovered ancient rock art in Siberia. "The clay incense burner bearing three sun-shaped facial images, recovered from the grave, is the most important find of all," Polyakov said. "All such images previously discovered had been found only on cliffs or separate stones. Now there is the prospect to find out when they were made."
Excavations at the as the Itkol II burial site began in 2008 - with some 560 finds in total so far - but there is a sense that the best is yet to come. Another find is a stone slab with a rare image of a bull having a long rectangular body. These are not common in southern Siberia, but are known on the territory of modern-day Kazakhstan. Archeologists see this as an indication that Okunev people may have migrated to Khakassia from the south. Does this mean modern-day Native Americans originated from Kazakhstan and not southern Siberia, as previously thought? More scientific evidence is needed.
Edited from Siberian Times (19 August 2016)
Ancient camping site unearthed in India
A camping site dating back to 8500 BCE has been unearthed in Ladakh, in Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The newly discovered site indicates that humans were as interested in camping 10,500 years ago as they are now.
An official statement stated that the site was discovered 14,000 feet above sea level on the way from Saser La to Ladakh. A charcoal sample collected from the excavation site was sent to Florida for carbon-dating. More samples derived from upper and lower deposits sent for dating indicated two radiocarbon dates of 8500 BCE and 7300 BCE respectively - both of which are a sign of frequent human activity at the site for nearly eight hundred years.
"The research so far carried out has proved the antiquity and nature of human activities to an extent, but their camping patterns, extent of camping area, tools and other cultural aspects are yet to be traced," experts said.
Edited from India Times (19 August 2016)
First Bell Beaker earthwork enclosure found in Spain
Archaeologists from the Tübingen collaborative research center ResourceCultures have discovered an earthwork enclosure in southern Spain dating from the Bell Beaker period of 2,600 to 2,200 BCE. The complex of concentric rings may have been used for holding rituals; such earthwork enclosures have previously only been found in the northern half of Europe.
Archaeologists have known since the middle of the nineteenth century that today's Valencina de la Concepción outside Seville was at the heart of an important Copper Age settlement. In 1860, the Dolmen de la Pastora was first identified. It was the region's first big find from the Copper Age or Chalcolithic, which preceded the Bronze Age. The nearby settlement of Valencina was supported by farming and stockraising on the fertile coastal plain. It is Spain's largest known Copper Age settlement, of over 400 hectares. Grave goods found at the site show that the people of Valencina traded with Copper Age cultures far away.
Tübingen archaeologists headed by Professor Martin Bartelheim discovered the earthwork enclosure some 50 kilometers east of Valencina. Surveying the land in August 2015, they found circular earthworks enclosing about six hectares. Excavations at the site yielded bones, sherds and jewelry; radiocarbon dating and comparative analysis confirmed the site was used during the Bell Beaker Culture.
Just what the site was used for is still a mystery. It consists of several circular trenches with entrance-like openings at regular intervals. In the center was a deep, circular hole some 19 meters wide. In it, the archaeologists found large clay bricks with burn marks on it which may have served a ritual purpose. But they did not find human remains or indications of continuous settlement after the Copper Age, suggesting the site was used intensively for a relatively short period.
Doctoral candidate in the CultureResources group, Javier Escudero Carrillo, says: "The structure is very unusual for Spain, other circular earthworks like this are only found north of the Alps; but most are more than a thousand years older than this site. The stony ground here is not good for farming, but the site is strategically located near an ancient fort on the Guadalquivir River near the ore-rich Sierra Morena mountains, where copper and other valuable minerals were mined. Trails link the site with the fertile plain of Carmona, so that we may assume it was used by many passing through. That fits well with the interpretation of a site used for religious purposes."
Stone tools such as grinding stones and axe heads found at the site will be analyzed to discover how far away the material came from and how the tools were worked. Further information will be gathered from analyses of sediment and pollen as well as the isotopic analyses of animal bone samples, which will give clues as to the diet and lifestyle of the site's inhabitants more than four thousand years ago.
Edited from ScienceDaily (9 August 2016)
Large Bronze Age mound discovered in northwest China
Archaeologists in Xinjiang (northwest China) discovered a Bronze Age stone mound that is probably the largest and best preserved of its kind.
Wu Xinhua, the team's leading archaeologist, said that the mound is made of cobbles and mud and shaped like a cone surrounded by two stone walls. The diameter of the outermost wall reached 114 meters. The site, with a minor damage at its top, is one of the important sites yet discovered in Xinjiang, where archaeologists are studying the ancient nomadic culture that used to live in the vast prairie of the region.
The mound can be dated back to 2,500 to 3,000 years ago in the late Bronze Age, or even a bit earlier, a claim supported by aerial photography and data calculated from sites and burial graves discovered last year in Russia's Republic of Tuva and Mt. Tianshan in eastern Xinjiang.
Li Jun, deputy director of Xinjiang's Cultural Heritage Administration, said that the discovery will probably help to prove the peaceful interconnection of ancient cultures along the Silk Road, as the site discovered in Xinjiang showed many resemblances to those of other countries and regions in Central Asia.
Edited from China.org.cn (9 August 2016)
Ancient remains found in Peru
In the hillsides of Lima's northern district of Los Olivos (Peru), a team of researchers, led by archaeologist Luis Angel Flores Blanco, uncovered skeletal remains bundled up in a funerary blanket, that date back more than 6,000 years.
The archaeologist explained that research began in April this year with the help of the city of Los Olivos, volunteers and archeology students. Ruth Shady, discoverer of Caral, the oldest civilization in America, inaugurated the project and presented the excavation plan at a public event.
So far, preliminary excavations have revealed the presence of two buildings (terraced pyramids) which would be the most important in the valley and would make the hill called Cerro Pacifico the epicenter of this ancient civilization.
The mayor of Los Olivos, Pedro del Rosario, said the municipality will start the necessary procedures with the Ministry of Culture to declare the Cerro Pacifico a site of Cultural Heritage for the Nation. He also asked for the government's support to continue the excavations and subsequent investigation of the site.
The samples were sent to private museums in the United States and Japan for carbon-14 testing.
Edited from Living in Peru (8 August 2016)
22 August 2016
Was China the cradle of modern man, not Africa?
Back in 1929, in caves just outside the Chinese capital of Beijing, an amazing discovery was made of a 500,000 year old skull, which was rapidly nicknamed Peking Man (the name for Beijing in the early 20th. Century). At that time experts believed that the discovery meant that modern humanity had first evolved in the Far East. More recent discoveries had, however, subsequently swung opinion to the evolutionary chain having its origins in Africa, which is the current consensus.
The strength and depth of evidence pointing to the source being African was not even dented with the re-aging of Peking Man, using modern techniques, to over 780,000 years old. Despite this the mystery surrounding Peking Man and his place in modern evolution has puzzled and challenged Chinese palaeontologists and the discovery across eastern China of more early hominids in the intervening years, with ages varying from 80,000 to 1,700,000 years old, has only added to the confusion and contradictory claims.
There has even been some unsubstantiated claims by Western researchers that their Chinese counterparts have been manipulating data to favour evolutionary origins in China and nor Africa. These claims have been strongly rebuffed by the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology & Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) (Beijing), leading palaeontologist, Wu Xinzhi, who is quoted as saying: "This has nothing to do with nationalism. It's all about the evidence - the transitional fossils and archaeological artefacts. Everything points to continuous evolution in China from Homo Erectus to modern man".
Despite these claims and counter-claims the wealth of evidence now emerging from China is fascinating and exciting researchers around the world and will continue to do so as more and more evidence is uncovered. Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist from Oxford University (UK) is convinced there is more to come "The centre of gravity is shifting eastwards," he says.
Edited from PhysOrg (15 July 2016)
14 August 2016
What drove northern European Neanderthals to cannibalism?
An intriguing puzzle is unravelling around the collection of bones which have accumulated over numerous digs over two centuries, from the Troisieme caverne de Goyet, in Belgium.
State of the art techniques, including DNA and chemical analyses of the bones are yielding some interesting results. So far the remains of at least 5 individual Neanderthals have been identified, mixed in with the remains of other animals, including reindeer and horses.
The study team from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural sciences and California State University (USA) have concluded that there is evidence of cannibalism from the Neanderthal bone fragments, identified by the smashing of bones to extract the marrow and the sharpening of some bone fragments to act as tools.
But was this part of a ritual or a matter of survival? Some evidence of malnutrition (hinting at starvation levels) may point to the latter, but this cannot be totally conclusive as other discoveries on other sites prove, Neanderthal tribes led complex and widely differing practices, even within relatively short distances of each other.
Anthropologist and study author, Helene Rougier, is quoted as saying "[Cannibalism] scares people, it doesn't mean that Neanderthals weren't a complex culture. We cannot treat them too simply"
Edited from NPR (14 July 2016)