15 January 2018
Ice Age artefacts found in northern England
Volunteers in the small town of Thornton-le-Street, about 300 kilometres north-northwest of London, have found more than 2,500 artefacts - many dating from the last Ice Age. Another major dig will happen between ythe 21st of May and the 1st of June, in a partnership between the Thornton-le-Street History group and archaeology company Solstice Heritage. The project which will continue until November.
History group secretary Anne Stockdale says the village is part of a rich archaeological and historical landscape: "People have lived in the surrounding area since the last Ice Age - one of the major arteries of Roman Yorkshire passed through or close by the village - and the scheduled earthworks of medieval Thornton-le-Street can still be seen around the modern houses. We have been astonished at the sheer number of objects we have found - over 1,200 in one field area alone - and by the amount of flint and by the lack of metal finds."
Over the summer 12 test pits were dug in gardens and on open space around the community - home to fewer than 100 people - to find out more about the medieval village, and a large trench was opened in one garden to uncover the remains of road front medieval properties and to see if a Roman road had also run along it.
A geophysical survey was also done, and volunteers have been working with the North Yorkshire county records office examining archives.
Saturday, February 10 from 10am to 3pm the public are invited to an Open Day of free displays and talks on some of the artefacts at Thornton-le-Street Village Hall, with experts on hand to answer questions. Further information on the project and volunteer opportunities can be found at https://roadstothepast2018launch.eventbrite.co.uk/ and http://www.thorntonlestreetbigdig.com/
Edited from The Northern Echo (12 January 2018)
Bronze Age mounds at risk in the North York Moors park
Burial mounds dating back thousands of years are at risk from hikers erecting stone cairns to mark routes across the North York Moors National Park, about 400 kilometres north-northwest of London. Efforts to protect prehistoric monuments in the park from stone-robbing goes back more than a decade.
Archeological consultant Linda Smith, commissioned by the park as part of its campaign to raise public awareness of the problem with cairn-building, says other ancient remains are at risk of being disturbed and some prehistoric monuments were being vandalised: "Placing a plaque to commemorate a loved one adds a modern intrusion or it may be fixed to a stone with prehistoric carvings. Modern graffiti is sometimes carved into the stones of a prehistoric monument."
The park is home to 842 protected sites and scheduled monuments. While only a small number are affected by walkers building modern cairns on top of them, work is ongoing to ensure ancient monuments are protected and remedial work to burial mounds was carried out to repair the worst damage last year. Rambler's cairns have been from two monuments, and erosion damage to areas of earthworks repaired. A sign has been posted at a Bronze Age burial mound explaining what it is and asking people not to add stones to it.
The park's monument management scheme officer, Mags Waughman Waughman, says two more cairn removals will take place this winter, and walkers will be encouraged to follow the official routes. Ms Waughman adds: "A third project is at the planning stage and will involve repair of the damaged earthworks, but this is unlikely to take place before the summer."
Edited from The Yorkshire Post, The Northern Echo (10 January 2018)
14 January 2018
Neolithic girl's face unveiled in Greece
A reconstruction of the head and face of an 18-year-old girl who lived 7,000 years ago in the Mesolithic era will make its public debut on the 19th of January. Known as Avgi - Greek for 'Dawn' - her remains were found in Theopetra cave, near what is now the city of Trikala, about 260 kilometres northwest of Athens. Named after "the Dawn of civilisation", she lived at the time human beings transitioned from food collectors to food cultivators.
According to Athens University professor Manolis Papagrigorakis, the reconstruction of Avgi's face involved several medical specialists, including an endocrinologist, an orthopedic surgeon, a neurologist, a pathologist, and a radiologist. His team collaborated with Swedish sculptor Oscar Nilsson, whose studio specialises in historical body reconstructions. Given the lack of substantial evidence, the work presented challenges - especially her clothes and hair.
The team is also working on a reconstruction of the skull of a 5th century BCE girl who was about five and a half years old when she died.
Edited from Tornos News (10 January 2018)
Images of prehistoric silk road reveal lost irrigation network
An ancient irrigation system in northwestern China explains how the region's herding communities were able grow crops in one of the driest climates anywhere in the world - the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains. The system dates to around the 3rd or 4th century CE.
A team from Washington University in Saint Louis USA made the discovery using satellite imagery. A 3-D model was then created by mapping the site in greater detail using a consumer-grade drone and special image-stitching software. They believe it's possible that the knowledge required to build the irrigation canals, cisterns, and check dams originated with early communities traveling along the corridor.
Corresponding author Yuqi Li, an archaeology graduate student in the university, says: "There are numerous studies on the crops that probably spread through the Silk Road and the prehistoric Silk Road. Wheat and millets were probably the most important crops to understand trade and exchange along the prehistoric Silk Road. All of them are staple crops, so they had a large impact on people's diet."
Recent research has revealed that Central Asian communities previously thought to be pastoral or nomadic also practiced agriculture, leading Li and colleagues to coin the term "agro-pastoralist" to more accurately describe these societies. With an efficiently built irrigation system emphasising storage rather than constant supply, Li thinks they lived a more sustainable lifestyle than Han dynasty colonists, whose systems were made to maximise the supply, with less consideration of labor cost and efficiency of use.
Edited from Newsweek (3 January 2018)
Signs of massive human migration to the Americas
The 11,500-year-old skeleton of a 6-week-old girl found buried on a bed of antler points and red ocher offers genetic clues to how people arrived in the Americas.
Discovered in Alaska in 2010, an international team of scientists reports the child's genome is second-oldest human genome ever found in North America. Analysis shows the child belonged to a previously unknown lineage that split from other Native Americans either just before or soon after they arrived in North America.
Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, a co-author of the new study, says: "It's the earliest branch in the Americas that we know of so far."
The study strongly supports the idea that the Americas were settled by migrants from Siberia. Indications are these early settlers endured for thousands of years before disappearing.
Edited from The New York Times (3 January 2018)
New evidence of dispersal of early modern humans out of Africa
Finds from caves in the Levant, particularly the Skhul and Qafzeh caves in northern Israel, have often been cited as evidence to support the theory that early modern humans left Africa in a single wave perhaps 100,000 or more years ago and occupied locations in the Levant, later dying out due to environmental change and the lack of more advanced stone technology. Based on other finds and genetic evidence, theirs has been portrayed as a short-lived movement, with a more successful dispersal out of Africa around 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, however recent findings in other parts of the world challenge the dating of the later dispersal.
A recent study of stone artifacts recovered decades ago in the Skhul Cave on what is now Mount Carmel in Israel, suggests the occupation of the Levant by early modern humans during the Pleistocene was longer and more complex than previously thought. Huw S Groucutt of the University of Oxford and colleagues analysed dozens of stone cores, flakes, retouched stone tools, and one hammerstone, providing the first complete examination of the assemblage using modern techniques, and comparing them to those excavated at other palaeolithic sites. Integrating their data with previous research from the Skhul and Qafzeh caves - dated respectively to about 130 to 120,000 and 95,000 years ago - places the artifacts among the first early modern humans known outside of Africa. While recognising that other hypotheses could explain their results, the authors suggest multiple dispersals of Homo sapiens out of Africa between 130,000 and 80,000 years ago, corresponding with humid phases, alternating with phases of aridity.
The original excavations of Skhul Cave in the early 1930s yielded stone tools and other finds, including human fossil remains representing seven adults and three children, some of whom were thought to have been intentionally buried. Generally accepted as early modern human, the fossils show characteristics associated with both Neanderthals and modern humans, and are thought to represent some of the earliest modern humans to occupy regions outside of Africa. The finds support the theory that early modern humans and Neanderthals lived concurrently in Eurasia for a time, and may even have interbred in the Levant.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (2 January 2018)
A supernova drawn 6,000 years ago in Kashmir?
A team of astrophysicists and archaeologists from the Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in India have come across what they think is the earliest human depiction of a supernova. Their study was recently published in the Indian Journal of History of Science.
The illustration was carved into an irregular stone slab, no wider than 48 cm (18.8 inches), in the Burzahom region of Kashmir, India. Previous radiocarbon dating showed that humans lived in this area between 5000 BCE and 1500 BCE, although researchers still aren't certain about the date of the carving.
Archaeologists found the carvings nearly half a century ago and for decades, they were thought to depict a hunting scene. But the presence of two celestial objects in the drawings has piqued the interest the Indian team of researchers.
Two beaming disks in the sky initially were identified as two suns. That explanation did not satisfy Mayank Vahia and a team of astrophysicists in India and Germany. "Our first argument was, there cannot be two suns," Vahia said. "We thought it must have been an object that appeared and attracted the attention of the artists."
Vahia and his team searched their catalogue: "We needed one that would have been brighter than the moon in the night sky and visible in the daytime," he said. They settled on Supernova HB9, a star that exploded around 4,600 BCE. The supernova would have occurred somewhere near the Orion constellation. "Which is known as the scene of a hunter," said Vahia. "The supernova also went off just above the constellation of Taurus, the bull, which is also seen in the drawing," Vahia added.
The publication of the study in 2013 went unnoticed outside the scientific community but was picked up by a podcast in December and has become national news in India. Vahia says the oldest previous records of a supernova were discovered in China and date back to 800 BCE, so if true, "it's significantly older".
Some will undoubtedly argue this conclusion is a bit of leap. After all, it's impossible to ever truly get into the mind of the artist, whoever they might be. Indeed, other scientists have previously conducted similar studies, only to later be debunked. Nevertheless, it's undeniable that ancient civilizations were passionate about the night sky and equally enthusiastic about documenting the world around them with cave art.
Edited from The Guardian, IFL Science (10 January 2018)
12 January 2018
Omani links with Pakistan date back over 4000 years
The Sultanate of Oman is an independent state on the South Eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. Its location at the junction of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean meant that it has always been a sea faring trading nation.
Now a team of archaeologists from he Sultan Qaboos University have uncovered a settlement in the north of the country at Al Batinah, with pottery evidence of links to the Umm Al Nar Bronze Age civilisation in Pakistan, in approximately 2,500 to 2,000 BCE.
The links are specifically with the Mohenjodaro Region of the Sindh Valley. It is thought that the shards which were found were from storage jars used either to bring goods to b e traded for copper or to transport the copper to Sindh, but this has yet to be fully verified.
What is certain is the point of their manufacture, as advised in a statement by a spokesperson from The Sultan Qaboos University "There are initial indications of its external relations with Sindh, in which pottery or the storage jar, which was manufactured in the civilisation on Harappa, then in Sindh".
This mountainous region in the north of the country, the Hajar Mountains, is rich in copper ore and, in fact, the Sumerian name for this area was Magan, which directly refers to its copper resources.
Edited from the Times of Oman (25 December 2017)
Jersey joins Europe's Cultural Route programme
In 1987 the Council of Europe launched a Cultural Routes programme to show how the heritage of different countries and cultures within Europe had contributed to a shared and living cultural heritage. The first of these Routes that they established was the Santiago de Compostela Pilgrims Route. Several diverse routes then followed including, recently, Destination Napoleon and In the Footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson.
Not all of the routes are concerned with more recent history however. One route in particular, started in 2013, concerns the European Route of Megalithic Culture. Existing members of this Route are the UK, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden & Portugal, where hikes and cycle activities are organised to explore and enjoy the wealth of Megalithic tombs and dolmens.
The latest member of this group is now the Societe Jersaise, in the Channel Islands (UK) and it is hoped that this membership will help boost Jersey's cultural profile. A working group has been formed to take this forward and this comprises archaeologists and members of the Jersey Government's Economic Development Department, to help promote awareness of the 'dolmen culture'.
Rosalind Le Quesne, archaeologist and member of the working committee, is quoted as saying "It's great for little Jersey to get recognised in the bigger picture of cultural heritage. This will give us more international prominence".
Edited from Jersey Evening Post (24 December 2017)
Unique winter solstice experience in Ireland
There is a World Heritage Site, at Newgrange, in the Boyne Valley in the East of the Republic of Ireland which is the location of a world famous Stone Age passage tomb. It is over 5,000 years old a comprises a mound which is 83 metres in diameter and 13.5 metres high, enclosing three internal compartments.
The uniqueness of this site is embodied in the fact that it is aligned with the sun for the Winter Solstice. This phenomenon was first realised by Professor Michael O'Kelly during the excavation and restoration of the tomb in the period between 1962 and 1975.
Many countries have developed Lotteries to raise money for various projects and good causes but in Ireland, the Office for Public Works, in an effort to boost local tourism, has devised a unique Winter Solstice Lottery for this site, with the winners being able to witness the rising of the Winter Solstice sun first hand. The Lottery had proved to be extremely popular, with over 33,000 applicants worldwide. Unfortunately on the day of the Solstice the sky was overcast and the sun not visible, otherwise they would have witnessed the sun penetrating a special roof aperture and illuminating the interior.
The Irish Minister of State for the Office of Public Works is quoted as saying " I am delighted to be here alongside Minister Madigan [Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht] to celebrate the 50th Anniversary since Professor M.J. O'Kelly rediscovered the sunrise illumination on the chamber at Newgrange o n the Winter Solstice, and to witness the live streaming of this phenomenon in association with Failte Ireland [TV]". He went on to add "That some of the winners have come this week from as far afield as Switzerland and the USA shows the continuing fascination the Solstice has the world over".
Edited from Meath Chronicle (22 December 2017)
7 January 2018
Hundreds of knapped flint hand-axes discovered in Israel
Israeli archaeologists have uncovered next to one of the country's busiest roads the site of an extraordinarily well preserved prehistoric 'paradise' used by Stone age hunter-gatherers over half a million years ago, who left behind evidence of hundreds of knapped flint hand-axes.
The discovery at about a five-metre depth at Jaljulia, near the town of Kfar Saba, suggests that the human ancestors of homo sapiens - homo erectus - may have returned to the site repeatedly, leaving behind evidence of their primitive stone tools.
The most striking find at the site was evidence of a well-developed lithic industry - referring to elaborately worked stone tools - including hundreds of flint hand-axes typical of the ancient Acheulian culture that existed in the Lower Paleolithic era from about 1.5 million to 200,000 years ago.
Acheulian axe-making culture - associated with homo erectus and early homo sapiens - is characterised by distinctive oval and pear-shaped flint hand tools used by early humans. The dating of finds of such hand-axes has been used to trace the early human migration out of Africa into Asia and Europe.
Archaeologists have long believed that the presence of good quality stone including jasper and flint attracted early humans to certain sites. Researchers believe that the fact that the site appears to have been occupied repeatedly indicates that prehistoric humans possessed a geographic memory of the place, and could have returned there as part of a seasonal cycle.
Maayan Shemer, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: "Coming to work in Jaljulia, nobody expected to find evidence of such an ancient site, let alone one so extensive and with such impressive finds. The findings are amazing, both in their preservation state and in their implications about our understanding of this ancient material culture."
Edited from The Guardian (7 January 2018)
Stone Age remains in Essex threatened by development
Important remains could be destroyed if a housing estate is built on a protected archaeological site in Lawford, about 100 kilometres northeast of London. At a recent parish council meeting residents expressed concern over plans to build 110 homes on a Scheduled Ancient Monument site which could date to 10,200 BCE.
The henge appears as a ring in a field at the highest point in the Tendring Peninsula.
Phil Cunningham of the Manningtree Museum and Local History Group, says: "There will be considerable impact on the Neolithic monument, which must be preserved in its original rural landscape", adding that "it will make no sense to future generations if surrounded and obscured by housing development. The monument is of similar age to the Neolithic stone circle at Stonehenge and should be shown the same respect."
John Hall says councillors and residents were amazed - even people who have lived in Lawford for more than 50 years did not know much about the monument. There were archaeological digs at the site in the 1960s and 1970s, and Hall says there could also be remains of a Roman road, buildings, pottery, or other findings at the site.
A spokesman for the developer says: "A detailed programme of archaeological investigation has been undertaken and has led to the sympathetic design of this scheme." If the development is approved, the monument would be in an area of open space with homes built around it. Tendring Council has the final decision on the plans.
Edited from Braintree & Witham Times (22 December 2017)
Standing stones erected in a Scottish roundabout
In an apparent cost-cutting measure which may reflect prehistoric practices, six standing stones have been erected in the middle of a busy roundabout in the centre of Ayr, Scotland - a town on the Irish Sea about 100 kilometres southwest of Edinburgh. The stones rise from a bed of decorative gravel. Two other local roundabouts have also been given makeovers, and are now covered by large boulders sitting on pebbles. They were the last three roundabouts in Ayr not to have benefited from any form of landscaping.
South Ayrshire Council's neighbourhood and environment executive director Ms Lesley Bloomer says the locations were prone to becoming overgrown with weeds, and dangerous to maintain: "This low maintenance project has minimum impact on sight lines and enhances the approach for thousands of drivers each and every day." A resident said: "I quite like the standing stones but think they look a bit austere. It would be a shame if we lose all the gorgeous flowerbeds, however."
Your editor wonders if Neolithic people similarly lamented a transition from wooden posts to standing stones.
Edited from Daily Record (19 December 2017)
6 January 2018
Cave in China filled with 45,000-year-old stone tools
Archaeologists have recovered thousands of artifacts from a cave in Xinjiang (an autonomous region of northern China) including stone tools, bronze and iron artifacts and animal fossils. Some date as far back as the Paleolithic Age, making them roughly 45,000 years old, according to the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Around 2,000 artifacts were unearthed at the excavation site Tongtiandong Cave. About one-third of the artifacts were stone tools, with another third comprising fossilized animal skeletons. They showed clear signs of cutting, burning and otherwise having been manipulated for human use, according to the academy.
Archaeologists conducted a preliminary excavation in early 2016 before returning for several months in 2017 to make more thorough and detailed recordings. Previous research conducted in the cave had revealed stone tools and other archaeological artifacts that suggested human activity dating back to around 10,000 years ago.
The archaeologists behind the most recent project discovered that the cave provided "continuous stratigraphic cultural-layer sections," according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Meaning, it provided a layer-by-layer view of the Early Iron Age, the Bronze Age, the Chalcolithic Age and finally the Paleolithic Age. The findings could help map how the region's inhabitants evolved over the course of tens of thousands of years.
Among the artifacts dated to the comparatively younger Iron and Bronze ages were, as one might guess, iron and bronze wares, but also pottery and millstones. The researchers were even able to carbon date leftover wheat grain, which they found to be between 5,000 and 3,500 years old, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. They speculated that this region was one of the earliest to cultivate wheat, and that it might have been the point of origin from which the grain spread, via trade, out into other populations.
Edited from Newsweek (3 January 2018)
Ancient Kerry fort closed after storm damage
Dunbeg fort dates back around 2,500 years, and houses a circular beehive hut with a square interior. Located on the Dingle Peninsula in Kerry (Ireland), this site is now closed until further notice due to damage sustained in the recent stormy weather.
The fort is a popular tourist attraction, offering dramatic views of the surrounding areas. A large portion of the fort has fallen into the sea due to the Storm Eleanor. The site was also closed in December due to the storm damage and people are still being urged to stay away.
The Office for Public Works said in a statement: "The OPW cannot emphasise enough the absolute dangerous nature of Dunbeg Fort at this time and asks that all visitors, for their own safety, refrain from visiting the site until further notice."
The OPW said that, alongside the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, it would meet at the site early next week to assess the damage and decide on what remedial works should be undertaken.
It is understood that significant damage has been done at the cliff edge, which has been subject to extensive erosion in recent decades. The fort is seen to be particularly vulnerable due to how it is perched on the sheer cliff edge. Part of the site previously fell into the sea in 2014.
Edited from The Journal.ie (2 January 2018)