17 October 2017
First evidence of dismemberment in prehistoric Ireland
A new analysis of bones taken from an old excavation at 5300 years-old passage tomb complex at Carrowkeel, in County Sligo has revealed evidence of the burial practices and death rites of the ancient people of Ireland.
The team of researchers includes Sam Moore, lecturer in Prehistoric Archaeology at IT Sligo. "The bones were analysed from an original excavation of Carrowkeel in 1911, led by Prof R.A.S. McAlister," explains Sam. "They were subsequently presumed missing or lost until a group of boxes with the name 'Carrowkeel' on them was discovered in the archive in the University of Cambridge in 2001. The bones date from between 3500 and 2900 BCE"
The project was led by Dr Thomas Kador (University College London), with osteological research undertaken by Dr Jonny Geber from the Department of Anatomy at New Zealand's University of Otago. The group also included Sligo based archaeologist Dr Robert Hensey and independent researcher Pádraig Meehan.
The team analysed bones from seven passage tombs that included both unburnt and cremated human remains from around 40 individuals. Dr Geber says he and his colleagues determined that the unburnt bone displayed evidence of dismemberment. "We found indications of cut marks caused by stone tools at the site of tendon and ligament attachments around the major joints, such as the shoulder, elbow, hip and ankle", he says.
Dr Geber says the new evidence suggests that a complex burial rite was undertaken at Carrowkeel, which involved a funerary rite and placed a particular focus on the 'deconstruction' of the body. "Attempting to understand the reasons these ancient communities dismembered the bodies is one of the real fascinations with this research," says Sam Moore. "In the societies of the past, ancestry had more to do with group identity. This appears to have held real importance in Neolithic Ireland."
This is the first definitive discovery of similar practices during the same period on the island of Ireland. The new study has been able to show that the Carrowkeel complex was a highly significant place in Neolithic society in Ireland, which had an important role in facilitating interaction with the dead and a spiritual connection with the ancestors.
Edited from Leitrim Observer (17 October 2017)
Dolmens dating back to around 3,000 years found in southern India
A team of archaeologists has discovered more than 300 dolmens reportedly dating back to 3,000 years near Mallasandram (Krishnagiri district, southern India). They said it was for the first time such a large number of dolmens was discovered from a single place in the region.
The ancient tombs were found amidst a heap of stones atop the 'Moral rock hillock' in Mallasandram. "The exact age of the dolmens can be ascertained only after lab tests. Most dolmens are in a damaged condition. Some of them were eroded over the years, while others were damaged by miscreants," said Aram A Krishnan, president of Aram Historical Research Centre (AHRC). Krishnan said all the dolmens had carvings on one side.
Krishnan said his team has sent a few samples of the stones for lab test. The archaeologists also urged the state government and the Central Archaeological Survey of India to take steps to preserve the dolmens. People have damaged some dolmens while searching for precious metals such as gold and silver. "We should take steps to preserve the dolmens as they tell ancient history to younger generations," Krishnan added.
Edited from The Times of India (21 September 2017)
Illuminating discovery at megalithic tomb in Kerry
A hillwalker in west Kerry (Ireland) has made a stunning discovery which connects a 4,000-year-old tomb with the equinox. The megalithic tomb, known as the Giant's Grave, is situated in the valley of Loch an Dúin on the eastern side of the Conor Pass. The tomb has been carved with ancient rock art, including a cup and circle at the head of the monument.
For the past 14 years Daithí Ó Conaill, a retired school principal, has visited the site during the winter and summer solstice hoping to make a connection between the tomb and the sun. He has now discovered that the wedge tomb is actually aligned to the setting sun of the equinox, which last occurred on Friday 22 September.
As the sun sets directly into a 'V' shaped valley in the distant Brandon mountain range, a shaft of light enters the wedge tomb, illuminating the chamber and the rock art at the head of the tomb. The event can be witnessed at sunset for a number of days either side of the equinox.
Archaeologist Míchéal Ó Coiléain who has carried out extensive surveys in Loch an Dúin said it was a stunning discovery, providing a fine example of the engineering brilliance demonstrated by the people who constructed it.
Edited from RTE News (26 September 2017)
8,000-year-old paint workshop discovered in Turkey
One of the oldest paint workshops of the world have been found at an ancient settlement in northwestern Turkish province of Eskişehir. Archaeologists working at the ancient settlement mound of Kanlıtaş discovered traces of paint from 6,000 BCE.
Located north of central Eskişehir, the settlement lies on the northern slope of a hill in the middle of a valley. Considered to be the oldest settlement of Central-West Anatolian region, the mound was a permanent settlement encircled with large retaining walls to the east and the west.
Anadolu University Archaeology Professor Ali Umut Türkcan said that the large walls provided protection for the ancient people. He noted that their research concluded that the mound was used as a production center and a workshop. "Since the beginning of excavations we wondered if a paint workshop existed here. We discovered samples of paint in mortars, ground stones and a container" Türkcan said. He also noted that they think the paint could be red ocher, which is produced from mineral sources.
Research at Kanlıtaş Settlement Mound started in 1989 after Eskişehir Archaeology Museum's discovery. Türkcan and his team have been working at the site since 2008. They have discovered two mounds, Paleolithic workshops and three burial sites.
Edited from Daily Sabah (31 August 2017)
New exciting discoveries at the Ness of Brodgar dig
This year at the Ness Brodgar excavation in Orkney (Scotland), two remarkable finds were made. The first discovery being that of an incense pot as well as a 'butterfly-like' motif on a stone. The incense pot was found by a volunteer on the dig and confirmed by Claire Cooper, an MPhil from the University of Bradford.
This vessel is one of five discovered in the British isles, with other examples having been found near Stonehenge and in Dorset. The vessel is described by Miss Cooper as having "a slightly 'waisted' profile, shallow-dished upper surface". The pots themselves are associated with the disposal of bodies in either burials or cremations.
This find also coincides with the aforementioned 'butterfly-like' motifs discovered on a stone as the sunlight hit it just perfect. The stone carrying the markings were part of wall structure at the site and so faint that they cannot be seen on photographs. Nick Card, director of the Ness of Brodgar site, described the discovery of the motifs as a case of the "right moment and at the right angle".
In reference to the carvings themselves, Dr. Antonia Thomas, of the University of the Highlands and Islands and expert on Neolithic art, suggested that the carving may have become animated as the sunlight hit them and may even have had pigment rubbed into the carvings, which have long since been lost.
The dig has also uncovered Neolithic buildings, artwork, pottery, animal bones, and stone tools at the Ness of Brodgar, the location of the Ring of Brodgar standing stones. Other finds also include a Roman coin at the location of a Neolithic chambered tomb, Iron Age roundhouses, and Pictish buildings.
The dig is being led by the University of the Highlands as well as the Island Archaeology Institute with support from the Ness of Brodgar Trust.
Edited from BBC News (19 and 22 July 2017), Ness of Brodgar Trust (20 Juy 2017)
31 August 2017
Were Denisovans an isolated part of our lineage?
During the time of one of our ancient ancestors the Neanderthals there also lived a long extinct hominid known as Denisovan. Whilst very little is known about Denisovans we do know that we share some common DNA and that they might have contributed a positive factor to our immune system. They also shared a common DNA with their Neanderthal cousins.
Until recently our total knowledge of Denisovans has been based on two teeth and a finger bone, which were all found in a cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia. There has now been a exciting fourth find, that of a baby tooth, on the same site back in November 2015. Extensive research has now been carried out on the tooth by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
The tooth was found in a sedimentary layer which has been dated at between 128,000 and 227,000 years old, pre-dating previous Denisovan finds by between 50,000 and 100,000 years! To put this in perspective this time span would indicate that the Denisovans had occupied the site for a longer period than modern humans have occupied Europe.
Vivian Slon, from the Institute, is quoted as saying "Such a long span of time increases the chances that the Denisovans and the Neanderthals may have interacted and interbred". The main point of note is that all Denisovan finds so far have emanated from one site. Without further finds from other locations the researchers are unable to determine whether the finds so far represent the entire spectrum of Denisovan genetic diversity or are an isolated branch.
Edited from LiveScience (10 July 2017)
British experts reconstruct Neolithic man's face
There is a fascinating Department within the Liverpool John Moores University (UK) called 'Face Lab'. Scientists in the laboratory utilise a craniofacial computer system to re-create faces just using the skeletal remains and a database of anatomical structures & facial features.
In the past they have used these techniques to depict the faces of key historical figures such as Richard III, Robert the Bruce and J.S. Bach. They have now turned their attention on the remains of a 4.500 year old man, who was first excavated in the Derbyshire in the 1930s with the excavation being completed in the 1980s.
His remains were found in a well-documented burial mound known as Liff's Low bowl barrow. Using conventional research techniques his height, age and sex were determined but this has now been enhanced by the addition of the 3D facial image.
Claire Miles, collection assistant at Buxton Museum where his remains are kept, is quoted as saying "This reconstruction really allows people to see them [ancient peoples] as people rather than a set of bones and hopefully make them interested in the way that they lived". As well as bringing ancient people to life the technique has also been used to trace migration patterns in ancient peoples and also help identify modern victims of crime as well as victims of mass disasters.
Edited from LiveScience (10 July 2017)
The continuing story of Oetzi
The mummified remains of a Chalcolithic man were first found in the Olztal Alps, between Austria and Italy, in September 1991. Since then the story of Oetzi the Iceman, as he became known, has unravelled and enthralled us. Recently researchers from the University of Padua have been analysing the copper head which formed the cutting blade of the axe which had been found alongside Oetzi's body.
Before the research began it had been believed that the copper had been mined and forged in either the local Alpine area or the nearby Balkans. Using chemical analysis and isotope analysis the Paduan team, lead by Professor Gilberto Artioli, has come to the conclusion that the copper used had actually been mined in Southern Tuscany.
Their belief is founded on the fact that the lead-isotope variation in this region is unique in Europe and the Mediterranean areas. This raises new questions as to whether it was traded as copper ore or the finished article. Either was it has identified new trade routes that were previously unknown in the 4th Century BCE.
Edited from Archaeology & Arts (10 July 2017)
Archaeologists track ancient wheat in Bronze Age box
In a small wooden box, 2.650m (8.000 ft) above sea level in the Swiss Alps, archaeologists have uncovered new evidence that could help map the use and spread of ancient grains. When the box was initially uncovered by archaeologists in the area, they only expected to find milk residue or some type of porridge inside. Instead they made an amazing microscopic discovery.
In the box, the archaeologists were able to discover lipid-based biomarkers for whole wheat or rye grain, which are called alkylresorcinols. This discovery is an important one as it gives archaeologists the possibility to trace the development of early Eurasian farming. This analysis was carried out be research from Germany's Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of York.
Dr André Colonese, from BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, said: "We didn't find any evidence of milk, but we found these phenolic lipids, which have never been reported before in an archaeological artefact, but are abundant in the bran of wheat and rye cereals and considered biomarkers of wholegrain intake in nutritional studies."
"One of the greatest challenges of lipid analysis in archaeology has been finding biomarkers for plants, there are only a few and they do not preserve very well in ancient artefacts. You can imagine the relevance of this study as we have now a new tool for tracking early culinary use of cereal grains, it really is very exciting. The next step is to look for them in ceramic artefacts," Dr Colonese added.
Dr Jessica Hendy, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said: "The evidence of cereals came from the detection of lipids, but also from preserved proteins. This analysis was able to tell us that this vessel contained not just one, but two types of cereal grains - wheat and barley or rye grains. Combining these two kinds of molecular analysis, along with microscopy, is strong evidence that cereals were being transported across this alpine pass."
From the results of the study the authors believe that the Schnidejoch pass was not just a settlement, but also used for small scale trade. Francesco Carrer, one of the study's authors said: "This evidence sheds new light on life in prehistoric alpine communities, and on their relationship with the extreme high altitudes. People traveling across the alpine passes were carrying food for their journey, like current hikers do."
Edited from PhysOrg (26 July 2017), National Geographic News (27 July 2017)
Nine Bronze Age tombs discovered in Eastern Romania
In Cârlomăneşti, in Eastern Romania's Buzău county nine tombs that date back to the Bronze Age have recently been identified. The graves were identified by specialists from the Buzău county museum, along with other objects that are to be restored and displayed. This comes after recent work in the area following a short excavation hiatus. The tombs are believed to be part of a culture who lived in the area between 2000 - 1600 BCE.
According to Mihai Constantinescu, a researcher at the Anthropology Institute of the Bucharest Academy said: "Some tombs are located closer to the surface and were not so well preserved because of the agriculture works. But those deeper in the ground have rich inventories. Each tomb usually has a minimum of three jugs. There are also bronze pieces, items used for keeping braided hair together, bracelets, bronze collars, spindles, very beautiful jugs, unique in the Bronze Age in Romania for their shape and preservation. We found a dove-shaped jug with eight bone fragments from pig feet, probably used as toys."
While another project looks to be developing at an archaeological park in Cârlomăneşti, the finds from the will join the existing Bronze Age finds at the Buzău County Museum
Edited from Romania Insider (20 July 2017)
17 August 2017
Bones suggest cannibal ritual in ancient Britain
Archaeological evidence suggests that most cannibalism in human history occurred for complex and varied reasons. Human bones found in Gough's Cave - a sizeable limestone cave in Cheddar Gorge in the southwest of England - bear unmistakable signs of cannibalism. Researchers have previously described what seem to be drinking vessels made from human skulls among the site's remains.
Cut-marked and broken human bones are a recurrent feature of Magdalenian European sites, around 17,000-12,000 years before present, and Gough's Cave has yielded one of the most extensive Magdalenian human bone assemblages ever found, deposited on the floor of the cave along with butchered large mammal remains and pieces of flint. New carbon datings show the cave was occupied by Magdalenian hunters for a very short span of time 14,700 years ago - possibly no more than two or three human generations.
In a recent paper, Doctor Silvia Bello, an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London and her colleagues analyse and compare zig-zag incisions on one arm bone with hundreds of butchering marks and engravings on human and animal bones from Gough's Cave and other archaeological sites.
The marks on the arm bone match patterns on engraved animal bones found in France from the same period, suggesting it was a common motif at the time. The engraving was produced by a single individual, using one tool, during only one event. What is exceptional is the choice of human bone and the cannibalistic context in which it was produced. It appears the engraving was part of the cannibalistic practice, implying a complex ritualistic funerary behaviour never before recognised for the Palaeolithic period - the intensive processing of entire corpses to extract edible tissues.
Tool manufacture and decorative designs at Gough's Cave have close parallels with those at other European Magdalenian sites. Portable art at Gough's Cave suggests the carvers were competent and experienced in working different raw materials. Artefacts there include worked and engraved fragments of animal bones, amber pebbles, minute fragments of ivory, and three "perforated batons" - common artefacts of debated use nearly always made from reindeer antlers.
Edited from PLOS One (9 August 2017), The New York Times (10 August 2017)
16 August 2017
Excavation of a round mound in the Isle of Man
Archaeologists glimpse Manx history
A team of archaeologists, students, and local volunteers have for the past twelve months been investigating prehistoric mounds in fields south of Kirk Michael, a village in the north of the Isle of Man - the island in the Irish Sea famous for its annual motorcycle race. The site overlooks the sea with good views of both Scotland and Ireland.
The Isle of Man is home to over 160 round barrows - human burial sites found throughout the British Isles and in continental Europe. First appearing around 3800-3600 BCE, different kinds of round mounds were built sporadically during the Neolithic period and in large numbers during the Early Bronze Age.
The team is led by Doctors Rachel Crellin, a native of the island who now lectures in Archaeology at Leicester University, and Chris Fowler, a lecturer at Newcastle University. Finds so far include the collar of what is believed to be a burial urn of the type commonly found upside down on top of human ashes.
Among other artefacts are a number of flint tools, one of which is a scraper with bevelled edges used to remove fat from animal hides.
The team has been running workshops for local schoolchildren and offering daily tours for the public. Heritage Open Days are scheduled for the autumn.
Doctor Crellin says a burial mound of this type has not been excavated on the island for some time, and hopes modern techniques will reveal specific new information about the site, and about prehistory on the island generally.
Edited from IOM Today (21 July 2017)
7,000-year-old figurine discovered in Poland
A 7-centimetre fragment of a 7,000-year-old baked clay human figurine has been found by archaeologist Piotr Alagierski while on holiday, walking in a cultivated field in one of the villages of Podkarpacie, near the Carpathian Mountains in extreme southeastern Poland. The torso, most of the head and face, and the upper part of one arm survive.
Alagierski says: "There is no doubt that this is a national-level monument - one of the oldest depictions of a human in our country. Similar finds from that period are very rare," adding that "The style in which the figurine was made is surprising. It resembles similar figurines from Slovakia and Romania. The details of the head are clearly modelled - the hair, the nose, the chin are visible. There is a visible indentation on the chest, probably representing a garment, probably a tunic. A necklace is visible on the neck."
Unlike the few figurines from this period previously found in Poland, it does not have prominent sexual features.
Alagierski reports also seeing a large number of ceramic pot sherds and pieces obsidian in the field. He believes the site was a settlement of the first farmers living in what is now Poland, and intends to start excavations there. Meanwhile, chemical analyses of the figurine will allow scientists to determine the origin of the clay. The style suggests that the figure may have been made or carried by people from across the mountains.
Edited from Science & Scholarship in Poland (21 June 2017)
Sound-reflecting rock shelters attracted ancient artists
Researchers say that members of early farming communities in in the central Mediterranean preferred to paint images in rock shelters where sounds bounced off walls and into the surrounding countryside. Archaeologist Margarita Diaz-Andreu of the University of Barcelona and colleagues report that in landscapes with many potential rock art sites, "the few shelters chosen to be painted were those that have special acoustic properties."
Diaz-Andreu's team studied two rock art sites generally dated to between approximately 6,500 and 5,000 years ago. In southeastern France, at the kilometer-long cliff site of Baume Brune, only eight of the forty-three naturally formed cavities in the cliff contain paintings, which include treelike figures and horned animals. On the east coast of Italy, in the Valle d'Ividoro, at an 800-metre-long section of a gorge, only three of eleven natural shelters contain painted images.
The researchers popped balloons in front of each rock-shelter, recording the sound waves from various locations and distances. Three-dimensional slow-motion depictions of echoes revealed that at both sites, shelters with rock paintings displayed better echoing properties than undecorated shelters, and that shelters with the best echoes had the highest number of paintings.
In a separate study of paintings in northern Finland dated to between around 7,200 and 3,000 years ago, music archaeologist Riitta Rainio of the University of Helsinki and her colleagues found that echoes from steep rock cliffs bordering three lakes also attracted ancient artists. She and her colleagues recorded from boats on the lakes.
Similarly, at the Grotte de Niaux in southwestern France, archaeologist Paul Pettitt of Durham University in England observes that many roughly 14,000 to 12,000 year-old animal drawings and engravings are concentrated in a cathedral-like chamber where sounds echo loudly.
Edited from Science News (26 June 2017)
Ancient warrior, weapons drawn, wears stylish earrings
The extraordinary find of a Bronze Age warrior buried between 2,700 and 2,900 years ago with dagger in one hand, a knife in the other, spiral earrings, and a bronze disc on his forehead, is intriguing archeologists in Siberia. The time was a transition from the Bronze to the Iron age.
The remains were found during restoration of an historical building in Omsk, a city on the Irtysh River in the south of the country, near the northern border of Kazahkstan.
The well-preserved skeleton lay on his back with his wrists crossed, the dagger in his right hand pointing up, the knife in his left hand pointing down. Nearby were an axe and some arrow heads.
Maxim Grachev, director of Omsk Museum of Archeology and Ethnography, says: "The ideal state of the grave was a pleasant surprise for us. We found a large number of well-preserved items: weapons, jewellery, and other items made of bronze." Five burials were found, but the others were destroyed. Grachev thinks further burial remains are likely to lie under buildings on the site, but are not accessible.
Edited from The Siberian Times (5 August 2017)