27 July 2015
4,000-year-old structure found in Ohio
A team led by Brian Redmond of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is excavating a 4,000-year-old site in northeastern Ohio.
So far, they have uncovered a 75-millimetre-thick floor made from layers of yellow clay that was carried to the site. A basin was built into the floor, along with cooking pits and storage holes that held hickory nuts. Post holes show where hickory saplings were placed and then tied together to create a framework covered with cat-tail (marsh reed) mats.
Redmond thinks people migrated to the area from the southeast to spend the autumn and winter for a period of some 200 to 300 years. "There's nothing like this anywhere in Ohio. It's very significant, a much more significant site than we previously thought. These are house structures. This was like a village site."
The builders lived in what archaeologists classify as the Late Archaic period in North America, so far back that they don't have a tribal name. "We have no idea what they called themselves or what language they spoke," Redmond says. "The only reason we know anything about them is archaeology."
They were hunters and gatherers who lived before the advent of pottery or farming, and 2,000 years before mound-building. They ate fish from the nearby Black River and Lake Erie, small game such as squirrels and muskrat, and they specialised in deer. "We find a lot of butchered deer bones," Redmond reveals.
Farmers ploughed up arrowheads and other artefacts on the land over the years, and smaller digs explored the site as far back as 1971.
Edited from Cleveland.com, Archaeology Magazine (14 July 2015)
Bronze Age gold spirals discovered in Denmark
Archaeologists have uncovered a trove of some 2,000 gold spirals dating from between 900 and 700 BCE. The spirals were recovered from a site that had been excavated before, when a team found four gold bracelets. Each is made of pure gold thread and measures up to 3 cm in length. The entire find weighs between 200 and 300 grammes.
Researchers are unsure what the spirals may have been used for, as this is the first time such a find has been made in Denmark.
Flemming Kaul, of the Danish National Museum, says: "The sun was one of the holy symbols in the Bronze Age, and gold was presumably seen as having some sort of particular magic power. It is coloured like the sun, it shines like the sun, and because gold lasts forever, it was also seen as containing some of the Sun's power. Maybe the spirals were fastened to threads lining a hat or parasol. Maybe they were woven into hair or embroidered on a ceremonial garb. The fact is that we do not know, but I am inclined to believe that they were part of a priest-king's garb or part of some headwear."
Located in the Boeslunde district in southwestern Zealand, the excavation area has been a veritable treasure trove of archaeological finds. This latest discovery makes it the area where the most gold jewellery and artefacts - in terms of sheer weight - have been recovered from the north European Bronze Age.
Kirsten Christensen from the West Zealand Museum said that besides the spirals and gold bracelets, six golden bowls were discovered in the area by local farmers in the 1800s.
Archaeologists from both the National Museum and West Zealand Museum are convinced that there is still more golden treasure to be found at Boeslunde.
Edited from The Local (8 July 2015)
24 July 2015
Oldest dentistry found in 14,000-year-old tooth
An international study led by Stefano Benazzi, a palaeo-anthropologist at the University of Bologna, reveals that infected tooth belonging to a man about 25 years of age who lived in northern Italy around 14,000 years ago was partially cleaned with flint tools - the oldest known dentistry.
The well-preserved skeleton was found in 1988 in a rock shelter in the Veneto Dolomites, near Belluno, and is now kept at the University of Ferrara.
According to Benazzi: "It predates any undisputed evidence of dental and cranial surgery, currently represented by dental drillings and cranial trephinations dating back to the Mesolithic-Neolithic period, about 9,000 to 7,000 years ago. The treatment went unnoticed for all these years."
Benazzi and his colleagues show that forms of dental treatment were already adopted in the Late Upper Palaeolithic. At that time, toothpicks probably made of bone and wood were used to remove food particles between teeth. However, until now, no evidence had been found to associate Palaeolithic tooth-picking with tooth decay.
Edited from Discovery News (16 July 2015)
Norwegian iron helped build Iron Age Europe
Iron production started about 3500 years ago in Asia Minor. In Norway, people have been producing iron for at least 2300 years.
Arne Espelund, a professor emeritus and a mining engineer at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, works across multiple disciplines, using chemical analysis to explain how our ancestors produced malleable and cast iron.
In 1982, Espelund was part of the team that discovered the 2000-year-old iron production facility at Heglesvollen, about 500 kilometres north of Oslo. The researchers found a total of 96 tonnes of slag, spread equally between four furnaces. This suggests that the furnaces operated simultaneously, but in different stages of production. It is quite common to find four ovens beside each other, and there is always water in front of the ovens. "We estimate that teams of about 10 people worked together," says Espelund. "We are talking about a well-planned production process and an industrial enterprise with periodic, batch operation of all the furnaces."
Ore for iron production was gathered in marshes in the springtime, and smelting took place in autumn. Around 400 places in central Norway alone show traces of early iron production. "Today it's the slag heaps we find first," says Espelund, who has studied slag from Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Austria, and Catalonia, and found similarities.
People involved in iron-making must have been highly specialised workers, taken out of other useful work to produce iron in the summer months. The iron was important, and of high quality. "A lot of this iron contains about 0.2 percent carbon. That's on par with the best iron a blacksmith can get," says Espelund.
Iron with a low carbon content is malleable, without becoming brittle. However, various kinds of iron were produced depending on the application. Espelund believes this compares with the technique used in the Roman Empire.
This first technology was in use in Norway for about 900 years, from around 300 BCE to 600 CE. Some 40 tonnes of iron per year were produced in Trondelag around the year 200 CE - much of it probably exported to Europe, where phosphorus-free welding steel was sought after.
It seems that the technology for the oldest iron production in Norway originally came from the east, perhaps from Georgia. Georgian furnaces are about 500 years older than the Norwegian ones. The technology may have come to Scandinavia from the Middle East.
Edited from ScienceDaily (8 July 2015)
New geoglyphs found in Peru
Anthropologists at Yamagata University have discovered 24 examples of the mysterious Nazca Lines in the arid region of southern Peru. The team began investigating the northern slopes of the urban areas of Nazca, Peru, from autumn 2013 and discovered 17 geoglyphs depicting llamas. This season they discovered five new examples near the area where they found geoglyphs the previous season, and 19 more on the slopes of a nearby mountain.
Discovered in the 1920s, the geoglyphs and line drawings of Nazca and Pampas de Jumana are designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. They are etched into the dusty soil and cover some 450 square kilometres.
The 24 newly discovered geoglyphs range from 5 to 20 meters in length, and are believed to date to around 400 BCE to 200 BCE, making them older than the iconic Nazca Line drawing known as the hummingbird. Most of the lines are heavily eroded, making them difficult to see with the naked eye. The researchers used equipment including a 3-D scanner to sketch out the patterns. Most of the drawings seem to depict llamas.
According to Masato Sakai, a professor of cultural anthropology at the university who is also the deputy director of the university's Nazca research institute: "There are no other areas concentrated with this many examples. Yet with both urban areas and farmland encroaching on the drawings, they are under the threat of being destroyed without being recognised as geoglyphs."
The university plans to provide information to the Peruvian government's Culture Ministry, with which it is partnered, along with the city government of Nazca in the hopes of preserving the geoglyphs.
Edited from The Asashi Shimbun (8 July 2015)
15 July 2015
Footprints in Canada may be oldest in North America
Tracks left along an ancient shore by a man, a woman, and a child on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia may be the oldest known human footprints in North America.
A dozen prints, in three distinct sizes, were discovered by researchers working on Calvert Island, a coastal isle in Canada's Great Bear Rainforest that has yielded other evidence of human activity dating to the end of the last Ice Age.
The first of the footprints was found last year, filled with black sand and traces of charcoal, a sample of which was radiocarbon-dated to 13,200 years ago.
The find adds to evidence that the first people didn't arrive in the Americas via an ice-free corridor east of the Rockies about 12,000 years ago, but down the Pacific Coast much earlier. In recent years, archeologists have steadily been pushing back the date of the earliest human presence on the Pacific Coast.
The newly found prints were unexpected, but such ancient evidence of human activity is not unheard of on Calvert Island.
Dr Duncan McLaren, of the University of Victoria said: "We were specifically looking for archaeological deposits dating between 14,000 and 10,000 years ago" - artefacts such as stone tools and bones. Based on our sea-level history work, we know that the shoreline was a few meters below the present shoreline during this period. So we began testing in the intertidal zone in front of [the] archaeological site ... to see if we could find any intact deposits beneath the beach."
The discoveries will likely provide insights into the earliest settlement of British Columbia, and perhaps the peopling of the Americas. "The oldest dated archaeological assemblage known before this is from Haida Gwaii, where a spear point was found in amongst bear bones in a cave, dating to around 12,500 years before present," McLaren reveals. "As far as I know, archaeological deposits from the ice-free corridor are not known before 12,500 years ago."
Edited from The Globe and Mail (22 June 2015), Western Digs (26 June 2016)
Bronze Age food discovered at prehistoric settlement
Evidence of the lives of prosperous people in Bronze Age Britain could lie under the soil of a 1,100-square metre site destroyed in a fire 3,000 years ago, say archaeologists who are about to start digging within a brick pit near Peterborough, about 130 kilometres north of London.
Must Farm - part of the Flag Fen Basin, and the site where nine pristine log boats were famously unearthed in 2011 - was protected by a ring of wooden posts before a dramatic fire at the end of the Bronze Age caused the dwelling to collapse into the river. Its submergence preserved its contents, including decorated tiles made from lime tree bark.
Small pots, jars complete with 1,200-year-old meals and exotic glass beads are expected to provide a complete picture of prehistoric life during the nine-month excavation, which is part of a four-year project at the site.
"We think those living in the settlement were forced to leave everything behind when it caught on fire," says Kasia Gdaniec, Cambridgeshire County Council's Senior Archaeologist. "Among the items was a charred pot with vitrified food inside it and a partially charred spoon, suggesting that the site had been abandoned quickly. We anticipate that more of the timber structure, a range of organic remains and fishing equipment and the whole gamut of personal, work and settlement paraphernalia will be found."
The finds are well preserved due to the waterlogged sediments within this former river channel. David Gibson, the Archaeological Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, says: "It's a fantastic chance to find out how people in the Late Bronze Age lived their daily lives, including how they dressed and what meals they ate."
Edited from Past Horizons (14 June 2015), Culture24 (25 June 2015)
Chinese Bronze Age cemetery raises questions over sacrificial links
The Gansu Province of China is a sprawling province ranging from central to northwest areas, covering an area of over 400,000 square kilometres, and it is known for having a wealth of Neolithic influences and artefacts. One site in particular is a large cemetery located near the modern village of Mogou, on a terrace overlooking the Mogou River.
The cemetery has been dated at approximately 1,700 BCE, at the time of the Qijia Culture, which was mainly known for domesticating horses and oracle divination. It is also believed that this culture had early links with Siberian and Central Asian cultures, from whom they developed the art of making copper and tin bronze objects.
The range of objects which were found on the site is quite broad, from physical adornments such as earrings and bracelets to knives. These were all made using either casting or hot forging techniques. To date over 300 bronze and copper objects have been found and identified, many more than in other contemporary sites around China. All of this can be easily explained and origins traced but what is not clear is the role played by sacrifice in the burial process.
Excavation of the site started in 2009, with the discovery of over 300 tombs or burial chambers (this has now increased to over 1,000). All tombs were aligned on a northwest/ southeast axis and were buried chambers, sometimes identified by mounds above the surface. Most tombs were built for individuals but there were also family tombs. Several personal artefacts and items of pottery were found but there was also evidence of human sacrifices being placed adjacent to, and facing, the tombs. The reasons for the sacrifices and the origin of the victims still remains a mystery.
Edited from Digital Journal (28 May 2015)
7 July 2015
Evidence of man-made pollution in ancient times
Study of dental calculus on 400,000-year-old teeth provides direct evidence of what early Palaeolithic people ate and the quality of the air they breathed inside Qesem Cave, near Tel Aviv (Israel), the site of many major discoveries from the late Lower Palaeolithic period.
"Human teeth of this age have never been studied before for dental calculus, and we had very low expectations because of the age of the plaque," says Professor Gopher, of Tel Aviv University. "However, our international collaborators, using a combination of methods, found many materials entrapped within the calculus. Because the cave was sealed for 200,000 years, everything, including the teeth and its calculus, were preserved exceedingly well."
The calculus revealed three major findings: charcoal from indoor fires, plant-based dietary components, and fibres.
"This is the first evidence that the world's first indoor barbecues had health-related consequences," said Professor Barkai, also of Tel Aviv University. "The people who lived in Qesem not only enjoyed the benefits of fire - roasting their meat indoors - but they also had to find a way of controlling the fire - of living with it.
The researchers also found minute traces of essential fatty acids, possibly from nuts or seeds, and small particles of starch. "We know that the cave dwellers ate animals, and exploited them entirely," says Barkai. "We know that they hunted them, butchered them, roasted them, broke their bones to extract their marrow, and even used the butchered bones as hammers to shape flint tools. Now we have direct evidence of a tiny piece of the plant-based part of their diet also, in addition to the animal meat and fat they consumed."
Edited from EurekAlert! (17 June 2015)
Early European modern human had close Neanderthal ancestor
Researchers analysing DNA from a 37,000 to 42,000-year-old human jaw bone say that the early modern human to whom it belonged - the oldest known modern human in Europe - had a Neanderthal ancestor who lived just 4 to 6 generations back in the individual's family tree.
The jawbone was originally found in 2002 in south-western Romania, in a cave called Petera cu Oase, along with the skull of another individual. No artefacts were discovered nearby. The jawbone partly resembled those of modern humans, but some Neanderthal traits were also apparent.
"I could hardly believe it when we first saw the results," said study co-leader Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. "It is such a lucky and unexpected thing to get DNA from a person who was so closely related to a Neanderthal."
David Reich, study co-leader and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Harvard Medical School, says: "The sample is more closely related to Neanderthals than any other modern human we've ever looked at before. We estimate that six to nine percent of its genome is from Neanderthals. This is an unprecedented amount. Europeans and East Asians today have more like two percent."
"We know that before 45,000 years ago, the only humans in Europe were Neanderthals. After 35,000 years ago, the only humans in Europe were modern humans. This is a dramatic transition," Reich explains.
All present-day humans who have their roots outside sub-Saharan Africa carry one to three percent of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes. Until now, researchers have thought it most likely that early humans coming from Africa mixed with Neanderthals in the Middle East around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, however radiocarbon dating of remains from sites across Europe suggests that modern humans and Neanderthals both lived in Europe for up to 5,000 years. Changes in tool making technology, burial rituals, and body decoration imply a cultural exchange between the groups. "But we have very few skeletons from this period," Reich reveals.
The Oase individual is not responsible for Neanderthal ancestry in present day humans. Reich says: "There may have been a pioneering group of modern humans that got to Europe, but was later replaced by other groups."
Edited from Popular Archaeology (22 June 2015)
New Australopithecus relatives found, or are they a new species?
There was quite a stir in anthropological circles when, in 1974, a new species was found in the Afar region of Ethiopia. The specimen was nicknamed Lucy and was dated at approximately 3.2 million years ago and, until now, was believed to be a unique specimen of an ancestor of our own Homo Sapiens species. Now scientists and research teams working in Kenya and Chad have found similar, but not identical fossilised skeletal remains.
Theses fossilised bones have been dated to the same period as Lucy, between 3.7 and 3.0 million years ago. The question which now needs to be asked is, are these remains similar to Lucy and therefore contenders as her close relatives or are they so distinctly different that they could be classed as a new species? The differences found so far are quite subtle, in terms of size of teeth, shape of cheekbones and thickness of jaw.
Johannes Haile-Selassie, the team leader & paleoanthropologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Ohio (USA) puts the differences down to diet and states that the new find "was probably adapted to harder, tougher and more abrasive dietary sources."
The battle between the two schools of thought rages on with, in one corner, Carol Ward of the University of Missouri, Columbia (USA) claiming that the fossils "do fall outside of the range of variation of any species found so far", although she caveats that claim by stating that more examples would be needed for a true comparison.
In the other corner is William Kimbel, a paleoanthropologist from Arizona State University (USA) who states that "the distinctions in my view are pretty subtle". A statement echoed by Tim White of the University of California (USA) who said "the slight anatomical differences noted in the case fall short of demonstrating biological species diversity".
The debate will continue until more evidence is found to prove one or the other of the theories the most convincing.
Edited from Science Magazine, Reuters (27 May 2015)
6 July 2015
South Africans using milk-based paint 49,000 years ago
A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa has discovered a milk and ochre based paint dating to 49,000 years ago. Ochre is a natural pigment containing iron oxide, that can range in colour from yellow and orange to red and brown.
The powdered paint mixture was found on the edge of a small stone flake in a layer of Sibudu Cave, a rock shelter in northern KwaZulu-Natal that was occupied by anatomically modern humans in the Middle Stone Age, from roughly 77,000 years ago to about 38,000 years ago.
This is the first time a paint containing ochre and milk has ever been found in association with early humans in South Africa, said Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and lead study author.
"Although the use of the paint still remains uncertain, this surprising find establishes the use of milk with ochre well before the introduction of domestic cattle in South Africa," says Villa. Cattle were not domesticated in South Africa until 1,000 to 2,000 years ago. The milk was likely obtained by killing lactating members of the bovid family such as buffalo, eland, kudu and impala, Villa explains.
At both African and European archaeological sites, scientists have found evidence of ochre dating back 250,000 years. By 125,000 years ago, there is evidence ochre was being ground up to produce a paint powder in South Africa.
An approximately 100,000-year-old ochre-rich compound blended with animal marrow fat was found at the Middle Stone Age site of Blombos Cave in South Africa.
Body painting is widely practiced by the indigenous San people in South Africa, and is depicted in ancient rock art. While there are no ethnographic precedents for mixing ochre with milk as a body paint, the modern Himba people in Namibia mix ochre with butter as a colouring agent for skin, hair and leather clothing, Villa said.
Edited from EurekAlert! (30 June 2015)
Digging a prehistoric hillfort in Wales
Archaeologists have returned to the sprawling Cardiff site where a series of discoveries were made in 2014, revealing that the hillfort was occupied from the Stone Age through the Roman era and beyond.
Following last year's emergence of five large roundhouses, a roadway, a decorated bead and extensive assemblages of pottery from the Iron Age, around 200 members of the public are expected to help Cardiff University experts at Caerau Hillfort - a 'significant' yet largely unknown prehistoric settlement.
Neolithic flint tools and weapons dated to around 3,600 BCE, and Roman pottery remains were also found among impressive ramparts in the suburbs of the Welsh capital.
"Given that the site is five hectares in size, we're hopeful that the best is yet to come," says Dr Dave Wyatt, co-director of the CAER heritage project which has been supported by more than 2,000 local people since 2013. "Last year some mind-blowing discoveries were made which pushed back the origins of Cardiff deep into time. But we believe we're still just scratching the surface of this incredible site, so who knows what will be uncovered this year."
The scheme looks to involve school pupils, young people facing exclusion, residents who have been unemployed for a prolonged period of time and the retired, encouraging participants to learn about geophysical surveying, post-excavation analysis and other techniques.
"Our challenge this year is to attract twice as many visitors and get the people of South Wales to value this amazing site and the remarkable communities that live in its shadow," says Olly Davies, a fellow co-director from the university's School of History, Archaeology and Religion.
"As always, we warmly welcome people to come along simply to visit or to roll up their sleeves for this important fourth season."
Edited from Culture24 (26 June 2015)
Chalcolithic flint workshop found in Bulgaria
An immense flint tool workshop dating to the Late Chalcolithic has been discovered by Bulgarian archaeologists during excavations of a settlement mound near the town of Kamenovo, in Northeast Bulgaria. The archaeologists started with the aim of excavating part of a Chalcolithic necropolis.
The excavations covered an area of 70 square metres, with a single archaeological layer averaging 60 centimetres consisting of a black sediment mixed with fragments from ceramic vessels and a vast amount of flint, including raw materials, unfinished, and completed tools.
The team believe the workshop began production during the Early Chalcolithic, within a settlement mound dating to 4,800 BCE, and later - between 4,500 and 4,200 BCE - expanded to produce flint tools for the entire southern part of the Balkan Peninsula.
Many flint tools discovered in the known prehistoric settlements in Bulgaria are now believed to have originated precisely in the flint workshop in Kamenovo.
Additional finds such as zoomorphic and anthropomorphic items, loom weights, cult artefacts, bone needles, and small fragments of plaster are all construed as evidence for the existence of a prehistoric settlement beyond the settlement mound.
The excavations are due to continue in September with funding from Bulgaria's Ministry of Culture, and be expanded to include the grounds of a former school in the town whose construction in 1910 led to the discovery of a number of graves from the Late Chalcolithic.
The archaeologists have yet to establish the precise extent and dating for the settlement, its flint workshop, and necropolis.
The existence of the settlement was first recorded at the end of the 19th century. In 2000, the site was studied by French archaeologists who hypothesised that it had been the location of "workshops for prestigious flint tools", based on the tools having only been found in higher status graves - some of the earliest instances of social stratification in human history.
Edited from Archaeology in Bulgaria (23 June 2015)
2 July 2015
Excavation begins at England's Marden Henge
Archaeologists are embarking on a three-year series of excavations in the Vale of Pewsey, between the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury - a little explored archaeological region of international importance.
The project will investigate Marden Henge, built around 2400 BCE - the largest henge in the country, and one of Britain's most important but least understood prehistoric monuments. Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building may also have helped to build Stonehenge.
According to Dr Jim Leary, Director of the University of Reading Archaeology Field School: "This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction."
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, adds: "Bigger than Avebury, ten times the size of Stonehenge and half way between the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, comparatively little is known about this fascinating and ancient landscape. The work will help Historic England focus on identifying sites for protection and improved management, as well as adding a new dimension to our understanding of this important archaeological environment."
The six week dig runs from 15th June to 25th July. Visitors are welcome to see the excavation in progress every day, except Fridays, between 10am and 5pm. Groups must book in advance.
There will also be a chance for the public to visit the site on two 'Open Days' - Saturday 4th July and Saturday 18th July. (To visit the excavation, follow Sat Nav SN10 3RH.)
Edited from University of Reading PR (15 June 2015)