19 November 2017
Prehistoric standing stone discovered in Switzerland
An oval-shape piece of sandstone 2 metres long, 1.3 metres wide, and weighing two to three tons, has been found as part of excavations of a known Bronze Age site at Breitenacher near Kehrsatz on the outskirts of Bern, Switzerland.
The stone narrows on one side to form a slight tip. Marks on the ground where it was found suggest it was once standing vertically. Judging by its size and shape, the stone is a menhir - a standing stone, often unmarked, possibly indicating a place of worship or meeting area.
Archaeologists estimate the stone to be between 4,000 and 5,000 years old. Its discovery near several 3,500-year-old Bronze Age houses could mean it played a role in the siting of the town, or was moved to its current location during the building or occupation of the town.
Until now only 15 menhirs have been found in Switzerland -usually simple stone blocks 1 to 4 metres high. The best example known in the canton of Bern is in Sutz-Lattrigen, on Lake Biel. This latest discovery is exciting because little is known about the population living around Bern at that time. Researchers hope to confirm whether or not it is a menhir by examining the site for any other stones with similar surrounding markings. Once the stone has been fully examined, it will be put on public view nearby.
Edited from The Local, The Independent (24 October 2017)
Ancient bear statuette unearthed in Turkey
Turkish archeologists have announced the discovery of an approximately 8,600-year-old, 5 centimetre high baked clay statuette interpreted as representing a bear, during excavation works in the Yeshilova Mound, one of the oldest settlements in Turkey's western province of Izmir (formerly Smyrna), on the Aegean Sea.
Founded by the Greeks, taken by the Romans, rebuilt by Alexander the Great, the archaeological sites of Izmir include a Roman Agora, and the hilltop Kadifekale - the Velvet Castle - built during Alexander's reign, overlooking the city.
The Head of the Excavation Committee, Zafer Derin, reports more than 200 important Neolithic finds in the mound. An 8,000-year-old little house sculpture provides details about the architecture of the period. Another unique find is a 5,000-year-old small bird-like pitcher described as resembling a little sparrow and thought to have been used to give milk to infants.
Edited from Daily Sabah (22 October 2017)
16 November 2017
5,500-year-old cemetery excavated in China
Archaeologists are currently excavating a 5,500-year-old cemetery in Shaanxi Province, north-central China, which is estimated to have more than 2,000 graves. Covering around 90,000 square metres, the cemetery lies to the northeast of the Yangguanzhai ruins belonging to a late Neolithic group known as the Yangshao, originating from the middle reaches of the Yellow River and considered a main precursor of Chinese civilisation.
The excavations began in 2015. Until now, in an area of 3,800 square metres, 339 graves have been found, half of which have been excavated. Some have suspected traces of textiles around the bones. Grave goods include painted pottery, bone beads and hair clasps, stone or pottery earrings, pigments, and tortoise shell.
Archaeologists and researchers are also using whole genome sequencing to investigate family relationships between individual burials.
Edited from Xinhuanet (10 November 2017), ECNS (11 November 2017)
'Stones of interest' found on Jersey
Five stones which could date back to the island's Neolithic past were discovered by a team from the Museum of London Archaeological Services investigating fields in St.Clement.
The survey was commissioned in advance of planned construction of 200 affordable homes. A total of 26 test trenches were dug on the approximately 4 hectare site. The stones measure about 60 to 90 centimetres in diameter. Their locations were recorded and the trenches refilled.
A report is expected next month, and will be independently assessed by consultants from Oxford Archaeology before being sent to Jersey Heritage for comment.
Researchers may recommend further investigation.
Edited from Jersey Evening Post (19 October 2017)
15 November 2017
Volunteers discover Bronze Age settlement in Lake District
Archaeologists looking for Viking remains have found artefacts that are 2,000 years older.
The dig at Longhouse Close on fells above Seathwaite, Cumbria (England), was excavating Norse longhouses, dating from the early 10th Century. But 70 volunteers, led by professional archaeologists, have uncovered remains of a Bronze Age settlement underneath the Viking structures.
Ken Day, chairman of the Duddon Valley Local History Group, said "the carbon dating of the material that we found showed it to be 1300 BCE - that was something we were not expecting".
The history group won lottery funding to bring in professional archaeologists to work with members on the dig. Their three-year survey of the Duddon Valley identified 39 structures which could be Norse longhouses. Fourteen were thought worthy of preservation and investigation. Of these, three were chosen for further excavation.
Edited from BBC News (14 November 2017)
5,000-year-old fortress discovered in central Turkey
Archeologists uncovered an approximately 5,000-year-old settlement and fortress in central Turkey's Nevşehir province, in the region known as Cappadocia. The site, which dates to the Early Bronze Age, was discovered during research on a hill 20 kilometers from the center of Çakıltepe city, conducted by a team of archeologists from Nevşehir Hacı Bektaş Veli University (NEVU) and the Nevşehir Museum Directorate.
Yalçın Kamış, NEVU archeology professor and Çakıltepe field work assistant, said that researchers believe the settlement, which includes a defense fortress, dates as far back as 3,000 BCE and continued to be inhabited through the Byzantine era. "The site contains a multilayered mound with remains of different periods, the oldest dating from the third to the second millennium BCE," explained Kamış.
A preliminary research team of six experts is currently mapping the area and completing technical aspects of the project in preparation to begin extensive drilling and excavation work, added Kamış.
Cappadocia is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with its diverse geological formations, including its fairy chimneys, Cappadocia is known for hundreds of rocky hillside dwellings, as well as several immense underground cities. During the late Bronze Age, Cappadocia was known as Hatti, homeland of the Hittites.
Edited from Daily Sabah (10 November 2017)
11 November 2017
Skull could be from the world's earliest known tsunami victim
Scientists studying the effects of tsunamis - giant waves, caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and underwater landslides - have now shed light on what could be the earliest record of a person killed in a tsunami: someone who lived 6,000 years ago in what's now Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific. Their skull was found in geological sediments having the distinctive hallmarks of ancient tsunami activity.
"If we are right about how this person had died thousands of years ago, we have dramatic proof that living by the sea isn't always a life of beautiful golden sunsets and great surfing conditions," says John Terrell, Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology at The Field Museum.
The skull in question was found in 1929, buried in the ground near the small town of Aitape on the northern of Papua New Guinea, about 500 miles north of Australia. Terrell has been doing archaeological and anthropological research in this coastal region of New Guinea, the second largest island in the world, since 1990. The new study is a continuation of that work, and as a member of an international team, Terrell says he has long wondered what to make of this tantalizing human find.
"The skull has always been of great archaeological interest because it is one of the few early skeletal remains from the area," says Mark Golitko of the University of Notre Dame and The Field Museum. "It was originally thought that the skull belonged to Homo erectus until the deposits were more reliably radiocarbon dated to about 5,000 to 6,000 years. Back then, sea levels were higher and the area would have been just behind the shoreline."
In 2014 Golitko and others went back to the exact place where this skull had been found to look for new clues about what killed this individual. "We have now been able to confirm what we have long suspected," says James Goff at the University of New South Wales in Australia. "The geological similarities between the sediments at the place where the skull was found and sediments laid down during the 1998 tsunami that hit this same coastline have made us realise that human populations in this area have been affected by these massive inundations for thousands of years."
"Given the evidence we have in hand, we are more convinced than before that this person was either violently killed by a tsunami, or had their grave ripped open by one - leading to their head but not the rest of their body being naturally reburied where it then remained undiscovered in the ground for some 6,000 or so years," explains Goff.
Edited from EurekAlert! (25 October 2017)
Can Polish group save an important Neolithic site?
A battle is ongoing in eastern Poland to save a very important range of Neolithic structures from total destruction. The range of Gory tombs in question (named after the rural area of eastern Wielkopolska where they were discovered) have lain virtually unnoticed for centuries.
The top layer of stones, which covered up to 15 long barrows, has long since been plundered to help build local houses, but what lay beneath remained intact and unexplored. That is until a team of local archaeologists started to map the area using LIDAR (short for Light Detection and Ranging) which enabled them to pot what lay in the ground without any intrusive investigation.
Even so, what has been discovered so far ranks this site as one of the most important of its kind in Europe, ranking it alongside such well known sites as West Kennet Long Barrow (UK) and the Carnac Stones in France.
Even before there is any chance to evaluate the full potential of this site it is under serious threat. The ZE PAK mining company has sought permission to carry out open cast coal mining right across the site! To attempt to prevent such a travesty Poland's historical monuments conservation authority has a temporary injunction in place, buying precious time.
The group fighting to save the tombs, with the acronym DY-OPMN (Development YES - Open Pit Mines NO) are hopeful of success and believe they have the environmental lobby and the archaeological/historical/heritage factions on their side. They are quoted as saying "Are the Poles ready to sacrifice a priceless piece of European history, barely researched and still full of secrets?" They went on to say "The planned Oscislowo open-pit mine would [also] devastate the environment and economy of the Wielkopolska region".
Edited from Popular archaeology (11 October 2017)
Late Neolithic giant farmhouse uncovered in Denmark
A new town is being built at a place called Vinge in north Zeland, Denmark. Under common legislation for most European countries, archaeologists are allowed to excavate and research all areas of new build, to ensure that vital archaeology and heritage is not destroyed in the process of ground works and construction. The site of a new train station to service the new community has proven to be of interest and high importance.
The research has been carried out by archaeologists from Roskilde Museum and they found, through analysis of soil stains, the outline of a Late Neolithic farmhouse which was over 45.5 metres long by 7.2 metres wide. The house proved to be so large that it had two internal aisles.
Further investigation of artefacts found included examples made from bronze, which indicates that the owner was well travelled in Europe. Jens Johansson, an archaeologist linked to the Museum, is quoted as saying "The house is nearly three times as big as other houses from this period and it is the only one like it in the area". He went on to add "The Vinge house must have belonged to a member of the upper class of the time because it is so large. In addition, it is enormously interesting because this is the first period when we can see signs of an elite class in society".
Edited from CPH Post Online (10 October 2017)
Could ancient farmers hold the secret to improved world rice crops?
Approximately 4,000 years ago farmers in South America - the Monte Castelo and Guapore River areas of Brazil to be more precise - worked out how to domesticate and increase the yield of wild rice.
Whilst the Yangtze River delta in China is the first known example of the domestication of rice, this find in Brazil ranks a good second. Unlike the species of rice farmed in China and West Africa it is hoped that this find might assist modern farmers to develop new strains of rice which are more tolerant to climate change and less susceptible to disease.
The discovery was made by a team from the University of Exeter (UK) aided by funding from the European Research Council. They were also assisted by researchers from Universidade de Sao Paulo & Universidade Federal de Oeste de Para (Brazil) and Northumbria University (UK). Their analyses of microscopic remains uncovered a distinct development of wild rice to yield higher value crops through changes in the ratios between husks, leaves and stems.
If the findings are proven they could have a far reaching positive impact on world rice production. Leader of the research team, Professor Jose Iriarte, is quoted as saying "This is the first study to identify when wild rice first began to be grown for food in South America. We have found people were growing crops with larger and larger seeds".
Edited from Popular Archaeology (10 October 2017)
Neolithic rock carvings on a capstone in Cornwall
An innovative use of 3D laser scanning has uncovered previously unidentified carvings in a quoit capstone in Cornwall (England) which could well rival and surpass the scale of similar carvings found at Stonehenge. The quoit in question is known as Hendraburnick Quoit, in the North East of Cornwall, near Davidstow. The study was commissioned by the Cornwall Archaeological Society (CAS) and it is believed that the carvings are associated with moonlit rituals in the Bronze Age.
Dr. Andy Jones, from CAS, is quoted as saying "It (the Hendraburnick Quoit markings) is a unique find. There are lots of decorated monuments in the UK but for southern Britain it's very remarkable". He went on to add "We know that it was moved upon a stone platform. We've established that this would have probably been during the late Neolithic period but we think it may have been carved before it was moved".
Probably of equal importance to the identification of the carvings is the technique used to discover them. Originally from Cornwall, Tom Goskar is a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London and he first started using 3D scanning back in 2002. Since then he has refined his techniques and uses a combination of photogrammetry and 3D scanning to pull the carvings out of their background.
Tom had previously studied stones at Stonehenge uncovering a host of previously unknown markings but he believes that this stone could be more elaborate. He is quoted as saying "You can't help but wonder why people chose to make these markings. Hendraburnick is formed of very hard stone called quartz porphyry". He added that "We shall never know the true meaning but we do know, because of the sheer hard work involved, it must have been for an important reason".
Edited from Camelford & Delabole Post (1 August 2017)
8 November 2017
40,000-year-old man reveals genetic history of Asia
The archaeological record in China shows a rich history for early modern humans. Though several ancient humans have been sequenced in Europe and Siberia, few have been sequenced from East Asia, but the genome of a man from 40,000 years ago found in the Tianyuan Cave near what is now Beijing suggests the biological makeup of humans in East Asia is a complex story with greater diversity and more distant contacts than previously known.
In 2013 it was found that Tianyuan man showed a closer relationship to present-day Asians than present-day Europeans, and a fresh study by the same laboratory applying new techniques to sequence and analyse more regions of his genome confirms this, however the first surprise came when researchers found that a 35,000-year-old individual from Belgium shared some similarity to the Tianyuan individual unknown in other ancient Europeans. The suggestion is that the two populations derived some of their ancestry from the same sub-population prior to the European-Asian separation.
A 2015 study showed that some Native American populations from South America had an unusual connection to some populations south of mainland Asia. The proposal then was that the population that crossed into the Americas around 20,000 years ago could not be thought of as a single unit - that one or more related but distinct populations crossed at around the same time period, and at least one of which had additional ties to an Asian population that also contributed to the present-day connections.
Tianyuan man also possesses genetic similarities to those same South Americans, confirming that multiple ancestries represented in Native Americans all come from populations in mainland Asia. Migration to the Americas occurred approximately 20,000 years ago, but the Tianyuan man is twice that age, so the diversity represented in the Americas must have persisted in mainland Asia since that earlier time.
Tianyuan man derives from a population related to present-day East Asians, but not directly ancestral to these populations, suggesting that multiple genetically distinct populations were in Asia from 40,000 years ago.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (13 October 2017)
Artefact suggests long-distance exchange between Mesolithic communities
An ornamented 'pierced baton' recently found in Central Poland may provide evidence of exchange between Mesolithic communities, according to a study by Grzegorz Osipowicz from Nicolaus Copernicus University, Poland, and colleagues.
Researchers conducted DNA and stable isotope analyses to determine the antler source species and its geographic origin, revealing it to be from a reindeer species with a range limited to northern Scandinavia and north-western Russia during the Early-Holocene. This may suggest that the artefact was transported from North Karelia to Central Poland. The authors suggest this is possibly the first direct evidence for exchange between hunter-gatherer groups in the Early Holocene over such a distance.
Edited from EurekAlert!, PLOS One (4 October 2017)
Bronze Axe found north of the Alps
The shape and material of a copper axe blade found in 2008 at Riedmatt, Switzerland, are practically identical to those used by Neolithic peoples further south - including Oetzi, the 5,000-year-old 'iceman' found in the Italian-Austrian border in 1991. People living around the Alps at that time were believed to have sourced their copper locally or from the Balkans, but researchers recently traced the source of the metal in Oetzi's axe to southern Tuscany.
The second axe was discovered in one of the many pile-dwelling villages around the Alps that are famous for their prehistoric wooden houses built on stilts on lakeshores and other wetlands. It is between 5,300 and 5,100 years old, shorter and about half the weight of Oetzi's blade, but the same shape.
Chemical analysis suggests both axes belong to a similar context of copper mining and processing in the ore-rich area around Campiglia Marittima, overlooking the west coast of Italy about 200 kilometres northwest of Rome.
Details were also announced of other finds from some thousand years later and 150 kilometres further south-west. Equipment recovered from a melting glacier includes fragments of bows, flint arrowheads, string made from animal fibre, small pieces of leather, a wooden box containing flour, and a container made from cow-horn. Archaeologists said the artefacts probably belonged to a Bronze age mountaineer crossing the Loetschen pass. The objects date back to somewhere between 2000 and 1800 BCE - the oldest ever found on this route, an important north-south travel route for at least 4,000 years.
Edited from Swissinfo.ch (3 October 2017), The Local (4 October 2017), LiveScience (6 October 2017)
Prehistoric cave paintings discovered in Spain
With a temperate climate and abundance of wild animals, the region of Cantabria in northern Spain was a good place to live during glacial periods, and has some of the highest concentrations of prehistoric art anywhere on Earth.
Twenty years ago, a cave researcher informed archaeologists of the possible existence of ancient paintings in various rock cavities in Cantabria, but they were difficult to identify with the naked eye, and techniques available at the time were not sufficient to confirm their existence. Using a 3D laser scanning method able to detect colors beyond the range of the visible spectrum, researchers have now revealed four new sets of cave paintings.
The drawings are estimated to have been made between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago - older than the approximately 16,000-year-old bison drawings at nearby Altamira, but not as old as the earliest examples in the region at El Castillo, which are more than 40,000 years old and arguably the oldest in the world.
Edited from International Business Times (13 September 2017)