25 November 2015
Bronze Age enclosure discovered in Devon
Tithebarn Green, Redhayes, Exeter (UK) is an area or rural Devon which has been ear marked for a development of up to 930 dwellings, under the watchful eye of CPRE Devon (Campaign to Protect Rural England). Under the terms of the permitted development Devon Country Council requires that the developer carries out detailed archaeological investigations before any works are begun.
This site was of particular interest as it was believed to have been a settlement since Neolithic times with occupation stretching up to Anglo Saxon settlements. The investigations were conducted by a team from Cotswold Archaeology and they began with a geophysical survey followed up by trial trenches.
Richard Greatorix, Principal Fieldwork Manager, is quoted as saying "We have identified a Bronze Age enclosure with a two metre deep ditch. These enclosures are a bit of a mystery in that they don't appear to be defensive as there are no stores or homes within them but they look far too large to be simply for retaining livestock. We have found remains of up to 70 burials within the enclosure which we believe to be from late Roman or post Roman British/ Anglo Saxon period. We have also found a number of furnaces or corn dryers used to dry a variety of cereals and several additional Bronze Age ditches as well as later post medieval ones. The site has clearly been in use for a long time".
here is still a considerable amount of work to do, to identify everything found, but it is hoped to produce a report and set out a public display of the findings early next year.
Edited from Exeter Daily (19 October 2015)
Escargots were not invented by the French
You may think that France developed the culinary delight that is escargot but recent finds in North Africa could dispel that myth. A combined team of archaeologists from Liverpool John Moores University, Queen's University Belfast and the University of Cambridge (UK) have been carrying out investigations in the Haua Fteah Cave complex near the coast of North east Libya.
Previous excavations had put the first occupation of the cave at approximately 80,000 BCE but these new discoveries pushes that back further to 150,000 BCE. What they found were the shells of large molluscs which they dated by radiocarbon dating process.
Whilst that is not remarkable in itself, what was of interest was that each shell had been pierced by a sharp object. The conjecture is that the early humans pierced the shell to release the vacuum so that the mollusc relinquished its grip on whatever it was clinging to, allowing the soft interior to be sucked out.
Dr Chris Hunt, from Liverpool John Moores University, is quoted as saying "These people certainly ate a lot of snails, but they also ate plant foods including pine nuts, wild fruits and seeds of wild plants and animals, including Barbary sheep, tortoises and antelopes. We think people were pretty short of food around 10,000 years ago that they had to gather even really small snails. Small shells are rather difficult to gather and you don't get much food value from them, so people only do it when they are desperate". He went on to say "The snails in the oldest part of the cave sequence are pretty unusual because archaeologists have not reported evidence like this before, at this time".
Edited from Mail Online (19 October 2015)
Nature reserve in Scotland yields prehistoric artefacts
There is a nature reserve on Inner Hebrides of Coll, in Scotland (UK). The reserve is managed by RSPB Scotland (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). Recently a team comprising the RSPB, National Museums Scotland and the Scottish Treasure Trove Unit, carried out an archaeological investigation around an area which had previously been a freshwater loch.
RSPB Scotland not only looks after birds but is also involved in conservation & sustainability and preservation of habitats and nature in general, across its reserves and so is responsible for overseeing any archaeological investigations that may impact on the habitat. The Treasure Trove Unit in Scotland ensures that significant objects from Scotland's past are preserved in museums for public benefit.
What they found appears to relate to an ancient ceremony. The broken remains of at least seven weapons, dating from approximately 1,000 BCE, were found, which were probably thrown into the loch as part of a ritual to appease the gods.
Trevor Cowie, of the National Museums Scotland, Department of Scottish History and Archaeology, is quoted as saying "While a fair number of objects from this period have been discovered in the west of Scotland in the past, we generally know very little about the precise places where they were found. Archaeological techniques have developed dramatically since the first 19th Century discoveries were made, so we have a great opportunity here to resolve many unanswered questions about life on Coll some 3,000 years ago".
These objects will now be displayed in the Kilmarton Museum in Argyll, and it is hoped that local interest groups such as museums and universities will investigate their history in greater depth.
Edited from RSPB (15 October 2015)
24 November 2015
Early ancestors turned disability into advantage
A new evolutionary theory explains how critically small populations of early humans survived, despite an increased chance of hereditary disabilities being passed to offspring.
Dr Isabelle Winder, from the Department of Archaeology at York, states that: "Molecular biologists usually interpret genetic data by assuming a diverging hierarchy and statistically large populations. Hominin populations were small and lineages seem to have diverged and re-converged in a way that could cause molecular 'clocks' to speed up, slow down and even run backwards."
Dr Nick Winder, of Newcastle University, explains: "In situations where the probability of producing disabled offspring was high, the 'fittest' individuals would be those that could help their offspring co-exist with this vulnerability. Those that were a little smarter, more flexible, and more compassionate would have been at an advantage."
Isabelle says: "Like many other scientists, we believe anthropologists need an 'Extended Synthesis' able to accommodate situations where lineages re-converge, disabling genes may be flushed out of hiding, and organisms are capable of social learning that they then turn to their advantage. Our 'Vulnerable Ape' hypothesis could be part of that Extended Synthesis. Genetic vulnerability was the trigger that set our ancestors on the path to symbolic language, innovation and pro-social co-operation."
Nick adds: "The reason every new fossil or DNA study seems to force a rethink of human evolution is that biologists are committed to a divergent, hierarchical model, with fierce competition between individual members of large populations. The new evidence tends to be much less baffling if you accept that ancient populations were often small and that early hominins had even more complicated sex-lives than our own."
"The traditional competitive model encourages us to think of the relatively high incidence of genetic disability in our species as a threat, but the anthropological evidence suggests that the incidence of genetic disability was probably much higher in the distant past. We have good reason to believe that compassion, ingenuity and behavioural flexibility helped our ancestors cope with this vulnerability."
Edited from University of York (12 June 2015)
23 November 2015
'Fourth strand' of European ancestry identified
The first sequencing of genomes from human remains of the Late Upper Palaeolithic period has revealed a previously unknown 'fourth strand' of ancient European ancestry. Previously, ancient Eurasian genomes had revealed three ancestral populations contributing to contemporary Europeans in varying degrees.
Following the 'out of Africa' expansion some 45,000 years ago, some hunter-gatherer populations migrated north-west, eventually colonising much of Europe from Spain to Hungary. Other populations settled around the eastern Mediterranean and Levant, where they would develop agriculture around 10,000 years ago. These early farmers then expanded into Europe.
The newly discovered lineage arose from populations that split from the western hunter-gatherers shortly after leaving Africa, settling in the Caucasus region between the Black and Caspian seas, where mountains form a natural boundary separating Europe and Asia.
The Caucasus hunter-gatherer genome shows a continued mixture with the ancestors of the early farmers in the Levant area, which ends around 25,000 years ago - just before the time of the last glacial maximum. Cut off from other major ancestral populations for as long as 15,000 years, Caucasus hunter-gatherer populations shrink, until migrations begin again as the glaciers recede.
Around 5,000 years ago, horse-borne Steppe herders called the Yamnaya sweep into Western Europe, bringing metallurgy and animal herding skills, along with the Caucasus hunter-gatherer strand of ancestral DNA now present in almost all populations from the European continent.
The sequencing of ancient DNA recovered from two separate burials from just south of the Caucasus Mountains in Western Georgia - one over 13,000 years old, the other almost 10,000 years old - reveals that the Yamnaya owed half their ancestry to previously unknown and genetically distinct hunter-gatherer sources.
Dr Andrea Manica, of Cambridge University's Department of Zoology and one of the study's lead authors, says: "The question of where the Yamnaya come from has been something of a mystery up to now. We can now answer that as we've found that their genetic make-up is a mix of Eastern European hunter-gatherers and a population from this pocket of Caucasus hunter-gatherers who weathered much of the last Ice Age in apparent isolation. This Caucasus pocket is the fourth major strand of ancient European ancestry, one that we were unaware of until now."
While the Caucasus hunter-gatherer ancestry would eventually be carried west by the Yamnaya, the researchers found it also had a significant influence further east. A similar population must have migrated into South Asia at some point, says Eppie Jones, a doctoral student and first author of the paper.
"India is a complete mix of Asian and European genetic components. The Caucasus hunter-gatherer ancestry is the best match we've found for the European genetic component found right across modern Indian populations," Jones says. Researchers say this strand of ancestry may have flowed into the region with the bringers of Indo-Aryan languages.
Edited from Phys.org (16 November 2015)
5,000-year-old tomb discovered in Ireland
A hilltop tomb close to the edge of Tievebaun (Taobh Ban, or 'grassy slope') mountain in County Leitrim, about 300 kilometres west of Dublin, may be more than 5,000 years old.
Archaeologist Michael Gibbons, who identified this and other tombs in the area, says a series of discoveries there suggests layers of history spanning the Neolithic, bronze, iron, and post-medieval periods challenge the widely held view that there were no significant upland settlements in north Leitrim in pre-historic times.
Carbon dating of human remains found last year in a cave on Knocknarea mountain in County Sligo were 5500 years old.
Gibbons discovered this latest tomb while exploring the hill's summit above the well-known landmark of Eagle's Rock, more than 600 metres above sea level. "This one is a Neolithic tomb probably built 5,500 years ago as a communal burial area. It is a spectacular setting overlooking Donegal Bay, Slieve League, Lough Melvin and Glenade lake."
"It was an incredible achievement to construct it here," says Gibbons, adding that it is extraordinary to think humans survived on this plateau about 300 metres above today's modern settlements. "Obviously it was a good deal warmer and drier in the early Neolithic period."
The tomb is one of a series of hilltop tombs across the north west of Ireland, including the massive stone mound called Queen Maeve's [pronounced 'Mab's'] Grave on Knocknarea.
A number of important sites on the mountain span several thousand years. As well as Bronze Age animal enclosures, there is evidence of late medieval settlements used as temporary dwellings when people drove their cattle up the mountain to graze during the summer months.
Edited from The Irish Times (9 November 2015)
DNA links Native Americans to infants in Alaskan grave
University of Utah scientists deciphered maternal genetic material from two babies buried together at an Alaskan campsite 11,500 years ago. They found the infants had different mothers, and were the northernmost known kin to two lineages of Native Americans found throughout North and South America.
By showing that both genetic lineages lived so far north so long ago, the study supports the "Beringian standstill model," which says that Native Americans descended from people who migrated from Asia to Beringia - the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska - and spent up to 10,000 years there before moving rapidly into the Americas beginning at least 15,000 years ago.
University of Utah anthropology professor Dennis O'Rourke, the study's senior author, says: "These infants are the earliest human remains in northern North America, and they carry distinctly Native American lineages. We see diversity that is not present in modern Native American populations of the north and we see it at a fairly early date. This is evidence there was substantial genetic variation in the Beringian population before any of them moved south. You don't see any of these lineages that are distinctly Native American in Asia, even Siberia, so there had to be a period of isolation for these distinctive Native American lineages to have evolved away from their Asian ancestors."
The burial of ancient infants is rare. They are among human remains at only eight known sites in North America older than 8,000 years, and from which researchers obtained mitochondrial DNA. The infants are the northernmost of all those remains, and of the two lineages they represent.
"It's not common to find infants buried together that are not related maternally," O'Rourke adds. "It raises questions about the social structure and mortuary practices of these early people."
O'Rourke suspects that both 11,500-year-old infants were at or near the root of their respective genealogical trees.
Modern tribal populations in northern North America show little mitochondrial DNA diversity, O'Rourke says. "In small populations, some lineages just get lost and don't get passed on, and in others they become established and more common."
Edited from Phys.org (26 October 2015)
21 October 2015
Five-year-old boy finds Bronze Age arrowhead
A Bronze Age flint arrowhead has been found on the Isle of Wight (England) by a five-year-old primary school pupil on land behind Lanesend Primary School in Cowes.
Archaeologist Frank Basford dated the arrowhead to between 2,500 BCE and 1,500 BCE and said it was the 'best condition' find of its kind he had seen.
Teacher Tara Hopkinson said her class were "very excited" by the find. "We've been learning about dinosaurs and at first the children thought it was a dinosaur tooth," she added. It is thought it may have been turned up by workmen before being found last week.
Mr Basford, of the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum, described it as "a complete Early Bronze Age barbed and tanged flint arrowhead". It has been returned to the school where it has been put on display.
Edited from BBC News (19 October 2015)
Sardinian menhir stolen and recovered
The San Nicola menhir is a standing stone from the Copper Age (2500 BCE - 1800 BCE) that used to lay on its side on the countryside near Sarroch, in Sardinia (Italy). Last September, the 1.9m tall stone was reported as missing by the Sacso e S'Arrocca archaeology groups. Representatives of the group reported the theft to the local Carabinieri station, and asked local people for help to relocate the ancient monument.
The San Nicola menhir is about 80cm wide at its base and it does taper off toward the other end, which is about 50m wide. The total weight should be around one ton, but this didn't stop the thief.
Fortunately, on September 25th the Carabinieri - who were making a thorough search on the area - found the menhir hidden inside a sheepfold on Pula countryside. The owner of the sheepfold is a 51-year-old man that has been charged of dealing stolen goods. The Carabinieri believe that the standing stone was stolen to order and it could have been sold to some private collector, probably outside the island.
Now the San Nicola menhir has been confiscated and handed to culture councillor of Sarroch town Council. We hope it could be re-erected and adequately protected.
Edited from Sarroch Nuragica (7 September 2015), L'Unione Sarda (25 September 2015)
20 October 2015
Bulgaria's largest dolmen and 'stone egg' discovered
Bulgaria's largest dolmen, a rather peculiar 'stone egg', and other megalithic monuments near Zlatosel (Bulgaria) have been recently discovered, and presented to the media and the public for the first time by Prof. Valeriya Fol. Up until now, this hard to reach megalithic site in the eastern section of the Sredna Gora Mountain in Southern Bulgaria has literally been known only to a few local mountaineers from Zlatosel.
"This dolmen is part of the earliest aristocratic necropolis in the region of the Brezovo Municipality," says Fol who dates the dolmen and the other megalithic man-made structures around it to at least the 2nd millennium BCE. She believes that the newly discovered dolmen was the family tomb of an Ancient Thracian royal or aristocratic family.
"This dolmen was indeed just one part of a large dolmen necropolis. Unfortunately, it is the only one of the dolmens that has been preserved standing. It is the size of a two-room apartment. The other megaliths could be lifted [and restored]," the archaeologist said. Fol emphasizes the beliefs of the people in ancient times that stone is a divine matter. She adds that the Ancient Thracians believed that they could become 'anthropodemon', that is to acquire a status between human and divine nature.
In the same location near Zlatosel, the expedition led by Fol has come across a rock shrine with a huge stone stele in its middle and a megalith said to resemble a 'stone egg'. "This is a rock shrine dedicated to the sun which has a huge stele in its middle. The stone stele alone is 2.5 meters tall," Fol says. According to the archaeologist, the stone egg symbolizes the birth of life.
Since the stone egg appears to have fallen on the ground from its supporting structure, Zhenya Milcheva - chief editor of 'Magazine 8', which is to publish a detailed report of the expedition - has called for an effort to restore the megalith to the position where it was originally placed by the people who lived in the area several thousand years ago.
Edited from Archaeology in Bulgaria (16 October 2015)
Largest Neolithic site in Wales uncovered in Anglesey
More than 2,000 artefacts possibly dating back as much as 6,000 years have been discovered on the site of a new school in Anglesey. It is the largest ever Neolithic discovery in Wales after being discovered by the CR Archeology team who have been on the site at Llanfaethlu since November 2014.
"Until about 50 years ago all we knew about this period in North Wales came from the megalithic tombs and chance finds but this changed with the discovery at Llandegai, Bangor of a single house. This settlement (at Llanfaethlu) has the best preserved houses and is the only one which has more than one house," Archeologist Cat Rees said.
Matt Jones added: "The number and quality of artefacts is unlike anything else in North Wales. The main excavation started and we found one building, which we originally thought was it. That alone was fantastic but we soon discovered two others, this may have been a village." Cat continued: "So far we can tell from the finds that people were using the site for at least 1,000 years and we have found more than 2,000 flint, stone and pottery artefacts. We also have burnt hazelnuts, acorns and seeds which will allow us to radiocarbon date the site and reconstruct the Neolithic diet." Matt said there was even a chance the site may have been a stone axe factory, with high-quality stone from Penmaenmawr discovered.
The dig almost never happened when a pit group was initially discovered in a small evaluation trench. But the group returned to examine a larger area as the houses extended beyond the excavation limit.
Anglesey is rich with ancient monuments with approximately 30 Neolithic and Bronze age burial chambers on the island, several ancient settlements and standing stones. The find at Llanfaethlu however is unlike any other in terms of the number of artefacts which will now be analysed and soil to be carbon dated. CR Archeology, who will wrap up the site in the next few days have had locals visit the site every week and held public talks on their discoveries.
Edited from Wales Online (15 October 2015)
Teeth from China reveal early human trek out of Africa
Teeth from a cave in Hunan Province, southeastern China, show that Homo sapiens reached there around 100,000 years ago, a time when most current researchers thought our species had not moved far beyond Africa.
Recent excavations of an extensive cave system in Daoxian County discovered 47 human teeth, as well as the remains of hyenas, extinct giant pandas, and dozens of other animal species, but no stone tools; it is likely that humans never lived in the cave.
Maria Martinon-Torres, a palaeo-anthropologist at University College London who co-led the study, says the overall shape of the teeth is barely distinguishable from those of both ancient and present-day humans.
The team dated various calcite deposits in the cave, and used the assortment of animal remains to deduce that the human teeth were probably between 80,000 and 120,000 years old.
Those ages challenge the conventional wisdom that Homo sapiens from Africa began colonising the world only around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Older traces of modern humans have been seen outside Africa, such as the roughly 100,000-year-old remains from caves in Israel, but many had argued those remains are from an unsuccessful migration.
Without DNA from the teeth, it is impossible to determine the relationship between the Daoxian people and other humans, including present-day Asians, but Jean-Jacques Hublin, a palaeo-anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, thinks that later waves of humans replaced them. Other genetic evidence suggests that present-day East Asians descend from humans who interbred with Neanderthals in western Asia some 55,000 to 60,000 years ago.
It is not clear why modern humans would have reached East Asia so long before they reached Europe, where the earliest remains are about 45,000 years old. Martinon-Torres suggests that humans could not gain a foothold in Europe until Neanderthals there were teetering on extinction. The frigid climate of Ice Age Europe may have been another barrier.
Hublin says that although the Daoxian teeth may be older than 80,000 years, several of the teeth have visible cavities, a feature uncommon in human teeth older than 50,000 years. "It could be that early modern humans had a peculiar diet in tropical Asia," he says. "But I am pretty sure that this observation will raise some eyebrows." Martinon-Torres says her team plans to look more closely at the cavities and the diet of the Daoxian humans by examining patterns of tooth wear.
Edited from Nature (14 October 2015)
16 October 2015
Bronze Age graves give up their secrets
Excavations of an ancient cemetery on Petersfield Heath, about 100 kilometres southwest of London, England, have revealed important evidence of how the area's Early Bronze Age residents dealt with death. Three of the 21 known monuments were thoroughly examined.
Archaeologists proved the unusual shape of Barrow 13 was due to substantial and extensive past disturbance. An unrecorded excavation had dug a deep hole well into the subsoil beneath the centre, with at least three arms extending west, north, and east.
Given this, it was with some surprise that an intact grave was discovered, containing at least 15 artefacts of flint and stone beside cremated bone fragments.
Two further objects were represented by hardened sand, caused by the mineral-replacement of organic items. The larger of the two is significant because the cremated remains clearly spread from its broader end. It is 38.5 centimetres long and suggests that a bag - perhaps of leather, and with a long wooden handle - had contained the bones. This is not the first time it has been possible to deduce that an Early Bronze Age cremation was deposited in an organic bag, but this provides the first evidence for such bags having an elaborate wooden handle. It suggests a degree of ceremony was involved in transporting the remains to the burial site, and may imply that the cremation took place elsewhere or at an earlier time. The concentration of barrows on Petersfield Heath is noteworthy, and this new evidence further supports the idea that the site was especially sacred, and favoured by the elite of a wider region.
A neatly shaped rectangular whetstone, 22.5 centimetres long, is probably the largest yet to have been found in an Early Bronze Age context. It may have had more than one function, but its grooved sides were almost certainly used to smooth the shafts of arrows. This makes an interesting connection with 10 of the flints in the grave, which had been worked to an intermediate stage on the way to becoming arrowheads.
Edited from Petersfield Herald (5 October 2015)
Neolithic causewayed enclosure discovered in Oxfordshire
Excavations at site 80 kilometres northwest of London revealed a complex, multi-period archaeological landscape with significant remains dating to the Neolithic, Iron Age, Roman, and Saxon periods.
The most unexpected discovery was a causewayed enclosure - one of only 80 or so such monuments known in the country.
Causewayed enclosures are of great significance in the Neolithic period, and represent the earliest known enclosure of open space. They vary greatly in form, but are characterised by their perimeter earthworks - ditches and banks constructed in short lengths, separated by undisturbed ground. The enclosures do not appear to have been permanently occupied, and were probably places where dispersed groups periodically gathered for a range of activities.
The newly discovered site has three roughly concentric ditches enclosing an area of high ground overlooking the valley of the River Thame. A small Neolithic henge monument was later constructed within the causewayed enclosure. A second, smaller ring-ditch close to the henge may also be of later Neolithic date.
During the Bronze Age, the site saw no activity which left a mark in the archaeological record, however it is possible the site continued to play an important role in the lives of local communities.
Not until the early Iron Age was a settlement built on the site - mostly on lower ground, away from the causewayed enclosure. The remains of a substantial enclosure, roundhouses, clusters of pits, and a number of granaries date to this period.
During the Roman occupation, a number of trackways were built leading to the higher ground occupied by the causewayed enclosure. A series of enclosures were constructed off the trackways and these were adapted and modified throughout the Roman period. Within the enclosures, at least six corn-drying ovens and a number of circular ovens and hearths were built. It is likely the site was then an important centre for processing agricultural produce from the surrounding area.
Following the end of the Roman period, the site was once again settled. The town of Thame is known to have been founded in the Saxon period, and it is likely the site was part of this settlement. The remains of eleven sunken-featured buildings were found, dating to the 6th to 7th century CE. Characteristic of the Saxon period, these were roughly rectangular pits dug into the ground, with a post at either end supporting a simple roof. It is thought they were workshops. Many contained objects associated with weaving, such as loom weights, bone pins and spindle whorls.
Edited from Cotswold Arhcaeology (October 2015)
14 October 2015
Northumberland stone circle wind turbine refused
A proposal by a Scottish company to build a 74 metre wind turbine less than 3 kilometres from a 4,000-year-old stone circle has been rejected, following a 3 year process which included objections from the county's archaeologist.
Known as The Women, the Singing Stones, and Duddo Five Stones, the monument, composed of deeply weathered soft sandstone, dates to the Neolithic or early Bronze Age. It was known as the Four Stones until 1903, when the fifth stone was re-erected. There were originally seven stones. Two empty sockets were found on the western side during excavation in the 1890s.
The site stands in the northeast corner of England, approximately 6 kilometres south of the Scottish border. It offers panoramic views of the Cheviot Hills to the South and the Lammermuir Hills to the north, and is visited by between 6,000 and 9,000 people each year.
Edited from Chronicle Live (4 October 2015), and Wikipedia