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It is often difficult to find some news about the most recent archaeological meetings, digs and breathtaking discoveries. As we are particularly interested in prehistoric and megalithic monuments, we are trying to collect every bit of information about them and to put it inside this website.
In these pages you can find the latest news about those special events, people and places mainly related to Europe's most ancient heritage.
Latest news:

Britain's 'Pompeii' uncovered in Cambridgeshire
Southwest USA's oldest human footprints
Artists complete replica of Lascaux cave paintings
Neolithic tomb in Spain reveals community in life and death
Did interbreeding with Neanderthals strengthen our immune system?
Ancient gold and a 7,000-year-old fortress wall in Bulgaria
Bronze Age Boats
Bronze & Iron Age settlements uncovered in Iran
Did the first farmers come from Turkey?
Prehistoric mass murder site discovered by Kenyan lake
9,000-year-old Jordanian skeletons with a strange history
Chauvet cave may hold earliest painting of volcanic eruption
Sounds of the Bronze Age to be studied
New proposal for a common megalithic measure
New findings on prehistoric stone tool industry in Italy


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31 January 2016

  Britain's 'Pompeii' uncovered in Cambridgeshire

Archaeologists say they have uncovered Britain's 'Pompeii' after discovering the best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in the country. The circular wooden houses, built on stilts, form part of a settlement at Must Farm quarry, in Cambridgeshire (England), and date to about 1000-800 BCE. A fire destroyed the posts, causing the houses to fall into a river where silt helped preserve the contents. Pots with meals still inside have been found at the site.
     An earlier test trench at the site, near Whittlesey, revealed small cups, bowls and jars. In addition, archaeologists said 'exotic' glass beads that formed part of a necklace "hinted at a sophistication not usually associated with the Bronze Age". Textiles made from plant fibres such as lime tree bark have also been unearthed. However, the roundhouses themselves are now being excavated.
     Archaeologists think they have found about five houses but are not yet certain. The work to uncover the settlement is necessary because there are concerns the water level at the site could fall some time in the future, meaning the remains of the houses cannot be preserved in situ.
     Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, described the settlement and contents as "an extraordinary time capsule". He added: "A dramatic fire 3,000 years ago, combined with subsequent waterlogged preservation, has left to us a frozen moment in time, which gives us a graphic picture of life in the Bronze Age."
     David Gibson, from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which is leading the excavation, said: "So much has been preserved, we can actually see everyday life during the Bronze Age in the round. It's prehistoric archaeology in 3D, with an unsurpassed finds assemblage both in terms of range and quantity."
     Well-preserved charred roof timbers of one of the roundhouses are clearly visible, together with timbers showing tool marks and a perimeter of wooden posts known as a palisade, which once enclosed the site. Archaeologists digging 2m (6ft) below the modern surface at the quarry also found preserved footprints, believed to be from people who once lived there.
     While a number of Bronze Age settlements have been found in the UK, Mr Gibson said none had been as well-preserved as the Must Farm site. "Most don't have any timber remaining, just post-holes and marks where posts would have been," he said. "So far this is unique as we have the roof structure as well."

Edited from BBC News (12 January 2016)

29 January 2016

  Southwest USA's oldest human footprints

The 2,500 year old footprints of some ancient farmers and their children and dogs have been found perfectly preserved north of Tucson, Arizona (USA), roughly 800 kilometres east-southeast of Los Angeles. Dozens of prints depict the movements of several adults and at least one child, as they tended their crops and irrigation ditches. They are likely the oldest human tracks yet found in the North American Southwest.
     The barefoot tracks are distinct enough that the movements of specific individuals can be followed across the 15-square-meter field. The tracks were preserved by a sudden flood from a nearby creek soon after the prints were made, covering them in mica-rich sandy sediment, forming a kind of mineralised cast.
     The fields appear to date to the Early Agricultural Period, a span between about 2500 BCE and 50 CE when some of the Southwest's first farmers began cultivating crops.
     The fields, the shallow ditches around them, and even the small depressions where archaic farmers placed individual plants of corn and other crops may stretch far and wide throughout the area, says Jerome Hesse, project manager for SWCA Environmental Consultants, which is conducting the study, "So we've excavated a number of these planting depressions and will run samples for pollen and phytoliths to get a sense of what was being grown."
     The nonprofit 'Archaeology Southwest' is conducting 3-D photo scans of the site to create a digital model, and some of the prints have been cast with synthetic moulds, while others have been extracted completely to be sent to nearby museums. The site lies in the path of road construction.

Edited from Western Digs (21 January 2016)

  Artists complete replica of Lascaux cave paintings

Three years of work has gone into creating a true-to-life replica of renowned Stone Age cave paintings in southwestern France, and the 46 segments are ready to be transported and installed in a hillside near the original site in Montignac, in the Dordogne, about 500 kilometres south-southwest of Paris. The International Centre of Parital Art, 150 metres long and 9 metres high, will open by the end of the year.
     The original cave, discovered in 1940 and closed to the public since 1963, contains nearly 2,000 Upper Palaeolithic wall paintings depicting rhinos, horses, bison, deer and panthers - Europe's most important collection of prehistoric art, by the oldest known modern humans, who came to Europe from Africa via Asia.
     A limited set of reproductions have been on display since 1983. The 57 million-euro project to replicate the entire set unites technology with a desire for the utmost authenticity.
     Francis Ringenbach, the artistic director of the project and himself a sculptor, says the need to be as faithful as possible to the original slowed the team down. "Sometimes one has to spend hours reproducing just 10 square centimetres," he says.
     The artists benefitted from 3D digital scans of the original paintings that were projected onto the walls, creating a task akin to using tracing paper as they applied layer upon layer of natural pigments. Chief painter Gilles Lafleur said of the original works: "We try to understand them really, to understand how and why they were painted this way," but admits that "time has taken its toll and these animals don't look the way they would have when they were painted."
     Ringenbach says that where the smaller-scale original museum offered limited insight into the site's significance, "here, we reach a whole new level in terms of helping people to understand what Lascaux represents for science, the history of art, prehistory."

Edited from NDTV (19 January 2016)

28 January 2016

  Neolithic tomb in Spain reveals community in life and death

The Neolithic people are thought to have introduced new burial rituals - including megalithic tombs, which were used over an extended period of time as sites for collective burials and ritual acts. Complex patterns of treating and reburying skeletal remains have been identified in some tombs.
     The analysis of the human remains from the strikingly situated 3 metre diameter tomb at Alto de Reinoso, 250 kilometres north of Madrid, represents the widest integrative study of a Neolithic collective burial in Spain - a good example of a non-megalithic barrow. Combining archaeology, osteology, molecular genetics, and stable isotope analysis, the study provides information on the number of individuals, as well as their age, sex, body height, diseases, injuries, mitochondrial DNA profiles, kinship relations, mobility, and diet.
     The grave was in use for approximately one hundred years around 3700 BCE - the Late Neolithic in Iberia. Findings suggest the tomb probably began as a burial chamber made of wood, mud, and other organic materials, which was later dismantled and converted to a monumental structure by erecting a stone mound over it.
     The uppermost Bronze Age layer, containing the remains of two individuals from around 1700 to 1500 BCE and disturbed by agricultural activity, is not included in the study. Beneath that, further bodies represented a different use of the tomb, with almost all of those skeletons missing bones, especially skulls. At the bottom, on natural bedrock, six complete and six partial skeletons lay in crouched positions.
     In total the Neolithic burials comprise at least 47 individuals - a surprisingly high density - including males, females, and adolescents, although children aged 0 to 6 years were under-represented. The remains exhibit a moderate number of pathologies, such as degenerative joint diseases, healed fractures, head injuries, and tooth decay.
     Mitochondrial DNA profiles reveal a closely related local community with matrilineal kinship. In some cases adjacent individuals in the bottom layer showed familial relationships. According to their strontium isotope ratios, only a few were likely to have spent their early childhood in a different geological environment - the majority grew up locally. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis indicate a homogeneous group with egalitarian access to food. Cereals and small ruminants - possibly sheep and goats - were the principal sources of nutrition: a lifestyle typical of sedentary farming populations in the Spanish plateau during this period of the Neolithic.
     Artefacts were not abundant, but include both personal adornments such as stone necklace beads and wild boar tusk pendants, as well as grave goods such as polished stone axes, flint blades and microliths, and bone scrapers. There was a distinct lack of pottery in megalithic tombs, at least during the earlier period of their use.
     The Neolithic tombs in Europe represent a particular type of collective burial. Communal use clearly illustrates the bond within a community where the individual is not at the forefront, in life or in death. It was not until the Copper and Bronze Ages that social differentiation increased, and individuals and groups came to the fore.

Edited from Phys.org, Plos One (20 January 2016)

  Did interbreeding with Neanderthals strengthen our immune system?

Two independent studies, both recently published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, have both confirmed the belief that interbreeding between two of our ancestors, namely Neanderthals and Denisovans, has directly contributed to improvements to our immune system but at the expense of increasing our susceptibility to allergies. The two studies were carried out by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) and the Institut Pasteur and the CNRS (Paris).
     The team from the Institut Pasteur studied data on modern humans, gleaned from the large amount of data provided by the 1000 Genomes Project (This was a worldwide project, started in 2008, to build up a catalogue of human genetic variation). They compared this data against the genetic makeup of Neanderthals and Denisovans, identifying where and when the genetic modifications occurred.
     The Max Planck team had concentrated on a study of the importance of inherited genes but identified exactly the same genes as the French team. Janet Kelso, from the Max Planck team, is quoted as saying "What has emerged from our study as well as from other work on introgression is that interbreeding with archaic humans does indeed have functional implications for modern humans and that the most obvious consequences have been in shaping our adaptation to our environment - improving how we resist pathogens and metabolize novel foods". She went on to add "Neanderthals, for example, had lived in Europe and Western Asia for around 200,000 years before the arrival of modern humans. They were likely well adapted to the local climate, foods and pathogens. By interbreeding with these archaic humans we modern humans gained these advantageous adaptations".

Edited from Popular Archaeology (7 January 2016)

27 January 2016

  Ancient gold and a 7,000-year-old fortress wall in Bulgaria

A 7,000-year-old defensive wall from the Copper Age has been discovered at a prehistoric settlement mound near Hotnitsa, in north central Bulgaria. The palisade was made of wooden pillars 40 centimetres in diameter, and plastered with clay on both sides. The finished wall surrounding the 50 metre diameter settlement was about 80 centimetres wide, probably up to 3 metres tall, and maintained for 1,000 years.
     The settlement was inhabited from the 5th to 4th millennium BCE by people engaged in agriculture, cattle breeding, hunting and gathering. Discovered in 1955, its archaeological layers are 6 metres thick. It is known for the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure, from the same period as the gold treasure from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis on the Black Sea. One of the gold spirals found at Hotnitsa was more than a metre deeper than any from Varna, and could be the world's oldest gold.
     In a small pit under the floor of a burned home with well-preserved charred wood, the team found a hand mill, a ceramic vessel, and two flint artefacts. The pit was dug before the home was built. A pit previously discovered beneath a different home on this site yielded a collection of legs from goats, sheep, and pigs, placed in an anatomically correct order. A pit plastered into the floor of a home in another settlement held a model of a miniature vessel. A pit within a home in a third settlement contained a large vessel with ashes.
     Large finds from 2015 at Hotnitsa include a section of 6,400-year-old wooden floor, preserved by a flood. The boards fit perfectly together, supported by beams about one metre apart. Small finds comprise some 500 artefacts, mostly flint tools made from prime quality flint from northeast Bulgaria. Other tools include a bone dagger, a copper needle, stone claw hammers, awls, and arrow tips. Ceramic vessels, and ornaments made of bone or the shells of freshwater mollusks and snails were also found. Among the most interesting artefacts is a vertical loom for weaving.
     Truly remarkable is a 6,400-year-old ceramic vessel lid with a depiction of a male head with a large nose and a pointy chin. Signs shaped like butterflies, possibly tattoos, are visible on the man's cheeks. He wears a small cap represented with by dots. Archaeologist Alexander Chohadzhiev says: "This is a very rare find because the anatomical features of the face are presented in great detail. We have found other depictions of male heads with beards but the presence of a cap shows that this man enjoyed a more special status. In the past, we have found a similar lid in Petko Karavelovo - a male head with beard braids wearing the same kind cap but it was depicted with spirals, not dots.
     His team has also found two bone figurines with female human features, one of them 8.5 millimetres long and only 3 millimetres wide. Another new find is a miniature model of a ceramic vessel - the second of its kind found at Hotnitsa.
     Excavations first took place at Hotnitsa between 1956 and 1959. Finds included 20 perfectly aligned thatched roof one-room homes made with wooden poles plastered with mud, as well as ceramic vessels, and artefacts made of copper, bone, stone, and flint. In one home, archaeologists found 40 gold rings, and four thin gold plates with depictions of faces drawn with dots. In another were found a large quantity of prehistoric idols made of bone, not all of them finished. From 2000 to 2007, the northern half of the mound yielded 6 more homes and over 5,000 artefacts, including gold items, copper tools, and figurines of humans and animals.
     Some artefacts are interpreted as proving Hotnitsa had commercial ties with the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and north of the Danube.
     The settlement may have been destroyed in an invasion of nomadic tribes from the north, who, after 800 years of convergence with the local population gave rise to the highly developed civilisation of Ancient Thrace.

Edited from Archaeology in Bulgaria (21 January 2016)

  Bronze Age Boats

The first log boats are thought to predate both pottery and agriculture by thousands of years. During the Bronze Age, which lasted from roughly 2000 BCE to 500 BCE in Northern Europe, log boats began to change. According to Ole Thirup Kastholm, of Denmark's Roskilde Museum, the changing designs reflect broader cultural transformations.
     Examining 110 log boats recovered from sites in Scandinavia, western Europe, Britain, and Ireland, Kastholm says that starting around 2000 BCE log boats from across this vast region begin to display similarities in design. Logs were carved to have slender, vertical sides and flat bottoms that made them more stable. Many were more than 10 metres long, and some were as long as 15 metres.
     Around the same time, plank boats begin to appear. Larger and more stable than log boats, they were mainly used for ocean voyages. Traditionally, archaeologists have considered Bronze Age plank boats an exclusively British design, but Kastholm thinks plank boat technology was likely more widespread. He says the similarities between log boats found throughout western and Northern Europe shows that there was a great deal of contact between people separated by vast distances.
     The plank boats and log boats being built in northern Europe were not the most advanced watercraft of their time. Greeks, Egyptians, and other cultures around the Mediterranean Sea used sailing ships. Sails wouldn't be used in Northern Europe until the Iron Age, during the 7th or 8th century CE.
     When sails did arrive in the north, instead of copying Mediterranean designs, early Scandinavian boat builders adapted their Bronze Age plank boats. Kastholm shows that Northern European Iron Age sailing ships used the same type of cleats to secure the planks to the boat frame as the earler Bronze Age plank boats. This counters the prevailing view that the Iron Age boats came from a completely different boat building tradition. If correct, this means the Northern European tradition that produced the Viking longships had its roots in the Bronze Age plank boats.  

Edited from Hakai Magazine (20 January 2016)

26 January 2016

  Bronze & Iron Age settlements uncovered in Iran

A team of archaeologists from Iran's Research Institute for Cultural Heritage and Tourism has been carrying out extensive research in the Kavousiyeh hills in Tehran's suburbs. The area had not previously been investigated to any great degree, but has now been yielding up a plethora of Bronze Age and Iron Age artefacts.
     Tehran had remained a relatively small settlement until the late 18th century, when it was chosen to be the capital city. More recent expansion had started to threaten rare archaeological sites, including this one.
     The leader of the team, Maryam Molaei is quoted as saying "Kavousiyeh hills site has been added to the list of prehistoric sites with settlement during a research investigating land downdraft in Tehran; since then no serious archaeological investigation addressed the hills, effectively putting into abeyance valuable information imbedded in the hills strata. Our present research addresses this lack".
     She went on to say "In investigation of Kavousiyeh hills modern cutting-edge technology of drone-aided imaging robot has been used; aerial photogrammetry helped also preparation of a highly precise topographic map of the hills; we currently hope to see further investigation which would address the exact area of the settled hills during prehistory and draft a set of regulations to prevent the delimitation of the hills".

Edited from IRNA (11 January 2016)

  Did the first farmers come from Turkey?

Evidence is emerging that the origins of farming in Europe can be traced back to Anatolia in modern day Turkey. Occupation of the area stretches back to the Palaeolithic Era and it is also conjectured that the Indo-European language group also originated here.
     A group from the Archaeological Research Laboratory, Stockholm University (Sweden), has been studying the DNA of human remains found within the area known as Kumtepe, close to the site of Troy and also renowned for being the oldest permanent settlement in the area. Although the group has yet to publish their findings, the initial results are leading them to believe that this area was at the heart of the transition to farming.
     Team leader Jan Stora, associate professor in osteoarchaeology, is quoted as saying "It is complicated to work with material from this region, it is hot and the DNA is degrading. But if you want to understand how the process that led from a hunter gatherer society proceeding to a farming society, it is this material that we need to exhaust".

Edited from EurekaAlert! (4 January 2016)

24 January 2016

  Prehistoric mass murder site discovered by Kenyan lake

Proof of intentional killing is extremely rare among prehistoric hunter-gatherers, but the evidence found at Nataruk by Lake Turkana is clear-cut. Skeletons dating to 10,000 years ago, bearing marks of a violent death and possibly bondage, provides fresh evidence that prehistoric hunter-gatherers did not necessarily live in bonhomie. Disturbingly, two of the 12 people found by Lake Turkana, Kenya were not marked by signs of violence but seem to have died with their hands bound, a team of archaeologists reported in Nature.
     "Evidence for inter-group violence among prehistoric hunter-gatherers is extremely rare," writes the team led by Marta Mirazón Lahr of Cambridge University. Yet she found some. She and her colleagues discovered the remains of at Nataruk, a site near the edge of Lake Turkana, in 2012. Among them were ten bodies with clear signs of lethal traumas.
     One man had been bashed on the head twice, above the right eye and on the left of his skull, smashing the bone. Another had a small obsidian knife embedded in his skull, but what killed him was probably a completely different weapon, which was used to crush his face. Wounds found on the head and neck bones of others could have been caused by arrows, which indicates that the attackers were distant, suggesting inter-group conflict. Some suffered broken knee and hand bones. One body was of a woman in advanced pregnancy: the position of her body and limbs suggest she had her feet and hands bound. Stone tools were found too, 131 with the bodies and hundreds more right around them.
     These ancient people, whom the authors date to 9,500-10,500 years ago, had not been lovingly buried: the bodies were not found in any orderly orientation or manner. Six of the dead were children. At least, observe the scientists, there was no evidence of 'trophy-taking' (such as scalping).
     The Nataruk site is not the first or even the oldest evidence of actual inter-group war. In mid-2014 scientists from Bordeaux University in France reanalyzed bodies in a graveyard dating back roughly 13,000 years in today's Sudan, and concluded they had come across not only the oldest evidence of war, but racial war at that. The bodies were of two distinct types: One group involved in the ancient battles in Jebel Sahaba by the Nile River were tall with relatively short torsos, projecting features and broad noses. The other group was shorter, had longer torsos and flatter faces.
     The Turkana finds show the battle in Sudan had not been a bad-tempered blip in the history of Neolithic man. The reason for the slaughter cannot be known; although Turkana is a fertile site, there are signs of early settlement, such as clay pottery, so one possibility is that that groups in the area were struggling over resources. Or maybe they all had plenty of resources but had violent tendencies toward outside groups.
     Some anthropologists prefer to believe hunter-gatherers were peaceful. If a group encountered unpleasantness, they could simply move on. Why fight if they could flee? Others suspect the opposite, with some even postulating that internecine violence, and the development of stone weapons, is exactly how prehistoric populations began to spread worldwide. In any case, the archaeologists believe the Nataruk finds show "intentional killing" of a small band of foragers, which constitutes, they say, "unique evidence of a warfare event among hunter-gatherers in prehistory".

Edited from Haaretz (20 January 2016)

  9,000-year-old Jordanian skeletons with a strange history

Archaeologists have unearthed a burial site in southern Jordan that suggests the dead were not buried until they had decomposed to skeletal remains. The skeletons were then dismantled and bones of similar types were buried together. Eesearchers are still in the process of excavating the site, called Shkārat Msaied. So far they have found the skeletons of more than 70 people.
     "The body parts have been sorted and buried in collective graves, where we find the specific categories of bones together," Moritz Kinzel, a researcher at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen, said. "It is interesting there are an unusually large number of children buried, ranging from small babies to adolescents. There seems to have been a strong tendency to bury children inside the houses. We do not know if the burials are related to something religious, but there seems to be some kind of ritual behaviour associated with the funeral," Kinzel added.
     Animal bones, including birds, foxes, goats and sheep, have been found buried along with the human remains. The bones were for the most part separated and placed in trunks located inside private homes. "There is, for example, a very fine stone coffin in which the skulls were stacked together at one end and longer bones like those that come from the leg or the arm are located at the other end," said University of Copenhagen researcher Marie Louise Jørkov.
     Kinzel said the excavation of the sites will continue into the foreseeable future.

Edited from CPH Post (20 January 2016)

  Chauvet cave may hold earliest painting of volcanic eruption

France's iconic Chauvet cave holds mysterious spray-shaped imagery, made around the time when nearby volcanoes were spewing lava.
     Discovered in 1994 and popularized in the Werner Herzog documentary 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams', Chauvet-Pont D'Arc cave, in southern France, contains hundreds of paintings that were made as early as 37,000 years ago. One of its innermost galleries - named after a giant deer species, Megaloceros, that is depicted there - also contains a series of mysterious spray-shaped drawings, partly covered by the Megaloceros painting. A nearby gallery holds similar spray imagery, as does a wall near the cave's original entrance, but researchers have not determined what the images represent.
     The depictions are unique to Chauvet, notes Sebastien Nomade, a geoscientist at the University of Paris-Saclay in Gif-Sur-Yvette, France, who led the study. The Bas-Vivarais volcanic field, a well-known site containing more than a dozen extinct volcanoes, lies just 35 km from the cave, but only eruptions that happened before humans occupied Chauvet had been dated, Nomade says.
     In the hope of calculating the dates of younger eruptions, Nomade visited Bas-Vivarais and sampled rock from three volcanic centres. His team determined that the region had been lit up by a series of eruptions between about 19,000 years and 43,000 years ago. The events would have been dramatic 'strombolian' eruptions, Nomade says, with lava spewing 200-plus metres into the sky and flowing down the volcanoes' slopes. Each cone would have erupted once or twice before going extinct.
     Hunter-gatherers living in the region at the time must have seen the eruptions, Nomade says. "You just have to climb the small hill on top of Chauvet, and looking north you see the volcanoes. During the night you could see them glowing and you could hear the sound of the volcanic eruption."
     Meanwhile, radiocarbon dating suggests that humans occupied the Megaloceros gallery between 36,000 and 37,000 years ago, and charcoal used to paint the Megaloceros that overlays the spray-like paintings is at least 34,000-36,000 years old. "There's no way anybody could prove that it is a volcano that they depicted, but for us it's the hypothesis which is the most probable," says Nomade.
     If Nomade and his team are correct, Chauvet's volcano imagery would represent the earliest record of any eruption. Other, younger examples include a mysterious 8,600-year-old mural found on a wall at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in central Turkey, which may be a map depicting a nearby volcano that erupted at around that time.
     "I think they make a pretty good case that it's potentially a depiction of the kind of volcano that one sees on the landscape," says Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, UK. Depictions of natural events in rock art are rare, he notes, but this could be because they are too abstract or because researchers simply haven't looked. "Maybe there's more of this out there than we have realized."

Edited from Nature (15 January 2016)

  Sounds of the Bronze Age to be studied

A researcher at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) hopes to gain an understanding of sounds heard thousands of years ago. Michelle Walker's investigation will involve a cave in Moray (Scotland) where human remains from the Late Bronze Age were previously found by archaeologists.
     It is believed prehistoric people buried their dead in the cave in rituals involving beating a drum. Ms Walker has proposed beating a drum in the same location. The UHI graduate believes the acoustics of Sculptors Cave where the bodies were laid could have affected mourners' mood.
     In her study, volunteers will be asked to complete a questionnaire with 10 questions designed to record their thoughts and feelings during the two minutes of drumming. The research, known as archaeoacoustics, has previously given archaeologists a better understanding of how sound behaves inside Neolithic temples in England and Ireland.

Edited from BBC News (14 January 2016)

  New proposal for a common megalithic measure

Following nearly 40 years of research, Norman Stockdale and Peter Harris conclude that a standard unit of length was used in the construction of megalithic monuments, but not the same unit proposed long ago by Professor Thom. Thom had been Professor Emeritus of Engineering at Oxford, and an expert in astro-navigation and surveying, and drew plans for hundreds of ancient monuments prior to publishing his book, 'Megalithic Sites in Britain', in 1967.
     Middle to late-Neolithic stone circles date from about 3,400 to 2,700 BCE, and mainly found in the northern half of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Late Neolithic to early Bronze Age circles, from 2,700 BCE to about 2,000 BCE, are scattered throughout the United Kingdom, with concentrations in Cornwall and Brittany. The most prolific period for stone circle building was in the middle Bronze Age, from 2,000 BCE to 1,200 BCE, and chiefly concentrated in Scotland. Few circles were erected after that, and none are known from later than 1,000 BCE.
     Despite this separation in time, the complex geometries of some of the flattened circles, egg-shaped rings and ellipses built throughout the entire period were identical and occur in all regions. Alignments to the key stations of the moon through its 18.6-year cycle are commonly met alongside those to the solar and equinoctial sunrises and sunsets. Harris says that while we cannot think of all the structures solely as 'observatories', the measures incorporate key astronomical data into monument design.
     Aubrey Burl believed there is support for the idea that societies in late Neolithic and early Bronze Age Britain used local measuring lengths, such as the Perth Yard and the Cork Yard.
     Professor Thom proposed a length of 2.72 Imperial feet (83 centimetres), which he called the Megalithic Yard, concluding that there were concentrations of values at 10, 20, 30, and 40 Megalithic Yards in the diameters of stone circles, and perimeters with multiples of 12.5 Megalithic Yards. His measurements also show a high percentage of very similar perimeter lengths.
     Thom looked in detail at the mathematical background of megalithic planning and building of non-circular stone rings, identifying a few basic types: flattened circles, egg-shaped rings, and ellipses. Stockdale and Harris believe the effort put into creating circles of varying shapes shows that the perimeter must be significant, and contend the proportions incorporate lunar and solar values, not pure numerical values. They believe a standard unit a fraction less than 36 centimetres was widely used from approximately 3000 years BCE, which they call the Megalithic Foot, subdivided into 56 equal parts, which they call Megalithic Inches.

Edited from RILKO Journal (Winter 2015)

17 January 2016

  New findings on prehistoric stone tool industry in Italy

A newly released study suggests that the Uluzzian stone tool industry, generally associated with anatomically modern humans, has its roots in the Mousterian industry, usually associated with Neanderthals.
     The Uluzzian is a flake-dominated industry that exhibits various technological innovations, most of which are associated with the kinds of technology that anatomically modern humans brought to Europe during the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition, arguably sometime between 40,000 and 50,000 years BP.
     In the study, Marco Peresani of the University of Ferrara, Italy, and colleagues conducted an extensive examination of the lithic and bone technologies from assemblages recovered from the Fumane Cave in northern Italy.
     The Uluzzian was first discovered in the early 1960s in the Grotta del Cavallo (Nardò, Apulia) in southern Italy. This cave yielded about 7 meters of archaeological deposits representing the period during which scientists have suggested that Neanderthals were replaced by modern humans. The Uluzzian culture has been identified at more than 20 separate sites across Italy, and is distinguished by a production process that differed from that of the earlier Mousterian (associated with Neanderthals) and the proto-Aurignacian (associated with anatomically modern humans).
     Finds at Grotta del Cavallo include personal ornaments, bone tools and colorants, as well as two teeth identified at the time as belonging to Neanderthals who lived around 200,000 to 40,000 years ago, suggesting that the complex ornaments and tools were also produced by Neanderthals.
     But in a study published in 2011, Stefano Benazzi of the University of Vienna and his colleagues compared digital models of the human remains from Grotta del Cavallo with those of a modern human and a Neanderthal, and he found that "The results clearly show that the specimens from Grotta del Cavallo were modern humans, not Neanderthals as originally thought."
     However, the latest results from Fumane Cave suggest that the Uluzzian cannot be conclusively viewed as an indicator of the first presence of anatomically modern humans in Europe, adding further complexity to the debate.

Edited from Popular Archaeology (11 January 2016)

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