18 January 2022
Horned helmets of the Bronze Age
Horned helmets are found in three places in Europe: Scandinavia, southern Iberia, and Sardinia. Horned helmet imagery has a complex history, with Levantine roots in the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean. The only existing horned metal helmets are a pair from Denmark, though similar imagery is found both within and outside Denmark.
The horned warrior occurs in southern Sardinia and adjoining parts of Corsica, a middle zone in southwestern Iberia, and a northern zone in southern Scandinavia, but little or not at all in the rest of Europe, except in the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean, which have a deep history of horned-helmet figures connected with divine rulership and with warfare, at the time when the longstanding Bronze Age civilisation there was in rapid transition, around 1200 BCE.
Scandinavian horned-helmet representations stand out among Nordic Bronze Age expressions, yet are understudied as a group. Recent fieldwork acknowledges a relationship between the Sardinian and the Scandinavian imagery. Close similarities between the rock carvings of Tanum, Sweden, and the Iberian stelae have been noted, while Alpine and Galician rock art may reveal similarities between these regions.
Apart from the two normal-sized helmets from Denmark, and a horn from a similar helmet, the Scandinavian repertoire consists of three sets of two figurines. Additionally, there are a pair of figures on a razor, and about 40 images on rock in western Sweden. The motif favours horned twin warriors. Similar horns also occur on snakes and horses, and horse-headed gold bowls. Blowing horns or lurs, always in doubles, can be seen as a parallel way of portraying the horned twins, who are sometimes depicted playing the lur.
It is clear that horns in anthropomorphic and zoomorphic imagery have a deep ancestry. Overlapping dates are seen for horned-helmet representations in Scandinavia (1000 to 750 BCE), Iberia (1200 or 1100 to 750 BCE), and Sardinia (1200 to 750 BCE). Sardinia and the Iberian southwest are naturally rich in metals. Scandinavia was completely dependent on imported copper.
Sardinia and Iberia mostly share features that tie all three zones together. Archery is a favourite in both zones. Similarity between Scandinavia and Sardinia is strong, however the Scandinavian rock carvings share features especially with the Iberian stelae. The 40 Scandinavian horned-helmet warriors reside within a wider community of anthropomorphic figures, both in bronze and on rock, including other males without horned insignia, females, and smaller, more ordinary-looking figures.
Similarly, in Iberia, 41 horned-helmet figures are identifiable on 140 stelae so far recorded. In addition to horned-helmet warriors, the anthropomorphic group of stelae includes warriors wearing a crested or pointed conical helmet, in addition to smaller, anonymous-looking figures including children, and women wearing a diadem or crown headdress. Like the Scandinavian figurines and rock carvings, some of the Iberian scenes appear as a narrative. Both regions depict the horns in the same manner.
In the medium of bronze, helmet appearance is strikingly similar in Sardinia and Scandinavia, with a similar length, turn, and the position of the horns. Frequently occurring are short, stubby horns with a forward tilt close to the head, long horns standing erect, and the ends of horns sometimes with distinct knobs.
Sardinia has the largest variation of the three regions, including unique versions with longhorns pointing in different directions. The horns of Iberian stelae and the Tanum rock art always stand erect and may turn in various directions; their appearance seems to have been dictated by the stone. The combination of crest and horns on the Danish helmets matches those on the Sardinian bronzetti. Turned horns occur in all three zones. Doubles or mirror-images of warriors with and without horned helmets appear in all three zones.
The warrior stelae of Iberia belong to the Atlantic and Western Mediterranean Bronze Age. The local antecedents are Neolithic anthropomorphic portable idols and menhirs, as well as earlier Bronze Age stelae depicting weaponry in much the same way as the earliest warrior stelae, however the horned-helmet figure is an outsider to the region; its first appearance is likely due to Late Bronze Age connections with Sardinia. The subsequent Phoenician expansion in the west could have further reinforced the motif. Of the three zones, the Sardinian has the clearest local foundation, and may be the main source of the other two.
Edited from Praehistorische Zeitschrift, via De Gruyter (21 December 2021)
17 January 2022
Ancient Mediterranean tsunami
Researchers have excavated the remains of a young man killed by a tsunami about 3,600 years ago, following the eruption of a volcano on the Aegean island of Santorini, roughly equidistant from the shores of Crete, Greece, and Turkey. The eruption has long been blamed for the decline of the Minoan civilisation on the island of Crete.
Tsunamis tend to pull debris back into the sea, so while volcanic ash is plentiful, little evidence of the tsunami has been found. The remains of the young man were discovered at a Late Bronze Age site on the shore of western Turkey, about 200 kilometres from the volcano, in layers of ash and debris trapped behind a retaining wall.
The eruption has been tentatively dated to 1560 BCE, based on tree rings found in an ancient Phrygian tomb last year. Damaged walls, rubble, sediment and ash at the site in Turkey - all evidence of multiple tsunamis related to the eruption - date to no earlier than 1612 BCE.
15 January 2022
Cosquer Cave replica opens this summer
37 years after its discovery, a replica of the prehistoric Cosquer cave is scheduled to open on June 4th, offering a simulated experience of the most inaccessible of the decorated caves ever discovered in France.
At the time the artists were active, the region's climate was much like Norway is now, and the cave entrance was around 80 to 100 metres above sea level. The rise in sea level following the last Ice Age about 19,000 years ago obscured the mouth of the cave, until Henri Cosquer - a professional diver in search of new spots - chanced upon it one day in 1985, 37 metres below sea level.
The chamber is approached through a perilous 175-metre-long submerged corridor which climbs gently. Not until 1991 does Cosquer notice the depictions of horses in the halo of his lamp. Other images are seen in photographs - horses, penguins, bison, hands in negative - all older than the rock art of Lascaux. Since then only scientists have been allowed to enter.
Edited from mProvence (10 January 2022)
Ancient pottery found in Jersey
A nearly complete late Bronze Age pottery vessel has been found in fields intended for a new hospital on the island of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy. Thin-walled and finely made, the vessel is believed to be of Deverel-Rimbury style from around 1200-900 BCE, placed in a purposely dug pit. A decorated fragment from the rim of a pot was also found, which may be part of a different vessel.
Inside were two scraps of copper alloy metalwork. One, a hexagonal tube approximately 15 millimetres in length, may have been part of a socketed axe or small socketed hammer. The other is flat, irregularly shaped, rectangular in cross-section, and about 31 millimetres at the widest point.
Further investigations will be carried out on the site ahead of construction.
Edited from Jersey Evening Post (8 January 2022)
14 January 2022
Mesolithic scraper, Neolithic axe found in southern India
A Mesolithic scraper and a Neolithic celt have been found in Tamil Nadu, on the southern tip of India.
The Mesolithic chert scraper is 4 centimetres long and 4.5 centimetres wide, and dates to between 10,000 and 3,000 BCE. Also known as microlithic tools due to their small size, they are made from splinters produced when larger tools are made, and were used as arrows, knives, and scrapers.
The Neolithic 'celt' or stone axe is polished granite, 5 centimetres long, tapering from 5.5 centimetres wide at the bottom to 3 centimetres on top, 1.5 centimetres thick, and dates to between 3,000 to 1,000 BCE.
Edited from Times of India (5 January 2022)
3,000-year-old cemetery found in Henan
A two-year excavation at a more than 3,000 year old late Shang Dynasty settlement in the Henan Province of central China, around 500 kilometres south-southwest of Beijing, has revealed 18 building foundations, 24 tombs, and four horse and chariot pits. Artefacts include exquisite bronzeware, jade and other stone objects, boneware, and mussels.
Six carriages and several warriors and horses were discovered buried with the dead. Some warriors wore hats with shell strings, and some horses had bronze ornaments decorated with gold veneer on their foreheads.
The site is around 2400 metres from the Yin Ruins, a Unesco World Heritage site consisting of a palace and an ancient temple.
13 January 2022
Fire scorches ancient Neolithic stones in Kent
Deep in the Kent (UK) countryside is an ancient wood known locally as Walderslade Wood. This area is rich in Stone Age artefacts (over 25 sites within a 4.5 km radius), such as Lordswood Barrow and Sarsen Stones, Impton Lane Stones and Aylesford Megalithic Long Barrow. The woods in question contain a group of sarsen stones which may be the remains of either a burial chamber or a stone circle, dating back to 4,500 BCE.
Local resident, Dr Tom Shelley, was walking through the woods with his wife recently, when he noticed that some of the stones appeared to show signs of scorch marks.
Dr Shelley had a theory as to how this occurred and is quoted as saying "I don't know who would do something like this, but I suspect pagans performing some kind of earth ritual. Fallen trees had also been dragged into position to start the fire, so it was definitely started deliberately".
A similar group of stones nearby, at a place called Kit's Coty (sometimes known as The Countless Stones), had also been in danger of damage and so a protective barrier fence had been installed.
The Parish Council of Boxley, where Walderslade Woods are located, is seriously considering erecting similar railings to protect these stones. Dr Shelley went on to add "Personally I don't care what religion people follow, I would just ask them not to damage ancient artefacts and not to start fires in woodland".
Edited from Kent Online (6 January 2022)
Is this the oldest example of a burial in Africa?
Back in the day, archaeologists could only rely on fairly basic technology to help them with dating. Then, in the 20th Century, as technology became more sophisticated, so did the dating methods, such as stratigraphy, dendrochronology, radiocarbon, potassium-argon, thermoluminescence and many more.
Most of these techniques relied on the artefact being in a fairly stable condition. Now, a relatively new technique, known as 'Microcomputed tomography', or microCT for short, uses a non-destructive imaging technique to examine extremely fragile objects, producing a high-resolution three-dimensional image, compose of two-dimensional trans-axial projects, or 'slices'. This allows for a detailed analysis without the need to possibly damage the artefact by removing surrounding material.
It was this technique that was used to astonishing effect by a Spanish anthropologist, Maria Martinon-Torres, to uncover what could probably be the oldest example of a human burial. The fragile artefact in question had been excavated from a site in Kenya, known as the Panga ya Saidi Cave, and transported intact, with all the surrounding material, to Spain. Martinon-Torres is a director of the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution and it was there that the microCT was carried out.
The findings showed that they were the remains of a 3-year-old child, which was curled up and had been buried with love and kindness, with the head originally resting on a pillow. The analysis of the surrounding soil placed the burial as having occurred in approximately 76,000 BCE, earlier than the previously believed earliest burials in 72,000 BCE in South Africa and 67,000 BCE in Egypt, although these two finds were dated using less sophisticated technology and the accompanying margin of error.
The remains have now been returned to a permanent home in the National Museum of Kenya
Edited from Discover (5 January 2022)
12 January 2022
Turkish Neolithic statuette - a man or a woman?
There is a Neolithic and Chalcolithic site in the central Turkish region of Anatolia, known as Catalhoyuk. Excavations first began in 1958 and this first phase continued through until 1965, under the lead of British archaeologist James Mellaart. During the course of these investigations 18 layers of buildings were uncovered, dating from 7100 BCE to 5600 BCE.
No further investigations then happened on the site until 1993, when a team from Cambridge University (UK) started their investigations, headed by Ian Hodder from Stamford University (USA). The site has proved to be so rich in finds and importance that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012.
During more recent excavations on the site's southern mound, several miniature figurines have been uncovered, but a recent discovery of a miniature marble statuette has archaeologists puzzled as to its gender, despite the previous preponderance of female statuettes.
Local archaeology professor at the Anadolu University (Turkey), Ali Umut Turkcan, is quoted as saying of the piece that it "is reminiscent of figurines identified as male, leaning back slightly on the back of an animal, similar to those found in excavations in the past". To give an idea of the size of the site the average population, over its lifetime, is estimated at between 5000 and 7000, making it one of the largest Neolithic settlements ever found.
Edited from TurkishPress (28 December 2021)
Arctic hunter-gatherers were advanced ironworkers
Excavations at Sangis, 1,000 kilometres north-northeast of Stockholm near the Gulf of Bothnia, uncovered a rectangular iron-smelting furnace comprised of stone slabs with one open side, and holes in the frame for blowing air onto burning charcoal. A clay chimney had been built in and partly on the frame. Inside the furnace were remnants of a ceramic wall lining, and slag from heating iron ore.
Radiocarbon dates show the site was active between around 200 BCE and 50 BCE. Pottery fragments and other material were discovered about 500 metres from the furnace, dating to between around 500 BCE and 900 CE. Other finds include numerous fish bones, at least three fire pits where iron was reheated and refined, as well as several iron items, others of steel, a bronze buckle, and metallic waste with copper droplets on the surface. The casting and decorative style of the bronze buckle resembles metal items found at sites in northwestern Russia dating to as early as around 2,300 years ago. Knives and other iron objects found at Sangis contained two or more layers that had been expertly welded together, and had in some cases been heat-treated to improve their strength.
Other excavations at Vivungi, about 260 kilometres further north, uncovered remains of two iron-smelting furnaces in use from around 100 BCE. Radiocarbon dates of animal bones found near the furnaces indicate repeated occupation from around 5300 BCE to 1600 CE.
Supposed by many to have been an invention of large agricultural societies in southwest Asia more than 3,000 years ago, evidence of iron production more than 2,000 years ago is known in southern Scandinavia, and preliminary study suggests iron was also being produced in East Asia at that time.
Edited from Science News (3 January 2022)
11 January 2022
Stonehenge Exhibition at the British Museum
The UK's first major exhibition focusing on the story of Stonehenge opens next month at the British Museum in London, promising to place the monument in its wider social, cultural, environmental, and technological context. Displays will feature more than 430 artefacts from 35 institutions around western Europe, including new discoveries from the Stonehenge landscape and other key sites.
Starting in the Mesolithic, exhibits will explore religious ideas, astronomical concepts, and solar imagery. Among the attractions are elements of the 4,000-year-old Bronze Age Seahenge timber circle, conical gold hats from France and Germany, artefacts interred with the Amesbury Archer, and the first UK appearance of the Nebra Sky Disc.
The World of Stonehenge opens Thursday 17 February through Sunday 17 July 2022.
Edited from Current Archaeology-The Past (4 January 2022)
Iron age hillfort for sale in England
Hillforts are among the most striking monuments in northern Europe, built and occupied from about 900 to 100 BCE, when societies were defined by tribal territories. About 250 kilometres west-southwest of London, within the Blackdown Hills 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty', Hembury is considered the finest prehistoric hillfort in Devonshire. Built on the site of an earlier Neolithic causewayed enclosure, on a south-facing heathland promontory 40 metres above the surrounding plateau, the small multi-vallate Iron Age fort is currently under offer by Savills for a guide price of £100,000. The sale includes approximately 15.7 hectares.
The fort is protected on three sides by steep natural slopes, and preserves well-defined perimeter defences. People from the massive hillfort of Maiden Castle, about 70 kilometres to the east-southeast, apparently occupied the site around 50 BCE, and the Roman army was in possession by the middle of the 1st century CE.
Many artefacts discovered during excavations in the 1930s and 1980s are on display in the Royal Albert Museum in nearby Exeter. More recently a Geophysics survey was carried out by Bournemouth University in preparation more extensive survey at a later date.
6 January 2022
Conserving the submerged dolmen of Guadalperal
One of the most notable examples of megalithic architecture in the middle Tagus river basin, the megalithic complex of Guadalperal, in the Valdecañas reservoir about 180 kilometres west-southwest of Madrid (Spain), continues to be the focus of attention after it was completely exposed for the first time in 50 years by extreme dry conditions in the summer of 2019.
Made up mainly of around 140 upright stones, the burial chamber would have been 5 meters in diameter with a triple line of stone slabs arranged concentrically around it, and a corridor almost 10 metres long guarded by a menhir and a stela with a serpentine figure carved into it. Raised in two different phases, the later construction dates to between the 4th and 3rd millennia BCE.
Recorded in 1925, and excavated between 1925 and 1927 by the famous German prehistorian and geologist Hugo Obermaier, finds included mainly scrapers, points, flakes and scraps of flint, and quartzite carvings. Obermaier then directed the restoration and stabilization of the enclosure's uprights, and its protection with a perimeter brick wall to prevent the entry of livestock.
The construction of the reservoir on the Tagus river in 1963 flooded the site, which has since only been visible in periods of prolonged drought, or due to the discharges for the regulation of the river flow. The situation in 2019 provoked a debate regarding the prehistoric complex, including a proposal to relocate the monument. A resolution by the Ministry of Culture in 2020 declared the enclave an 'asset of cultural interest', considering it essential to preserve its relationship with the landscape where it was built.
Following another lowering of the water level in the summer of 2021, a team made up of restorers, archaeologists, a geologist and a biologist undertook consolidation and conservation work to counteract erosion caused by inundations and large numbers of visitors, renewing calls for its rescue.
Edited from RedHistoria (27 December 2021)
Landscape modification by last interglacial Neanderthals
Most examples relating hominin behavior to more detailed and continuous records of environmental change involve the transformation of late Pleistocene or early Holocene vegetation through the use of fire. Burning practices by hunter-gatherers are widespread across almost all biomes worldwide. Australian studies suggest that fire use has measurable benefits in terms of prey density and habitat diversity, and depends on regular burning. One recent study proposes that early modern humans were using fire around northern Lake Malawi in Africa by around 85,000 years ago, another that human activities have shaped nearly three-quarters of terrestrial nature for at least 12,000 years.
A new study presents paleoenvironmental and archaeological data from the Last Interglacial period of Neumark-Nord, about 190 kilometres southwest of Berlin, near Halle, where comparative data strongly suggest that Neanderthals had a role in vegetation transformation. The site complex represents a long phase of distinct vegetation openness that correlates with an approximately 2,000 year period of significant hominin presence in the area.
After a long period of abandonment, when major parts of the northern European plain were covered by ice sheets, hunter-gatherers moved back into this region at the beginning of the Last Interglacial. In the rain shadow of the Harz mountains with relatively low precipitation, the basin has become well known for the discoveries of numerous virtually complete skeletons of large mammals such as straight-tusked elephants, rhinos, bison, horses, deer, boar, aurochs, lions, hyenas, and bears, with and an abundance of faunal remains interspersed with traces of Neanderthal activities - including substantial evidence for fire use - in a diverse environment comprising both forested patches and large open areas, with a climate broadly comparable to today.
While the butchering of large herbivores created a highly visible archaeological record at Neanderthal sites in general, nutritional studies strongly suggest that plants played an important role in Neanderthal diets, possibly reflected by the few charred remains of hazelnut, acorn, and blackthorn in the Neumark-Nord landscape, where an increase in upland herbs and grasses including wild relatives of wheat and barley would have enabled easy access to a now well-established component of the Neanderthal diet.
Traces of Neanderthal presence are well documented for the wider area around Neumark-Nord, and increasingly also in northwestern France, which could suggest locally higher hominin densities and a less mobile lifestyle during interglacial periods. Evidence for Neanderthal landscape modification points to an important and previously unknown aspect of Neanderthal behaviour, and is older than comparable evidence for Homo sapiens.
Edited from Science Advanced (15 December 2021)
Evidence of social beer consumption found in 7,000-year-old town
Israeli researchers have recently discovered the first evidence of social beer consumption following a find of cereal grains used to produce alcohol in a 7,000 year old town. This discovery marks the earliest known instance of social drinking in the Levant prior to its spread in the bronze age, ca 3300 BCE.
The university's Prof. Danny Rosenberg said the evidence for beer production joins "the evidence we've previously uncovered of Tel Tsaf's prosperity, expressed in its accumulation of agricultural produce, and particularly cereal, in large quantities. We can imagine Tsaf's developing community holding largescale events in which large quantities of food and beer are consumed in a social context - and not just in a ceremonial context."
While there is older evidence of beer production at a Natufian burial site, this beer was apparently only used as part of the burial rituals at the site placed in Mount Camel. While beer production and consumption may have taken place since the Natufian period, the evidence for it is hard to come by.
"It's unknown at the moment whether the beer whose remnants we found in Tel Tsaf was produced on a regular basis or specifically for major social events," Rosenberg said. "We hope that in the near future, when we can isolate further evidence of beer production at the site and at other sites, we will be able to better understand the role of alcohol in ancient societies, and particularly in those that - as in Tel Tsaf - were on the cusp of significant changes in their social structure as it became more and more complex."