10 February 2017
Rare Stone Age house found in Abu Dhabi
Archaeologists have revealed the discovery of a 7,500-year-old, well-preserved three-room house on Marawah Island, just off the coast of Abu Dhabi, at what was once one of the region's largest Stone Age settlements.
Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, says: "These important discoveries signify Abu Dhabi's advanced construction methods from the Neolithic and the influential role it had in early long-distance maritime trade."
Abdulla Al Kaabi, coastal heritage archaeologist, says: "This style of architecture is unique for this period and has never been found before in the region."
Doctor Mark Beech, head of coastal heritage and palaeontology, says: "It's a stunning find because there are no parallels to it anywhere else in the Gulf coast region. You can see the back yard and small walls projecting out, which is where the cooking was carried out, just like traditional Arabian houses. We knew it was a Stone Age site but did not expect it to be so well preserved."
The walls of the home are up to 70 centimetres thick, and would have had corbelled roofs - a dome shape made by placing stones on top of each other in narrowing courses.
The site was excavated at the smallest of seven mounds on the island. Archaeologists predict that a complete Stone Age village could be unearthed.
Artefacts found on the island reveal that the people herded sheep and goats, and used stone tools to hunt and butcher other animals, such as gazelle. Small beads made from shell and a small shark's tooth were also found, with holes very carefully drilled through them. One of their most significant finds was a decorated ceramic jar from Iraq - the earliest evidence of sea trade during that period, when the climate was quite different to now, with freshwater lakes and more vegetation.
Dr Beech reveals that: "The recent excavations have clarified a lot of questions we had about this period. It tells us about life in the Stone Age and that people had domestic animals, but they also relied a lot on marine life. It also shows that they had a varied diet and were involved in long-distance trade, as we see with the pottery."
Excavations on the island will continue for many years. Marawah Island is a marine protected site and not open to the public.
A different side of ancient life in the emirate has been revealed by excavations at Baynunah, about 50 kilometres southwest of the island, on the mainland. The desert surface of that site is littered with bones of wild camels hunted and killed 6,500 years ago - the earliest evidence in the Middle East for the mass killing of wild camels. Research is being conducted on the near-complete skeletons that will allow experts to discover more about their biology.
Edited from The National (1 February 2017)
38,000 year old rock art discovered in France
In the summer of 2012, a group of archaeologists discovered what could be one of the oldest examples of art in Europe when they turned over a broken block of limestone on the floor of a rock shelter in southwestern France.
The slab comes from a partially collapsed rock shelter called Abri Blanchard. It reveals the image of an aurochs and dozens of small dots, and was decorated by Aurignacians - the first Homo sapiens to arrive in Europe. The engraving is about 38,000 years old.
The 20 metre long shelter is near the small town of Sergeac, about 500 kilometres south-southwest of Paris, in a region famous for some of Europe's oldest examples of cave art. Several other carved slabs were discovered at Abri Blanchard a century ago.
New York University anthropologist Randall White, a co-author of the study who led recent excavations at the site, says the discovery sheds light on regional patterning of art and ornamentation at a time when humans were just starting to spread across the continent.
Many early artistic representations from this region have been interpreted as vulvas, but the artists at Abri Blanchard chose an array of artistic subjects, from horses and cats to geometric designs.
In addition to the aurochs carving, the researchers found hundreds of stone tools and tool fragments, as well as animal bones, mostly from reindeer. They also found an ivory bead and a pierced fox tooth.
Aurignacian images of aurochs have been found at other sites, such as Chauvet Cave, about 350 kilometres east-southeast of Abri Blanchard. Aligned dots have also been seen before on Aurignacian objects such as mammoth-tooth plaques and ivory pendants, but researchers describe the combination of this design with an animal figure as "exceptional".
The discovery of fits into the patterns researchers usually see in the earliest European art: broad shared features, with some regional quirks.
White says: "This pattern fits well with social geography models that see art and personal ornamentation as markers of social identity at regional, group and individual levels."
Edited from LiveScience (30 January 2017)
Wyoming wildfire reveals ancient artefacts
A wildfire in 2011 high in the alpine forests of northwestern Wyoming, USA, revealed a vast, centuries-old Shoshone [sho-SHO-ne] campsite. The site had likely been used intermittently for as much as 2,500 years, but most of the artefacts indicate a prolonged presence by the Mountain Shoshone some 300 to 400 years ago.
Doctor Laura Scheiber, an archaeologist at Indiana University, who reported the find, says: "This time period is significant, because a massive campsite of this age is extremely rare in the mountains, without evidence of historic trade goods but with a wide variety of activities implied by the range of materials. We have documented small arrow points, pottery sherds, bone tools, distinctive bifacial knives, grooved mauls, and hundreds of thousands of tiny chipped stone flakes."
Some of the projectile points are in a style at least 2,500 years old, Scheiber adds. The bulk of what remained were stone tools and ceramics made and used by the Mountain Shoshone, likely a few centuries before contact with Europeans.
The site provides a view into the history of the Tukudika people, once known as the Lemhi or Mountain Sheepeaters, whose modern descendants include members of the Shoshone-Bannock and Eastern Shoshone tribes.
Scheiber continues: "The site did indeed prove to be a late period Mountain Shoshone campsite, with triangular arrow points, beveled knives, sherds from at least three different ceramic vessels, large grooved mauls, ground stone, and dozens of bifaces in different stages of production and use."
Thousands of years of use have made it difficult to discern one period of occupation from another, but a few areas of the campsite stand out. Scheiber notes: "For instance, on the other side of camp is another incredibly complex site, where people left behind thousands of pieces of chipped stone in a primary reduction area, reducing locally-available chert cobbles into manageable pieces. In the middle of one of the large clusters of thousands of flakes was a perfectly preserved complete Mountain Shoshone tri-notched arrow point." Upstream from there, a series of hearths was found, along with a Shoshone knife and what appears to be a grinding rock.
The site also included hundreds of fragments of Intermountain Ware - thick, flat-bottomed pottery distinctive of pre-contact Shoshone culture.
Scheiber reveals: "The recovery of more than 1,000 ceramic sherds is especially exciting, since this robust dataset effectively triples the number of high-altitude ceramics in the region and will allow us to explore a number of fine-grained temporal and spatial questions about late pre-contact Shoshone life in the mountains."
Edited from Western Digs (24 January 2017)
9 February 2017
DNA reveals continuity between Stone Age and modern East Asians
Researchers working on ancient DNA from human remains buried almost 8,000 years ago in a cave known as Devil's Gate, in a mountainous area close to the far east coast of Russia facing northern Japan, found the genetic makeup of certain modern East Asian populations closely resembles that of their ancestors. Also found were hundreds of stone and bone tools, the carbonised wood of a former dwelling, and woven wild grass that is one of the earliest examples of a textile.
Exceptional genetic proximity was found between the Ulchi people of the Amur Basin, near where Russia borders China and North Korea, and the ancient hunter-gatherers buried in the cave close to the Ulchi's native land. The Ulchi retained their hunter-fisher-gatherer lifestyle until recent times.
This genetic continuity is in stark contrast to most of Western Europe, where sustained migrations of early farmers from the Levant overwhelmed hunter-gatherer populations, and were followed by a wave of horse riders from Central Asia during the Bronze Age.
The study is the first to obtain nuclear genome data from ancient mainland East Asia and compare the results to modern populations. The findings indicate that there was no major migratory interruption, or population turnover for more than seven millennia. Researchers suggest the vast size of East Asia and dramatic variations in its climate may have prevented the influence of Neolithic migrations that replaced hunter-gatherers across much of Europe.
The new study provides support for the dual origin theory of modern Japanese populations: that they descend from a combination of hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists that eventually brought wet rice farming from southern China. A similar pattern is also found in neighbouring Koreans, who are genetically very close to Japanese, however Manica says much more data from Neolithic China is required to pinpoint the origin of the agriculturalists involved in this mixture.
While the Devil's Gate samples show high genetic affinity to the Ulchi - fishermen from the same area who speak the Tungusic language - they are also close to other Tungusic-speaking populations in present day China.
Lead author Veronika Siska says: "These are ethnic groups with traditional societies and deep roots across eastern Russia and China, whose culture, language and populations are rapidly dwindling. Our work suggests that these groups form a strong genetic lineage descending directly from the early Neolithic hunter-gatherers who inhabited the same region thousands of years previously."
Edited from Popular Archaeology (1 February 2017)
12,000 year old prostate stones earliest ever found
Italian and British researchers investigating the prehistoric cemetery of Al Khiday on the left bank of the White Nile in central Sudan in 2013 found the oldest known prostate stones, in the pelvic area of an adult male burial.
The team investigated some 2300 square kilometres in the prehistoric cemetery, recovering 190 graves of three different periods, from between 12,000 and 2,000 years ago. The oldest, dated as pre-Mesolithic, included 94 individuals, including the male affected by prostate stones.
The man was buried facedown, as the majority of the pre-Mesolithic burials. One stone was found between the pelvic bones and two close to the lumbar vertebrae. Tests ruled out the possibility they were either kidney stones or gallstones. A scanning electron microscope showed a peculiar structure made from calcium apatite crystals and an unusual form of calcium phosphate, clearly pointing to the prostate as the stones' origin.
Anthropological investigation revealed that the tall pre-Mesolithic men and women of Al Khiday were rather healthy, and did not suffer from chronic disease, apart from bad teeth. Apart from the prostate stones, no significant disease was found.
Prostate stones are rather common in adults, though usually very small and asymptomatic. The walnut- size stones found in the burial suggests a mechanical obstruction to the urinary tract, which would have made the man's life miserable. He may have experienced lower back pain or leg pain, difficulties and pain when urinating, and may have died of eventual kidney failure.
According to bio-archaeologist Michaela Binder, a research associate at the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Vienna, "Finding such a disease in association with a skeleton from an archaeological site opens a new window into health and living conditions in the past."
Team co-leader Donatella Usai says: "Our finding confirms this disease can no longer be considered a disease of the modern era. It also affected prehistoric people, whose lifestyle and diet were significantly different from ours."
Edited from Seeker (31 January 2017)
Unique Iron Age burial excavated in Germany
An undisturbed Iron Age tomb containing gold, bronze, and amber was recently uncovered by the Danube River in southern Germany, just north of the Alps. The treasure adorned and surrounded the skeleton of a woman who likely died between the ages of 30 and 40, and suggest she was an elite member of the Celtic society at a hill fort called Heuneburg in 583 BCE. Hers is the first richly-furnished central grave from that period which had not been looted in antiquity. Multiple graves around the woman's burial chamber had been looted.
A Celtic city-state likely founded in the sixth century BCE, the hill fort has been known for centuries. The. It is thought that the Greek philosopher Herodotus, who lived from around 484 to 425 BCE, mentioned it in writings about the history of the river.
Modern excavations of the site began in 1950. In 2005, archaeologist Siegfried Kurz found a golden brooch in a plowed field, leading to a small-scale excavation of a grave containing a young child, next to a larger grave with a chamber made of timber. Concerned that agricultural activity would harm the larger grave, researchers excavated the entire 80 tonne section in 2010.
The large grave held myriad treasures: intricate jewellery made of amber, gold and bronze; heaps of furs and textiles; an ornament made out of boars' tusks and bronze bells that would have adorned a horse's chest; carved boxwood objects; bracelets carved from black stone; and a belt made of bronze and leather. The remains of a second individual, likely also a woman, was found on the opposite side of the chamber, with just a few pieces of bronze jewellery. At her feet was a 40 centimetre long bronze sheet decorated with circles, which may have been a covering for a horse's forehead. If so, it's the first one found in Heuneburg and only the second known from this period north of the Alps.
The floor of the chamber was lined with planks of oak and silver fir from trees felled in the fall of 583 BCE, placing the grave with the Hallstatt culture. Routine flood waters from the Danube preserved the timbers and most of the grave's organic contents.
The elite woman's jewellery is similar to that worn by a young girl whose remains were discovered just 2 metres away in 2005, suggesting that she and the woman were buried during the same time period. The style of the elite woman's grave goods matches that seen in cultures south of the Alps, including Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Sicily. Other excavations suggest the gold filigree was made at Heuneburg, showing that artisans there were influenced by styles in cultures south of the Alps.
Edited from LiveScience (26 January 2017), ScienceNews (2 February 2017)
27 January 2017
Did humans wipe out Australian megafauna?
Australian megafauna some 50,000 years ago included half-ton kangaroos, 2-ton wombats, 7-metre-long lizards, 180-kilo flightless birds, 140-kilo marsupial lions and tortoises the size of compact cars.
Shortly after the arrival of the first humans around 45,000 years ago, more than 85 percent of Australia's mammals, birds and reptiles weighing over 45 kilos went extinct, and new evidence suggests that humans, not climate change, were the cause.
Scientists have been debating the causes of the Australian megafauna extinctions for decades.
A team of researchers used information from a sediment core drilled in the Indian Ocean off the coast of southwest Australia to help reconstruct past climate and ecosystems on the continent. The core contains dust, pollen, ash, and spores from a fungus that thrived on the dung of plant-eating mammals, allowing scientists to look back through more than 150,000 years - the last full glacial cycle. They found tungal spores from plant-eating mammal dung were abundant in sediment layers until about 45,000 years ago, after which they declined rapidly over just a few thousand years.
Southwest Australia is one of the few regions on that continent having dense forests both 45,000 years ago and now. The area also contains some of the earliest evidence of humans on the continent.
Study participant and Colorado University professor Gifford Miller says there is no evidence of significant climate change during the time of the megafauna extinction, and the real cause may have been "imperceptible overkill." A 2006 study indicates that even low-intensity hunting like the killing of one juvenile mammal per person per decade could have resulted in the extinction of a species in just a few hundred years.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (20 January 2017)
6,000 year old clay fragment identified as part of a face mask
6,000 years ago during the Neolithic Period in what is now southern Germany, people lived in lake dwellings built on stilts. They bred cattle, farmed the land, and foraged. Their lives had largely become sedentary.
Archaeologists in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg have revealed a fragment of brown clay to be one of the most important finds from this period.
Their reconstruction shows that the 6,000 year old fired clay fragment formed part of the right hand side of a face mask. This is the first mask found not only in the lake settlements which existed all around the Alps, but anywhere in central Europe. Only two other Neolithic clay masks have been found anywhere in Europe - one in Hungary, and one in Romania.
The fragment was discovered in the 1960s, yet after many failed efforts to class it as a piece of pottery, it remained unidentified until recently, when one archaeologist held broken edge of the fragment up to a mirror, and suddenly saw what it was.
And this is no death mask, but a ritual object worn by the living - the section which goes over the nose had been very carefully made smooth. The piece also has holes on the side for attaching some kind of cord which could have kept in place on the wearer's head.
Edited from DW (22 December 2016)
26 January 2017
Advanced geometry in prehistoric southwest USA
Arizona State University professor Dr Sherry Towers spent several years studying the Sun Temple archaeological site at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, an important regional ceremonial centre for the ancestral Pueblo peoples, constructed around 1200 CE.
Dr Towers explains: "I noticed in my site survey that the same measurements kept popping up over and over again. When I saw that the layout of the site's key features also involved many geometrical shapes, I decided to take a closer look."
The shapes were familiar: equilateral triangles, squares, 45-degree right triangles, Pythagorean triangles, and the "Golden rectangle" known to architects in ancient Greece and Egypt. All are fairly easy to construct with a straight-edge, a compass or cord, a unit of measure and some knowledge of geometry. However, unlike the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Maya, the ancestral Pueblo people had no written language or number system, and yet their measurements were still near-perfect, with a relative error of less than one percent.
Dr Towers says: "The genius of the site's architects cannot be underestimated. If you asked someone today to try to reconstruct this site and achieve the same precision that they had using just a stick and a piece of cord, it's highly unlikely they'd be able to do it, especially if they couldn't write anything down as they were working."
Dr Towers revealed that the site was laid out using a common unit of measurement just over 30 centimetres in length, as well as evidence that some of the same geometrical constructs from the Sun Temple were used in at least one other ancestral Puebloan ceremonial site - Pueblo Bonito, in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon.
"Further study is needed to see if that site also has the same common unit of measurement," Dr Towers adds. "It's a task that will keep us busy for some years to come."
Edited from Phys.org (23 January 2017)
Oldest evidence of silk found in ancient tombs
The oldest evidence of silk made by silkworms has been found buried in 8,500-year-old tombs in China. Silk was a rare luxury good in the ancient world. According to Chinese legend, after a silkworm cocoon dropped into the teacup of the wife of the Yellow Emperor, she found that the cocoon could unravel to yield about 1 kilometre of thread.
Previous investigations at early Neolithic ruins dating back 9,000 years at Jiahu in the middle of Henan Province in central China had unearthed bone flutes that are the earliest known playable musical instruments in the world, the earliest mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey and fruit, the earliest domesticated rice in northern China, and possibly the earliest Chinese pictographic writing. Legends suggest silkworm breeding and silk weaving also began around this area. The region's warm and humid climate favoured the growth of mulberry trees, whose leaves are the sole food of silkworms.
Until now the oldest evidence of silk dated back 5,000 years. Chemical analyses of soil samples from three tombs at Jiahu revealed evidence of silk proteins in two of the three tombs, one of which dated back 8,500 years. University of Science and Technology of China archaeologist and study co-author Decai Gong says this is "the earliest evidence of silk in ancient China." Bone needles and weaving tools found at the site indicate silk may have been woven or sewn into clothing textiles.
The invention of silk was significant not only to ancient China; but to all of Eurasia. As a typical early Neolithic archaeological site in China, Jiahu preserves some of the earliest evidence of human civilisation. The results of this paper add silk to this list.
Edited from PLOS One (12 December 2016), LiveScience (10 January 2017)
25 January 2017
Were the Neanderthals rock collectors?
An international group of researchers has focused attention on a piece of split limestone from the Krapina cave site in Croatia, suggesting that Neanderthals 130,000 years ago purposely collected the rock.
The cave is sandstone, so the limestone stands out from the more than 1,000 other stone artefacts collected from the site. The find adds to other recent evidence that Neanderthals were capable of incorporating symbolic objects into their culture. The same group in 2015 published an article about a set of eagle talons from the same site that had been fashioned into jewellery.
David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology and co-author of the study, says the rock is roughly 125 millimetres long, 100 millimetres high, and about 13 millimetres thick, and shows no striking platforms or other areas of preparation: "The fact that it wasn't modified, to us, it meant that it was brought there for a purpose other than being used as a tool."
The researchers suspect that a Neanderthal either collected the rock from outcrops of grey limestone a few kilometres north of the site, or found it where the stream had transported it closer to the cave. Natural mineral inclusions are visible as many black lines in the brown limestone, giving it an unusual appearance.
Fraser concludes: "It adds to the number of other recent studies about Neanderthals doing things that are thought to be unique to modern Homo sapiens. We contend they had a curiosity and symbolic-like capacities typical of modern humans."
Edited from Popular Archaeology (17 January 2017)
3,000 year old crocodile bones discovered in China
In 2016 a total of 12 bone lamellae of crocodile were discovered in the ruins of Haojing, part of the capital of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1066-770 BCE) in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, 1400 kilometres west-northwest of Shanghai. Bone lamellae are a thin plate-like structure commonly found in reptiles, often very close to one another, with spaces in between.
The pieces are a reddish-brown colour with cellular holes on the surface, some roughly square and some rounded.
Yue Lianjian, a researcher at the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, explains that: "Each bone lamella is as big as a mahjong tile... The discovery provides important materials for the study of the ecological distribution of crocodiles in the Western Zhou Dynasty."
As cold blooded aquatic animals, crocodiles are one of the earliest and most primitive creatures still in existence. Yue points out that: "Besides a few of them living in the Temperate Zone, most crocodiles live in rivers, lakes or marsh in tropical or sub-tropical areas. Thus we predict that large water areas or lakes might have existed in the southeast of Haojing during the Western Zhou Dynasty."
Experts have also speculated that people might have raised crocodiles during the Western Zhou Dynasty to make Tuogu, an ancient drum with crocodile skin, some of which have previously been discovered at the site. The excavations date back to the 1930s.
Together with the crocodile bones, many other utensils were also discovered, such as ancient pottery, stone and bronze implements, as well as ten tombs, two pottery kilns, and four wells.
Edited from CRI English (12 January 2017)
'Plain of Jars' Burial Site Recreated in VR
Archaeologists have recreated in virtual reality the ancient Plain of Jars burial site in Laos, combining aerial video with geophysical data and records of excavations into a record of the landscape and its hundreds of carved stone jars, some of which measure up to 3 metres tall and weigh many tons. The images and data have been integrated into a 3D video and data simulation at a room-sized, 360-degree VR facility at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, which is being developed for advanced applications in medicine, science and engineering.
Monash University archaeologist and project co-leader Louise Shewan says the virtual landscape will also be used to explore other jar sites in rugged and forested territory, and in areas where many of the estimated 270 million cluster bombs dropped on Laos by the US Air Force during the Vietnam War make traditional archaeology too dangerous. To date, only seven of more than 85 known jar sites in Laos have been cleared, and an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs are scattered across the country.
The simulation timeline can be stepped forward or back to show the state of the excavations at any time, and will be updated as the digs and discoveries continue. The images and data will also serve as a record of scholarship about the Plain of Jars in support of its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shewan hopes aerial footage of the site will be made available to the public, or integrated into a museum exhibition.
Excavations at Site 1 in 2016 revealed the remains of dozens of people buried in communal and individual graves around some of the largest jars, indicating that an ancient burial practice was linked to them. The researchers think the carved stone jars at Site 1 are around 2,500 years old, and were used by an Iron Age civilization to expose their dead relatives to the elements for a period of time before the bones were cleaned and buried. Research on samples from the latest excavations includes efforts to determine the origin and age of some of the jars, and the identity of the jar makers, about whom almost nothing is known.
Edited from LiveScience (5 January 2017)
23 January 2017
Royal Mail pays homage to Ancient Britain
The Royal Mail in the UK has been issuing series of special stamps for over 50 years, starting in 1965 with Sir Winston Churchill.
Their current series is dedicated to Ancient Britain. It is a series of 8 stamps of varying denominations, each depicting either an actual famous artefact or a site, from across the Neolithic & Mesolithic Eras, Bronze and Iron Ages, with modern graphic additions to place them in context. For example, an Iron Age shield, known as the Battersea Shield after the location where it was found, is shown as being held by an Iron Age warrior.
Other artefacts depicted are the Star Carr Headdress, Drumbest Horns and the Mold Cape, all shown as they would have been worn. The sites depicted show the Grimes Graves Flint Mines, Avebury Stone Circles, Maiden Castle Hill Fort and Skara Brae village, all being given some graphical treatment to bring them to life. Whilst being legally useable the stamps are not intended for general postal use but more as a presentation pack for collectors.
Edited from Royal Mail (December 2016), Norvic Philatelics (21 Dec 2016)
20 January 2017
Insights into the rituals of the Beaker people in Scotland
There have been some recent interesting developments in the understanding of the lives of the Beaker people in the UK. Beaker people, so called from the distinctive fine pottery which they made, are first believed to have spread to the UK from Southern and Central Europe around 2,500 BCE. Now a combined team from Aberdeen University and the British Museum has been carrying out a detailed study of Beaker graves from a series of settlements in North East Scotland, stretching from Aberdeen to Inverness.
They have noticed some specific rituals associated with the burials, in terms of position and orientation of the bodies, with apposing orientations depending on where the deceased was male or female. They also discovered that the already distinctive pottery in the graves had a local refinement found nowhere else. They were all decorated with a fine white powder which, on analysis, was found to be made from cremated bones, although it was not possible to determine whether they were from either animals or humans.
The close attention they paid to the orientation of the bodies in the graves correlated with the particular type of stone circles that they built, examples of which have only been found in this area of Scotland and South west Ireland. The main feature of these circles is a centrally located recumbent large stone, within the circle, thought to be associated with the moon, as it is aligned with the arc of the southern moon. Does this explain the orientation of the burials, as part of a lunar ritual?
The team also discovered, by analysing stable isotopes from the skeletons, that the population was fairly static in terms of spread or movement, not venturing far from the original settlements and strangely, considering the proximity to the coast, their diet contained very little sea food.
Edited from Mail Online (4 January 2017)